Jesus Needs New PR

Today’s post is written by author Joel Heng Hartse. Hope you enjoy Joel’s piece and then go buy his book.

A few months ago, I got a message from a friend about a new  book she thought I would be interested in. But when I clicked on the link, instead of “cool” or “interesting,” the words that came to mind were: “Oh, crap.

I had been somewhat seriously working on a book about faith and pop  music for the better part of a year (based on an idea I’d had for about six years), and had, up to that point, been relieved to see that no book-length works treading the same ground as mine had been released. There were a few that came closer — Mark Curtis Anderson’s Jesus Sound Explosion, Patton Dodd’s My Faith So Far, Andrew Beaujon’s Body Piercing Saved My Life – but at least nobody had done, like, say, a memoir-ish, personal-essay kind of thing about Christianity, “secular” rock & roll, church music, being a music writer, and stuff like that, which takes place during the 1990s.

Until Matthew Paul Turner wrote a book called Hear No Evil.

I continued to scan the Amazon page. The book’s cover, depicting a nerdy guy with glasses holding a record (me, basically), and its subtitle (“My story of innocence, music, and the holy ghost”), felt like a message from the universe to me, and that message was “this is what you get for all those mornings wasted playing the guitar and reading Pitchfork Media instead of writing. Somebody beat you to it. Neener, neener.”

I was devastated. My book was to come out a few months later; I knew nobody would buy it, because they’d already bought his. I knew no media outlets would cover it (“Sorry, we can only devote so much space to Christian rock memoirs, and we’ve met our quota for this year already”). I knew no reviewers would like it (“Joel Heng Hartse tries—and fails—to bring out the sincerity and humor in the world of Christian music, a task much better accomplished Matthew Paul Turner’s superior Hear No Evil.”)

Then I read the book. I was relieved to find that it was not my book at all, and that it was really good and funny and poignant. Matthew has lived things I’ve only heard about, like super-fundie churches, editing CCM Magazine, and meeting Amy Grant. My own story did not have these impressive highlights (I went to rock shows in mainline church basements, freelanced for godless alt-weeklies, and met Sixpence None the Richer and Death Cab for Cutie), but I breathed a reassured sigh. My book was still my book and not a poor man’s version of Hear No Evil.

I began to relax, from the laugh-out-loud scene in which Matthew finds himself in a cafe between a Christian rock star and Jack White of the White Stripes, to the moving final conversation with a gay praise-and-worship leader. It was a great book.

Hear No Evil, instead of destroying my ego, finally gave me hope: if I wanted to read this book, I thought, there must be somebody out there who wants to read mine.

So I girded my loins (or something), got back to my computer, and bashed out the last few chapters of a book about church camp sing-alongs gone horribly wrong, my obsession with 90’s Christian music, teenage love set to an indie rock soundtrack, playing rock music in churches and church music in rock clubs, betrayal by Christian bands, and all the weird ways faith and music can take hold of a person.

So thanks, Matthew, for ruining my life for a few days, but for inspiring me to do what I needed to do. And to everyone else: if you liked Hear No Evil, check out Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll. It’s similar – but not the same. Plus, there are swear words in it. What more could you want?

You can purchase Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll here.

Visit Joel’s website here.

Follow Joel on Twitter here.

DISCLAIMER: A version of this post originally appeared on Good Letters, the blog of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion.

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