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Where It's At

1 · Jan · 2006

About four years ago I went to a party for New Years at a friend of a friends house in Brentwood, TN. Her name is Jaci Valesquez and back then she was/is a popular singer signed to the Christian label, Word Entertainment. I'm guessing she was only around 18 or 19 years old at that time but her fame within the Christian realm had afforded her this new house and she invited everyone over to show it off.

Contrary to what most people believe about Christian artists, they live their lives like anyone else. They date people they work with, they buy things because they want to look cool, they have bad habits like smoking or farting in public, some have bad fashion sense, some spend too much money on clothes, some don't manage their money well, and they make their decisions based mostly on their personality - NOT what the Bible says. The only difference between a Christian artist and a non-Christian artists is that Christian artists are expected to maintain an impossible perfection - without the aid of any typical coping vice like alcohol, drugs or sex.

As anyone can guess, this is simply unrealistic. You cannot give a person a rock star agenda and expect them to accomplish it without becoming vain and in need of a stiff drink.

So it goes that ALL of my friends in Christian music drink alcohol at the same rate as anyone else. Many of them smoke as well. And the premarital sex issue is something I never noticed a difference in between my friends who weren't Christian and who were. But I was aware of the demand for the illusion of purity by record labels and the general Christian music buying public. After eight years of being forced to help maintain this lie for so many people, I was pretty jaded. On my visits back home to the Christian Incorporated houses of friends in OKC, I did not mention who I knew from their CD collections and I told my stories of Nashville in first name only - leading people to believe I hung around unemployed dreamers, not working musicians whose images where on posters that crowd teenagers walls as perfect examples of "Cool Christianity".

So it goes that on this particular night, the alcohol flowed like it did at any other New Years Eve party. Aside from our host, there were other Christian musicians there -some of whom I had heard of but did not know their music because I had stopped listening to Christian music even before I stopped working in the business.

I remember this party as one of the better NYE parties I have attended. All my local friends were there and most everyone was having a great time. There was a thin layer or snow on the street when we arrived and my friend Tony and I were aware that we would end up being responsible for getting ourselves and two other friends home safely after the festivities so we weren't drinking much. I was eyeing two brothers from Oklahoma who I had never seen before. They told me they were in Nashville because they were about to sign with EMI and they had met Jaci through work only a week or so earlier. Someone had decorated a cheap wall clock with fake gems and made it into a Flava Flav style necklace. Jaci's then boyfriend was the one wearing it and he loudly showed it off in a slurred presentation to each person who glanced twice at it. My friend Steven was finally coaxed into sitting down at a baby grand in the dining room and played us a couple of songs that were hard to hear over the blaring stereo. The smokers gathered on the back patio along with anyone else numb enough to endure the cold. A few of us had cameras, myself included. One of my favorite photos consists of all the guys sitting crowded on the staircase with the clock guy in the middle. They are all making crazy faces, some of them screaming at the camera.

As midnight approached, champagne was poured and all us single folks passed out our kisses generously. I am such a happy camper in one photo of me getting kissed on each cheek by Van and Steven. Fun times.

After thanking our host, Van, Larry, Tony and I made it back to my place safely and crashed out. But that is not where the story ends.

I don't remember who told me first, but I was informed within days that there was a problem with some photos from the party. Apparently a photo of Jaci drinking alcohol had been sent to her record label or manager and there was concern that this photo would be sent to the press. Two people from that party even called me to ask if I had sent the photos. My film was still in my camera, as I had not finished the roll, so it was easy enough for me to explain that I had no idea what they were talking about. Eventually I had the roll developed and I had not even taken any pictures of Jaci. I wasn't sure what I found crazier about the situation. (if it is not already obvious)
1) That someone actually thought I might care about Jaci's career one way or the other as to go through the trouble of devising such a scheme.
2) That a photo of any Christian artist drinking alcohol would make a difference to any normal human being alive.

The question that always comes to mind when I recall this incident is this: How many people have warped their religion into a set of such shallow based rules that anyone who does not agree with them is considered to have "fallen from grace" and underhandedly punished? Poor Jaci.

I never heard what became of the situation. Never saw the photo. And as far as I know, her career did not suffer. These days Jaci is still touring, pleasing lots of fans with songs about forgiveness and the goodness of Jesus. She has managed to save face among an extremely judgmental group of critic even after a short marriage and recent divorce. There is rumor that some humanity is tolerated among Christian artists as long as you ask your fans and God for forgiveness.

As for me, I am no longer a Christian. Too much of the culture and the base of beliefs do not jive with my experience and my logic. My core understanding of God has not changed, however, and I find more happiness now that I don't feel obligated to pretend to feel guilt that I don't have.

I was thinking about this last night when MJ and I toasted in the New Year with sparking cider while lying in bed watching the taped celebration of Times Square on MTV. My body was aching from our baby lying low and to the left in my abdomen. My eyes were tired and I was full of take out from Chili’s. I thought about all these crazy NYE past and how they are snapshots of who I was or wanted to be at the time.
I looked at MJ as he pulled back from a kiss and an ironic peace washed over me as I knew there is no place else I'd rather be.

Posted by Penny Rene at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)