National Public Viking

Monday, June 12, 2006

Two nights at the Warehouse Theater/Nextdoor


My old college radio station, WUOG, spun the self-titled debut from Mammatus quite heavily when it came out a few months ago. Comets On Fire (whose new album Avatar might be one of the best of the year) has been championing the band and rightly so. It's the pounding Hawkwind-ly stoner-rock drenched in psychedelic fuzz that's been seeing a revival lately. The set comprised of two long jams totalling out to 25 minutes both thick with vibrato-ed E-strings and intense wah-wah. Mammatus didn't get into any free-improv freakouts like on the CD, but kept a steady head-swirling sludge the whole way through... not that I'm complaining.

I hated to miss Residual Echoes, whose last album I unfairly wrote off, but the Metro closes at midnight and it was 11:40PM. Tis not safe to walk so late in D.C.

As for the opening bands, Vincent Black Shadow did a decent Stooges/MC5 psych garage-rock thing, but in the end I couldn't tell you how they really sounded... so that's a negative in my book. Facemat reminded me of the crazy improv my friends and I did on Crisis! during the last two summers: wacky bordering on annoying with some inspired moments of genius.


Nathan, the Washington Desk intern, invited the crew to a reading at the Warehouse Theater as part of the F.W. Thomas Series. (Thomas was a mediocre politician or something rather. Nathan could correct me and add witty commentary connected to the night's readers!) Fact is, I have a short attention span when it comes to book/poetry/grocery list readings (I hated that attending such readings was a requirement for a creative writing class last year), especially when it comes the McSweeney's ilk. For this reason, I couldn't really tell you what some of the performers did other than sing a song about falling love with a person with a boring job, act more adorable than one really should when talking about his cute cartoons, and something about being pounded by nine year olds.

Alas, there was a reason for my attendence: Andrew Beaujon reading excerpts from his book Body Piercing Saved My Life. Beaujon's the managing editor for the Washington City Post, which seems like a decent local weekly, so far, and an agnostic who took on Christian rock and Christian rock culture for this book. Now for the past year I've been interested in how agnostic/atheist America views this strange subculture of Christian rock, youth groups, and, in general, modern evangelicalism. Documentaries like Hell House, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music, and Danielson: A Family Movie have all been released within the last three years to the interest of non-Christians, in particular. I've only seen Hell House, a mostly fair, though still disturbing, look at the "Judgement/Hell House" phenomenon, the charismatic Protestant alternative to haunted houses on Halloween. There's also the Michael Stipe-produced movie Saved!, which could have been a excellent satire on Christian private schools and religious hypocrisy, but ended up being more mean-spirited than anything else.

Even though I have not read the book (I'm sure it's a well-priced paperback, but I can't afford much of anything at the moment), I felt immediately calmed by Beaujon's demeanor. Beaujon spoke with fairness and honesty in his first public reading. When people in the audience snickered at some of the foreign youth group-isms described at the wildly popular Cornerstone Festival that he attended for research (and I attended twice: 1997 with my cousins & 2002 for a Roadside Monument reunion show) or the admittedly over-the-top Gen-X/reaching-to-the-youth quotes from the Mars Hill pastor, he allowed a second of laughter, and then continued on leaving the rolled eyes unacknowledged. This, I believe, kept the audience interested. He wasn't there to confirm or deny the strange ways of "alternative Christianity," only to present it as a viable culture, one that's as detailed and misunderstood as any select group of people.

From what he read, I felt like I already knew it all, which was both familiar and discomforting at once. In high school, Christian rock and all of its trappings were a large part of my life. I didn't hear my first Black Sabbath record until I came to college. Instead, I learned stoner-rock from Adam Again's Perfecta, which I'd still pit against any other sludged out record as one of the most drug-induced depressive albums ever recorded (and, if it should ever happen, would likely be the focus of a book I want to write someday on how Christian rock both ruined and uplifted my life). The politics and hipsterism of the Christian punk/hardcore scene in Atlanta (and Marietta, too, or especially) were awful and repressive, and probably a large part of why I ultimately rejected it almost altogether when I moved to Athens to study English and become a music nerd.

Most of all, I found Beaujon's reverence for his subjects a breath of fresh air. Even though the Mars Hill pastor uses pop-culture to relate to his congregation, Beaujon always mentioned the true focus of the sermon, which, in the whole reading, I found astounding. It would've been too easy for him to take the low road and paint an ugly picture of the backwards preacher with the crazy ideas, but he instead presented the whole of the argument, an attribute I find disgustingly lacking in Christians, agnostics, and atheists alike.

So to Andrew Beaujon, I thank you for giving the life of my past a fair chance.


At 7:35 AM, Blogger surrendered said...

i hear what you're saying. it is refreshing when someone comes along who's willing to take an honest look at things, all stereotypes and presuppositions aside.

and if you ever wrote a book on how Christian rock both ruined and uplifted your life, i'd be the first to buy it (or at least sit in Borders and read it...)

see ya.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger PJ said...

i've never found it to be unsafe to walk in d.c. just depends on the neighborhood, i guess.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger christa t said...

I've had a real problem with the press covering movements in American Christianity, because they kind of present their readers with what they wanted proof that what they thought was true about Christians all along. I read something in Harper's about some megachurch in Colorado Springs that was pretty harsh, even though it was a megachurch in Colorado Springs so it was ridiculous to begin with. I think that's the same thing as Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine running a story on how gay activists are teaching anal fisting in public schools - not really journalism, just sensationalizing and making their demographic more fearful and ignorant.

Christian teenagers, like all teenagers, are an easy target, though.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger christa t said...

I just read what I wrote and it doesn't really make any sense. Oh well.


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