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Stephen Lawhead & Hero - The Rock Opera

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It used to be that my favorite author, bar none, was the Christian author Stephen Lawhead. The first book of his I read was Arthur, in the Pendragon Cycle, and that's to this day one of my favorite books. That entire series was great, with powerful characters, a compelling plot, and some truely beatuitful language (the introduction to Arthur, in particular, is seared into my mind as one of my favorite passages in literarure.) The same goes for his Song of Albion series. And his greatest book, Byzantium, took the messege of his books to another level in its treatment of the monk's struggle with his faith.

But I can hardly keep myself interested in anything he wrote after Byzantium. His Celtic Crusades books utterly failed to grab my interest, as did his newest book, Patrick.

So has anyone else seen a decline in Lawhead's writing, or am I just getting more critical as I am getting older? The gap between my reading Byzantium and The Iron Lance was about four years (between my sophmore year in high school and my sophmore year in college). I suppose I should re-read is old stuff to see if it is as good as I remember it being, but I'm still interested in what you all think.

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He is now the author of a comic book series called "!Hero", which is sketched by his son, and is being released simultaneously with the kickoff of the "rock opera", which stars a member of D.C. Talk and a bunch of other CCM stars... along with a soundtrack album.

The whole thing comes across as such a big superficial media event that I have no interest in it whatsoever. It looks "christian art" at its most agenda-driven.

The slogan... "What if he were born in Bethlehem... PENNSYLVANIA...?"

Brace yourself for this.

FWIW, I loved the Pendragon Cycle too... especially Merlin.

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There's some literary precedent for the heroic Christ imagery, especially in the era Lawhead has been mining for his books--ancient Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. That said, from the web-promo, !Hero looks like it will appeal to the LCD without much of the complexity of the medieval roots.

I could be wrong, of course. I'd like to be, because I, too, appreciated the Pendragon cycle, and also the Song of Albion.

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Most art tends to be agenda driven. Let's at least give this a slight chance, at least a release and viewing. Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be well done art. It could take on a Jesus Christ Superstar meets RENT kind of feel.

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FWIW, I read Lawhead's two-part Empyrion saga way back when I was in Bible school -- plus, of course, I read his two books on rock music. But I don't think I have read anything of his since the 1980s. I was never all that into Arthurian stuff, myself.

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Gosh, my first visit to the site, and look what I find!

First, I'll just explain, I was invited to this site by Ron Reed, a frequent poster. I met him in Austria where he was leading a series of seminars. I wasn't just running a search for my name or anything (although I am on Amazon now, that's pretty cool).

Yep, I'm Ross Lawhead, his son, who is also working with him on the !Hero project (don't ask me about the '!'. I don't know). I've done the pencils for the comic and am working with him on the novels right now.

I'll give a brief precis of how the !Hero project came about, based on the understanding that people are interested.

!Hero is the brainchild of Eddie DeGarmo who was one half of the DeGarmo and Key band (another blast from the past?). Since they split up Eddie helped found Forefront records and discovered bands and artists like dcTalk, Audio Adrenaline, Rebecca St James, Stacey Orrico, and all those other guys over there. Four years ago he left to start doing this !Hero project which is an updating of the Gospels into the present day. I only know a little about musicals, but I've never heard anything like it. I've never seen Rent, but I would describe it as Jesus Christ Superstar meets 8 Mile-- it's got the themes of the former and the feel of the later (and yes, a resurrection at the end).

My dad and I got involved about two years ago to create some comic books to promote it (Hero... Superhero... comics... get it?) to be handed out at festivals but we've also bundled them together to be sold. They must have liked what we did because we've been asked to write 3 novels based on the same story (but expanding it obviously). And that is what we are working on now. This will all hit the local Christian bookstore in early September.

It's understandable to get a LCD vibe off of this, as that's sort of what we want. We want it to be accessable to every one. You don't have to go to seminary, you don't have to go to church, you don't have to be a Christian to hopefully enjoy it or etsomething out of it.

And it's not a way to make a quick buck. All of us involved, Eddie, my dad, and the other artists, as well as myself have always been about quality within (and without) the Christian Industry (does CI sound scary to anyone else?). Although we may miss the goal (I don't think we will), that's where our hearts are.

But don't take my word for it. Ron's heard samples of the music, seen the comic, and helped dramatise a reading from the novel. Ask him what he thinks!

As for SRL's latest books-- I'm sorry but I'll surprise no one by towing the family line-- but if anything I think he's become a lot more edgy as he's become older. There's more sex and violence in the first four chapters of Patrick than there was in his first four books. And the sacking of Jerusalem in Iron Lance? Come on! But that's me, I'm biased.

Okay, sorry for the long post, but it seemed appropriate that I reply. I'd be happy to start or reply to a new thread about !hero if people are interested.

Ross

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Welcome to the list, Ross!!

Nice to meet you. Your last name always brings back fond memories of when my high school girlfriend and I read the Pendragon series aloud to each other. It inspired me to eventually write my senior project at Seattle Pacific University, a novel about a Merlin scholar. The whole idea came out of being rather intoxicated with Merlin, which is my favorite SRL book (that I've read.)

As has happened so many times before, I've posted something that I quickly regretted because of just how small the world is via the Internet. But I gotta be honest... it's not the artwork or the premise, but just the sheer blaring onslaught of !Hero stuff that kinda turned me off to it.

However... anything recommended by the esteemed Mr. Reed captures my attention, and so I will swallow my rash judgment and re-approach

!Hero.

I will also admit to being somewhat wary of any modern-day Christ tale, just because it has been done poorly, unfortunately, so many times in the past. Can you tell us what is compelling to you about this re-casting of the Christ story?

Stick around. I'd love to hear (read?) your thoughts on some of the other threads going on right now.

Jeffrey

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Hi, Ross, and welcome! I would LOVE to get my name on Amazon some day. Congratulations! smile.gif

FWIW, I've heard enough about Forefront and its roster of artists to be skeptical of any artistic endeavour that began with Eddie DeGarmo, but that's just me. (Was it your dad who gave an early D&K album a really bad review in Campus Life way, way back when?)

Also FWIW, I just remembered that I have read one other (non-fiction) book of your dad's, called Turn Back the Night, which was sort of like his rock-and-roll books, but more about pop culture in general. I was 14 when I read it, more-or-less back-to-back with Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity, and the two books combined had a big influence on me -- Schaeffer coming at the arts from the producers' end of things, and your dad coming at the arts from the consumers' end of things. In fact, I quoted your dad's book in my review of the re-issued Exorcist a few years ago.

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Peter:

Was it your dad who gave an early D&K album a really bad review in Campus Life way, way back when?

Isn't this the sort of thing that normal people forget? Goodness gracious! If my writing career ever takes off, I certainly hope there won't be anyone pointing out my old music reviews!

I'm half joking and half serious, I can't decide which...

But, to the topic at hand...

I loved the first three books of the Pendragon Cycle, the Song of Albion Trilogy and I agree with solishu about Byzantium being his best book. Everything else, truth be told, has failed to impress me (you don't have to mention that to your dad Ross -- welcome!), although I think I own everything but Avalon.

As far as !Hero goes, can I ask how much of a non-Christian audience this thing will get? I've only seen it advertised (heavily) in, to borrow your scary term, the CI.

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Yeah, the thing that Eddie always kept trying to tell us was to 'be edgy'. To really push the envelop. When we were starting the comics he said that he wanted kids to pick them up and think 'cool', and then their parents to pick it up... and not be sure what to think. He doesn't want a soft approach to the gospels, he wants a very hard one. He's inviting controversy where he can in an attempt, as he keeps saying, just to get people talking about the gospels again.

For instance, our Jesus is black. But does his skin colour matter? It will be interesting to see if people are shocked. I don't see why, but then you never know. In the comics, there are drive-by shootings, and a particularly grisly beating to death. In the books we have terrorist attacks and mass killings (to reflect the time and politics that Jesus lived in). You should have seen the list of swear words we took out for the Christian Market (the publishers could actually factor in the percentage loss of sales in the CM, but they were willing to leave them in if we thought they were important. We did struggle a little on it, but they came out. My dad's latest book, Patrick, was actually recalled by the Christian publisher because they got too many (probably four) people writing in to complain. Don't get me started.)

So that's the approach. It seems to be different to a lot of things I see in the Christian Market. We're definitely out to make waves.

But you're right to be critical and even cynical of this. It's kind of reassuring for me actually, because I know that I would be cynical of anything with this much publicity (some of it seemingly contrived). And you could be justified in all of your expectations. Time will tell.

Sorry you've had bad experiences with Eddie's projects. I kind of like all those forefront guys. AA's new album rocked. And yes, it's very likely that my dad gave D&K a bad review in Campus Life magazine. It was probably only fair... since he was managing them at the time. That's where this connection all stems from.

I'd like to do more movie posts but I'm in Austria at the moment and we're a bit behind schedule. Matrix:Reloaded opens today for three nights. It's all in german too, and I don't speak german.

Ross

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Darryl--

It will be interesting to see how much we get. Probably not a lot. As far as the books are concerned, the publisher is consciously taking a Left Behind approach. That is, conquer the Christian Market first, and that will make the 'Secular Market' (I hate that term) take interest.

That's why the bad words had to come out of the books. (wah!)

As for everything else, we'll see. I understand we've been getting some press in the general market already from some top news magazines which are intrigued just by the concept (which you're all right, is not original to us). But I think we'd also be happy to give the Christian kids a thrill. I know people who think that's all we'll do, and I'm happy with that. If they can say to their friends "Hey, here's something that's got the bibel in it that doesn't suck," then I can live with that. That's all I want to do: create something that doesn't suck.

Man all this talk about Christian Industry and Market... has anyone seen the book Against Christianity by Peter Leithart published by Canon Press? I've started into it and it says some very provocative things. I think he's mostly right most of the time.

Ross

RL

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: Isn't this the sort of thing that normal people forget?

Do normal people read back issues of Campus Life? smile.gif (Well, maybe they do, when they're stuck in a tiny Bible school out in the middle of nowhere in the prairies...) ISTR hearing that there was a mini-scandal over this, because the D&K album got only one-and-a-half stars while Elton John got, like, three or four -- something like that. It was one of those how-can-you-say-secular-music-is-better-than-Christian-music things.

Ross Lawhead wrote:

: Yeah, the thing that Eddie always kept trying to tell us was to 'be edgy'.

: To really push the envelop. When we were starting the comics he said

: that he wanted kids to pick them up and think 'cool', and then their

: parents to pick it up... and not be sure what to think. He doesn't want a

: soft approach to the gospels, he wants a very hard one. He's inviting

: controversy where he can in an attempt, as he keeps saying, just to get

: people talking about the gospels again. . . . Sorry you've had bad

: experiences with Eddie's projects. I kind of like all those forefront guys.

Well, I can't say I've had much in the way of "experiences" with Eddie's projects, one way or the other, but my impression of Forefront, based on the few albums I did hear and the articles I read, was that Forefront would shamelessly ape whatever was hip and trendy in an attempt to, as you put it, be "edgy", etc. It's a good marketing strategy, I guess, but it doesn't necessarily make for good art; at the very least, there seems to be an element of utilitarianism there.

: And yes, it's very likely that my dad gave D&K a bad review in Campus

: Life magazine. It was probably only fair... since he was managing them

: at the time. That's where this connection all stems from.

!!! There's something almost Citizen Kane about that. smile.gif

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Peter--

That sounds fair. I wonder if it's sometimes a chicken and egg thing. Is a Britney clone popular because a record company says so, or are they popular because people want a christian Britney? Is it therefore the people's fault for wanting it, the company's fault for supplying it, or all of the above.

Yeah, I hate utilitarianism though. My normal instinct is to say screw the money, take a stand for good art and God, and take the punches if they come. The need of money does seem to be an incurable side-effect to living though at the moment. Alas.

I do balk at the endless cloning that takes place in movies and music though.

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Is it therefore the people's fault for wanting it, the company's fault for supplying it, or all of the above.

My vote is for 'all of the above:' part a), because believers are ironically imitating the world they're so arduously striving to separate themselves from; part cool.gif, because the companies are placing the almighty buck above aesthetic values, while catering to the aforementioned LCD.

On that note, welcome, Ross! :monalisa:

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Hey Ross, Welcome! I wonder if any other Mittersillians (Mittersillies?) are lurking out there. I know I leaned pretty hard on Mike Wallbridge to check this place out, with his love of movies and so on. (Is he still around the Schloss? Say "hi" for me if you cross paths, alright?)

I've just gotten back from a week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, co-teaching a Regent College course with Loren Wilkinson. Extraordinary experience, to be sure; A Midsummer Night's Dream, August Wilson's Piano Lesson, Richard II, Romeo & Juliet and Hedda Gabbler.

About Hero, what to say? It was an absolute blast reading the role of the washed-up hippy character who talks about "Washer John" (an excerpt from the upcoming novel, I believe) - and I was very impressed how it came off the page, how playable it was.

As far as the music and the comic are concerned, I'm no judge. There was a woman's vocal on one of the music tracks that was extraordinary, that I remember: but the music isn't a genre that I listen to, so I wouldn't want to say more than that. And I'm not a comic reader (where many board members are, or have been), so what can I say about that? I have no doubt in my mind that Stephen and Ross are coming at the thing with complete integrity (regardless of whether or not they're being paid for it), and I couldn't help but think that this comic book renders the gospel into a language that a lot of kids speak. I wouldn't expect to find it a subtly nuanced exploration of the vicissitudes of human experience that will find a lasting place on my short list of profound spiritual artistic experiences. But I bet it's going to find its way into the hands of a whole generation of kids whose expectations of the Jesus story will be blown apart - some church kids who will get a vision for a more radical gospel than they heard in Sunday School, some street kids who will identify with this God who becomes like them.

I believe the gospel should be translated into every language on earth. This is an attempt to do that very thing, and I say, God bless it!

Ron

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And to be fair to you Ron, and slightly nitpicky to Mr Overstreet, I never said that you would reccomend it, only that you knew about it.

I think you've got the concept down good. I don't think I could have said better.

Any chance of a comic forum on this site?

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A comic forum is a neat idea, Ross. On my yearly trips to Quebec, I'm blown away by the comic book selection found in regular bookstores -- I'd love to learn more about what's out there.

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Belated - Welcome Ross - Excellent to have you here!! The perspective of one who is actually submerged in the industry, and conflict therein (i.e. Christian art, good art, business, pop culture, mass marketing, blah, blah blah), is truly needed here. Most are mere observers and while there is a necessary place for us it is a bit easier to be on the outside looking in.

Ross:

For instance, our Jesus is black. But does his skin colour matter?

This is a bit disheartening for me. A black Jesus seems so tolerantly pop culture and it disappoints me. I have nothing against other communities of peoples but Jesus wasn

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Thanks Asher. Yeah, I was at CBA this year and really felt in the thick of it.

Actually, what we've discovered writing the books is that we simply can't seperate Jesus from his Jewish roots so we have a little African American/Jewish thing going on (of which there is actually a communitiy of in New York), so theres something to look forward to.

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Another welcome, Ross! Nice to have a creator of art help inform our criticism of it, if you know what I mean.

Recently attended the massive Christian Booksellers Association convention in Florida, and !Hero did create a pretty good buzz. In fact, the !Hero concert featuring Tait, Toby Mac and Rebecca St James had everyone talking the next day.

I share many of the concerns already mentioned about the ridiculous efforts to offer a 'Christian version' of a popular trend. However, there is often a well-intentioned effort to contend for 'market share' that can be important, in other words, not to leave rap or country or hip hop to the sex-and-violence crowd. Often it's parents who are wanting to offer a healthy alternative to a negative product. No different than the Cosby Show on NBC leading to Growing Pains on ABC, or Pepsi's upcoming launch of Pepsi Vanilla.

When Elvis rocked, it was other "secular" musicians who copied him... and we called it the birth of a genre. When Christian musicians started playing rock and roll, we called it -- okay, that's another discussion, but you get my idea.

I know it often leads to poor art, and I'm not defending that; methinks we should judge art, yes, but not pre-judge it.

Tim

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Hey Ross, Welcome!  I wonder if any other Mittersillians (Mittersillies?) are lurking out there.  

Well, I was invited, Ron, but I didn't end up going. My hope was that the Mittersill week would coincide with the end of the recent Irish tour of A Most Notorious Woman, but our touring schedule changed and it became impossible to connect the two. So I am still a Mittersillian wannabe.

(Well, I've provided enough information for Ron to figure out who I am. Wonder if anyone else knows? Peter? Jeff?)

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Hey Ross, Welcome! I wonder if any other Mittersillians (Mittersillies?) are lurking out there.

Well, I was invited, Ron, but I didn't end up going. My hope was that the Mittersill week would coincide with the end of the recent Irish tour of A Most Notorious Woman, ...

Oh my gosh! I neglected this thread - indeed, the whole "Lit" neighbourhood - and look what happened while I was away! Greetings, Martin. "Mr Mando" indeed - not to mention "Sir Fiddle"?...

Congratulations on the AMNW CD! Haven't ordered myself a copy yet, but most certainly will be getting round to it before too long. Have you posted that over on the music boards? You definitely should: I think Andrew, for one, might be very interested - he's got something of a folk orientation.

Anyhow, welcome - as belated as that is. (Ah, it all begins to fit. You mentioned Ashland. It's all coming together....)

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Oh my gosh! I neglected this thread - indeed, the whole "Lit" neighbourhood - and look what happened while I was away! Greetings, Martin. "Mr Mando" indeed - not to mention "Sir Fiddle"?...

Well, we've completely hijacked this thread, but it's nice to be recognized. I did post something about my CD over in the Music section.

Busy month for me -- I've just been cast in my wife's new play. (This decision was up to the director, not the playwright, so stuff those cries of nepotism back down your throats.) Ron, is there any chance you'll be in Seattle the last weekend of October?

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