We used to hang out at this place called The Underground Cafe all the time. It was a music venue located at a church in the suburbs of Sacramento, a ministry for the church to attract youth and attract them it did.
My teenage years saw me slowly listening to faster and heavier music, my parents would only let me listen to Christian bands, luckily there was a plethora of record labels to choose from–Tooth and Nail, Solid State, Facedown, Mono vs. Stereo, Flicker, Floodgate–all Christian based alternative music producers. I soon discovered that all these bands I loved would tour locally and my town was surprisingly a hit place to come–The Underground one of the most featured venues.
The Underground experiment was actually pretty successful, as far as being hip goes (not sure how effective of a ministry it was). Black adorned teens with swooping hair cuts formed long lines waiting to get into shows, several dozens showing up just to hang out on a daily basis. This suburb church actually turned into such a mish-mash of counter culture that my parents were reluctant to let me go to shows on a continuous basis.
Waking Ashland, a piano driven pop-rock Tooth and Nail signed outfit was playing one weekend (everyone click on that link, it will take you to a PureVolume page). I decided to go, though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the band, my friends were going though so I chose to (this one perhaps?)
Again it was a battle between my parents to let me go, but the band was positive enough, supposedly Christian (we can talk about this more on another future post) and so I went. My friend’s mom was going to pick us up at the end–we didn’t have our licenses yet.
The show was amazing, Waking Ashland and the supporting bands that played before them were all great and I had a really good time. In my memory I remember them playing a song and it being absolutely beautiful. I closed my eyes in a moment of transcendence–even worship. Their songs, even if not explicitly religious, had taken me to a spiritual level.
When the show ended, we left, my friend realizing he had missed a bunch of calls from his mom who had been waiting outside. It went a little later than expected and she was not happy. Apparently as she sat there, sitting in the church parking lot she had witnessed kids doing things that she did not like. The kids who always hung out outside The Underground were notorious for smoking, drinking, and cursing and she had seen that and maybe more (I never got the full story).
Not only was she mad, but she had told my parents what she saw and when I got home, we had a long discussion about all of it. Near-accusatory marks were made about the church, my friends, and me. There was a lot of pain and questioning on both sides, my parents wondering what I had gotten myself into and me wondering why they didn’t trust me.
But I think the confusion rose beyond that for me. Here I was feeling as if I had had this amazing spiritual and Godly moment only to have it crushed down in talk about curfew, wrong and right, and that type of music. I was experiencing something good, without leaving the confines of conservative doctrine (at least personally) and all of that was thrown under the bus.
I desired the honesty and authenticity that the lyrics of those in the Christian alternative music scene brought. The music was fun and aggressive, but fairly positive and conservative in worldview, at least comparatively. It meant a lot to me to be able to share in those moments of emotion, while still coming around to an ultimate belief about truth and God and life. Yet somehow in all of the structures of fundamentalism and “Growing Kids God’s Way” and “safe for the whole family” there wasn’t enough space to allow for this to exist. The lines were blurred, questioning if safety was the greatest value to come out of the faith and what exactly was God’s way.
This Christian alternative scene that I found myself a part of pushed back against these norms–at least for certain pieces of time in certain people’s lives–finding themselves caught between the expectations of a clean Christianity and a larger desire to follow God. I don’t think that either side really ended up okay and the struggle between both sides really was a bloodbath, damaging those–who, like me–found themselves looking heavenward only to have it flipped upside down in moments of fear.