Music Part 8 – Steve Taylor

The (Christian) Music that Shaped Me – Part 8

(In this series I’ve been sharing music that has been influential to me, personally. My hope is twofold: First, that some of my younger friends will be able to appreciate “from whence we’ve come” and to be encouraged to continue to seek fresh ways to communicate their faith through music. Second, that those of my generation will enjoy looking back a bit, but more than that, I pray that we will continue to recognize and encourage the creativity of today’s Christian musicians. Here’s where you can find the Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.)


Christian rock music was really taking off in the 1980s. I was a youth minister then, and the sounds of Petra and Whiteheart filled our stereos and Walkmen. While I enjoyed these bands immensely, and even took the youth group to concerts when possible, I can’t honestly say their music was transformative. It was very good pop/rock with clever lyrics and a great hook, but it was safe, if you know what I mean. Even though the language and word pictures used in their songs was more modern and “edgy,” the actual content was really not all that different than more traditional gospel music. The themes of hope, commitment, grace and worship were prominent.

Then there was Steve Taylor.

Steve’s music was different than anything I had heard before or since.

First of all, there was his style. When he released his first solo project, I Want to Be a Clone, he described his style as “Christian punk.” Not being a fan of “punk rock” it’s a little hard for me to use that description myself, but since he did, I guess I should go with it. I can tell you that I played his music over the sound system at a HS week of camp one year at meal times, and was told by the dean to change it because some found it offensive and not very Christian. I suppose that means something…

Secondly, there was his lyrics. He had an ability to cut to the core of contemporary cultural issues with biting sarcasm and creative satire, things not normally found in Christian music. I suppose that Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill paved the way for this, but Steve took it to a whole new level. His was a perfect example of how lyrics and music should match. Even Francis Schaeffer thought so. He wrote this in a letter to Steve after his visit to L’Abri:

“The combination of music and lyrics really works on a very high level, and the message, therefore, comes across with real clarity… In the light of the gifts that the Lord has so obviously given you, and which you obviously developed with care and hard work, I do urge you with all my heart to press on. You are really doing something marvelously worthwhile. I must say the words really cut a wide swath in the need in the church today.” [1]

His music was not only fun to listen to, it made you think deeply about uncomfortable things.

Things like racism at Bob Jones University in We Don’t Need No Color Code:

Down in Carolina Way
Lived a man name 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’

We don’t need no color code
We don’t need no color code
Take your rules and hit the road
We don’t need no color code
Judgment Day is goin’ down
Better burn your cap and gown

Like teaching “values clarification” in public schools in Lifeboat:

Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard and they won’t be rockin’ the boat

Like battling temptation in Sin for a Season:

Seven months after his little indiscretion
He sits with his wife at a therapy session
For a little advice

If the healing happens as the time goes by
Tell me why I still can’t look her in the eye

God I’m only human, got no other reason
Sin for a season

Like religion and politics in It’s a Personal Thing

I’m devout, I’m sincere and I’m proud to say
That it’s had exactly no effect on who I am today
I believe for the benefit for all mankind
In the total separation of church and mind

Then there’s the powerful and haunting Baby Doe which is his commentary on a case in 1982 that drew a lot of attention and controversy:

I bear the blame…
it’s over and done, the presses have run
some call the parents brave
behind your disguise your rhetoric lies
you watched a baby starve

I heard Steve in concert on three different occasions. The first was when I took some kids from my youth group to see him at Taft Auditorium in Cincinnati. I have to say, this is still one of my favorite Christian concerts ever. His energy on stage and his flair for drama was like nothing I had ever seen. I think it was also the loudest! My ears were still ringing the next morning!

It’s really hard for me to select a single song to highlight how much Steve’s music means to me because every single one is meaningful in some way. The one I ultimately settled on isn’t really all that representative of most of his music, but it’s one that means a lot to me. It’s called I Just Wanna Know, and I think it articulates what drives Steve in his life and art, and it’s a focus I want to keep in my own life as well:

I just wanna know, am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you.
I just wanna stay angry at the evil.
I just wanna be hungry for the truth.

Lloyd

I Just Wanna Know
Steve Taylor, 1985

Life’s too short for small talk,
So don’t be talking trivia now.
Excess baggage fills this plane,
There’s more than we should ever allow.

There’s engines stalling, and good men falling,
But I ain’t crawling away.

I just wanna know, am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you.
I just wanna stay angry at the evil.
I just wanna be hungry for the truth.

Folks play follow the leader,
But who’s the leader gonna obey?
Will his head get big when the toes get tapping?
I just wanna know, are they catching what I say?

I’m a little too young to introspect,
And I surely haven’t paid all my dues,
But there’s bear traps lying in those woods,
Most of ’em already been used.

I just wanna know, am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you.
I just wanna stay angry at the evil.
I just wanna be hungry for the truth.

Search me, father and know my heart,
Try me and know my mind.
And if there be any wicked way in me,
Pull me to the rock that is higher than I.

I just wanna know, am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you.
I just wanna stay angry at the evil.
I just wanna be hungry for the truth.


Here are a few more of my favorites:

Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud’s)


Drive, He Said


Hero

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