Friday, August 2, 2013

Singles 45's & Under: PowerSource - Dear Mr. Jesus

College is a great place to foster and develop one’s cynicism. In light of tragedy and things beyond one’s control, cynicism serves an important purpose. If offsets the realities of this cruel world by preparing us to tackle another day. If we linger too long on everything that is wrong with this planet, we find ways to hasten our exit from it, either consciously or subconsciously.

I never understood child abuse growing up, but then again, what is there to understand about it anyway? It’s a topic that grows exponentially horrid when you have children, and as a person who believes that we as a species should be better than killing another person in the name of justice, I falter a bit on the position whenever I hear stories about child abuse.

In 1987, a New York attorney was arrested after beating his step-daughter  to death. She collapsed after a blow to the head, and as she lay in the bathroom of the family’s Bronx apartment, slipping in and out of consciousness from her injuries, her step-father left her alone without medical attention, occasionally leaving the home to freebase cocaine.

He lived with a woman for several years, and she was also to blame for allowing the abuse to continue in the couple’s home. When she returned home from her job as an editor of children’s books for Random House one evening, she found the child close to death. The girl had been suffering for over 10 hours. It was at this time that she finally convinced her abusive partner that they needed to contact the authorities. The girl later died from her injuries.

The case gained national prominence, but I remember it for another reason.

During the trial, a radio station discovered a song recorded by PowerSource, a contemporary Christian musical group led by Richard Klender. The group recorded a song called “Dear Mr. Jesus,” a schmaltzy ballad about child abuse with stunningly bad 80’s production values. The song’s notoriety was secured when Klender asked 6 year-old Sharon Batts to perform lead vocals on his new song.

PowerSource released their first and only album Shelter From The Storm in 1986. “Dear Mr. Jesus” was nestled in the Bedford, Texas’s full length and probably would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the aforementioned child abuse case in New York City. When some clever disc jockey found it and began playing it during the trial, listeners called in by the thousands to request it. From there, it began to spread across the country, where it finally entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #61 in January 1988.
I remember it being played repeatedly in the Midwest during the 1987 holiday season. My cynicism took note of the song’s content and the manner in which Mr. Klender chose to address the topic by enlisting a 6 year-old girl to sing it.

Take a look/listen to this incredible piece of 80’s righteousness and marvel at how Klender seemed to foreshadow later events about a girl “beaten black and blue.” The girl narrator is troubled by the news and decides to take her concerns directly to Jesus, or “Mr. Jesus” as it were.

Taking a clue from George Jones’ classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Klender saves a money shot for the end of the song, when the little girl asks Mr. Jesus to look into this topic of child abuse, and to keep a family secret to himself.

“Please don’t tell my Daddy, that my Mommy hits me too.”

While my cynicism certainly took notice of this forgotten gem, it was the song’s curious decision to highlight the topic from the perspective of a 6 year-old girl that stuck with me for almost three decades. I recently found the song online and have been thoroughly enjoying it in the most ironic of ways for the past week.

In fact, I have been subjecting the children to this piece of fine art, causing my daughter to sing the refrain of “Please, don’t let them hurt your children” over and over, while my son has decided to stick with the “my Mommy hits me too” line, particularly when his own mom tells him to come in for the evening.

I also have the song on vinyl, a promotional single that I acquired from a radio station. When I found it, I used it for a few cassette mixes, utilizing some production tricks in the process. On the flip side, Klender conducted an interview with the young Sharon, asking her complicated questions about abuse and her supposed advocacy concerning the topic. Of course, her responses were exactly what you would expect from a 6 year-old girl who had been heavily coached beforehand. There are lots of one-line answers as well as the expected “child abuse is bad” message. It is exploitation at its most blatant, but it is exactly what you’d expect from a song that was created from such obvious heart-tugging that it can potentially cause cardiac arrest.

For my mix tapes, I would let Klender’s introductions and interview “questions” spin at the normal 45 r.p.m. speed. Then, whenever Sharon would pause to respond, I would change the speed to 33 r.p.m., causing her voice to resonate with a creepy, lower pitched voice. To hear Sharon’s innocent responses under the guise of a middle-age man’s voice was positively stunning. I wish I would have kept a copy for myself.

Child abuse is certainly no laughing matter. I understand this completely as a parent. But while my own opinion of this topic can certainly elicit unchecked rage from within, there’s something inherently wrong about exploiting a child to address a subject as morally repulsive to begin with.

Jesus, thought I’d take this right to you…

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