The realm of Christian music has immensely grown in the past twenty years, and the growing number of artists and their varying messages have had a great influence on the church and the direction of Christianity. Many times Christians accept the message of Christian music just because it is labeled as "Gospel." In the same way, Christians accept whatever the power structure of Christendom asserts without question or examination. That is to say, the messages that preachers, associations and gospel artists put forth to the masses are often accepted not on content but on sole merit of the message sender. One Christian Artist has noticed this trend and in his often satirical and always controversial music career has given light to this phenomenon. Steve Taylor, through his many albums, concerts, and interviews has continually pointed out what was wrong with the church at any given time and has boldly, and without reservation fought against the watering down of the gospel, the errant beliefs of the church, and the dumbing down of the Christian masses. He has been faithful in his call throughout his ministry, even being rejected by the Contemporary Christian Music field as a whole, but through it all has stood fast to his belief in God's word and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ unashamedly and offensively. Steve Taylor has a refreshingly new view on the world of Christendom and the status of the church today.
Roland Stephen Taylor was born in Brwaley, California December 9, 1957 and was married to Debbie Taylor in 1985. He attended the University of Colorado where he received his Bachelor of Arts Degree. His concentration was in vocal arts because "he couldn't do anything else." His father, Rev. Roland Samuel Taylor was an ordained minister and Steve cites him as a great influence on him in his early years. In college, Taylor encountered a band that according to Steve "Musically saved my life." He was listening to a soundtrack to a film in one of his classes and heard a group he really liked. He went and bought the CD of "The Clash". Taylor states: "The Clash saw the problems of the world with startling clarity. They just weren't offering much in the way of solutions. I'd found my mission." It was at that point that Taylor decided he would serve the Lord in the Christian Music field. His first demos from his late years in college were unsuccessful, but a label representative Jim Chaffe helped Steve to become the assistant director of "The Continentals", a southern gospel evangelistic group. He also helped Taylor become director of the "Chuck Bolte's Jeremiah People", a comedy group whose satire would greatly influence Steve throughout his career. After releasing four records, his popularity grew and his hard-hitting lyrics produced both positive and negative emotions from the CCM media and culture. After the release of his fifth album I Predict 1990, the criticism about his music came to a head. The main reason for this was the lack of understanding about the satirical nature of his music. One of the songs on the album was entitled "I Blew up the Clinic Real Good" and was the story of a person who bombed an abortion clinic. The song was obviously satirical and in no way supporting bombing a clinic, and as the main theme of the song states "The end doesn't justify the means anytime." However, the CCM mainstream criticized and ended up silently rejecting Taylor. At this point, Taylor made a major decision in life, to retire from Christian Music. He then formed a band named "Chagall Guevara", and signed with MCA Records. The band continued on in the tradition of honest and satirical lyrics, but the sales fell below expectation and eventually MCA Records went out of business. At this point, Taylor returned to the Christian Music scene mainly producing such groups as "Newsboys" and "Guardian." He then released his most recent CD with new material entitled "Squint" in 1993 and has release various greatest hits records and remixes since then. Taylor still does a great deal of producing, and is looking forward to greater projects in both the record and film business in future years. The journey through Steve Taylor's recordings starting in 1983 with his debut album to 1993 with his last new material is one filled with humor, truthfulness, satire and most of all a tour of an expression of love for Christ and the desire for unity of the church.
The journey begins in 1983 when Steve Taylor released his first album entitled I Want to be a Clone. The EP, having only 6 recordings, marks the beginnings of a very successful career. The tile cut "I want to Be a Clone" deals with the issue of the church manufacturing Christians in the image of the church and not in the image of God. Churches want Christians to be like everyone else in the church and not to "rock the boat." This process, according to Taylor, produces clones, so that all Christians are just like each other and have no individuality. The line "their language was new to me, but Christianize got through to me" speaks to the certain language that Christians are "supposed" to speak. Part of the chorus sums up the theme "be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight, clonliness is next to Godliness, right?". The church today is more concerned with producing clones that will fit into the usual system of the church and not be radical than they are concerned about Godliness within these people. As long as people come to church every Sunday, and don't bring anyone that's too different with them, then they are fine. Taylor is correct in his portraying of the church as a whole as a mass "assembly line" producing clones. Another song on the album entitled "Whatever Happened to Sin?" confronts head on the issues of abortion and homosexuality. He asks what happened to idea of absolute truth, of the idea of right and wrong especially in the church. A Christian counselor in the song supports abortion, claiming it was the only choice and a reverend says "gay is probably normal in the good Lord's sight." Taylor states that if the church chooses to ignore and accept ideas such as these as the norm, our society will crumble. If we refuse to listen to the call to act from "the throne of gold" because "our mind is on hold" we will pay a dear price in the future. These words written in 1983, had great foresight to today's times of legal abortions and ordained marriages of homosexuals. The question truly is "Whatever happened to Sin?" Finally, the concluding song on the record is "Whatcha Gonna do when You're Number's Up?". The question here is what will all the earthly gains on life benefit you when you finally expiernece death. Taylor writes one of his most famous lines in this song: "you say humanist philosophy is what it's all about? You're so open-minded that your brain leaked out." Humanism will gain a person nothing when death claims them. Steve Taylor's first album I Want to Be a Clone showed great honesty as well as tremendous foresight as he worried not about breaking into Christian Music with glamour but with truth.
Continuing the journey through Steve Taylor's career, his next album Meltdown was released in 1984 as the long-awaited second album. One of the most controversial songs Taylor ever wrote "We Don't Need No Color Code" was included on this record. The song, which confronted racism, did so in a very specific way: by criticizing a very specific institution where racism took place. The institution was Bob Jones University located in Greenville, SC. He begins attacking Bob Jones University:
down carolina way, lived a man named o' big bj
bj went and got a school founded on Caucasian rule
bumper sticker on his ford says "honkies if you love the Lord"
through using fact combined with humor and sarcasm. Taylor asserted that sometimes biting sarcasm is the only way to get a message across loud enough that people will hear it. Later in the song he states that "I know Jesus still loves that man, even with a Greenville tan." He then proceeds to attack racism in the church in general. "Color codes in churches huh? whose translation do you read." He recognized the fact that most churches today, especially in the south where Taylor wrote this song about, are totally white and would not graciously accept other races into their church. In this song, Taylor cries out about the wrongness of a color code in general, especially for the church. Another song on this album is entitled "Sin for a Season" and deals with the consequences of the sin. He speaks of a man who has an affair and it ruins his marriage, of a drunk driver who kills an only son, and of a greedy business man who loses it all. The recurring excuse" God, I'm only human, got no other reason..., Sin for a Season" speaks to the fact that sin lasts for far more than just a "season" but can and will ruin lives. Finally, Taylor deals with hyper-separationism in "Guilty By Association." In this song, he deals with the teaching that everyone you associate with and everything you buy should be Christian in order to avoid "temptation." He humorously asserts that some Christians are so concerned with this idea that they will only "drink milk from a Christian cow." He then deals with belief that all "rock" music comes from Satan. "It's of a worldly design! God's music should be divine" and follows this sarcastically with "Try buying records like mine" (Taylor's musical style is considered "rock"). He then speaks to the teachers of this doctrine:
so you say "it's of the devil" and we've got no choice
cause you heard a revelation from a still small voice
if the Bible doesn't back it, then it seems quite clear
perhaps it was the devil who whispered in your ear
"Guilty By Association" confronted straight on the idea of total separtionism from the world. Taylor's second album, Meltdown, continued in honestly challenging the ideas of his day.
The next album considered in the journey is his most controversial and the one that caused his brief retirement from Christian Music. I Predict 1990 is brutally honest, combining his usual satire with complex wit. The album released in 1987, was in some ways a prediction of society in 1990 but was also a contemporary statement of the social ills of the time. The first cut of the album "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" and the coinciding video used the technique of over-exaggerating a feeling to prove a point and thus many people missed the whole meaning of the song. It is the story of an ice cream man who was upset at abortion because "if we run out of youngsters, then I'll lose my job." Thus, he took dynamite and "blew up the clinic real good." That is where many people choose to stop listening to the song and with the many shallow messages in song today, choose to ignore the deeper meaning. The song goes on to say that "the ends don't justify the means anytime" saying blatantly that the act was wrong. The ice cream man in the end says "ain't nothing with this country that country that few plastic explosives won't cure" obviously satire on the idea that there is a quick fix to the societal problems. Another selection from this album is entitled "Since I gave up Hope I Feel a Lot Better." This songs refers to the people in life, especially college students who get fired up to go and change the world and then become frustrted that they can't. Many of these people become disenchanted and agee that "since I gave up hope I feel a lot better." The song is kind of a negative outlook on society and the ideas that drive our culture. The people that gave up hope need to realize that true hope is found in Jesus Christ. The album I Predict 1990 was a very controversial one that truly reflected Taylor's feelings through satire and underlying meanings. It proved to change the course of his career.
Taylor retired from Christian music in 1990 and with a band named "Chagall Guervera" produced one album. He then rejoined the Christian music scene with his latest album with new music Squint. It would be apporate to begin to close this journey by examing a song on Squint that relates Steve's feelings about his brief retirement. the name of the song is "Sock Heaven." The song is an analogy of sorts for he uses the idea of washing socks to illustrate his expiernces. He writes "misfits lost in a dryer" and "out of the wringer, into the dryer" speaking of his painful rejection. He also writes "if you can't act it misfit, you don't belong here" because many people wanted him to remain in Christian Music but to "tone" down his message. He concludes the song by realizing that it all happend according to God's plan: "I see it all from your angle" and proclaims that "God gets His saints up in Sock Heaven." Steve comments specifically on this song on another album entitled Squintlets in which he gives a short introduction to all his songs. Before "Sock Heaven" his asserts that he had another offer to stay in Christian Music but turned it down because it needed him "to become more mainstream in his approach." Taylor however states that "the band idea was in it's roots good" but the fact was that "we defined what we weren't better than what we were." He says he needed a vision, a misson in life and that the band was not accoplishing that. He concludes by saying that "being able to sing about your faith in a pointed way is an honor." "Sock Heaven" is a song that is autobiographical on how his retirement from Christian Music and formation of a band did not work out and pointed him back to his true mission. A final song on Squint is "The Finish Line." This song is one of the most powerful, emotional songs that Taylor has ever done and according to him: "still affects me emotinally every time I hear it." The song traces the Christian walk of a dedicated believer. It certainly does not look through rose-colored glasses but truly reflects the everday struggle of a Chistian to his destiny at the finish line in heaven. He sings of the down times when "darkness falls, the devil stirs and as your vision stirs you start stumbling" and when "malice reigns, the acid guile is sucking at your shoes when the mud is fresh." He writes that at these times we must "all wash our hands" and say "but Father, by your grace I will never kneel." Then finally we will be able to "squint with the light of the truth in our eyes" and have "both hands raised" as we run toward the end. Finally, we will "scale the last wall" and "fall into His arms at the Finish Line." It is a true representation of the Christian life, although one that mnay choose to ignore and not preach. The album Squint continues to reflect truly on today's culture and continued to encourage the church to press on no matter what obstacles come its way.
Steve Taylor, since 1983, has been preaching the word of God through his music satircally, controversialy and always truthfully. He has song boldy about what he saw as the problems of society, especially the truth. Even though being shunned by the Christian Music Business as one time, he continued to press on and write and sing what he considered the truth. Since his last ablum in 1993, he has released a live version of Squint enitled Liver and has produced many other albums. He has produced a movie with the "Newsboys" and plans to produce a independent movie to be released nationally that would relate to both a secular and Chistian crowd. He plans on releasing a new album sometime in the next two years, an album which promises to carry on his traditional style from his former music. Steve Taylor is truly a rare artist, for he relies not on popularity or money to motivate him but on his love for Jesus Christ and his people.