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April 9th, 2003 Rob Kelley | Music Stories
 

Feel the Power

Christian psychedelia, long forgotten, crawls out of its crypt.

     
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THEY ARE RISEN! Obscure Christian psych-rock records now fetch 30 pieces of silver--and more.
This guy is relentless. He's called KPSU three times now, demanding that the college station spin some King Crimson. He changes his spiel each time, tries to disguise his voice, to no avail. Tonight's episode of "Psychedelic Renaissance" is following a higher calling.

"Tonight," says host Jim Anderson, sweeping his arms out in feigned faith, "we delve deeply--and religiously--into Christian psychedelic rock." Which means the caller will have to wait for his classic prog fix.

If there is genuine devotion in Anderson and fellow DJ Matt Kelley (no relation to this writer), it is to the relentless pursuit of psychedelic records. Chasing wooly-minded '60s sounds through dusty vinyl bins across Portland, the pair ended up wandering down one of rock and roll's darkest dead-end alleys: Christian psych-rock.

This stillborn genre gave the world motley groups like the All Saved Freak Band and Holy Ghost Reception Committee #9. Not that the world noticed. Unveiled to near-zero popularity in the early '70s, Christian psychedelia is nearly forgotten. Except, that is, among fanatical record collectors like Anderson and Kelley, whose completist impulses have elevated the genre from total obscurity to...valuable obscurity.

"Psych collectors have listened to everything else," Anderson says. "And, hey, there are some Christian bands we never thought about, and some of them really rock."

Now these platters of fuzzed-out godly sentiment fetch high prices in that ultimate sleaze-pit of Mammon, eBay. With psych devotees driving the bidding (sellers list records under X-I-A-N for concision), online auctions can break the $150 barrier for a single disc. The legendary (sort of) Fraction LP, doubtless the rarest Christian psych disc, sells for up to $2,000.

"If something's trippy and it's got heavy guitar on it and it's really rare, they'll pay a lot for it," Kelley says.

Ironically, Christian psychedelia owes this weird afterlife to its total failure to dent popular consciousness in its heyday. In the hedonistic late '60s and '70s, Christian bands couldn't achieve mainstream success the way, say, stealth-Christian bands like Creed have today.

"Back then, these ministry bands gave more records away than they sold," says Richard Acevedo of Hidden Vision Records, a Christian reissue label (motto: "Where Jesus is the rock and you're the roll"). Christian psych's biggest flirtation with mainstream success was Norman Greenbaum's anthemic "Spirit in the Sky," which hit No. 3 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the U.K. in 1970, despite its singer's suspiciously Judaic name.

At the time, several strains of contemporary Christian music existed, coming out of British and American churches and the hippie Jesus People movement. Naturally, the latter produced Christian psych. The Jesus People sought to reinvigorate Christian tradition with grafts from the counterculture--while hippies waved their peace signs, Jesus People pointed one finger to the sky, "on the way to heaven."

This did not work. Christians were suspicious of the long-hairs; mainstream America found them weird. The Jesus People faded away, leaving just a few limited-edition records of cosmically strange rock and roll for people like Kelley and Anderson to fight over.

Where do they find these Christ psych records locally? "Where don't we find the records?" says Anderson. They sit unrecognized at thrift stores, record stores, garage sales. They are perennial dollar-bin fodder, recognized only by the devoted. But Anderson warns against the uninformed purchase of records that appear to fulfill just two criteria: Christian and weird. "Ninety-nine percent are just horrible," he says.

Ken Scott, author of the definitive Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music 1965-1980, concurs. "The term 'psychedelic' is overused," he says, "almost to the point where people use it to describe any homemade LP."

Scott, Ohio's self-styled "Jesus Music Archaeologist" began tracking early Christian rock records in the late '80s. His nostalgia for early Jesus rock, combined with a desire to write the reference book he never had, led him to pen Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music. To Scott's surprise,
secular collectors devoured the book's 2,650 record reviews, and he sold all 350 copies he printed.

Meanwhile, Hidden Vision's Holy Fuzz compilation serves as a ready primer for the would-be collector. Acevedo, who started his label in 1996, is likewise riding a surge of interest in this deeply buried genre; he's hard at work on Holy Fuzz 2. In fact, it seems both sides--religious devotees and secular collectors--have noticed Christian psychedelia rising from its thrift-store tomb.

"Perhaps," muses Anderson ironically, "the prophecy has been fulfilled."


Psychedelia (Christian and otherwise) shows on KPSU Friday nights: Matt Kelley's "Message to Pretty" (8-9 pm); Jim Anderson's "Psychedelic Renaissance" (9-10 pm).


www.hiddenvision.com .


To read Jim Anderson's article on the Christian band Fraction ("Holy Grail of Xian Psych"), see Easter Island Mystery Discs, www.xro.com/easter.shtml .


For more on 1970s counter- Christianity, see The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource by Dave DiSabatino.
 
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