I fell headlong into the Tooth & Nail Records catalog during the late ’90s and early-to-mid ’00s, attended the Cornerstone Festival on numerous occasions, and spent countless hours perusing Christian bookstores for music that resonated with both my faith and my tastes. Not surprisingly, then, Matt Hinton’s Parallel Love totally worked for me on multiple levels.
First and most straightforwardly, as a purely nostalgic trip through a bygone era — when Christians were making music that was “too Christian” for the secular market and “too weird” for the Christian market (this was, as someone in the documentary notes, years before artists like Sufjan Stevens and Pedro the Lion helped bridge that gap) — Parallel Love was an absolute blast to watch.
It was a thrill every time folks like Chris Colbert, Steve Hindalong, Andrew Prickett, and Mark Salomon appeared on screen to offer some insight or share some behind-the-scenes info. Those names probably mean nothing to most of you, but if you know, well, you know. And the abundant footage of Cornerstone Festivals from years past was equally enjoyable. Seeing those familiar tents, stages, campsites, and dirt roads put me right back in the middle of that Bushnell, Illinois campground in a keenly felt way. (I don’t know if it’s necessary for a journalistic disclaimer, but as a personal badge of coolness, I feel compelled to inform you that several of my Cornerstone photos appear in Parallel Love. I might even be lurking in the background of some of the Cornerstone video footage, as well.)
But of course, Parallel Love is the story of just one of those bands that occupied the weird parallel universe that was ’90s indie/alternative Christian music. Luxury’s members met at Toccoa Falls College, a private Christian college in northeast Georgia. From the very get-go, however, it was clear that they had no intention of staying inside any “Christian” music silo, as evidenced by their battery of influences — punk bands like Rites of Spring and The Nation of Ulysses, alternative mainstays like Depeche Mode and The Smiths, glam rock from KISS and Queen — and frontman Lee Bozeman’s provocative stage presence.
With its mix of talking heads (e.g., friends, family, label execs, journalists), old VHS footage, and numerous press clippings, Parallel Love chronicles the band’s unlikely origins and meteoric rise. Luxury grabbed people’s attention from the start, and controversy surrounded their 1995 debut, Amazing and Thankyou, a raucous album with lyrics about gender and sexuality that ruffled feathers (rumors swirled about the band members’ sexuality) and led to people returning their CDs to Christian bookstores.
(Sidenote: Back in the day, Christian bookstores like Lemstone and Family Christian were often the only places to buy any Christian music, regardless of genre. Given their often-conservative customer base, though, this could be a fraught scenario whenever art from the fringes of Christendom — like Luxury — appeared on the shelves.)
Following their debut, Luxury performed a blistering set at Cornerstone ’95 that only solidified the buzz surrounding them. But just as they were on the verge of making it, everything fell apart. A horrific car accident on the drive back to Georgia left several members hospitalized and their plans in ruins. (The band’s own VHS footage of their members in the hospital, wearing neck braces and groaning in agony from their injuries, is harrowing to watch.) Following a year-long hiatus and recovery, Luxury released their sophomore album, 1996’s The Latest & The Greatest — but by then, their moment had passed. The band parted with their label even as the members went their own separate ways, starting families and moving all over the country.
It’s here that Parallel Love is at its darkest, exploring drummer Glenn Black’s health issues related to both the 1995 car accident as well as PTSD stemming from the childhood trauma of his stepfather’s mental illness and his mother’s suicide. (At one point, Black comments that a documentary could be made on just everything he’s experienced, and he’s probably right.) But this is also when we see what is perhaps the strangest twist in Luxury’s already-compelling story: three members — Lee Bozeman, guitarist Jamey Bozeman, and bassist Chris Foley — find their way to the Orthodox Church, and subsequently become ordained priests.
The documentary’s final act becomes a fascinating rumination on the relationship between art, vocation, and spirituality, as the Bozemans and Foley discuss their journey to Orthodoxy, their experiences as priests and pastors, and the surprising similarities between being a priest and being in a rock band. I’ve spent a lot of time critiquing how the Church (mis)uses art, and I’ve written a lot about the interplay between faith and art, often within the context of indie/underground/alternative music. As such, this final act especially resonated with me. (On a related note, Lee Bozeman’s thoughts on serving his congregation out of his weakness were personally encouraging, as I recently became an elder in my church.)
Parallel Love ends with Luxury reuniting to record what would eventually become 2015’s Trophies, arguably their best album to date. It’s a remarkable album to even exist, given everything that the band has experienced in their long history. As I wrote in my review, Trophies feels like a miracle. A group of friends meet in a small rural Christian college, live through life-threatening accidents and childhood traumas, and experience the highs and lows of an industry that’s too-often focused on commerce and propaganda over art, and yet, they still remain close enough to recapture the spark that first brought them together and record some of their finest songs to date.
Sounds like divine providence to me.
Even if you don’t know Cornerstone from Purple Door from Ichthus, have never heard of record labels like Bulletproof, or have no attachment to “Chrindie” music from the ’90s and early ’00s, Parallel Love is a fascinating story with all of the requisite rock n’ roll twists (e.g., young talented band, music industry woes, controversy, struggles and trials to overcome). But if you’re a Christian who’s at all interested in the relationship between faith and art, or understanding how your faith works itself out in your vocation, then Parallel Love will give you plenty to think about. That, and some awesome songs from a band that deserves any and all acclaim that comes their way — even if it takes a decade or two.
Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury is currently streaming for free on Tubi.