I’m going obscure for my first FFWDing entry; perhaps I’ll atone for it next time by writing about how great Where the Streets Have No Name is.
Teenagers questing for an identity use music, like wardrobe, as a tribal marker. When I was a kid, that meant Metallica for skaters, Grateful Dead for burnouts, popular music for popular people, The Smiths for loner intellectuals, Pink Floyd for kids in counseling. But if you want to be seen as a real weirdo by all of the above, you could always do what I did: listen to Christian music.
“CCM” (contemporary Christian music, as opposed to hymns) was really not a genre of music, but a marketing machine encompassing most musical styles. Roughly it split into “music for moms” (Broadway anthems, 70s soft rock sounds), and music for kids. The primary target audience for the latter was Pentecostal kids (though I’m Presbyterian, the bookworms of Protestantism, so again social fail) who were being taught not to listen to music made by pagans. The dirty open secret was that the musicians themselves thought that was silly and listened almost exclusively to “secular” (i.e. regular) music, so interviewers were careful not to ask questions like, “What is your favorite band?” This also meant that this year’s popular Christian artists tended to sound like the popular mainstream styles of three or four years prior, irksome at the time but in thirty year retrospect not such a big deal.
Within the “music for kids” branch, the large group of musicians working out of Nashville seemed to see their work as an adjunct to church youth ministry, providing catchy pop songs about the importance of Bible study, moral living, and positive self-image. The topics of Jesus and God came up not as much as you might think, which is probably just as well unless you’re in the habit of turning to twentysomething musicians for your spiritual mentoring.
Meanwhile in California, a smaller group of workaday musicians, while affiliated to greater or lesser degrees with the Church, mainly wanted to write and perform their music, and if identifying with “Christian Music” meant they could quit their day jobs, so be it. Within this West Coast group, The Seventy Sevens walked in the footsteps of Zeppelin, The Choir pursued echoey U2 effects, the sound of Daniel Amos lurched between that of the Eagles and of the Talking Heads, and guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy kept alive the fusion flames of Santana, Steely Dan, and especially Paul McCartney.
And then there was the band Adam Again, fronted by “Gene Eugene” Andrusco. They were classified “alternative,” which in the CCM context basically meant they weren’t early 80s arena rock. They weren’t any kind of straight rock, but a funk/soul hybrid awash in wah guitar, Hammond B3, and Fender Rhodes, a niche within a niche within a small indie market. Andrusco’s voice could recall Michael Stipe’s baritone mumble, while his lyrics tended toward the relational, the socially conscious, the morose. He invited his girlfriend “Riki” Michele Bunch into the band; they married and then divorced, but she continued in the group, just like Meg White.
Today’s ballad “Hide Away” chronicles the breakdown of the Andrusco/Bunch marriage, with Riki Michele’s background vocals echoing a forlorn affirmation of the alienation described in Gene’s lead. As with the Mamas and the Papas or Fleetwood Mac, I’m continually amazed at the willingness of former lovers to air their joint miseries publicly in musical form, knowing full well that they’ll be called on to sing those songs over and over before crowds thinking only of entertainment. I guess that’s just what artists do, in varying proportions of vulnerability and exhibitionism.
The song is in 3/4 half-time, a standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure, with a cello solo for the bridge, an unusual choice for this band. The “best part” is when his voice breaks into falsetto for a single note in the phrase beginning at 2:19. Not easy to do well; I used to practice this note transition over and over, rewinding the tape incessantly to sing along with my unknowing tutor.
Andrusco’s studio launched most of the well-known Christian “alternative” rock bands of the 80s and 90s. In the year 2000, he died there of an aneurysm, in his sleep, at age 39. Before his death, he had been noodling around on a few covers of Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams songs, which were just released this week, along with recollections by his friends and family.