On a sunny Orange County afternoon some twelve years ago, I was in a bookstore containing (but of course) a large coffee shop upfront. My purpose in being there was to meet up with one Mike Stand, leader of seminal Christian punk rock group the Altar Boys.

At the time, Stand’s musical career, at least as far as Christian rock was concerned, was decidedly in the rearview mirror. In more recent years he has fronted a rockabilly trio calling itself the Altar Billies. But, at the time we met so I could interview him for my book, we were talking about what had previously transpired.

During our conversation, he mentioned a sixth Altar Boys album. Now, as all fans of the group know, the band released five albums during their tenure. So, what was this mysterious sixth album to which Stand referred? He stated that it was planned to as a follow-up to Forever Mercy, adding how the album had gone so far into production it had been named: No Substitute. However, for various reasons the project was never completed, Stand lamenting that it would’ve been a much better final statement on his band’s career than Forever Mercy.

Whether the Altar Boys can be labeled the first Christian punk band is a matter for musicologists to argue. The band wasn’t a pure punk band; its music is far better described as raw, bareknuckled, hard driving rock ‘n’ roll. Tons of intensity, tons of passion, and an uncompromising lyrical message focused on salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Forever Mercy got away from the band’s musical strength. No Substitute would have been a welcome return to form. Alas, it was doubtless never to see the light of day.

I mention the above because recently Stand, along with the Boys and his boy (his son is helping with the engineering and such), has dusted off the tracks recorded by him for No Substitute, completing the tracks already recorded by using the original vocals and guitars from the 1991 and 1993 sessions as the cornerstone for completing an album even the most devoted Altar Boys fans doubted would ever see the light of day … assuming they knew it existed. There’s a Kickstarter campaign going on right now to finance the whole thing.

I said all that to say this.

As one of the other artists in my book stated, every publicly-placed creative endeavor involves a fair amount of shooting arrows over the horizon. You don’t know where they’re going to land, chances are excellent you’ll never know where they did land, and thus you do not know and will never know if you hit any intended targets. You give it your best shot (no pun intended), and you move on, all the while wondering if it mattered.

Lately I’ve been fighting a nasty streak of ennui plus hopelessness. My employer is going away, taking the store my boss and I worked ridiculously hard on with it. There are few things more frustrating than the failure of others sweeping you up with it when for your part you sweated blood to make your piece of the pie a roaring success. And it was. Now it’s going away. Definitely takes the wind out of your sails.

I’m relatively certain I’ll land another job. I’m quite certain it won’t be as personally and professionally rewarding as this one has been. Hopefully it’ll at least be all right. We shall see.

I think back to the book and wonder: did it make a difference? I did my best to lift up the artists and music I love to the world. Hopefully it made some new fans. Hopefully it reignited someone’s faith. Hopefully that sunny Orange County afternoon, and all the other interviews conducted at different times and places, mattered. I honestly don’t know.

But I’d do it again.

Perhaps one day I’ll find out if I hit anything.

I’m hopeless
Hopeless and tired
Will you give me the sign I’m looking for?
I am mired with the earnest and sight-inspired
Hopeless

Kickstarter campaign is currently underway;  successfully reaching its initial goal in a few days. Objective? Remaster, and for the first time release on vinyl as well as a remastered CD, the 1992 album Dig by Christian alternative rock band Adam Again.

Adam Again was Gene Andrusco’s brainchild. In the days of his youth, Andrusco was an actor, playing Darrin Stephens on Bewitched among other roles. As an adult, Andrusco chose to go by the name Gene Eugene and focused his artistic side on music, be it as an artist (in addition to Adam Again he was also a founding member of The Lost Dogs), producer, or for a time record label owner. He died in 2000 at age 38 from a brain aneurysm.

One of Andrusco’s brothers in musical arms described him as a genius artist and amateur human being. Take from that what you will. Despite his stubborn addiction to being the aforementioned human, Andrusco was universally loved by those he worked alongside no matter how exasperating he could be, which from all reports was substantial. He was far more adept at musical and lyrical expression than personal, hardly a unique trait among artists throughout the centuries.

I’m helpless
Helpless and silent
Can you return my voice?
You left me mute and defiant
But I can’t get my hands untied
I’m helpless

It is well worth noting how uncomfortably parallel the world in which Dig was released, namely the contemporary Christian music world of the early 1990s, and today’s conservative new media world align. At the time Dig first saw the light of day, contemporary Christian music (CCM for short) was populated by a few heavy hitter record labels and artist managers who dictated which artists and musical genres would receive the lion’s share of promotion, with all others left to fend for themselves via word of mouth among a handful of rabid enthusiasts. This is why at a time when alternative rock and grunge ruled the mainstream music world both in attention drawn and records/concert tickets sold, the handful of Christian artists working in this field were privately praised but publicly ignored by CCM’s business side in favor of übersoft praise schmaltz or syrupy Top 40 pseudo dance pop. Adam Again, along with other bands and artists – Daniel Amos, The Choir, 77s, Undercover, Altar Boys, Steve Taylor, Veil of Ashes – who should have been heralded were instead literally and figuratively shoved to the back of the bus, left to fend for themselves. Substitute Salem Media and National Review for record labels and artist managers, and Trump Derangement Syndrome for the music promoted during that time … you get the picture.

I’m useless
Useless without you
It’s my fault
I am withered, I am weak
And about to find out why I’m so into
Being useless

Gene Eugene was a spiritual descendent of Solomon who wearily described all as vanity; of the Psalmists who cried out:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

His was a faith and life of reality, one in which you reached out to people where they were, not where you demanded they be. It is a lesson sadly lost on all fronts in today’s world, especially the one founded on citizen journalism but now choked with the very elitism it once set out to destroy.

youtube http://youtube.com/watch?v=P5V8AWUyApU?rel=0&w=450&h=253