Jesus and John Wayne
So a radio station has now pulled Gaither Vocal Band’s “Jesus and John Wayne” from the air after listeners complained about the song’s allegedly bad theology. What rubbish.
Regular readers will know that I don’t like the song one bit, but reading this kind of nonsense nearly roused me into a fit of defensive pique, just out of spite for the stupidity of these complaints. Then I went back and listened to the song again just now … and yeah … well, my gallant tendencies sort of hitched their giddy-up to ole John Wayne’s trusty steed and cantered off somewhere around the second chorus.
The problem with the song isn’t its theology (there’s hardly any there to speak of, really). It’s the writing. This is a classic example of a concept (”Jesus and John Wayne!”) in search of some lyrics to justify the hook. When I first saw the title when the album came out, I braced myself for a “Baptism of Jesse Taylor” redux, with labored lyrics about a picturesque mischief-maker-who looks mean but means well deep-down despite his gruff exterior and conspicuous (but endearing!) irascibility. And though this probably would have made my eyes roll, it would at least have made a decent amount of sense within the lyrical conventions of country gospel.
Instead we get this boilerplate ma-and-pa lyric about how daddy sang bass, mama sang … oops … wrong song … daddy was a COWBOY, this time, hard as a rock, and mama was quiet as a prayer. Or a bible verse. Or a nap. Yawn.
I mean, I get it. The singer is somewhere between the spiritual austerity of his father (John Wayne) and the sweet piety of his mother (Jesus). And of course the fact that Guy Penrod actually looks a little like Jesus and John Wayne is probably no small reason why the song ended up getting written, cut, and staged in the first place. Which is fine. Songs get written for particular singers all the time (“God’s Little People,” anyone?). Then again, most songs don’t rely on lyrical syllogisms that call to mind an image like the love child of the son of man and the Duke.
But the real hoot about all this is that the song’s downhome spiritual angst and hokey attempt to capitalize on Penrod’s country-Christ look was probably written with the very sorts of people in mind who are now howling the song off the air. Jesus and John, meet rock and hard place.
PS: I wonder if the song would have gotten this reaction if Penrod were still with the Vocal Band?
PPS: For once, it’s nice to see someone else’s comments section get swamped by the Sister Bertha Better Than You Brigade. We need the break over here!Email this Post