Steve Taylor Breaks New Ground As Christian Musician

National Public Radio
All Things Considered
March 9th, 1995
© 1995 National Public Radio

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Linda Wertheimer: Christian music, a growing industry who feels as much at home in Nashville as the Grand Old Opry does, is not all sweetness and light. Like the rest of the music made in Nashville, Christian music comes in all forms and some of the contemporary variety sounds suspiciously like rock and roll, like heavy metal, like really raucous. Steve Taylor is that kind of Christian music singer/songwriter. I asked him how it's possible to hear the word over the music.

Steve Taylor: Well, I suppose rock and roll is the first thing you hear just because, you know, you put on a CD and that's what jumps out at you. But actually, I make no bones about the fact that it's Christian music, that it's inspired because of my faith.

ST: [singing] "Once upon an average morning / an average boy was born for the second time / Thrown upon the altar there / he whispered up the prayer he'd kept hid inside"

LW: The finish line has, I must say, a kind of surprising lyric. It's about the resurrection.

ST: That's right. Actually, I wrote it for some friends of mine that had been Christians for a while and they were just starting to lose their way, just getting off track, you know, and this is a song saying that, you know, to press on, God's waiting there at the end of it all.

ST: [singing] "And I saw you brush away rocks / and I saw you pull up your socks / and I saw you out of the blocks / for the finish line.

LW: I have to ask you this--I mean, this is a lyric that is a little tough to take, I would think, if you're--you know, if you're used to sort of the majesty of the Easter pageants--"I saw you brush away the rocks, I saw you pull up your socks, I saw you out of the blocks for the finish line."

ST: Yeah, it's just sort of the imagery of, you know, being in a race. I think the Apostle Paul actually used that same imagery, of running the good race, and I think a lot of times, unfortunately, our paradigm for Christian music has more to do with maybe, I don't know, singers from 20 to 30 years ago instead of, you know, going back to the Biblical ways of communicating.

LW: Well I'd say more to do with sweetness, perhaps, or even respectfulness, which is missing in your music.

ST: Well, yeah, and that sort of makes sense, too, because you certainly wouldn't think of Jesus as sweet or respectful. I mean, those are two words that I wouldn't classify at all when you look at the way he dealt with the Pharaohcies and when you look at the way he lived his life. You know, this sort of rugged guy trudging across the countryside. And I suppose that's one of the--the image problems, that Christian music has to deal with, that is, that it's being caricaturized into that sort of sweet, whitebread caricature, because that's the one thing that it doesn't have in common with most other forms of music, I guess, and that way people can blow it off, which I think some people would just as soon that it didn't even exist.

LW: Here's a song that just, right on the face of it, the title of it is "Jesus is for Losers." I get what you're talking about there, but I mean, I would think that would be a title that would kind of--you could go both ways on that. It could make you mad.

ST: Yeah, it could, and you know, it did make a few people mad. I go back to the subversive communication in the Bible, you know. So many times Jesus would say something to get people's attention. He knew that he had to engage their minds as well as their hearts, and so a song title like "Jesus is for Losers" hopefully makes you want to read what the song is saying, and of course, the song says in summary of what Jesus said--I didn't come for those who were well. I came for those who need a doctor. All of us are losers--that's why we need the Saviour.

LW: It's not uncommon for poets, writers, and certainly songwriters, who are not Christian musicians or not involved in Christian music, like the Beatles, for example, to use imagery that's Biblical. What makes the difference? What is the difference between a person who is a Christian musician and a person who puts Biblical imagery and Biblical ideas go into their songs, and somebody who does it anyway, as people have in literature for time out of mind?

ST: Well, I think the reason so many people use it is because it's always been, the Bible has been sort of one of our touchstones, you know.

LW: Common language.

ST: That's right, it's a common language. I think the main difference is actually, there's self-expression that goes into what we do as Christian music, but more importantly, it's bigger than that. It's also spiritual expression, it's God expression. We're trying to communicate something higher than just ourselves, you know, our own point of view. And that, I think, is also one of the stumbling blocks. That's, you know, why sometimes Christian music doesn't necessarily communicate to the culture at large is because gospel music, which is what I like to call it, the word gospel means "good news," but it's also really, really bad news, because it goods news in the fact, you know, Jesus can save you. It's bad news for the same reason--him saying "I am the way, the truth, and the light, and no man comes to the Father but through me." That exclusivity that he talks about, "I'm it," you know, "I'm the way to God," is a very offensive thing to society and certainly! Even more so, to modern society--we don't like the idea of one truth. So, I can't ever see Christian music becoming, you know, as popular as mainstream music because at its essence, there is this very offensive message, really.

LW: Contemporary Christian artist Steve Taylor, who lives and records his music here in Nashville. His latest album is called Squint.