Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with Joe Markko, author of Genesis of a Genre: The Birth of Christian Rock.
FQ: Christian Rock music has been disdained by the church and mocked by the secular culture for many years. How has this affected you personally as an enthusiast of the genre, and how have you dealt with such opinions?
MARKKO: Whether your “art” is secular or sacred, criticism is part of the journey and it doesn’t take long for any songwriter to realize that their music isn’t for everyone. It would be nice if every listener liked our efforts but it isn’t necessary.
FQ: Many years ago, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the following comments regarding the compatibility of Rock and the gospel, “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” What are your thoughts regarding this assertion? Do you think that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, his sentiments would have changed?
MARKKO: While he found offense with the earliest Jesus music, I doubt he’d be bothered by what CCM has become. When we get to Heaven, we’re all going to change our minds about a few things. Perhaps he was correct.
FQ: In which ways does this kind of music extend the gospel to the unreached masses?
MARKKO: Christians are instructed to “go into the highways and hedges,” to go where the “sinners” are and bring them the Gospel message. Most folks have no use for church or preaching. Standing on a soapbox and lifting your voice doesn’t draw as big, or interested, a crowd as a rockin’ band with a strong and clear message.
FQ: Back to the book, what do you feel motivated the Agape band to keep pushing on despite the enormous resistance they encountered?
MARKKO: Being convinced you’ve heard from Heaven is a powerful influence that has kept Gospel ministers on track for millennia. In fact, resistance to Christian work is often interpreted as “attacks from the enemy,” whether it is or not, making resistance to our efforts a badge of honor. Believing you are actually “called of God” to do something wonderful, to achieve purpose in the name of the Divine, is a powerful motivator and sustainer.
FQ: You have co-founded the "All-Saved Freak Band." What are some of your notable attainments as a leader and as a band?
MARKKO: Performing our original compositions on our own Saturday night radio program in 1968, the "All Saved Freak Band" was one of the very earliest expressions of Christian Rock music. With renowned guitarist Glenn Schwartz, of Pacific Gas and Electric and the James Gang, ASFB was the only Christian rock band with a violin and cello as part of our sound. Overlaying strings on top of hard driving, blues-rock music we recorded 4 albums that continue to garner appreciation.
In spite of that, the only “attainments” that mattered to ASFB were changed lives.
FQ: I know you've beautifully touched on the purpose of writing this voluminous text in the book's introduction. Would you mind repeating it here, briefly, please? I think our readers would enjoy your thoughts about this.
MARKKO: The earliest “Jesus music” provided the soundtrack for an entire Movement. The book, Genesis of a Genre: The Birth of Christian Rock, is an attempt to paint an intimate, close-up look at the relationship of music to the Jesus Movement, the “Fourth Great Awakening” in America’s evangelical history.
FQ: What is your book's target audience? Are you working to reach readers who may have never listened to Christian rock, to perhaps pique their interest, or maybe reach well-established fans of the genre?
MARKKO: While the book is clearly written for Christians, I hope it will find value with anyone who enjoys a good story. Chuck Girard, of Love Song, wanted his memoir to be used like a Gospel tract and shared with “unsaved” people. I never had any intention of using the book as an evangelistic tool. My hope is that people involved in Christian ministry, of any kind, will find it encouraging and hopeful. It should also be of interest to any student of that time period or music history in general.
FQ: What do you think the future is like for this genre? Do you see it growing in popularity?
MARKKO: No, I don’t see Contemporary Christian Music growing in popularity. Like a bad tattoo, it may have outlived its original inspiration. It seems that Christian Rock has become more about entertaining the troops than winning the war. It has precious, little value outside the Christian community.
FQ: Would you be having a word of encouragement, caution, or counsel for members of any recently formed Christian band out there?
MARKKO: Stay focused. Grow deeper in your faith. Become better musicians and lyricists. You’ll be too “Christian” for the average person and too “worldly” for the average Christian. While we should prayerfully consider those criticisms, we don’t need to be ruled by them. There is a world full of people who don’t care about that dichotomy. But they do like good music.
FQ: I'm intrigued by your other book, When Someday Comes: Memoirs of a Survivor. Would you tell our readers a bit about it and why you decided to write a memoir and open up your soul to strangers? How hard was that?
MARKKO: It wasn’t easy. In fact, it took 14 years to write that book. I had to make sure it was as free from blame and fault-finding as I could make it. Writing as a record for my children and grandchildren, the honesty and transparency about my life was the only thing that gave the work any, real value. When we make destructive choices that change the direction of everyone else’s life, humility and honest repentance are the only way to climb out of the hole. Once again, writing proved to be less expensive than therapy.