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Q: My child has developed an affinity for Insane Clown Posse, The Disturbed, Metallica, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, and other angry, hostile acts.

A: Why not make a New Year's resolution to stop doing the same old things that aren't working? Music either enhances or decays the soul, not based on whether it is explicitly 'Christian' in terms of lyrical content, but in terms of whether or not it is life-affirming or self-destructive.

The Rock Doc comes through again with a solid answer.

Dr. BLT's psychological advice for the musically-minded.

Dear Dr. Rock Doc:

My child has developed an affinity for Insane Clown Posse, The Disturbed, Metallica, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, and other angry, hostile acts. He even listens to the band Hostile, and you can't get any more hostile than that. When I try to keep him away from this music, he just gives me attitude. Since he started getting into this hard core, dark music, he has become isolated, withdrawn and very rebellious in his attitude. He has stopped going to church with me and I now fear for his soul. I even question whether or not he knows the Lord. I know that in my rebellious days, my parents would have a fit about the music I was listening to-- Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and The Rolling Stones, but all of these groups seem so tame in comparison to what kids are listening to today. All my parents would listen to was Andy Williams, The Carter Family and Doris Day, and all of this used to drive me crazy. Now I'm not asking my son to listen to Doris Day, or even my beloved Doors, but please, I would like him to listen to something a little more wholesome that Eminem. Any sound advice?

'Doors' Day

Dear 'Doors' Day

I once attended a Sunday school class in which adult attendees were asked to break up into small groups and to address the following question: What would you do if you walked into your adolescent's room one day and discovered that they were playing 'secular' rock music?

The first member of the group I ended up in responded that she would immediately remove the CD’s from her child's custody and ground her child for three weeks. The second member was a little more gracious. He stated that he would look up those verses in the Bible that specifically condemned all things that "catered to the flesh" and systematically review each verse with his son or daughter. 

Finally, it was my turn, and frankly, I found myself relishing the prospect of responding a little too much. When I answered that I would ask him or her if I could join in him or her in listening to the stuff, members of my group looked at me like I was an angel of darkness sent straight from the gates of Hades to plant seeds of wickedness into their heretofore innocent minds. 

Their mouths dropped like giant boulders off the edge of a cliff, and the discussion was abruptly halted. I went on to explain my initial response in a way that I hoped would become increasingly palatable. You don't have to swallow everything I say as gospel truth, but I hope that you can digest the response I am about to give you more efficiently than they could. Even when I elaborated upon my initial response to the group, they didn't have the spiritual stomach to swallow a word of it. By their shocked and mortified visages, it appeared that their only desire was to run to the restroom for the purpose of regurgitating every word that had carelessly and hastily spewed from my wicked mouth.

I understand your concern as it pertains to the lyrical content of Insane Clown Posse, The Disturbed and some of these other acts you've mentioned. Welcome to the age of new rage. For the most part, however, Metallica is appreciably misunderstood by many parents. Members of Metallica have been in group therapy, and their new music, while not as edgy and artistically adventurous as their old stuff, is rich in therapeutic value, mainly because of the soul-searching, introspective nature of the lyrics. Eminem can be crude, rude, and offensive, but even Eminem models a psychologically healthy form of catharsis, and a sincere form ofnsoul-searching in songs like “Stan” and “Cleaning Out My Closet.” 

The first step in problem-solving of any kind is to identify what you are doing now that isn't working. For one thing, you are 'trying to keep him away from this music.' This approach is obviously not producing the results you desire. So why not make a New Year's resolution to stop doing the same old things that aren't working?

Instead of keeping him from his music (which may actually be fueling his desire to hear it more, and at an increasingly high volume) try asking him to share it with you. Listen to the songs with him and ask him if he has lyrics for you to follow along with. If he refuses, go out and buy one of his favorite CD’s and begin playing it yourself (strictly for analysis of course). Most kids don't want to play what their parents are playing. Did you want to hear Doris Day when you could be listening to The Doors? When your son discovers you listening to his favorite bands, he will either rebel by finding something that sounds just the opposite, or he will demand that you stop listening to 'his' music. That is your opportunity to explain your intentions and to engage him in a dialogue that will likely produce growth and change in each of you. Explain to him that you care about his music choices. Furthermore, explain to him that you want to try to understand him better by attempting to understand the music he prefers.

Care enough not to judge the CD by its cover, by its savage, deafening sound, or by your first impression of what few lyrics you may pick up on. Sometimes there is a moral behind even the most ostensibly offensive material. On the other hand, you may discover that even after close examination, some songs are deeply disturbing and destructive in terms of their underlying message. In that case, take the time to compare notes with your son. Ask him, "What does this song mean to you? How do you interpret the lyrics?" Then share your impression, and communicate your concern about the lyrics, and the impact you fear it will have on him. Once you have demonstrated a genuine sense of care, you can even begin to share a Biblically-based perspective on the issue. If he appears responsive, you may even introduce him to more positive alternatives, perhaps even acts like POD, Creed, and Threefold7. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't wish to suggest that an artificial boundary can be erected to distinguish between 'secular' and "Christian' music. There is no such thing as secular music. And although there is music that is directly thematically tied to scripture in terms of its lyrically content, there is no such thing as Christian music per se. Music either enhances or decays the soul, not based on whether it is explicitly 'Christian' in terms of lyrical content, but in terms of whether or not it is life-affirming or self-destructive. 

Though they had their share of problems and not all of their music is spiritually-grounded, you and I both appreciate the passion and musical artistry of The Doors. Now I'd like to introduce you to an imaginary psychological game show based on The Price is Right. Let's call it The Emotional Price is Right. Imagine that behind door #1 is premature judgment. It's worth nothing. In fact, it may cost losing your son. Behind door #2 is another door--an open door to your heart and mind. I would encourage you to choose door #2. In fact, I would earnestly urge you to do so. Let Jesus enter with you. What the heck? Why not invite the Father and the Holy Spirit too? Now it is time to open the door of your heart and your mind to music that you would rather leave far behind. As you do, something will become abundantly apparent: That's what becoming a parent is all about. Take it from me, 

Dr. BLT, the shrink-rappin' Rock Doc. 



The details of the following letter, and, in certain cases, with certain letters, the nature of the communication itself, may be altered to protect the identity of the inquiring party. 
 
Dear Doc:
 
I am a member of a now-defunct emo band. We used to attend a Christmas party every year in which a guy dressed up as Santa Claus distributed drugs to a group of us hard-core users and we would play a game we called Drug Fiend Russian Roulette. Actually, the guy was known throughout the year as "The Drugstore Cowboy," because he worked at a pharmacy and would steal drugs-just like Matt Damon in the movie. To quote another movie, the game was kind of "a box of chocolates." We never knew what we were getting. After the 5th year of participating in the game, I was scarred straight. I was thrown into my first seizure. My "fiend feathered friends" as I call them, urged me to go to the hospital but I refused, and finally the seizure went away.  I woke up hours later, and then I went right back to sleep and slept for what seemed like several days. When I woke up again, everything seemed OK, but I was very confused and disoriented. I later went into a deep depression. I had difficulty urinating and swallowing.  
 
I want to figure out what the heck this Santa Claus dude gave me because I want to warn my other friends who still might be involved in that deadly game, and I want to give the so-called Santa Claus a piece of mind. I suppose I should actually thank him for the wakeup call that got me off of drugs. Can you try to help me figure out what I may have been given on that fateful night? Also, I want to turn the guy in to police, but don't even know how society should deal with such individuals. Can you help to clarify my own point of view on this matter by perhaps discussing different approaches that society offers to ameliorate the problem of drugs in society? 
 
Sincerely, Cured, but Curious 
 
P.S. This year I will be attending my first event clean and sober. It will be the Dusk Devil’s Adema gig at the Dome. My New Year's resolution is to continue another 12 months of being clean and sober.
 
 
Dear Curious:
 
I want to make sure that first of all, you understand that I am a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. While a limited number of specially trained psychologists are able to prescribe medication, most of us focus on psychotherapy and leave the medication up to psychiatrists. I wouldn't take my word for it, since this issue clearly lies outside of my scope of expertise, but I have read that some of the conventional anti-psychotic medications have been known to lower the seizure threshold of those individuals who have suffered from such seizures in the past. Do you have a history of seizures? I have seen patients who have reported periods of confusion, disrupted concentration, and disorientation after taking anti-psychotic medication, but not being an expert in this area, I cannot directly connect their symptoms to their psychiatric medication, so I usually consult with a psychiatrist who works with me. When patients receiving such medication have reported such symptoms as difficulty with swallowing, urinary incontinence, I am also reluctant to make a direct connection, and always defer to the psychiatrist. So I have a hypothesis that you may have been given some type of anti-psychotic medication, but my clinical observations should be taken with a grain of salt. See a psychiatrist for a more definitive answer.
 
In the meantime, I commend you for turning the tables on a self-destructive diet of drugs. Sometimes, individuals use drugs as a means of self-medicating for psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar mood patterns and anxiety. Now that you are drug-free, you might notice certain symptoms emerging that heretofore you were able to escape from or cover up. The expertise of one of my psychologist colleagues might come in handy connecting these symptoms with a diagnosis.
 
This also relates to your second question. I believe that there are multiple reasons why rock artists get involved with drugs and alcohol. First, there is a certain angst that comes with the knowledge that one is creatively gifted. There is somewhat self-generated, somewhat society-generated expectation that, as a gifted artist, one must constantly produce, or otherwise be regarded as wasting ones potential. 
 
Then there are the twin fears of success and failure that existential philosopher Otto Rank associates with “fear of life” and “fear of death.” He uses these terms in a figurative sense. In terms of a “fear of life,” he is actually referring to a fear of psychological life, in which one takes the risk of living life to its fullness, and, in the process, is reminded that at any given moment, that life could be snuffed away. In terms of “fear of death,” he is speaking of the type of psychological death that comes from withholding one's inner potential and hiding from the world.  
 
Music is an example of what Freud referred to as sublimation. It is the healthiest of defense mechanisms and, if relied upon as a means of transforming psychological malaise, it can, to some extent obviate or remove the perceived need for drugs. But musicians are often too close to the music to appreciate its potential in terms of its therapeutic value. Instead of using it as an avenue to transform their pain into something meaningful and beautiful, many squander the opportunity and simply accentuate negativity through their musical expression. 
 
Then there are the pressures of societal expectation, including those of record company executives, who put constant pressure on musicians to sell themselves. This creates an artistic and ethical dilemma in a true artist adding to the level of psychological distress. 
 
I could go on and on, talking about the childhood issues in artists, and a number of other related phenomena, but I think I have given you enough to help you to begin to understand the complexity of the issue. 
 
Enjoy your Christmas party. I've heard some of the music of the Dusk Devils. In terms of its therapeutic value, I can say that it really allows a person to unwind, get a fresh perspective on life and to have a good time. Their music is sure to take you back to a more innocent era. Who needs drugs when you've got the Dusk Devils to help you flash back? 
 
Take it from me,
 
Dr. B.L.T. 

Need some song-based, shrink-rapped advice?
E-mail letters to Dr. BLT at drblt@drblt.com
 
 

Dr. BLT, aka Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, is a Christ-centered licensed clinical psychologist and university instructor who specializes in the psychology of modern music.  He uses his original songs as well as those of other artists to address the problems of his patients, including his biggest, sickest, most challenging patient--society.

His face and name recognition, particularly with teens, comes from his short part on a long Cake music video--the Cake video for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that earned the band a nomination for Ground Breaking Music Video of the Year on the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. 


 
 
 
 

 

 
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