Christian Rock Thursdays: Carman radicalises me

This is the first installment of my series on Christian rock. Read the introduction here.

Carman was where it all began for me. Before my family discovered Carman, Christian music was tedious, church was boring, and there’s an excellent chance I would have looked for entertainment in secular culture. After Carman, being a Christian seemed exciting, like something I wanted to do for myself rather than just something I did because it was my duty as a member of my family.

Compared Michael Jackson, Carman was not fantastic. But, at least in my case, Jackson was not really the competition (although I had heard “Black or White” at school and it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard) (proper school, that is, before I went to the ACE school). Carman’s competition was Graham Kendrick and Don Francisco, and had I known the term and been allowed to use it, I would have told you that those guys sucked balls.

The first Carman song I ever heard was “Radically Saved”.

Lyrics          Alternative link (audio only)

Today, governments are worried about the radicalisation of young Muslims and the Government spends millions on anti-radicalisation programmes. In 1991, I (aged six) began to think of the term as a badge of honour.

Of course, this was the beginning of the ’90s, and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (as the cartoons were called in the UK) had popularised ‘radical’ as a slang term meaning ‘cool’. So, yes, when Carman said ‘radical’, he certainly meant it at least partly in the Ninja Turtle sense. He certainly didn’t mean to incite anyone to become a suicide bomber.

(Incidentally, on Carman’s longform Addicted to Jesus video, which I might still have somewhere on VHS, he did describe himself as “a musical terrorist” for God, language which looks pretty ill-chosen from where I’m sitting.)

Still, I attended church services weekly where we described ourselves as radical, and preachers looked up ‘radical’ in the dictionary, observing that it meant “of or going to the root; fundamental”. We were radicals not just in the Ninja Turtle sense. We were radicals because, unlike those other wishy-washy Christians, we were the true roots of Christianity. We were fundamental. And yes, we were extreme. We were, as Carman sang elsewhere, “going 100% with Jesus because 99 1/2 just won’t do”.

Carman Live Radically Saved

I also began to think of “fanatic” as a badge of honour too. I thought I’d got that from Carman, but looking back through my old tapes, the only reference I can find in his lyrics is in “We Are Not Ashamed“, which says “We’re looked upon as outcasts/ fanatics they may say”. Maybe that’s where I got it from. One way or another, I saw being a fanatic as a good thing. “Nothing here can change my mind” sang Guardian in “Long Way Home“, because no good can come from being open to that possibility.

Regardless of what Carman meant, there are now Christian musicians who proudly proclaim themselves fanatics, like “Fanatic” by the Christian rapper Lecrae.

Christian extremism doesn’t get the press that Muslim extremism does, because there is no Christian equivalent of 9/11 or 7/7. And, I’m certain, none of the Christian singers I’ve talked about would endorse violence in the name of Christ. These were not incitements to terrorism. They were simply exhortations to be totally committed to the Christian life. No thought for the cost, no turning back, no thinking about what you’ve left behind.

As Carman sings at the end of Radically Saved:

The world thinks we’re crazy.
Our friends thinks we are crazy.
Our family thinks we’re crazy.
But we are just what?!
We are just radically saved!

It didn’t matter that we saw little of our extended families. It didn’t matter what we sacrificed in this life, because the reward would be so great in the next. Nothing mattered, except being saved, because what gains a man to win the world but lose his very soul?

If you’re not a believer, you might ask, “What if you’re wrong?”

But that question wouldn’t have made any sense to me, because I just wasn’t wrong. I knew. I was certain. I knew it I knew it I knew it… until one day, when I didn’t know anymore.

And then I had pretty much nothing.

Related posts:

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on September 25, 2014, in Atheism, Christian rock, Christianity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. Heh, my first taste of Christian pop was Carman as well. He was a stepping stone to Petra.

    My favourite Carman-related trivia involves his brother-in-law Mario C. Licciardello, a private detective who was hired to investigate Benny Hinn’s organization as part of an ongoing lawsuit. He died under mysterious circumstances the day before Hinn was supposed to be deposed.

  2. Is it ok if I don’t listen?

  3. revoliverharrison

    I don’t think Kendrick “sucks balls” – he’s no fundamentalist and his lyrics are pretty nuanced, theologically. Musically he may be rubbish (no idea, I’m tone deaf) but I know a good turn of phrase when I hear one and GK doesn’t say anything I would disagree with.

    I don’t know anything about Don Francisco but I remember the late, great Larry Norman (“I love God and I follow Jesus but I just don’t have much affinity for the organized folderol of the churches in the Western World.”) A truly great guy.

    Here’s some words from the song (“The Great American Novel”) he played at the White House in 1979

    you are far across the ocean
    but the war is not your own
    and while you’re winning theirs
    you’re gonna lose the one at home
    do you really think the only way
    to bring about the peace
    is to sacrifice your children
    and kill all your enemies

    you say all men are equal all men are brothers
    then why are the rich more equal than others
    don’t ask me for the answer I’ve only got one
    that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

    • I really know Larry Norman for Cliff Richard’s covers of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” and “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music”, the latter of which did nothing to alleviate the devil’s monopoly.

      I quite like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”, but musically it’s like a decent person’s response to believing something horrendous. It’s mournful—he does at least wish we’d all been ready—but he’s ultimately still singing about a load of humans going to hell.

  4. Hey! Go easy on Don!! He was my first exposure to Christian music and I liked him a lot. I even learned to play a load of his songs (not to the same standard of course, he’s a pretty accomplished guitarist to give him his dues). The way he told Bible stories added character and depth to them that wasn’t there with the standard, dry, emotionless reading of them that I was otherwise used to.

    I was a big fan of Christian rock in my faithful days. I even gave a youth talk or two on how you could find Christian music of whatever genre you were into. I missed out on Carmen, though, beyond hearing his songs at the odd meeting here and there.

    It’s funny how daft you feel looking back on some of the things you used to be really into.

    I’m looking forward to this series – I reckon there’ll be a certain amount of resonance with my own history.

    • You’re not the only Don Francisco fan in my readership—I expect Tim Chastain will be along later to tell me I’m wrong about him too.

      That video I linked to shows he is a pretty good musician. I just found him unbelievably boring as a child.

    • I was a big fan of Don Francisco. I had a love album that just blew me away. I still have it, even though I don’t believe what he sings. Not sure why, since it is a cassett and I have no way to listen to it. He sounded so different than any other of the Christian music I listened to.

      Phil Driscoll was another person that I listened to a lot.

      I’m really enjoying this series, Jonny. It brings back a lot of memories. It seems that I’m about 10 years older than you, so the time of your exposure to CCM was when it had started to branch away from performers like Steve Green and The Gaithers. I had already set my music tastes by then.

  5. Yurk! My ears!

    This is what a good religious blues song sounds like…

    • That’s awesome. When I started thinking about who to cover in this series, I realised I had hardly listened to a single black artist growing up, and almost no gospel.

      • Oh man. You seriously need to check out more Rosetta Tharpe then. (Damn good guitar player, too.) Also LaVerne Baker, though she didn’t do quite as much gospel.

        Some of the best of the really early blues-tinged religious stuff was tied to current news stories, with a preachy or religious slant. Kind of a musical version of “Thought For the Day.” God Moves On The Water is one that immediately springs to mind.

  6. revoliverharrison

    Good call! See also “Run On” (Elvis did a very Elvis-y cover version). The song is what used to called a Negro Spiritual (probably called something else now — Traditional African America Song maybe?) and is also called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. Johnny Cash’s version sends shivers up my spine.

    “Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
    Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
    But as sure as God made black and white
    What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light”

    Yes indeed brother! Testify!

  7. revoliverharrison

    P.S. Atheist music is even worse — songs from Stalin’s Soviet Union or modern-day North Korea make are so bad that they are almost good. Almost, until you realise the genocidal and monomaniacal agenda and practises. At least shit Christian “pop” hasn’t inspired many death marches or labour camps.

    • Jeez Oliver, what’s with the cheap pop at the atheists? I’ve never gone with the “what about the Crusades and the Inquisition” line on this blog.

      You can’t equate with music commissioned by totalitarian regimes with products of the CCM industry. If we want a fair comparison, we have to compare Christian rock with rock made by atheists, which includes a certain John Lennon.

      • revoliverharrison

        I just think you’re shooting fish in a barrel with this one. It’s crappy cheesy pop with a crude and clumsy Christian message. It’s shit but it’s harmless. I like it better when you take on fundamentalism’s hypocrisy or control games or whatever. Tackle the big and slippery fish — some of which have teeth — out on a wild river bank or in a small leaky boat rather than this shooting fish in a barrel. It’s too easy and way beneath your talents.

      • This shit is the reason I got into fundamentalism in the first place. As you’ll see when this series progresses, thanks to Christian rock I learned that abortion is murder before I knew what abortion was (and repeat for a bunch of the usual Christian right talking points).

        This is one of the propaganda tools of the Christian right. And it’s in addition to my usual blogging, not instead of, so you can always just ignore this blog on Thursdays.

    • Woods of Ypres is some pretty awesome atheist music. No hate and genocide there, not even lame atheist lyrics like some other bands.

  8. I read “Cartman” every time instead of “Carman.” That made the post quite funny 🙂

  9. The first Carman song I ever heard was form his R.I.O.T. (Righteous Invasion of Truth) album–it was “No Monsters”. He certainly did stave off my secular music inclinations for a while.

  10. revoliverharrison

    Well, I guess if it’s personal catharsis and it’s your blog, why not? Go for it, but I think you are diluting rather than dilating your canon.

    I can’t say I listen to (or reject) music due to it’s ideological viewpoint (well, actually I guess I’d reject some far-right stuff) so whether a band or song is “Christian” or “Socialist” or “gay” or “Irish” or whatever doesn’t really come into it. Still, when I hear someone like David Crowder I am genuinely blown away.

    I suspect all “fundamentalist” art is basically crap because 1.) it’s both driven by and also limited by its agenda and 2.) as Keats said “we resist art that has palpable designs upon us”. Art needs space and freedom and contradiction and exploration etc which any kind of fundamentalism (religious, political whatever) necessarily precludes. That’s why this bores me: these artists / bands / songs will be bad by definition. All fundamentalist “art” is, basically, at bottom, propaganda. It might have a kitsch or ironic appeal but nothing more than that.

  11. My name is Isaac Horowitz. I’m a male witch, a warlock and I feel I need to spend some time with you…

    • Yeah, that will need a post of its own sometime.

      • Yeah, I remember it being pretty intense. And when he chucked the torn up letter into the air and said the bit about it being a ‘witch’s invitation’, we all about shat ourselves.

        (This was at the local Senior Convention in Surrey, BC. I’m sure it would have been too sensational for the international one.)

    • I remember that one got chosen to be performed by some suck up dude at a Senior ACE Convention during the evening sermon/singing time. (Pretty sure he ended up with the coveted blue ribbon for performance art as well.) It was my first exposure to Carmen, and I became a mighty fan over the next year or so. Then all his songs began to sound the same, and Bon Jovi stole my heart.

  12. I became quite a fan of carman. My favourite track of his was Who’s In The House.

    I loved off the wall stuff, especially if it had a funny beat or lots of bass. I’m looking forward to what gets featured on this series.

    With regards to the quality of the music. I don’t buy into the argument that much of it is poor. I take the view that it matches the secular equivalents.

    I do agree with your radical comments. I don’t think they ever meant to only radicalism as we see it today. They meant radical on that they reject a sinful life and actively promote clean Christian living and want to be known for that. It’s a call to stand out as godly.

    • I think it is radicalism as we see it today though. Perhaps in my haste not to accuse them of terrorism, I didn’t make that clear. The Home Office recognises that there is a distance between radicalism and terrorism—lots of people hold radical views without committing acts of terrorism. But the us vs. them worldview and the absolutism are trademarks of radicalism.

      I also think even when the music was good, it was derivative and a bit behind the times. Carman’s Addicted to Jesus album would have been cutting edge in 1988, instead of 1991 when it actually came out.

  13. jesuswithoutbaggage

    Jonny…..I am here to fulfill your prophecy!

    I laughed out loud when you said you anticipated that I liked Don Francisco; I am not sure why you thought that, but you are correct. And I had already planned to say so before I read your prophecy. Actually, I really liked Petra and Stryper as well, though I was not a fan of all CCM.

    I know that CCM was generally stylistically and technically inferior to secular music, but I didn’t know that at the time because I was never a secular rock aficionado. However, there were a number of established secular names that added to CCM, such as Bob Denver, Keith Green, Gary Paxton, and B.J. Thomas (CCM was not all rock).

    By the way, regarding Carmen, are you familiar with “Untie my bowtie who stole my Honda”?

    • Yeah, that’s from Revival in the Land, isn’t it? Man, I could write for the rest of the decade just about Carman. All his stuff is incredible blog fodder.

    • Oh, and to solve your mystery, you had a blog post once that mentioned a Don Francisco song you liked. I didn’t comment at the time because it seemed like a dick move to comment just to say “No way, Don Francisco sucks!”

      • jesuswithoutbaggage

        I don’t recall the title of the song or album, but it was a simulation of speaking in tongues. Even though he was right on target with it, I was surprised that Pentecostals liked it because I would think such mimicking would be offensive.

        Thanks for solving the mystery of Francisco–and to think that he is now the Pope. Oh wait; that might be a different Francisco, but I am not sure until I hear him sing and play the guitar.

        The truth is I don’t listen to any of it anymore, and I haven’t for a long time.

  14. I have to say Jonny I’m loving this series so far, it’s making the serious points in a slightly more cheerful way.

    Generally I think the Christian alternatives to rock/pop/whatever when I grew up were pretty dreadful although I still look back at Amy Grant and Michael W Smith with fondness (and Kids Praise!)

    Perhaps I am pre-empting future posts but I remember a line from a male Christian rapper/singer (I think he was, v popular with people older than me at the time) which went “I blew up the clinic real good”. I just heard it in someone’s car. I can’t remember who he was or what he meant… was he exhorting or criticising those actions I really don’t know. To be honest it’s not really a phrase I feel happy to type into google.

  15. revoliverharrison

    Slightly OT but one of the bands I really don’t “get” is Switchfoot – I gave them a fair crack at the whip after several people who’s opinions I respected told me how great they are. But then I realised it was the Big American Stadium Rock sound and not my cup of tea. However, I then heard the four “seasons” EP’s that their front man, Jon Foreman, put out a couple of years ago (“Spring”, “Summer”, Winter”, “Fall” with six tracks on each, later re-issued as two albums “Spring & Summer” + “Winter & Fall”). I was amazed. Subtle, sensitive, sly, self-knowing with a folksy tinge. Christian, yes, but more Rob Bell and less Mark Driscoll. Very very good. What I still can’t quite get over is that the Switchfoot lead singer and lyricist wrote and performed THESE winsome songs. Who knew? Anyway, this made me think of that. As I said, a bit OT. Anyway, as you were.

  16. I grew up listening to mostly secular music (much to my mother’s chagrin). I was forced to go to a Carmen concert in high school as part of punishment for not doing a chore or something. At his concerts he called people up to dedicate their life to Christ (it was a big emotional show at least).

    Still can’t stand the guy. Now that I don’t have faith anymore, I can stand him even less.

  17. As you’ve actually been in ‘the scene’ Jonny, it’s refreshing to hear you say that for these artists, back in the 90s, terms such as ‘radical’ didn’t mean what it means when we use the term ‘radicalised’ today.

    You brought back a memory of the ‘Addicted To Jesus’ tour that Carmen did. I think it was Manchester, and I myself, aged 20 in 1992, and ‘in the scene’ for, erm, three or four months, was driven to a gig by my new-found Pentecostal church.

    At one point, Carmen shouted out to the packed hall, ‘Are we fanatics?’ I yelled back, ‘Noooo!’ before realising that everyone else was shouting ‘Yeeees!’ 😮 Musically, of course, Carmen was more or less complete shite.


    Mr Clare.

  18. I’ve now read all the other commenters’ posts. I’m really encouraged that so many people of faith are reading your blog; and I’m also really encouraged that you gave Steve Taylor a thumbs up. I loved the album ‘Squint’ from 1993.


    Mr Clare.

  19. I went to a Carman concert way back in the Dark Ages!
    FTR… technically, Carman is a Charismatic and not a Fundamentalist. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Carman or any other CCM (except Sandi Patti, but I wasn’t into her stuff), but I did anyway.

  20. Just found your blog and will be up all night reading. I’m a bit older, but your reference to Don Francisco made me laugh! We had the Peters Brothers come to our school on multiple occasions with their ridiculous Why Knock Rock seminars (which all we did during was wait and cross our fingers for a picture of Simon Le Bon or Boy George to show up on the projection screen).

    I saw some of the popular acts in those days, like 2nd Chapter of Acts (get it, lol?), Degarmo & Key, Amy Grant, Phil Keaggy, Sandy Patti (I could never get the i and the y right), and Petra, blah blah blah. Hated every one of them.

    But, I did actually like Steve Taylor, saw him live several times live. He was a great performer and an all around really nice dude. I still have my I Want to be a Clone pin in a box of junk somewhere, I’m sure. My little sister won some kind of coloring contest back in the day and received a phone call from him. What a prize, eh?

  21. Yeah, I was introduced to Carmen very early on. He was there way before D.C. Talk, for me. Before that, it was mostly listening to my Dad’s gospel quartets.

  22. I loved this. Carmen, R.I.O.T….sang by extreme youth to which I was one. I am now trying to figure out if religion even has a place in my life. The amount of damage is indescribable.

  23. Late to the discussion, but shaking my head in annoyance. I remember that “radical” “fanatic” nonsense. We were all warned about being “lukewarm,” because God would supposedly spit you out of his mouth. Uh-huh. Imagine such a scenario. Wouldn’t that just wear a person out? If you came across someone who spent every waking hour talking about Jesus and trying to talk people into conversion, you’d obviously have on your hands one of those people who wander the streets with torn, dirty clothing, brandishing a grammatically incorrect sign! …Oh, wait… Anyone else would quite reasonably burn out after awhile. And that’s exactly what did happen. Even the preachers I encountered didn’t do that. They were “on” during Sunday services and other public events, but otherwise, they were able to stand down and have more mundane conversations. Why on earth did they try to make us feel like the street-corner-fanatic-with-the-sign was what we should aspire to? And they call evolution a bunch of lies???!

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