Friday 16 September 2016

In Music #1: Miss Angie

I just pulled them out, and thought, "I wonder if I still have the stickers," and I do! This was quite exciting.
(I thought it might be fun to resurrect some of my music writing. A lot of what I've written in the last few years has been about music I love... but some, some has instead focussed on touchstones for my life that have affected me in other ways. This is the first.)

What you need to know is that at the age of 19, having not so much grown through my teenage years as having survived them, I went to university and, looking for such things, had a lifechanging Christian conversion. And I got into my university's Christian Union,1 because I was lonely and because I didn't know any better, and I spent a couple years in the weird world of evangelical Christianity, and I think if you've read this blog, all 260 posts of it  – really! It's that many! – you'll know that I'm not that kid anymore. I mean, I am still a churchgoer. But I'm not that kid.

But while I was that kid, and during the much longer period where I was still pretending to be that kid, I took part in a lot of things that I wouldn't now, and one of those things was working for six years in a row for Spring Harvest, Britain's biggest evangelical Christian convention. I volunteered as a steward. For my trouble, I got my expenses paid and worked sixteen-hour days for a solid week, and I can tell you that no crowd is as ill-mannered, or entitled, or unpleasant to staff as a Christian crowd. I think no one thing turned me away from evangelicalism more effectively than working for Christians.2

I cannot adequately describe how strange that world is to an outsider, any more than I can describe how life-defining some of those experiences were. But here's one. In around 1998 I was working Spring Harvest, and I signed up on a stand for a Christian CD mail order club, one of those ones from the pre-internet pre-Amazon days where you got three CDs for three quid but then had to commit to buying at least one thing every couple of months for the next two years.

I think every single CD I had was wretched, it was like Christian grunge and Christian AOR and Christian country rock, and even Christian Britpop and while my Beloved inherited one or two of them, the only ones I have hung on to myself are these two albums by Miss Angie, one I picked up on the original deal and one I grabbed in my last purchase, desperate to get out, and unable to think of anything else. It is fair to say that I bought Christian music out of guilt, because I wasn't ever all that good at being a Christian. It is fair also to say that these CDs were never, ever ones I really wanted, even at the time.

So why did I keep them? Because they are strange. Because they are, in their own way, occult artefacts, aural prayers to an angry God. Arcane. Uncanny. 

Imagine, if you will, a girl-fronted punk-pop band, its aural aesthetic roughly equivalent to Green Day, as fronted by Juliana Hatfield (which isn't really too difficult to picture, actually) but mix that with explicitly conservative evangelical Christian lyrics. For example:
It's very very clear to me
It should be clear to you
Can't you hear Him call you?
I will sing of You
Your love is better than my life
I will sing of You
And, oh be, oh be satisfied

You feel so real
It's a mess!
It's a mess!
Some say my brain's a mess
For laying down my life for the One
They say it's crazy

And they 're delivered in a really exaggerated girl-punk style. I'm listening to these records now as I write and you have to try to imagine those lyrics delivered with pop-punk sneers and yelps.

You have to imagine her jumping up and down and being all rock.

Actually, you don't have to because you can listen to most of it here. It is cognitive dissonance in CD form. It is fucking bizarre.

It only worked if you bought into the late 90s Christian youth culture, the “Jesus Freak” culture where they tried to present Christian devotion as a kind of straight edge counter-cultural expression, the idea that as a Christian young person you're going against the world, that not fucking around and being polite to authority figures was an authentic rebel yell. By the end of the second record, there are genuinely unpleasant – unpleasant in an unknowing, narrow way – songs about the Rapture.

I'm in Heaven, you're in Hell.
Fancy lights will light up my house
Stars fallin' down but I won't be around

Someday You will take me away
And we'll leave them here with nothing at all
Someday You will take me away
And we'll leave them here with nothing at all
Miss Angie apparently took a break, but has in recent years returned to making Christian pop music, (and oh my she has a Bandcamp and Bandcamp is an addiction of mine) – actually, she's got a really good voice, high-registered, crystalline, and better now than it was twenty-odd years ago.

Of all the CCM I had, I kept these CDs because, and I know this is an odd statement, and most certainly one Miss Angie would not be pleased with, they fit with my collection of books on the unexplained and the occult. They are not difficult music; they are in fact terrible. But they were made by big-money American CCM labels, and they are wrong-headed in more ways than the usual pop misstep, because they represent a world of which I was only ever peripherally a part.

1Fourteen years ago this April, I actually got an official excommunication from the ultraconservative national organisation that controls British Christian Unions. Even saying that, I can't believe it's been so long since it happened. (back)

2As a student, I worked as an office administrator in the church I then attended. I was paid half of the then newly introduced minimum wage. I was told that although I was the most qualified person for the job, because I could not say that God had told me to do the job (I was too honest to say that – I needed the cash), I could not be paid a full wage. Looking back, I find it hard to get my head round why I'd do that, but organisations like churches have no small amount of social pressure they can bring to bear on their members, and well, I wasn't who I am now. This was not the only way that I witnessed the ways in which that this man was a crook. But that's another story, as they say. (back)