Friday, May 19, 2017

Chris Cornell, Gospel, and Grunge

Guest post by Grant Eckhart

Eddie Vedder is the last iconic vocalist of the grunge era still alive now that Chris Cornell is dead. Grunge music was the blood of Gex X. Both were infused with iconoclasm, institutions crumbling around them, few social safety nets which today are commonplace. And the ones we had were attached with latchkeys. We sometimes tried to hold it all together but even our otherwise reliable trapperkeepers failed us. Unlike the boomers who were used to winning and measuring success, Gen X mucked in the debris of the 1950's American Dream. Death was never tolerable but expected.

Now that the mainline church in the west is soon primarily to be led by Gen X leaders Death (of the institution) will not be prevented.

Vedder was always a bit of an anomaly in the grunge scene, not entirely claimed by his peers, commercially successful attuned more to the stadium consumer ear. His ongoing career has been a shift to a more boutique targeted audience enabling him to more or less peaceably endure.

Some Vedder Pastors will give up on stadium ambitions and be freed to minister in peace to a more modest sized community. Still accepting the umbilical cord to the institution but yielding reluctantly. The juice is in the art not the institution. Once you sign with a denominational label you are rightfully required to steward that institution. You choose a paycheck you choose to bolster the institution. This is not a bad choice, Only an ironic one for Gen X leaders. We are still commercial enough to stack bricks for something for which we have little affinity. Our reluctance shows.

The institution as we know it won't survive Gen X leadership. We are too comfortable with its demise.

If we are not Vedder we may be a Dave Grohl, changing instruments and bands. How many Gen X pastors want a different scene but don't change because this is what we're good at, get paid to do and aren't marketable with any other skill. Some are able to use their skill and influence to invent a new conversation in the church, this is useful and a potential lifeline to continued institutional subsistence and important work. But it is what it is. The same thing but different.

Increasingly our offspring don't go to a "church" because we were indifferent...not to the art of the gospel but to its exterior. Only the Vedder and Grohl like parent's offspring have any interest and even that is (d)evolving.

The Cobain, Staley, Weiland, Cornell

pastors loudly proclaim-on standing amidst the lone pulpit in the wasteland while the label and stadium fall down around them. And we don't really care. To borrow a lyric: "we're looking California, but feelin Minnesota" (except in the Lutheran Church we look Minnesotan too). The ties are not through brand loyalty but through friendships forged in the fire of shared history. This is the only reason the Christendom structures are relevant to us.

Plus where were the women? The non-whites in the grunge movement and the western church? Sure there was Courtney Love, but unsurprisingly her fame was subsumed within the iconic stature of her husband. Important artists like Sinead O'Conner were a force to be reckoned with, but ultimately even her crisp voice was shouted down by the man.

Allanis Morrisette, Bjork and others were fighting in an industry where only 10% were women leaders and where you had to be more accessible than your male competitors to truly sell. In the church the track record is similarly horrible and the women at best were grandstanded and at worst beaten down.

But the music, the art, the deep Gospel hook still tug at us. We're more or less OK banging our heads against the wall as long as we are banging our heads. It was necessary and it paid. Pain is part of it, even if it's chosen-into privileged pain. Except when we're done there will be nothing left, but the music and the rubble.

A fair critique remains of grunge music, that it was too self involved often reacting out of boredom with the bland, seeking indulgent escapism. However, because it's underpinnings were a contrast to the glam rock of the 80's it was more authentic. Authenticity wrapped in cynicism that is. Cynicism towards the institution enshrined by the lyric "the kinder gentler machine gun hand" sung by The Godfather of grunge himself, Neil Young, simultaneously exposed our Gen X crutch and our strength. The same cynicism that shielded us from caring too much about the crumbling structures around us also incubated in us a fair amount of ease with change. If change is really about the fear of loss, Gen X flew the middle finger of I don't give a f***. Other than Vedder (pictured above) all of our icons are dead. Death is a friend. It's not to be feared.

If the Gen X leadership crutch is to throw our hands up and almost revel in a warm blanket of incompetency and finger pointing, then our leadership strength is that when faced with with problems that require great change at great cost we naturally gather a few friends and unflinchingly invent a new genre.

Grunge music was birthed though networks of friends from a few Seattle neighborhoods. It was less about winning and more about collaboration with people you liked. Temple of the Dog is a great example of this. Members of several top selling grunge bands fluidly forming a new band while maintaining the former. Grunge artists by and large were also able to evolve after record sales went south (Cornell video singing I will always love you). The stadiums became fewer and farther between but they kept pressing into new territory.

With Gen X leading the church there will be waste. Money we will be given away to new kinds of church communities that will not have a good financial return on investment for the denomination. These communities will be more boutique and less Arena. More missional communities and house churches and less mega-anything. More networks which provide access to resources not disconnected from the denomination (again too commercial for that) but intimately tied to it as it disintegrates. It will be friends with a shared history from the neighborhood more comfortable in a garage than in a big room with beige trimmings. But it will be real, it will care about those outside the mainstream, it will be experimental and it will prepare the way for those pesky millennials to do something spectacular with it.

#whitecismaleperspective #whitewesternchurch #grungerock #ripchriscornell #unresearchedopinion

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