How I burned the guys who wanted me to burn my KISS records
Art by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
Coming of age in the '80s had a lot of complexities. Parachute pants made us look ridiculous, puberty hit right as Time magazine was running weekly stories on AIDS, and an almost manic hysteria launched regarding backwards masking with secret pro-Satan sloganeering. The record burnings for Jesus rivaled the amount of disco records smashed at anti-disco parties. Given that this is ostensibly a column about music, it only makes sense to talk about guys who burned records.
My friend Jon Hunt recently wrote a piece titled We Will Rock You: Jesus Made Me Smash My KISS Records. It details him growing up in a devout born-again Christian household and having to destroy these evil albums per the advice of the Twin Cities anti-rock crusaders the Peters Brothers (pictured above). In his story, he recounts some folks who raised a ruckus at his first encounter with the Peters. Spoiler alert: The primary raiser of said ruckus was me.
Jim, Dan and Steve Peters were brothers and born-again Christian evangelical ministers who wrote books, made TV specials, went on PM Magazine and Nightline, and hosted big events about the satanic perversions of rock 'n' roll. They seemed to want to make record destruction some sort of national pastime.
In their video "The Truth about Rock," they did a slideshow and took some wild swings at rock music:
"Mick Jagger is an avowed homosexual!"
"Janis Joplin was an admitted bisexual and drug addict; if she hadn't died of drugs, venereal disease would have eaten her up!"
"The cover of an Alan Parsons Project album has girls with syphilis sores on their faces cloaked by veils!"
"John Denver says that with the help of his guru, he will become God!"
"KISS stands for Kids in Service to Satan. Look into the eyes of Gene Simmons. The bible tells us that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Nobody's home there!"
"The Eagles' 'Hotel California' is about the Church of Satan. I mean, I don't know any other hotel where they'll let you check out but you can't leave!"
OK, they were kinda right about Janis Joplin, and surprisingly right about John Denver. But the rest was nonsense. Like Satan would ever take a meeting with Don Henley.
I was a new convert to rock 'n' roll, but I took to it like a monk looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls: There was a truth there and I was going to know it. I felt it was my sovereign duty to protect it after reading some of the Peters Brothers booklets and seeing this tape. Sure, there were satanic and perverted bits of rock 'n' roll. And let's face it, that was sort of the point. What bugged me were the lies and half-truths. The things they never got called on.
For some reason, what really stuck in my craw was their bit on Martin Briley, an artist best know for his one hit and the beret he wears in it. "The Salt in My Tears" was a record that I liked.
It sounded like if Peter Gabriel wanted to be a middle-class David Bowie. During their slideshow, the Peters Brothers would dissect album covers, including the one for Briley's One Night With a Stranger. Only they showed a cropped portion featuring a man drowning, and said it was symbolic of auto-erotic asphyxiation. You can clearly see it was a guy drowning; it couldn't have been more boldfaced. Besides, who on earth is going to write a serious pro-auto-erotic-asphyxiation song?
I am sure that the Peters Brothers genuinely believed that they were a force for good, that they were saving the youth of America by making them stand in front of a fire of burning plastic In Jesus' name.
Personally, I don't think Jesus was all that into carnage and destruction. The fact that the Peters Brothers were making money and getting all kinds of famous probably didn't hurt. The Peters Brothers were sort of the boy band of the new Christian right. They were showmen, as evidenced by this quote from Jim Peters in a 1981 article from Rolling Stone: "One guy from a local TV station told us we really knew how to stage a media event. I didn't know what he was talking about -- you don't learn that stuff in Bible College." He explained: "Slow news time on the weekends, good visuals at burnings, the New Right. It's just the Lord's work to me."
My first face-to-face encounter with the Peters Brothers took place at Faith Academy, a fundamentalist Christian school that was across the street from Grace, and had been previously my grade school. There in the gym where I learned to square dance -- yeah, we had to learn how to square dance -- was the "Truth About Rock." And there I was with a few of my friends, me wearing a suit six times larger than myself, a la David Byrne in Stop Making Sense, and looking just as ridiculous in it.
Contrary to the story that Jon told, we weren't chanting or anything like that. We had a plan. We introduced ourselves early, and even got them to autograph a pamphlet. We listened politely and did our best not to laugh -- which, let's be honest, was a lot harder than it sounds. They were spouting nonsense left and right, plus we were the only teenagers not accompanied by parents that looked like extras in an episode of Murder She Wrote.
After a bit there came a chance for the audience to ask questions, and I had a pretty good one. I introduced myself as being from Grace, and then started talking about a book. "There is a book they are teaching in my school and I am very uncomfortable with it." They wanted to know why, and I went on to explain that it was pretty graphic in its description of horrific acts, talking about murder and violence, even genocide. It also talked about sex, masturbation, and incest. I told them that I didn't feel right having to read this. And the congregation agreed with that.
One of the Brothers then asked what the name was, because they would add it to "the list." Within seconds of replying "The Bible," some rather large men in some very polyester suit pants had me by the neck of my jacket and were helping to show me out the door. Once outside the gymnasium, they showed their Christian love of brotherhood by throwing me out of a doorway. Unfortunately, they missed the first time and got the window. The second try worked and they managed to connect chest to pavement. I'd like to think I responded, "Hey, you can learn something after all," but in reality I think I just swore and wheezed a little bit.
I am still amazed they didn't see that one coming. It seemed so obvious. What's even more amazing is I pulled the same gag again about a year and a half later and on camera. I was a youth producer on an all-teen made-for-TV program that was a statewide teleconference sponsored by the Governor's Council on Youth.
In one of the segments I produced that was about censorship, I interviewed Steve Peters at their offices. With my hair down and parted to the side, wearing khaki pants and a cardigan -- I find khakis to be the perfect camouflage for anything: "He must be OK, he's got on khakis" -- I filmed him for 45 minutes doing his shtick, and then used the same set up. And this time I didn't break character and I got it on tape. I felt like Geraldo Rivera... before he lost all of his credibility. In the end they didn't use that bit, just a snippet about backwards masking. It was too controversial and seemed baiting, which of course is why I liked it. I never got the tape back from the adult producers and so it's lost to the ages.
Fact is, my act of defiance was nothing more than a flea bite of interference to their Clifford the Big Red Dog of small-mindedness. I wasn't going to change their minds any more than they were going to change the minds of anyone who didn't want to have them changed. Eventually the mainstream audiences would ignore them, realizing just how silly the whole thing sounded. Either that, or they were tired of destroying their turntables while listening for backwards masking. Soon the Peters Brothers would be replaced by Tipper Gore and PMRC, who would develop the Parental Advisory sticker, and make it much easier to know which hip-hop and metal albums where the dirtiest.
Next week: Christian rock, prayer services, and the time Yngwie Malmsteen offered to save my soul.
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