The Author’s Corner with Shawn Young

Shawn Young is Assistant Professor of Music at York College of Pennsylvania. This interview is based on his new book, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock (Columbia University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Gray Sabbath?

SY: The book was a new version of my doctoral dissertation.  My interest in the topic developed after attending this community’s music festival. My wife actually introduced me to the event. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Gray Sabbath?

SY: The collective embrace of liminality is the driving force behind communal structure and success.  This group accepted a certain amount of ambiguity and, in doing so, was able to tamper with a number of cultural assumptions often associated with both evangelical Christianity and contemporary Christian music.

JF: Why do we need to read Gray Sabbath?

SY: Given the continuance of the so-called culture wars (and as we approach a new election cycle that will most certainly be defined by religious ideology), it is important for readers to add to their understanding of the unmistakable connections between cultural production (in this case, music), religious belief, and political identity. 

JF: When and why did you decide to study American music history?

SY: My interest in music developed when I was around the age of eight, first with the music of The Beatles, then with the band Kiss. In high school I was a band geek (trumpet and bass guitar), I marched in Drum and Bugle Corps, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Band, where I performed for about five years.  After my enlistment I volunteered for my uncle, who own a Christian concert production/promotion company.  As a fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM) I welcomed the opportunity to carry equipment and rub elbows with my heroes.  

When I was in college I played in a number of rock and jazz groups, completed an internship in the Nashville CCM scene, then met my wife, who formed a new band with me and introduced me to the Cornerstone Music Festival.  After college (and after working for a local church, a record label, and MARS Music Inc.) I was hired by Greenville College (academic home to the CCM group Jars of Clay), where I taught coursework in CCM.

I suppose my interest in American music history is a synthesis of various stages in my life, not the least of which was my ongoing connection to this industry and its various subcultural expressions. 

JF: What is your next project?

SY: I’m currently working on a cultural history of rock & roll, which will be a student textbook.  The next major work of scholarship will likely involve something about Army music
JF: Thanks, Shawn!

And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner