Thanks to J. Edward Keyes’ excellent “Atheist’s Guide to Christian Rock” blog as well as the ongoing “Chrindie ’95″ writing project, I’ve been on something of a nostalgia trip lately, and have been listening to a lot of older Christian indie/alternative albums that were pretty influential at various points in my life. I plan to write about some of them in the not-too-distant future, and their ongoing legacy, but today I’m focusing on a single song: “G.G.G.” from L.S.U.‘s This is the Healing (1991, Blonde Vinyl Records).
L.S.U. — also known variously as L.S. Underground, Lifesavers Underground, and Lifesavers — is arguably singer/songwriter Michael Knott’s most important contribution to Christian music, though he remains one of the most important figures in Christian music that nobody knows about. For three decades, he’s been writing music that explores faith from a viewpoint far outside the mainstream Christian market. (I can only imagine how Christian bookstores reacted to the goth-y Shaded Pain when Frontline Records released it in 1987.)
Knott’s songs are often dark and brooding, and deal with topics like human failure, brokenness, and corruption — though always within the context that grace and forgiveness are possible. “G.G.G.” is one of the most striking examples of this, as Knott sings about abortion, racism, and sexual abuse, but in a way bound to raise the eyebrows of Christians and non-Christians alike. Indeed, were a song like this to air on the radio today, it would likely result in outrage from multiple points on the cultural spectrum — though for different reasons.
Right from the start, Knott pulls zero punches. These are the song’s opening lines:
One day I would like to be the judge
Judge, jury, and the executioner
To the ones that kill the unborn
And to the men that seek after their own
If lyrics like that made it on to modern airwaves, can you imagine the outcry from abortion advocates, especially in the wake of The Center for Medical Progress’ undercover videos? But I suspect that even ardent pro-life Christians might be taken aback by Knott’s candor, which is enhanced by the song’s spartan production and stripped down instrumentation (it’s little more than acoustic guitar and drum machine), and Knott’s urgent vocals.
And then comes the song’s chorus, which reveals Knott’s subversive brilliance:
Give me, give me, give me, give me love
Give me, give me understanding
I can hear the pro-lifers: is Knott really asking Jesus to give him more love and understanding for “the ones that kill the unborn?” But Knott’s just getting started. In the second verse, he sings:
One day I’d like to kill the KKK
Hang them from the cross they burned today
Would the killing of a bigot let me win?
Sometimes I’m as sick as him
And in the third and final verse:
I’d like to molest the molester
Hang him from a rope above the world
This man he’s sick and he is a loaded gun
He was molested when he was young
As the song progresses, it appears as if Knott’s prayers are being answered; note how the later verses conclude with some semblance of compassion for their subjects (the KKK and the molester). This reflects a message that occurs time and again throughout Knott’s discography: nobody, no matter how wretched, exists beyond the reach of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. But it’s a message that seems increasingly controversial, even scandalous, today.
We live in a divisive, skeptical age where our default stance is to view people on the Other Side — be they social justice warrior or men’s rights advocate, gay rights activist or traditional marriage supporter, complementarian or egalitarian, pro-life or pro-choice, conservative or liberal — with suspicion and accusation. Social media unites Our Side against Their Side, accusations of hypocrisy and bigotry are hurled like hand grenades, and hot takes and subtweets rule our cultural dialog.
In such an age, simple qualities like love and understanding become all the more necessary, though they seem so difficult and fleeting. Which is why hearing Michael Knott plead with Jesus for them with so much intensity that he can scarcely pronounce the Savior’s name packs such a punch.
I can hardly imagine hearing “G.G.G.” playing on the radio, Christian or otherwise, but maybe it should. Knott’s impassioned plea might remind us all of the need to look beyond ourselves, and remind us that our human neighbors, even those we consider most vile, still deserve love and understanding. And if we simply ask, we might even be shown how to give it to them.