Book Review: God's Not Dead (and neither are we)


God's Not Dead (and neither are we): The story of Christian alternative rock's pioneers then and now, as told by the artists themselves

Jerry Wilson, Author

Once upon a time, before worship music became a multi-million-dollar fad and emo ruled the CCM airwaves, a movement started in the church underbelly of California that would change the face of religious music most radically. For a decade or more, the young men and women who spearheaded this alternative movement were at the forefront of creative Christian expression. Today, most of them have basically disappeared from America's airwaves and the public consciousness. Why did this happen, and where did they go?

In his new book, God's Not Dead (and neither are we), Castro Valley, California author Jerry Wilson looks into these questions. The book is a fascinating collection of interviews and reminiscences with some of the movers and shakers in California's Christian rock movement. Beginning in the 1970s with the rise of Daniel Amos, Wilson traces the development and demise of the scene; the chapters are randomly ordered but still unified by common themes. Wilson was inspired to write the book by a 2005 reunion concert of bands associated with the Broken Records label. Beth Jahnsen, who helped coordinate that concert at Mariners Church in Orange County, contributes a very good, scene-setting foreword to Wilson's book.

Wilson spoke with many of the principal performers of the 1980s and early 90s: Terry Taylor, who has sometimes moved sidelong into videogame and cartoon soundtracks; Steve Taylor, who got sick of performing and began producing and making films; the progressive-rock powerhouses of Barnabas; Mike Roe of the 77s, a one-time outsider based in Sacramento; the members of Undercover and the Altar Boys, Christianity's first major punk bands; keyboard-pop icons Crumbacher; The Choir, an almost unclassifiable group from L.A.; and several others. All share stories of heartbreak and triumph, frustration and glory from their own perspectives, adding up to a truly compelling narrative.

Some of the tales aren't for the faint-of-heart. Barnabas' Nancyjo Mann is fairly graphic in telling of the botched legal abortion that led her down God's path. Marie McGilvray tells of working in the administrative side of the record business, and how alike the religious and secular wings of the music industry really are. There are tales of divorce, crises of faith, financial ruin, and through it all the knowledge that God is still in control. Beneath all the ugliness lies the core of truth and faith that propelled all of these folks into the limelight for a time. Some have hung up their mikes and guitars for good in favor of pastorships or day jobs; others have kept reinventing themselves, like Mike Stand of the Altar Boys, who recently debuted a red-hot rockabilly trio called the Altar Billies, and Joe Taylor of Undercover, now a music professor at James Madison University.

One voice is unheard but regularly referred to throughout the book, and it's one that might have made for some of the most compelling reading of all: that of "Gene Eugene" Andrusco, the child actor-turned-bandleader who fronted Adam Again, played with The Lost Dogs, and produced innumerable sessions before his untimely death in March 2000. Again and again we read of what a key force Gene Eugene was in the movement, and how deeply his passing is still felt. The Lost Dogs remain as perhaps the brightest light among these beacons, with all four current members (Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong) interviewed for the book while preparing for another tour and album release.

Like most self-published books, God's Not Dead contains a smattering of mis-edits, but not enough to draw the reader away from the importance of the stories. Wilson has done a wonderful job of getting to the heart of why these folks made music, and why so many of them no longer do. Some questions seem to remain unanswered, like why the once-lively concert scene in Southern California has essentially dried up and blown away, and why radio playlists have become so tunnel-visioned as to exclude all but a handful of national stars. Yet we might find the answers to these questions buried more deeply in the stories herein, because it's all symptomatic of the same world-versus-faith problems. God's Not Dead is a very necessary book, full of valuable lessons and insight.
Click here to find out about the April-June Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. Book Club selection.


Anonymous said...

As a 30+ year DJ veteran I have had an interesting perspective during the early years of CCM music including Rock and Metal shows. I have observed how CCM rock and metal has progressed through the years. One problem I encountered was when the early bands would release music with lyrics that would say they didn't care what other Christian say, they were going to rock for God anyway. I think when they changed their lyrics from rebellion to actually reaching the lost they were taken more seriously by people who cared about souls. Most of the other anti-rock people wouldn't ever be pleased no matter what they did, they didn't care about souls, they only wanted the musicians to please their taste.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book, but I am interested in reading it. I gave my life to Christ when I was a teen after a Christian rock concert in the 80's, and as a baby Christian I learned a lot of theology from the Christian rock scene. Hungry for spiritual knowledge, I would actually look up the Bible references listed in the lyrics.

MarahNatha said...

In the early 70's a friend of mine and I were thrown out of a Christian Bookstore because we asked if they had some Christian Rock music. They were very offended & said that moral people wouldn't make that kind of music. When I pointed out that they had Classical works by adulterers and drug users, they were livid. Long story short, they came around later. The 700 Club even refused to allow Lamb, a Messianic Jewish Duo to be on their Show because their hair was too long. Thank God for Chuck Smith!The early Jesus music is still powerful, Second Chapter of Acts, Talbott Brothers,
all the marahnatha groups, Altar Boys, Daniel Amos. Great music, and yes, I looked up the scriptures to go with the music too!