Fondle myself in the dark
Yes, I am Scott Stapp
(haiku from the Die Creed Die website)
Much like the God they champion versus the devil of "evil negativity" espoused by folks like Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, Creed evokes a love-'em-or-hate-'em attitude in most everyone. Folks either love the band in all their bigger-than-life grandiosity, or shrivel at the very name due to what they see as pretentiousness blown to epic proportions by a bag of hot air.To many, that bag of hot air goes by the name of Scott Alan Stapp. In a story too good for Creed-bashers to believe, Stapp's real name was originally Anthony Scott Flippen. After his mom got married to a Dr. Stapp, the whole family adopted the last name, which made his initials A.S.S. Soon, Stapp's real name was legally changed to Scott Alan Stapp.
Stapp is the lightning rod for the band, for more than a couple of reasons. Firstly, much like so many other "new rock" acts of this day and age, the rest of the band are pretty damn boring and businesslike. Secondly, it's Stapp who strikes the messianic poses one so often sees -- indeed "with arms wide open." Public Enemy's Chuck D once rapped that "now they got me like Jesus," but he didn't see the need for audio-visuals. Bono pretty much walked the same path as Stapp in the early days of U2, but redeemed his "God-stretches" with a sense of humor and a hearty fondness for lager. Stapp often fuels the fire by making statements like the recent one where he states that he sings so hard that sometimes he sees visions -- in this particular case, an American Indian in the audience.
The Christian overtones of Creed are impossible to ignore. Albeit in an oblique way, most every song deals with some vague wish to go "higher," to change one's life, or to "fly away." Earlier Creed songs contained lyrics like "only in America we kill the unborn to make ends meet." Presumably, such pointed statements could serve to keep the band from meeting its maximum, unit-shifting potential, however more admirable the band's straightforward politicos might have been at that point. Now, it seems, Stapp erects a Holy Ghost barrier anytime one objects to a statement or song lyric, and chafes when someone asks for an explanation. Foremost of these is Stapp's insistence of not getting involved in what he terms "all the negativity in the world." Dave Grohl's hilarious parody of "With Arms Wide Open" (http://plater.dnsalias.net:8080/music2/) irked Stapp, who called the Foo Fighter an amazing artist but noted that he was disappointed. Stapp also refused comment on the famous Fred Durst rift (Fred thought they were pretentious, boring and arrogant), but did note that he would fight the good fight and trade punches in the ring for charity.
Whatever it says about Creed as a band, it's important to note that a minor music/pop culture figure likely wouldn't cause such a fuss in society. Elvis and Madonna created controversy because they struck certain chords in folks, primarily in the fields of personal expression, particularly among the youth of America (Elvis) and women (Madonna and, well, Elvis). Creed, it would seem, represent something different: a test of the level of Christian mores allowed in youth and popular culture, and the corresponding coolness (or lack of) bestowed upon such a phenomenon. As Stapp and Co. sell out another venue or sell another million records or appear on MTV yet again, another door is seemingly opened to those who might use Creed's success as a pulpit. Stapp and Co. may not explicitly be a Christian rock band, but they know a formula when they see it: Tell it like a preacher and deliver "em to salvation with some well-placed power chords and "Stairway to Heaven" strings (a coincidence? I think not...).
The other element of the formula is simple enough: Don't anger the folks in Christian radio and at VH1 that have helped raise the band to its current status, while simultaneously doing nothing -- like, say, getting too spiritually explicit in the lyrics -- to piss off the commercial radio/MTV crowd. It's a tightrope walk few -- if any -- recent mainstream bands have attempted. The aforementioned U2 was never as closely aligned with the Great Tour Manager In The Sky as Creed is. Stryper never got past bumblebee costumes and Ultra-mist. Add to this a semi-heavy sound about as close to real expression as KFC is to dinner at Grandma's, and you have the makings of a hit. Your Grandma doesn't make money, you see, and KFC does.
So why the prayer haters? Most websites point to the band's ham-fisted way with their image, seemingly mythologizing themselves while at the same time preaching against such stuff in others. (Check out www.creedsucks.com for an easy portal into the Anti-Creed world, in which Stapp is more like the Anti-Christ.) Some notable critics even point to something else: an unease at Christian themes in general when not cloaked in some sort of rootsy authenticity.
"The band's overwrought sound and the arrogance and righteousness of the lead singer both irritate critics -- and that's compounded by an anti-religious bias," says Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.
"I recall a similar backlash for Hootie," says the ever-opinionated Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune. "Over-the-top nastiness far out of sync with the actual quality of the band, as much directed at the band's audience at the band itself. Or how about the Offspring using Backstreet Boys punching bags on their tour? In both cases, the enraged, stamp-out-those-cockroaches criticism is pathetic, even more egregious than the bland, cookie cutter music it seeks to vilify... It makes certain people feel better that they "know' good music and the poor misguided masses don't, I guess. With Creed, add an element of sanctimony and humorlessness in the band's music, and you have a band that is even easier to hate. I admit, I have a hard time swallowing a band that is so aggressively mediocre -- at least Hootie and Backstreet Boys sound like they're having fun."
And there you have it, I do believe. Creed aren't likely to be the Second Coming, of Led Zeppelin or anyone else (though Stapp is fond of paralleling the bands in interviews). Musically speaking, they might even be the equivalent of a Millennial doomsday scare.
It's not the message Creed sends that irritates folks, but the manner in which it's delivered. Who, whether in the literal sense or the figurative musical sense, wants to go to a heaven as joyless as this?
The onus is on Creed at this point. Can you take us higher?
Creed plays Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at 7:30pm on Monday, July 15, along with special guests Jerry Cantrell and 12 Stones. Call 704-522-6500 for more information.