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.
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.