It’s possible that when you read that my church sponsored these concerts, you pictured local Christian rock band playing for youth group kids and the few friends they managed to talk into coming along. Maybe you pictured an updated campfire-type scene, with nice kids sitting on benches and risers in a well-lit room, swaying back and forth a little as the Spirit of the Lord moved them.
Please stop picturing that.
Kool-Aids were dirty dens of iniquity. I loved them. We held them in our youth lounge, which was in the basement of the chapel. We turned out the lights and hired good local bands, regardless of their beliefs. If you sat anywhere, you got stomped on. Mosh pits abounded and to pogo through the entire night was not unheard of. The kids that came to Kool-Aids were kids that listening to Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails and Violent Femmes. A guy named Mike Rosner organized the whole thing and did a smash-up job, month after month. He required demo tapes. Auditions! This had to be good. He said that you couldn’t smoke inside the building but put out lots of coffee cans with sand on the rest of the property. He was a short barrel of a guy with long, stringy hair and he kept the money that he collected at the door in a Guatemalan fanny pack nestled into his large torso. When I got into high school and got the honor of standing at the door myself, collecting money and fastening wrist-bands, he come by regularly to take the money from me and tuck it in the fanny pack. We wore those wrist-bands until they fell off. Because we were coming of age at the same moment these concerts were starting out, wrist-bands of a certain color were cooler because they indicated that you had known about this phenomena earlier than the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
Kool-Aids were a place to hang out with the bad boys they never seemed to be in my honors classes. I assume that most of the kids there were stoned or drunk but because we were outside, they did it where I couldn’t see so I wasn’t uncomfortable like I was at house parties. There were only a few junior high kids there; most of the clientele were high school kids with later curfews. We got to see each other’s older brothers in action, not just hanging around the house stealing their kid sisters’ snacks. We got to soak in just how cute they were, with their skateboards and long bangs. Unlike the boys we went to school with, these guys had chests that didn’t cave in and shoulders broad enough to make their hips look good. Our boys looked like girls with dirty hair and bad fashion.
As I got into high school and became part of the groups that helped to make Kool-Aids happen, I began to realize that it was odd that our church would let a bunch of dirty, high teenagers that they didn’t know hang around the church property, swearing as they postured for one another, making out with each other in dark corners and leaving their cigarette butts stubbed out anywhere there wasn’t a coffee can nearby. And that made me love Kool-Aids even more. No one explicitly explained this to me, but I hoped we did this because kids in my generation were only going to come to God when they needed him, when something bad happened. And when that happened, they would already feel welcome on my church’s property and possibly turn our direction for help. Direct proselytizing wasn’t necessary. In fact, when they tried it, the kids just left. So, they didn’t bring in motivational speakers again. They relied upon the quality of the music and the concert experience to be outreach enough. I was saddened when I learned that after I graduated from high school and Kool-Aids had fizzled out, the Board of Elders ruled that local skateboarders wouldn’t be allowed to use our steps and railings and would be chased away by staff and signs. Is property value ever so important that it causes us to chase people away from church? My brother gained respect for one of the only people in that church that he ever respected when John Huffman, an Associate Pastor in his 80s, argued for the rights of skateboarders. The church that I have grown up in has become a bit of a mega-church, not necessarily in numbers but in its outlook. They built a beautiful gym and spruced every inch of the existing square footage. They’d never let those kids in their Doc Martens and Skechers in now.
One of the bands that we loved was called _ton bundle. They were the best. They cut three cassette tapes, some were EPs, some were full albums. I still have those somewhere and several years ago, my brother transferred them to CD, although the last song was cut off because the CD could only hold 74 minutes of music at that point. I think I could still sing along to every song and I can definitely come up with lots of the words off the top of my head, no google search involved. No going back and listening to the songs again.
There used to be a wall and it used to be so tall that I could barely see over it. And I looked where you had eyes and all I see is skies and I wonder just who’s in there. ‘Cause there’s things that bother you and things that frustrate me and I can’t see clearly.
Harmony and dissonance: the princess and the prince. Harmony and dissonance; thought about you since. What else can I call you? What else can I call you? What else can I call you but princess? You’re my princess.
Sideburns. And slicked back hair. Just shaking a leg. Ah. Ah. Yeah. And now you hang on a beechwood frame and silver-plated beads, spell out your name: Velvet Elvis.
There’s a long-haired boy, skipping stones, over there. And there’s a younger boy imitating him, but who cares. And stands up with all his strength and he falls. And he reaches out to understand but no one calls.
You came in and filled it all, with decorations of you.
Actually, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I can hear the songs in my head and the lead singer’s voice and I know what the themes of the songs were. The words are eluding me, though. I’m sure the ones I did get have a few examples of misheard lyrics along the lines of “Blinded by the light. Rolled up like a douche in the middle of the night.”
We almost idolized _ton bundle. I wonder if I have a t-shirt packed away somewhere still. They were minor celebrities because they were so good. I remember I saw the lead singer, Rob, at Marshall’s once and couldn’t wait to get home to tell my brother. It turns out that they went to Wheaton College. Once you found that out and when you thought about the lyrics, you realized that, yeah, maybe some of the songs might be about God. But for the most part, it was just good poetry set to catchy music you could dance to. How did that come out of Wheaton College? When they played shows on campus, did people just stand there? Or was the fish an exception to the no-dancing pledge since you didn’t actually have a partner?
Because if it had been Christian rock, along the lines of Petra and One Bad Pig, the kids would have responded in the same way they did when the Christian motivational speakers were brought in. I remember talking with my youth director, Malcolm, about his band, Kid Proco. He compared it to _ton bundle because both of them believed that they didn’t have to preach the word of God explicitly in their music. If they made good music that spoke to people in some way, it was enough because all good things come from God.
A couple of years ago, my dad liked the book Blue Like Jazz so much that he gave a copy to each of my three brothers and myself. This year, he found another book that he liked that much: Velvet Elvis by a guy named Rob Bell. This is a book that I have been aware of and an author that people talk about. In fact, Matt’s parents talked about him a lot when I went to a concert at Moody Bible Church with them. People mention Mars Hill, the church he started, with an impressed tone in their voice. So, since my dad wasn’t wrong about the last book, I figured I’d give this a shot but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Too busy flagellating myself over other books. But last night, as my brother Daniel and I were talking, Daniel said, “Hey, you know that book Dad got us? It’s written by the lead singer of _ton bundle!” So, I started it last night and read it on the El on the way to work and back.
It’s fantastic. I have never read someone who articulated my views about doctrine and how to read and - more importantly – use scripture in my life. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, like when I loved the first chapters of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for their logic and intellectualism and then found myself disgusted as he veered off into dogged doctrine that couldn’t be supported by his earlier arguments. One of my co-workers, who goes to my church, said that maybe I won’t be disappointed. He says that he’s heard that some big dog Christian pastors have been coming down pretty hard on the book for “bad theology.” He said, “Probably, that means you’ll like it.” Ha ha. Very funny. But isn’t it interesting that I feel in agreement with someone’s beliefs who had a formative effect on my own 10-15 years ago? I couldn’t have absorbed as much of his poetry as I did without shifting my perspective to match his just a little. This is fun!