I like to think that, centuries from now, “Christian rock music” will be thought of as yet another inexplicable oddity of Church history, alongside Origen’s self-mutilation, the Crusades, and whatever it is with Lutherans and Jell-O.
Maybe calling Christian rock an oddity seems weird at a time when the only electric guitarists left in the world seem to be in praise and worship bands, but here’s a quick reminder: for the first several decades of rock ‘n roll, it was an extremely controversial genre. Preachers thundered that rock music was nothing but Satanic anthems to drugs and sex, and rock musicians screamed back that those preachers didn’t know what they were talking about and were probably also racist, and, to be honest, pretty much everyone was right. The upshot was that, when Christians decided to make their own rock music, the genre was always going to exist in the nebulous space of “genre that exists only to prove that it can exist.”When our ideological presuppositions come out from under us, our true, ugly selves are revealed.
In other words, everyone hated Christian rock from the beginning, and not only because it was terrible. Christians hated it for being rock, and rock fans hated it for being Christian, so whenever a Christian artist screwed up or was revealed as hypocritical, there were always thousands of vultures waiting around on all sides to pick over the bloody remains. It happened when Amy Grant got divorced, and it happened when Scott Stapp continued to be Scott Stapp, and it happened when Tim Lambesis tried to hire a guy to murder his wife.
Actually, I dunno, maybe that last one is a little different.
In 2013 (that’s a whole four years ago, so yes, this is part of Church history, you guys), it was revealed that Lambesis, lead singer/screamer for Christian metalcore band As I Lay Dying, had been arrested for solicitation of the murder of his soon-to-be-ex-wife. This was good news for humor writers, because the jokes pretty much write themselves (“As Tim Lambesis’s Wife Lay Dying.” “Tim Lambesis’s wife is not dead. In fact, she’s not even his wife.” [That’s a Faulkner reference, for the folks in the peanut gallery.]). It was not, however, good news for pretty much anyone else. Lambesis served several years in prison, his ex-wife no doubt spent many years looking nervously over her shoulder, and also the band broke up (insert sad VH1 music here).
More importantly, though, it raises about a million unanswerable questions: In an age of quick and easy divorce, who actually feels the need to murder his wife? And if you’re determined to do it, why can’t you do your own dirty work? And how clueless do you have to be to think that hitmen are something that Christian rock stars can just hire out of the yellow pages? (Hot tip: they’re not.)
In May of 2014, Lambesis finally spoke out on the charges in Alternative Press, and the resulting interview is six pages of fascinating, head-spinning confessions. (I was actually on vacation with my wife when it dropped, and I spent the next couple of hours ignoring her to read it, which I’m sure she appreciated.) The interview, which you should read if you’re looking for a head trip, is a deep dive into a world of “fake” Christian bands, steroid addiction, and, I dunno, jet lag, I guess.
Probably the first bombshell dropped in the piece was this: most “Christian” bands have very few, if any Christians in them, at least according to Lambesis. By the time he solicited the hitman, all five members of As I Lay Dying had given up their faith, but continued performing as a Christian act, y’know, for the kids. Other members of the band have denied the claim and called it slander, but if true, it doesn’t strike me as all that hard to swallow: once you’re making money off of believing something, of course you’ll continue to pretend to believe it (which reminds me, CxPC Financial Department: is my check in the mail?).
The next thing Lambesis told the interviewer was that he had been massively addicted to steroids, and that they were messing with his head. That sounds a little too much like an after-school special to me, but I guess there’s some evidence that steroids mess with mental health, at least in the long term. In any case, this appears to have been the start of his problems, since his wife was divorcing him mainly for ignoring their family in favor of gym-rattery. But hey, when your steez is screaming into a microphone while looking awesome in sleeveless shirts, you gotta do what you gotta do.
In any case—Lambesis (as he tells it), high on ‘roids, scared of losing his children to pending custody battles, and having consciously embraced moral relativism, asked his dealer Brett to hook him up with a hitman, because apparently Lambesis learned everything he knows about the how the world works from Grand Theft Auto. What followed was a long exchange between the two men in which Brett (as he told the story in court) tried to talk him out of it, or possibly (as Lambesis tells it) tried to talk him further into it. In any case, said dealer promised to hook Lambesis up, and then Lambesis headed out to China for a tour.
When he returned, he was awakened from a jet-laggy nap by an assassin identifying himself as “Red,” who wanted to meet at the local Barnes and Noble, because what assassin doesn’t love self-help books and Frappucinos? Out of curiosity as much as anything (he says), Lambesis printed out some photos of his wife and headed off to his local bookstore, where “Red” proceeded to walk up and down the aisles with him, pestering him to say in as clear terms as possible that he wanted his wife killed. “I’m thinking, ‘Is this dude stupid?'” Lambesis told the interviewer. “Obviously, I’m the one who is stupid.”
Having given the info to Red, head still swimming with drugs and jet lag, Lambesis returned to his car, looked over his shoulder to back out, and—duh, obviously, because Red couldn’t possibly have been telegraphing “I’m an undercover cop” any harder—found himself looking into the business end of a police officer’s handgun.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Lambesis kissed the curb, went to prison, found Jesus again (as people in prison tend to do), and eventually got out and restarted his band with an all-new lineup (as aging rock stars tend to do). Meanwhile, he managed to give plenty of ammo to anyone with an axe to grind (yay, mixed metaphors!): people who think Christians are hypocrites, people who think Christian rock musicians aren’t really Christians, people who think roided-up muscleheads are violent idiots, and people convinced that there’s no morality outside of God.
It’s that last one that’s kind of interesting to me, since Lambesis points to his embrace of atheism as precipitating the whole thing. There’s a long and storied argument about whether objective morality can exist in a universe without a creator, and a lot of atheists take personal offense at it because they think it implies that atheists are inherently immoral. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but I have encountered plenty of people in my own life who, upon losing their religious faith, used it as an excuse to do horrible and ugly things to the people around them. What I am fairly certain of is that a rupture in worldview seems to make people behave abominably. When our ideological presuppositions come out from under us, our true, ugly selves are revealed.
That’s a scary thing. Scarier than after-school-special-style ‘roid rage, almost.