Saturday, December 18, 2004

Battle of the Band

There was a little tempest in Rossford, Ohio, this week about the public school banning a performance by Pawn, a Christian rock group, as a part of an anti-drug campaign. You can read the background article here, and see here what kind of national attention it garnered, but this is one of those silly little incidents that does nothing for the advancement of civil liberties and civil discourse and falls dangerously close to the category of the classic parental admonition, “Both of you! Stop it right now!”

I’ve listened to a sample of Pawn’s music; the cut Vital Signs. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me in terms of the message, but that’s probably because the lyrics are unintelligible over the rap-scratching and techno-noise. As teenage Christian rock bands go, they’re not that bad, but then, that’s not exactly a comparison to aspire to. I’ve heard Christian rock, and it’s just as bad – or as good – as the generic stuff. While the history of that genre has its precursors back in the days of Really Good Rock, such hits as “Day By Day” and “Spirit in the Sky” were popular not for the lyrics but for the music. I don’t think a whole lot of teeny-boppers in 1970 suddenly got religion because Godspell and Norman Greenbaum had hit songs that had religious themes.

I don’t envy the school’s superintendent for the position he’s in; he knows that whatever choice he makes he’s going to catch flak from one side or the other. The Religious Reich will make martyrs of the band, and the civil rights absolutists will, in the name of the First Amendment, have given them more fund-raising ammunition; yet another example of the decline of “moral values.” Meanwhile the kids will learn that adults can be just as picky and petty as any junior high school clique about who can and can’t be in the gang.

We’re going to get to the point where the teachers will be afraid to use a text that has a whiff of religion in it, even if it’s only to explore history and the role that faith and practice has had in shaping our civilization. The theatre teachers will be afraid to produce something like Godspell for fear of being accused of proselytizing. They have forgotten that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Just as we laughed at people who were afraid that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” would turn us all into druggies in 1967, it’s laughable to think that listening to a Pawn concert is going to turn a high school audience into fundies. Kids know when they’re being preached to, and they know how to turn it off and just listen to the music.