Oh Jesus! Rock's Top 5 Religious Conversions
Rocks Off understands the need for a good detox now and then, as most of our evening antics often leave us feeling less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed come morning. We also imagine the damage inflicted by lifetime of hard partying and endless touring in the company of morally compromised music-industry execs and other unsavory characters would be considerably harder to erase. Certain circumstances might even require a soul-cleanse.
Perhaps that's why so many musicians take solace in a higher power, seeking some sort of absolution for the sins of stardom. Five of the most memorable faith-swapping artists are listed below.
Hey baby, it's Prince. Now open up that door, you sexy motherfucker. Let's talk about Jesus.
5. Prince Proselytizes Door to Door
As hard as it is to imagine The Purple One in any sort of religious context, the man behind sexed-up songs like "Pussy Control" and "Sexy M.F." has been a devout Jehovah's Witness for more than a decade now. Prince joined the nontrinitarian sect in 2001 following a two-year-long debate with friend and fellow Witness Larry Graham, describing the move as more of an awakening than a conversion.
In a 2008 interview with The New Yorker, His Purple Majesty described his newfound faith as "a realization", adding, "It's like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix." As for the whole preaching door-to-door practice the denomination is famous for, Prince does that too, saying, "Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they're really cool about it."
We can't decide which side of the deluxe foldout edition of Hayes' album we like more.
4. Isaac Hayes Hearts Xenu
Had it not been for South Park most of us would've never known that Isaac Hayes, once a devout Christian, was a faithful follower of L. Ron Hubbard. The soul singer began lending his deep baritone to the character of "Chef" in the controversial animated series shortly after converting to Scientology in 1995, lampooning every race, religion, and public figure imaginable. But when his own religion was satirized in "Trapped in the Closet", a 2005 episode portraying celebrity followers of the faith as alien-worshiping weirdos, Hayes pulled the plug.
In an Onion AV Club interview following his 2006 departure, Hayes says he told creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, "Guys, you have it all wrong. We're not like that. I know that's your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?"
Hayes remained an active and influential member of the Church of Scientology until his death in 2008, and "Shaft" remains one of the most badass, funkalicious songs of all time.
3. Little Richard Renounces Rock and Roll
Before the flamboyant sequined outfits, quivering pompadour, and outrageous piano-pounding performances, the artist born Richard Wayne Penniman had dreams of becoming a preacher, and by the early age of ten was already gaining notoriety as a faith healer in his hometown of town of Macon, Georgia.
These devoutly religious roots were in constant conflict with the reckless, drug-addled, anything-goes mentality of the music industry - not to mention a number of homosexual encounters - and in 1957 Penniman publicly renounced the genre he is credited with laying the foundation for and enrolled in Bible college to become an evangelist, recording nothing but gospel for a number of years.
However, the lure of the British Invasion proved too strong, and Little Richard was back thumping out the devil's music within five years, and spiraled into deep drug and alcohol addiction before returning to the faith in 1977. He has since changed his position somewhat, saying that rock and roll can be used for good and evil, and continues to produce rock-inflected gospel tunes he refers to as "messages in rhythm."
2. Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam
The popular '70s folk singer converted to Islam and changed his name in 1977, allegedly following a near-drowning off the coast of Malibu and receiving the Qur'an as a birthday gift from his brother. While his Muslim spiritual leaders were in support of a continued career in music, the artist now known as Yusuf Islam felt the vanity and greed associated with the music business were in conflict with the teachings of the Qur'an, and retreated into near obscurity for more than 20 years.
Yusuf re-emerged as a spokesperson against Islamophobia following the 9/11 attacks, but was put on a no-fly list and denied entry to the U.S. in 2004 for what would prove to be unfounded allegations of affiliation with the Palestinian Hamas. His ordeal with Homeland Security is chronicled in "Boots and Sand", a 2008 song featuring Paul McCartney, Allison Krauss, Dolly Parton and Terry Sylvester that could possibly go down as the most passive politically-motivated song of all time.
Years ago [they said] I was a prophet. I used to say, 'No I'm not a prophet', they say 'Yes you are, you're a prophet'... Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it.
1. Bob Dylan Finds Jesus
When Bob Dylan found Jesus in the late 1970s he made damn sure everyone knew about it. Described as his "Born Again" period, Dylan's divine revelation resulted in a five-month enrollment at Vineyard Christian Fellowship and three gospel albums. Slow Train Coming (1979) was a commercial and critical success, featuring the Grammy-winning song "Gotta Serve Somebody" that inspired a musical response from John Lennon titled "Serve Yourself".
However, Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were not, and by the time Infidels hit in 1983, Zimmy had returned to the teachings of the Torah. By 1984 Dylan seemed to be moving away from religion altogether, telling Rolling Stone the only faith-based establishment he belonged to was "The Church of The Poison Mind."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.