DAVID BAZAN, former frontman of Pedro the Lion and long the patron saint of Christian indie (“Chrindie”) rock, abdicated his post last year, but nobody noticed. The non-CCM apologist who lit the way for a generation of sad dudes with honest doubts who still made it to church every Sunday (and sometimes Saturday night, because we do that) quietly left his little corner of the fold in a Seattle Weekly article in December 2007. With just five words, Bazan’s profiler destroyed our champion: “Bazan … now considers himself agnostic.”
Oh, and then Bazan went on to basically call God a “vindictive little bitch,” which, sarcastic context notwithstanding, kind of seals the deal on the question of whether or not he is On Our Team anymore.
It’s gone largely uncommented on in the Christian music press, though probably not on indie internet message boards (that dark and fetid pool I am not prepared to wade back into, even for the sake of research.) Which is surprising, considering that once upon a time, Bazan seemed to relish his role as spokesman for an anti-movement, a de facto leader for people who listen to the Shins, drink microbrews, and also happen to believe Jesus is the son of God.
As a talking head, Bazan was in his element: his patented Q&A sessions in concert frequently degenerated into biting tete-a-tetes about his religiosity or lack thereof. When the irreverent indie webzine Fine Print posted a joke news item about Bazan wearing a T-shirt reading “Ask me about my fucking savior,” it was hard to see the satire. It seemed entirely in character. I remember a Pedro the Lion at Seattle’s old Paradox theater at which a fan shouted from the back of the room ”Are you saved?” Bazan looked up from tuning his guitar and intoned in his deadpan baritone: “From what?”
In recent years, Bazan was an integral part of two serious examinations of the Christian rock world: Heather Whinna and Vickie Hunter’s documentary film Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? and Andrew Beaujon’s excellent book Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock. In both, Bazan is portrayed as a man with a foot in two camps: the weird world of Jesus-lovers and the smoking, swearing, drinking world of indie rockers. The temptation to see a dichotomy there is strong, but Bazan proved he was more comfortable with himself than media outlets like Pitchfork described him (In 1999, Brent DiCrescenzo clumsily reviewed Bazan’s Winners Never Quit, cataloguing the supposed contradictions of Bazan’s belief and his music). After all, on the final Pedro the Lion album, he sang “I can tell you why I doubt it/ and why I still believe.”
Whatever you think of Bazan’s music—he probably didn’t anesthetize Pedro the Lion soon enough, and his solo work remains laconic if catchy—you’ve got to wonder what this means for the Christian indie world. On the one hand, Bazan’s theological departure wasn’t such a big deal, because, thankfully, the question “are they really Christian?” hasn’t mattered for quite some time now. We just kind of listen to music that moves us, music we find traces of the Spirit in, regardless of whether the bass player affirms the Nicene Creed or whatever. A quiet mention of agnosticism shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody who’s ever heard a Pedro the Lion record—Bazan was very candid about his doubts without bothering to publicly affirm belief or nonbelief in anything in particular. It’s not like the guy was running for president.
But on the other hand, we have to step back and ask ourselves, “why does this matter?” Because I don’t think I’m the only one who died a little inside when I read the Seattle Weekly piece, just like I’m sure countless Christians felt genuinely heartsick when Amy Grant got divorced. There’s a level at which this isn’t just rock and roll for us. Yeah, a guy I’ve never met said he’s not sure there’s a God, which is pretty much how I feel about 80% of the time. But nobody is an island, and even though there are 2 billion Christians in this world, there was little feeling in the pit of my stomach that said: we lost a guy. I’m sure it comes from too many years of an us-and-them mentality, both in religion and rock, but one thing seems to be true: those of us who live in the shady region of a Venn Diagram labeled “believers in God” and “people who really care about rock music” are looking for a new apostle.
Joel Hartse has written about music for Paste, Geez, Beliefnet, and even, improbably, Seven Ball.
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