Not all rock bios are equal.
Rebel for God: Faith, Business, and Rock ‘n’ Roll
Author: Eddie DeGarmo
Publisher: Salem Books (www.salembooks.com)
Not all rock bios are created equal. They are shaped by the perspective of the author. They choose what to include. It somewhat reflects their viewpoint and values.
The debauchery in some accounts leaves me crestfallen. I prefer stories like Rebel for God by Eddie DeGarmo that have more of an element of redemption. The focus is more on what is good, right and acceptable (See Philippians 4:8). I have witnessed more than enough of the sordid. Give me a godly perspective, which is typically absent from the rock biography.
I recognize, too, that not everyone is a reader. Some just care about the music. They don’t want their concert videos interrupted by talking heads. They are not interested as much in the life or the context as the songs. If they wanted a reason why they should care, I suggest that it could lead to a richer experience. A song, an album, might become more meaningful. I recommend this for the skeptical. It’s easy to read, fun and informative.
The author chronicles the entire history of DeGarmo and Key (D&K later on, but used hereafter to represent both time periods), including the making of each album. You don’t have to be a fan but you might become one after reading an account that becomes more captivating as it progresses.
It is also an insider’s guide to the music industry but more than that it’s about living life well. This is not something typically found in the average rock star book.
It was surprising to learn of the early connection with Stephen Lawhead, the celebrated author, whose Celtic works have inspired Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning to create music that serves as a soundtrack. Lawhead helped to launch the band’s career and was their first manager.
Another fascinating contact early on was Pat Boone, who signed them to their first recording contract on his Lamb and Lion label. Boone identifies himself as the lamb; partner Mike Curb is the lion.
Scattered throughout the narratives are principles that DeGarmo learned through the ups and downs of his career. The “four-year commitment principle” is especially notable, “I told countless young artists they should make a commitment to their dream for a period of years. When we started we chose to commit for four years; I told them they could choose how long they would give it, but it needed to be at least three years. During that period of time they should give it everything they had … At the end of the time period, if they still couldn’t support themselves and their families if they had them, they should give it up” (90). Wise counsel like this makes the book especially helpful for anyone in the industry. DeGarmo was not only a recording artist but became a music publisher, producer, promoter and eventually the president of the largest gospel and Christian music publisher in the world.
Readers might also enjoy DeGarmo’s sense of playfulness and humor. The commitment principle chapter includes the author’s own Elvis sighting where he exchanges knowing glances with the king.
Sadly, one of the challenges for the band was a steady stream of criticism from other Christians. Often it had to do with opposition to the music styles associated with rock music. Is it compatible with a Christian message? What would Jesus think?
Fortunately, the band learned to respond graciously to attacks, “We knew better than to get into a public rock ‘n’ roll justification debate with these folks. We politely asked them to pray for us and then reminded them ‘God loves you’” … (116).
It didn’t make sense to play any other type of music. They grew up listening to rock. God used the controversy and subsequent publicity to get their music out there. It gave them greater prominence.
One of the most poignant moments came after agreeing to tour with Amy Grant. At the time it was a stretch for both artists and their fans. DeGarmo writes, “Sure, there was a certain amount of culture blending and boundary pushing, but no one expected the kind of outrageous and vocal criticism Amy received from some of her fans. It was downright mean-spirited at times” (181).
The culmination came at the Christian Music Seminar in Estes Park, Colorado, the last show of their tour. D&K had never been invited previously as they were perceived as being too extreme and on the fringe. They rocked “Beautiful Music,” the first song. “At the end (of it), though, there was absolutely no applause,” DeGarmo writes. “You could hear a pin drop. All I could see was a large room full of people with their arms crossed … Amy began to cry” (182).
She poured out her heart explaining that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. Energetic music was a language they understood.
This story reminds me of what one musician conveyed when I asked about something I did not understand. He encouraged me to trust the artist when something is questionable but not clearly wrong.
When I was young in the faith I recall writing a letter to a prominent Jesus music artist, questioning the content on one of their albums. I recognize now that because his choices didn’t make sense to me, I assumed that they were wrong. I was the one in error. If I had given the benefit of the doubt I might have been able to enjoy that record at the time. If we only realized how little we know, it might make us more hesitant to criticize.
Some of the most meaningful words were the hardest to write for the author. It wasn’t the specifics but the reminder that difficulties with others sometimes have no explanation. In such times one comfort is knowing that Christ himself went through similar perplexity and even betrayal. What pain compares to having a friend turn against us?
Barbara Bush said, “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people—your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.” What I like about the author is that he writes charitably about conflicts and disagreements. I appreciate his honesty and humility. His treatment of others is one of his greatest successes.
Let me add in closing that D&K’s commitment to evangelism throughout their career is admirable. They were uncompromising even when it cost them personally. Many thousands of people came to Christ through their ministry. Well done!