Amy Grant: "I'm Not A Prude."



Amy Grant is curled up in the corner booth of a roadside beanery near Cincinnati, midway through a murderous forty-three-city concert tour. She seems relaxed and happy this afternoon, looking more like a schoolgirl than a pop music star as she idly nibbles on a cheeseburger. But at twenty-five, Grant, an apple-cheeked, reddish-blond evangelical rock singer whose smile seems fresh as a summer salad, is today the all-time top-selling artist in contemporary Christian music. The Three-time Grammy winner and newly enthroned queen of gospel rock has suddenly been discovered by the media, and she's not all that thrilled about interviews.

"My greatest desire," Amy says earnestly, "is to tell people how my life has been touched by Jesus. But as soon as I mention Jesus in an interview, readers turn off. They go, 'What? No, no, she's getting weird.'"

She rests her chin on her hand and laughs. "So I think I won't say it--I'll just keep singing it," she says happily. "But singing has its drawbacks, too. It often prevents me from being one of the gang. I miss that. I started at college fraternity parties where I just wanted to laugh and dance and have a good time. All of a sudden I was 'the gospel singer'...ta-dum! And every guy I knew lost any romantic interest. 'Why,' they asked, 'why is she doing this strange and foreign thing?' Well, they got me wrong. I don't think I'm a prude or a stick-in-the-mud. I've lived a very full life."

I's hard to believe Amy could be anything but wholesome. Wiith big brown eyes and cascades of long, natural curls, she's even prettier than in her photos. The nondescript cotton blouse and pants she is wearing reflect her no-nonsense attitude about clothes, one that carries over to her performances. At a sold-out concert for seventy-five hundred near Detroit the night before, she appeared in flat heels and a man's shirt over black cotton stretch pants. Amy's trademark, a dinner jacket she hand-painted with leopard spots, is about the flashiest garment she ever wears.

"The last thing I want to think about," she explains, "is my appearance on stage. I'd rather look like I'm at home painting the den and I just decided to sing."

With her successful blend of gospel and rock, Amy's Christian music could easily pass for secular. Its hard-driving arrangements, featuring guitar riffs, and her impassioned delivery sound exactly like todayhs mainstream pop. But in her lyrics, there is an underlying spiritual message of love and hope. Amy says her aim is to use rock music to make what Psalm 100 calls "a joyful noice unto the Lord."

Nothing in Amy's happy, upper-middle-class background prepared her for her current lifestyle. She and four older sisters were raised in Houston before the family moved to Nashville, where her physician father is a cancer specialist. While the Grants were members of the Church of Christ, Amy describes her early beliefs as "nothing excessive. I was a real normal kid." Her born-again faith dates from the year she turned fourteen, when she joined an evangelical, youth-oriented inner city mission at Nashville's Belmont Church and developed a crush on one of its Bible-study teachers. The attraction ran its course, but Amy retained a stronger religious commitment.

"From the start, Amy wanted to be godly," says Don Finto, Belmont Church's charismatic preacher. "While she was always full of joy, what attracted me to her was her seriousness about life. She and my youngest daughter, Helen, were prayer partners and would often spend a half hour or so up in their rooms together praying on their knees. Now, that's kind of awesome for fifteen-year-olds."

Amy was also influenced by the commitment of her Bible study classmates. "All these kids were really into God," she remembers, "talking about God as if He were a person, as if they were really communicating with Him. I had never come across anything that made so much sense."

As a sophomore at Harpeth Hall, an exclusive all-girls school, she was pressed by classmates to perform on the guitar the songs she had written for church. Her two great loves, God and music, became fused in a new way.

"There were a lot of things happening in my life then," Amy says. "I went through all the usual growing-up pain: severe acne, braces on my teeth, Coke-bottle eyeglasses, crushes--I even fell in love with my sister's boyfriend. Pop music dealt with all that, and it was a big part of my life. But nobody was putting out music about the Christian experience I was going through, so I wrote songs to fill in that gap."

It was a breakthrough. Word Records, the biggest label in Christian music, heard a tape of the songs and signed her to a contract. The first album, Amy Grant, sold an impressive 250,000 copies. Then, taking periodic breaks from her study of English literature at Vanderbilt University (she's still seven credits shy of graduation), Amy went on the road, performing in concert for the first time when she was seventeen. In October 1981, she recorded Age to Age, which became her first platinum album, selling a whopping 1.1 million copies.

Half the songs on Age to Age were written by Amy's husband, Gary Chapman, who she met at a record-release party. They were married three years ago and live in a colonial farmhouse outside Nashville. Chapman has become Amy's guitarist and collaborator.

"Gary's great," she says. "Sensitive--maybe too much so--but that's balanced by a terrific sense of humor. Like most couples, we fight about everything. 'You're so pushy,' he'll say. 'Stop manipulating me,' I'll say." Amy laughs. "It's a great marriage."

After eight albums, she has attracted hundreds of thousands of well- scrubbed young fans, mostly aged thirteen to twenty-five, who know every lyric by heart. Like rock fans everywhere, they clap, cheer, join hands, sway in their seats and boogie in the aisles.

Amy's songs express the yearnings of many young people who are lost and searching. "Yes," she sighs, "and I feel the weight of that responsibility. So may kids write me letters: 'Nobody understands me--I'm running away,' or, 'I want to be fulfilled,' or, 'I want to be somebody.' Well, lots of people help answer my letters and make referrals, but I often reply and say that the best way to be fulfilled is to get an eternal perspective on life."

The troubled letters Amy has received inspired her recent single, Find a Way, which climbed to number twenty-nine on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart and was filmed as a music video. The idea for the song came to Amy one day while she was in the bedroom of the Nashville high-rise condominium where she and Gary lived until recently. "I was cleaning the house," she recalls, "and my eye kept going back to a big pile of letters on the dining-room table. They seemed to say, 'Hey, Amy are you just singing that there's always hope, ore, in the heat of battle, does that hold up? Do you really believe it?' And I just started singing." Amy leans close and begins to sing softly. "You tell me your friends are distant ...You tell me your man's untrue ... You tell me you've been walked on ... You tell me you've been abused ..."

Even without its throbbing rock beat, Find a Way's message still comes through--that although it's sometimes difficult to believe, love and spiritual belief can conquer unhappiness.

"It's a song about doubt," Amy says. "All Christians have doubt; sometimes I do. It's therapeutic for me to explore in music what I don't understand. Believe me, there's endless material for that in the spiritual world."

Amy, her band and her singers pray backstage before every show and Finto visits them on tour every few weeks to conduct prayer meetings and give communion. Yet her pop success has alienated some religious followers. At the Detroit performance the night before, she was handed a box of flowers containing a note that read: "Turn back now. You can still be saved if you renounce what you've done." Though such occurences are fairly common, Amy wept bitterly in her dressing room after the show.

"They hate my leopard jacket," she says. "It sounds crazy, but the way I dress and talk is offensive to very conservative Christians.

"Isn't it ironic that a singer like Madonna can get away with wearing nothing but a purple lace bra onstage, and I'm in trouble with leopard spots and necklines up to my chin?"

Despite any criticism, Amy's music remains far more wholesome and uplifting than what is being produced by today's rock stars. Amy says she finds their racy lyrics a turnoff, and at one Prince concert she attended, she says, "I felt strangled for three hours.

"He made a lot of references to God, which bugged me," she recalls. "He kept saying, 'I'm trying to be a good boy; God, I'll be a good boy. Oh, come sleep with me tonight.' Prince is very talented, but the whole evening was tense and sexual. It took hours to air out a smoke-filled feeling inside my heart."

And what is her impression of Madonna, the material girl who was recently pictured in adult magazines wearing very little material? "Madonna and I have a different emotional makeup," Amy says. "Very different. For one thing, I wouldn't want to be seen in naked photos; for another ..." She breaks off, and smiles.

Well, there was that one time last year, she recals slowly, when she took all her clothes off on what she thought was a nude beach in Africa. The beach was deserted, except for some young native men who suddenly appeared and remained to stare.

"My girlfriend and I wondered why the boys had their clothes on," Amy remembers, "so we swam way out in the ocean and stayed there. Later we learned it was not a nude beach. But no big deal. It was a liberating experience. It felt unbelievably crazy to take off all my clothes and play in the sun. I've not had that much fun in so long....

"Why is it," she adds, stirring a glass of iced tea, "that there's something invigorating about doing kinda zany things that are naughty? I have a healthy sense of right and wrong, but sometimes, for example, using foul, exclamation-point words among friends can be good for a laugh."

She draws the line at using drugs, though. As for drinking, "moderation is the key. I love a nice glass of wine. The only time I ever got schnockered was on a high school trip to London. I got so drunk on some honeysuckle wine that I threw up."

Would she ever sing a Madonna-type song with sexy lyrics? "Not to seven thousand people in a concert," she replies, "but if the context were right, yes. Maybe if I were getting out of the shower and going to Gary in the bedroom. Then I could every easily make up some naughty little ditty."

Amy says she and her husband enjoy "a great sex life," and that she is glad she remained a virgin until marriage, despite strong temptations. "I was twenty-one when we married," she says, "and I said to Gary, 'Man, that was tough. There were a lot of guys I loved deeply and would have enjoyed knowing fully, man-to-woman, woman-to-man, but I persevered so that I could give myself to you.'

"Sure," she adds with a tiny smirk, "it bothered me a little that he did not wait for me, too. But he has said if he could undo anything about his growing up, it would have been to know only one woman--me." Is she opposed to premarital petting as well? "Depends on the kid," she replies. "Petting happens. It's part of growing up, finding out who you are, how men and women work. As a teenager, I knew I was just going to flirt, have a little fun, and do whatever I could rationalize, but go no further, because there is only one first time."

She claps her hands and laughs. "People say, 'Oh, prude, prude, prude.' But I'm glad I didn't cross certain barriers, because I wouldn't want to compare Gary's moans with some other guy's. On the other hand, I have friends who did cross those barriers and don't seem to be the worse for wear. They continue to love and honor each other.

"It seems to me," she says as an after-thought, "that people who are most adamantly against premarital sex have experienced some kind of pain in their own lives. Like the people who say absolutely no to rock 'n' roll. Chances are it has something to do with a past sadness."

This Christmas Eve, Amy will be singing more traditional songs at an annual inner-city carol recital with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, followed by the distribution of food baskets to the needy.

Amy and Gary also will attend her family's progressive Christmas dinner, a tradition started three years ago. Traveling in a big group, they will visit seven Grant households around Nashville, stopping for one course at each. "Everyone sets an elegant table," says Amy, "even if it's just for broccoli-cheese soup. At my place, of course, they sit on the rug and eat off trays."

Amy remains very close to her family, and one Christmas she gave each of her four sisters the royalty income from one of her songs. "It was the most fun giving I ever had," she remembers.

Amy Grant seems like an improbable star--sweet and down-to-earth, with no driving hunger for fame. "My goal is just to sing to as many people as I can, and maybe I've already realized that," she admits. "But I've got people around me who dream big dreams. I've got a tough spirit, though I don't know if I can juggle all this responsibility. It hits me when I'm flying home to Nashville after a tour and I see families greeting each other. I wonder if my kids will be waiting there someday, hating me for working so much. If this is going to affect my family and me, I don't want it that bad."

A flow of autograph seekers has begun to crowd Amy as she finishes lunch. After a moment of chatting with them, she makes her way to the door.

"There are just so many other things I want to do that are not glamourous," she says cheerfully, as she waits for a taxi. "Life has its seasons, y'know. I might go through a metamorphosis. Oh, I'll always sing and write songs, but who knows? Someday the audience might shrink from seven thousand to just three people sitting in my living room, and that's fine with me. One thing I've never prayed for is stardom."


Ladies Home Journal
December, 1985
By Cliff Jahr



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