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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Body Piercing Saved My Life review.

I finished reading Body Piercing Saved My Life a few days ago, and loved it. The book looks at Christian music (specifically Christian rock) from an outsider's perspective, delving into it by attending Christian festivals (both Cornerstones) and events (Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Music), interviewing musicians and industry leaders, and attending Gospel Music week.

The author, Spin and Washington Post writer Andrew Beaujon, is not unbiased (as if there were such a thing), but it's clear that he truly wants to understand not only the music, but the people behind it, rather than settle for caricatures. Whether he's talking to Christian Goths or risking his life in the passenger seat of Tooth & Nail Records founder Brandon Ebel's car, he's always prodding to find out what makes these Christians tick. Near the end of the book, this results in some fairly moving words of advice to other non-Christians on how to understand Christians.

If there is a constant character in the book (other than Beaujon himself), it's David Bazan, who pops up in four separate locations around the country to join the author for conversation, beer, and ill-timed pancakes. I found Bazan fascinating (and sadly, even more of a tragic figure than I expected), though I expect most Christian readers will be confused by his prominence in the book. His honesty and humanity seem to keep Beaujon grounded. The proof of this is that Bazan of course isn't there for Gospel Music Week, which is the only time where Beaujon seems like he is in danger of coming unglued. And the reader doesn't blame him at all for it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my friends and aquaintances make significant appearances (Steve Taylor and Jay Swartzendruber, who I worked with when I interned at the now-defunct Squint Entertainment, John Davis, who is gleefully described as a "freaking monster" on guitar, and David Dark, whose quirky speaking style hilariously flies right past Beaujon). I loved that he didn't focus on the "stars" of Christian music, but sought out the behind-the-scenes folks who are all well-respected and intelligent spokesmen for a complex and diverse subject.

The only serious misstep is a chapter about abortion activism; while it would have been an interesting article, it seems out of place in the context of the book. A chapter about Marc Driscoll also strays a bit from the theme, though it seems like a fairly accurate portrayal.

The author's own faith (or non-faith) plays a curious role; while he reveals more of himself as the book goes on, and at one point gives the reader a very personal look into his history, not once in the book or in the interviews I've read does he discuss his thoughts on the questions central to Christianity, e.g. Was Jesus God? Did he physically rise from the dead? While I didn't expect the book to turn into a personal religous account, it's difficult to see Beaujon engage with so many thoughtful Christians and never seem to engage with Christ himself. Maybe he did though, and considered it too personal and/or self-indulgent to include.

I would very much recommend Body Piercing to anyone who is interested in Christian music, formerly interested in Christian music, or who finds evangelical Christians strange and needs help understanding their subculture.


Anonymous Brannon said...

I got this book on your recommendation, Matthew. Well worth the read. Almost done with it. He certainly views the industry through secular eyes, so the cynicism is often well-placed, but sometimes unnecessary. However, throughout the book, I would shrug and say to myself, "This is what evangelicals asked for when they embrace a 'me-too entertainment' mentality." Of course. What else would the GMA people have expected him to think? Thanks for the invitation to read this.

4:47 PM


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