When Your First Concert was Carman: Sapphira’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 3.50.31 PM

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sapphira” is a pseudonym.

It’s always a really awkward question for me: “What was your first concert?”

For context, my husband owns a record store. This question is typically asked by someone after we’ve been discussing great hardcore, punk, or indie shows that we’ve recently attended.

Well… my first stadium concert was Carman.

[insert crickets chirping noise here].

Well, I’m pretty sure it was Carman, unless, wait, I think maybe I saw Twila Paris and my family was so excited because Mike Warnke – you know – the comedian — was opening for her. Who was your favorite rap artist in the 80’s…. Steven Wiley was rated highly… no one? Anyone? Any Michael W. Smith fans out there? Amy Grant (obviously pre-selling out and going secular)?

My evangelical musical background is not the cool kind of obscure the kids are typically looking for…

When my family converted, they went all in, they burned their old rock music, gave away our evil toys (thank you Turmoil in the Toybox for that trauma), smashed the TV, tossed out the VCR and shifted us over to only “wholesome” toys and music. Homeschooling followed soon thereafter.

I was starting 3rd grade when they pulled me out. I remember my oldest brother (10 years older) having a really hard time adjusting. He tried to trade in his Bon Jovi, Poison, and White Snake for Crumbächer and Stryper, but they just didn’t quite cut it. Plus, it didn’t matter because soon those bands were seen as “gateway” bands and they were also removed from the acceptable playlists.

Eventually it was a very small list of approved music and that is how I ended up at my first Carman concert, being enthralled by a ridiculous song about Lazarus. There would be many more Carman concerts, waiting in line to see The Newsboys, getting super excited to see Tooth & Nail bands, youth group trips to the Christian music festival at Great America, and then reaching the pinnacle of homeschool kid cool – joining the super hip praise dance crew at church and learning choreographed, very modest, dance moves to all of these bands and more to be performed at our outreach missionary programs.

There is nothing quite like boys and girls in baggy modest clothing doing very repetitive choreography to Audio Adrenaline or DC Talk to really get the crowd pumped.

What I always found especially amazing was the ability of some homeschool parents to find something sinister about even these ridiculously over-the-top super Christian bands. For example, my friend’s parents took her copy of DC Talk and recorded over the song “I Don’t Want It” – for those who weren’t DC Talk loving Jesus Freaks…note the lyrics to the first verse:

“S-E-X is test when I’m pressed

So back up off with less of that zest

Impress this brother with a life of virtue

The innocence that’s spent is gonna hurt you

Safe is the way they say to play

Then again safe ain’t safe at all today

So just wait for the mate that’s straight from God

Don’t have sex ’til you tie the knot” (Full lyrics available here)

This song has it all…. It’s perfectly aligned with the I Kissed Dating Goodbye lectures we were getting at youth group…women are the guardians of virtue and the temptresses, the most important thing is to guard your purity, safe sex is a lie, it continues on like this for the entire catchy song.

Yet it was too taboo for my homeschool crew.

About 50% of us were allowed to listen to it as long as we were over 16, the remainder had it removed from their tapes. It’s always amazed me that even though my family are two to three standard deviations away from the norm in their over the top hyper-controlled and restrictive practice of evangelical Christianity, I always had friends with even more restrictive and punitive parents that made my experience seem almost moderate. It was only after breaking away (and finding community in the hardcore/punk/feminist music scenes) that I was able to see how restrictive my family was and was able to begin to chart my own course.

At least it’s been easier to catch up on the music I missed out on…

That whole “unlearning pretend science” and “learning actual science” once I got to college thing was quite a bit more challenging.

And The Music Was There: glor’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 3.50.31 PM

“Rock” music. Simultaneously my oppressor and my escape, we have an unusual relationship. Going from “anything with a strong beat will fill you with demons” to “oh hey, I just bought the newest VNV Nation album!” may seem extreme, and I admit that I sometimes suffer from whiplash, but at the same time it’s been a very freeing evolution and something that mirrors my general escape from my childhood/immediate family.

The first memories I really have about specific music was trying to defend myself at a camp-out.

I’d been found crying in a dark place by myself, and my fellow campers [all the same general age as myself, 9-12ish] didn’t believe me that the song made me cry because it reminded me of a friend who’d died. The song was played at his funeral. It was the first example of exactly how strongly music hits my emotional centers – and for that song, having to “prove” it made it hit me all the stronger in the following years.

Following that, the next set of memories is about music being “awesome” – or rather, not. The cult we were in at the time were very adept at using the “Sunday morning worship” to twist us this way and that, and I can distinctly remember how you could tell what the sermon would be about by the first half of the very first song of the day. I remember dirge-like music playing as we lined up in a school’s gymnasium to “repent of our sins.” I remember the slightly happier songs that the children danced to. I remember everyone in the room being scathingly rebuked because one of the singers had dared to say that a song was “awesome” – because, you know, only God is awesome. Never anything else, even a song literally praising his name.

The music collection at home wasn’t too much better. Michael Card. Sandi Patti [maybe… if we were lucky]. Some random Maranantha song tapes. Plenty of classical. That was about it, that I remember. I had very little interest in music outside of that, for the most part, simply because I didn’t know anything about it. There was the usual hush-hush about KISS and Marilyn Manson, stuff like that, but it was all mostly above my head. Then, I was introduced to DC Talk and Michael W Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. My brain just about exploded from glee – finally, something that fit me!

I could put my emotions onto these songs and I could finally understand things about what I felt that I never could before.

See, I have bipolar disorder. I have rapid and multiple mood swings, from seriously depressed to extremely manic, and until that point, none of the music could encompass either end of the curve. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt [because Jesus!] – to steal from Vonnegut. Any emotion other than happiness and joy was Wrong. You were a bad Christian – nay, a bad person, if you weren’t always basking in the love and companionship of Jesus. Being human, though, that wasn’t possible. So I struggled along in my lonely childhood self, trying to deal with these big emotions and not having anywhere to turn.

And then lo, DC Talk and “Jesus Freak.” They were my introduction to a larger world, and were, in fact, the very beginning of my long and slow departure from the church.

Teenagerhood hit. I was “rebellious,” according to my parents, and it was all because of my music. They had it backwards, of course. I was in an abusive home situation and I had found an escape in the music that expressed all the emotions I was feeling and allowed me to survive day after day, because there was nowhere else to go. Once again I was stifled under the “no emotions except happiness” expectation – which became more and more difficult the worse my bipolar got. It’s very hard to be “blissfully happy in Jesus” when one day you’re suicidal and the next you’re on a cloud and can do ANYTHING! that you could think of. I hid my music and snuck it as often as I could [or dared… woe betide me if I was found listening to [oh my!] Superchic[k] or the Newsboys or [quadruple gasp here, people] the Cruxshadows.] All of the songs that I listened to held deep emotion and symbolism for me, and allowed me to blindly feel my way through the disaster that was my home life.

There were fights about the music. My mother tried to convince me that rock music was of the devil. She emailed me all these “studies” about plants and rats [and since those have been addressed elsewhere on HA, I’ll refrain from doing so here], talked about the “demon beat,” and tried to take my CDs away. Fortunately, by that point, there was the internet and it was easily accessible. When it got really bad and my parents tried to take that too, I was attending the local community college and could use their computer lab to retrieve what I needed.

Eventually, I escaped. Barely.

When I got out of their home, I stopped attending church, I stopped seeing them, and I fairly quickly stopped identifying as Christian. My music needs changed – from the “life sucks and God’s still there for you” of the Christian rock world to the “you’re alive, you’ve survived some awful shit, and you’re still here” of VNV Nation, the Cruxshadows, Linkin Park, movie soundtracks, and so many other artists I can’t even list them. For the longest time, my playlists were nothing but loud anger and rage. I had to purge that from within myself eventually, I knew, but at the time all I could do was cope.

*****

I was sexually assaulted at work. More rage and bitterness. And the music was there.

I was extremely sick and almost lost my job. And the music was there.

I moved halfway across the country. And the music was there.

I was raped. And the music was there.

I had a psychotic break… and the music was there.

*****

Four years later, I had enough, and said “this anger, this bitterness, this rage and hate and harm will not be a part of me any more.”

And the music was there.

*****

It was there as I burned out the bitterness, screaming my tears of pain to the heavens. It was there as I sobbed in my friend’s arms. It was there the nights that I woke up screaming from the nightmares of the pain and the terror.

And the music was there when I finally broke through and let the love out.

Maybe it’s about the time
To let all of the love
Back in the light
Maybe it’s about the perfect place
To let go and forget
About the hate

Love into the light.

Kesha, “Love Into the Light”