After more than three decades together you would think a rock band would have lost its ability to stir up controversy, especially inadvertently. Therefore, I was surprised to see Stryper in the news because Walmart refused to carry their latest album, objecting to the title.
I must admit, when I saw the news report and accompanying photo of the band, my first thought was “they look so old.” My second thought was, “I probably look older since I’m older than they are.”
I haven’t seen or talked to Stryper since 1986. Back then they were so young that the mother of band members Robert and Michael Sweet’s traveled with them as road manager cum den mother. These are rockers who had no choice but to behave.
Not that misbehavior was really an option for a band that was unashamedly Christian, whose raison d’etre was to bring people into a relationship with God.
Stryper in the mid eighties did indeed generate controversy. They dressed in yellow and back (Robert told me they were caution colours, to warn people they were going to Hell) and threw Bibles into the audience at their shows. Some found that sacrilegious, but the Bibles never hit the floor, snatched up by eager fans. They drew the ire of anti-rock televangelist Jimmy Swaggart – the man they credited with leading them to faith in Christ.
So how do these good Christian boys run afoul of Walmart? They titled their album God Damn Evil.
Okay, I’ll admit it is mildly provocative. But it is theologically accurate and surely no more controversial than their 1986 release To Hell With The Devil. I don’t remember Walmart refusing that one, but the band was selling a lot of records back then. Also, we didn’t have Walmart in Canada in 1986.
I don’t think Walmart is all that discriminatory in the entertainment it chooses to stick on its shelves. I know it has sometimes not carried material with explicit lyrics (or put warning stickers on them) but I don’t know how often that happens. I am certain they carry a lot of material from musicians, authors and actors whose lifestyles are a lot more controversial than those of the members of Stryper. My guess is that Walmart doesn’t expect the album to be a big seller, so figure they can pass on it.
I have too wonder if someone in head office just wasn’t thinking straight when they made the decision. Or maybe the move was made by a Stryper fan working for Walmart who figured the publicity would be helpful for the band at this stage of their career.
Certainly, it has me wanting to hear the new album and hankering to see them again. I looked at their tour schedule; they are in Italy tomorrow. It’s not that far from Germany really, but I can’t see being able to make it.
Online reviews for God Damn Evil seem positive, if you can judge a review by its headlines – I haven’t actually read any yet. I wonder if this older version of Stryper can be as relevant today as they were when I bought an import copy of their first record, The Yellow and Black Attack back in 1984.
Thank you Walmart. Not stocking this album is helping thousands of people rediscover Stryper.