By Jesse Marx
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"It was like, how do we survive this?" says Smith. "How do we as kids raise our mom?"
Religion was never in the picture growing up, says Smith. His family was technically Lutheran, but his understanding of the faith was mostly limited to the obligatory Easter and Christmas church services.
When Smith reached his mid-teens, he began taking advantage of his lack of parental guidance. Smith says his mom's place became the perennial party house, where he and his friends would frequently drink beer.
Like so many teenagers in the early '80s, Smith was mesmerized by the debut of MTV—particularly bands like Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden. After high school, he took out a loan, bought a drum set, and started a metal band called Surprise Attack.
As Smith tells it, the vortex of the 1980s metal scene sucked him into a life of sin. He was touring around the country, living the reckless life of a rock star. But the details of exactly how depraved Smith's life was seem to change depending on his audience.
The story of the metal drummer who did "everything under the sun" has become part of Smith's born-again sermon. A 2006 article in the right-leaning Weekly Standard claims Smith was hospitalized six times for drug overdoses, arrested three times for drunk driving, and was once stabbed in the head with a screwdriver.
But in recent interviews with City Pages, Smith describes a much tamer scene. He says his greatest vice wasn't drugs or alcohol, but a rotating repertoire of women.
As far as drugs, Smith now says he witnessed other musicians indulge, but never so much as took a puff of weed. "I never touched that junk."
He does have one DWI in Minnesota, according to court records, but he says his drinking wasn't that big of an issue.
"It was never, like, a serious drinking problem for me," Smith says. "I did it because I wanted to do it. It wasn't hard for me to say no to it. It never was."
At any rate, Smith says the lifestyle became too much for him. He recalls the show when he realized he couldn't take it anymore.
"I went to talk to my Hooters calendar girl before the second set," he says. "I said, 'It's like the Lord's got a rope around me, and he's pulling me out of here. I can't do this anymore, this isn't flying.'"
THE FIRST TIME JAKE MacAulay saw Smith preach was at a church called Living Waters.
It was the late '90s, and although MacAulay hadn't been religious growing up, he was suddenly feeling the pull of faith.
"I was kind of at a point where I was like, 'I need to get my crap together,'" MacAulay recalls.
A self-described "counterculture kid," MacAulay couldn't see where he fit in among the regular congregates. That changed when he saw Smith.
MacAulay was intrigued by Smith's tattoos and long hair. After reading Smith's book, an autobiography called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, MacAulay was sold, and became Smith's apprentice.
MacAulay wasn't the only one in the Twin Cities drawn to Smith's unconventional approach. Not long after the two met, a fellow churchgoer had the idea that Smith should speak at Little Falls High School.
Smith liked the idea, and contacted the principal to get permission. As Smith tells it, his born-again rock star routine was a huge hit with the kids and their principal.
"He liked the assembly so much that we came back and did it again," says Smith. "After we were done playing music, the kids had such a respect for us."
Which is how MacAulay and Smith got the idea to start touring high schools across the country. MacAulay likens it to a new small business starting up, and they were looking at an endless supply of potential new clients.
"In our case, it was high schools," he says. "There's no shortage of high schools."
AS THE STUDENTS FILED into the Fargo North High School gym, none of them had any idea what was in store.
All they had been told was that they were going to see an "important" presentation, which made the drums, guitars, and tattooed guys seem that much more bizarre.
Without warning, fog began pouring out of machines on stage and filling the auditorium. An abrasive drum echoed, cut by shredding electric guitars.
When the music finally stopped, the long-haired drummer came out from behind the kit and took the microphone.
"There are so many inconsistencies in the JFK assassination...you can just tell you're being lied to," Smith told the kids, according to J.R. Martin, then a student at Fargo.
"It was really intense," says Martin. "Bradlee Dean came across really angry about a lot of things—about people not caring about Christianity and its role in life in the United States."
Before his dumbstruck audience, Smith segued into a tirade about Britney Spears. He called her a "whore" who was corrupting the youth.
"We're being assaulted with this media world where Britney Spears is an acceptable public figure," Dean told the room.