A few dozen pages into his forthcoming autobiography, Sinner's Creed, (written with rock biographer David Ritz) the lead singer of Creed, Scott Stapp, begins kvetching about why artists like Bono and his band U2 (composed of four relatively devout Christians) managed to escape the "Christian rock" label, while his band, with just one, Stapp, much to his bandmates' chagrin, couldn't.
Of course, rock critics across the country who sing the praises of Bono and heap scorn upon anything Stapp does would laugh at the comparison and slap it down as quickly as Lloyd Bentsen slapped down Dan Quayle when he merely compared his term of service to JFK's. Still, it's a question that deserves to be explored and is one of many issues raised by Stapp's fascinating new book. One thing is clear: this is not your Father's Bono and I have some first hand knowledge of this.
Given the task by Mel Gibson of producing a soundtrack CD to accompany his movie The Passion of The Christ, high on my list of artists to recruit were U2 and Creed, since they seemed to be especially outspoken about their admiration for the man from Galilee and Stapp didn't disappoint. After watching the film with us, he turned in a song, "Relearn Love," and also ensured that our CD was released on his label home, Wind-Up Records. I have no illusions that Wind Up's founder Alan Meltzer had any particular interest in the project, but rather that he was doing it to mollify his moneymaker, Scott Stapp.
But Bono was a different story. He had already been reached out to by someone else in Gibson's camp by the time I came on board and one day sent a letter to Mel, declining to participate. Although I could kick myself today for not asking to read it, I instead settled for asking Mel what it said as he read it across the room. Shaking his head, he said that Bono was declining and when I asked him why he matter-of-factly replied: "I guess he has something to lose."
There's little doubt that Bono and Stapp are both men of faith, but in Bible terms, Bono is Nicodemus, the follower of Christ who came to visit at night to avoid being seen with Him, not unlike U2's singer who always seems to be working the angles, feinting, calculating and measuring how close he should stand to Him. He gave the world a glimpse of this and cemented his Nicodemus-like status when he famously cozied up to George W. Bush to secure funding for his pet projects only to duck behind a podium at a prayer breakfast when the President tried to give his new pal a bear hug, a move that was noticed by a then U.S. Senator in the audience named Barack Obama who leaned in and told the rocker "Nice work with the hug dodge."
If Bono is Nicodemus, Scott Stapp is Peter, following him, then denying Him, then, if legend is to be believed, asking to be hung upside down on a cross, saying that he wasn't worthy to die in the same manner.
In Sinner's Creed, Stapp's finally comes clean, offering explanations for his zig-zaggy behavior, revealing himself to be the type of follower whom the good Lord might have had in mind when he remarked of the prostitute who washed his feet with her tears that she loved Him much because she'd been forgiven much.
Even for people like me who call Scott a friend, the book is full of surprises and stunners. Who knew that the lead singer of one of the biggest-selling rock bands in the world grew up listening to Take 6 because his Dad wouldn't allow for non-black forms of Christian rock? Or that as a young boy he was taken to a Benny Hinn crusade whereupon the faith healer prophecied that Stapp's voice would be heard by millions and then lightly touched his head, causing him to fall backwards, slain in the spirit. Or that his stepfather was a twisted fundamentalist who once humiliated Stapp by pulling down his pants and spanking him in front of his siblings and on another occasion spanked his own wife in front of her children.
Stapp's book is brutally honest and pulls no punches. He's no Bono, but he may just be the Johnny Cash of our era, a restless soul who loves both God and rock and roll, but battles his demons in a manner that brings to mind Al Green's admonition to his girl "Belle:" "It's you that I want but it's Him that I need."
And just like Johnny, Stapp has his June, a marketing executive named Jaclyn, a devout Christian woman who has worked hard to keep her husband on the straight and narrow. Stapp recounts their chance meeting with obvious joy, but readily admits that even with her at his side, the road hasn't been easy, and has included a few run-ins with the law.
Sinner's Creed is about many things: the excesses of fundamentalism and the victims that are sometime left in its wake, the nature of sin, the ups and downs of a rock and roll lifestyle and the value of faith in God to keep a person in the spotlight grounded in reality. But at its core it's about one man coming to terms with the incongruity of the vocation he's chosen and the faith he refuses to give up.
Ironically, Stapp's story is far more interesting than Bono's, for Bono seems to be a man who has his demons under control and never seemed to have had to grapple with the particular brand of Christianity that Stapp is attempting to wrestle to the ground. In that sense, his tale is more authentically rock and roll, having been birthed in the unique cauldron of a battle that was fought for the better part of six decades between fundamentalists who declared rock to be the Devil's music and rockers who in most cases weren't actually agents in Old Scratch's army, but pretended to be just to sell more records and scare the folks.
But as we all know by now, rock has had countless casualties and in a different time and place Stapp might have dealt with the challenges of trying to be in rock and roll and living a life of faith by following through with his 2003 suicide attempt and putting a bullet in his brain instead of the wall. But in an era when faith-filled rockers like Bono, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan and others have learned to carefully synthesize rock and roll and religion, his story has a happier ending-so far and has left us with a fascinating book full of great stories and important lessons from a guy who has learned many of them the hard way.
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