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Counter-culture soundtrack


WORLD Radio - Counter-culture soundtrack

The Jesus Music tells the story of the revolutionaries who created contemporary Christian music

In this Oct. 15, 2019 file photo, Michael W. Smith performs during the Dove Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Humphrey/Associated Press Photo

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, October 1st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio!

I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Jesus music.

It was the soundtrack to a spiritual revival that swept the nation 50 years ago. And it set the stage for the wide variety of Christian music we have today.

A new documentary in theaters today tells the story of that musical revolution and the artists who capitalized on it.

Here’s reviewer Sharon Dierberger.

MUSIC: [Friends]

SHARON DIERBERGER, REVIEWER: These days we can download and listen to an enormous range of Christian music nearly anytime, anywhere, and think nothing of it.

But a new documentary from the Erwin brothers reminds us contemporary Christian music hasn’t been around all that long. The Jesus Music traces its emergence during the counterculture revolution of the late 60s and early 70s and follows it into the present.

The film features some of CCM’s biggest stars, including singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith.

SMITH: I think music is the most powerful and universal language in the world. And somehow it comes out of the radio, or the satellite radio, or a CD, or the computer, and you go, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. Great song. That song changed my life.’ And you can do all of that in three and a half minutes.

The Jesus music movement took off in 1969 at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. Pastor Chuck Smith, 42 years old and balding, invited disillusioned young people to come to church barefoot and wearing jeans. Pretty radical. But scores of hippies started believing in Christ, tired of pursuing decadent lifestyles that left them empty.

Greg Laurie was one of them. He’s now pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship. But back then, he was a southern California surfer.

LAURIE: We took drugs to discover. We were trying to find answers. And our heroes, like the Beatles, Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin…They were kind of leading us.

Many of the hippies were musicians. They started expressing their new faith through the same kind of music they used to play but with transformed hearts and attitudes. Chuck Smith invited Tommy Coomes, Chuck Gerard, and their group, Love Song, to play one of their faith-inspired tunes in church.

Here’s Coomes, who eventually became creative director at Maranatha! Music:

COOMES: We had two great loves that kind of bound us together. It was the love of making music and this really driving urge to find out who God was and to find something better that what we’d seen.

Soon, guitars and drums rocked the hymn-and-choir church world, and the music spread across the country.

The styles changed and grew—from Jesus music to contemporary Christian music—to the worship music many churches include in services today.

Not everyone was a fan at first. Some said the rock-and-roll melodies and rhythms came straight from the devil. But at Explo ’72 in Dallas, Jesus music crescendoed when several hundred thousand people came to hear the hand-clapping tunes and … Billy Graham.

GRAHAM: True faith—must be applied to the social problems of our world. Today, Christian young people ought to be involved in the problems of poverty, ecology, war, racial tension, and all the other problems of our generation. This is a Christian happening. It’s a demonstration of the love of God by tens of thousands of young people to the world, that’s saying to the world, ‘God loves you,’ It’s the Jesus Revolution that’s going on in this country.

And Graham’s approval was equally revolutionary for the movement’s new soundtrack. Here’s Chuck Gerard:

GERARD: Billy Graham gets up, speaks, and all of sudden they open their minds to this idea that if this music, that was born out of rebellion, maybe this could be incorporated into something the Holy Spirit can use, and it was sort of an affirmation. It was a seal of approval. If Billy will get up and speak after hippies sing, maybe it’s ok to have drums. Maybe it’s ok to have guitars.

The film, rated PG-13 for some drug talk and thematic elements, also addresses problems in the industry. Ego, the pressures of fame, and extra marital affairs. Certain older singers seem better able to examine issues and regrets—and also God’s forgiveness and redemption. Amy Grant talks about her divorce and personal failings. Russ Taff discusses his alcoholism and recovery. DC Talk members open up about intergroup tensions. Toby Mac admits where he struggles.

Singer-songwriter Bill Gaither shares something he told Jerry Falwell.

GAITHER: I said, Jerry, if you’re waiting for me to get a roomful of unflawed artists, it’s not gonna happen. These are human beings, who have been gifted in a special kind of a way. And they’re trying to work through in these earthly bodies, and sometimes they make mistakes.

The film showcases many artists and groups. So many, in fact, it easily could have been two documentaries. But the lineup included several noticeable omissions: multiple Dove Award winner Steve Green and BJ Thomas, who had the first Christian album to go platinum.

And I wish the filmmakers had pressed artists more about how financial aspects of this now multi-billion dollar industry potentially muddy their motivations. Steve Taylor with Squint Records touches on it only briefly.

TAYLOR: When Christian music first started out, it really was about artists just wanting to minister to people through their music. When money gets involved, it’s really hard to keep that focus.

Not every musical style here will please everybody. But this modern timeline of music is absorbing and encouraging. And when the songs praise the ultimate Creator of music, whether it’s with tambourines, or pianos, or guitars, it’s hard not to crank up the volume and sing along.

LYRICS: I’m coming back to the heart of worship. And it’s all about You. It’s all about You, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it. It’s all about You, Jesus.

I’m Sharon Dierberger.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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