Review & Preview: Matthew Paul Turner’s Hear No Evil

The article below is a review for Matthew Paul Turner’s new book release Hear No Evil. Read our interview with Turner in the march issue of SGN Scoops, coming Monday, March 1.

One of the things I learned in one of the classes for that English Ed. degree I am currently “wasting” taught me a whole lot about something I’d always known but never verbalized: When we read stories, any kind of stories, we bring to them our own stories. Some theories even say that a book isn’t truly finished until it’s read, that the Reader’s own experiences and interpretations are what comprise the ultimate conclusion to any tale.

Oh forgive me. I in fact slipped into English Teacher mode for a moment. Let me move on to the example: When I was a kid, my conservative, quietly-Pentecostal parents were Gi-Normous fans of Sandi Patty. They were hesitant about Amy Grant. And for a long time, they flat out refused to entertain the very thought of Stryper being played in their house and piercing the ears of their naïve children (the children, my older brother and I, were already sneak-watching Twisted Sister and Michael Jackson videos, but that’s another, ahem, story).

It wasn’t until we scored some kind of Interview with Stryper cassette, conducted by some old guy my parents respected, that they compromised: We could listen to Stryper. We could not hang up pictures of them.

And so, to this day, I can sing every word of “To Hell With the Devil.” And I’m actually kind of surprised my 2 and 3 year old daughters don’t know it yet.

When I picked up Matthew Paul Turner’s new memoir, Hear No Evil, the Stryper campaign of my pre-teen years (the word ‘tween’ did not exist then) was my “contribution” to the story, as was the Matthew that I know from Twitter, where he snarks and enlightens and offends as “JesusNeedsNewPR.”

Turns out, as I hypothesize on my own Twitter bio, snark and spirituality do mix. Sweetness mixes in as well, as Turner looks back on the music-fan-formative years of an Independent Baptist child, one who risked grounding from parents and teasing from school mates to adore Sandy Patti. One of the most enlightening passages of Hear No Evil, for me, was discovering that Sandi Patty was not the adult-contemporary-gospel-darling my parents’ fandom led me to believe. In fact, Turne first saw her in concert when a small group from his church executed a covert operation to get to one. What happens is that a young man who had only to that point seen a segregated, straight-laced, “fundamentalist” version of church, sees for the first time people from diverse backgrounds and styles and denominations worshipping together. It is one of the book’s most touching moments.

Turner waxes that, “Music reminded us we could trust God, even when ‘His people’ fail us.” And so is the tone of this one-story-per-chapter collection, the thread tying each together being how they all shaped Turner’s musical tastes and spiritual convictions.

Particularly captivating is the tone with which the thirty-something Turner reminisces. Obviously seasoned in experiences and words, his voice remains one of an innocent and sometimes indignant teenager. It is sometimes difficult to tell how literally he’s portraying the moments, especially the dialogue. While this is par for the course of a memoir, I couldn’t help but wonder if those waters were purposefully muddied… so that we can finish the story.

Turner’s sharp witticisms for techniques and conditions many church and Christian-music people will recognize are clever, sure to elicit some reflection and some sting. “Faith-based bi-polar disorder” is one that jumps off the page as he describes his own potential Christian music star “wanna-be” period.  A favorite of mine is a description of a Christian rock band member, who was planning to chuck the whole faith thing, along with the music, but would stick it out for his expected month or two, as he was “contractually obligated to act like a Christian.” (And all God’s people say… ouch).

Turner’s musings about life at Belmont University (particularly his Calvinist rebellion and his first Bob Dylan listening experience) will bring chuckles to music-types. His memories of falling for Amy Grant (take a guess how many times he bought her secular project Lead Me On) and defending Joan Osborne’s Gen-X anthem “[What If God Was] One of Us” may bring hysterical tears.

His depiction of an interview with Amy Grant – during his time as Editor of CCM, the Billboard of contemporary Christian music – is already somewhat of a legendary tale amongst the social media-Christian-music-circle. Perhaps this is the way every journalist comes of age, defending the integrity of a story over a publisher’s personal agenda, but Turner’s admiration for his subject and earnestness in approaching her makes this particular tale stick.

Not all the recollections of funny, nor are they all cynical. Some of the people Turner lets us meet– through his pseudo-friendship with two pseudo-music-stars, a self-proclaimed rising talent desperate to play at a coffee house he managed, a small group leader ready to quit over “making God look like a slob,” and a gay man returning to church on Easter to find his song – show us the true heart of man who, like those who seeks to reach with his words, are believers who search, who fail, and who start over, clinging to the songs they know.

Hear No Evil carries the subtitle My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost. Even if you’ve only experienced two of the three, Turner’s subtle, sensitive, and yes – snarky, storytelling will offer you a few hours of relatable reflection and joy.

Visit Matthew Paul Turner’s blog.

– By Kelly Capriotti Burton