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.