Squinting into the Entertainment Future

Terry Mattingly On Religion
Syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service
© Terry Mattingly 2000
June 14th, 2000

by Terry Mattingly

Steve Taylor and his Chagall Guevara colleagues were fired up when they arrived in Los Angeles to do the cover for the band's first and only album for MCA Records.

They also were hungry, so they promptly called Domino's Pizza. Trouble was, one MCA executive didn't think much of Domino's leaders. Taylor distinctly remembers the words: "They support those pro-life Nazis."

"We did have a rather spirited argument," confessed Taylor, describing that infamous clash in 1990. "It started in one room, continued all the way down the hall and, eventually, somebody had to call a truce in the artist's studio so we could get some work done."

Offered a chance to re-visit that scene, Taylor said he would "try to bite my tongue, a little. I wasn't exactly thinking strategically."

That may not sound much like the raging rocker who rained sarcastic songs on the lords of Contemporary Christian Music and flirted with secular stardom. But Taylor wears a suit and tie these days and runs a company that is erasing old boundaries in the marketplace--Squint Entertainment. He knows that it's important to build relationships in high places.

That's why Taylor and a crowd of politicians, artists, educators and business leaders gathered last week in a U.S. Senate hearing room to rally support for efforts to produce faith-friendly music, movies and television that can compete in the mainstream. The event marked the release of an album honoring media executive Bob Briner, whose 1993 book "Roaring Lambs" questioned the wisdom of Christian artists hiding in Christian companies that sell Christian products to the Christian consumers.

Briner died a year ago of cancer, but his business savvy and the books he wrote in the 1990s continue to influence work in many corporate offices, especially in Nashville. In addition to his books, Briner was best known as an Emmy-winning producer and sports executive who worked with Arthur Ashe, Dave Dravecky, Michael Jordan and others.

Taylor turned to Briner for advice when he began dreaming of an artist-friendly company that could cut a middle-way between religious and secular entertainment. The goal was to sign a roster of artists who were united both by Christian convictions and a commitment to build honest relationships with producers and promoters in the big leagues of secular music and video.

The result was Squint, with was built on a foundation of mainstream cash from the Gaylord Entertainment. This Oklahoma-based corporation operates the Opryland Hotel and a cluster of other Nashville institutions, both secular and religious.

Taylor hit it big when he signed Sixpence None the Richer, a folk-rock band that has, with three long years of national and global promotion, become a platinum-level act with hit singles such as "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes." Someday soon, if he survives in the dangerous corporate waters of buy-outs and mergers, Taylor wants to finish writing and directing "Saint Gimp," his first feature film.

"I want to work with other Christians," he stressed. "But I also want to work with people who want to work at the highest possible level of excellence. ... Bob Briner always used to say that excellence speaks for itself and that God deserves our best."

The rock showman turned businessman stopped and mulled this over for a moment. On the new "Roaring Lambs" tribute disc, Taylor has written and performed a song that pictures his mentor as a skilled baseball shortstop who tried to plug a gap between two worlds. The chorus is punchy, but haunting: "Lord, who will rise up when that number's retired?"

"There are just going to be days when we need advice from someone like Bob Briner," said Taylor. "He was a man of principle and he knew how to make a stand. But he also knew how to think strategically and be patient and work with all kinds of people.

"It's hard to do both, sometimes. ... You can fool yourself into believing that you're thinking strategically, when in reality, you're just being a coward. Then there are other times when you want to think you're being a man of principle, when you're really just being a jerk."

Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic University and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.