I’m in a big band. Debut performance, for the band and for me. We’re playing for 400 or more ballroom dancers on the shores of Waikiki. Used to do the same thing with the Bath Municipal Band, in Maine, for 16 people. Welcome to Paradise. And the guy sitting next to me has a gold Lawler.
No, that’s Lawler. Two “l”s, no “y”. Suppose I should explain. A Lawler is a custom made trumpet, produced by a guy out in Tennessee. Gold-plated, literally and figuratively – though, to be fair, Lawler’s trumpets are not as hard on the wallet as those by, say, Dave Monette.
Still, here I am with a Ph.D. and counting my blessings that I’ve not (yet) had to consign my old Yamaha to the local pawn shop, while my neighbor, who’s a panel beater, has a gold Lawler. Which he chose to bring (in a truck the size of downtown Cleveland) instead of his Blackburn or Olds Recording.
The gold Lawler sometimes has difficulty navigating the swing band tunes we’re playing. Its owner comments that he’s more used to church music. I’ve done a little church music, trumpet and organ before the small congregations of small-town Maine. No, he says, this is contemporary Christian, and not the easiest of stuff, either. And it’d better be right, ’cause it’s on television.
Television? Ayup. Evangelical Christianity’s big news in the 50th state right now. Services and other religious show are, together, the second most abundant and popular bits on Hawai’ian TV. Right behind “Paid Programming”. And these shows are slick, man. Sure ain’t your grandmother’s little brown church in the vale.
Reminds me of when I was in Berkeley, and the TV evangelists descended on the local seminary to tell the liberal preachers how they, too, could become TV stars and maybe get more than three people a week to come to church. I wrote about what I figured their message was:
- “Lesson 1. Bob Dylan and the Beatles electrified music in 1964. It has been electrified ever since. You are not going to get the attention of today’s Christian with an upright piano and an 80-year-old lady belting Leaning on the Everlasting Arms in a voice that would drive the mountain lion to extinction. Hymns? Those tunes were whack when Queen Victoria was a girl. And who reads music these days? You don’t want them singing anyway, shouting’s just fine. Give your ears a break.
- “There are Christian rock bands. Use them. There are Christian multimedia shows. Use them. There’s this thing called ‘production values’. Learn them. There are times when real people go out. Schedule your services at those times. Sunday morning at 9 AM is not one of them. Everyone not still asleep is hung over, or working. And keep the message simple. You want people to holler, not think. If they’re thinking, they’re not putting money in the plate. Capisce?”
- Now [I wrote at the time] I’m sitting there reading all this, and I’m cracking up. Why? Well, I remember when the liberal preachers were hippies. Until they discovered the media and turned the various forms to their own devices. What was their mantra? The media is the message. Talk about being strung up on your own rope!
- Then I look again. Where have I seen these techniques before? Advertising! Whose message is Stop thinking and buy! Where did advertising learn all its tricks? Propaganda! The message of which is Stop thinking and follow! Who pioneered mass-media propaganda techniques? A spindly, dweeby Ph.D. type with one leg shorter than the other and a massive inferiority complex, who talked of turning little worms into an omnipotent force with his production values.
The gold Lawler might be playing for the fastest-growing church on O’ahu, one counted among the 25 fastest growing, and 10 most influential, houses of worship in the United States. And I’m always looking for a place to play. But I think I’ll see if I can find a nice, small church instead. One with an organ, maybe. And little old Puritan ladies, whose voices may put wildlife on the endangered species list, but who also have neither time nor patience for production values. “I want a show, I can watch Oprah. I thought we were here to worship God.”
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.