In the back of the youth room closet was a multicolored pile of Christian CD’s the church had accumulated since the mid 90’s. “Does anybody want these?” I yelled to the teenagers who were spending a sunny Saturday helping me clean up before the church lock-in.
“No!” they shouted back from the other side of the room. They had already scanned the titles and didn’t recognize any of the names. And as I put Michael W. Smith and Audio Adrenile’s entire catalogue in paper bags headed for Goodwill I saw the corner of a Switchfoot sticker hidden in the stacks. I pulled it out and asked the kids if they wanted it.
“What’s Switchfoot?” A twelve year old brunette asked, as if Switchfoot was some sort of household appliance.
I looked down at the orange sticker. It was from The Beautiful Letdown tour in 2003. I remembered working Switchfoot’s merch booth in Minneapolis and Jon Foreman had handed me a signed copy of that very sticker after the show as a thank you gift. “They used to be my favorite band.” I said to the girl.
This summer Switchfoot is releasing Fading West, a retrospective documentary on being musicians, friends, activists, and surfers over the last 17 years. Watching the teaser, I remembered standing in 100 degree heat singing along to Legend of Chin when it was just Jon, Tim, and Chad jumping around the smallest stage of our Midwestern Christian Music festival.
In elementary school my brother and I spent a lot of time sit in the back seat of my family’s wood paneled station wagon. My father’s arm resting out of the window. Listening to Rush Limbaugh and switching to Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife during the commercials. I would usually listen along without complaining.
Once I hit middle school something changed. Suddenly, everything my dad did was embarrassing. I couldn’t stand listening to him laugh along with Rush or sing along with Bobby.
In 7th grade I asked my father if I could have a girlfriend. He dismissed the idea out of hand saying, “Dating without a driver’s license is just ridiculous.” So I stopped listening to him and spent the next year nursing my wounds to Switchfoot’s Ben Hur on my Discman singing “I thought that it might have Ben Hur,” broken hearted that my father had kept me from the middle school love of my life.
In high school Switchfoot was there when my girlfriend of two months dumped me, citing “irreconcilable differences.” The next week, at youth group I sang a heart wrenching acoustic cover of Let that be enough. My off-key faltering voice singing, “Let me know that You love me, And let that be enough” as a prayer to God from a broken-hearted teenager.
When was in college when Switchfoot signed to Columbia Records and Meant to Live started playing on top 40 radio. Gone were their whimsically introspective melodies, now replaced by an athematic studio sound.
I almost jumped ship. But then I heard Meant to Live playing during the last scene of The Invisible Children documentary about Ugandan Child Soldiers. I was living with my Kenyan friend Michael at the time and was spending nights and weekends raising awareness for children in Africa. And maybe I didn’t love the music, but it felt good to know Switchfoot and I were still on the same page.
And now as 29 year old minister I still give every new Switchfoot record at least one listen. I’m always disappointed by the grinding guitars and predictable breakdowns, a high-budget studio sound that just feels tired.
But then I hear Jon’s froggy voice calling us to live out the Kingdom of God in the here and now. That the Gospel is supposed to be good news to broken hearted people.
On Vice Verses he sings, “Keep running with the Dark Horses, Hope makes the blood change courses, Keep running with the Dark Horses, Stand up for the Dark Horses” Begging us to stand with those who are left behind by a world run by avarice and greed. A rallying call for our youth, that stands in stark contrast to the cotton candy synth-pop of Justin Beiber or hyper sexualized tracks coming from Rihanna.
And looking down at a decade old sticker, hidden in the back of a church closet, I think to myself, I hope Switchfoot is still somebodies favorite band.