Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Richard Hackley.
This one is a bittersweet one for me to repost. For those who weren’t there for it, here’s the backstory: in the early 2000s, a friend of mine heard Richard Hackley’s song “God’s Backhand” on a defunct site called Worst Of The Worst, who’d kinda done a hatchet job on Richard’s music, but he thought it was brilliant, and so did I when I heard it. It was, of course, Christian music, but it was not ordinary Christian music by any means. Richard was a classically trained musician who fell in love with MIDI, and had some pop background as well, having grown up with his Beatles records, but a lot of what he did was purely him. There was and is this sense of wonder and whimsy to the music he made, some bombast that traced back to his classical roots, and, whether he always acknowledged it being there or not, a dry, but mischievous sense of humor to it. So, of course, I loved it, and as I played it for my circle of friends, they did, too. I’m pretty sure that, by way of the late Jim Dunlap, I even got Richard some of his only dance club play, at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick, NJ. I am reasonably sure he closed one of his sets there with “God’s Backhand” in the last year that the joint was open.
Of course, we all wondered what kinda guy made these songs, as we were listening to them, and when I started doing interviews with musicians again, it took me a little while to get the nerve up to contact him about a possible interview, but I eventually did it. The interview was, of course, for My Big, Black Cock, so I was pretty sure I had one hell of an uphill battle selling him on it. In my initial contact, I was of course respectful, and made it clear that he’d be doing an interview with a profoundly different outlet than I think he’d ever imagined being in (though, by this point, Time Magazine had done a pretty hostile story on the artists featured at Worst Of The Worst and singled him out, so there may have been nowhere to go but up from the press…), but one where he already had a following among the regular readers, and one where both his music and his beliefs would be discussed seriously. (In hindsight, re-reading the interview, I wish my questions about his beliefs had been more nuanced and less like an angry teenager yelling some stuff at a priest, but you work with what you’ve got at the time.) Richard did some thinking, checked out both my record and the character reference I invited him to contact (a fairly high-up name at a pretty serious right-wing Christian think tank, who I’d dealt with as a publicist in the 1990s), and decided to go forward with the interview, which was well-received at the time, as these things went. People who read it told me that they appreciated that Richard was frank, thoughtful, and open in a venue that couldn’t have been the most comfortable to walk into.
A funny thing happened from there. Richard and I stayed in touch pretty regularly, and became friends. Richard also got to know some of my friends, and became pretty good friends with them, too, collaborating with one of them on a web site for a number of years. Richard and I even ended up collaborating on a piece of music at one point. Sure, we didn’t always agree on our beliefs, about the state of the world and so forth. There are things within the interview we did that should make that kind of clear, and things that, yes, I did and do find cringeworthy, but I feel that those things were largely the trappings of the belief system he fell into. In Richard’s and my most contentious moments, he was still much kinder than the things you may find problematic as you read them below, enough to where our friendship endured despite those moments, whereas other friendships of mine have hit insurmountable roadblocks over less. Overall, my experience of Richard was that he was a solid, kind guy who did his best to try to understand the world around him, find his way in it, and say what he could about how he came to understand it. It should also be said that he loved his family and friends, especially his grandchildren, and that the sense of humor that came through in subtle ways in his music was not something I was imagining or projecting. We did have a few really good laughs over the years.
I never got to meet him in person, though I came very close once. I was in his hometown of Wichita, helping someone with an emergency cross-country move, and while he and I were supposed to grab a cup of coffee, time was at something of a premium (we had a few hours to load a truck, and had fallen behind), so I had to cancel in order to finish helping the person I’d come to help. When I told him what I had to do on the phone, he paused for a moment, then said “You’re a good man.” I still think about that a lot, and I try to be the person that he told me I was in that moment.
Richard Hackley passed away on October 6, 2014, after a lengthy battle with cancer. I miss him, and he’s also missed by everyone in my circle of friends who got to know him. The world is a less interesting place without Richard, but it’s ultimately better for having had him around. Below, and through his music, hopefully, if you didn’t have the chance to while he was here, you can get some idea of who he was, and if you did get to know him, with any luck, this will help you remember him.
SC: Richard, why did you, a Christian songwriter and singer, agree to an interview with a website bearing the name “My Big, Black Cock”?
RH: After your invitation to do this interview, it took eight days for me to make the decision. During this time, you and I had some email dialogue, plus I went to your website twice. It became clear to me this was an example of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Your emails were professional and respectful of my situation as a Christian with a tough call to make. Plus, and this spoke volumes, your big black cock turned out to be a silhouette of a rooster.
The content of your website is undeniably for adults. You make this clear on your home page, warning children to go elsewhere. But anyone on a porn hunt will be disappointed at “My Big, Black Cock”.
Over the eight days, I came to trust your intentions as a journalist. I decided your invitation to interview me was something like the owner of a Las Vegas nightclub saying, “Come in and put up your posters about Jesus Christ. We won’t smear them with graffiti.”
SC: Do you feel that there’s any risk of being ostracized by your peers for doing this interview?
RH: This could be a double-edged sword. “My Big, Black Cock” readers, both new and repeats, would expect to find material of a more raw and earthy nature. You may catch some flack for this interview. But our common link is music. Hopefully your readers will understand this.
As for me, I think of Jesus, who chose to dine with the regular folk, some of whom would have visited “My Big, Black Cock” had the Internet been available. The religious leaders criticized Jesus for associating with those whom they considered to be lesser people. I expect there will be mixed reactions from Christians regarding this interview. There may be a few who believe I am violating 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
There will also be a few who will respect this interview, as well as respect “My Big, Black Cock” for hosting such a wide open music forum.
SC: Your sound is a quirky, rather unique juxtaposition of styles. How did you come to mix all of the elements and create “the Richard Hackley sound”?
RH: I think the heart of this question will be answered elsewhere in the interview. As it is worded here, the question compliments me too much. I’m not smart enough to knowingly extract various elements and mix them together. When getting my college degree in Music Theory/Composition, the most practical thing I learned about composing music was, “If it sounds right to the composer, it is right.” So “the Richard Hackley sound” is a result of trial and error … experimenting with each song until it flips my switch.
SC: Could you describe your songwriting process for us?
RH: One of the common questions is, what comes first? Music or words? Early in my writing, the music came first. Somewhere down the line, lyric ideas started coming sooner than music ideas. So, in something of a leap of faith at the time (i.e. leaving a comfort zone and venturing into the unknown), I flip flopped the process. It worked. So, to fledgling songwriters, start with whichever is easiest for you. Later, you can try the other.
After several years of songwriting, I seem to have settled into a pattern now.
1- I start with a short lyric idea, which I usually intend to be my hook (I’ll use the example: “make impossible a friend”). I generally decide on the exact wording of this lyric idea before I try to match music to it. The full lyrics for the song come later. They are never a problem. If a short lyric idea capsulizes a major concept for you, the lyrics will be there later when you are actually ready to organize your thoughts and write the full lyrics. I do recommend having a notebook exclusively for lyric ideas. Sometimes the outline for a song comes at the same time as the short lyric idea. I don’t trust myself to remember that much information when it comes all at once. I’d rather get it written down ASAP.
2- Next, I try different melodies with this short lyric idea. In the example “make impossible a friend”, there are seven syllables. My melody will probably have seven notes. Maybe more. Certainly not less. If the first melody doesn’t satisfy me, I’ll do a second, then a third, perhaps a fourth. You could keep on with a fifth, sixth, etc. But for me, after the fourth, I usually pick the one I think is best, and work with it. If that produces nothing, I try the melody I think is next best. Rarely have I had to go this far before coming up with a marriage of lyric & melody that satisfied me.
3- Once I am satisfied with the completed hook, I start orchestrating the rest of the music that will accompany the hook … bass, chords, countermelodies, drums, etc. Eventually I have a fully arranged piece of music, usually two measures long, probably no more than 7 to 10 seconds worth.
4- Here, I might write the full lyrics, or arrange the rest of the music, whichever seems clearest in my mind. Whenever it is that I do tackle the rest of the music, I start by studying the small portion of music I’ve already composed, for in it will be numerous tiny ideas (maybe a catchy rhythm, or a fragment of melody) that can be expanded into full sized ideas. I call this “the song growing out of the seed” method of composing. From this process comes the ideas for the rest of the song … intro, verses, choruses, bridges, transitions, coda, etc.
5- If the remaining lyrics have not been written, this is usually where it happens.
6- If the vocal melody has not been written yet, it does now. And this happens a lot. The vocal melody is often the last thing I write. This is probably an area where I am weak … melodies. Other than the high attention given to the hook in step #2, my melodies are not labored over very heavily, or written for originality or beauty. My melodies are mainly a result of … “What fits with the orchestration I’ve already done, and doesn’t sound too much like a melody I’ve already used?” (With this rather mechanical and uncreative criteria for melodies, I’ve sometimes wondered … if I removed all lyrics and orchestrations, and just hummed my melodies a capella, would they all sound alike?)
One other thing I strive for during the composing of the music is what I call the interest factor. I try to maintain something of interest from beginning to end of a song.
If a song has three verses, the music can get pretty boring the third time around. Sometimes even during the second verse. Though the latter verses will have new lyrics, I don’t always consider that enough to maintain the interest factor. Something different usually needs to be happening in the orchestration. Sometimes it means bringing in a new instrument sound. Sometimes it means subtracting an instrument altogether. Sometimes it means writing a new countermelody to join what has been heard in the first two verses. The variations are too numerous to name.
Some sounds are boring and hurt the interest factor. The most blatant example to me is an organ chord that is held for several beats, and there is nothing in that organ sound that has any life to it. It doesn’t increase. It doesn’t decrease. It doesn’t swell. It doesn’t fade. It doesn’t vibrato. Just a solid, unchanging sound. This, to me, is an interest killer. A piano chord at least fades, giving it (and the song) a little more life and interest. So when I’m searching for sounds on my synthesizer, I’m looking for ones that have some life to them. On those rare occasions when I’ve used a “lifeless” sound, it was kept very subdued. The sounds with life/interest are the ones I put out front.
SC: What inspired the writing of what has to be considered your signature song at this point, “God’s Backhand”?
RH: I would have preferred a different signature song. Perhaps “Make Impossible A Friend” or “The Enemy Called Average” or “God Is The One We Should Trust in First”.
I’ve written around 100 songs, most of which have been just as available to the public as “God’s Backhand”. So there are 99 other songs that are just as representative of me. Probably more so. But “God’s Backhand” rubbed a few people wrong, so it got the most attention.
What inspired the song?
There was (and continues to be) a wave of events and media coverage that are subtly teaching us that God is unreliable. Here in Wichita, there were three such events (spread over a period of a few years). A female employee at a sandwich shop was murdered at closing time. A police officer was killed on duty. An assistant football coach at a large state university died of cancer. In all three cases, the coverage by the local newspaper made a major point about the victim and her/his faith in God.
The police officer even carried around a copy of one of the psalms in his hat band. The psalm focused on God’s protection. Everyone who picked up a copy of the paper the next morning was able to read about this.
I respect that the newspaper was trying to point to the high qualities of these people and the loss that would be felt. But God was sure taking a hit. The message was coming across that we cannot count on God for protection or healing.
So I decided to write some songs to hopefully reverse this gradual erosion of God’s credibility and reliability. “God’s Backhand” was one of those songs. Its intention was to inspire confidence in a God that can be depended upon, even in life and death situations.
The imagery in the song is a figure of speech, not to be taken literally. The song is not about God killing, but about God protecting.
SC: Given the whimsy and occasional bombast that I hear in some of your songs, is your approach to songwriting done with tongue in cheek, or are you dead serious about all of this stuff?
RH: I’m serious.
How do I explain the presence of whimsy and bombast? I’m not sure. I’ll tell a bit more about my songwriting process. Maybe the answer will be there.
Regarding the music: In my attempt to maintain the interest factor, I’ll initially overload the composition with too much music, too many parts, too many ideas, too many counter melodies. This is deliberate. It allows me to then experiment with various combinations of all those elements, and use what I think helps the interest factor the most. Brahms wrote something to the effect of “Anyone can compose music full of notes. The secret is to know which ones to let fall to the ground.” This probably describes my process and my intention. But maybe I don’t let enough notes fall to the ground. Or maybe I don’t let the right ones fall. Maybe the whimsy is there as a result of me leaving something in I thought helped the interest factor.
I go back to the basic rule of composing: “If it sounds right to the composer, it is right.” Maybe 5 years from now more of those notes will be falling to the ground. Maybe less.
Subject matter nearly always suggests the music that should go with it. Sometimes the suggestion is basic … like using a major key for happy lyrics. Sometimes the suggestions get more specific. In the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (made famous by Disney’s original “Fantasia”), he used timpani drums to portray thunder in a storm.
“God’s Backhand” similarly suggested its own music, both in basic and specific ways. A minor key was logical for the verses, to reflect the serious dangers in life from enemies. Switching to a major key was logical for the chorus, to reflect the good news … that God was stronger than any enemy. Accented drum strikes were logical to portray enemies being knocked aside.
Regarding the lyrics, where most of the bombast (“pretentious inflated speech or writing”) must be, I have only one explanation: I consider the Bible to contain God’s Word. It is my chosen source for truth and I have elevated it, in my mind, over any other written document or expressed opinion on this planet. If my lyrics do not reflect this elevation, then I’ve watered my lyrics down, for which I owe the God of the Bible an apology. The stories and promises in the Bible are pretentious and inflated, if there is not a God who inspired them and will back them up.
SC: You’ve said that nothing really worked for you musically before you began making Christian music. What were your original songs like when you were still exclusively making secular music?
RH: I was trying to be commercial, and failing miserably. What was on the radio just wasn’t me. My love songs were more like lame songs.
Those early songs must have been pretty boring. I sent out probably 100 to 150 tapes (1 to 10 songs per tape) to song publishers and never seriously interested any of them.
My best work back then was not on songs I’d written, but arrangements I did of songs by a friend. He and I also sent out tapes … his songs, my arrangements. We were never offered any publishing contracts, but we actually did receive compliments from a few publishers, and invitations to send future material.
SC: You cite “anything from Beethoven to The Beatles” as your musical influence, which is a pretty wide spectrum. Could you expand a bit more on who your biggest musical influences are, particularly those who make electronic music, if any?
RH: Good point. That was a pretty wide spectrum, insinuating I was soaking everything in. I should have worded that “Beethoven AND the Beatles”, as these were the two most significant influences on me.
Somewhere around my 16th birthday (1965) I bought my first orchestral music album. This was also when the Beatles were hot, but my interest in orchestral music had been growing to where I was willing to part with some money on what I perceived at that time to be something of a gamble. That first album was Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I wish I could say I knew what I was doing at the time, but it was really a fluke that I picked one of the most powerful, uplifting and well loved pieces of music, performed by one of the world’s best orchestras. (The opening four notes of that symphony are probably history’s most famous musical idea.)
I was hooked on orchestral music from that point on. But my love for the Beatle’s did not suffer. They were the only pop/rock group around that I consistently enjoyed nearly everything they did … to the point I would purchase one of their newly released albums blind (like I did with that Beethoven album), hardly knowing anything about the album’s contents. I found the Beatles to be innovative and versatile. Where most bands continued to sound the same over the years, the Beatles kept doing drastically new things.
And it seemed they could copy any style as well, if that was their choice. One example that stands out for me is their song “Back in The USSR”, where they briefly go into a 1960’s west coast style (as in Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, etc.)
One of the motivational notes I have taped up in my work area says, “The key to creativity is to yank convention inside out.” For Beethoven and the Beatles, that maxim explains the presence of their experimentalism and pioneering. For me, the maxim justifies the absence of trying to be commercial.
After the Beatles broke up, I stopped listening to the radio. I don’t think this was “going into mourning”, but it may have been. Today, I still rarely listen to the radio. But the point is, whatever happened in the music world after the Beatles had no identifiable influence on me. I was so out of touch that the development and widespread use of MIDI happened without me having a clue it even existed. When I learned of MIDI (early 1980’s) it was something like Rip Van Winkle being astounded at the changes that went on while he was sleeping.
SC: What music (both Christian and secular) have you been listening to recently?
RH: The only music I listen to consistently is my classical CD collection. Anything else is only briefly, and for some specific purpose.
SC: Your music doesn’t sound quite like most Christian/praise and worship music I’ve heard. I did notice that for a while you were a member of the Sunflower State Gospel Music Association which means you’re not totally an island here, but have the Christian music community in general (radio stations, other musicians and the like) been open and receptive to what you do, or do you operate mostly on your own in terms of building a fan base?
RH: At the start of my Christian song writing, it used to bother me that none of my songs ever fit into the praise & worship genre … either musically or lyrically. This concern went away one day when I read Colossians 3:17, “… teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs …”
I didn’t know exactly what those three categories of music encompassed, but ‘spiritual songs’ sounded broad enough to include what I was doing. And the word ‘teaching’ from the verse seemed to fit what I was attempting in my lyrics. Later yet, the function of my songs seemed to get confirmed when the idea came to call them SongSermons (now my registered trademark name).
Members of the SSGMA accepted me with no problem. Their membership already represented an extensive mixture of styles before I joined. The founder of the SSGMA is a DJ, as well as the music director, at a local AM Christian radio station. He plays a wide variety of material when he’s on the air. He is also into helping local Christian artists and did give one of my songs (“That’s Believing in Your Product”) some air play.
But I’m not actively trying to build a fan base. My performances are mostly in health care facilities, like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.
SC: What do your co-workers at Dillon’s think of your music?
RH: The few who have heard it have been appreciative and supportive. Dillon’s, like most companies, has a policy against employees discussing controversial subjects on the property … religion and politics being the prime examples. So I’ve had to choose my opportunities carefully.
SC: Describe for us the experience of seeing Richard Hackley live.
RH: You’ll see someone dressed cleanly, but casually. No suit and tie, but probably not blue jeans either. My Birkenstock sandals go everywhere with me.
The music and voice are easy listening. You will come away calm, relaxed, and maybe inspired. You won’t leave on an emotional high, just peaceful and confident. You will not be captivated by dance moves or high energy performing. It will all be very laid back. But as boring as that sounds, I seem to have a program and a stage presence that are enjoyable and captivating in their own ways. At least, I’ve been told this enough that I now believe it.
Elsewhere in this interview I mention being likened to Mr. Rogers. Though this was meant as criticism on that particular occasion, there have been 3 or 4 other people, spread over time, who have made the same comparison in a complimentary way.
SC: I see that you’ve been playing shows at correctional facilities recently. How has that been going for you, particularly at the juvenile facilities, where I’d imagine the inmates might be a little less willing to accept God into their lives?
RH: Interesting you would specifically mention juveniles. One time I performed for a group of boys, 8-15 years old. After the program, they left the room in what seemed to be the same frame of mind as when they entered. This was a very unusual experience for me. But the chaplain said it was normal, and to just believe that some seeds had been planted.
The adult correctional facilities were a different story. There is always some visible lifting of burdens. Many of the messages of my songs help inmates see that being in a prison physically doesn’t mean you have to be in one mentally.
I’ve also played three gigs in a rehab facility for teens. Some of those teens were very bored by my program, seeming to resent either being stuck in that facility, or that they had to listen to me. Others, though, seemed to hang on every word.
SC: Do you have any upcoming, open-to-the-public appearances that you’d like to tell us about?
RH: Thank you for the opportunity. I wish I did. The facilities I play are generally small and not really meant to be open to the public at large.
SC: Do you feel, or have you directly heard that you’ve reached any skeptics and brought them around to Christianity with your music?
RH: I consistently have people approach me after a performance and thank me for the program and the messages. But I believe these are usually people who are already Christian. My ministry is more pastoral than evangelistic. I nurture the flock, rather than increase it.
SC: Your music has gotten, and gets a pretty interesting reaction from the people who find it online. Do you have any anecdotes you’d like to share about this?
RH: Most of the interesting stories center around the bad press I received from “God’s Backhand”.
One time a got an email from (no kidding) email@example.com. He wasn’t too happy about “God’s Backhand”. He wrote, “If I had to ‘backhand’ anyone at this point, you would be up around the top of my list.”
I also received a courteous email from someone who heard “God’s Backhand” played on a talk radio show. He said I was characterized as a “nutcase”. I’m not completely sure of all the details involved, but it appears these radio personalities believed my song was written to support Israeli Prime Minister Sharon for his killing of Palestinians.
If you remove “God’s Backhand” off by itself, there is nothing in it to establish a context of current day Israel and PM Sharon. I think the radio folks may have already had a Middle East context in their mind when they heard “Backhand”. And perhaps I inadvertently caused this to happen. At the web page where I have “God’s Backhand”, I have another song called “God Is Not Neutral”, which refers to terrorists. If the radio folks listened to “Neutral” first, it would not take many steps in logic to apply a Middle East context to “Backhand”.
I replied to the individual (who emailed me about the radio program) and commended him for contacting me personally regarding the song’s meaning … something the radio folks did not do. In this case, the listener was wiser than those with the microphone.
SC: Did it bother you that some of the web sites that mentioned you poked fun at your music in a mean-spirited way?
RH: I liked how you worded that. “Did”. Past tense.
At first it bothered me. But you have to toughen up or cave in. Someone (Madonna?) sings a song about there being no greater power than the power of good-bye. I’d put the power to ignore right up in that same category.
My tiny “leap to fame” was due to “God’s Backhand” being listed at a website called “Worst of the Worst: Very Bad Music on the Internet”. The critic who reviewed the song did not criticize the imagery or religious message of the song, but my singing of it. He described me as “an opiated Mr. Rogers”. Talk about a mind picture. Can you imagine the already tranquil Mr. Rogers on opium?
I think the critic was saying that a song with an aggressive message like “God’s Backhand” needed an aggressive voice to sing it. A valid point. But when I try to sing aggressively or intensely, it backfires. I don’t hit pitches as well, and my voice gets abrasive, unpleasant to listen to. (I have proof of this … old recordings of me from 10 years ago. Even I don’t enjoy listening to them.) I lose the calming effect. So I’m better off staying with an easy listening delivery.
The two obvious options were, 1- remove the song from public access, or 2- find someone else to sing it. Neither appealed.
A year later, still mulling over the critic’s remarks, I redid the song. I lowered the key a full step, which put it in a range where I could sing it with a bit more authority, without sacrificing the easy listening vocal style. I also removed some of the audio fx that seemed to trivialize the song, rather than add to it. (These fx also rated insults from the critic. Again, I eventually agreed with him that they were poor additions to the original version.)
One other website accused me of stealing music from Sega. I suppose it’s inevitable that if you keep writing, you eventually write something that sounds like something else. Most of us know the song “Battle Hymn of The Republic.” If you have opportunity, find a CD of Brahm’s Piano Concerto #2. Around the 10:00 mark of the first movement (on my CD it starts at 10:19) you’ll hear something remarkably similar.
SC: How effective have sites like mp3.com, IUMA, etc. been for you in the difficult task of getting your music heard?
RH: If we’re talking about generating income or number of plays, it’s been quite disappointing. Sure, your music is now available world wide. But something has to bring people to your site. The number who stumble on to it is very, very small. My sites were overlooked by the millions, until “God’s Backhand” made it on the “Worst of The Worse” list.
But there have been some good non-financial rewards, mainly in the form of emails from people who have in some way been strengthened by something they heard in my lyrics.
SC: Has anyone ever approached you at work, on the street, etc. after recognizing you from your picture on the Web?
RH: What are you saying? That I’ve put on weight? Lost some more hair? That I now need glasses to read? That it’s an old picture?
Seriously, the answer is no.
SC: How much time do you spend on the Internet?
RH: Maybe 30 minutes a week going to sites. But I may spend 1 to 3 hours a week at email.
SC: What are some of your favorite destinations online?
RH: One day it may be sites that offer free MIDI files of Christmas carols. A different day it may be the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website. Depends on what I’m after.
SC: What are your feelings on mp3 file-sharing?
RH: It’s fine if the copyright owner has approved it. If not approved, our laws define it as theft.
Yes, I copyright all of my songs. But mp3 file-sharing is not an issue that causes me much concern since I offer my songs freely anyway. If I was actually trying to make a living at music, I’m sure I’d be more passionate about this.
My advice to others: I know the music industry seems like a financial monster that oozes greed. But it has the law on its side. Don’t endanger yourself by trying to steal from the monster’s food dish.
SC: As an ASCAP member, do you feel that the RIAA has your best interests at heart with their campaign of lawsuits against individual music listeners?
RH: As an ASCAP member, I probably should be supportive of the RIAA. Again, since I freely give out my material, I’m spared the frustrations of having it duplicated and passed around against my wishes. I’m all for my songs getting distributed as widely as possible.
My ministry, like “My Big, Black Cock” I think, operates on a donation basis. We both believe in our causes and are willing to finance them out of our pocket if necessary.
As for my fellow ASCAP companions who make their living off royalties, etc., I cannot fault them for trying to protect themselves, or for supporting the RIAA if that is the case. I suppose I weaken their struggle by not joining into it. But if I did join in, it would probably cause me more problems (distractions) than profits.
SC: You began performing exclusively Christian music in 1994. Did this coincide with you becoming a full-fledged Christian or being “born again”, or were you always a Christian that just decided that this was
the music you wanted to do around that time?
RH: Not the holiest of motivations on my part here. I decided to do Christian music because my secular music was going nowhere. It’s sort of a sour grapes reason, and certainly a case of inverted priorities. But God has not held that against me. Which is probably a good example of His patience and forgiveness.
Plus, I simply found more important messages (to put into lyrics) from my study of the Bible. That’s why the switch happened in 1994. Mainly just to feel like I was accomplishing something worthwhile.
But when did I become a full-fledged Christian? As a child I attended a Christian church, but I never made a deliberate decision about Christ until March of 1971, when I sat through a Biblical research class, and decided the Bible would be my source for truth.
SC: If you haven’t always been a Christian, can you tell us a bit about your life beforehand? Did you have any problems that brought you to God, or did you live a relatively normal life?
RH: I had problems that brought me to God. Ego was perhaps the worst. A few other problems, also. Some of which would probably make good copy for “My Big, Black Cock”, but I’d rather just leave in their grave.
Dabbled some in drugs, too, mostly marijuana. There’s a story here. Around the age of twenty, I first tried marijuana because the lead guitarist in the band I was in said, “It puts you in touch with truth.” He didn’t really know how hungry I was for that. I took his statement at face value and adopted an almost clinical approach. I would sit down with paper and pencil in front of me, get high, and write down thoughts. I knew I was in no condition to recognize truth while stoned, but I figured the next morning, after my head cleared, I could study what I’d written and start putting the mysteries of life together.
The Bible talks about man being fascinated with the imaginations of his own mind. That’s a pretty good definition of ego. I may have taken that to a new level … or new low. The rambling and nonsense that I penned those nights was disappointing, frustrating and depressing. Sometimes it would seem I’d figure out some little bit of truth, but that would then generate a new question.
It was like an answer was really just bait to lure you into more uncertainty.
The most meaningful thought I had during those sessions (and the only thought I remember 30 years later) regarded the Beatle’s song, “Why Don’t We Do It in The Road?” I decided they were not talking about intercourse, but about taking a whiz.
Why would anybody want God if they can reach truth like that on their own?
But the upside is that in my search for truth using marijuana, I found something that absolutely did not work. It took me a major step closer to God and the Bible.
SC: As somewhat of a layman on these matters, I wasn’t able to nail this next one down from hearing your lyrics. Do you consider yourself a part of a particular sub-denomination (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.), or do you just think of yourself as a Christian?
RH: Just a Christian … a Bible believer. I rarely read things written about the Bible. I’d rather read the Bible itself. (One exception is The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. I’m on my fourth reading of that little gem.)
SC: Do you attend church regularly, or do you practice your faith on your own time?
RH: On my own time. Since March of 1971, I’ve been consistently, and pretty much daily, a student of the Bible. My present routine is to get up two hours before work each day (I go in at 5 a.m., so I’m up by 3 a.m.) to be sure I have some time to study the Bible. I have QuickVerse 7.0 (from Parsons Technology) installed on my computer and store all my notes there.
In the course of a year, I’ll go to a church 3 or 4 times. Seldom the same church. No, I don’t make a pest of myself and thus overstay my welcome. I sit quietly and listen. And I always leave each church with something that has helped my spiritual growth. But no church service will ever come close to matching the growth you get from your own systematic, private reading of the Bible.
SC: I’ve seen no mention of it on your various sites, but Fred Rogers didn’t always beat people over the head with the fact that he was the Reverend Fred Rogers, either. Are you now, or have you given thought at any point of your life to becoming a minister?
RH: Again, not very holy motives on my part in this area. I am not a minister, and any thoughts I’ve had of becoming one are usually just inspired by my desire to stop working at a grocery store. Not the kind of motivation God is really looking for. Nor is it motivation strong enough to bear all the various responsibilities of a full time ministry.
SC: “Christianity” means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Your songs seem to convey more of a hard-line, fundamentalist stance, but in our correspondence, you’ve rather surprisingly come across so far as a pretty open-minded guy in a lot of ways. Would you consider yourself
more of a “live and let live” Christian, or more of a “fire and brimstone, cast down the sinners” type like the narrator in your songs?
RH: You say open-minded. I hope what you have picked up on is an absence of being judgmental. It is something I purposely try to prevent in myself, or correct if I detect it. An example is the first email you sent me. When I saw www.mybigblackcock.com, my mind instantly made judgments … erroneous ones. The nice thing about emails, though, is that you don’t have to respond quickly. It gives you time to recover from judgment errors and research a bit more.
I’m more of a “live and let live” Christian. I’ve heard several times that if you’re pointing a finger at someone, you’re pointing three back at yourself. I’ve actually examined myself a couple of times when I’ve been critical of someone else, and found the maxim to be true.
Romans 2:4 says it’s the goodness of God that reaches people and inspires them to change.
The narrator in my songs? He should be like me for the most part. The narrator in “God’s Backhand” and “God Is Not Neutral” is certainly hard-line, but those songs are exceptions rather than the rule.
Some of the hard-line atmosphere may be there because of the self-discipline needed to walk with the God of the Bible. I don’t want to suggest, by error of omission, that a walk with God requires no real work on a person’s part.
Most of my songs portray the goodness of God and the positives of living with God, rather than the negatives of not. This is a motif I deliberately monitor in my lyric writing.
One song I wrote, called “Why An Elbow?”, is perhaps an example. My first set of lyrics regarded the elbow as an illustration of two different approaches to life: reaching out (helping others), and bringing in (self-centeredness). But I didn’t like this good vs. bad theme. I wanted something that pointed to a positive for either direction of movement involving the elbow. So the ‘bringing in’ movement took on a theme of ‘taking care of yourself so you may better help others’. I made this change because there is already too much around us that triggers self-condemnation. I didn’t want “Why An Elbow?” to be another brick in that kind of building. Instead, I wanted it to suggest more constructive things. First, and most obvious, that God was quite brilliant in His design of our physical bodies. Second, on a more subtle level, that we are not as screwed-up as we are often led to believe.
SC: With organized religion of all faiths at the root of so many of the world’s problems, is there ever a time where you find yourself thinking that religion does more harm than good?
RH: Yes. Religion is frequently shooting itself in the foot.
Christianity is just as guilty as any other religion. But there’s a distinction I make that keeps me peaceful.
True Christianity is what God worked for us through Christ. When man starts inserting his own thoughts into it, you then have religion. These insertions have continued to increase over the years so that today, “Christianity” has splintered into lots of religions.
Despite that, the true Christianity that God originally intended is still available. How does one find it?
The Bible makes an important observation in Acts 11:26, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
If that is where the term ‘Christian’ was first coined, then the logical place to find God’s original version of Christianity would be from whatever inspired that term to be coined. The Book of Acts and the New Testament epistles are the closest source we have to this information.
SC: How would you justify all of the wars, murders, persecution, and intolerance that nearly every one of the world’s major religions, including Christianity, seems to foster in some way or another?
RH: That’s a tough one. I think many of the problems you listed start with someone being unsure, insecure, but needing to feel they are righteous. The apparent strategy is … if you can physically silence your opposition, that proves you are right.
It’s similar to that person who, in a disagreement with someone else, always has instant comebacks. Mr. Snappy doesn’t care if what he says is right or wrong. As long as words come out of his mouth last, he wins.
SC: Are you for or against the war in Iraq in particular, and the “war on terrorism” in general?
RH: In the movie “For Love of The Game”, Kevin Costner stands on the pitcher’s mound ready to throw his first pitch of the game. As he stares down toward home plate, he knows he needs to focus his mind. He says to himself, “Clear the mechanism.” The din of the crowd fades into total silence. Now he is ready to pitch.
This is often what a Christian must do in the world.
As a Christian, the war in Iraq was a distraction. If I wasn’t at work, I was tuned to Fox News. I was getting nothing else done. No progress was made on new songs. My rehearsal discipline started to diminish. I wasn’t scheduling any new bookings. And any already scheduled bookings were interruptions to my “staying informed”.
As an American, though, following the eye-opening events of 9/11, I believe “America’s Backhand” needs to be felt from time to time by our enemies. One of the great secrets to maintaining peace is to maintain intimidation of your enemy. The terrorist leaders are talking tough and should be taken seriously. America cannot be a doormat for anyone to walk on.
SC: What do you think of the job that George W. Bush has done as President so far?
RH: Instilling fear seems to be the immediate goal of terrorists. Why? The best answer I’ve seen is from Thomas Friedman. In his book Longitudes & Attitudes, he writes, “Unable to actually imprison us, these terrorists want us to imprison ourselves.”
The biggest challenge President Bush faces is to keep Americans from becoming afraid. Success or failure of this country to resolve other issues, like the economy, are probably riding on the American population being confident.
President Bush has been very courageous to act on what he believes will, in the long run, keep us from imprisoning ourselves. We take freedom for granted. But it can be removed from our country without even changing the Constitution. All it requires is for us to become afraid. No matter what rights and freedoms you have as an American citizen, they don’t help much if you live in fear.
I wish results of the searches for terrorists and W.M.D.’s could roll in faster and more convincingly. If I were president, I would be wavering in my certainty by now. But President Bush seems to have the strength to stay on the course he deems best. This is important in a leader. Someone who vacillates is not leading, but rather being led.
Someone in the military once said, “Indecision kills more men than wrong decisions.” Those who vacillate are probably just as dangerous to have at the helm.
President Bush has also made it clear that from now on that we cannot let down our guard. This reminds me of a “Star Trek” episode from the early series with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, etc. I love that series, but there was one particular episode that always left me feeling uneasy. It was called “Lazarus”, and involved a parallel universe.
A man called Lazarus had discovered a small passage between the two universes. But Lazarus had an evil counterpart in the other universe who had also discovered this passage. Both Lazarus’s knew that if both of them were in the same universe at the same time, it would set off a chain reaction explosion that would end all existence. Naturally, this is what the evil Lazarus intended to do. So each time he went through the passage one way, the good Lazarus would pass through the other way, thus keeping existence intact.
Kirk and Spock would meet with the good Lazarus when he was in their universe. They hatched a plan that during one of the exchanges, when both Lazarus’s were in the passageway, the Enterprise would seal both exits shut, locking the two Lazarus’s in that tiny area, where they would spend eternity in combat with each other. The plan worked, and the episode ends pretty much on that note.
As I said, this always left me uncomfortable because I was not much of confrontational person to begin with, and the thought of never being able to relax and let my guard down just plain depressed me.
Now America seems to be in this Lazarus scenario.
If, when President Bush leaves office, he leaves a confident America for the next president, then Bush will have been a great success, accomplishing more for our future than any laws or programs ever could.
SC: What are your views on legalized abortions, and population control (birth control, etc.) in general?
RH: Let me provide a verse for the answer. Note how early this verse is in the Bible. One of the keys to Biblical research is to go to the first record involving whatever you are studying. There you find basic, ground work truths that will help you solve more complex issues.
Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Note all of the elements that must be in place before God calls someone a “living soul”. No argument (claiming to be documented by the Bible), for or against abortion or birth control, can be valid without staying true to this verse.
SC: What are your views on the death penalty?
RH: For it. I also think public executions (maybe even televised?) should be considered. That would wake people up to being more accountable for their actions.
SC: What are your views on gay marriages, and homosexuality in general?
RH: To someone who believes the Bible is generally good stuff to live by, homosexuality would be acceptable. But to someone who believes the Bible is God’s Word, homosexuality must be seen as something God did not intend. I’m in the latter group.
But don’t ask me to condemn gays. I will report what I read on the pages of the Bible. It’s up to each person what respect they give it.
Does being a homosexual make someone hell-bound unless they change? No. Not if they are born again. Based on the New Testament, the only thing that makes a person hell-bound is to never, at any point in their life, accept the savior. Romans 10:9 gives the simplest, nutshell instruction on how to acquire eternal life: “That if thou shalt confess [accept] the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, though shalt be saved [made whole, i.e. born again].” If a gay person obeys this verse, he/she will get the same result as anyone else.
Being homosexual does not put an uncrossable wall between a person and God.
I have aspects of my life that, by now, should be out of my life, if I were a perfect Christian. But there are things that I haven’t yet been able to shake. The head-on struggle to give these things up, and the repeated failures to accomplish it, were starting to make me think I was a failure, rather than the success the Bible says I am. I finally had to stop the struggle and simply be faithful to what I could do. The growth from this approach may at some point enable me to discard other qualities I don’t want. But at least now I’m moving forward with God again.
SC: Are you familiar with fellow Kansas resident Rev. Fred Phelps (head of the Westboro Baptist Church)? If so, what are your feelings on him and his “teachings”?
RH : I’m somewhat familiar with his outspokenness on this issue. The website name is too harsh for me to think I want to hear more of what he has to say.
SC: Do you feel that the separation between church and state in the U.S. is valid (taking into account the fact that this country was founded by people who were looking to escape religious persecution by an oppressive government), or is it time to strike that from the lawbooks?
RH: To me that’s a no-brainer. Keep church and state separate. Otherwise, I can see nothing happening but a dismal repeat of history.
SC: The fact that you’re associating with a somewhat unsavory element like this web site to get the word out begs an interesting question: would you give up your own salvation to save someone else?
RH: If that scenario was possible, my answer would be, “Probably not”. I haven’t grown in love enough.
But the question is theoretical as the situation will not arise. The new birth is incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23) in every cell of the body. I couldn’t give it up anymore than I could give up the seed I got from my earthly parents.
SC: Do you think that doing this interview will reach someone and bring them around to Christianity?
RH: I imagine if something good along those lines happened, it might more likely be that a person, raised as a Christian but not currently practicing, might feel moved to get recommitted.
SC: Ultimately, what are you trying to convey to people through your music?
RH: That the Bible is God’s Word, and that God is for them, rather than against them.
There can only be one Supreme Being. I’m hoping I can convince some that the Bible is where to learn of Him.
SC: How would you like yourself and your music to be remembered?
RH: As for me … people can (and will) forget about me. The message is more important than the messenger. As for my songs … that at least some of them were choice segments of the message.
SC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us that hasn’t been covered during the course of this interview?
RH: I have another free product available. Not music, but something I wrote in 2000 called “Basics of The Bible”. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. A crash course in understanding the Bible. It can be read in one or two evenings, but I hope you would take longer.
If you’ve liked my answers to this interview, or the messages in my songs, you’ll probably like “Basics of The Bible”. I’m sure Scott would call it “bombastic”, if that gives you anymore indication. I can send it to anyone with email. You may contact me through either one of the two web pages listed below. In your email, please request “Basics of The Bible”, if that is what you want.
(this site has the highest quantity of my songs)
(this is the only site where you may hear the controversial “God’s Backhand”)