Barry Edge, the lead singer and main songwriter for the Imitators, has heard the same complaints from religious groups about his band’s driving rock music that have been raised against rock groups for 30 years.
“You mean people who say that rock ‘n’ roll is of the devil? Oh yeah, we’ve had that,” Edge said with a laugh. But the Imitators’ songs aren’t about “rocking around the clock” or “highways to hell.” Instead they center on God, Jesus and the Bible.
A five-man Orange County Christian rock group, the Imitators is one of nearly a dozen acts that will perform at “Jubilation ’85" tonight at Knott’s Berry Farm, an annual event focusing on contemporary Christian music. This year’s roster includes the Front, Leslie Phillips and Leon Patillo.
Quoting a passage from the Bible, Edge discounted those who say it is sacrilegious to use rock music to spread Gospel messages. “ ‘For man looks upon outward appearances, God looks upon the heart.’
“There are classical music works that everyone loves that are based around incredibly non-Christian themes . . . like (Stravinsky’s) ‘Firebird’ ballet. My belief is that music is a neutral kind of medium until some philosophy is put into it.”
Similarly, Mike Stand of the Altar Boys, also on the “Jubilation ’85" lineup, said: “People have stereotypes of what a Christian band should be. The problem is that you confine God to one type of music. There’s nothing in the Bible about that. It just says, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.’ So it doesn’t matter if it’s rock, classical, country or punk. It’s the message that counts.”
The Altar Boys is an Orange trio with two albums out on Broken Records, a Christian record label headquartered in Costa Mesa. The group’s second album, “When You’re a Rebel,” was released in August. But even though his songs have titles such as “I’m Into God” and “Jesus Is Number One,” Stand avoids the “contemporary Christian” tag in describing the Altar Boys’ music.
“We don’t fit that mold at all. Our music is more on the edge,” said Stand, whose music is closer to the raw energy of proto-punk bands like the Clash and the Ramones than the soft rock sound that typifies contemporary Christian music.
In contrast to the secular rock bands who find Orange County a difficult region from which to launch careers because record companies often view them as second-class musicians, Edge and Stand claim the county’s large base of born-again Christians makes it a haven for them.
“It’s been really positive for us,” Stand said, “but it hasn’t been a cakewalk either. We’re right up there competing with the secular bands when we play high schools or clubs. Either your music is good or bad, and that’s what’s going to make people like you.”
Said Edge: “Working in Orange County is definitely a plus. Orange County is really the Christian mecca of the United States, but I don’t mean that necessarily in a good way.
“The Christian culture in Orange County lives in something of an artificial environment, lacking in real spiritual integrity. There are multitudes and multitudes of Christians here who need to rehear the word of God. My goal is to get them to make a commitment.”
Although Stand and Edge said they emphasize scriptural themes in the majority of their songs, both said they occasionally venture into worldly concerns.
“I’m kind of burned about the school system,” Stand said, “and how they will allow secular rock bands to come on campus and sing about drugs and Satan, but if we come on and mention Jesus, then it’s, ‘Oh, boy.’ We’ve had the plug pulled on us and been kicked off campus at some schools. But we just keep trying. We have a song about it called ‘Nothing Can Stop Us Now.’ ”
Added Edge: “We’re not afraid to make social statements, and we do occasionally. That is certainly happening in Christian music now. A lot of popular Christian bands are jumping on the bandwagon of social issues. It’s funny because the same social gospel that was decried by the evangelical churches in the ‘50s is now being supported by those churches. But I think when social issues, rather than the spiritual issues, become the central theme, you’ve missed the boat.”
THE CUTTING EDGE: Newport Harbor Art Museum’s adventurous “Contemporary Culture” series of music and performance will resume on Oct. 3 with a free outdoor concert at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. The program will feature the jazz music of the Joel McFee Quartet and the electronic minimalist music of the Los Angeles ensemble Repetition Repetition. Other events include an Oct. 18 video program built around clips of Talking Heads and the first West Coast performance by New York’s Microscopic Septet on Oct. 25.
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for the Cure’s Oct. 12 show at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre . . . Tickets also go on sale Monday for two Pacific Amphitheatre shows: AC/DC on Oct. 21 and James Taylor on Nov. 10. A previously announced Sept. 28 concert at UC Irvine with the Dickeis, T.S.O.L., the Red Hot Chili Peppers and El Grupo Sexo has been canceled . . . The Neville Brothers and the Wild Cards will play the Golden Bear on Sept. 14 . . . T.S.O.L. will be at Spatz in Huntington Harbour on Sept. 13 . . . El Grupo Sexo returns to Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach on Sept. 13.