TAG TEAM, BACK AGAIN
My family was one of those families who only listened to Christian music when I was a kid. My folks didn’t listen to much music. So because they hardly knew who any artists were and wanted to make sure their young children weren’t listening to N.W.A., they decided to make a rule that we only buy our music at Christian bookstores. The first tape I ever remember asking my parents for was by this cheesy Christian rap group. They took me and my brothers to the Christian bookstore (which is where Christian music is sold, in case you’re wondering.) I marveled at the massive array of collectable figurines that looked like my mom’s Precious Moments collection. Being three, six, and eight years old, my brothers and I picked a tape by the group that looked the most like Vanilla Ice from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze.”
We took the tape home and wore it out, making up funky dances to each song and driving my parents crazy. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t allowed to watch “Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire” at the time, because then I would have realized that the group aped their sound off of its theme song. (Although I did notice a striking resemblance to the group’s music and the theme to “Hangin’ With Mista’ Coopa’.”) Somehow, I got the idea in my head that my peers at school might also enjoy this music.
In gym class, my teacher Ms. Law would play rap music while all the kids did warm up exercises. When Ms. Law hit the pause button, everyone rotated groups: sit-ups to jumping-jacks, jumping-jacks to toe touches, toe touches to push-ups, etc. Ms. Law said that anyone who wanted to bring in their own tape could and we would listen to that, rather than her worn-out copy of “Jock Jams,” for warm-up stations. So I decided to bring in my Christian rap tape one time.
Things quickly got awkward, but not for the immediately assumed reasons (ie: third graders don’t like hearing “hip-hop-hooray-hoe” replaced with “Jesus.”) The reason this instance got so incredibly awkward was that this Christian rap group had a song about sex, how they wanted to remain abstinent until marriage and whatnot. And as soon as the song hit the chorus, with all the white rappers shouting emphasis on “NO SEX!”, Ms. Law’s face turned as red as the rocket mascot on the wall. If I remember correctly, I didn’t get in any trouble for it, she just gave me a “what kind of Christian tape is this?” stare and quickly flipped the tape over while we were switching stations. Ms. Law didn’t say anything to me about it, but I certainly got the message never again to bring in a tape where white Christian dudes with lines shaved in their hair sang about “I don’t want YO’ SEX FO’ NOW!”
As if the no sex song weren’t enough for poor Ms. Law, another warm-up-stations-tape fiasco permanently sealed the deal on my never ever supplying the jams for gym class again. What happened was, I got a copy of Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is” on tape. But because I was well aware that swearing rappers were strictly prohibited at our house, I made my own edited copy. The problem was, not only was I very concerned with deleting the cuss-words so my parents didn’t hear it, but I didn’t know the words very well either. So naturally, I deleted about five to ten seconds around any time I thought there might be a cuss-word. I ended up editing out like half the song. (Which was really too bad, because I’m afraid I deleted the “I produce, AKA: the undertaker. You want to come down to the underground, old school? Here’s a shovel can you dig it, fool? Can you dig it? We can dig it!” part.)
Being a little kid and not being able to put one and one together, much less two and two, I took my freshly edited copy of the Tag Team’s smash single to Ms. Law for gym stations. I figured after the no sex fo now incident, a classic Jock Jams tune would surely steal her heart. So stations began, and after a minute or so the tape stopped without Ms. Law hitting pause. Mayhem ensued. The first time it happened, she was only thoroughly confused, wondering why her tape deck was being screwy. But the second time it happened and she realized this was the “Whoomp! There It Is (Christian Kid Gym Class Edit)” version of the song, Ms. Law’s hands flew up in the air and she shot me the “what have you done?!?” look that can ruin an elementary school kid’s reputation for an entire week. Surprisingly, she didn’t pull it out and unravel all the tape. She just handed it back at the end of class, and with a quick and gracious reprimand, glared at me long enough to where I understood my gym tape days were over.
Things weren’t much better in art class. I remember bringing in the same Christian rap tape (apparently, I was a fairly persistent kid) because I knew the teacher would let us listen to the radio. When the corny song where the white rappers spell “love” with an “L-U-V” came on, my best friend started laughing and making fun of me. By this time, I was mildly confused as to why my Christian rap tape wasn’t receiving the same general acceptance as Coolio. My friend was into Smashing Pumpkins at the time. Maybe I should have listened to him.
I also remember seeing this certain book at my church once about how rock and roll is sinful. I think it was called “Hells Bells.” I remember asking someone what the book was about and being really scared of it, like I’d go straight to hell if I touched it. I think it said something like: “because the lyrics are often fast and indistinguishable, rock and roll singers usually take advantage of this fact, knowing that adults cannot ascertain the lyrics, and sing about raping angels.” Or something like that.
There was also this series of video tapes that the church had for the youth pastor, one tape for each sinful topic: “Sex”, “Drugs”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (because at that time. people still spelled rock and roll with an ‘n.’). You can’t make this stuff up. A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine who interned at the church found that “Rock ‘n’ Roll” tape and, figuring it might very well be the funniest thing he’d seen since “Caddyshack”, watched it. (He was right). Apparently, whoever made this tape series seemed to believe that The Cure, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode were all part of some conspiracy to promote promiscuous activity and get kids to kill themselves. Which is odd, because I thought all three bands were part of a conspiracy to make teenagers write terrible emo songs fifteen years later.
Amusing as all these stories are, none can top what might be my very first memory of music:
Once when I was really little, before I even liked music or wanted to buy any, my dad brought home a Color Me Badd tape and it’s lyrics. For some very bizarre reason, he thought it might teach us a lesson to know what songs like “I Want to Sex You Up” were about, so he read us the lyrics. I remember feeling more awkward in that moment than ever before. At the age of three or four, I had ever even heard of Color Me Badd, much less wanted to sex anyone up. Every time my dad got to the chorus (and I think he read the entire song, repeat choruses included) I wanted to cry, as if I were being accused of molesting the puppy or something. The only swerve I was getting on was in the cul-de-sac on my tricycle.
The funniest thing about that story is that, to this day, my dad has no idea why he did it. My parents definitely had their set of preferences, but they were far from legalists. Sure, they took our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles away after they realized that the Cowabunga dudes were vaguely associated with Vanilla Ice and rock music. But they, like any other good set of parents, were just trying to do what they thought was right. There wasn’t a guidebook for things like this, so they had to make up their own. Neither of them was very big into music, and our family CD collection consisted of Kenny G’s Breathless and a few Steven Curtis Chapman albums.
One Christmas, my dad bought my mom The Eagles’ reunion CD, Hell Freezes Over. They had been my mom’s favorite band during her teenage years, and he thought it might be a nostalgic gift she’d enjoy. Needless to say, we were all a little shocked when my mom opened it, turned the volume up as a joke, and we heard Don Henley defiantly sing “I’d like to find my inner child and kick his little ASS!” Not that we hadn’t heard the word before (we took the bus to school, after all.) Just not from the speakers of our own stereo, and especially not at full volume. It didn’t help that he’s says “bitchin'” in the next chorus. My mom pretended to be shocked. But what do you expect from a band who wrote songs like “Life In the Fast Lane”?
Right, wrong, or indifferent, that moment was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. I think that may have been the moment I realized I wouldn’t go to hell for liking “the chick-a-cherry-cola song” and that song where the fat guy plays harmonica and raps at the end. The floodgates of “secular music” had been opened, and I had a get-out-of-jail-free card to to fill my brain with all the pop radio I wanted. Non-Christian music was on the loose at our house, and from that point on there was no stopping it. For me, that moment marked the beginning of the tension between Jesus and music that I actually liked. And that tension continues to this day.
(To be continued…)
Do you have any funny stories about Christian music from childhood? Please share in the comments section!