What is your musical background? Are you musically trained?
No, I'm not trained at all. But I've always loved music. My parents liked various kinds of music, so I heard a lot of it growing up. I heard church music, classical music, country music, bluegrass. When the Beatles released their first album in America, I bought it with my allowance. Rock & roll was so exciting to me, so different. But the older generation saw it as something evil. My parents tried to get me to stick with the piano lessons I was taking as a teenager, but the more I heard rock & roll, the more I wanted to play guitar; so I quit piano and started learning to play [guitar] on my own. I had some cousins who had similar interests, and before too long we started our own rock & roll band. We tried to arrange the songs we heard on records, but none of us knew much about music, so were really kinda made up the chords as we went along.
When did you start playing music professionally?
Well, we made money doing it [in] high school, but I didn't really take it seriously until I was in college. By that time, I had become a Christian. I was earning a degree in film and television production, but on weekends, I would do concerts. I had a rock band, a folk group, and later just started performing solo. I joined Solid Rock Records with Larry Norman three years ago, and I've released two albums since then. (On Turning To Dust, AB Records—AB 778; Appalachian Melody, Solid Rock Records—SRA 200).
You're involved in Christian rock & roll music. How did the fusion of rock and the church come about in America?
Well, in the 1960s, the churches seemed rather dead; much theological orthodoxy was upheld, but it seemed to be just words and not a way of life. It seemed like the church's music spoke only to the older people. It was boring for the younger people. Many of the young people really loved God and wanted to express their love for Him, but not in the traditional way. So a lot of us started bringing the rock medium and Christian lyrics together. I formed a group like that in 1969. Of course, we were not accepted immediately by the Church. It was a bit of the shock for those who only saw the hymns and classics as being suitable for church. I guess a lot of times, the grown-ups were seeing the malignancies that sometimes occur in the music business—drugs, illicit sex, irresponsible living—instead of hearing the music. As Christians, we opposed that life-style, but we loved the new music. Then too, new art is always rejected by those who develop a taste for their own forms of expression earlier and reinforce their tastes over the years. So it was hard for a lot of us in the beginning, but now in my country it is much more acceptable. People have seen the good it can do, and that those of us involved in Christian rock & roll really do love God.
How did the recording of Fingerprint come about?
I was approached by a Swiss Christian company and asked about the possibility of doing an album for release in Europe. I have done a bit of touring in Europe the last two years, and I enjoy European audiences. They seems to take listening more seriously than most American audiences. So I began putting songs together for this album. Most of them are at least a few years old, and most are just songs I wanted to write, regardless of whether they would ever be on an album. So I was overjoyed at the opportunity to put them on an album for my European friends. I'm excited about the things going on with Christian music in Switzerland. I think they will avoid some of the mistakes we made in America during the Jesus Movement. Kir, the Swiss company, and some other groups have great potential for communicating the gospel while maintaining high artistic standards. I'm happy to be involved with them, both in this record and in the recording production of a Swiss Christian band.
The credits say you played most of the instruments and engineered at the same time. How did you go about recording that way?
Well, my wife and I lived at the studio for two weeks. I had Peter Johnson come down and play drums first. Then, I played guitar, running wires out from the control room to my amplifier in the studio and miking the amp. I did the bass next the same way, then the acoustic guitars, percussion, background vocals, etc. So the music was just built up piece by piece. For vocals I put blankets over the console to deaden the sound; that was kinda hard because I had to operate controls while singing. You can hear the clicks and pops in some places where I was frantically trying to be two people at once. So the album really has a homemade feel to it. There's even one place where, if you listen carefully, you can hear Thurston the dog jingling his collar outside the studio. When I had to do too many things at once, Janet Sue would provide some extra hands.
I'd like to ask you some questions about some of the songs on this album. The first one, "I'm In Chains": what is that about?
This song is an attempt to draw a satirical picture of the philosophy so often espoused, sometimes unconsciously, by modern Christians in their attempt to separate spiritually from the rest of human existence. Activities get labelled as spiritual or non-spiritual, and it seems a hierarchy comes about concerning which activities are the most spiritual. Regular life, our humanness, often gets pushed aside. (After all, Paul urged us to set our minds on the things Above, didn't he?) Truly we should be careful about our lives becoming tangled up in themselves. But I think sometimes Christians go too far in "denying the self." We can lose the humanness that God created us with. We can miss a large portion of life if we aren't careful.
In Eastern philosophy it is of great value to lose the consciousness of day-to-day existence in favor of "higher truths." Life becomes merely an illusion, a shadow of the real. To be human becomes undesirable; transcendence is sought after and deemed superior. But in the end, no one can live explaining everything about his life away. C.S. Lewis said, "You will find that you have explained explanation itself away." Any system of thought which allows no value to human thought will destroy its own efforts.
Life for the Christian is not an illusion, nor was it intended to be. It is all too real, and we are not to try and escape its reality as the existentialists have done. Nor is humanness evil in itself.
Sometimes it seems Christians confuse their human nature with their sinful nature. But they are different. The former we were created with, the latter we chose. It does us no good to try and escape our humanness and in so doing think we are escaping our sin. Our lives are important, and we are responsible before God for how we live them. That's what I'm trying to say in this song, and much of my other work also reflects that view. In fact, the next song, "Nowadays," is a follow up... "I can be myself nowadays." I can love God and fix that flat tire at the same time without having to worry about what I have to do to be spiritual.
Is "One More Time" a song from your personal experience?
Every song I write is not necessarily from personal experience; however, this one is. I wrestled with skepticism both before and after becoming Christian. I had a lot of questions, both philosophically and about specific things in the Bible. I found it very hard to talk to other Christians about most of the questions, however. I was told that to have questions was not to have faith. Once again, I was seeing faith separated from reality and the reasoning process. I was even told by some Christians that I couldn't be helped until I put all my questions aside. But I knew I couldn't honestly do that. It seemed to me that if Christianity is the truth, then surely it must be open to discussion when points of question come up. Jesus showed Thomas the wounds and then he believed.
Finally, a handful of people did help me. I can't say that all my questions were given an a-b-c answer, but enough of my doubts were removed so that my faith involved my reason and not just my heart. So this song came out of that experience. I'll always feel indebted to the ones who did take the time to help me. I have made a bibliography of books that were helpful to me. As I meet people in similar doubting situations at concerts I do, I'm at least able to suggest some reading. I find many people are afraid to admit their doubts, and this is really sad; the anguish can be great at such times.
Do you have any comments on other songs?
Well, let's see. "Gimme Mine" is obviously a commentary on how society adopts its values. I think we have to be careful not to let society manipulate its values into us. It's easy to get victimized in that way. Peer pressure makes it difficult for most people to decide what to do with their lives, and that's what the song is about, but the implications of allowing society to tell us what to do with our lives run much deeper. Who has the final say, anyway? That's why the Bible is such an important part of the Christian faith.
"All the Sleepless Dreamers" is a further exposition of more than mildly existential society. "Negative Charge" reminds us that life is not the candy-coated, simplistic entity that we as Christians so often cajole ourselves into believing it is. "Remarks to Mr. McLuhan" (referring to Marshall McLuhan) is a simple message to the propagator of the philosophy "the medium is the message," saying "maybe that is not necessarily the case"—just an outcry, really, from a Global villager.
Why is the album called Fingerprint?
I think it is important for each of us as creatures made in God's image to leave our individual marks—graffiti if you will. Whether that's done in vinyl, ink, words, paints, actions, whatever, each of us bears the responsibility to be honest about life, and those of us who are Christians, to be honest about our faith. Everyone can be creative in our own perceptions of life, just to express things in a new way. Trying to avoid clichés helps life become fresh again, helps us remember what life is about in the first place.
© 1980 Palmfrond Communications
Fingerprint ~ Reviews / Lyrics / Credits / DISCOGRAPHY