The song remains the same
Christian music on Sirius
I’m a sucker for passion. I’ve always been that way. Even as a child, I was subject to intense emotions, laughing til I peed, raging til I cried. It has a dark side, though: I make people nervous when I switch over to my analytical self. My long-time friends describe the phenomenon as my “ax-murderer eyes,” which is kind of funny when you consider I’m the guy who releases wayward spiders out of the house back into the wild and who has never spanked a child.
There’s nothing that strokes those emotional nerve endings like music, and in my ongoing search for the varieties of spiritual experience in Reno, I’ve been eyeing channels 66, 67 and 68 on my Sirius/XM radio receiver. I’ve been more or less hesitant to attempt a soul fillet because, while I listen to satellite radio in Reno, it’s a national media. Suffice it to say, though, most of the local radio stations are owned by national corporations—even the ones I have programmed into my receivers at home and work. It’s kind of like the Home Depot employing local people but sending the profits out of town. Be that as it may, it’s my job to go where the exploration takes me.
The three stations I mentioned are, in order, The Message, enLighten and Praise. The Message is Christian rock and pop; enLighten features Southern gospel; and Praise is straight gospel.
I’ve only owned two albums that I would rate as frankly religious: the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and U2’s Boy. And if anyone wants to argue about that U2 album, bring it on, or rather, have a listen from this point of view. I can tell you, the religious types used “I Will Follow” as an anthem when I attended Catholic college. For that matter, have a listen to “Gloria” on October.
In the interest of seeing if Christian rock music could give rise to those uplifting and inspirational feelings that good religious music excites, I set myself up. I got up before dawn and turned on The Message. Taking frequent breaks to stand on the deck and watch the sun rise over misty mountains into periwinkle Nevada skies, I can sum it up in a few words: It got me there.
These names don’t mean much to me, but artists on The Message include: MercyMe, Natalie Grant, Michael W. Smith, Brandon Heath and Casting Crowns.
Christian pop is fairly formulaic, but it’s uniformly positive, lacking the negative hooks, negative aspirations, that exemplify pop radio. You know, the “I’m a loser” kind of lyric that gets stuck in your head. I don’t have the words to describe exactly the musical progressions that elicit the emotional response. That’s more arts editor Brad Bynum’s realm. For style, I think it could be described as easy listening rock ’n’ roll. Many of the songs start out with simple melodies, growing in vocal and orchestral complexity and urgency toward a melodramatic crescendo and then backing off, often to a simple piano solo.
It occurs to me that many of these songs are simple love songs, which I suppose is appropriate—people expressing their devotion to what they perceive as their god—but it strikes me as provocative. Take the song “I Believe,” by Third Day: “Give me something that I can believe/And then I’ll share it with the world for everyone to see/Take away the darkness, all the pain and sadness/I know it’s you that put this light inside of me/I believe in a faith that’s strong/I believe in a hope that carries on/I believe in these things and more/Most of all, most of all/I believe in love.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people who are into religious radio programming are going to consider $12.95 a month for commercial-free Christian radio a pretty good deal for the same reasons I consider it a pretty good deal to keep up on the newest alternative and Latin music. I do still like to listen to local people on local radio, and I shop at the places that support them, but I’m going to explore the places that excite my passion.