Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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Manning up with Casting Crowns

28 March 2014

Casting Crowns arrived on the music scene in 1999. By a long but steady ascent, they have become one of the few Evangelical bands to move between Christian and secular radio, touting positive messages for general audiences. As such, their lyrics hold special insight into values popular among conservative American believers. Among the consolidation of virtues Casting Crowns is responsible for is a set of gender expectations for men. In particular, their code turns on concepts of moral integrity, inner piety, protection of women and children, and evangelism.

In 2011 Casting Crowns released the single “Courageous,” which accompanied the film by the same name. With a story about a police officer in the background, the song laments the loss of traditional manliness, when men “were warriors on the front lines, standing unafraid.” Now, men are “watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away.” The golden days of patriarchy have waned into the dark days of men without backbone and purpose. The refrain that Christian men are “taking back the fight” does not refer to a program to subject women. Rather, the fight is directed at the heart, turning to a life of prayer. This battle to regain the authoritative self starts with the regaining of the authentic self, “on our knees with lifted hands.” Those who “reignite the passion,” the song goes on to say, “become warriors.” Accordingly, the battle for one’s place in the family has been internalized to take place on the war-field of the heart, in which lethargy and cowardice are put to death via prayer. The song ends with the promise, “In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

Casting Crown’s inner masculinity continues to the be the basis for external masculine honor in 2014’s “Heroes.” The woman of the song expresses her valor in financial ways, supporting her two children (notably after her breadwinning husband abandons her). The high school boy in the second verse “walks against the flow” in fairly nebulous moral ways, not following “the hopeless road” but “willing to stand alone.” His manhood comes through principally in a moralistic separation from the world (though this is somehow equated with seeing the school as “his mission field”). Again, the battle is fought in internal terms, battling for moral integrity through self-discipline and prayer.

Through both songs one hears the moralistic theme of Promise Keepers set in the militaristic language of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Thus lead vocalist Mark Hall confesses his penchant for uber-manly movies like Braveheart, saying, “I think that’s my spirit in me longing to be the warrior that God created me to be.” Yet his battle-loving language is simply the key through which he sings of a longing to return to traditional values beginning with the conquest of self. Notably, this sort of Evangelicalism is still psychological and inward-facing while much of the rest of Christianity is turning toward the social sciences and political action.

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Hysterical Masculinity: Def Leppard ca. 1987

16 June 2010

It’s proof-positive: I’m getting old.  The fact that I re-bought Def Leppard’s 1987 album, Hysteria, shows that the best years of my life are over.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m trying to get a read on what forces made up my sense of manhood.  If Def Leppard wasn’t an influence, I don’t know what was.  It was the non-stop background for my life for at least a couple of years.  I listened to cassettes of them until they warped from use.  Or was it me that was warped?

Men in tight jeans, long hair, singing in alto ranges: none were considered particularly “manly” for the time, but they could clearly get away with it as anti-establishment.  As I discussed in a previous post, glam rock was a conscious attempt to rise above sex-specific restrictions.  The costumes, make-up and unconventional performances made Def Leppard (and many others) demigods of sexuality.

Perhaps to compensate for their more feminine mannerisms, they tended to flaunt their heterosexual promiscuity.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria “wallows in a cess pool of retarded sexuality” (to quote a quote from Marty DeBergi) with lyrics like these:

Inch by inch, mile by mile, what I do I do in style
You got your leather, la-lace, long and lean
Ballistic (a) lipstick dream machine
(Oh) (Whoa)
You got to do it!
(Oh) (Whoa)
Ah, do it, do it!
(Oh) (Whoa)
Hey, c’mon and do it!
(Oh) (Whoa)
Oh, you know I get so (Excitable)
I really get so (Excitable)
I wanna get you (Excitable)
So, c’mon, let’s go!

Surprisingly, these sophomoric gems were offset by astounding musicianship.  The key changes, solos, challenging rhythms and multivalent movements were genuine breakthroughs for rock, and far more thoughtful than any of the pop on the radio today. 

But back to masculinity.  Def Leppard upheld and even exaggerated codes of male promiscuity in order to make their otherwise unmanly antics appear permissible.  If there was any question of it being sissy, they could retort that they were just being anti-establishment (see “Gods of War,” track 7).  Besides, they could get as much tail as they wanted.  If so unmanly, why would all the girls want to sleep with them?

So thanks a lot, Def Leppard.  Thanks for teaching me that it was okay for me to move from hegemonic masculinity to a perverse, adolescent masculinity.  Thanks for teaching me that spandex and make-up could save me from my Clint Eastwood expectations.  Know that my son will never listen to your albums if I have anything to do with it.  (But I will, secretly, when I’m feeling depressed and nostalgic.  Hysteria is unquestionably one of the top 5 albums of the 80s.)