In high school with my first heartbreak, I started writing songs - that's how it usually starts, you know, you write a dozen really horrible songs and either at that point you get better or you quit. I remember about the thirteenth song I wrote, all of a sudden it sounded like a real song and I thought to myself "a ha", this is really the way I express my feelings and I guess this is something that I really can do.
I was really getting into rock 'n' roll, playing in garage bands, just having a great time being a funky rock 'n' roller because I have always expressed my feelings and viewpoints and everything through music. I guess I also was aware in the background the whole time that there was an emptiness about things. It's interesting, you know, I could especially see it in the way people looked up to musicains, it's not only that you entertained them, but they wanted something from you. They wanted some kind of a guidance or a fulfillment and I didn't have it to offer. The fact is that we're all the same. We all have that need for some real answers in our lives and as I found out, God is the one who has the corner on the market. You've got to go to him for the answers but I always had this strange feeling that I was, you know, just rushing towards oblivion.
As I look back on it now, I could see how God really dropped little crumbs in my path and led me into a number of situations that opened my eyes. I met a guy I'd seen on stage a lot of times in my home town - I'm from the West Coast, the bay area near San Francisco in California, and this guy's name was Larry Norman. He was in a very successful rock band that was doing the majority of its work in the late sixties at the height of its popularity. Music especially back then was so exciting 'cos you know, all this rock 'n' roll from England and everything was over and there was so much happening.
I remember seeing this guy and his band called "People". They'd opened up for some of the major groups like the Byrds, the Dave Clark Five, the Mommas and Poppas etc. He was so good and the Lord worked it out for me to meet him. I found out he'd left the band, not because he thought rock 'n' roll was evil, but because he felt like he wanted to do more than just entertain people. He'd been a Christian for a number of years and he said, "Look, rock 'n' roll's fine, it can either be used or misused, it really depends on who's playing it and why." I watched him and his strength about him that I'd never seen before; also he and I hit it off so well because he liked my music and he was a real encouragement to me. He liked what I did and I really respected his art. Just being with him really blew my old stereotypes of religion out of the water, 'cos here was a guy that was living a practical, down to it, day to day relationship with the Lord.
I just came to that point in my own life where I said, well look God, I don't even know if you're there but I know that I care enough about my own life to give you control if you are there. So I just open my heart to you and I admit my need and my funkyness, my sin, I can admit that easy enough because I know myself. So I just confess my sin to you and I ask Jesus as my saviour to come into my life. You know let your Holy Spirit come in.
And that's when I got the major shock of my life because he did and I could feel it, you know; it was interesting you see, because I was taking a lot of drugs and stuff like that in high school and God seemed to know he had to do something dramatic to get my attention. It's really our day to day lives with Him and watching Him deal with our lives that is really important. That's what really counts so, it's not just experiences that count but at that point in my life I needed an experience.
And man, I'm telling, any of you out there who don't know the Lord, He knows who you are and He knows your specific needs.
He touched me in a way I thought I was going to fly, I really did and I don't talk about it much because I don't think it's important; what's important was that God demonstrated His love to me. Through that, you know, He touched me and He said "Look I'm real and I want you to be my child", and I went, wow! this is incredible. So as my life started changing, my music started changing cos that's, you know, my music is the way I reflect my life and as my heart started changing so did my attitudes towards things and my perspective on things. All of a sudden I had something that I felt genuinely worthwhile that I could sing about, not just "Hey, I've had my heart broken" or Hey, let's get down and boogie".
Back in 1971, there wasn't a whole lot of what you might call contemporary Christian rock 'n' roll out at all, and all these lads like me were coming to Jesus because the Holy Spirit was just doing it, you know, God was just touching people and really causing a movement. But we didn't have anything culturally to relate to, you know, the hymns are O.K. but they didn't speak to us. It was kind of a language of another time and I remember Larry Norman and myself looked around. We were doing concerts, playing in coffee houses and colleges and just whatever we could do, you know, what we felt important.
The church has always been, well, there are a lot of conservative elements in the church and see I think that the problem we fall into is that in our desire to do God's will and to be holy and to be spiritual people, we without knowing it hardly, we start giving up territory to the devil, because like I said, God is the author of Creation, so that means that all kinds of music and rhythm and melody and harmony and all that stuff, that all belongs to Him. But it's the devil that comes in and tries to counterfeit things and twist things and misuse things. It's the devil who tries to mislead people.
So when the church looked at rock 'n' roll and of course it's the most radical elements of any thing that are going to get media exposure, right, so the church looks at some of the rock n' roll that's getting the press coverage and they go, "This stuff is horrible. Look at what those guys are doing, they're talking about drugs and they're talking about, you know, do whatever feels good stuff and that music really seems of the devil". So they again, without thinking about it, kind of gave that territory over to the devil. They said "O.K., this music cannot be used by God. It doesn't belong to God, it belongs to the devil." And whereas if you are a musician and you offer your life to Him and you offer your talent to Him, He'll either sanctify it if you're supposed to play music or He'll tell you to go and be a plumber if that's really what you're supposed to be.
But He'll either sanctify it and it can be used to His glory or it can be misused. If you're out just playing rock 'n' roll to make sure you go to bed with plenty of girls or make sure you make a ton of money so that you can buy all the dope you want.
When I write songs, I try to ... I never want to preach at people or sing at people, I want to sing to them. I want them to know I'm just like them. It's just that Christians are like anybody else except that we know where hope is and love is and we're letting God, you know, try to change us, day by day. So I try to write in a personal way and get behind the eyes of say someone who doesn't know the Lord who's listening to the music and go "Yeah, O.K., I relate to that situation" or "Yeah, I have this problem" or "Yeah, I've had my heart broken, I know what he's talking about" and just really point out some of out dilemmas and our need for Jesus.
The song "Puppet Strings" is a really special song and I remember I woke up early in the morning. I looked out at smoggy L.A. where I was living and just my heart cried out. I thought man, look at this town, it's just a big monster full of hustlinq people and cars and smog, you know, it's just so sad. It's just like people seem to rush from day to day existing and trying to validate their lives. They're looking for some kind of a peace and a love and the world doesn't have it to offer and they're blind and they don't know that we're in the dark without Jesus. And that's why we're kinda blind cos God really is the light, you know, he really is the truth and I just went, 0 God, I sure wish I could write a song that would really say it.