i love the 90s (skanking to the beat)

by Suzannah Paul

HFStival

Katie’s dad took us to our first concert in middle school, enduring 100 degree temps, ear plugs, and a sea of rowdy youth to win his firstborn’s heart. My parents would never in a million years have accompanied us to see the Violent Femmes, but they were down with handing over their mini van keys a few years later. Newly licensed and suburban bred, I was unaccustomed to highway merging and city driving, but hell if that would keep us from Phish with the hippies, Dave Matthews with the frat boys, U2 with the youth group kids, and myriad festival shows that endeared 90s alt-rock to us forever.

Do you remember when ska was a thing and how it got us dancing? Skanking is the genre’s two-step, an exuberant jumble of hunched-bouncing, skip-kicking, elbow-swinging, and air-punching. Ballroom it was not (and despite its name, it bore no resemblance to club dancing either!).

When I was in college, third wave ska was having its last hurrah. A local band played campus, and I danced my heart out, catching the eye of a cute boy with blue and blond spotted hair.

“I never met a girl who could skank like that,” he confessed with a smile.

That sounds truly terrible. Apologies all around.

I’d seen ska shows before–The Bosstones, The Specials, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish–but I’d taken them all in from the sidelines as a spectator, afraid that the cool police might out me as a poseur for not abiding unspoken rules of engagement. I hadn’t learned to skank in any legit mosh pit anywhere. Nope, my technique was honed at Christian music festivals and in church sanctuaries, fists pumping to the Jesus-praising horn sections of The Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, The Insydyrz, and The W’s.

This is my confession. Come and get me, cool police. 

Teenage girls are culturally programmed to be self-conscious (which the public scrutiny of women’s bodies does little to ameliorate), but somehow I found momentary freedom from that at Christian rock shows, which pushed me out of living primarily in my head and freed me to exorcise my insecurities on the dance floor. In a sweaty Supertones concert pit on a Pennsylvania farm, I inhabited my own body with the sort of jubilance usually reserved for athletes, earth mamas, and the naturally confident. (And the heathens, natch.)

Christians can be a bit body-phobic, can’t we, uncomfortably embarrassed by our own bodily needs, desires, and weaknesses? I’m not convinced that Jesus was, though. He healed with his hands and looked fallen women in the eye. He broke bread with friends and used metaphors that connected spiritual truths to the stuff of bodies and earth. He stripped to the waist to wash his disciples’ feet and scandalized many by allowing a sinful woman to anoint his own feet with perfume, bathing them in tears and drying them with her hair. He defied religious custom to embrace those whose very touch would make him ritually unclean.

Jesus, the incarnate God-with-us, lived a human life replete with bodily joy, pain, kindness, and indignity. You know that quote that people falsely attribute to C.S. Lewis about how we aren’t bodies but souls who happen to reside in bodies?

That there leads to some pretty jacked up theology.

Our physical selves were knit by God to be wholly entwined with our spirituality, and the latter doesn’t trump the former. In the Nicene Creed, we affirm the resurrection of the dead. Even in heaven we’ll have bodies, and it makes little sense to live spiritual lives divorced from our bodily ones here on earth.

I grew out of my Christian rock phase but remain grateful for lessons learned there in self-forgetfulness and embodied living. In a strangely unexpected way, Christian concerts helped me to begin feeling at home in my own skin. As a wayfarer in the subculture, it did not serve merely as a “bubble” to protect, a mediator of the divine, or a fence to keep me separate from the world. Instead, The Supertones were a launching pad for me to learn to silence my inner critic, to see God outside the church, and to live a more fully incarnate faith.

And they basically introduced me to the blue haired boy, too. Thanks, Christian rock. I could have done a lot worse than you.

 

23 Responses to “i love the 90s (skanking to the beat)”

  1. Tracie February 6, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    This brings back really great memories of Supertones concerts I went to when I was a teen in the 90s. I kind of want to pull out some old ska music to listen to today – but I’m pretty sure if I do, I’ll get the biggest eyerolls possible from my tween daughter.

  2. Bethany February 6, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    Not gonna lie… I totally heard VH1′s “I love the 90′s” when I saw the title of your post :-)

    I never got into the Christian ska movement (did I say it right) I was a late comer to Christ and went straight, by association to the super cheesy mainstream music. Which I have no recovered from. However I love your words. I think the more I’ve come to know Christ and who He was. What He says about all of ME the more comfortable I have become in my body. That includes embracing every part of myself. I’ve found that I move in a more fluid fashion since I’ve had this acceptance and it’s beautiful. Christ knowing and loving us is beautiful.

  3. Patrick February 6, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Christian rock actually helped ignite my interest both in Christian mysticism and existentialism (through the bands mewithoutYou and Showbread, respectively). Though I was too young to attend Supertones and FIF concerts (I was still in grade school), I still listened to them at home a lot. Looking back, it’s refreshing to see how deeply the members of those bands (and others, such as Jars of Clay) pursued faith, openly expressed doubt and struggle, and pushed the envelope with what was “OK” in Christian rock, even fighting to remove that label from the music they made. Though I’m not much for most Christian music anymore, it helped shape me, and it still does.

    Think I’m gonna rock FIF’s farewell concert today. :)

  4. Andee Z February 6, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Oh…how I love ska. I am a child of the 80′s so my bands were the Specials, Fishbone, and Madness. Oingo Boingo slipped into ska a few times as well. When I became a youth pastor in the 90s I can promise each youth meeting started with the Supertones or the Ws. Thanks for a glimpse into the past. Anyone who appreciates ska is way cool in my book!

  5. msdonnaclaire February 6, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    God will provide. You have put into words what I cannot. My 14 year old and I have been having this conversation for oh – the past six months?!?! Jump started when she found my cd stash from high school ” Mom, you won’t believe what I found – Kate Bush, Kurt Cobain, etc. Where did these come from?”. I am not a believer that the music will damn you. Yet I do keep up with what she downloads. And it’s not wide open. That said, when coming from a parent, there are some things a teen will not hear without the accompanied eye roll. And there are places parents cringe to think of letting their kids grow into. Can you say Warp Tour and mosh pit? Nope, I can’t. Nope, no way. Thank you for reminding me of the excitement of my first concert. And a viewpoint to share with my daughter that tells her I get it.

    • Suzannah February 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      some of the best skills that parents and mentors can teach are critical thinking and media literacy. i’m so glad you and your daughter share a love for music and engage in these conversations together. it’s worth the eye-rolling:)

  6. kelliwoodford February 6, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    with you in the christian mosh pit. :)

    i still love that verb that sounds like an insulting adjective: skank.

    and also, your point. about bodies, i mean. just as deeply spiritual as bread and wine to doubting lips.

    well said (as usual), friend.

  7. Paul Belk February 6, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    What a nostalgic post! I so vividly remember my parents driving me and my best friend way out to the burbs for my first Supertones and Ghoti Hook concert (why they never played urban venues, I’ll never know). I’m a pretty reserved guy, and was almost painfully shy as a kid. Those shows unlocked something inside me that was beautiful to reveal- that I love to move and dance. During the last ska show I went to in college, I skanked and danced so hard that I lost my glasses at some point in the pit, not ever noticing until after the show. My friends and I spent half and hour looking for them. We found 8 other flattened and mangled pairs, but not mine, and my friend had to drive my car back to Austin from Dallas. Your words here makes me want to recover that side of me that isn’t afraid to move and feel connected to my body.

    • Suzannah February 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      i love it! i wonder what it might look like for christians to practice a more embodied faith together…

  8. Bethany Turner February 6, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    “Thanks, Christian Rock. I could have done a lot worse than you.” I completely, completely agree. I attended a Baptist school in Indiana and Christian Rock was definitely my teenage “rebellion.”

  9. Jessica February 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    I’m nearly 30 and I’m still that self-conscious, body-phobic girl!

    • Suzannah February 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      believe me, i have those days, too. this is why i think it’s so important for us to recover a better theology of the body. cultural narratives about beauty and sexuality can be destructive in a lot of ways, but more than that, they are so small and limiting! what does it mean to be fearfully and wonderfully made, that our bodies were created for work, play, rest, love, service, worship…?

  10. Luke February 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    You have agitated my nostalgia-glands. I’m currently watching old vids of the Ska band I was in in high school and updating my “high-fives and stage dives” playlist on Spotify.

    But seriously, I think my exposure to different expressions of Christianity at places like Cornerstone (RIP) was a huge component of the grounding and internalization of my own faith. More to your point though, it was in the context of the sub-sub cultures that I was navigating (I played in a ska band, but the hardcore scene was really my home), that I learned about the embodiment of faith. In that world, I met people whose veganism, whose commitment to straight edge, whose tattoos and piercings, and all sorts of other physical choices were all a reflection and embodiment of their relationship with God.

    Great stuff. Now I need to go find my rudeboy suit…

    • Suzannah February 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

      i need to see photos of that suit ASAP. any remaining video or audio evidence of your band??

      i hadn’t thought of it exactly that way before, but if mainstream faith favors the head and the heart, maybe this is another example of how we can look for wisdom from the margins on how to better incarnate our faith.

  11. Addie Zierman February 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I always knew you were my people. Christian ska gave me the courage to dance too, for the first time ever. I’d always been to self conscious…too afraid. But something about skanking set me free. (Yeah. It really does sound bad.)

    Love this line: “The Supertones were a launching pad for me to learn to silence my inner critic, to see God outside the church, and to live a more fully incarnate faith.” Perfect.

    • Suzannah February 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      i wish our teenage selves had crossed paths! you are my people indeed:)

  12. Jessica February 6, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Oh those were the days…I remember getting out on the floor with my friends, our bodies jumping and twisting in manic ways. Skanking was so much fun. I didn’t even care what I looked like.

    I wasn’t introduced to good Christian music until college, so my high school days of skanking were to the likes of Reel Big Fish, The Bosstones, and {my two favorite} Save Ferris and Buck-o-Nine. If we ever meet up again, we should definitely have our own little dance party.

  13. Sarah Moon February 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I really love that you can (or could) skank. I was actually just talking a couple of weeks ago to my fiance and his cousin, while watching male-dominated contact sports, about how I never felt like it was okay to be physical as a girl until I started going to rock concerts and getting caught in mosh pits. At the Five Iron Frenzy concert I went to last year, moshing during One Girl Army? GAH SO EMPOWERING. My body is awesome and strong and powerful and sexy and I’m glad I can finally say those things with confidence.

  14. HopefulLeigh February 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    This brings back so many good memories. I’ll have you know the Supertones and a few other ska bands did a signing at the Christian Bookstore I worked at. Pretty sure I have the autographed posters somewhere.

  15. Bethany Bassett February 7, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    Not sure when my husband and I will grow out of our ’90s ska phase, but it’s not yet. :) On the weekends, we turn up FIF, and my husband teaches our little girls to skank. (I? was and probably always will be the self-conscious girl too embarrassed to dive into the fun herself. However, post-resurrection me is going to live. it. up!) I love this post, both for the nostalgia factor and for the points you drew about body image and Christianity. Might I even say… it’s the bomb diggity?

  16. Kristin T. (@kt_writes) February 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    As a woman who can still remember the first time I felt completely free in public (yes, it was at a live show), this post made me smile. I wish we had been friends back in those days.

    As a Christian and a mother of three daughters (each at various stages of comfort/discomfort in their skin), this topic has the power to keep me up at night. Thank you for this reminder: “Our physical selves were knit by God to be wholly entwined with our spirituality, and the latter doesn’t trump the former.”

  17. Jen February 13, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    Suzannah, I so appreciate your honest words here. It seems like the majority of conversations I have with (forgive the categorical overgeneralization) “progressive/postmodern/post-millenial” Christians these days about ye olde “Jesus Freak days” revolves mostly around how imitative the music was, how naive we all were, how shallow and dumb, how not-in-culture, etc. I’m not out to be a proponent of either “side” really, but the blinding hypocrisy of justifying the judgment, harsh criticism, and ridicule of those days/bands/people/music/sub-cultural aspects really astounds me sometimes. I think for a lot of us, those experiences in 90s Christian subculture were really foundational to a life of honest faith and God-pursuit — imperfections, imitativeness and all. And it seems much more helpful and honoring to be thankful for, and lift up, the goodness of those experiences and toss out the imperfect (wheat and chaff-style). Thanks for being a moderate, holistic, but simultaneously not lukewarm, voice.

    • Suzannah February 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      we had a speaker at baccalaureate forever ago, and i still remember his exhortation to “Find the good and praise it.” i’m not always good (or natural!) at this, but i’m glad it comes through here.

      i’m with you–for better and worse, those experiences really were “foundational to a life of honest faith and God-pursuit.” cheers to that, friend:)

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image