1. STRYPER, IN GOD WE TRUST
Like a young Jakob Dylan listening to his father talk about Woody Guthrie for the first time, I distinctly remember the moment my dad shared the gospel of Stryper with me. He was driving my mom and I in our rusty Chevrolet Citation (most fitting car name of all time) through the streets of Mililani, Hawaii. We were on the way home from our Friday Night Out, which always consisted of grocery shopping at Safeway and then eating at either Sizzler or Burger King. I don't recall going to any other restaurants as a child. Anyway, my dad told me that I should check out this cool new Christian group that drinks fruit juice backstage instead of alcohol! I wasn't prepared for this shocking parental endorsement of a hairsprayed, yellow spandex-clad, screaming metal band. Instead of pinching myself, I immediately purchased the "In God We Trust" cassette. I was forever changed.
My best friend was the other white kid in our fifth grade class. He was also named Danny, and he also had blond hair and blue eyes. Throw in our mutual love for Stryper, and you've got quite the perfect target tandem on Kill Haole Day (look it up, it's worth it). We hit the metal scene pretty heavily that year. My previous faves were Wang Chung and Men Without Hats, so perhaps I was subconsciously hungry for a little testosterone in my musical intake.
Danny's family allowed fun stuff like Coke drinking and MTV watching. Stryper's "Always There For You" video would come on and we'd put down our skateboards for the next four glorious minutes (and eleven seconds) and sing along (mentally) with Michael Sweet's miraculously high voice. I tried not to let my fixation on Sweet's brother - drummer Robert - turn to lust. My goodness... He was gorgeous like Amy Grant, with (presumably) more chest hair. He really had that "drumstick twirl between snare hits" thing down, too. The complete package.
Around this time, my dad came through big for me with a surprise ticket to my first non-church-related concert. Well, I guess that's not entirely true... In some (most) ways, seeing Stryper perform was exactly like going to church. I didn't realize this at the time though (the Bibles flying at the crowd should have been my first clue). I was too busy experiencing sheer hedonistic heaven... Or at least as hedonistic as a ten year old nervously clutching his dad's hand could get. It was awesome.
On the way towards downtown Honolulu that night, I proudly reminded my dad that "Salvation Through Redemption Yields Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness", and, that the little "Isaiah 53:5" under their band logo is the Bible verse that states, "by His stripes we are healed". A far cry from KISS (Kids In Satan's Service), WASP (We Are Sexual Perverts) or KMFDM (um... Kill My Faith, Dark Master? Sounds about right).
Stryper was the first band I truly loved. They were also the first band I was truly ashamed of. They rapidly became helplessly uncool in my circle of pre-pubescent music snob friends. The other Danny moved back to the Mainland (i.e. continental US) the next year, and I was left to fend for myself against my racist Hawaiian classmates, who couldn't grasp the concept of not being allowed to listen to "secular" music, not to mention the concept of choosing to listen to Stryper. My new best friend was a kid named Billy, who only bought cassettes that had parental advisory stickers on them. Billy was a total enabler. My fate was sealed.
My enthusiasm about being associated with The Yellow and Black Attack has waned severely over the past two decades. I was temporarily thrilled when Michael Sweet reinvented himself as an alt-rocker in the mid 90s and started relentlessly pounding out college radio hits like "Girlfriend" and "Sick of Myself". But then I realized it was just some talentless hack with the same sugary last name. You can never go back.