Eileen Luhr

[HISTORIAN]

This issue features a “micro-interview” with Eileen Luhr, conducted by Nick Poppy. Luhr (a friend of the interviewer’s from college) is an Assistant Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach, and the author of the recent Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture (UC Press). In her book, Luhr studies the rise of Christian youth culture, particularly Christian rock, and how evangelical Christianity colonized (and was colonized by) secular culture. The book describes a moment and a movement that has had tremendous influence in American life, even as it resembles a bizarro version of a more recognizable pop culture.

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THE BELIEVER: The Christian rock movement infused evangelical and religious content into pop music. Does that mechanism ever work in reverse, where some aspect of pop culture worked its way back into the religious message? Does it, or did it ever, backfire?

EILEEN LUHR: Conservatives debated whether popular culture could ever be Christianized in a way that fully erased the “negative” influence. When conservatives argued about the effects of syncopated beats and backmasking, Christian bands responded that music was neutral and that the lyrics were the most important part of the music anyways. When conservatives criticized long hair, makeup, leg warmers, and tight leather costumes (one parents’ magazine had an article that asked “Is Leather ‘Of the Lord’?”), Christian bands argued that what really mattered was their intended message.

The result of bands’ emphasis on intentions was that they spent a lot of time explaining to their audience exactly how their work should be interpreted. An example: in 1986, the Christian heavy metal band Stryper released “To Hell With the Devil” on Enigma. In the cover image, band members were portrayed as muscle-bound angels who were escorting a guitar-wielding devil. The message seems self explanatory, but prepositions are tricky things. The band had to place a sticker on the cover explaining the illustration: “The devil belongs in hell, not in your heart.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Nick Poppy is a writer and filmmaker living in Brooklyn.

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