June 15, 2006


Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock. By Andrew Beaujon. Da Capo. $16.95.

     Early Christianity was far from the staid, ceremonial, tradition-bound religion that modern Christianity, in most of its forms, has become.  Early Christians argued and fought over doctrine, books, behavior, relationships with non-Christians, their own Jewish heritage, and much more.  Christianity started as an intensely vital religion – but over time, and through gaining enormous secular power, it became encrusted with a particular kind of orthodoxy, a set of unvarying precepts that more and more believers found stultifying.  When schisms eventually developed, they occurred mainly because certain groups wanted to impose their own absolutist will instead of accepting the absolutist approach of others.  Over time, much of the early joy and intensity of Christianity was systematically squeezed out of it.

     The people involved in Christian rock are trying, knowingly or not, to return to some of their religion’s earliest roots, to express themselves with joy and rhythm, to have a good time while affirming their innermost beliefs.  This is the world into which Andrew Beaujon, senior contributing writer for Spin, takes readers in Body Piercing Saved My Life.  It is a world of skateboarding ministries, of Christian tattoo parlors and coffeehouse and nightclubs and paintball parks, of teenagers rebelling against the outward forms of their religion while finding their own ways to focus on what they see as its innermost spiritual guidance.

     The nation’s largest cities, New York and Los Angeles, are the centers of Christian rock, where a subculture of fans supports Christian bands and some bands have started to attract secular audiences as well.  Beaujon is clearly comfortable in this world, though he visits it as an outsider and a keen observer: he sees it journalistically, not as a believer determined to bring others into the fold.  Still, one difficulty with the book is that Beaujon is far more immersed in this world than most readers are likely to be.  That leads to writing like this: “It’s probably not a surprise that by the time of Pedro the Lion’s next record, the band’s membership had dwindled to one.  Tooth & Nail had offered to sign Pedro properly (the EP was done as sort of a dry run for both parties), but Bazan said his lawyer was appalled by Tooth & Nail’s offer.  ‘He said, “What is this, Columbia Records in the ‘50s?”  Like he [Brandon Ebel] was trying to get your publishing and all this stuff.’  Bazan decided instead to go with Made in Mexico, a label started by a former Tooth & Nail employee, James Morelos (whom [sic] Ebel told me ‘now owns a hair salon in New York’ while making a mincing gesture).”

     Did you get all that?  The inside-the-business stuff, the quotations within quotations, the quick passing references to this person or that, this company or that, are all part of Beaujon’s style.  The book reads as if he has so much to say that he just has to spew everything out and let readers pick up as much as they can.  And that’s fine, if you’re willing to put in the effort and sufficiently interested in the topic.  It is, in fact, a tremendously interesting subject, a story of rebellion in form that generally retains conservative conformity in message.  Beaujon’s approach is too far “inside the phenomenon” to be a good introduction to Christian rock for those who know nothing about it.  But if you already have some familiarity with the principal players in the field, and want to find out how they interact with each other and with the secular music world, you will find Beaujon’s tour of the territory at least intermittently fascinating.

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