When you hear "rock music," your first thought is likely not Christian. But film producer and author Mark Joseph argues there's been a fascinating, little-noticed culture shift in the music industry. He writes about it in his new book: Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's music.
Mark Joseph: The bottom line is that religious people dropped out of pop culture somewhere, in the case of music, somewhere in the late 60's early 70's and created their own subculture which we kind of derisively called Christian rock. But that phenomenon has changed as a lot of those folks came back into the mainstream music business.
Sharyl: What time frame are we talking about where this change has happened?
Mark Joseph: A few things happened. American Idol really was impactful in causing our rock and pop stars to be picked by people and not moguls and in particular fairly secular moguls. The second was just an ethos was created in the religious communities to get back into the mainstream and not to be afraid or intimidated by being in the mainstream. So I think those are the key two things that happened in the late 90's, early 2000's. There was a moment in American Idol history when Adam Lambert faces off against Kris Allen and that is kind of the moment of impact because Adam Lambert is exactly the kind of rock star that would have been chosen by the Clive Davis David Geffen of yesteryear. Kris Allen was the nice boy next door the born-again Christian kid who sings at his church kind of a guy. Those two faced off and Kris Allen won the American Idol contest. That's the moment where it was clear what was happening.
Sharyl: Can you give us a couple of specific examples of why you're talking about, songs we might now be able to look up.
Mark Joseph: Well yeah if you look at the Grammys last year you all of a sudden have How great is our God which is a song you'd find in church on Sunday at a megachurch. You don't think it for the Grammys and the hip-hop setting.
Sharyl: How is it affecting us in the bigger picture? Why should we care, if at all?
Mark Joseph: Well I think as a parent, you know, you want your kids to be getting good messages in addition to what we're used to. Traditionally I think the Rock n Roll industry in the 60's 70's and 80's. So you're getting more conservative points of view. I was kind of tipped off in the early 90's when I turned on MTV and I saw Alice Cooper walking in on a couple about to have premarital sex and the song was called “Hey stupid.” And I thought wait a minute this is odd to have the grandfather of rock telling a young couple to hey slow down a little bit.
Mark Joseph: I was backstage at a Megadeth tour and it was an alcohol-free zone at the time and I'm thinking this is not your father's rock star.
Sharyl: What if people say “Gosh I hardly think of rock n roll as Christian-esque. I don't think that the songs are. in fact, I think that's sort of a rough world.
Mark Joseph: Yeah I think, rock, rock got off to a bad start because in the 50's the religious community was freaked out by it didn't know what to make of it and resorted to burning records and so you ended up with this unnecessarily hostile relationship between rock and religion.
Mark Joseph: I think it's taken time for the religious leaders to go wait a minute we can utilize this can be part of what we do rock shouldn't our enemy. And I think it takes probably 20, 30, 40 years for them to figure that out and be more hospitable in particular religious leaders. I can give you an example. Elvis Presley his pastor allegedly gave them the choice of you've got to quit rock n roll if you want to follow God. Alice Cooper's leadership was a different ethos of stay put. Just change the content. The form itself is not evil.
Sharyl: Are there some who think this is a negative trend?
Mark Joseph: Sure. If you're a person who doesn't like the idea of religion being in pop culture, this is your ultimate nightmare. Because it's everywhere and it's only increasing.
Mark Joseph: And the notion of that you have to separate or leave your religion at the door before you enter the public square is sort of an idea of yesteryear and believe it or not, Hollywood is much more open to this.
Sharyl: Are you a religious guy?
Mark Joseph: I don't if I'm religious but I suppose I attend church but I'm certainly a fan of the marrying of the two. I think it's nothing is more exhilarating than a deeply spiritual song. And so I'm definitely a fan of them joining forces and seeing what comes out of it.
Joseph notes that Hip Hop music is now seeing a significant mix of orthodox religious messages, delivered in the language of the street.