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N.K. Carter

Jennifer Knapp

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So lately I've been listening through the all-too-brief three-album career of Jennifer Knapp, former reluctant queen of Christian rock, and I find myself cursing the six years of silence we've endured since The Way I Am was released in 2001 and she went on a sprawling, indefinite hiatus in 2002.

First, some history: I came to the Church fairly late-- and very slowly-- in my public school career, so I always regarded CCM with a sort of shoulder-shrugging bemusement. For my friends, who'd had their ealiest musical tastes shaped by it, CCM was a joy well worth celebrating, but I can't say I really understood the appeal. I remember, at one point, turning on the local Christian radio station in my car, since that seemed the good Christian thing to do, and a couple cumulative hours of schmaltz later, tuning a few notches back up to NPR and being done with it. Praise-band-led worship music was fine with me in the context of worship, but little of it left me hungering form more, musically speaking.

That said, I was always willing to skim off the top of the phenomenon when something really struck me, and I owe to that crowd a long-term love/hate relationship with Jars of Clay, the guilty pleasure of Relient K, and a devotion to fringe acts like mewithoutYou.

And then there's Jennifer Knapp.

We used to play a version of "A Little More" in the youth praise band, and it was far and away one of the best things on our repetoire. So, in a moment of dorm-room nostalgia my first year of college, I found it on iTunes and downloaded it. I'd always been somehow aware of Knapp-- my girlfriend at the time was a fan-- but I don't guess I'd ever really listened to her, because it wasn't until that moment in my dorm room that I really noticed that voice, a rich treasure unearthed from the roughest soil of Kansas.

Oh, how I've come to love that voice. She knew exactly what she was doing when she opened her first album with a tangle of echoes to whet the anticipation, and then broke through it, one lonely voice, at once full of youthful passion and a heavy, aching maturity. That voice was her secret weapon; even at her most generic, lyric-wise, she could earn pathos with the way she weighted even a phrase as simple as "You're my God and my father; I've accepted your son," or "Let the words of my mouth adore you" with all the attendent hesitancy or longing. And if she was never as good articulating her joys as she was her confessions, she could, and often would, end her choruses with a passionate twisting of a single syllable that articulated her love as well as any psalm.

It's not as if she was necessarily more sincere than her CCM songstress contemporaries, but music is necessarily a matter of performance. Just as what an actor actually believes has less bearing than his talent as to whether we respond to his performance, so too a voice like Knapp's sounds sincere, like it actually bears the weight of her convictions. And that's what allowed her take even the most familiar bits of scriptural imagery and successfully integrate them into the immediacy of her own brand of folk rock; some of her lines sound positively archaic in phrasing, but she never let them feel irrelevant.

Not that she always needed the voice to do it; even from the beginning, she had a grace with language such that she could integrate her scriptural allusions seamlessly, and usually pull out the unexpected rhyme while doing so. Lines like "There are ghosts from my past who've owned more of my soul than I thought I had given away; they linger in closets and under my bed and in pictures less proudly displayed" would be striking in its grounding of the spiritual in the physical no matter who was singing. The whole of that song, "Martyrs and Thieves," could proudly join the ranks of the greatest spiritual anthems.

And she only got better as time wore on; by the time her final album, The Way I Am, was released, she'd learned to say more with less, stringing together striking images and confessions with a lithe tongue. "Judge me not, ye saints, for my history may be tainted, but I'm sober enough to know blood when I see it," she sings in "Fall Down," and it's as haunting as anything Neko Case has written.

More and more, I'm finding hidden depths in that album: the terse meditation on the Incarnation and its joys and pains in "Breathe on Me;" the heartbreaking clarity of "In Two (The Lament)" and its chilling self-evaluation; the tension between the splendor of the universe and its often heartless mystery in "Around Me;" and the title track, which approaches the fallen condition with a rage and desperation that makes it the musical embodiment of garment-ripping, teeth-knashing, and ash covering all at once. Perhaps it's overproduced, and perhaps it could have used a little more of the simple "girl with a guitar" presence Knapp was best at, but there's a depth to the proceedings, a genuine story of struggle and triumph, delivered with that curious mixture of strength and weariness that characterizes years of experience. It could have signaled a whole new level to her career.

It could have.

Every few months, I still type her name into google and turn up the usual results, always holding out a little hope that there's news --or at least whispers and rumors-- that she'll come back to the ether, if not to Gotee, which has already fulfilled her contract with a collection and a live album, then in any form or fashion she chooses. She didn't go out with the crash of a band break-up or a terrifying spiral downwards, which might at least provide a little closure; she disappeared out of the air like a bird behind a cloud-- at the height its flight.

I suspect the reality here is that I'm going to have learn to accept that this is often the way of things, that people come and go, provide what they can and then are called elsewhere. Some artists we have the privelege of a lifetime relationship with; some are as wonderful and haunting as a benevolent stranger. I suspect Knapp is the latter; I still hope she's the former.

Edited by N.K. Carter

Nathaniel K. Carter

www.nkcarter.com

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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I love the first two CDs, but The Way I Am was a wailing, undisciplined album that most Christian music critics mistook for a work of deep integrity.

I've listened to it several times over the years, just to be sure I'm right and everyone else is wrong. I'm happy to report that my opinion still holds. :)

Seriously, I do love those first two CDs. The scenario that those were studio-driven products that don't reflect the "real" Jennifer disturbs me, because, if true, that means that sometimes studio-driven product really is more affecting than more "personal" recordings.

I don't wish her ill. I, too, wonder what has become of her. The Christian music station still plays "All Creatures of Our God and King/Sing Hallelujah," featuring Knapp and Mac Powell, in heavy rotation -- the one song from that station I can stomach on a regular basis.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Seriously, I do love those first two CDs. The scenario that those were studio-driven products that don't reflect the "real" Jennifer disturbs me, because, if true, that means that sometimes studio-driven product really is more affecting than more "personal" recordings.

I didn't mean to imply any of that, if that's where you got that scenario. I love those first two albums a great deal, and I don't think they're studio-driven; I just think that, especially lyrically, The Way I Am shows that she was naturally maturing as a songwriter with time and writing from a place of more experience. The production doesn't bother me as much as it does some people, though I could do without some of the drum loops and sparkles. But I think it was only natural that, with new toys at her disposal, she overdid it a little, and a theoretical fourth album could have taken that experimentation and put it to more disciplined use.

"Wailing," though, doesn't bother me. I could listen to her wail all day long.


Nathaniel K. Carter

www.nkcarter.com

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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No, N.K., it wasn't you who voiced that theory. IIRC, it was part of the PR push for "The Way I Am" -- you know, the I'll-never-be-a-pawn-of-the-industry-now-that-I've-had-some-success line that artists use, usually with justification, when they've proven themselves as commercially viable and can finally call more of the shots on a record.

I once moderated a chat with Jennifer for Crosswalk, and we broke every chat record to that date -- number of questions, number of visitors, etc. Let's just say she had a very dedicated fan base.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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IIRC, it was part of the PR puch for "The Way I Am" -- you know, the I'll-never-be-a-pawn-of-the-industry-now-that-I've-had-some-success line that artists use, usually with justification, when they've proven themselves as commercially viable and can finally call more of the shots on a record.

Interesting. I wasn't paying any attention to Knapp when the album was released, so I had no real sense of that. I'm curious, how do you mean"PR push?" I can't imagine the record company pushing the album by saying "we screwed with the last two," so was it something Jennifer was prone to saying in interviews? I guess I can see where the album is less traditional in a CCM sense-- "In Two" really surprised me when I first heard it-- but I'd have a hard time finding record company fingerprints on the other two albums.


Nathaniel K. Carter

www.nkcarter.com

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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I suspect the reality here is that I'm going to have learn to accept that this is often the way of things, that people come and go, provide what they can and then are called elsewhere. Some artists we have the privelege of a lifetime relationship with; some are as wonderful and haunting as a benevolent stranger.
Sadly, this is the rule with probably 98% of christian artists in that market, even the ones with reasonably large fan bases. Even for those who've "made it" with songs charting on christian radio, youth groups singing your tunes and church gigs drawing 500 on a friday night, the money still isn't great. Add to that the pressures of touring, being away from family, etc... Jennifer Knapp would never have sold as many albums as MW Smith, or SCC -- enough to enjoy a "comfortable" living by Nashville standards--and at some point I would guess she realized this and opted to settle down and have a family. Just a hunch.


"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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She's back, according to what she's posted on her website. At least she got to do some travelling and sampling of fine cuisine during her time away

She has a new song posted on her MySpace page that sounds pretty good. I'm hoping to hear more good things from her.

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The Hotel Cafe is practically in my backyard, so I was honestly giddy when I saw here she was back and discovered she was doing her first show there. There are days when LA doesn't suck, despite traffic, pollution, crap public transportation, poor city planning, deep poverty, and skyrocketing unemployment. Anyway, I wrote it up, news-style, for practice, I guess:

Jennifer Knapp made her quiet return to the stage this past Thursday at Hollywood's famous Hotel Caf


Nathaniel K. Carter

www.nkcarter.com

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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Great tune. "Letting Go"

Kinda wish it would've gone longer though.

Digging on "Mr. Gray" as well.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I got the new Knapp album today, and I'm happy to report that it's a very worthy comeback-- she certainly isn't rusty, as a singer or a songwriter, seven-year hiatus be damned. It's a well-played and well-produced set, and a few songs find her rocking harder and more aggressively than she ever has before. I can't comment on the lyrics yet, but she certainly brings the hooks. I expect this one will go over quite well with her fans and with the Christian press alike.


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Leading with the lyric "I know they'll bury me before they hear the whole story" is pretty brilliant.

The CT interview is just great.

"My concerts right now include the ultra-conservative hand raisers that are going to make this bar their worship zone. And there's a guy over on the left having one too many, and there's a gay couple over on the right. That's my dream scenario."

"It's not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I've experienced that in my life through Christianity."

Good for her.

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Fascinating how the one interviewer (the Christian one) tries to get Knapp to admit that she's angry, while the other interviewer (the gay one) mentions in passing that Knapp says she plays the song in question "when I get angry".

Hadn't realized that Knapp was involved in the early career of Katy Hudson aka Katy Perry.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Reuters wrote:

: No other singer of Knapp's renown in the Christian music genre is openly gay.

Define "renown". We already have a thread devoted to Ray Boltz (which also includes an interesting aside on Clay Aiken, for whatever that's worth).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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April 29 Seattle concert has been canceled ... bummer ...

Hadn't realized that Knapp was involved in the early career of Katy Hudson aka Katy Perry.

Ah, so she does have something to be ashamed of.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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First thought: Good for her!!!

Second thought: If you want to know how this is going to turn out for her professionally, go ask Ray Boltz who now works at a Best Buy in South FL.


"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Greg P wrote:

: Second thought: If you want to know how this is going to turn out for her professionally, go ask Ray Boltz who now works at a Best Buy in South FL.

Wow, that's sad. But would Knapp necessarily have to meet the same fate? I know nothing about Boltz or Knapp music-wise, but the IMPRESSION I get is that their styles are very different, and that Boltz's popularity hinged to a greater degree on aiming his music straight down the CCM middle. Lose the CCM market, in other words, and you lose your career, in Boltz's case. But Knapp? If she was already playing the Lilith Fair back in her CCM heyday, then presumably her music might have appeal outside of the CCM world.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Greg P wrote:

: Second thought: If you want to know how this is going to turn out for her professionally, go ask Ray Boltz who now works at a Best Buy in South FL.

Wow, that's sad. But would Knapp necessarily have to meet the same fate? I know nothing about Boltz or Knapp music-wise, but the IMPRESSION I get is that their styles are very different, and that Boltz's popularity hinged to a greater degree on aiming his music straight down the CCM middle. Lose the CCM market, in other words, and you lose your career, in Boltz's case. But Knapp? If she was already playing the Lilith Fair back in her CCM heyday, then presumably her music might have appeal outside of the CCM world.

The fact that she's touring with Derek Webb suggests that she could find an audience that embraces Christian iconoclasts.

Let's not forget that a huge gospel star, Tonex, came out earlier this year also. It's a different situation, but it will be interesting to see if the discourse around each of these stories will be similar or not.

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Peter's right: Knapp's music could be broadly embraced by gay audiences in a way that Boltz's earnest shmaltz never could. Knapp would appeal to fans of Brandi Carlile, Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, etc. Boltz doesn't appeal to fans of, um, I dunno, Rufus Wainwright? Pet Shop Boys? etc.

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I feel for Jennifer Knapp. She's gotten some bad spiritual counsel, and is confused about herself and about God and about how she relates to God through Jesus. That doesn't make her unique among Christians - we are all confused to some degree or another, and we all seek for ways to justify our sin. But however it's happened, she has now taken steps that will be hard to take back, hardening her sin and struggle into an identity and into a lifestyle.

I know that every conservative Christian who scolds her for her lesbianism will harden her conviction and sense of self-righteousness, and every liberal Christian who applauds her will do the same. Only the Holy Spirit, with His sweet mercy and grace, will be able to help. And I trust that He will. I have no reason to believe Knapp has abandoned Jesus, though in her sexual choices she is now enshrining rebellion against His standard in a throne of "love" and "identity." I pray that He shows her the same mercy He's showing to me in my struggles, and that her sojourn in the wilderness is as painless as it can be, until she stops fighting Him and allows Him to be Lord of her sexuality.


In case you were wondering, my name is spelled "Denes House," but it's pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove."

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