About every six months I find myself in a conversation with friends about their first concert. This is always a source of giggles and embarrassment as they joke about how great they used to think LFO was. I always stay quiet because, like most competitions of shame, I have no rival. My first concert, much like the thirty or so that followed, is far more humiliating than any 98 Degrees or Fastball show. (For the over forty crowd…is Styxx a good reference?) That’s because they were all Christian Rock. This is my story.
Carman: The Righteous Invasion Of Truth Tour
Louisiana Superdome, 1995(ish)
First off, a few things on Carman. It’s important to note that this was not his first album. This was his 16th. (His debut record was called Some-o-Dat aka Carman. You’re welcome.) As a child, much in the same way I assumed Steve Young always played for the 49ers and Ed McMahon was just the Publishers Clearinghouse guy, I thought Carman had always been rapping his way to God’s glory. In fact, the rap game was a new attempt to re-boot the Jersey natives career. He made waves in the 80’s with such hits as “Radically Saved,” a “Rawhide” inspired country-esque tune that can be described as music only in the loosest sense. It’s a perfect example of what happens when Christians attempt to enter popular culture. They’re so far removed from what the rest of society considers good they end up with some alien-level bastardized imitation of entertainment that’s “drunk uncle at Thanksgiving” quality at best. The early nineties saw a lull for Carman as the culture was moving on to an edgier sound, but if anything Carman’s a shrewd businessman and I can only assume that after seeing the success of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” he must’ve thought that it was time to get in the rap game, and this was as close to rap as the good Lord would allow him to get. The greatest horror of all: he was right. RIOT was a hit, Dove Award winning, album and Carman was playing the 50,000 seat Superdome. The previous year he had played New Orleans in an unprecedented free show. Apparently the success of RIOT allowed the Lord to give him the go-ahead to charge a finski. Carman’s cup overflowed with blessings.
The opening act was Bibleman, a Bible-thumping super hero played by a sobered-up and born-again Willie Aames. Sadly, our hero did not get his powers from getting bitten by a radioactive Bible or being struck by lightning in Sunday school. From what I can tell Bibleman doesn’t have any actual powers other than being the worst guy to get stuck talking to at a party. Bibleman was also a syndicated television show for eight years, five more than Arrested Development. This might be the only known tangible evidence for the existence of God. Aames wrote, directed and produced the project, basically making it his Clerks. (Please, for the love of God, click this link.) Suffice to say the Eight is Enough residuals had run out by the mid-nineties. Due to his shouldering the full Bibleman production load, Ames didn’t have the time to make it out for this performance in person - even the grace of God can’t get you out of the editing bay. Instead we were treated to a pseudo-Bibleman with Aames’ voice piped through the PA like a water stunt show at Six Flags. A full stage production followed where Bibleman donned the “Breastplate of Truth” and “Sword of Faith” (basically your standard Toys R’ Us glowing lightsaber) and fought one of his many villains of iniquity. I can’t recall who it was but I’m guessing Maurice the Masturbator. I have a vague memory of the Aames recording breaking down into tears at one point, screaming about how he “fingered Nicole Eggert on the set of Charles in Charge goddammit!” and “how had it all come to this?!” but that could just be a fever-dream.
I’ve been spending weeks trying to remember specifics from the concert but it seems as though most of it has been blocked out. In many ways this was my Okinawa. One thing I’ll never forget - it’s as burned in my brain as my first kiss or the day I learned of yogurt pretzels - was Carman’s outfit: leather jacket, leather pants, leather gloves, sunglasses. Like if twenty years after Happy Days Fonzi became a S&M Master (“Heyyyy! Shove this gag in your mouth, I’m gonna grab the anal staff!”). I remember there being a handful of Jesus-approved fly girls (absolutely no pelvic thrusts) dancing around while Carman rapped songs like ‘7 Ways 2 Praise’ and ‘Not 4 Sale.’” (Apparently somebody mentioned to Carman back in the ‘80’s that numbers for words was bitchin’ and he really ran with it.) The biggest thing I remember was the fact that this is what I thought music was. Aside from Brother William Buckley leading the congregation in a rousing rendition of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” this was the first time I had ever seen music performed live. There’s a reason why I didn’t buy an album for myself till I was a junior in high school. (I’m pretty sure it was James Blunt, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I didn’t leave the Superdome that night empty handed. I took home a RIOT t-shirt - branding me a high school virgin while still in the first grade - as well as a “Righteous Invasion of Truth” devotional to prepare me for battle in the harsh secular world with Bible verses and words of wisdom, because who better to give advice than one of the few men alive that pro wrestlers can look down on. Evangelicals always see life as a war; they just can’t get a boner unless things are as close to their glory years of The Crusades as possible. Carman, like many Christian musicians of that time, preached of a time when Christians in America would be persecuted and would have to be willing to die for their beliefs – the ultimate evangelical wet dream. This laid the groundwork for the solid ten-plus years of God-induced panic and fear to come, along with the hope of filling my guilt-hole with as many humiliating Christian Rock shows I could shove down my gullet.