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August 4, 1994

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There's something about atheism and rock and roll that just go hand in hand.

Maybe it's those lingering traces of 1950s suburban hysteria. Something about girls in short skirts and guys in leather jackets, somehow in sub-rosa cahoots with the Communists.

Whatever the antecedents, and despite pious legends like George Harrison and a recently Jehovah's Witnessified Prince, rock and roll usually remains something for which you sell your soul. And there's only one guy buying.

Pedro the Lion (a.k.a. Dave Bazan) would beg to differ. Sometimes.

"The things that are in the Bible that are interesting to me are forgiveness and humility and compassion and trying to seek justice for people and dignity," said Bazan. "Unfortunately those aren't things that are really associated with Christianity at all. It couldn't be less appropriate as a label for me or the music."

Yes, Pedro the Lion is one of a very few indie-rockers to amass a loyal secular following despite being a "Christian" musician. But Bazan seems a bit uneasy with the label.

"Well, when it comes to music, the implication is that there's a point to playing music besides playing music. And that point is to tell other people about what you believe with the intention of convincing them to believe the same thing. And I think that way of looking at music or anything else is ludicrous."

Despite metaphors and language sometimes lifted directly from the Bible, it is hard for anybody who really listens to call Bazan a strictly Christian artist.

Take, for example, the notorious line from his song "Indian Summer" off of the Control LP: "All the experts say you ought to start them young - that way they'll naturally love the taste of corporate cum."

It's not exactly a Christian sentiment, but you would be hard pressed to find something in the Good Book to directly contradict it.

The music itself can oscillate anywhere from the breezy acoustic guitar jangle of "Transcontinental" (off of Pedro's new full-length Achilles Heel) to the gloom-and-doom wall of distortion on Control's "Second Best."

Achilles Heel keeps a fairly even tone throughout the entire record, a melancholy drift down a delta compared to the alternating calmness and violence of Control.

But Achilles Heel's musical placidity belies its lyrical power. Bazan's lyrics indict hypocrites, music industry scumbags, superficial musicians, and politicians. And though Bazan may not be your typical church-going Christian, he's aware of Christianity's unfortunate current associations.

"As far as the identity that comes along with that, there's a lot of political implications," said Bazan. "Nowadays there's a pretty good chance that if someone calls themselves a Christian then they appreciate George W. Bush, which is just totally fucking crazy."

Self-loathing has stereotypically been the territory of Jews and Catholics, so it's nice to see Bazan opening things up to a wider demographic. The obviously ambivalent stance Bazan has taken in regards to his religion isn't lost on him. He is the target of his own criticisms as much as anyone else, which allows the music to back away from what might otherwise sound like overblown self-righteousness.

Bazan isn't all venom and vitriol for those who profess to share his faith, though.

"It's really common for all of us to make a vast amount of assumptions about every little thing we come in contact with," said Bazan, "because we have to order our minds and our perceptions to manage them. So it's not out of the ordinary that people would come to a Pedro the Lion show and have unreal expectations about what's going on."

And Bazan also knows that an indie rocker with something to say about religion is going to arouse a natural curiosity in new fans. At every show he encourages the audience to ask him questions. Bazan said things can occasionally get too close for comfort, but most people know what is appropriate.

"In my experience it's Christian people who are that forward in the lives of strangers," said Bazan. "Most other people don't really feel like it's their prerogative to walk up to somebody and ask them about their faith, or something of that nature, their sex life or whatever."

So whether or not Bazan feels like a Christian Brother, his faith will attract those who share it, whether he likes it or not.

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Mark Sussman