For the past ten years, Creed has been speeding down rock and roll’s steep decline like Calvin and Hobbes in a rickety toboggan. When they stumbled upon mainstream rock in the mid-nineties, it was still in stable condition but yearning for fresh air. Creed came to rock and roll with smothering-pillow in hand, dispatched it with surprisingly little struggle, and took over its identity like a glassy-eyed pod person. There were those who recognized the insidious transformation, who saw that Creed were nothing more than a garish, mocking parody of what they once knew, but their voices were silenced by the immense spending power of those too stupid to see the difference. Creed’s absurd clowning of rock and roll managed to strike a power-chord with an incredibly large niche market, a market so overpoweringly lame that nobody had really been willing to condescend to pander to it before: suburban sort-of-Christians. You see, Creed were not really a Christian band, they were a sort-of-Christian band. There was a little bit of Jesusey imagery thrown in, but nothing to impress a devout, foaming, snake-wrangling zealot. Creed was, like their fans, just Christian enough for polite suburban society. Kids could listen to heavy-sounding music without their parents accusing them of worshipping Satan; “No, mom, he’s talking about Jesus!” “Well, alright then, just not too loud.” The parents of wayward children (for example, those who display the hilarious Hot Topic-based vestiges of rebellion that we see so often at the mall these days) might read a column about Creed in the local newspaper (I’m sure you can see the fluff headline: “Creed Sees The Light” or something) and decide to buy the record in order to Jesus the kid into shape. Everyone wins, except art and people with brains or education.
Howdy, fluffytop.At the heart of this was a doe-eyed, corn-fed Christian dope named Scott Stapp, a man who wanted nothing more than to earnestly express his internal struggle with faith in the most serious terms possible. For those of us who can’t relate to him, to look upon him is to despise him. He is greasy, he is sweaty, he has a bad haircut, and he has a tendency to strike ridiculous messianic poses in billowing shirts. For people familiar with music or with basic human decency, hearing him isn’t such a treat either, since he relies on a gravelly, grunge-inspired baritone croon and belts out lines like “I close my eyes / Begin to pray / And tears of joy / Stream down my face.” This is all obvious, though. Creed-bashing is easy, and Creed-bashing is played out. Creed is a bad, bad band, and we all know it. I’m sure most of the people who own their records know that they are bad. I’m sure that the members of the band themselves know that they are bad. In other words, it’s easy to be Toby Keith and tell the terrorists that we’re going to put a boot up their asses, but it’s much more productive to try to understand why they’re trying to destroy our society. In order to understand Creed on their own terms instead of on the flawed and cynical terms of our snobbish aesthetic sensibilities, we must examine who they are, where they came from, and what they did. Today, I will tell you the tall tale of Creed.
It all started in 1994, when Scott Stapp enrolled, at his father’s insistence, in the Florida Theological Seminary. Stapp’s father, Arthur Stapp, had been raised in a household free of religion; whenever he dared to mention Jehovah’s name, he was beaten blue with a freshly-cut switch. Arthur was determined to provide a better life for his own son, a life free of the religious oppression that had marked his own. The younger Stapp at first took well to his theological studies, often hanging around the campus chapel after hours to socialize with the memories of saints and ponder the seminary’s sacred artifacts, which at the time included what was believed to the a fragment of the sword that Jesus himself used to kill his satanic homunculus, the twisted Evil Miniature Jesus (Flagellations 5:15). Being a charismatic and outgoing young man, Scott would often organize theological sock-hops and “Jesus-juicers,” providing the devout youth with a place to socialize. Music was often a major part of these wing-dings, probably due to the fact that the Florida Theological Seminary’s classes were taught using the little-known King Henry Rhyming Bible. As such, bible-verse sing-along sessions straight out of scripture provided Stapp with an outlet to express his love for the Lord.
The hand of fate was present to guide young Scott Stapp toward his destiny; one Stapp’s favorite professors, Dr. Jesus Christ (not THAT Jesus Christ, obviously), recognized the young man’s potential as a singer. Dr. Christ persuaded Stapp to abandon the ear-piercing castrato which he employed for his devotional singing and adopt a more pop friendly sound; Dr. Christ was convinced that, if teamed with the proper songwriters, Scott would be a great boon to the world of Christian music. With his friendly demeanor and affable big-galoot charm, he could sneak Jesus into the pop charts like a priest sneaking a ham sandwich into the confessional. As luck would have it, Dr. Christ knew just the musician to turn a one-man singing operation into a bona-fide band.
A young Mark Tremonti shows his chopsSome months earlier, Dr. Christ had infiltrated a student recital at a rival school, the South Florida School of God And Jesus. While he had gone there looking for confirmation of the frequent rumors that Jesus Christ himself (the other one) often showed up to view the performances, he found instead that the rival university’s music program far surpassed that of his own. Incensed, he began an aggressive musical recruiting program in an attempt to corner the market on hot Christian instrumental talent. At the very same time during which he was helping to train Stapp, Dr. Christ was in the process of recruiting a talented Pentecostal mandolin-thrasher by the name of Mark Tremonti. Tremonti’s extended solos and macho posturing broke through his pudgy, cherubic looks and betrayed a secret preference for rock and roll music. As soon as Tremonti was successfully recruited to the Florida Theological Seminary, Dr. Christ snatched the mandolin from his hands and replaced it with a gleaming jet-black electric guitar. Tremonti proved equally dexterous on six strings as he was on eight, and the more vigorous bicep motion involved in hard-rock jamming helped him melt away his baby-fat and turn into a truly devout babe-magnet.
When Stapp and Tremonti were introduced to one another, the chemistry was immediate and undeniable. Within weeks they were performing acoustic numbers at local open-mic nights and competitions, culminating in an early 1995 win at the Giant Hailstone County Fair Battle of the Bands. Stapp’s legendary ego was already on the rise; if they were the undisputed best band in Giant Hailstone County, he thought, why couldn’t they be the best band in the world? With this thought flapping around his head like a curiously weighted butterfly, he locked Tremonti in a small laundry room and wouldn’t let him out until he agreed to join him in dropping out of the Theological Seminary and pursuing the life of a professional musician. After three days, the terrified Tremonti acquiesced. When they broke the news to Dr. Christ, he was furious; he regarded the boys as the sons he never had, much to the chagrin of his real sons. Stapp’s father was utterly heartbroken that his son had turned his back on the religious life that he had worked so hard to provide. He swore that he would never speak to Scott again, which is one of the reasons why Creed’s music is such a bummer.
We now jump to 1997. Creed’s first record, My Own Prison, was a runaway success. The record spawned four number-one rock chart hits, despite having been surreptitiously recorded on a stadium mixing console during, of all things, a live performance by watermelon-unfriendly entertainer Gallagher (close observers can hear Gallagher’s voice in the background of the track called “Illusion,” warning the audience members in the front rows to make use of the plastic sheets provided for them). After the record sold a staggering five million copies, Stapp’s fabled ego rose to public prominence for the first time; in 1998, he sued the 1960s rock legends Creedence Clearwater Revival for, as he put it, “having used the first bit of our name.” The classic rockers settled out of court, agreeing to pay Creed 10% of royalties from their catalogue sales and to change their name to “Ence Clearwater Revival.”
Their second record, Human Clay (a name inspired by the ancient Hebrew legend of the Golem, a man-made creature created from clay and immune to everything but +3 maces) followed in 1999. The album debuted at number one on the rock charts, the pop charts, and, through a clerical error, the Department of Agriculture’s 1999 poultry disease index. The album was backed by a massive promotional campaign and a lucrative tour, making it one of the major musical events of the waning decade. “With Arms Wide Open,” Stapp’s touching tribute to the birth of his son (Stapp was only the second man ever to give birth to a child), was nominated for the 2000 Grammy award for the best rock song. This was an incredibly important moment for Creed, as the Grammies are perhaps the single most reliable measure of whiteness that the recording industry provides; the competition was stiff, as Creed had to contend with both the extremely white Three Doors Down and the incredibly, unfathomably white Matchbox 20. In the end, Creed prevailed, not only due to their luminous and pristine white skin but also because they had succeeded in flattering the Lord the most.
A majestic new bassist2000 was to be the height of Creed’s success, but like a supersonic jet plane pushing the boundaries of how high and fast mankind can soar, the fuselage was bound to start cracking. Bassist Brian Marshall stirred up controversy when he launched a verbal attack on Pearl Jam, calling them “a passel of goddamned women” and “unworthy of my diseased, briny fluids.” This caused a considerable backlash in the press, and Stapp attempted to distance himself from the outspoken bassist. The trouble continued when Marshall turned his sights on God, offending Stapp by calling the creator “a mossy old tortoise” and “a natty-bearded know-nothing.” The rest of the band was left with little choice but to terminate Marhsall and replace him with a majestic, soaring eagle, representative of their pride and connection to God’s masterpieces of nature.Intra-band tensionStill on the heels of the Human Clay’s ten-times platinum success, Creed returned in 2001 with “Weathered,” their most bombastic and overblown testament to their own greatness yet. The thundering roar of My Sacrifice provided a suitably grandiose soundtrack to Creed’s continuing dominance of rock radio, and Stapp continued to wear his wholesome religious influence on his sleeve by bravely and unashamedly presenting himself as a Christ-figure. Behind the awesome façade of extreme excellence, however, trouble continued to loom. Fans at a 2002 concert sued Creed for providing what they considered a lackluster show. Stapp, they alleged, was “out of it,” and unable to remember the words to his own songs. Creed’s publicists explained that Stapp, being the creator of his material, was fully entitled to remember or forget any elements of it according to his whim; this explanation did not satisfy the irate fans, and they began to allege that Stapp was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Stapp, worried that his reputation was at stake, stepped forward and revealed that new bass player Angus the Eagle had bitten his eyeball out immediately prior to the show, and Stapp was merely dazed and under the influence of pain medication. To make matters worse, the following month provided yet another setback. Stapp, still suffering from debilitated depth perception following his mauling at the gleaming beak of his bassist, drove his automobile into a goddamned tree and damaged his head and spine, forcing the band to cancel their upcoming tour.A wistful TremontiStapp disappeared from the public eye and spent the next several years stewing in one-eyed misery. Several abortive attempts to record a new album came and went, but Stapp’s bandmates accused him of being too distracted by his lonesome eyeball and his steaming piles of freshly-minted money to concentrate properly on the songwriting process. With great sadness, Tremonti went to the press and announced that Creed was to be no more, citing friction between the band and Stapp as well as general artistic stagnation. Say it ain't so, Mark!
With this, we say goodnight to the era of Creed, the biggest band of the new millennium, the originators of introspective hard rock, the vanguard of an entirely new era of crap. Scott Stapp, if rumors are to be believed, is currently working on a solo album of songs inspired by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” That part, I’m afraid, is true. May Scott Stapp’s messianic complex strike me dead if I lie.
As usual, questions or comments can be directed to [email protected] By the way, after I published a few hilarious and incoherent hate-mails, many people decided that it would be the height of internet comedy to send me—get this—FAKE hilarious hate mail! Yes, it’s great when you misspell “the,” I’m sure it will feel absolutely wonderful when I post your e-mail and act all angry and frustrated about it and you get to brag about how you pulled one over on old Dave.
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