When I was a kid, music was my only escape from the constant bullying I endured. At school I was always the ass-end of someone’s joke; at home I could hide out in my bedroom and play guitar and sing my heart out. Christian music was my bag and I wanted to become a star to prove all of the bullies wrong. After graduating high school, I played with a few different bands (Mercury was, by far, the best), went on a few tours, and began to realize something: all facets of the music industry, including Christian music, require that you either look so good that your talent doesn’t matter, be so talented that your looks don’t matter, or be so shocking that neither matters.
I was none of the above. I started probing all of my music industry contacts to see if I could find out what it would take to become a backup musician. I had expanded to playing several instruments, among them baritone guitar, bass guitar, piano, Irish tin whistles, mandolin and dulcimer. One day several years ago my buddy Paully and I went to a Christian music festival at one of the biggest churches in Phoenix. It was to feature Jennifer Knapp and the Newsboys as the main acts, both of which we loved. Jennifer Knapp, following several smaller acts, played a blistering set along with several well-known backup musicians whose talent was unparalleled. After her set, the Newsboys took the stage and the entire campus emptied; everybody was inside watching the main act. In a back hallway sat Knapp and her backup band.
Paully and I, along with three young girls, tried to get Knapp’s attention. She finally got up and shuffled over, though when these three fans, none over the age of 10, asked for autographs she hemmed and hawed and said she didn’t have a pen. Someone produced a marker and she quickly signed three CD’s and made to run away before I finally got her attention. I wanted to ask a question – how does one get into the musician’s union and become a backup musician?
Knapp instantly took my question to mean I was asking to be in HER band. She replied, “I only play with people I’ve known for years. You see Mark? I’ve known him for ten years. You wouldn’t be able to be in my band.” She then said something about being mobbed and all but ran away from the area.
Paully and I were so completely taken aback that we really didn’t know what to say. After we went home I started thinking about my experiences in the Christian music business and I realized something that had eluded me (or, more appropriately, I had chosen to ignore). It’s a business. It’s not a ministry, it is a business, and the primary function is turning a profit. As a result the artists, for the most part, don’t care nearly as much about who they really are as opposed to the image people believe in. I’d had previous bad experiences with Christian artists but had set it aside in an effort to keep my illusions about my heroes intact.
The day I had my encounter with Jennifer Knapp, I all but walked away from Christian music. I haven’t looked back. There are exactly three artists that I still have respect for (Steven Curtis Chapman among them), but the rest of that industry does not exist for me.
Just a couple of years later I came out of the closet. It was then that I began to hear rumors that Knapp, after suddenly disappearing from the limelight during the pinnacle of her popularity, was a lesbian and had gone to live with a partner in Australia. Several rumors countered it that she had gotten married and had a child and was living in North Carolina, but I found out this weekend that she is making a huge comeback. And one other thing was proven true: she’d been living in Australia.
Knowing the Christian music industry the way I do, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is gay, but that is immaterial to me. I know at least three well-known names in the industry are pseudo-closeted homosexuals and I know that several well-known Christian magazines have refused to report on these things because of how much money they get from the industry. What matters to me is the way these people behave. Jennifer Knapp has an amazing talent for music but absolutely zero people skills. She’s not the only one, but she was the final nail in the proverbial coffin for me. She drove me away from ever caring about any new Christian artists or what happens in that industry.
I won’t be buying her new album. I’ll never put another dime of my money into her music or merchandise. Her attitude and that of others in the business is expected of stars in the mainstream rock industry. It no longer surprises anybody when Bono walks into a New York restaurant and starts behaving as though he walks on water. It should appall the entire industry and the church when one of their self-made superstars makes obvious that they don’t care about their fans.
The same day, I gave up on my music. I stopped trying. I didn’t touch my guitar for three years. I’ve played coffeehouses a couple of times since, but I can’t be serious about music anymore. I’ll never forget the day one of my heroes took that away from me.