31 October 2015

Positive. Encouraging. White. K-LOVE.

’Cause without that space, they’ve simply misspelled “clove.”

I stopped listening to radio in the early ’00s, ’cause I got an MP3 player. It wasn’t the iPod I wanted; I finally got one of those in ’04. It was a pocket computer, a Windows PocketPC; imagine a smartphone which wasn’t a phone, or a tablet which was more phone-sized. Among other things, it included a mobile version of Windows Media Player. I also discovered podcasts around that time, and even though I still had dial-up internet at home, I set up my good ol’ Gateway to download a bunch of shows overnight, and I started ripping every CD I owned into Media Player files. Loaded up the SD card and never looked back.

(The pocket computer still works, by the way. I used it till I finally bought an Android tablet. I like to use my technology till it completely dies, or is so obsolete I can’t really use it anymore. Still got my clamshell iBook too. But I digress.)

The last radio stations I regularly listened to was a “nineties and now” station at home, and a Christian pop station at work. ’Cause I was teaching at a Christian school, and some of the bluenoses frowned on the secular stuff. I could only get away with jazz, ’cause they had no clue Louis Armstrong was sky-high on “gage,” as he called it, whenever he sang; or that Miles Davis was half out of his mind on heroin. For that matter, we have no idea how many tabs of Vicodin our favorite Christian artists might’ve been prescribed when they recorded… but again, I digress. Point is, don’t judge.

On my way to work, if I ran out of podcasts, I’d sometimes tune in to preacher radio. And get annoyed when the station was full of cessationists, all of whom preach the impotent gospel of “Christianity isn’t what we do; it’s what we believe. So get your theology straight.” ’Cause when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, Mt 25.31-46 he’s gonna quiz us on the catechism, right? Feh.

Christian pop stations were annoying too. All happy, peppy, but not-at-all-challenging music. Plus that particular station kept promoting itself with the slogan, “Safe for the whole family.” I grew up on Narnia books, so my attitude about Christ is more like that of the Beavers on Aslan in the first one: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

No, the station wasn’t K-LOVE. Which did exist at the time: It broadcast out of Santa Rosa since 1982, changed its name to K-LOVE in ’88, moved to Sacramento in ’93, then to Rocklin in ’02. All this time it was buying translators and piping its signal to other cities, building its network. Northern California, where I live, is its home turf.

The more MP3s I accumulated, the more my interest in broadcast radio shrunk to nothing. By 2006 I didn’t even have a radio. Mom had my boombox—still does, and is welcome to it—and maybe there’s an old FM radio or two in a bin in the garage somewhere. The rare times I bother with radio, it’s an internet station. That’s it. If someone needs to broadcast something over the Emergency Alert System, I’m not gonna hear it. Oh well, so much for the tornado warnings.

But sometimes radio is inflicted upon me. Not just in stores which pipe it over the public address. Way too many of my fellow Christians are listening to K-LOVE. So when I’m at their houses, in their cars, or it’s a church work day and someone other than me is in charge of the music (and thank God, that’s not always the case), guess which radio network we’re tuned into? It’s that, or K-LOVE’s “edgier” sister network Air 1.

The Christian music biz.

There are two major branches of Christian pop in the United States: The white stuff and the black stuff.

According to Billboard, Christian music produced by white artists is called “Christian music,” and by black artists is called “Gospel.” There are a ton of sub-genres and crossovers. We all know there are white southern gospel groups. We also know there are black Christian pop/rock stars. But just as white pop and black hip-hop have often been segregated on secular radio, they’re even more segregated on Christian radio. K-LOVE plays the white stuff.

And I prefer the black stuff. Always have. Secular and Christian. Love my jazz, love my R&B, love my Motown, love my hip-hop. Although I’m an old guy, and too often my musical selections are stuck in the ’90s. Or ’70s, ’cause that was Stevie Wonder’s most creative period. But I’m not against the white stuff; I own more than a few albums of it. Even some of the Christian white stuff.

I’m not so big a fan of white Christian music’s country and western influences. Both the Christian and country music industries are largely headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Lotta country singers are Christian, and the area’s session musicians tend to work for everyone. So sometimes there’s a twang to the Christian stuff, and it rubs me the wrong way. Sorry, country fans: Twanging reminds me far too much of whining, and I simply can’t stand whining. Hence I can’t stand twangy country stuff. Honestly, it’s nothing personal; it’s a hangup of mine. If an R&B band covers those songs, I usually think they’re great. And if the musicians can hold off on the twanging, and turn it into rock ’n roll (like Garth Brooks during his Chris Gaines phase—I’m probably the only person who appreciated it—or Taylor Swift currently), I likewise enjoy it.

My biggest beef with white Christian music is its content. That’s everybody’s problem, though. Everybody complains its content is too lightweight, or how the bands are too derivative of better secular artists. Black Christian artists, especially in Christian hip-hop, will get hardcore and sing about real issues, like poverty, drugs, failing marriages, depression, despair, and sin. They’re a bit too Calvinist sometimes, but they do sing about real-world problems. Whereas white artists, when they bother to sing about their struggles, tend to deal with “first-world problems” like shaky faith or negative emotions or feeling like you’ve lost control—assuming you ever really had any. But white songs all have a happy ending: They cried out to Jesus, ’cause he’ll fix everything.

And yeah, everybody complains about the Jesus-my-boyfriend songs. They’re nothing new. They’ve been around since popular Christian music, period; you’ll even find some of them in hymnals. In fact, it’s a lot of fun to horrify my fellow Christians by pointing out some of those songs are the most homoerotic music ever performed. Seriously. ’Cause they’re written and performed by men, singing about how their greatest desire to have Jesus hold them tight in his burly arms and whisper sweet many love into their ears. Yeah, they’re totally straight.

Thing is, as much as people complain about shallow theology and creepy love, they’re still buying these albums. K-LOVE wouldn’t broadcast this junk if it didn’t sell.

I hate pledge weeks.

My least favorite thing about public television has always been Pledge Week. Twice a year they’d keep interrupting or even preempting Monty Python’s Flying Circus to try to talk me into sending them money. Why couldn’t they just air commercials? I can live with commercials. Hated Pledge Week.

K-LOVE also does Pledge Week. Their parent company, the Educational Media Foundation, is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 “ministry.” Seriously; they think they’re a ministry. They’re not. Like every other radio station on the planet, they’re entertainment. (Yes, even NPR.)

The rules for non-profits means if they air commercials, they gotta describe them as “support provided by,” same as public radio, and they can’t use commands like, “Buy our handguns”—they can only state their store sells handguns, and also carries armor-piercing rounds, and if you’re looking to arm your compound before the sheriff comes by to investigate the way you allegedly “discipline” your children, maybe you could visit the store and see what’s in stock. But I’ve not heard K-LOVE advertise anything other than the concerts they sponsor. They just do their accursed pledge drives. Extra-long breaks, far longer than the for-profit stations’ commercial interruptions, in which they beg for money and talk about the valuable “ministry” K-LOVE does.

What ministry’s that? Why, making Christians feel positive and encouraged through syrupy pop music.

Gee, I don’t remember Jesus mandating that in the gospels or Revelation. But that’s the niche K-LOVE’s carved out for itself, so would you consider making a monthly pledge of $20 a month, and help ’em reach their $10,000 goal? Otherwise they might have to go off the air, deprive you of their positivity and encouragement, and force you to fall back on Spotify, Pandora, or the 50 Christian albums you already have stashed on your iPhone.

I don’t doubt for a minute that were the ground to open up beneath Rocklin and swallow them all, Korah-style, Nu 16.28-35 the Christian radio-listening world would simply switch their dials to one of the many other Christian stations. Many of which broadcast commercials. And I’d rather have commercials. I want my freebies subsidized by advertisers. I don’t want to be begged for donations, nor do I want a paywall. Sell ads, dangit. Even if your only ads are for essential oils, I don’t care.

The usual complaint, and needless worry, is that advertisers will make ’em compromise. The reality? When you lack conviction, you’ll compromise whether you have advertisers tempting you or not. I’ve worked for plenty of newspapers. When my bosses didn’t care about the newspaper’s policies, even if they formulated the policies themselves, they’d even do whatever the readers pushed ’em to do—and the readers weren’t even waving money at ’em. When they did care about the policies, they were unshakeable. Blaming the advertisers for making you compromise, is like blaming the hardware store because you won’t stop huffing their paint. They’re just trying to sell paint. You’re the one killing off your brain cells.

I know K-LOVE would like to imagine their network is a valuable, indispensable ministry. They sure would love it if we thought so too, ’cause it’ll keep the pledges coming. But I fully disagree. Every Christian is dispensable. So’s every ministry. It’s actually what makes Christianity unstoppable: Put one of us down, and the Holy Spirit will equip and send another. Like I said, if there was no K-LOVE to listen to, we still have podcasts and albums and internet stations and YouTube. And if need be, turntables and old scratchy vinyl records. We can still get our happy-clappy white Christian music just fine without K-LOVE.

Oh, one more peeve.

Can’t wrap up this rant without mentioning the brain-dead K-LOVE announcer. They typically sound like this.

SHE. “…And that was ‘Spoon Me Jesus’ by Forty Day Flood. Boy! Those guys really love Jesus.”
HE. “Yes they do. That’s a real foot-stomping song, isn’t it?”
SHE. “Yeah! Speaking of stomping…”
HE. [supportively] “Uh-huh?”
SHE. “I was reading my bible this morning…”
HE. [as if this isn’t something she regularly does] “Uh-huh?”
SHE. “And it says in Deuteronomy 33 verse 29, ‘How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs!’ ”
HE. [gasps in awe at this brand-new revelation] “Wow!”
SHE. [breathlessly] “And I just found that so inspiring. God’s our protecting shield and our triumphant sword. And our enemies cringe before us.”
HE.Well, in its proper historical context, he’s actually ancient Israel’s protecting shield and triumphant sword, and their enemies cringe before them. You’re kinda proving the Fundamentalists right when they object to women teaching the scriptures. And we get to stomp on their backs. Gosh, that’s so inspiring.”
SHE. “And it just makes me trust in God so much more!”
HE. “He’s so amazing.”
SHE. “He really is.”
HE. [song spooling up] “Now here’s ‘I Love Jesus with Mouth,’ by Ten Steps Back on positive, encouraging, K-LOVE.”

Seriously; the co-announcers gasp at these nuggets of wisdom as if Jesus just materialized in the studio with a big box of Fiddle Faddle. These will be bits of really basic Christianity, but they’re all treated as so profound—with all the enthusiasm of an actor who discovered he could save 10 percent on his car insurance by switching to Geico.™ Only K-LOVE doesn’t do ads, remember? The announcers gotta show off their ability to feign astonishment somehow. Guess this is how.

This isn’t just done on K-LOVE. I’ve caught plenty a Christian station doing the bible verses and the over-supportive co-announcer who thinks it’s the most amazing thing since Gabriel appeared to Muhammad… Wait, wrong religion.

But since the only network my friends keep inflicting upon me anymore is K-LOVE, they’re gonna get my mockery for it today.