I still get email about my days playing in Calibretto (13). Fans of the Christian band I started back when I was a teenager will write me every few weeks inquiring about my beliefs. Many of them just want to know “What happened to you?” I just received this email the other day and thought some very good questions were asked. I was granted the writer’s permission to publish it on my blog and am hoping it will shed some light for anyone else who may care:
Do I call you Pappy or Mr. Whiteford or what?
I'm not sure how to introduce myself, and I might ramble a bit, but there is a question (5 questions) here if you're patient - I realize email isn't exactly a patient sort of medium. Calibretto 13 was one of my favorite bands. Remember how you used to say "punk is dead?" I never believed you, because C13 existed - but then when you guys broke up I felt like that was the final nail in the coffin so to speak. That probably sounds ridiculous and musically naive, but my thinking was C13 was the last really counter culture thing going, and that's what punk was about. Most punk now days is indistinguishable from pop - it's been absorbed. Whereas you guys were, to my mind, more like prophets - calling the church out on all it's shortcomings - spurring Christians on to act like Christ. Who else is doing that? But, that's all really neither here nor there, just what I was thinking all those years ago. I drove from Omaha to KC to see your last tour, and I wanted to talk to you then, but I didn't see you hanging around after the show.
So, then, I followed your post Calibretto career kind of at a distance. I check your myspace a couple times a year. I had a few long conversations with friends about you (which is probably odd to hear). I debated writing you - I wondered how much a Christian artist owes an audience, as far as explanation, even after they've moved on or "outgrown Christianity" (to quote your blog). They assured me that an artist never owes anyone anything, that never sat quite right with me, but I hesitated to write and ask your opinion on it.
I dug back into the Calibretto records, listened more intently for lyrical themes. The sex, God, monsters, gore, was always lingering from the beginning. So, it seems that with Harley Poe not much had changed. But, on the other hand - obviously there's been a change right? I mean "stick it in the man" is just as anthemic as "Fall away" but - well you wrote them, I don't need to spell out how the perception of the two is different do I?
Right - so why am I writing this? Like I said, I've kept pace with you - scouring google for interviews, but I've never come across any sort of definitive statement from you about your art, your philosophy so to speak. I tried to do a study on the compatibility between Christian thought and horror and gore - but I don't hold the passion for the latter that you obviously do, so I never came up with anything. Maybe Flannery O Connor would have something to say on the subject? I didn't want to assume that just because you swore or used horrific imagery that you quit loving Jesus - and I still don't. So, finally I came across your blog this evening. And clear back in April you wrote about your new album, but you included a bit of biography. It was the closest I've seen to what I've been looking for - and you (perhaps foolishly if you've seen many emails like this one) invited questions at the end. One brave soul commented on your blog mentioning Calibretto and faith, and you seemed open to it, mentioned possibly blogging about it in the future, so I took up the keyboard and composed this email - to satisfy my own curiosity I guess.
So here's a short list of questions -
--Do you find Christianity and horror compatible in any way?
MY ANSWER: First of all, my fondest memories come from watching horror films as a child. I grew up with a love for monsters and staying up late watching movies that scared the shit out of me. Maybe I’m just holding on to my childhood, or maybe I just have some innate love for weird and dark entertainment. This could also help explain why I’ve always been such a horny little bastard. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, horror films; they go together. So, maybe in this sense, Christianity and horror business are not compatible. According to Christian belief, God will have nothing to do with what the horror genre stands for. Most horror films are loaded with deviant content such as sexual perversion, murder, rape, and supernatural entities other than the Christian God. These elements appeal to the nature of the flesh, our true carnal nature. These elements from a fictional standpoint appeal to me. When I became a Christian I dismissed my love for the horror genre, because I felt it wasn’t compatible with my then new belief system.
Looking at it another way, horror is a study of humanity’s fear of death and the unknown. It can be cathartic, just like Christianity, or any religion for that matter. Religion is a way for mankind to deal with the fear and inevitability of death. That’s ultimately what horror is; the fear of being killed. Whether it’s because of a cheesy monster, zombies, or a random stranger, the fear comes from the protagonist losing his/her life. Everyone is afraid of dying. Christianity is an answer to that fear, whether it’s true or not.
I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job conveying what I’m thinking, other than I do think they are compatible only because Christianity and horror both deal with mankind’s fear of death and the unknown. Religion makes people feel good about their mortality, whereas the genre of horror just makes one aware of his/her mortality.
--In your explanation of "Stick it in the man" you mention being in God's will. Can you expand on what you mean by that, and what that looks like in your life now? Has that phrase changed meaning for you from your time with Calibretto?
MY ANSWER: That phrase definitely has a different meaning now than it did when I was a Christian writing songs for Calibretto (13). To be in God’s will to me was to believe Jesus was his son and that he died for our sins, and the Christian bible was God’s rule book. I no longer lean toward those beliefs; however, I do believe I’m continuing on the path meant for me, whether it’s wrong or right depending on decisions I make that may or may not bring fulfillment and a clean conscience. I would not be where I am now if not for my beliefs in the past. I pray to the Creator. I don’t pretend to know His character. I can’t believe through faith alone that the answer is as simple as Christianity. God might be more complex than Christianity.
--Do you see your musical career and your other art as well, as being on the same trajectory? I mentioned themes earlier - do you see common themes across all your work - is any of that intentional? Or, do you see Harley Poe as a complete departure from everything in the past (and yes, I realize that Harley Poe isn't exactly "new" either - I just haven't ever seen you answer this question in public)
MY ANSWER: There is no departure, no falling away or turning around. My art and music, whether it’s Calibretto or Harley Poe are all part of the same path. They all come from this heart and this mind. Ideas and beliefs may become altered throughout the course of my life, depending on my focus and the circumstances I’m forced to deal with throughout, but it is all growth. That’s why I mentioned outgrowing Christianity. New ideas and experiences lead me to new places. The more I experience and attempt to understand—the more I step out of myself—the more difficult it becomes to hold onto the same beliefs. It’s kind of like opening Pandora’s Box; I’d rather know for sure about something than just leave it alone, even if it destroys my former beliefs, even if it takes away my peace. I’ve left the four walls of Christianity, but I continue the same path that I’ve always been on; the path for which I am destined.
Again, I’m probably not making sense.
--If you do see your art as linear - where do you see it going from here - if not, disregard.
MY ANSWER: We shall see. I am very anxious.
--Last one - You had so much to say to Christians when you were a Christian, would you have anything to say to them now? Particularly those who were fans but are confused or alarmed by your current work.
MY ANSWER: It bothers me knowing that I’ve let down many fans. My intentions were never to disappoint or confuse anyone. I had a strong desire in what I believed. I had something to say (because I always have something to bitch about), and the best way to vent was through my music. My desire was to preach the Gospel and God’s message through my music because that’s where I was at that time in my life. I’m not a hypocrite. When my feelings changed, I left the scene. I didn’t feel right about playing those songs; I wasn’t sure I believed that message. I can’t stop playing music, because it’s just in me. I’ll probably never stop, no matter what beliefs I adhere to. Believe what you want to believe. If what you believe is true, then it really doesn’t matter what I’ve done or am doing. I don’t apologize for challenging myself and changing my mind. I don’t apologize for causing others to challenge their beliefs. I’m glad my actions have stirred things up with those who are listening. Follow your own heart. Seek the truth and don’t put your faith in me. Test everything. Don’t be a bigot. Open your mind.