‘Electric Jesus’ will take you on a metal-fueled journey towards enlightenment – Document Journal

Posted: September 24, 2020 at 3:56 pm

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Electric Jesus will take you on a metal-fueled journey towards enlightenment By Noah Berlatsky Share Facebook Instagram Facebook Shop POPULAR RESEARCH

Text by Noah Berlatsky

Posted September 22, 2020

Why does God want us to make art? A film about the 80s Christian rock scene reveals fundamental truths about joy

I want to make Jesus famous! So says eager born-again teen narrator Erik (Andrew Eakle) in the new film Electric Jesus. The movie is a half-loving, half-parodic tribute to the Christian rock and metal scene of the 1980s. As such it spends a good bit of time thinking about the question of why (or whether) God wants you to make music and art. For Erik, and for many people in the scene, the answer is obvious: you make music to try to bring the word to as many people as possible. The filmmakers, though, ultimately see a different relationship between God and creativityone thats less about evangelizing, and more about joy.

Electric Jesus is directed and written by Chris White, who also provided song lyrics, and features original music from Daniel Smith, the force behind venerable indie rock collective Danielson. The fictional biopic tells the story of the quick rise and quicker fall of the teen hair metal band 316, which tours during the summer of 1986 behind its (inadvertently R-rated) single Commandos for Christ. 316 is joined on tour by young runaway bluegrass gospel singer Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson). Erik, the films narrator and the bands soundman, and a true believer in both rock and Christ.

I kind of grew up in evangelical Christian youth group culture in the 80s, White told me by phone when I interviewed him and Smith. There was a lot of encouragement to listen to Christian pop music. CPM would be the shorthand. Smith, whose father is the well-known Christian singer-songwriter Leonard Smith, grew up in a similar milieu. I think there was one year my dad made me listen to Christian music as a kind of policy. But hes a musician himself and so after taking us to Christian concerts for a year he said, Enough! This stuffs terrible.

Smith himself has made a career of performing not-terrible music, with Christian themes, that doesnt fit easily into the category of Christian rock. I didnt even want to be on a Christian label, Smith says of his first records. Danielson Famile music is idiosyncratic orchestral indie pop, with weird falsetto vocal yips and intricate Brian Wilson-esque songwriting. I would always insist that Danielson is not Christian music, he says. Its for everybody.

For Electric Jesus, though, White asked Smith to write more straightforward Christian hair metal, with power pop chord changes and catchy hooks. If you watch the movie and think, This is the worst Christian metal song Ive ever heard, but I cant stop singing it, then weve succeeded, White laughs.

Smith is eager to point out that he also got to write the music for made-up black metal band Satans Clutcha group which wears corpse paint and purportedly bites the heads off ferrets onstage. White says Satans Clutch was inspired by Jack Chicks infamous evangelical comics, which warned of the evils of sex, drugs, rock and roll, witchcraft, and secular humanism, and inevitably ended with infidels and sinners dumped into hellfire.

Smith takes as much pleasure in penning faux devils music as faux Christian music, in part because he sees all creativity as Gods work. Creativity to me is a spiritual journey, he says. A lot of times, if Im writing songs, Ill just be alone doing that and I very much feel like theres a mystical process there. So yeah, the one who creates all is still creating.

White adds that creativity is not just a connection to God, but a connection to others. Artmaking, for me, has always been the activity of friendship building and community, he tells me. Collaborating with and befriending Daniel has been part of the joy of making the movie. Its all over Christian culture, you knowthe joy of the Lord. This is, like, a three-year collaboration with Daniel, writing songs and just listening to music together and back and forth. And its complete joy.

The kids in the movie are so obsessed with evangelizing, they forgot that the gift was they got to be friends for a summer and go on the road on this strange trip. You know, thats pretty great. It might be enough for a lifetime, for some people.

Its not like Erik and 316 never have any fun though. Part of whats great about the movie is the way the kids often forget their evangelical mission, and their dreams of hitting it big and are swept up in just being teens with friends and a lot of loud music.

One of the high points of the film is an extended sequence where the teens turn on Strypers To Hell With the Devil and bounce around the room lip-syncing and air-guitaring and generally being silly. The lyrics are hair metal godly (We speak of the devil/Hes no friend of mine/To turn from him is what we have in mind!) but the point isnt to convert anyone or to make Jesus (more) famous. Its just to rock out with your buddiesthose buddies including, in this case, Sarah, 316, White, Smith, the audience, and God himself. Electric Jesus doesnt want to save you. But it does want to prove that Christian rock can have soul.

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'Electric Jesus' will take you on a metal-fueled journey towards enlightenment - Document Journal

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September 24th, 2020 at 3:56 pm

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