I Want to Be a Clone: How Steve Taylor Helped Me Find Myself

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There’s no doubt that the Rabbit Room is full of my people, but I haven’t always known who my people were.

The first time I found my people, I was in eighth grade. I didn’t know they were my people at first, I just knew I’d finally found human beings who said out loud the things I was thinking. Looking back now, I can see that those people were more important than I ever realized back then.

In the back of the room where our church youth group met, there was a smaller room. And in that smaller room, the arcane was made real. It was my wardrobe, but inside, instead of fur coats, I found a soundboard and lighting controls. Instead of snowy woods, I found the buttons that controlled everything—the music, the microphones, the lights. The characters who occupied that room were like deities to me because they knew what the buttons did when you pushed them and because they got to choose which music played as everyone else walked into the larger room. These guys would fit so well in the Rabbit Room. One that sticks out to me was Chip, one of the adult leaders. Chip was fond of dressing in knee-high leather boots and a kilt, and he would sometimes have a Highlander sword slung on his back. For a 13-year-old, these things make an impression. In that tiny room, guys like Chip introduced me to bands like The Seventy-Sevens, and singers like Mark Heard and Steve Taylor.

For a kid who grew up exclusively on Contemporary Christian Music with a little bit of the oldies station for good measure, I wasn’t used to this. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when names like Michael W. Smith and Sandi Patty ruled the Southern Baptist music dial, I had no idea this other musical world existed. Oh, I knew there were bands like Petra—Christian music’s answer to Bon Jovi—but I wasn’t allowed to listen to them. That was too “hard.” But mostly, I needed music that asked difficult questions: “What about social justice?” “What if I’m not sure about what I believe?” “What about sin?” I’m thankful for the CCM artists that filled my cassette rack back then. They gave me a vocabulary for my faith. But I really needed to move past musical Christianity 101 and look toward something that would help me know how to live; something to convince me that I wasn’t alone.

Enter Steve Taylor, a Christian music iconoclast. Steve Taylor’s music is a mash-up of pop, rock, and punk sensibilities (in attitude, if not in sound). It’s a hard sound to categorize because it’s not unusual to find reggae, rap, and hard rock on the same album. What’s unique about Steve Taylor (this was especially true in the ’80s and ’90s) is that you never knew what he would do next.

I was a little late to Steve Taylor’s game, but that just made the findings richer indeed. Instead of having to wait for new releases, I had the pleasure of digging through the shelves at Long’s Christian Bookstore in Orlando and buying everything my allowance would pay for. And as I talked with people about Steve Taylor, I began to hear the stories:

Have you heard ‘I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good?’ The satirical song about people who blow up abortion clinics?

Have you heard his song about racism at Bob Jones University? He’s banned from that campus for life!

Have you seen the video for Meltdown? It’s got Blair from The Facts of Life in it!

This stuff was mind-blowing for me. But beyond the controversial topics, what always impacted me about Steve Taylor’s music was how he talked about things that mattered to me. Things I’d never heard put to music before. He criticized the idea that all Christians have to look, think, and feel exactly the same in “I Want to Be a Clone” (“Cloneliness is next to godliness, right?”). He made me look differently at the public figures I was idolizing in “Hero.” He made me see that “Jesus is for Losers.” And mostly, he made me feel all right about the doubt that I’ve always carried.

Belief was never easy for me (it still isn’t), but judging by the other Christian music I’d been hearing, this was my own personal flaw. I was an oddball. Everyone else got this belief thing with no trouble. My favorite Steve Taylor song was and is “Harder to Believe Than Not To” because it gives voice to what I was thinking (watch the video).

I held on to those songs for dear life.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when a Kickstarter campaign for Steve Taylor & the Perfect Foil’s new album was launched. On one hand, it was Christmas come early for me, I’ve been awaiting new tunes from him for twenty years. But on the other, some things bubbled back up to the surface. Since the Kickstarter announcement, I’ve spent a lot of time with Now the Truth Can Be Told, the two-disc collection of Steve Taylor’s work, and I can see how far I’ve come.

Now, instead of my people being limited to that small sound booth, they’re here, in The Rabbit Room. Now I’m surrounded by people who say out loud the things I’ve always thought. My people have grown from five to five hundred. And if it weren’t for Steve Taylor, Mark Heard, The Vigilantes of Love, The Seventy-Sevens, Daniel Amos, The Prayer Chain, Poor Old Lu, and on and on and on, I don’t think I’d ever have had the guts to become a part of this place. I’m eternally grateful to all of them for teaching me that belief isn’t easy for a lot of us. I’m grateful for their voices telling me that I’m not alone.

Profile photo of John Barber

John Barber is a music lover, film nut, husband, and father. Last year he set out to watch 365 films in one year, and he lived to tell about it. That means he's seen more bad movies than we even want to think about.


16 Comments

  1. Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Thanks for drawing attention to Steve Taylor, John. He’s a great artist.

    I especially like his lyrics and sense of humour.

    Interestingly, he also wrote lyrics for the Newsboys. (Now I know why I like some of their lyrics so much.)

    Chagall Guevara, one of his other projects, is definitely worth a listen. I still have the cassette!

    Look forward to hearing the Perfect Foil!

  2. Helena

    Really enjoyed this post, John! I don’t know Steve Taylor’s music, but now I’m interested to try it out. While you were immersed in Christian contemporary music, I was being told that only hymns were godly. I’m still a little behind on everything…
    But I love what you said about Taylor giving a voice to your inner world. I sometimes think writers and musicians don’t realize the power of that particular aspect of their ministry. The emphasis is more often on enlightenment or encouragement. But, to me, when you speak the truth aloud, in whatever way is most real to you, you’re inventing a new language…and tiny little miracles start happening in silent hearts all over the place. The dumb speak. 🙂

  3. Lisa

    You’re speaking my language!! Steve Taylor? Mark Heard?? Yes and yes!! Steve is truly a brilliant artist – not only a musician but a film director as well. His music had a huge impact on me as well. I hadn’t heard about his new project – what a wonderful Christmas surprise!

  4. Peter B

    Pretty much everything Helena said. I’m still behind too.

    There’s so much light in this room. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all.

  5. Shawn

    Man, John….I KNEW we were musical kin but that list of bands you just made truly proves we are musical brethren. I would add The Choir and Adam Again to that list to be uber complete. I am older than you, but the effect of those artists on me is similar even if the circumstance is somewhat different. As someone who had become DEEPLY entrenched in the underground music of the day (Heck,,,,I even roomed briefly with Kurt Cobain and members of The Screaming Trees and Beat Happening)) it was difficult to find Christian music that was anywhere near as authentic or honest as the stuff I was listening to. I was introduced to both Taylors, Steve and Terry around ’86 and, actually wasn’t all that impressed initially. I still am not a big fan of On the Fritz but eventually, deeper inspection led me to love these guys and further explore like minded artists. It was reassuring to know that there were other “misfits” out there and that people who had followed Christ for quite a while still struggled with things that I, as a newer believer, was trying to come to grips with. I LOVE that you illuminated these foundational artists here on the Rabbit Room. The “Christian Music Industry” is egregiously ambivalent toward their own history and the fact that Daniel Amos just released one of the best records of the past 25 years and can’t even register in most current believer’s musical vocabulary is an out and out shame.

  6. Tennison

    Well John, I no longer have to write the part of my autobiography that deals with my musical awakening in the 90s. You just did it for me. Thanks.

    You had me at Steve Taylor, but when you threw out Poor Old Lu, The Prayer Chain, VoL and the 77s, I knew you were a kindred spirit. Consider me one of your people.

    I’d also encourage everyone to support Steve’s project. His band consists of John Mark Painter (played with Ben Folds, Sixpence, etc.), Peter Furler (Newsboys) and Jimmy Abegg (played with Charlie Peacock and some dude named Rich Mullins).

  7. Christopher Stewart

    I was a scrawny twleve or thirteen year old, son of a Christian music station disc jockey. It was 1995 or thereabouts, when I looked into the glow of our smallish living room T.V. to see a tall, lanky man dressed in black and singing a rather melancholy rock ballad (something about how Jesus was for Losers) while tromping around lush, green countrysides and old world churchyards. I was mesmerized. Mystified. In all my Christian music upbringing I’d never seen (or heard) anything along these lines. Who was this scarecrow of a man with locks of stringy curls and why were his words and the melody behind them creating such a stir in my CCM’d boy’s heart?!? I immediately ordered Squint on cassette from the local Christian book store-as any good Christian pre-adolescent is want to do and I waited anxiously for the still mysterious yet palpably inspiring music & man to arrive at my doorstep. This was soon followed by the order of Now The Truth Can Be Told on double cassette. Needless to say, I’ve never looked back. There was a Taylor-shaped hole in my young, Christian, musical soul and it was filled at just the right moment in just the right way. Thank the Lord for weird, local Christian music video T.V. channels. Thank the Lord for the divinely appointed anomaly that was and is Steve Taylor.

  8. Mamie Rose

    I wasn’t around when Steve Taylor was making his music, but my dad introduced me to his music long ago and my siblings and I have been fans for years. I was so thrilled to hear that he is recording a new album. His voice and challenge to believers to combat sin is much needed in our day and age.

  9. Nick Swirski

    I came out of the late 70’s punk scene – Ramones, Pistols… then to Bowie and Kiss…. came to Christ and someone gave me a Swaggart album and I thought I died!!!! Then… I somehow found Undercover, the Altar Boys and southern California Christian surf – punk and then came Steve Taylor! He and the Altar Boys gave my faith experience a dose of energy, life, and an awareness that Sunday morning music/worship was not the be all end all to real Christian music!! Great article… brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!!!

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