Steve Taylor: The Happy Angry Young Man

On Being (Australia)
August 1986
© On Being
Pages 77, 79
Thanks to Andrew Stewart

Steve Taylor liked the Blackstump festival in NSW last October. "It's important for young people to realise that their culture is not necessarily evil," he said, "and that they can still be part of it and still affect people for the Lord."

Steve tries to affect people for the Lord. But some think he's got an unusual way of going about it.

With lyrics like, "I'm devout, I'm sincere, and I'm proud to say / that it's had exactly no effect on what I am today / I believe for the benefit of all mankind / in the total separation of church and mind" they feel he's got it in for the church--or at least for the flower roster.

Vic Campbell and Kaydee Scheul grabbed hold of Steve in a caravan behind the Blackstump stage for this interview. Even though Steve's off-again-on-again Australian tour this month is off for keeps, we thought you'd like to sample his comments anyway.

It might be possible, from listening to some of your songs, to accuse you of being a cynic.

A cynic is a guy like a seminary student who doesn't go to church any more. That's not me. I grew up in a church and never went through a rebellious stage.

You never felt like chucking the whole thing in, despite some of the songs which seem very critical of the church?

No, because I know the church is the bride of Christ, and it's our job to make it what He wants it to be.

The reason I write songs that try to point out hypocrisy in the church is because I believe we have to keep our own house in order. Paul takes somewhere about doing that lest the outside world judge us.

It's my job as a member of the church to try to see it become what Christ had in mind.

So you are a musician speaking primarily to Christians?

It's my feeling, especially in the United States, that if you're honest and tell things the way they are--in a language that's free from a lot of religious jargon--people will respond to that honesty.

So I address topics that people outside the church know are true of the church, and I think they respond to that honesty.

Lots of times Christians bring their non-Christian friends to my concerts when they wouldn't take them to another Gospel concert. Because they know it's not going to be real preachy.

Often those friends will leave the concert and say, "Oh yeah, now I get what Christianity's about--it's about Jesus, not all this other stuff."

Do you see the day coming, then, when you will write songs directed to the non-church culture rather than the church culture?

I go from album to album. I'm not interested, for example, in toning down lyrics to reach a wider audience or to cross-over.

But I do want to write songs that are relevant to my culture. The longer I'm a Christian the more I realise that Jesus is relevant and that people do need Himi.

Are you a political activist?

Moral activist, maybe. Politics pretty much end up being dead end, and people involved in politics can become very cynical.

It's bad when Christianity aligns itself with a certain political persuasion, like we're seeing in the United States, instead of sticking with the issues the Bible's clear on.

We've got a lot of fundamentalist churches supporting the nuclear build-up and other things which are, at best, I think, a strong misrepresentation of Scripture.

I try to stick with issues that I'm pretty sure I'm on God's side about! Especially issues pertaining to human life.

Doesn't being involved with those moral issues bring you into political confrontations?

There are going to be ways that end up in some kind of confrontation with the authorities, with the 'principalities and powers' and the government.

But I guess it depends on how you define politics. I just don't want to be involved with one political party, as if God was a right-wing Republican.

Ultimately political parties always disappoint us. The important things are the issues, not the politics per se.

Are you really an angry young man?

I feel happy now! No, I don't go round with a chip on my shoulder, looking for things to write about.

It's just that you can't do as much traveling and reading as I do without wanting to use your creative gifts to speak out on the things you see. I deal with the things that move and affect me, and keeping it all in biblical perspective gives me plenty to write about.

What is your opinion of the so-called 'secular' music scene--bands like Dire Straits and so on? Do you enjoy it?

Oh, yeah...

Would you agree that those guys are asking a lot of the right questions but providing no answers?

Yeah, I remember Dire Straits did a great song called "Industrial Disease". It put the finger exactly on the problem; offered no solution!

What got me writing in the first place were bands like The Clash and Elvis Costello and The Squeeze (?) that were asking right questions but had no answers. I felt: I'm a Christian. Why wouldn't I sing songs with that sort of passion and conviction, especially when I know ultimate truth?

Steve, you're an overseas artist from the Australian viewpoint. A lot of people would ask, "What do you have to to say to Australia?" There are some anti-American feelings here...

It's fine with me if you're anti-American. I'm anti a lot of America! Being a Christian makes me a lousy citizen, in the words of Tony Campolo.

Countries come and go. The United States will come and go. Australia will disappear. Jesus is what's important.