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Stryped History

Originally pulblished 21 August 2017 on

R.E.M. once had an album titled Life's Rich Pageant. I think of that phrase whenever I reflect on the wildly different threads, so intricately woven, that form the tapestry of life, and yes, I know I am mixing metaphors here. Can there be only one metaphor to capture the complex beauty of human life? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand indeed.

Part of my life's rich pageant involves classic rock, hard rock, and heavy metal. I love these kinds of music. Nothing else even comes close. Okay, blues comes close. And some country. And the classic hymns. Gotta love the '80s pop, too. Throw in some Motown and ballads while you're at it and don't forget the crooners. But on a regular basis, it is the sounds of rock and metal that blast through my speakers as I drive to and from school each day.

A dream came true recently when I interviewed Michael Sweet, founder and lead singer/guitarist of Stryper and Sweet & Lynch and also a former member of Boston. Yeah, that's right, a high school Latin teacher got to interview one of his rock heroes, a guy who has enjoyed multi-platinum success and tours to millions around the world.

Back up the story to around 1985. My youth minister, John Cutshall, introduced me to a cassette tape of Soldiers Under Command by a Christian metal band called Stryper, and I went to Beethoven's, the music store in Greentree Mall in Clarksville, Indiana, and purchased it. It went straight into my Sony Walkman and hardly left. Okay, I did put it in my boom box so I could play it for my grandma one Sunday. I told her it was church music. The point is, I was hooked and immediately went back to Beethoven's to get their debut album, The Yellow And Black Attack.

When I bought their album To Hell With The Devil in 1986, I had no idea I was getting such a rare treasure by purchasing the cassette with the controversial "angel" cover that was quickly replaced for later issues. This album led to one of the iconic rock poster's of the '80s gracing my bedroom door and my first rock concert ever when I saw the band perform in Louisville, Kentucky.

When Stryper released their fourth and fifth albums, In God We Trust and Against The Law, I snapped them up as fast as I could get to College Mall in Bloomington, Indiana. Studying to become a Latin teacher at Indiana University for many reasons, including my introduction to cable television and MTV, which played videos by Stryper, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi and even had a show dedicated to the greatest musical form on the planet called Headbangers Ball. The Stryper albums I purchased in those years were on the still relatively new format of the compact disc, which meant hair metal in all its digital glory cranked to 11.

And then came the long cold winter. The band pursued other projects, and it was not until 2003 that I, as a now married man and father, found a new Stryper CD. It was staring at me from the music rack at Wal-Mart in Westfield, Indiana, and was a compilation with a couple of new tracks. Was Stryper back on the scene? A year later saw the release of 7 Weeks: Live In America, a live album from a tour the previous year that ranks with Deep Purple's famous album Made In Japan as my favorite live recording. Something was up. It seemed that Stryper indeed was making a comeback, and that was proved accurate from 2005 to the present.

Since that live album, the band has put out Reborn, The Roxx Regime Demos, Murder By Pride, The Covering, Second Coming, No More Hell To Pay, Live At The Whisky, and Fallen. During that time Michael Sweet has continued his solo projects, done a stint with Boston, and formed Sweet & Lynch with George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), James LoMenzo (White Lion), and Brian Tichy (Whitesnake).

After nearly twenty years, I saw Stryper again playing an acoustic show in Pekin, Illinois, in 2014. I met up with my own former Latin teacher and now colleague, Marcene Farley, and took my son to his first rock concert. As we waited to enter the venue, Michael came out to meet the crowd, and Marcene got his attention. I was like a kid myself as my son and I got our pictures with him. Later that night as the band members tossed Bibles to crowd, I yelled to drummer Robert Sweet, and he tossed one directly to me. Since then I have seen Stryper twice in fully electric shows and have seen Michael perform solo twice as well.

The first time I saw Michael Sweet play a solo show, I was with my friend Dr. Brad Oliver, an education leader in our state and a huge Stryper fan. We met Michael afterward, and I gave him a copy of the lyrics to their 1985 hit "Soldiers Under Command" that I had a translated into Latin. Shortly afterward, he tweeted out a picture of it, and earlier this year he autographed a copy for me.

And that brings us to the present. When I knew I was going to attend Michael's solo show in Richmond, Indiana, I reached out to him and asked if I could interview him. Amazingly, he messaged right back and said yes! I was so excited!

Michael Sweet is a humble and honest man. His faith in Christ makes him who he is, which is pretty amazing given his incredible talent. The world is filled with people who elevate themselves, but Michael is a down-to-earth guy and the real deal. So check out the time a Latin teacher got to interview a rock star!

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