Note: This is my first post on the synchroblog #PlanetCCM, in which we ponder how Contemporary Christian Music affected our lives. Since I have much and much to talk about, I’ll start with some musings that have been in the back of my mind for some twenty years. The synch is hosted by Dianna Anderson. Feel free to join in.
I think I was headed back on the 55 on the long, boring journey from the northeastern corner of Oklahoma to the northeastern corner of Illinois and I popped in Heart in Motion. This was the mid 90s and I know it’s a weird cop for a guy whose favorite music is the Clash, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder. There’s more intricate and challenging pop music out there, and Amy Grant’s best stuff is like crackers.
But it makes me feel more human, and compared to most all the other Contemporary Christian Music I listened to at the time (almost all music I owned at the time was produced in CCM industry) outside of the alternative scene (Daniel Amos/DA/da, the 77s, the Choir, Adam Again), it was resoundingly human. Amy was a real person who had been through life and her music touched on that. It wasn’t a Sunday School lesson.
I just had no idea how true that was as of yet.
My driving partner looks at me now. Not much of a talker himself, I remember very much what he says next.
“You know, she’s divorcing her husband and she’s in an affair with some country star.”
That hits. My car neighbor is not much of a gossiper. But this was serious business – at least that’s how it struck me at that time. My driving partner knew people in Nashville. All of Nashville knew about this. But they were keeping the mums.
Yet, they weren’t keeping quiet to honor the Chapman/Grant family. Nor to protect the kids. No, I had learned long ago that CCM culture can be the most judgmental and hypocritical of all. Humans are not humans. Mistakes are unforgiveable, unless you make beaucoup money for them.
Amy Grant is money.
So the CCM industry tried to correct its ships. Tried to find a way to bury the secret for as long as possible until it could do no longer. Ms. Grant, it turned out, was not going to have it.
And when the secret came out, she was judged for not being Mrs. Perfect. She left, after many years, her drug abusing husband to be with someone she felt listened to her, someone who was also human and real. Someone outside of the machine of CCM.
Now, Amy was money. And money in the CCM industry will forgive a hell of a lot of sins. But it doesn’t cover being a woman. And so it was Ms. Grant who took hell for leaving a hellish relationship behind. CCM, like the God of Moses, hates divorce. But the God of Moses hated divorce partially because it hurts dependent women of a particularly patriarchal time and land. CCM hates divorce because it hurts its particular patriarchy. And money.
Because she wasn’t able to just leave the relationship, she followed her heart. Whatever a decision that was should not be taken outside of its context: CCM – the exact geographical and cultural land where Amy Grant was raised and found herself, was beholden to the gods of commerce, patriarchy, youth group demographics, and White American Christian Purity Culture.
All these are more important than real lives of real people.
Some years earlier, as Ms. Grant was just coming out of her adolescence, these same Guardians of the Virtue started looking for a worthwhile replacement for the teen set. The first of many was found in a young Leslie Phillips.
She recounts this experience in her second post-CCM record, Cruel Inventions (which is available to stream on Spotify)* – her third one produced by a post-How Will the Wolf Survive/pre-everything Coen Brothers T-Bone Burnett, her then-husband and after changing her stage name to Sam Phillips.
The title track is – like much of her work – poetic and can take on more than one meaning. Yet,
Two men with empty pockets
Put lipstick on little girl
And another dream goes by
They make her ride the rockets
That fall into the sea of pearl
And another dream goes by..
Uninvent the wheel of endless greed
Let conscience run
Like a river like a dreamer
A world of elevators
Music like magazines
And another dream goes by
“Music like magazines” because CCM is the name of an entire cottage industry focused and centered around a magazine called, conveniently, CCM. But also, in that the music was meant to be consumed, read and trashed. In CCM, the music is about the money, about the culture of greed – and a young child will get dolled up, will go on tour, will be on promotions and touch the hand of a certain kind of fame, will crash for the sake of that wheel.
But Leslie, as she later revealed to CCM (both the magazine and industry) journalist/music critic Brian Q Newcomb, she was groomed to replace Amy Grant, but she didn’t fit in. Phillips thought she was in a good place to ask a lot of spiritual questions. But no. PlanetCCM exists for the marketing and selling of White Jesus and conservative White Evangelical Christianity.
It’s not for humans being human. To do that, you may have to leave the Christian world.
They found other artists
*I want to note that this album came out roughly the same time as Grant’s mega album Heart in Motion, which I tried to listen to while writing this article. Phillip’s album stands up pretty well with acoustic textures and richness. HiM, though, is woefully dated in a way that would embarrass 80’s stations. The drum machine! The synths! NOOOOOO!!!
I propose Ms. Grant re-records. With that other Civil Wars producer and the songwriter for “Every Heartbeat,” Charlie Peacock.