by John Ellis
Christian contemporary music (CCM) didn’t play much of a role in my formative years. My parents, youth pastors, and teachers all believed that there was no real difference between “real” rock and CCM; if Bob Jones University banned it, it was banned in my home, church, and Christian school. It didn’t matter if the lyrics were “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven of earth, and Jesus Christ, his only Son. I believe in the virgin birth” – banned!
Apart from Petra, whose lyrics from their song “Creed” I just quoted, I saw little reason to listen to CCM music (I’m still not sure why I liked Petra). The cost of listening to the “fake” stuff was as high as listening to the “real” stuff. Why bother with the “fake?” Besides, as I’ve explained in the story of how I became a Christian (you can read that by clicking here), rock music was cast in my young life as an identity that helped me escape Christianity. More important than the discipline cost/reward rubric, I didn’t want my preferred genre of music to be spoiled by lyrics about a God I didn’t even believe in.
My good friend Chris White, on the other hand, grew up immersed in the CCM culture of the 80s. Over the years, he and I have had multiple conversations comparing notes between my fundamentalist Christian upbringing and his more standard evangelical upbringing. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about those conversations, besides Chris’s insights and immense knowledge of CCM, is the way in which he interacts with the music of his youth. Neither blinded by artistic naivety nor sentimentality, Chris appreciates CCM honestly.
There’s more I could say about Chris’ knowledge and perspective but my objective at this time is to put Electric Jesus on your radar (so that you’ll watch it on Amazon or whichever streaming device you prefer). And, in many ways, Electric Jesus better communicates what I would say. The movie is his poetic articulation of his experience and thoughts about the seemingly weird and wacky time when 80s CCM met the growing youth group culture.
The majority of my readers grew up in some version of Christian fundamentalism or evangelicalism. Chris speaks your language. You should be excited about this movie because this is the movie you wanted to watch when you were a teenager but can only truly appreciate now that you’re no longer a teenager.
Chris graciously asked me to play a small role in his latest movie. To be frank, I think much of his motivation (and mine) was to have an excuse for us to hang out. After driving home from Columbus, GA, where principal photography for the movie was shot, I told my wife, “Filming the scenes I was in was fun, but getting to hang out with Chris, some of the primary cast members, and members of his creative team made the trip worth it.”
Hearing (and watching) the insights, objectives, and creative impulses be fleshed out in real time was a personal treat. I must confess, I miss hanging out with fellow storytellers. And Chris is the consummate storyteller. I know this from my time spent with him doing multiple improv sets together in front of German engineers, performing in what may possibly have been the world’s most unique production of The Dumb Waiter, and the many hours he and I have spent discussing and arguing about art, theology, and life in general. During September of 2019, while on the set of Electric Jesus and hanging out with key players on the movie’s creative team, I was privileged to see my friend’s talent and vision take the next creative step. I’m super-excited to see this movie (and not just because I’m briefly in it).
The first music video from the movie has recently been released. It’s great, on multiple levels. You can watch it below (you can briefly see me at the 1:40 mark). Before that, though, I’m going to be lazy and cheat as a writer and allow Electric Jesus’ press release to do the heavy lifting for me. Please be sure to follow Electric Jesus on Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media options, those links are below. You can also order a vinyl of the single featured in the music video below. And please help spread the word about Electric Jesus.
ELECTRIC JESUS is a wistful coming-of-age music-comedy reminiscent of THE COMMITMENTS, THAT THING YOU DO, and SING STREET — a rock-and-roll movie about a band that never quite goes all the way. While the screen band’s music is a weird mash-up of 80’s hair metal and vacation Bible school, ELECTRIC JESUS wears its teenage protagonists’ hearts on its sleeve, ala THE BREAKFAST CLUB, LADY BIRD, and ALMOST FAMOUS.
Given this strange mash-up of 80’s church youth group culture and hair band excess, ELECTRIC JESUS may be the most ECLECTIC Jesus movie ever made. Add to the mix Judd Nelson (THE BREAKFAST CLUB, ST. ELMO’S FIRE), Brian Baumgartner (The Office) and six new/emerging stars that you will fall in love with at first sight…and you get an artistically ambitious but audience accessible crowd-pleaser. You will laugh and you will sing along — you may even shed a tear.
The film comes alive with original songs and score by indie rock god Daniel Smith (Danielson Famile, Sufjan Stevens, Jad Fair, et al). Spanning hard rock, metal, bluegrass, cow-punk, and pop, this music-film throws its audience back to exactly where we all want to be: young, free, on the road and alive with purpose and possibility.
As ELECTRIC JESUS looks to Fall 2020 film festivals and a worldwide release to follow, record label Joyful Noise Recordings will release several songs from the film over the course of the summer — on limited edition, 7” vinyl, and all major streaming platforms. These releases and the accompanying music videos, will coincide with a crowdfunding campaign for the full movie soundtrack — that will be released on streaming, vinyl, and CD in November.