Cloning around with Steve Taylor

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CCM Magazine
June 1984 Volume 6 Number 12
© 1984 CCM Publications, Inc.
Cover story, Pages 4, 6, 24-26, 43-44


Steve Taylor interviews his clone. Or is it the other way around?

by Steve Taylor

Sitting at my table, I watch the calm, self-assured figure walk through the door and gaze slowly around the room. I've chosen one of those ultra-chic bistros that dot the Los Angeles scene to interview Steve Taylor, hoping that we won't be recognized. My concern seems unwarranted as the maitre d' steps up and rather loudly tells Taylor to use the delivery entrance during business hours. Nonplussed, Taylor slips the man a tape cassette and whispers in his ear. The maitre d' nods his head in my direction and intones a reminder to "wipe your shoes."

"What are you doing here?" Taylor asks before I can say a word. "I through this interview was for something highbrow, like Family Circle."

I tell him to relax, explaining that Contemporary Christian Magazine entrusted me with the job of getting an inside look at the real Steve Taylor.

"But we agreed that we would never be seen together in public," the handsome singer protests. "It's too much like The Patty Duke Show. Besides, you know too much," he wails.

"Lighten up," I say. "If your clone can't make you look good, who can? Trust me. This interview is going to give new meaning to the words 'propaganda' and 'hype.'"

Taylor pauses for a thoughtful moment, then grins. He leans back in his chair and tells the waiter to bring "the usual." When the waiter politely inquires what "the usual" might be, Taylor mumbles, "Just coffee" and smiles weakly.

"Will you be taping this?" he suddenly asks.

"No," I tell him, crossing my fingers.

"Good. They never get anything right anyway," Taylor laughs loudly, slapping his knee.

The following conversation is a word-for-word transcript of the actual interview. Not one iota is changed (I have the tape to prove it).

Q: Let's kick right off with some of the controversial stuff that grabs people's attention. Who does your hair?

A: That's between me and my electrician.

How about some juicy background information?

Do you want to lose your readers this early?

My dad is a Baptist minister. I became a Christian when I was young. I never went through any big rebellious stage, which I believe is largely due to my parents' consistency in living what they said.

Musically, I spent the first 20 years of my life trying to learn the trombone, piano, and bass guitar, respectively. My playing was directly responsible for the demise of several promising garage bands.

After a year studying Bible, I enrolled at the university as a voice/theater major. Surviving a faculty recommendation that I be removed from the vocal department for inability to sing anything that wasn't syncopated, I went on to get a degree. It's now probably worth less than the cash value of a Pizza Hut coupon.

How did I Want To Be A Clone, your mini-album, come about?

I started writing songs a few years ago. Since I couldn't accompany myself, I'd bring local musicians into a budget studio and demo the songs. From there, it was a matter of sending the tapes out and waiting for the rejection letters.

What would they say?

The tapes went to every major Christian record label. The response was either that we were too progressive musically or too controversial lyrically. One label told me that as a company it likes to take a neutral stance on things like abortion.

At any rate, at the Christian Artists' 1982 Musical Seminar in the Rockies, Cam Floria asked me to do a couple of songs before lunch one day. I brought up the guys I'd used on the demos. With no sound check we did "I Want to Be a Clone" and "Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Number's Up?" It was a great moment, and the audience actually liked it. Billy Ray Hearn signed me to a recording contract on the spot, sort of.

Lyrically, I Want to Be a Clone is very direct and hard hitting. How do you respond to charges of cynicism in your music?

I don't like the word, and I don't want that reputation. Cynicism is the result of knowledge without action. It's the seminary student who doesn't go to church. That's just not me. And if I ever get that way, I hope people have the good sense to stop buying my records. I was a youth pastor for five years, and I've always maintained close ties to my church fellowship. I'm not some wise guy snickering on the sidelines.

But do you admit that your lyrics have a satirical edge to them?

Yes, but the point of the satire is change. Humor has a way of disarming people, of making them see hypocrisy without preaching at them and giving them time to get defensive. As a teenager, my favorite Christian group was the Jeremiah People. They were actually taking comedy into the church and using their sketches as a mirror, saying that this is what the church often looks like, but this is what the body of Christ can be.

Your new album Meltdown covers a wide variety of issues. Where did you get the idea of the title cut?

"Meltdown (at Madame Tussaud's)" got its title from London's most popular tourist attraction, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. I visited the museum like any other tourist. But while everyone else was staring in awe at the wax figures of history's most illustrious men and women, I remember wondering what would happen if someone turned up the heat.

Jesus said, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole word, yet forfeit his soul?" The title song on Meltdown just uses a new metaphor to ask that same question.

How did the video clip for the song come together?

In producing the clip, I had to make a small-budget production look like it cost three times as much. For starters, we rented the Hollywood Wax Museum for a day at an incredibly low price due to the off-season. And the curator turned out to be a Hollywood special effects man with major film credits including Superman: The Movie. He took care of things like Queen Victoria's melting face.

A lot of credit goes to my cinematographer and co-director Michael Brown and his crew. And the editing was done by Millie Paul, who worked on The Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Lisa Whelchel even put in a guest appearance. How's that for hype?

What was the reason behind writing the song "We Don't Need No Colour Code"?

Next question.

I'm waiting....

There is a college in our country with a history of racism that continues to this present day. The urgency behind "We Don't Need No Colour Code" comes from the fact that this school claims to be a Christian college. Racism in the church isn't new. In Galatians 2, Peter had come to Antioch and fellowshipped with the Gentiles. Then his Jewish friends arrived, and he suddenly acted as if he had no association with the Gentile believers. Paul writes of Peter, "I opposed him to his face, because he was in the wrong."

To love the church is to want to see it conformed to the image of Christ. But that can never happen when racism is in our midst, violating the biblical principles upon which the early church was founded. This song was written as a broad satire to make the point that regardless of whether it's a Christian college in the South or a segregated church in South Africa, racism in the name of Christianity can never be tolerated.

[Photo and caption: Steve Taylor's music video of "Meltdown (at Madame Tassaud's)" shows Queen Victoria's wax dummy melting away. The video was shot at the Hollywood Wax Museum.]

"Guilty By Association" is a pretty pointed song.

I'm not so sure that it's pointed enough. We just completed a tour of western Canada, and one of the concerts in a fairly small town was boycotted by most of the churches, with parents making their teenagers stay home. The promoter explained to me that this was due in large part to a recent article by a certain American evangelist stating that contemporary Christian music is incompatible with true biblical Christianity. I guess that means Leroy, who prayed to accept Jesus at the concert that night, isn't really a Christian. Perhaps this evangelist would like to call Leroy and tell him that.

Do you ever worry that someday you'll go too far?

Truth is truth. Anything I write must be compatible with the Bible's authority, or else I'm just blowing hot air.

Speaking of hot air, I'm really enjoying this interview. You ask very good questions. They're just the kind of questions I want to answer.

You were always good at talking to yourself.

Maybe next time they'll let me review my own record!

What do you see happening on the international horizon? One of the songs on the Meltdown album is listed as having been written in Warsaw.

I traveled to Poland in 1981 for a week of Solidarity-sponsored concerts with an American gospel music group. On returning there last summer, I saw how, in spite of what had transpired in the last two years, the Polish Christians I encountered had counted the cost and decided that a personal relationship with Jesus was more important than personal security and possessions.

While in Warsaw I walked into a church courtyard and saw a huge cross on the ground made of thousands of flowers. Pinned to the cross were photos of a young man. I asked a person next to me what was the significance of the photos. He said that the young man was a member of the church. He had volunteered to obey the Lord's command to visit those in prison by delivering food supplies stored in the church basement to imprisoned and underfed Solidarity members. The Polish police found out what this young man was doing, and one day in May of last year they stopped him on the street and beat him to death.

First John 2 says, "The man who says, 'I know God,' but doesn't do what He commands is a liar... but if anyone obeys His word, God's love is made complete in him." "Over My Dead Body" is both a memorial to this young man's faith and courage, and a cry of outrage against the government that pulls the strings of the Polish regime.

The song seems to have struck a responsive chord. Recently, I got a call from Voice of America based in Washington, D.C. They'd somehow gotten a copy of the song and asked permission to broadcast it into Eastern bloc countries. They've offered to translate the song. So who knows, I may re-record it in Polish.

Tell me about your recent trip to Chile.

Yeah, I apologize that you couldn't go, but I could only get one visa between the two of us. For starters, let me say that the concerts we did confirmed in my mind that music is the strongest "drawing card" there is for international evangelism. Not everyone will come to hear a speaker, but just about anyone will come to a free concert. We drew over 20,000 people to two free concerts, not because they know who Steve Taylor and Some Band is, but because they wanted to hear American new wave rock.

How did those concerts come about?

The pastor of a fellowship in southern California had already been to Chile. He felt that the country was ripe to hear the gospel. Although he's a powerful communiator and speaks fluent Spanish, the pastor and his fellowship felt that they could reach many more people if they brought a band along.

The first concert in Santiago almost turned into a riot. Seven thousand pople had crowded into the outdoor Velodromo that night. They were drowning out the warm-up act by chanting anti-government slogans and throwing bottles at the police. The police, in turn, used the occasion to bash heads with their nightsticks and haul audience members off to jail.

We came on just as the people started to chant "Kill the President" in their native tongue. My keyboard player was certain that we were going to be the first victims of Chile's next revolution. Thank God they liked us! I might add that police security at the next concert changed from nightsticks to submachine guns.

The bottom line is that the vision of this American fellowship resulted in all those thousands of Chileans hearing the message of Jesus Christ. And the growing churches they've established in Chile are a result of that vision.

Your concerts are somewhat atypical of Christian performances. You do a lot of, shall we say, jumping around onstage.

I like to think of it as "free-form belivercize."

Do you get much criticism for your onstage antics?

I suppose it may put a few people off, but I personally wouldn't want to watch a band just stand there and play their songs. For me, a concert must be visually exciting and have a healthy dose of spontaneity. I enter the stage nervous and exit the stage exhausted. If I ever stop doing that, I'll quit doing concerts.

So what's your motivation for doing all this?

I enjoy playing music, but not to the place that it's a burning artistic desire that has to be fulfilled. I want my concerts to challenge young people to take a stand, to be a rallying point for action. I'm not interested in manipulating young people by spoon-feeding them their beliefs. I want to point to the Bible and ask, "What does this say?" and "Are you acting on it?"

And then there's a whole segment of youth culture that the church isn't reaching. I believe this type of music can break through the walls and say, "Maybe you've been lied to about Christianity. Yeah, we may be a bunch of hypocrites, but you can't say that about the Jesus of the Bible."

One last question, Steve. Are you single?

Getting a little personal, aren't you?

The public has a right to know.

Yes, I'm single.

Any plans on marrying in the future?

I'm waiting for a girl who's warm, loving, and owns a Greyhound tour bus.

Well this has been very worthwhile. I learn a lot from my own input. Maybe we should get together more often?

If you want my advice, you could start by taking me along when you buy your clothes. You'd gain a lot more credibility with the born-again business community if you'd order a nice polyester three-piece. You could have it just in time for a surprise appearance at the Amway regional! And if you'd start advertising your records in the Christian Yellow Pages....

Excuse me, Clone, but I think I may have left the rent-a-car running. Waiter, he'll pick up the tab.

STEVE TAYLOR is the president of the Clone Club (P.O. Box 20416, Denver CO 80220).

The Hidden Dangers of the Clone

By Constance Comments

Who does Steve Taylor think he is, anyway? I'm as tolerant and open-minded as the next Bible-believing, church-going American, but this guy is going too far. I mean, is he really even one of us? Does he practice the gifts? Has he had an inner healing? Has he been on the 700 Club? Has anyone seen a fish sticker on his car?

Take this album of his, for instance. It's called Meltdown. What kind of a title is that? I never read that word in Scripture. Just look at this cover. It's disgraceful! There's no flowers on it. I read all the words, and he doesn't say "praise the Lord" one time. And if he's so busy writing all these songs, how does he have the time to go to Bible studies, prayer breakfasts, faith seminars, and believers barbeques that keep us real Christians in fellowship?

Look, maybe it's none of my business, but there's something downright... carnal ...about this guy. There, I said it and I'm glad. I know, I know, we shouldn't judge, but when has that stopped a Christian brother or sister? You bear witness to what I'm saying?

How come this guy Taylor never writes any tunes about agape love? This album's supposed to be for Christians, isn't it? For pity's sake, I could play this for any unsaved pawn of Satan, and I'll bet he'd actually enjoy it! The world's got its music and we've got ours. Don't leaven our loaf, if you please, Mr. New-Wave-Know-It-All.

It's downright secular! There's a song on this Taylor album about someone called Madame Rousseau. I checked with my pastor and he told me that she wasn't even a Christian! What kind of praise music is that?

And how about this "We Don't Need No Colour Code" song? I wasn't born yesterday; I know it's about Jim Crow University. I ask you... what business does Steve Taylor have tearing apart the unity of the church over some nit-picking issue like racial segregation? Why doesn't he write songs about important issues that concern all us Chritsians... like backward masking.

That's not even the worst of it. There's another song here about someone called Grzegrov Prvemyk. Try spelling that backwards! I mean, Taylor makes a big deal about this guy getting killed in Poland. If he ever bothered to read the collected works of Hal Lindsey, he'd know there's nothing to worry about. It's all part of God's plan.

It's just like this other song about starving some baby. Taylor acts like I'm supposed to do something about it. Have I got news for this character! Steve Taylor, in case you haven't yeard, Jesus is coming soon. Just leave it up to Him and quit your complaining. You're making your brothers and sisters uncomfortable--as if you even cared.

I could go on. There is a song here about some girl called Jessica that really gets my sanctified blood boiling. She goes to church and everything and then gets in trouble and kills herself. What kind of a song is that? Things like that don't happen to Christians. Where does this guy Taylor fellowship, anyway?

If you think I'm going to spend valuable time listening to a record like this instead of watching the special TBN-CBN-PTL unity telethon, doing my believersize routines, or waiting around for the Second Coming, then you don't know Christians very well.

And one more thing. You can bet I'm going to pray for Steve Taylor, and pray until he comes to his senses... if he hasn't already gone over the line to the other side.