Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love me good

As I have talked about on countless occasions, I usually hate the term "guilty pleasure." For something to be a guilty pleasure requires there to be a component of embarrassment to go along with the enjoyment of the pleasure, and I'm here to tell you, I'm over all that. When it comes to the things I like, love me of leave me, baby, I'm not apologizing. Or am I? Because the other day on my way to work, something shuffled up on my iPod that really DOES qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Once upon a time (well, more like about 6 years ago), I had a brief but intense flirtation with the music of Michael W. Smith. For those of you that don't know, Michael W. Smith is one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music. He is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Amy Grant as both had some pop crossover success, although Amy Grant's crossover was much more successful as well as much more deleterious to her CCM career. Outside of the realm of CCM, Michael W. Smith is best known as the guy who gave us "Place In This World" which became a high school graduation song favorite throughout the 90s. He also had another minor hit in 1992, "I Will Be Here For You" which I remember kind of liking in spite of myself. Despite these dabblings, I never really liked him all that much because the nasal quality of his voice really turned me off (says the Stevie Nicks fan).

I don't really remember what it was exactly, but in 2002, I really started to consume his music. This was weird for me because really, even I can see that 99.9% of CCM is not all that good. Most of it is too earnest, too over-the-top and just plain too much for me. I have always preferred my religion more subtle than that, but Michael W. Smith was the big exception to this. My re-discovery of his music came at a time when I was taking a lot of comfort in religion and prayer. I was a new dad, just turned 30 and doing the obligatory "what the hell am I doing with my life?" Some of this had to do with the fact that I was participating in an online men's group which, while not explicitly religious in tone, definitely had underpinnings of Christian spirituality. Looking back, there were many times that it was almost fundamentalist in its discussions, but there was enough talk about relationships and sex and what not that I ignored the worst of it, taking what I needed and leaving the rest. I also had read up a bit on Smith's backstory, which is replete with stories of drug and alcohol addiction before the eventual (and very literal in this case) come-to-Jesus moment. I found this inspiring and felt like this was someone who was doing more than just talking the talk and someone who, I felt, had more than a bit in common with me (minus the drug and alcohol addiction.)

So why is this a guilty pleasure aside from the fact that I am probably would classify myself as agnostic? The reason this is a guilty pleasure is because of Smith's political beliefs. I find his fundamentalist, very conservative beliefs to be reprehensible and anathema to everything I believe in and stand for. I scoured the net trying to find an example of just a softening of his conservative ideology but I was unable to find it. What I did find is that he has associated himself with Sean Hannity. I'm sure that Smith is a very nice person who truly believes what he believes, but in the words of that classic 70s song, we just disagree. I just feel like someone who went through what he did should know better. I expected better. So whenever I listen to his music, I do feel a little bit guilty.

I do not listen to his music often - I think that Sunday was the first time I've listened to him in at least a couple of years. After he played at the 2004 Republican National Convention, it was pretty much over for us. But the song that came around quite by accident on my iPod, "Love Me Good" from his 1998 CD Live The Life still manages to strike a chord in me. It is, not surprisingly, one of his more secular songs with only a brief allusion to anything religious.

Look at Smith being all metro and cool at 40. I will admit to hoping that I look as good as that at 40, even without the team of stylists and assistants. I love how positive this song is and how it addresses the feeling of being on a hamster wheel. The line I love the most is "I conquer the world for a moment/Then the moment is gone." That could be a tag line for this blog - THAT'S how much I relate to that lyric.

There are days that I do miss the comfort that I got from organized religion and especially prayer. I kind of ride a sine wave when it comes to religious feelings, cycling back around and through all levels of it which is why UU is such a good fit for me. Perhaps Carl Sagan is right when he argues that science loses out to pseudo-science because of the comfort that the latter gives. I know that I can't follow a blind faith like I once did. Heidi mentioned the other day that we live in a world where we have our kids believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and then tell them it's all a lie, but then we still expect them to believe in something like God which is equally fantastic.

But I still have a soft spot for Michael W. Smith and especially "Love Me Good", even though I can't stand his politics.

(I'll admit to being more than a bit nervous about posting this because Smith's fans are rather Lamb-like in their devotion. No offense was intended. Live and let live.)


Yuяi said...

You know, even when I listened to CCM back in the day, I never was really a big fan of MWS. I did like "Friends" (who didn't, right?) And I like Amy's pop stuff best (not her CCM stuff so much, altho a few gospel tracks of hers are v good).

Dan said...

Like I said, I can't explain the MWS draw. He is certainly not a frequently played artist, but I was listening to a song of his tonight at Borders and found myself really enjoying it.

I think that had MWS not had the CCM label, a song like "Love Me Good" could have gotten pop airplay, but even by the late 90s, the radio was pretty inhospitable to that kind of easy access pop. If you weren't a boy band or Britney, forget it! ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you would be so surprised and shocked that Michael W. Smith would be anything other than conservative, fundamentalist, and even republican. He is a Contemporary Christian Music Artist. Most CCM artists have fundamentally conservative values - probably one of the reasons why they are doing christian music in the first place. Just sayin' ......

Dan said...

I guess I don't feel that to be Christian necessarily has to mean that someone is conservative It reminds me of how it's easy to just presume that a country/western singer is conservative, when there are many that have a liberal bend.

Additionally, I was saddened that someone like Smith who has been through hell and back would not be a bit softer in some of his judgments. I was hoping that there was a little more open-mindedness in him, because I saw it reflected in his music. That, above all, is the source of my disappointment.