Syltoya Sterling 5:30 p.m., Sept. 3
Johnny, Jesus, and the steaming pile of doo doo
Bastard Sons, crappy gigs & Pastor Dave’s Christian Goths
Johnny Cash died four years ago last month (9-12-03).
Singer/guitarist Mark Stuart of the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash – a band endorsed by the Cash estate – recalls recording at Cash’s home studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, in 2000. “We were invited by his son, John Carter Cash…the next time we played Memphis, I called him up and he said ‘My dad's working in the morning, so you guys can come in about noon and have the studio for the rest of the day.’”
"The studio on their property is called the Cash Cabin, and we spent three days there recording. Being right there in Johnny's back yard was amazing. It's about twenty miles outside of Nashville, in the middle of the woods. The studio is a little wood cabin on fifty acres. There's wild animals all over, deer, goats, pigs, and peacocks just wandering around. They've even got their own fully stocked bass lake within walking distance [of the studio], so John Carter and I would go out with fishing rods and catch a few big mouth bass between takes."
"The studio is like a history museum, full of Cash and Carter memorabilia, but it's also fully modern and functional for recording. I was singing into the same microphone Johnny Cash was using just a half hour before! The lyric sheets for his new songs were spread around the studio and I got to look at those. We even got to hear some of his new tracks, songs that haven't been released yet. He [Johnny Cash] called the studio from the house but he wasn't feeling well enough to come out, so we didn't get the chance to see him that day.”
BSOJC earned national press in 1999 when Merle Haggard handpicked them as an opening act. The Bastards were the first local band ever invited by Willie Nelson to perform at his annual 4th of July Picnic, a 3-decade-old institution which showcases cutting-edge country artists.
Singer-guitarist Kristofer Towne describes the crappiest gig ever played by his band, A Scribe Amidst the Lions. “A couple of years ago, we were booked for a show in San Marcos. Apparently, between the time we booked the show and when we actually got there to play, they had changed the name of the bar from Boomerangs to the Cow Shed, without ever notifying us. Combined with power-outages and rabble-rousing rednecks, it was one of those nights we’ll unfortunately never forget.”
Guitarist/keyboardist Adam Jacobs gives the crap award to a show at Seattle’s Rendezvous club. "As we began loading-in through the back door, someone noticed an obstacle to the right of the doorway…a hefty pile of human [feces], steaming away right there next to a nearby dumpster. Several times throughout load-in and load-out, we came close to stepping ankle-deep into the slushy pile. John [Woodard] from Jodi Hates the World came centimeters away from a sandal full of crap. He stopped just short of the pile when he heard a chorus of us yelling ‘Look out for the crap!’ It was still there when we loaded out. Hopefully, it rains enough in Seattle that it eventually washed away.”
ASATL are working on their second full-length album and have posted one of the new songs – “The Equator Swallowed the Boys” on their MySpace page. They’re performing at the Zombie Lounge on Tuesday, October 16th.
PASTOR DAVE’S CHRISTIAN GOTHS
"The Lord said...'Stretch your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread...darkness that can be felt.'" Exodus 10:21
Old school “goth” can be traced back to the third and fourth centuries, when a Germanic tribe known as the Visigoths waged war against the Roman empire throughout Eastern and Southern Europe. They didn’t wear eyeliner but they did collect skulls and gaudy silver jewelry. Later, an architectural style called “gothic” became popular, favoring wrought iron trim, gargoyle draped columns, cathedral spires and belfries suitable for bats.
As far as ideology and fashion goes, 19th century poet Lord Byron and Frankenstein author Mary Shelley were most certainly goth, with their dark clothes, powdered white faces, poofy laced sleeves, depressive outlooks and morbid imaginations. Musically, goth culture coalesced with the minor-chord melancholy of 80s bands like Joy Division, The Cure, Fields of the Nephilim, Sisters Of Mercy and Siouxsie And The Banshees.
Back then, the darkly dressed in San Diego congregated at now defunct venues such as the Skeleton Club, the original downtown Soma and clubs like Stratus and SubNation. In the late 90s, the place to be pale was Crocodile Rock, which regularly held goth-themed events like Soil, Savage Garden and Seventh Chamber. Trenchcoats and jewelry in the form of a religious cross were common, but one older gentleman haunting the scene wore both in a somewhat more official capacity - Christian Pastor Dave Hart, who was there not to dance but to find what he calls “disenfranchised youth” in need of counsel and guidance.
“I became one of those ‘born-agains’ back in 1970, during the Jesus People days” says Hart, or Pastor Dave, as he likes to be referred. “I had a hard time settling on a church or denomination, because like most hippies in those days, I was distrustful of organizations and institutions and I suppose I retain some of that attitude to this day.”
He says he originally had no intention of going to seminary school, considering organized religion “just another institution that ultimately would crush my faith. But eventually I became convinced that I was ‘called’ to be a minister of some kind, and found myself at Talbot - the graduate seminary connected to BIOLA College in Orange Country. After I graduated [with a Master's Degree in Christian Education], I tried my hand at youth work, but found myself unable to steer successfully through the politics of the church system, and kept getting fired.”
After a stint in the Navy, as a drug and alcohol counselor, he noticed young people increasingly warming up to the word of God, at least when those words were dressed in rock and roll clothes. This led to him promoting local mid-eighties concerts by Christian heavy metal bands, such as Stryper and others.
He recalls one show at the Fox Theater featuring Christian punk rockers Undercover. “The Dead Kennedys had been in that theater two weeks before and the fans had torn the place apart. The vice squad was on the alert for any punk bands and shut us down while they [the band] were trying to load in - just on general principle."
"They ‘discovered’ that we were missing a permit. This was at 4:45 pm and the permit office shut down at 5pm so there was no time to go get the permit - convenient, huh?” He says he’d secured all the same approvals utilized at previous events with no problems. “Refunding the money back to twelve different Christian bookstores all over the county was a real headache.”
In the course of promoting shows, Pastor Dave says many of the young people he met yearned for spiritual guidance, while disdaining most forms of organized religion. “These kids already tend to view the traditional church with disgust and distrust. Feeling they have been misjudged, misunderstood, and/or manipulated by the church, they have rejected Christianity as hypocritical, cruel and irrelevant.”
This inspired him to launch a rock and roll driven youth ministry. “I had a meeting with a young Christian metal-head named Steve Gray, who was DJing a metal show on Palomar College radio. Soon we had a regular group meeting in my apartment on Monday nights, which we called The Rock and Roll Refuge. We did this for about two years with about 30-35 kids crammed into my tiny living room.”
When Hart heard about a similarly named group operating in Redondo Beach near L.A., he sensed a perfect match for his own San Diego ministry. Founded in the mid-80s, Pastor Bob Beeman’s “Sanctuary: The Rock And Roll Refuge” attracted hundreds of people to its Sunday services, as well as promoting events featuring the big name Christian rockers of the day – Barren Cross, Deliverance, Precious Death and others.
“Both ministries were birthed out of our relationship to Stryper," he says. "The only difference was that what I had been doing for three months, he'd been doing for two or three years…I was eventually ordained through Pastor's Bob's Sanctuary, and I became the infamous Pastor Dave.”
From the start, he was particularly interested in goth kids. He saw in them a fondness for the iconography and rituals endemic to church tradition (crosses, candles, incantations, etc.), as well as great intellectual capacity, emotional depth and spiritual yearning. “[Goths] are into art, poetry, and music. They are passive, introspective, and can be dramatically emotional. They can also be too self-absorbed, brood to a fault, and they internalize everything, even things that have nothing to do with them! As a group and as a rule, goths take their stress and pain out on themselves, not on others - cutters, piercers, slicers, suicide addicts - they will beat themselves up in their guilt and their sorrow to prove how real their pain is.”
Instead of trying to bring teens into church, Pastor Dave took his pulpit to wherever goths gathered - the Empire Club (30th Street North Park, later Club Xanth), which hosted mostly 18+ and all-age events, the Sin-Klub (inside Club Elements on University Avenue), Club Luminal (Tuesday nights at Hamburger Mary's) and Therapy, then held the first Friday of every month at Club Xanth (North Park) and every other Friday at The Flame in Hillcrest. “I try to go wherever there might be interesting sub-culture experiences…last summer I went to Comic-Con and the Tattoo Convention. I have been to a Wiccan Handfasting and occasionally get into a confrontation with a Satanist or two.”
Today’s most notable goth gatherings take place on Wednesdays at Kadan (Darkwave Garden) and Sundays at Club Montage on Hancock Street (Underworld).
A local volunteer organization called Goth Help Us regularly organizes beach clean-ups and other civic-minded endeavors.
Those who seek Pastor Dave’s advice aren’t told that aligning themselves with the goth lifestyle is a mistake, but they are counseled on its negative aspects.
"These kids romanticize death," he says. "They romanticize the blade, the blood that trickles down.” He says he was once invited by a fifteen-year old goth girl to attend a ceremony where her friends cut themselves and drank each other’s blood from a cup, believing the ritual to be a rite of passage into vampirism.
Rather than shrink away in horror or scream “Blasphemy,” the pastor clinically instructed them on health risks such as A.I.D.S. and Hepatitis. He says the girl ended up dedicating herself to Christianity.
The Sanctuary website is promoted as "a fellowship of Christian misfits.” Though delivered in an unusual manner, in unorthodox places, the message preached by Pastor Dave is textbook – or “Good Book” - Christianity. He urges young people not to use drugs, to avoid promiscuity, not to cut themselves and to steer clear of other self-destructive habits. He reminds them that Jesus himself was a social outcast and political iconoclast whose best friends didn’t understand him.
He points out that vampirism is a poor man’s translation of the salvation and personal power given to humanity via the blood of Jesus, and that Christ’s crucifixion was the most intense body piercing session in recorded history. These commonalities make it possible, he says, to embrace both goth and Christianity, while remaining true to the ideals of both.
Liquid Grey is a local DJ I contacted some time ago, when we were both members of the online mailing list and discussion group sdgoth.org. Replying to a list of queries I posted to the group soliciting their opinions about Christian Goths, Grey said “That would be kinda like the Homosexual Nazis or something paradoxical...the whole idea behind the [gothic] culture is freedom of the mind and soul, not imprisonment of them. A place to exist without judgment and forced conformity.”
Asked whether it’s possible to be a Christian goth, Grey says “I have met a couple people who have tried to have this point of view, but they were bigots and people have a way of contradicting themselves anyway…when I think of goth rock and the subculture around it, there is definitely a religious influence to it, in that it is averse to Christianity. However, in the current culture that exists locally, it is more of a complete separation from this or any religion.”
Bynner Drake responded to my post to say “Reconciling ‘Goth’ and ‘Christian’ is like reconciling Hip-Hop and Islam...or Folk Guitar and Zoroastrianism. One is an aesthetic and one a spirituality. And few things have caused greater suffering on this Earth than the implication that the depth or validity of one's faith can be judged by the outward forms of its expression, or lack thereof. The very notion creates a culture of convert-by-the-sword conformism where people are persecuted for not being sufficiently conspicuous in their ‘Rendering unto Caesar,’ as it were. Dangerous ground for a free society.”
Another sdgoth list member, Nick, AKA “DJ Aeon,” says the gothic scene has nothing to do with religion. “I was raised Christian and realized that it was completely the wrong thing for me when I was about fourteen. I've been following a Wiccan path since I was sixteen. According to the Christian/ Catholic bible, I should be killed for that. ‘Suffer not a witch to live’.” He says Christianity still makes him uncomfortable. “Everyone I know is strong enough that they find their own path everyone in this scene is very tolerant of every spiritual path. No one really cares what you believe as long as it doesn't involve hurting anyone.”
These insights from sdgoth members were offered in defiance of dozens of message posts warning them not to speak with me, citing the media’s tendency to portray goths as Satanic cultists seething with hate and malevolence and prone to violence against others.
It’s easy to understand their paranoia, especially considering the reporting that followed the shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado. In the weeks following the shootings, Pastor Dave was interviewed by radio, TV and newspaper reporters convinced that the killing somehow stemmed from adherence to goth culture.
“I tried to tell people that the [Columbine] gunmen were not gothic,"says Pastor Dave, "and most of the true goths I know were bright, talented, young people who could never perpetrate something like this. But after all was said and done, it's a moot point. This tragedy has put the gothic sub-culture in the public eye in a way that not even a year of [Marilyn] Manson's ‘Anti-Christ Superstar’ tour could…all things dark and black will now be labeled gothic. Anyone singing sad songs in a black dress will automatically become gothic.”
Sanctuary’s cyber-minister “Wayno” Guerrini witnessed this damning misconception in action while watching a TV news report on KGTV Channel 10, focusing on local goth culture. Dismayed by the portrayal of goths as obsessed with evil and hate, he e-mailed Bill Griffith, the station’s morning and midday news anchor.
Griffith has been with KGTV since 1976, hosting the long-running daily show "Inside San Diego" as well as the station’s “Charger Report” which, for ten years, followed ABC’s “Monday Night Football” coverage. Wayno’s initial letter and the subsequent volley of e-mail is posted at www.gothic.net, samples of which include the following:
Cyber Minister Wayno: “Dear Bill, I work with Pastor Dave Hart, whom your station interviewed last night. That same interview re-ran on the 11am news, which you anchor, today. You made a statement today which is totally false: You said that most goths are into Adolph Hitler. You could not be farther from the truth! Most of these kids are into Philosophers like Nietzche (sp), not Hitler. Please, don't start a witch hunt where none is warranted. As Dave said last night, goths are into self-inflicted pain, not into inflicting pain on others.”
Bill Griffith's response: “Thanks much for the e-mail. I respect your viewpoint – and Pastor Hart’s – as coming from someone who works with ‘goths,’ but I plead with you not to excuse or underestimate the deeply disturbed nature of this movement. It takes only a cursory look through the internet under ‘goth’ to see the kind of Satanic, nihilistic, anti-Christian credo the ‘goth’ culture adheres to. Just because some goths don’t follow every tenet doesn’t mean we should ignore their world view.”
Sanctuary’s ministry stresses that the world view of Goth culture is anything but anti-Christian. The gothic lifestyle values the importance and value of individuality. Passivity and tolerance of others are treasured ideals, and vegetarianism, volunteerism and humanitarianism are common in practice. Goth kids have even cultivated an image of themselves as a “chosen people,” special in the eyes of a contemporary, post-Millenium God.
This concept is encouraged and reinforced by Pastor Dave. “I believe that the Christian gothic/industrial community has been called for [in] such times as these,” he preaches on the Sanctuary website. “Who else is more prepared to deal with dark days and painful times? You are a tribe of poet/priests and poet/warriors called to fight the darkness you know so well. Like Stryder and the Northern Rangers in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ you will be used to fight the shadows of fear and terror in the dark forests and murky swamps which lie outside the boundaries of the land of the Hobbits…be confident in your unique calling. You are a chosen tribe, a holy nation of priests.”
“Be ready to die,” says Pastor Dave. “To your old life, to your dreams, to your glory, to your sin-nature, to this world, to this body. Remember it's all going to burn. Remember that our suffering will not last forever.”
More like this:
- Rocker Chicks Do San Diego, plus Dark Metal, Racist Rock, Christian Goths, Hip-Hop Quest, Rave Culture, Fashionistas, Swing Kids, & more — June 9, 2008
- Local Scenes: Dark Metal, Racist Rock, Christian Goths, Hip-Hop Quest, Rave Culture — March 21, 2008
- Goths For Jesus: Pastor Dave’s Christian Goths — Aug. 29, 2007
- Ugly American Gothic — May 17, 2007
- Best of 2003: Best Christian Goths — Dec. 25, 2003