Riding the Southern Gospel Tiger
Well, judging by the 120+ comments proliferating around my most recent post on Gold City’s very long, very public goodbye to its own integrity, I think it’s safe to say that Gold City Fatigue Syndrome is not contagious.
For the most part, there’s been a lot of heat but not much light given off by all the huffing and puffing on this topic. And I don’t have anything new to say about it. But having been at this for nearly seven years now, I also realize that what I consider repeating myself may not really be as redundant as I imagine, given a)the shifting nature of online readership, b)the short memories of the average skimtastic blog reader, and c)the forgetability of my prose.
So let me paraphrase a point I’ve made before in other contexts and that seems to me to be the most salient feature that no one is really talking about, not just regarding Gold City but the general phenomenon of group’s wanting to have it both ways when it comes to their public and private lives: You can’t have it both ways.
By which I mean: more than most performers, southern gospel artists rely on - and actively cultivate - their fans’ becoming deeply invested in the idea that to love someone’s music is to somehow form a personal relationship with the artist, a relationship with the rights a privileges and access of a close family friend, or even a family member. A good chunk of the southern gospel industry is built around perpetuating this dynamic: our favorite songs, we are told by artists over and over again from the stage, were chosen for how powerfully they connected to the artist’s situation or life or spiritual journey (cancer, deaths, crises of faith, a tragic accident, a bout with gravely ill health). And here, let’s have my kids come up on stage and sing Jesus Loves Me, … these kids represent five generations of Songster Family singers keeping the southern gospel tradition alive, and while we’re at it, how bout a round of applause for Aunt Blabby Songster, who is celebrating 153 years in southern gospel music! And then there’s the Singing News, which would be little more than a pamphlet were it not to chronicle the births, deaths, illnesses, infirmities, marriages, and other personal milestones in the lives of performers and often their extended families. This, in addition to the enormously popular At Home feature (Here’s Aunt Blabby with her Gideon Bible collection!).
Yes, dear readers, I slurp all this up too every chance I get (I kid because I love, or maybe I should I say put the jest in the ingest). Lapping it up is what our favorite artists and the mostly unseen overlords of the southern gospel industry hope, want, and work to ensure that we do. Except when they don’t want us to. To quote myself, it’s as if the southern gospel world says to fans: “Please … over here look at us, look at us! … Hey! What are you looking at!?”
Whether it’s curiosity about messy personnel changes or inquiries about sordid sexcapades on or off the bus, if artists are being asked or having to answer uncomfortable questions about things they’d rather not discuss, it’s almost always because they taught their fans to imagine they have a pretty much total right to know about artists’ private lives. Can artists really be that shocked that fans don’t operate as if this is only a useful fiction of Christian music
Gold City fans have been invited to share in Tim Riley’s health problems over the years and mourn right along the with the Riley family in the tragic death of Doug Riley, to take just two prominent examples. You can’t put these kinds of deeply personal experiences and tragedies out there for all to see and share (that is, these things weren’t just public knowledge through news outlets or the grapevine; the group chose to involve fans in these ordeals through press releases and on-stage comments and other active modes of engagement), and then suddenly discover you want fans to mind their own bidness when something like a sex scandal happens that you’d rather not publicize.
Or rather, you can try, but you shouldn’t be surprised when the fans you’ve conditioned to expect to publicly share in your private life aren’t prepared to respect your quixotically shifting notion of your own privacy. When you ride the tiger, you go where the tiger wants to go.Email this Post