Friday, September 4, 2009

Great Moments in Rock: Christianity Is Stupid

Back in the dark days before digital editing software was so ubiquitous that your grandmother could use it (Mine has her own experimental techno band), Negativland took care of tape manipulation so that you didn't have to. And you never even thanked them. The band released their first album in 1980, and over the course of two more developed a distinctive sound featuring live instrumentation, genre-hopping, and both narration and found sound as the frequent vocal tracks. A good amount of sampling was also involved, and as often is the case, this got the band embroiled in some copyright lawsuits. But that is a story for a different song, a story which I will probably write sometime and post here, even though the band has already written a 270-page book about the subject (Mine will filter the actual event through my uninformed knowledge of the event, so that should be fun and/or unique and wrong). On Negativland's 4th album Escape From Noise, released in 1987, they moved from their own Seeland records to punk label SST, and for the first time found themselves having to deal with the demands of someone other than themselves. And one of these demands involved touring. As a primarily studio-oriented concept, this was something they had never got that heavily into during their formative years, and advance ticket sales looked as though the band members would each be losing a significant amount of money on the label-mandated tour. So what to do? Well, why not take credit for a murder?

This was in the 80's, the time of strange haircuts, regrettable fashion choices, and the Senate porn rock hearings. Two years earlier Judas Priest had been accused of causing two boys to commit suicide through masked messages in their music. Tipper Gore was using her authority to order Steve Dallas' decapitation. And so Negativland did what any group of trendy musicians would do and jumped on the bandwagon. When David Brom killed his family with an axe, they issued a press release stating that the FBI (Specifically agent Dick Jordan) had asked them not to leave town due to their song "Christianity Is Stupid" being involved in the murder investigation. Jordan did not, technically, exist, but this did not stop the media from jumping all over the story. But before we get to that, let's talk about the song for a minute.

As propagandists everywhere know, quotes and audio clips can be taken out of context to make almost anyone say almost anything. So in this spirit, Negativland took a sample from a 1971 Christian film entitled "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?" as the centerpiece of Christianity is Stupid. Over an industrial-metal beat and guitar line, the song features a repeated vocal sample from the film of a man announcing "Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Give up." Intended, as many Negativland creations are, as a joke with a point, the band claimed that Brom had been arguing with his Christian parents over the song on the night of the murder. Once the media ran with it, the band fueled the fires as much as they could, in the simplest way possible: By announcing that their attorney, Hal Stakke (Who also did not exist), had advised them not to make any comments. However, they were not ignoring the media completely. No, while the media worked itself into a fine lather, Negativland were recording them. The follow-up EP, Helter Stupid, broke down the media coverage of the fake controversy in often-hilarious fashion (All the other stories the media jumps to are about serial killers as well, and when Rolling Stone calls to ask about the murders, they are answered only by someone repeatedly shouting "Now it begins!" into the telephone as they ask about possible backwards masking in the song). The end result? Negativland got a funny story to tell, and didn't have to tour. And in the end, the media proved to be far stupider than Christianity.

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