Red Leigh Cooper

Red Leigh Cooper

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Enigma Wrapped Riddle

     My friend Walter and I were both in bands in our local metal music scene for years.  He would frequently call me an "enigma wrapped riddle," because, honestly, I probably wasn't your what you might term as "normal" metal musician.  The funny thing is that being a metal musician made me not "normal" in other areas of my life.  I actually got a job once by saying. "I'm not your 'normal' kind of accountant."  I guess that's what they were looking for...

     Even though Walter completely lifted the phrase from an episode of "The Simpsons," him using it to describe me is something I think about frequently.  I always think about what the consequences and the opportunities of being an "enigma" have had on my life's journey..  No one can be a musician accountant wedding planner dog trainer Christian without having a somewhat puzzling or contradictory character.

     For me though, it doesn't feel out of the ordinary no matter what it looks like.  The Controller of the accounting department where I am currently employed said, "One day I need to understand how you go form liking The Cure to singing in a metal band."  Allow me to address that very question, because it's not the first time I've received it, right now. Early bands classified as "alternative" were bands like The Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Depeche Mode.  Add to that bands that weren't completely all about dance music and had guitar in them like The Cure, New Order, The Smiths and R.E.M.. Punk was also considered somewhat among the "alternative" and I loved The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys and and Black Flag.  However, I blame The Cult for the major musical shift between the late 80's to early 90's for alternative music become more guitar driven.  Now enter bands like The Pixies, The Afghan Whigs, The Posies, The Goo Goo Dolls, Faith No More, and Jane's Addiction, but more importantly the angst-driven alternative rock fueled by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains.  Alice In Chains and Soundgarden often times crossed genres and were excepted by those into the metal genre exclusively.. So, not only was I into those bands, but along comes 1994 and the advent of something we've never heard before and in the beginning, played on alternative radio; Korn.  There's the tipping point.  In the end I can trace Korn, and all the bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park that followed, responsible for my career in metal music back to The Pet Shop Boys.   . 

     Now while this seems very easy for me to understand, when it comes to who I am, and where I need to go to understand my "starfish," its not so easy.  When I started out in music, I honestly wanted to make what I termed "smart dance music."  Music that was danceable but not fluffy in lyrical content. As alternative changed, so did how I wanted to express my self. One minute I would want to embark on a project with dark swirling guitar tones and darker ambiguous lyrics and then the next I wanted to thump you over the head with the crunch of a guitar and the most anger in my voice possible.  I felt like I did alot of "path hopping" over the last 15 years.  However, when examining the "ultimate" path that lead me to my metal music career, perhaps I don't feel as frenetic and better able to center least musically.

     Where did "Christian music" fit into all this?  I mean, I'm a Christian, right?  Where is that influence?  Well, I did just say I wasn't your "normal kind of" anything, and that goes for the general perception of what people believe a Christian should be.

   Music for me is all just "music." I honestly don't like labels when it comes to music.  I feel labels make people feel they have to fit into a certain mold and only hang around a certain kind of people in order to like that particularly labelled music.  Labeling music really stops people from discovering all the wonderful textures, sounds, and lyrical content that comes with feeling free to listen to anything.  Labeling puts a barrier up from communicating with and exchanging ideas with people you may not know you have so much more in common with.

     To me, all music is from God.  Yes...even Slayer...but what I am saying is the gift to make it comes from Him.  So, being how I feel about labeling and my overall view of music, I am not a fan of Christian music.  Christian music feels too inclusive.  Just made for people who are Christians and not meant to actually bring people to Jesus unless they are experiencing what my friend Jeff coined as a "church camp" high.  Nothing like witnessing a bunch of girls at a church outing on Saturday sing Amy Grant's "El Shaddai" at the top of their lungs and then have the same girls bully you in the school hallway on Monday..

   Mark 3: 3-17 make my point ultimately.  Jesus is having dinner with people, who for that time, were unsavory to say the least. The Pharisees see him hanging out with these people and actually pick on his disciples saying, "What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?" Jesus hears what's going on and says, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit."

    Christian music is made for the spiritually-fit.  Ironic, isn't it?  I'll be honest; I'm not that "happy" all the time.  To me Christian music very, very, very "happy" music almost to the point where it seems a bit, well...non-credible. It may be a factor to why people see Christian's as a whole to be non-credible.  Where is the reality of every day life?  Where is the pain I am dealing with?  When you are in a band, and young girls feel comfortable enough to come to you after a show and express their distress over the fact that they may be pregnant, there is no way that you can ever live in a world where everything is that happy.  You can no longer turn a blind eye to the miseries of our every day worlds. Not enough to not want that to be a factor in your music.

      There are exceptions. Amy Grant's album "Lead me On" is one of the best Christian album ever.  The catch is that she recorded it while pregnant and depressed.  There is some real pain there. Such a yearning for what she knows will save her ultimately from the world's woes; God.  It's why I do listen to bands who are Christians, but don't necessarily believe in the "Christian music" label either like Red, Skillet, Thousand Foot Crutch and Nonetheless. It's not "happy" music either.  There are screams of angst in Red's song "Let It Go" that will curl your hair.  the lead singer is screaming about his need to "let go and let God." That's passion for the Lord.  That's what I want to be a part of.  That's what makes me put my hands in the air.

     For me, it's the difference between worshiping Christ and actually following Christ.  Worshiping of course, is good, don't get me wrong,  Music labelled as Christian has it's place.  For me though, when it comes to music, I have always wanted to witness to others about what I've been through and and what's gotten me through.  I want to follow Christ in that respect.  Subtle distinction.  Not just worship, but follow.  I remember on my band's first CD there was song describing  how I wasn't able to understand Christ's love for people because of the sin humans perpetrate onto each other.  As I grow in maturity in my faith, I get it now, but I also know a lot of people could relate to what I was saying then, and maybe still do.  Ultimately and musically I don't want to alienate a single person trying to grow on their path.  I feel a lot of Christian music does just that.  How can you relate to that almost delirious expression of joy, if you're not there yet? If there is no expression of the doubt and confusion you go through, you'll be less likely to connect.  Any music only expressing one side of anything can make you feel like an outsider.  When it comes to an expression of my faith, I don't want anyone to ever feel like an outsider. I want the same thing when it comes to my music.  That's an important thought...I haven't made music in years...
     I may have temporarily left the music scene, but I admit now that it never fully left me. Something part of the innate being you are never leaves you no matter how you suppress it.   Looking at it here, I now realize I have always in some way been on a "path" whether musically or spiritually.  I am perfectly normal.  I just have been  learning how to express my "gift" this whole time.

   Riddle solved. 

Happy Fishing!



  1. As Westerners, we want to attach labels to every d@mned thing so we can identify it, and so it doesn't confuse us.

    But all music comes from the same place, and the same music theory concepts apply whether you're Flatt & Scruggs, Chris Tomlin, Black Sabbath, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, KISS, Randy Travis, or a klezmer band.

    I attribute my philosophy to John B. Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful:
    "If you believe in magic, don't bother to choose
    If it's jug band music or rhythm and blues / Just go and listen; it'll start with a smile / That won't wipe off your face no matter how hard you try / Your feet start tapping and you can't seem to find / How you got there, so just blow your mind"

    -- Jim G.

  2. I love Red, Skillet, and Thousand Foot Krutch. Also, Flyleaf, Fireflight, Thrice, POD, Pillar, As I Lay Dying, Becoming the Archetype, Project 86 and many more. Christian metal has come a long way! Dallas have a really cool Christian rock/metal station 89.7 Power FM, I think you can listen online is you are ever interested. <3 U!

  3. Ooooh! I have to listen to that this afternoon at work...btw, you have a cool Christian local band in Rowlett called The Circle. Go and see them sometime and tell Kenneth that Dana and Eric sent you! ; )