Pop: Mormon artists and membership status

Mark over at Mo’ Boy Blog has the news that rock musician Tal Bachman has publicly announced his request to have his name removed from the membership rolls of the LDS Church (Orson’s Telescope and Our Thoughts also have coverage). I’m not a fan of Bachman’s work so I can’t say that I took this news as hard as Mark did — other than the fact that I’m saddened to hear of anyone lose his or her faith (LDS or otherwise). But I find it interesting that Bachman felt it necessary to explain this change on his Website.

Here’s an excerpt from the announcement (which is part of his bio):

“Well-read, and a thinker by nature, Tal had become increasingly puzzled and disturbed by the mounting evidence suggesting that the founding events of Mormonism had been fabricated.”

The whole bio is an interesting read — Bachman is presented as going through this whole painful process of extricating himself from both his record label and his faith, but emerging stronger and re-dedicated and with (of course) a new album.

The question for me is why Bachman felt the need to include his relationship with Mormonism in the narrative. Part of it may indeed be a sincere desire on his part to share his personal journey with his fans. But I would guess that part of it is also to give his Mormon fans fair warning. To sift the true fans from those who were mainly in to him because of his Mormon celebrity status.

Which raises a set of larger issues for me:

First: Why does an artist’s Mormon-ness matter to members of the Church?

Second: Why is an artist’s official relationship to the Church a matter of speculation and gossip (c.f. Neil LaBute)? Why does it even come up?

Third: Should an artist’s Mormon-ness be a factor when a Mormon decides on artistic products to consume?

I’m going to attempt to address the first two issues today and then follow-up later with my thoughts on the third.

The answer to the first question seems rather obvious. Like others, we want to support members of our clan because we feel in some way that their achievements reflect on our clan as a whole. Mormon artists validate our way of life. We also feel a kinship with them because of our shared values and history. Perhaps more importantly, our artists (and other celebrities) prove that a Mormon can achieve at a high level despite (in the eyes of the world) and because of (in our eyes) their Mormon-ness. In this, we are no different than any other ethnic group.

And as with other groups, the question of whether or not an artist should/can really be counted as part of the fold is a matter of speculation, discussion and gossip. The difference for Mormons is that there is a rather clear demarcation and one that is based on behavior rather than heritage. One is either a member of the LDS Church in good standing (or trying to be in good standing) or not. Obviously this demarcation doesn’t matter for some (and it must be a source of frustration for “cultural Mormons” who feel connected to some sense of Mormon identity and history, but not to the body of the Church). But the distinction can be made. And I think it goes beyond one’s status as active LDS or not. We also fret about actions and words by our Mormon celebrities that may signal that they are having trouble “living the gospel” (and I include myself in this — while I may be more liberal than many Mormon consumers, I am not immune to these concerns). I think of the worry over Steve Young’s unmarried status, Marie Osmond’s divorce, SHeDAISY’s (or any young, female actress or singer) attire, etc.

It’s very strange. But to be expected. After all, we are constantly warned about the temptations of the world and especially of the American entertainment complex. Of course we’re going to be concerned about those that enter such treacherous waters while at the same time hope for their success.

I’d like to dismiss these issues as the inevitablity of group dynamics, of building group identity. I’d like to be able to cavalierly state that I don’t care if an athlete, politician or (most importantly for me) artist is Mormon or not and what their membership status is. But I can’t. I still cling to the perhaps naive belief that being a believing Mormon has some sort of effect on the art one produces. That it counts for something.

More on that in part II.

8 thoughts on “Pop: Mormon artists and membership status”

  1. He is a rock musician that had moderate success in the late ’90s. He is also the son of Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO) Mormon band member Randy Bachman. Click on the links in the post above for more details — particularly the link from the text “publicly announced.”

  2. I think a lot of the interest is also the provincialism in the church. And I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing. Rather it is akin to the “local boy does good.” We feel a kinship the way we might if a cousin had some measure of notable success.

    I think we also still as a culture have many insecurities. I personally think one of the callings of Pres. Hinkley was to get us over that remnant of the persecutions of the 19th century. But parts of it still remain. We *want* to be accepted. We *want* to be noticed. We *want* to be successful. So we are happy when businessmen, artists, and others succeed. That’s why the doings of the governor of Mass. are reported in Utah while the doings of most other east coast governors aren’t. We have long felt second class citizens and want to feel a part of America in every sense.

    Hopefully a sign of maturity will be when we won’t feel this way.

  3. I confess that I’m pretty pleased to see any active/faithful LDS person make it big, be successful, achieve fame and fortune. I hadn’t really heard of Tal Bachman either but I certainly knew about his father.

    I just know that someday, in addition to our Miltons and Shakespeares, we’ll have a Mormon Elvis or a Mormon Beatles. 🙂


  4. There seems to me a larger portion of “Mormon” celebrities who are no longer “practicing” Mormons than there are faithful and active Mormon celebrities. Does becoming famous create a problem or is what seems to be necessary to become famous cause the problem? It is probably one or the other depending on the individual. There seem to be very few higher level projects out there that an active Mormon may feel comfortable in participating in.

    I must confess an attraction to those Mormon celebrities that have found it possible to make it big and deserve it without compromise to their beliefs in word and practice. I actually found out about Tal Bachman because he was Mormon but then realized I had been listening to and enjoying his song “She’s so High” without knowing who sung it and that he was Mormon. After purchasing his CD I was impressed with all aspects of it. He did not compromise his values to produce it and did not preach a religion in doing so. His CD is a mainstream, guiltless enjoyment.

    In an interview with a Canadian journalist, Tal Bachman is described as sipping a beer and commenting that he is new at it (alcohol consumption). I wonder how much of his “change” is intellectual and how much of it is emotional. For his wife and kids to, as reported by him, to leave their faith behind so easily I wonder how much was really there to begin with. Of course, we know that intellectual knowledge is often dangerous when we allow our limited intellectual knowledge rule our spiritual knowledge. In his intellectual exploration did he also truly seek his God for assistance? Was he truly involved in an intellectual search for knowledge or were fame and more mainstream acceptance involved? His personal journey has by his own actions been made public and that creates more questions. Most questions only Tal Bachman can answer himself.

  5. I believe the desire we have of seeing other Mormons become successful is based on our belief that Mormons that are successful are somehow like us. That a part of us or something within us also resides within that person. A second part may also tie to the memory of persecution that we have experienced in our religion. Celebrity (as opposed to infamy) implies acceptance and acceptance may imply outside justified recompense for some of the persecution felt.

    It would appear Tal Bachman also seeks outstide justification for his role of leaving the church. I do not buy a separation of Mormon and non Mormon fans since the revenue they produce is the same and still sought by the artist. But the public announcement may be a call to others who have left the mormon church for support in the decision.

  6. I was just listening to the radio and “She’s So High” came on. It made me wonder how many members–upon hearing this song–would now change the station because of what Talmadge has done. Yet, the song is the same it was five years ago.

  7. Interesting as always William. I didn’t realize he was LDS until I read this, but I’ve enjoyed his hit “She’s So High” for a long time. I’ve never heard of SheDaisy until now, but seeing that her music can be found in the iTunes music store makes me think she’s (they’re?) legit.

    I wonder what correlations you can make between the way we feel about LDS “celebrities” (the respect or hopes we have for them) and the way other ethnic groups feel about their celebrities. Adam Sandler has a famous holiday song about all the famous Jews. Does this give the Jews a sense of pride or vindication because of the persecution they’ve endured? Probably. In another sense though, the comparison may not totally fit as Jewish heritage seems just as much ethnic /cultural as it does religious. Do practicing Jews also respect or enjoy the fame of non-practicing Jewish celebrities? (That’s an honest question, but from my outsider perspective I’d think that’s the case.) (Sorry, I can’t help making the comparison after having read My Name is Asher Lev in my BYU English class.

    Speaking of artists and their fame reminds me of the famous talk by President Kimball calling (which was required reading in the design department at BYU) for the LDS community to produce great Mormon artists. Then again, the talk didn’t plead for us to create pop stars. =)

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