Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Soundtrack of My Life: Steve Taylor

The year was 1983, and I was a sophmore at Baylor University when Steve Taylor came to town. Of course, I had no idea who he was - and it wasn't like it was a concert or anything. He was actually the director for a tour of the Jeremiah People. (I was a big fan of the Jeremiah People - they were a drama & music ministry that did thoughtful, interesting & very funny things, primarily targeting the foibles of churches & cultural Christianity.)

During the intermission, he hawked his new EP, "I Want To Be A Clone." Steve explained that this was music adults wouldn't like... and the rest, as they say, is history.

I picked up a copy of the cassette for four bucks (I think - that was 23 years ago!) and listened to it so many times I nearly wore the electrons off the tape. Steve was not only exploring the New Wave sound, he was writing incisive, sarcastic & funny lyrics about Christianity and the church. It was like I had permission to ask tough questions about the faith I'd grown up in - that the culture I was a part of could be questioned & examined & poked fun at... without throwing away my faith in Jesus Christ.

So now I see the whole design my church is an assembly line the parts are there I'm feeling fine I want to be a clone

I've learned enough to stay afloat but not so much I rock the boat I'm glad they shoved it down my throat I want to be a clone

Everybody must get cloned "I Want To Be A Clone"

Thankfully, he didn't stop there. Steve Taylor & Some Band went on to record 4 more brilliant albums, full of the same kind of odd ("Am I In Sync?"), saracstic, ("I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good"), funny ("Drive, He Said"), insightful ("Hero"), angry ("Baby Doe") and stunning ("Jim Morrison's Grave") songs as the first EP.

Along the way, Steve managed to attract all kinds of controversy... you don't write this kind of music without stepping on some toes. (Imagine a cross between Randy Newman, the Clash & Billy Graham - that may get you close to the musical stylings of Steve Taylor.) He released, as far as I know, the first MTV-like Christian music video ("Meltdown (at Madam Tussaud's)"), and the first really cool concert film ("Limelight", filmed live at Greenbelt).

Of course, for a "good Christian kid" (that's me!), I loved the fact that he was theologically solid... but dangerous. Kind of "rebellion lite", if you know what I mean. Listening to Steve's music forced me to think about the implications of what I said I believed... while rocking to some very inventive music that didn't sound like anything else I knew.

Anyway, the early 90's brought about a new phase in Steve's career: a "super-group" of Nashville studio musicians who were all followers of Christ - and felt called to follow Christ into creating a great rock'n'roll band that actually talked about deep stuff. The group, Chagall Guevera, released one album & one video ("Violent Blue") and then sunk into oblivion. This, sadly, despite the fact that the album was critically acclaimed. (One of the privileges of living in Nashville was getting to see amazing live shows... and so Shari & I got to see the last live performance of Chagall Guevera at the Mark Heard tribute concert in 1992.)

A couple of years later, Steve recorded his final studio album, "Squint", which even 13 years later is still one of the best albums in my collection. From the goofy rock opera that closes the record ("Cash Cow") to the overwhelming testimonial power of "The Finish Line", this album doesn't have a weak cut. My youth group even made our own Nashville-based video of "Bannerman" and sent a copy to Steve. (His reply to us: "You guys have a great future in film and/or jail" still cracks me up.)

There was a final live album entitled "Liver" - and yes, you can pronounce it either way: lie-ver or liv-er. The live versions of "Hero" & "I Want To Be A Clone" are incredible... and the video for "On The Fritz" is still one of the most stunning music videos I've ever seen.

Steve has gone on to move into other roles in the industry - it was his label, Squint, that broke Sixpence None The Richer into the mainstream market and introduced the world to the one-album wonder that was Burlap To Cashmere. (Yes, I know they had a live album as well. Don't e-mail me.) He played a major role in helping both the Newsboys & Guardian make some of their best music ever. Most recently, he's been directing films & music videos.

Sadly, the last bit of new music was a couple of "guest" cuts on the Roaring Lambs album and on Charlie Peacock's Full Circle collection. (You'll see more of Charlie in a later "Soundtrack" post.) Sigh.

For those of you Stevey-Come-Latelies, you can check out the links throughout this post (thanks to the magic of YouTube, a lot of his videos are available online) or you can purchase his greatest hits collection, Now The Truth Can Be Told. (It's a 2 CD set that comes with a very nice commentary/lyrics book in a handsome slipcover... featuring the snowball throwing polar bears that lived only a few miles from us in Nashville.)

5 comments:

Scott said...

If I remember right, the Mark Heard tribute concert was held at Massey Auditorium at Belmont. One of the disappointments of my time in Nashville was not attending more concerts, and that one is high on the list.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

That's right, Scott. It was in Massey - which is the same place I saw Whiteheart on their "Light a Candle" tour (another favorite concert experience).

It was an amazing night - and, although it was recorded (video & audio), no one has been able to figure out how to get a CD or DVD released. Sigh.

Scott said...

That's disappointing. I would love to hear that live cd!

I did attend that White Heart concert. When I tell friends that it was the most energy I have ever seen from a band on stage, I often get weird looks. It was a memorable show.

matt said...

I got the Clone ep when I was in high school through an agreement I had with the manager of the local Christian bookstore. She gave me all the sample copies of the stuff she would never play over the store speakers (Taylor, Daniel-Amos, Resurrection Band). I got some good stuff that way.

Thanks for the Youtube links. I haven't heard this in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Sigh...
I've always wished that I could have been raised in that era (80s).
Yeah, I was born when Squint was coming out, so....
Again, sigh.