This week, Will Stockton and D. Gilson, authors of the new 33 1/3 on dc Talk’s Jesus Freak, will be taking over the blog in celebration of their book’s upcoming publication.
Here they cordially invite you to meet the Jesus Freaks.
It almost sounds like the set-up to a joke: two gay atheists / cultural critics / English professors write a book about a Christian band from the nineties. But give us a second to explain. We weren’t always this way. In 1995, we were evangelical teenagers with hearts for Jesus beating almost as fast as our libidos. Kurt Cobain had just died, Bill Clinton was President, and The Gap was struggling to keep its doors open. In short, there were a lot of white feelings afoot in what our churches called “the culture.”
dcTalk, a hugely popular Christian band we listened to every week in youth group, ran the gambit of musical genres and offered us a way to, in hindsight quite oddly, even queerly, explore these feelings. Their biggest album’s title track, “Jesus Freak,” tapped into the grunge angst felt in our teenage bedrooms and sold on our teenage stereos.
We were hella weird teens, Christians to be sure, but budding homosexual aesthetes with a taste for good music. When it came to “Jesus Freak,” we retain the feeling that this was good music, a rarity in the world of Christian cultural production. Such a song — on such an album, with tracks also, even if troublingly, exploring race (“Colored People”) and queer friendship (“Between You and Me”) — helped us understand our own outsider status, whether as closeted gay teens in the church or Christians in a fallen world. “I’ve been marked by my maker a peculiar display,” dcTalk explained, but turning our freakiness into something we could, in true ‘90s fashion, be proud of, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak. There ain’t no disguising the truth.” Amen.
It’s been 23 years since 1995 and the release of Jesus Freak, the fourth studio album from Christian pop act dcTalk and one of only a handful of decidedly Christian albums to top the Billboard charts despite an evangelical message. A lot has changed. Grunge, like its god Kurt Cobain, is dead; his bandmates are beyond middle age, Chris Novoselic is an electoral reform activist and Dave Grohl, you probably know, is playing dad rock for balding Gen X’ers with his band the Foo Fighters. Unlike dcTalk in 1995, a group with a largely white fan base would (hopefully) not sing today “We’re all colored people and they call us the human race;” when white rapper Macklemore beat out Drake, Jay Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar for the best rap album Grammy in 2014, he stated profusely he shouldn’t have won. Where the boys of dcTalk struggled to define and refine their own relationship with each other, and with other men in Christ, gay marriage is legal across the United States and increasingly so in the rest of the world.
We are no longer Christians ourselves, but given that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016, a voting bloc without whom he would not have won, perhaps it’s worth looking back at a Christian band so formative not only to us, the formerly saved cum heathens, but also the continually saved.
Plus there’s this: dcTalk has reunited. Not for a full-blown invasion of the Billboard charts, but, in true aging rocker and neoliberal fashion, for a series of Caribbean cruises, billed the “Jesus Freak Cruise.” From June 10-14, you can board Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas — replete with ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, and mini golf course! — to join Toby Mac, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max, the dcTalk boys, for five days/four nights of all the hits and a little Christian worship under late capitalism. For the low price of $2,500, you, too, can look back on a band who, in part, made the contemporary Christian church, and thus shaped the cultural-political landscape of today. Or may we recommend, instead, our book, a steal at $14.95.