Devoted To Satire

Chicago Tribune
November 28, 1993
© 1993 Chicago Tribune Co.
Page 3
Thanks to Norvin Coblentz

Steve Taylor, Christian rock's bold court jester, returns to the fold

By Lynn Van Matre, Tribune Staff Writer

Christian rock's bad boy is back.

Thanks to his sardonic approach and acerbic lyrics, Steve Taylor has been branded-among other things-a wiseacre John the Baptist, the court jester of evangelical pop and the bad boy of contemporary Christian music.

"Christian rock gets accused of being preachy, and it probably is," explains Taylor, known for songs such as "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good," "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel a Lot Better," and "This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)," a No. 1 hit on Christian radio. "Taking a satirical approach subverts that whole preachy thing."

But five years ago, the former youth minister and two-time Grammy nominee decided he had gone about as far as he could go with his alternative approach and bid goodbye to gospel.

"This was at the time of all the televangelist scandals, and Christian labels were trying to reassure the public that their artists were on the straight and narrow," the Nashville-based singer and songwriter explains. "They were subtly encouraging their artists to make overtly Christian records, which made sense on some levels. But I wasn't a televangelist . . . so I didn't see why I should have to tone down my satire and make more mainstream gospel records."

So Taylor, who recorded five critically acclaimed Christian pop albums and one EP from 1983 to 1988, formed a secular alternative rock band called Chagall Guevara. The band's 1991 self-titled debut on a major rock label garnered good reviews and college radio airplay, but sales were disappointing.

"I think it went Double Formica," Taylor jokes.

Now Taylor, 35, has forsaken secular rock 'n' roll and returned to Rock of Ages territory with his insightfully witty world vision intact. "Squint" (Warner Alliance), his first solo album since 1988, tackles such topics as the marketing of Christianity ("Malls and religion/Build the new forts/Jesus is a franchise/In their food courts," he sings in "The Moshing Floor"); "Smug" punctures Christian rock's self-righteous tendencies; and "Jesus Is for Losers" is about scrambling up the ladder of fame.

"'Jesus Is for Losers' is sort of a litany of mistakes that I've made," admits the singer, who plans to release a long-form video of his new songs in February and will begin touring in March. "I don't usually write autobiographical songs, because I don't want to seem like I'm whining, but I've learned that if you feel you can just sprinkle a little Jesus on top of your success, you're probably climbing the wrong ladder. One thing I found out by being in a band, which is supposed to be a democracy, was just how unbelievably huge my own ego is."

Taylor's return to the gospel fold came about partly because today's contemporary Christian music buyers are far more receptive to alternative approaches and partly because his spiritual beliefs kept surfacing in his songwriting.

"The songs that were coming out all had to do with a Christian world view," he says.

At times, the singer acknowledges, his humorous irony isn't understood. "Some listeners didn't get the satire in 'I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good,' " says Taylor, referring to his song about violence at abortion clinics that brought him a bit of notoriety in the mid-1980s. "When we were getting ready to tour Australia, it was in all the newspapers and on the TV shows over there that this guy was coming whose song told people to blow up abortion clinics. So, yeah, satire can have its problems sometimes.

"A lot of Christian music can be self-righteous, though, and that can get pretty wearying, unless you're totally in agreement with those beliefs," he adds. "That's why I like doing satire.

"But in many ways, I think a whole other element of the American population has adopted that self-righteous attitude lately," Taylor observes. "There was a time when Christendom had the market cornered on sanctimoniousness and smugness, but now the politically correct crowd has taken that attitude and run with it."