Slick Satire: Steve Taylor

Christian Activities Calendar
Fall 1988
© 1988
Pages 7-8

By Gena L. Buskirk

If anyone knows anything about contemporary Christian music, even if it was only in passing, they've probably heard of Steve Taylor. You can't be involved with the genre long before his name comes up in conversation.

And if anyone knows anything about Steve Taylor, it won't be long before the conversation will lend itself to the ill-fated word unfortunately often associated with Steve Taylor--"controversy."

Ever since he bounded into the Christian music industry scene in 1983, Steve has been stirring up the trenches with his flamboyant expressions of good-natured satire and uninhibited knack to get down to the truth of the matter.

What most people don't know about him, or refuse to acknowledge, is his sincere compassion to reach, mainly high school and college youth and some of us adults, at our intellectual foundation, to get at the "nuts and bolts" of a Christian's struggle to do the "right thing."

Good satire is a light-hearted, cleverly twisted proverb, and Steve has a corner on it. Not too many satirical authors were ever ranked high in popularity polls, but with his talent for satire, Steve is able to grab his audience's attention and still remain aware of his responsibility as an artist and unavoidable role model.

"I don't want to set myself up as an example, on the one hand because you're asking for trouble," said Steve in the January issue of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music Magazine). "But on the other hand, you are an example whether you want to be or not. And nobody can get around that. And it wasn't necessarily something that we asked for when we started off in music, but it's just something that you realize--that you are an example, whether or not you choose to be when you started doing it.

"Even with the small section of people who are into what I'm doing, that still can be a problem," added Steve, "and for me, one of the best ways to demystify yourself is to just make yourself as available as you can to the people that like you--whether it's doing the dreaded in-store appearance and hanging around until everybody's had a chance to talk to you, or whether it's hanging around after concerts until the guy who's sweeping up kicks you out, or whatever. Just to make sure that--to the degree that you can do it without going crazy and losing all your privacy--you are approachable and not trying to create this persona, not doing a Prince..."

He is also aware of the high school student's desire for a role model because of a five-year stint as a youth pastor in his father's Denver Baptist church. "I try to put myself back in that time frame where I had to have these role models, and no matter how much my parents or my Sunday school teacher would tell me that 'Jesus is your role model,' I still had other ones.

"Since some people have chosen to put me in that position as one of their role models," he continued, "I don't want to let those people down for the convenience of allowing myself to get lax with my personal life. So I take that part very seriously. And I could be setting myself up fo ra very big fall, but right now it seems like the right thing to do."

With these aspirations and values in mind, he released his fifth LP, I Predict 1990 in fall, 1987--again, overwhelmed with controversy. But after two years of no new material from Taylor, the faithful few bought truckloads and I Predict 1990 debuted as the fourth best-selling album on the CCM "Top 50" album chart for January, 1988.

He's even received some secular airplay on some Southern California rock stations with a couple of singles, including "Jim Morrison's Grave," a song acknowledging respect for a man who brought rock some "intriguing music, but as far as I'm concerned, that's not enough" said Steve, "and asks the old question, 'Does artistry justify being a weasel?'."

Some of the album's controversy surrounded the cut, "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good," about a fictitious ice cream man who blows up abortion clinics to save the children and keep his business alive.

Taylor explained, "As a strong believer in the sanctity of human life and an outspoken opponent of abortion, I felt like this was a song that needed to be written. I've been dismayed to watch the Pro-Life Movement in the U.S. lose some of its credibility because a few people don't believe God when He said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay'."

This song, in particular, drives home the theme Steve was trying to convey for the album. "Recent events point to a general philosophy being practiced by man Americans, including a lot of American Christians, that the ends does justify the means. At a time when people are sympathetic with the idea that you occasionally have to do ethically questionable things in order to protect everything from national to personal interests, I think the overall theme of this album is very important.

"It's not a concept record. But when we were listening back to the song, 'I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,' my wife, Debbie, pointed out the line in the song where the preacher on the corner says, 'The ends don't justify the means anytime.' And she said that if there's a theme to the record, that's it."

So, if that's the theme, why the title I Predict 1990? Does he make some sort of theological predictions for modern day Christians? Come on, this is Steve Taylor, it's just some more of his homegrown satire. Let him explain.

"The title came when I was flipping through the TV channels and, on one of the Christian stations, a guy was selling a book called, I think, I Predict 1986, where he was saying what God had revealed to him about what was going to happen. And the idea struck me as being so absurd that I thought it was a worthily absurd title for the record." Would you expect anything differently from Mr. Taylor?

As for the album overall, "It seems, to me, to be a logical progression," he said. "There's plenty of satire on this record--'I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,' 'Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better,' 'Jung And The Restless'--but I didn't want to get to the point where people were wondering, 'What's he going to track this time out.'

"Since some of the subject matter on this album required a more direct, serious treatment, I tried to write accordingly. After all, it would be tough to make a song called 'Jim Morrison's Grave' funny."

If someone still doesn't know anything about Steve Taylor, tell them to buy I Predict 1990 or one of his other earlier albums and try to listen with an open mind and an appreciation for well-written satire.

On the other hand, if that still doesn't satisfy their curiosity, tell them to hang out after one of his concerts. He really will talk to them, even if they're the ones sweeping the floor.