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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Underoath Ruined the World

During my last semester of college (the ninth one), certain ideas welled deep within me. Something about the incoming class of freshman and their music bothered me.  It didn't take long for me to figure out what the bother was, and over the last nearly eight years I've watched it come to fruition.  So without further ado, here is a blog about how the band Underoath has ruined the entire world in easy to read, list form.
1.  They made heavy music a fad:  I remember when I first realized that angry screaming people music was for me. I wasn't hanging out with a group of friends.  Someone "cooler than me" didn't show it to me and make me feel like I should be listening to it. I was sitting in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot on my dinner break, listening to the college station (I would one day work for) when Chino Moreno suddenly starting screaming at a cloud to come shove the sun aside. I immediately knew my ears had finally reached their prime destination and have filled the years since with Burton C Bell screaming about robots taking over, Andrew Schwab screaming at himself in a mirror, and Josh Scogin screaming about Atlanta.  I like that kind of music now just as I much as I did well over a decade ago.
All of the incoming freshman at LSU in 2004 featured a common denominator. They owned the Underoath album They're Only Chasing Safety. It was at this time that Underoath burst to prominence on the back of this gold-selling album.  All of a sudden, all of these kids "liked" heavy music.  AP magazine blew up.  "The scene" blew up, or maybe just came into existence. You could hear screaming coming out of every trust fund kid's car.  Then something equally annoying happened: these kids got sick of that album and started listening to whatever new hipster crap was popular.  This devalued the worth and integrity of heavy music. Never mind the fact that They're Only Chasing Safety is just cheesy pop music with screaming in the verses (admittedly, Underoath remedied this in their excellent follow up, Define the Great Line). If all those kids "liked" heavy music and suddenly didn't like it anymore, it must have just been a stupid fad.  Not just Underoath, but all heavy music.  Never mind that heavy music has been around since the late sixties.  It was popular, then it wasn't, but in it's wake:
2. Every person who made skin contact with a guitar started a screamo band: When I was teenager there were a good many bands.  However, if your band wasn't the cream of the crop, you had a lot of trouble getting to the top.  You couldn't just record your songs, put them on Myspace (Facebook now), and get famous.  You had to get down a decent live show, record something good that a label would notice, get signed, and sell albums.  Jump to the next decade, and kids could find success with the former option.  Since they were already jamming on the hot new Underoath music, and that music was extremely easy to learn and play, logically, those kids all started screamo bands.  Being good didn't matter.  If you could copy and paste that sound, girls would be at your shows, thus boys would be at your shows.  Not too long ago, every decent-sized neighborhood had a local band.  Now every street has five.  It's quantity over quality on a major scale, and most of those bands had(ve) about as much substance as a Cars II Party Balloon.  When They're Only Chasing Safety got old, these crap bands either broke up or moved onto whatever new Myspace music was popular...let's just say "indie folk."  Vapid "indie folk." Speaking of lack of substance:
3. They made religion a fad: I've never been one to assume that anyone with a musical talent has any idea what they are talking about with anything other than the technical aspects that go along with their ability.  I certainly don't look to bands for spiritual guidance.  In regard(s) to myself, I follow the Christian faith, and have for more than two decades.  Because of this, I know just how difficult it is to pursue an honest Christian life. It's nearly hard as hell, and nothing to take lightly.  Jesus said some difficult things.  "No one comes to the Father except through me" doesn't exactly leave a lot of room for discussion.  "Turn the other cheek" is the most difficult religious tenet ever commanded.  It's really, really tough.  Joel Osteen will not come down to your house on angel wings with a sack of money when you convert to Christianity.  When you convert, you are about to enter a world of hurt.  It isn't just serious substance.  It is substance.  Knowing this for over two decades, hearing people intone "did you hear Underoath is a Christian band?  I think I'm a Christian, too" was pretty frustrating.  Suddenly everyone was a "Christian" with their hands up in the air.  If you went to a show, you assumed the screamo band was "Christian" and that everyone attending the show was "Christian" or was "sort of one" or "close."  Only, as I'll get to in a moment--there is no "close."  Anyway, just as with musical style, when They're Only Chasing Safety went out of style, suddenly there weren't a lot of Christians again.  I'm not exaggerating the fadness of this "scene Christianity" either. The band These Arms Are Snakes (who weren't Christian) wrote an entire album in response to it, sarcastically titled Easter (which is kind of hit and miss.  I'll get to it in my Every Album I Own series in about seven or eight years, if my progress doesn't get any better).  The lameness of these mosquito lifespan "Christians" was bad enough, but some "Christians" who were more long term fell out around this time, too, and that leads me to what I find to be Underoath's most egregious offense:
4. They made Christianity relative:
Underoath once talked about Christ from the stage.  Now many members, including the vocalist, say Christianity is good, but whatever works for you is fine.  The thing is, Jesus said that whole "no other way" thing.  Obviously, if you aren't a Christian, you don't agree with Jesus, so that statement means nothing to you, and that is one thing.  It's another to say "I'm a Christian, but if you find something that works better for you, go with that." If you don't believe Jesus is the only way to God, you aren't a Christian and you should not say that you are.  C.S. Lewis famous analogy from Mere Christianity is apt:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Anyway, certain members of Underoath have said many such relative things lately.  Kids who came to Christ because of Underoath might think again. Then again, these kids, and perhaps these certain band members were never real or mature Christians in the first place.  If that's the case, they should have never preached Jesus from the stage from--
Hey, you Nicsperiment jerk! All this stuff isn't Underoath's fault.  I demand that you play devil's advocate with yourself, thus achieving some sort of fairness in this obviously partisan treatise!
Alright, fine.  Here we go:
1. It's not Underoath's fault their genre became popular: Unless some executive decreed their sound, it's more likely Underoath thought, "We have a dude who can scream.  We have a dude that sings really poppy. Let's combine those two things." While I dislike pop music, Underoath didn't force 500,000 kids to purchase their CD.  Underoath even came to loathe that sound as well, and have since created three albums that I think are really, really good (and also far less commercially successful than their poppy work).  I own all three of them and play them frequently. Those kids who jumped ship were flaky annoying people, and flaky annoying people will always be flaky annoying people.Underoath were just the latest in a long line of trendsetters.  The trend was just a little unfortunate in its musical fallout because again:
2. Underoath didn't force all those kids to start bands: In fact, I am sure they are bothered by the fact that they have to wade in a sea of competitive doppelgangers, especially considering that, frankly, Underoath are the best at what they do.  I'm sure the money and fans Underoath lose out on to less talented bands bums them out. I mean, it bums me out.
3. Underoath can't force anyone to believe or disbelieve anything: If people thought Jesus was cool for a few weeks because of Underoath, it's not exactly Underoath's fault.  We're all responsible for our own choices and beliefs, plus
4. Someone should have stopped them: What do I mean here? I have some pretty close personal references.  Thanks to misguided, ignorant authority figures putting freshly minted immature Christians in positions of authority over youth in one of the churches I was raised in, half of my family and a lot of kids I grew up with are severely messed up. I can't directly blame these youth leaders, though.  After all, they weren't the ones who put themselves in positions of power.  Those over them should have known better. Surely people close to Underoath knew that certain members either didn't know what they were talking about, or shouldn't have been in positions where kids could take their ill-formed religious statements seriously. It's not Underoath's fault that kids put them up on a pedestal and took their words as those from the mouth of God.  Our society's top-rated program is called "American Idol" for a reason. Star-making talent is viewed as some kind of God-given authority, and not just God-given talent. People who have no qualification to speak as a wise person are often the ones everyone listens to.  This is a flaw of the system and, I guess, the human race in general. You often hear certain Christians say things like, "If so-and-so got saved, just imagine the people that would listen to them and convert!" Whatever. I would rather listen to someone who has had years of biblical study and living instead of a rock star with an IQ barely over a hundred who doesn't even comprehend John 3:16.  I'm not saying anyone in Underoath is stupid, just that someone in the band members' churches or social groups could have steered the band from making religious statements or even being in a position of being called "a Christian band." The system isn't Underoath's fault, though.  I am sure that most of the band only wanted to play music (the vocalist admits as much now), and never wanted anyone to look at them for the answers for how they should live their lives. Unfortunately, though, if you are up on a stage, kids think you have something to tell them.  Lest I am accused of just being old and grumpy, there is a difference between "despising someone's youth" and taking "Christian" advice from someone who doesn't even understand what they supposedly believe.  I doubt that anyone in Underoath would disagree with me on this at this point.
So there you go, imaginary person who speaks in red text.  Underoath didn't really ruin the world.  They are just a part of a severely flawed system.  I would prefer it if they just said from now on, "Our religious beliefs are personal, and it was a mistake to allow them into the discussion when we didn't even understand what we were talking about in the first place." That would be nice.  The things I blame them for here aren't really their fault, but that doesn't make them any less annoying.  (Not) Sorry for ranting.
Jamming to Disambiguation right now, by the way.  That album is awesome.


laurenthevampireslayer said...

heh said "In regards to myself..."

Nicholas said...

That was the only reason I actually wrote this.

Neal said...

Faith and fame are tricky things. You're already on a pedestal for whatever made you famous, and now you're under even more scrutiny for what you profess. Though I don't really know all the details, it sounds like Kirk Cameron is under fire for saying he doesn't agree with the gay lifestyle (maybe he used more harsh words than that, I don't know). So? He's an actor and a Christian, but what does his belief about being gay really matter if you disagree with him? If you're gay, you obviously disagree with him: you don't need his approval. Yet he was on the Today show and other programs, defending himself. Don't look to famous people to validate your beliefs, or to influence your fads. *shrugs*

I'm used to the uneasy dance of faith and fame because of U2. You have them at certain moments wondering if they should make music because it might not be Christian, and then you have them at other moments, saying and doing things they shouldn't (like the Edge wanting to build a residential development in an environmentally sensitive area). Like other famous people, I'll take their mostly good and ignore (or avoid) where they are bad.