Jennifer Knapp Makes a Comeback

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.

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21 thoughts on “Jennifer Knapp Makes a Comeback

  1. Mel:

    Gay performers in the Christian music business? Who knew. LOL.

    I am certain you know about Sugarland? Well there used to be 3 members of that group. Here is what happened to one of them:

    “Kristen Hall left the group in December 2005. According to a statement released on January 17, 2006, by Nettles and Bush, Hall left the group to “stay home and write songs.”[5] Some alleged that Hall might have been forced out in part due her weight problems, coupled with her open lesbian lifestyle, which didn’t bode well for an up and coming, mainstream country music act.”

    Kristen Hall was better known for her songwriting. I am surprised Sugarland has kept going without her.

  2. Mel:

    I am saddened to hear about that encournter. You don’t strike me as someone who gets easily dissuaded from anything.

    How about contacting the Muscians Union and asking for advice? Perhaps the union has a website? If this dream is something that tugs at you still then pursue it in a different way.

    I have a friend who lives in L.A. He is a classically trained musician. He’s never made the cut to be in an orchestra or symphony like the Boston Pops or the New York Philaharmonic. But, boy did he aim for that.

    He makes a good living and music is part of his life. He does derive and income from it too.

    I once asked him if he ever got into the film production side of the music business. Films can have full orchestra that record the film’s score.

    He told me that group is very tight knit and it all comes down to who you know. As people retire from that line of work, they or fellow musicians recommend a replacement.

    I would guess if you want to be in a band as a backup musician then who you know is equally as important as what you know.

  3. I’ve only recently begun to get my guitar out agian and play regularly. It was mostly because my dad wanted to start playing again and because my roommate loves Dave Matthews and I like to play his music.

    I quit music after years of disappointment. When I was a teenager, I spent every free waking moment playing. My parents knew if I wasn’t getting homework done then the way to get my attention was to take my guitar away.

    I’m really not willing to deal with any more disappointment. I had to move on at some point; not only was it not paying the bills, I was going broke trying to chase that dream. The more responses I got from people like Knapp, the more stuff I had to sell to be able to make rent, the less I felt I’d ever acheive my dream.

    I’ll always wonder what it would have been like if I’d made it. I can’t harp on it, though.

  4. I really don’t understand how or why you’d let one bad interaction w/ someone else having a bad day rob you of something you enjoy. You were the one who lost in this scenario, not Knapp.

  5. You know, I never heard of her before.

    I do love gospel music though.

    Has anyone ever heard of the Gaithers? My favorite all-time song was “Jesus, There’s Just Something About That Name” which was written by Gloria Gaither. You can see/hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY-pSzCm7Qs

    Beware: it might make you tear up!

    I am taking my Mom to see them this year. They are originally from Indiana.

    Don’t give up Mel. You are a precious person with an amazing spirit.

  6. You are thinking about it wrong. Music is a business and big bands become products not people. That’s not to say some don’t still make good music but it is a business. But that shouldn’t get you away from playing music, I know a lot of people in the local scene that do it for fun, yeah they would like to make it big but they still have day jobs and families and real lives. The thing is that a lot of people out there gave up on their dreams of being a professional musician, myself included, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find people what want to play gigs on the weekends and have a good time. Sometimes it’s hard I had problems finding people like that before because everyone was still trying to start the next big band or what not but there are people out there that do just want to do it for fun.

  7. “You are thinking about it wrong. Music is a business and big bands become products not people.”

    I agree. One of my all time favorite bands is X. The double CD compilation set shows the evolutionary or perhaps devolutionary process of a great band.

    The songs are arranged in chronological order. It is an interesting listen to hear them evolve from a punk oriented sound to a very pop sound.

    I wonder how much of that was creativity on the part of the band or perhaps it was demanded by their record label?

    If you listen to Beyond and Back and then go to the second CD and give Clean Like Tomorrow a listen it is very clear a lot happened to X between those two songs.

  8. I hate to hear of the experience you share of your encounter w/ Knapp and how it was the proverbial nail in the coffin for you in regards to music. I do know the music business is cut throat and can poison even the strongest of souls.

    I understand your anger w/ her for appearing to blow you off. I wonder when it might have been that you had this encounter? It’s always possible that by that point she had already been bruised enough by the business and people’s expectations of her. I know her to be an intensely private person. I’m sure there is any number of things that could have played into your experience.

    That being said, as one who’s had an opportunity to make her acquaintance, I can’t speak highly enough of her as a person. I don’t meet many who have such an authentic, sincere, and gracious spirit. Maybe as people have had time to sit and reflect on who they are and why they did what they do they realize something new about themselves. Sometimes people who come back are not the same person when they left.

    I can’t say that your wounds will ever bring you to listen to her music, but it really is worth a listen. The themes might actually speak to what you are talking about here. Peace to you.

  9. Anonymous, the encounter I described happened not long after she released her performance with Mac Powell on “Sing Alleluia.”

    I understand quite well that artists get tired of the road, they get tired of the strange people trying to get close to them, and they get frustrated with the business. I spent years writing, touring, trying to get the attention of producers while I worked menial jobs to actually make money. What’s hardest of all is trying to remain optimistic in the face of those circumstances while those you look up to all but tell you to give up.

    I hope she isn’t what I experienced, that she is the sincere person you describe. I honestly do. My experience is different than yours, however. I actually used to play her music myself when I was a worship leader. It’s very good music. I question the spirit behind it because of what I’ve seen and heard.

  10. First, let’s be honest, Christian music holds it’s performers to higher more ridiculous standards than regular rock/pop. I’m a Christian, but in all honesty, Christians are way judgemental!

    Let’s also be fair, from Knapp’s perspective, she probably has people asking at every show if they can play or audition for her band or if she can give them advice on how to break into the industry. Every good musician is looking for a break. How would she know you were any different than any other person looking for an open door?

    I have been fortunate enough to meet her on several occasions. Everyone else I know that has met her has also been impressed with her people skills and cool sense of humor.

    Give it another shot dude. Toughen up the exterior and keep trying. If you got the talent, you’ll get noticed. Try some city open mic nights. There’s often a lot of scouts there looking for talented musicians to add to studio work. You know how much the famous people put themselves out there before they got famous!?

    Get on Facebook and look up a dude named Daniel T. Albertini. He is always looking for good talent.

  11. Christian musicians are held to a higher standard when it comes to fidelity and life choices, but when was the last time someone took Michael W. Smith to task for pitching a prima donna fit over the number of kids he’s expected to have an after-show meet and greet with? I spent a little time as an instrument tech and I saw some of the most outrageous behavior from some of these artists. Honestly? Some of them don’t belong in the Christian industry, but nobody fell over themselves trying to tell Peter Furler or the rest of the Newsboys that they were brats.

    I spent six years trying to find a break. I had several contacts, not the least of which were the likes of Patrick Andrew, Steve Taylor and Charlie Peacock. Some probably wouldn’t remember me but they told me I had a great deal of talent and should possibly consider writing songs or being a backup musician. That’s why I started trying to get into that. That’s where it ended; I did everything I could think of, followed what little direction I could get from those guys, but nobody was interested.

    I’ve done open mic nights. I’ve done it all, hon. I was evicted from two apartments in my early 20’s because I was putting so much time and energy in trying to get noticed. Trust me, I paid my dues. When Knapp treated me the way she did I gave up. It wasn’t worth it anymore.

    So you see, there’s a lot of very good reasons why I’m not willing to take any more disappointment. Been there, done that. I wouldn’t be interested in the Christian music business now because there’s no way anyone in that industry would even give the time of day to a lesbian. Mainstream rock wouldn’t give me the time of day because I don’t fit their profile for a liberal twit.

  12. Jennifer, come on over and jojn us Deists, we also won’t beat you up for beeinf lesbian and we won’t chide you for believing in God
    ; )

    Or join a religion perhaps that does’nt condemn you for beeing who/what you are as the bible and it’s god do.

    It is so sad and ridiculous that people members of religions that say they are sinning and offending the creator for beeing who/what they are.
    “Gay Christian” is like saying “Jewish Nazi”.

    Anyways, best of luck and best wishes to Knapp in her coming out and in her career.”.

  13. Bill, that depends on whether you believe that homosexuality is a sin. I do not. One thing that does get under my skin, however, is the “Jewish Nazi” comment.

  14. Mel,

    Considering the trends in the music industry, have you considered producing yourself as an indie artist. There is all the latitude in the world there, and you wouldn’t have to put up with the product nonsense. It sounds like, despite being hurt, that there’s still that passion. That may be one way to complete artistic control regarding your music.

    Copyright law aside, I think that the indie artists are a large reason the major labels and artists, and the RIAA are in such an uproar nowadays. With some of the major players jumping off the record label bandwagon and “going rogue” they’re scared of what may be the future.

  15. Jennifer’s music has had a great impact on my life and it also holds extremely sad memories from a breakup of a 9 1/2 yr releationship with my partner I had hoped to spend the rest of life growing old with. I respect her for coming out and being real about where she is at in her life. I’m a Christian and Gay, living a single life and have read some of the most hateful posts about Jennifer. I’d like to speak to her really about her journey of spirituality and her sexual orientation. I don’t doubt that she is a Christian because I know the battle. Why do I believe in the God of the Bible? Because I KNOW HE IS REAL from my own life experience. @ Mel, I hope you don’t become jaded by the people who will always let you down, but be encouraged by the lifter of your head, the LORD YOUR GOD.

  16. There are those who like to say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Various verses are cited (out of context) and the verses that people use to show that homosexuality is wrong are explained away. The world wants to change God’s words and meanings into something more suitable to its sinful desires. Nevertheless, the truth stands: The Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. Let’s look at what it says.

    •Lev. 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”1
    •Lev. 20:13, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them”
    •1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
    •Rom. 1:26-28, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”

    Homosexuality is clearly condemned by the Bible. It goes against the created order of God. He created Adam and then made a woman. This is what God has ordained and it is what is right. Unlike other sins, homosexuality has a severe judgment administered by God Himself. This judgment is simple: They are given over to their passions. That means that their hearts are allowed to be hardened by their sins (Romans 1:18ff). As a result, they can no longer see the error of what they are doing. Without an awareness of their sinfulness, there will be no repentance and trusting in Jesus. Without Jesus, they will have no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is no salvation.

    What should be the Christian’s Response to the Homosexual?
    Just because someone is a homosexual does not mean that we cannot love him (or her) or pray for him (her). Homosexuality is a sin and like any other sin, it needs to be dealt with in the only way possible. It needs to be laid at the cross, repented of, and never done again.

    As a Christian, you should pray for the salvation of the homosexual the same as you would for any other person in sin. The homosexual is still made in the image of God — even though he is in grave sin. Therefore, you should show him the same dignity as anyone else with whom you come in contact. However, this does not mean that you are to approve of their sin. Don’t compromise your witness for a socially-acceptable opinion that is void of godliness.

  17. The point is she misrepresented herself. She lied about who she was/is. Had she admitted her homosexuality from the start then fans could have mad an honest decision about her, her music and her heart. She didn’t admit it because she would not have been able to achieve the success she did. Right or wring that is the way things are. There is a market for the “christian homosexual” out there she could have tried to appeal to them, but she went for the big bucks. And now, as she is about to release another album she makes her “admission”. She did it for publicity and nothing more.

  18. “The point is she misrepresented herself. She lied about who she was/is.”

    Why does the legal and lawful personal life of any entertainer matter? It’s none of my business, your business or the business of anyone else. What’s relevant about Jennifer Knapp’s personal life? How does that make her a better singer? How does that improve her ability to entertain people?

    How would you feel if your personal life was subject to inquiry whether you wanted it that way or not?

    In my so not celebrity career I don’t care what my coworkers do outside of the office as long as what they do is legal and doesn’t impact their jobs in a negative way.

    I think Jennifer Knapp deserves the same consideration.

    Why she or any Christian music star would want fans who are so nosy and judgmental amazes me.

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