What is it about the artistic drive that sometimes sends the most creative among us over the edge? Consider with me these following examples; Vincent Van Gogh, a minister, had massive mood changes that sent him swinging wildly from joyous euphoria into self-destructive fits of depression. He famously cut off his own ear, and lived with a prostitute.Yet he produced some of the most beautiful, and revered art of all time.
My college professor Dr. Kraft. His Art Appreciation class helped to shape my adult life by showing me how art intersects faith. His own paintings, and sculptures were visually stunning while simultaneously pointing to the Gospel. Still, he too struggled with depression, and sometimes wouldn’t leave his bed for days.
And then there is Michael Girard Knott. As an early pioneer of “Christian Alternative’s” 1st wave, his music has influenced countless of aspiring musicians. His catalouge of work is as vast as it is unique. His paintings are vibrant, colorful, and rife with deep meaning. They inhabit the covers of some of Christian music’s most loved records. However, it is no secret that Mike has struggled with alcoholism for years.
Allow me if you will, to theorize. You see, I think that these REAL artists live and experience the world on a level most of us can’t understand. The powerful drives, and emotions that enable them to express themselves artistically are the same overpowering feelings that drive them into vice and emotional turmoil. They create because they have to, using artistic expression in an attempt to make sense of, or process the rush of stimuli that swirls around them. It’s almost as if their artistic gift is both a blessing, and a curse.
It’s my heartfelt opinion that L.S.U.’s 1994 release of Grace Shaker is the result of one man’s painful struggle to “work out his own salvation,” or deal with his outside “stimuli.” At times it’s ugly and hard to look at, but those moments are artfully balanced with tender glimpses of God’s grace, hope, and the unspeakable joy that comes in understanding that in spite of all our failures, Jesus offers freedom through forgiveness.
The opening track “Double”, is awkward, and uncomfortable, made so by the tragic mishaps that befall a man in the midst of a weekend bender. Steve Hindalong’s (The Choir) use of household items as background percussion is a stroke of brilliance, blending perfectly with Knott’s anguished vocals and gentle, stumbling, acoustic guitar lines.
“Kill Will” is a track where we find Mike dealing with the temptation of infidelity, made worse by the effects of alcohol.The following lines of the chorus drip with desperation, and come across as an anxious prayer for strength to resist “…Kill Will, he’s got a mind of his own, Kill Will…” The crunchy, almost dirty guitar distortion enhances the feeling of anxiety in the lyrics, and I can totally relate to Mike’s struggle here. As a married man, the battle to remain faithful is at times difficult, whether it’s a female friend, co-worker, or the seductive lure of porn, I too have found myself whispering the same desperate prayer for help. “Kill Will dear Jesus, Kill Will”. If you’re a man and you say you can’t identify with this issue, I suspect you’re lying.
Additional tracks “Thinkin”, “Bad Disease”, and “Gift Taker” all deal with Mike’s inner turmoil, and life battles with brutal honesty. What makes this record so beautiful is that in spite of all the ugliness, and vulnerability there seems to be resolution and healing that takes place as well.
“Blame” is written from the perspective of Jesus, and is a touching reminder of Christ’s willingness to be our substitute. Taking upon himself the full punishment and blame for our sin.
“Grace” is a simple reminder that our works can’t save us.
“Freedom” is an anthem of victory, a detailed depiction of Christ’s death and how the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf gives us ultimate freedom from all that ensnares us.
The last track “Christ Saves” is declarative and final. It is the fitting exclamation point on all the pain, brokenness, joy, and sadness explored in the previous songs.
Grace Shaker was arguably the best work Mike Knott produced in the 90’s. It’s raw honesty and vulnerability puts it in rare company with Undercover’s Branded and Commen Children’s Delicate Fade. These records laid bare the brokenness and pain of the artists that produced them. They held nothing back, the sin, the mess that is humanity, the hope found in Christ. L.S.U. Grace Shaker is without a doubt a 90’s Christian Album you must OWN.
(Post #4 of #5 regarding this topic. Click here for more.)
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