If I were still at the university, I would compliment Mark Heard by saying that he is an artist, a thinker, and an iconoclast. Perhaps it would do more for his future in Christian music if, instead, I stress that he is gifted, sincere and in the Lord. Luckily, Mark is all of these. He is also honest, humorous, disciplined and very much in love with his wife.
Mark and Janet Heard met in New York City at a Christian youth gathering. They carried on a four-year letter-writing courtship because, they say, they were both "too shy to do anything else." They are a sweet, soft-spoken couple, almost retiring at times, but they are remarkable well-traveled, well-read and self-sufficient. For instance, Janet spins wool and knits with agility. She also travels with Mark when he goes overseas. They have been to Europe twice in the past two years, spending a total of seven months doing evangelical work in Switzerland.
Originally from Macon County, Ga., Mark grew up immersed in southern rock 'n' roll and Bible-belt theology. He got saved through the Jesus movement at age 17 and shifted away from rock because "Christians told him that's what Christians do-play in folk groups." He subsequently returned to rock, but his most recent album, Stop the Dominoes, is probably the rockiest yet, although it still draws strongly on the folk rock strains of the last two decades.
Today, Janet and Mark live in Glendale, Ca. Where they moved four years ago from Georgia towork on Mark's album for Solid Rock. They ran out of money and stayed. (Janet, who keeps trackof the Heard bank account, says their funds "go out more often than they come in," addingconfidently, "but the Lord always provides.")
The Heard's work in Switzerland is focused on assisting Europeans establish a strong foundationfor developing their own Jesus movement and contemporary Christian music. Recently, Mark recorded Fingerprints, his third album with a small new Swiss label. He hopes the album, which is available only in Europe, will help to discourage mass Americanization of Christian Europe and encourage Christians on the continent to develop their own relevant and contemporary art.
Mark's special interest in Switzerland stems from the two years he spent studying at L'Abriunder the respected Christian teacher Francis Schaeffer. Like many others, Mark journeyed toL'Abri to question and learn about his faith. He had attended the University of Georgia andmajored in biology, but during his studies discovered that the faith he carried was somehowincomplete.
"We were brought up to believe that if you're Christian, you have to do it a certain way, andif you don't, you're either not a Christian or there's something wrong with you," he offers.
"I'd been taught to accept the fact that God really does exist before I was a Christian. Andafter I was a Christian, I had accepted it and yet I had many questions about it. I wanted tobelieve with all my heart, but I understood that a belief apart from intellectual understandingwas mysticism; and as I understood Christianity, it was not simply a belief system whatever theresults of the belief were. I saw Christianity as a thing that had to be real or not in orderfor it to make sense.
"I have a lot of U.S. Christians tell me, "Oh, you go to Europe? It's a horrible secularsociety. They are all atheists!' But it's not any worse than the Untied States. We just havesmiling, yellow happy faces everywhere to help us think that God is involved somehow. But thisis still a secular society. It's still based on non-theistic presuppositions.
"I'm not saying we should all go to Christian schools; that would just compound theproblem," Mark continues, "but if we can't meet these questions with our minds now, if wecan't go out there and talk to the actual people who are involved and are staking their liveson a non-theistic system, if we can't answer their questions, we've missed it somehow. If wedon't get out there and do something on the intellectual level, then we're not doing our jobsas Christians. And I'm sad to say that right now, we're not - as a general rule."
Predictably, Stop the Dominoes is anything but your typical praise-oriented contemporaryChristian music. The arrangements, whether pretty ballads or bluesrock, are simple enough,but the lyrics are not. Mark's lyrics are not difficult to understand, but their poetryassiduously avoids cliches and address those problems of like that many Christians simplydon't want to hear-things like: life isn't exactly all it is cracked up to be 100 percentof the time, even if you are Christian; and just because you are, doesn't mean that the big,bad world with all its pain and confusion magically disappears.
For instance, "Stuck in the Middle:" "Half the world prays like the preacher/The other half don't even pray.../I'm too sacred for the sinners/And the saints wish I would leave."
"I feel separate from the Christian music industry, but I also feel separate from the secular industry," Mark explains. "My purpose isn't to write praise music. My purpose is to try and to expose some of my thoughts and emotions."
"One of the Dominoes" (Heaven help a timid child in a trendy tide...") would easily appeal to non-Christian listeners - if they ever had the opportunity to hear it. How many people today - whether in or of the world - can say with confidence that they have never felt lost in the chain reaction, mass-production mindset of modernity?
"When Christians hear 'Dominoes,' they tend to think, 'That's talkin' about the world out there and the other people. Yeah, they have problems. They get their values just from society. That's sad isn't it?' They identify with scolding this evil world," says Mark.
"But, actually, I'm also talking about Christians and Christian songs because many times we pick up our values in the same way. When something new comes along, we don't think. Or our thoughts are fads. We just take a person's word for it. We listen to a preacher and he says 'It's this way, blah, blah and blah.' That's TV knowledge. That's not mental or intellectual knowledge. We don't take the information that comes in and process it before it comes out of our mouths. When a trend comes along, we accept it... We're falling as dominoes."
"There are a lot of people who are Christians who would like to be more progressive in their writing, and yet they find it difficult because of the Pavlov's dog syndrome. They've heard over and over again, 'This is what you write, this is what sells.' And they know if their record doesn't sell, then they won't have a recording contract and then they can't say anything to anybody."Mark is currently completing production on Pat Terry's new album. Terry dissolved his band and quit writing some time ago. This new album, however, promises to help liberate him from the commercial culture trap Mark mentioned above. How has Mark escaped?"Escaped from where?" he responds, wryly. "Oh, I don't know that I have. There's always the element of somebody looking over your shoulder. I don't know how somebody would label what I'm doing - progressive or whatever. But I've grown kind of outside the Christian music industry, and I'd like to kind of keep it that way because I don't really want to know so much that I feel like I have to meet up to someone's expectations. I try to make myself write something like I want to hear, not what I think might please some record company."
Isn't that me oriented?
Mark's eyes light up. Suddenly animated with accelerating amusement, he responds: "Just because Christian culture contains certain trends, I don't think that the trends are necessarily Christian. The Christians are, but the trends maybe aren't. Where everybody else usually is, is the large area of commerciality, of things that are known to be saleable. It's safer if you're an artist to put your stakes there; if you're a record company, to hire artists that are like that - who write whatever the most people are buying.
"There are a lot of people who are Christians who would like to be more progressive in their writing, and yet they find it difficult because of the Pavlov's dog syndrome. They've heard over and over again, 'This is what you write, this is what sells.' And they know if their record doesn't sell, then they won't have a recording contract and then they can't say anything to anybody."
Mark is currently completing production on Pat Terry's new album. Terry dissolved his band and quit writing some time ago. This new album, however, promises to help liberate him from the commercial culture trap Mark mentioned above. How has Mark escaped?
"Escaped from where?" he responds, wryly. "Oh, I don't know that I have. There's always the element of somebody looking over your shoulder. I don't know how somebody would label what I'm doing-progressive or whatever. But I've grown kind of outside the Christian music industry, and I'd like to kind of keep it that way because I don't really want to know so much that I feel like I have to meet up to someone's expectations. I try to make myself write something like I want to hear, not what I think might please some record company."
Isn't that me oriented?
Mark's eyes light up. Suddenly animated with accelerating amusement, he responds: "Yeah, it is, but see, when you ask that question, 'Isn't that me oriented?', that's another trendy term we have, 'me-oriented'; now everybody's launched onto that! We've latched onto other things, too, like - SECULAR HUMANISM! - and we throw out the baby with the bathwater. A lot of times we see one thing that's bad - and of course being 'me-oriented' is band, of course it's bad! Any idiot can see that it's bad, and especially any idiot that's a Christian too. And there are lots of them! Any fool can see that, and I'm no exception!" he laughs.
"But to say that-that 'I have no value, SUCH A WORM AS I!' - that kind of syndrome is not fair to God because He created each of us with an individuality, and He gave most of the Ten Commandments based on our individual rights as people - you're not supposed to take your neighbor's animals, you should worship the Lord, too, you shouldn't be the first, the Lord should be first.
"But we do have rights and we shouldn't take this TV, one-thing-pounded-into-stone, making rules of axioms, and making axioms of statements, and making statements of rumors. We shouldn't do that! We should look and see what somebody's saying.
"So, when you say 'Isn't that me-oriented?'", that's got negative connotations. But actually, my music IS me-oriented because, I happen to be me, ME! And I can't help it. "But whether or not that's selfish, is another question. I don't think it's selfish of me to write from my point of view. I think it would be selfish of me to write from your point of view!"Can we print that?
"Sure, I think it's great."
I stand accused.
Karen Marie Platt ( CCM, November 1981 )
Copyright © 1981 CCM Magazine
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