Avoiding Randy Bachman Syndrome

8.3.09 | | 29 comments

Mormon culture too often loses something when LDS authors and artists choose the national and international market over the LDS market. I call this the Randy Bachman Syndrome.

Bachman, for those who don’t know, joined the LDS Church in his native Winnipeg, Canada, in the 1960s, as the band he was in, The Guess Who, started to gain notoriety. At the same time that the Osmonds were known worldwide as Mormons, Bachman was regularly hitting the top of the music charts, first with The Guess Who, and later with Bachman Turner Overdrive. But despite the fame and accomplishment, he wasn’t widely known for being Mormon, and relatively few Mormons knew that he was LDS. Unlike the Osmonds, Bachman had little or no impact on Mormon culture.

I’ve seen this same thing happen over and over with LDS artists. They gain respect and even fame outside of Mormonism, and somehow fail to get any respect or even attention from within Mormonism. Its as if Mormon culture has blinders to members that don’t meet some unknown set of qualifications. Some may suggest that these qualifications include being faithful. But Bachman was faithful (until relatively recently — he left the Church earlier this decade, years after his fame had declined to  “whatever happened to…” status), as were many others who have gone through the same relationship with Mormon culture.

Another example is Clayton Christensen, who wrote the New York Times bestselling book The Innovator’s Dilemma and was earning thousands of dollars from giving speeches to business groups years before he was called to be an Area Authority Seventy. Yet it wasn’t until his call to service as a Seventy that many Mormons knew much about him, and I’d guess than most still don’t, and won’t until (and if) he is given a more visible calling. And even then, will members be aware of his bestselling book? [On the other hand, I'd bet more members know of Gerald Lund's books than his calling as a General Authority!]

My point here isn’t that fame is important, or that Mormon culture should adopt anything in particular from the culture of the world. It is that fame and notoriety are fickle things, and this is especially true in Mormon culture. Those authors and artists seeking success in the world are only rarely known for being Mormon, and their Mormon affiliation is infrequently an influence on others, and even less frequently an influence on Mormons.

It seems that success in the world only very rarely gives Mormon artists the opportunity to influence many people for good.

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29 comments: “Avoiding Randy Bachman Syndrome

  1. Clark

    I suspect more people came to know Bachman was Mormon once his son left the church and became a constant critic. I’ve heard mixed things about whether Bachman sr. is still in the Church. I know he was, for a time, a Bishop in Vancouver.

  2. Matt W.

    Didn’t the Osmonds do some direct outreach to the LDS market though, with firesides, etc? Kind of like David Archuleta and the 5 Browns. I don’t think Bachman Turner Overdrive ever directly targeted the LDS market with any sort of outreach or with any sort of “Hey, This is LDS!” flag being sent out. On the Other hand, Brandon Flowers’ few interviews revolving around his religion has given me more interest in the Killers. I’m not aware of any specific books Clayton Christiansen has marketed to the LDS group, while a fellow LDS business Author, Stephen Covey, has published and marketed directly to the LDS Faith for over 30 years and has a large following there.

  3. Mark D.

    If an artist / writer is producing stuff for the larger market, I don’t see what relevance he has to the LDS market per se at all. Of course if he is well known, he/she can benefit the Church with firesides and the like, but on such occasions one doesn’t usually talk about a product

  4. David J. West

    If I migt recite some classic lines from BTO you might just see how LDs they really are

    You get up every morning–(LDS people do this)
    From your alarm clock’s warning
    Take the 8:15 into the city
    There’s a whistle up above
    And people pushin’, people shovin’
    And the girls who try to look pretty

    And if your train’s on time
    You can get to work by nine
    And start your slaving job to get your pay
    If you ever get annoyed
    Look at me I’m self-employed
    I love to work at nothing all day–
    (here is the sarcasm from a Bishop tired of people making runs on the storehouse)

    And I’ll be…
    Taking care of business every day
    Taking care of business every way
    I’ve been taking care of business, it’s all mine
    Taking care of business and working overtime
    Work out!–(we all know the extra hours Bishops have to put in for their community)

    If it were easy as fishin’–(if it were easy as fishin, but we know its not again the irony)
    You could be a musician
    If you could make sounds loud or mellow
    Get a second-hand guitar
    Chances are you’ll go far
    If you get in with the right bunch of fellows–(right bunch of fellows-he’s talking about the church its obvious)

    People see you having fun–(ward partys)
    Just a-lying in the sun–(Missions)
    Tell them that you like it this way–(again Missions)
    It’s the work that we avoid
    And we’re all self-employed
    We love to work at nothing all day–(OK here is the sarcasm again- we need to put our shoulders to the wheel)

    and another classic of conversion

    She took me to her doctor
    And he told me of a cure.
    He said that any love is good love
    So I took what I could get mmh,
    Oooh, oooh she looked at me with big brown eyes
    And said:
    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet,
    Here’s something that you never gonna forget,
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    Any love is good love
    So I took what I could get mmh,
    Oooh, oooh she looked at me with big brown eyes
    And said:
    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,

    OK that was all obviously about him being converted and going to the Temple and how he had not seen anything yet when he was outside of the Church. And he took what he could get, now if only Tal, didn’t have to sing about getting high.

  5. Matt W.

    I think being in the location of Utah also has a lot to do with making it big in the Mormon Market. Bachman is in Canada, Clayton is at Harvard. Archuleta, Osmond, and Stephanie Meyers are all in Utah…

  6. larryco_

    Cheap shot! Randy Bachman left The Guess Who at the peak of their fame because he could no longer deal with the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” milieu. He formed BTO as probably the only big-time hard rock group which outlawed the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco among the group members. He spoke at church firesides all over the world. Just because he didn’t wear his sainthood on his shoulder and exploit it to improve record sales among the Mormons, does not mean that he did not “influence many people for good”.

  7. William Morris

    BTO was straight edge? That’s awesome. Yeah, I don’t know who would be the best person to name this syndrome after.

    A more interesting one, imo, is non-LDS artists/works that become incredibly popular among LDS but are much less popular with non-LDS. Newsies is the one that comes immediately to mind.

    —-

    Stephenie Meyer technically lives in Arizona (or did when she wrote Twilight — I’m sure now she and her family live in some remote area of Italy out of the reach of fan pilgramiges).

  8. Jonathan Langford

    Kent wrote: “It seems that success in the world only very rarely gives Mormon artists the opportunity to influence many people for good.”

    It probably goes without saying, but of course there are many opportunities to “influence many people for good” without being identified as Mormon, either inside or outside the LDS community…

    I think it would be great for people to identify more examples of Mormon artists they think fit into both categories: that is, those who are well-known for their Mormonness, and those who aren’t. Within sf&f, I’d say that Scott Card is well known for his Mormonness, but not so much Dave Farland/Wolverton, Tracy Hickman, or Brandon Sanderson. To name a few. (I’d welcome diverging views, though, from those who may have followed their reputations more closely.)

  9. MoJo

    Pfftt. From what I’ve seen in general, we cling to “our” celebrities (no matter how “our” they are–or not, as the case most usually is) like al dente pasta on a textured wall.

    I see SheDaisy has not been mentioned nor Brenda Novak nor Christine Feehan nor Madeline Baker/Amanda Ashley. Of course, of the latter 3, I can see how, if you write explicit sex in genre romance you *might* not want to put it about…

  10. Anne (U.K)

    #6 Larryco: agreed. I certainly remember a fireside he gave in London at the end of the 70’s.

    #” Matt: All the members of the Osmond family continue to give firesides, which, in this country at least, are almost impossible to get tickets for. I know of at least one friend who was baptised a couple of years ago after attending one, and I am sure there will be others.

    I’d love to see a Brandon Flowers fireside. Tickets for that would be very hard to come by.

  11. Greg

    “Due to health concerns and desiring a change in lifestyle, which would include spending more time with his young family, Randy left the Guess Who at the height of their success.” http://www.randybachman.net/main.php?ch=bio

    This is from Bachman’s bio on his website re leaving the Who. There is no specific mention of being or having been Mormon.

    nndb.com often mentions the religious background of artists and other celebrities on its site. The Osmond’s are noted as being Mormon while Randy Bachman’s religious preference is not mentioned.

  12. Clark

    Interestingly the wiki notes both why The Guess Who broke up and his Mormonism. I’d imagine that had he left the Church like his son it would have been noted.

    Bachman is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During his early Guess Who years his religious beliefs conflicted with the sex, drugs & rock n roll lifestyle of the other band members and caused some bitterness between Bachman and bandmate Burton Cummings.[

  13. Disraeli

    Some Mormons are “celebrityzed” by the Mormon Church for specific cultural reasons – the Osmonds. Some Mormons wear their religion and culture on their sleeves – Orson Scott Card. Some Mormons have integrated their beliefs into their art, scholarship, or commentary with subtlety, focusing on universal issues of human life – Randy Bachman and many others.

    There is no “Randy Bachman Syndrome”. There are only a diversity of individual and institutional approaches to the work and the resulting “fame and fortune”; Some approaches are destructive, some are constructive.

    This blog strikes me as a case of mistaking “celebrity” for influence.

  14. Justmeherenow

    Kent, what number does comedic performer/author/political commentator Glenn Beck’s rank on the Backman Syndrome scale?

  15. Kent Larsen Post author

    Greg (12), Bachman’s site no longer indicates his Mormonism because he isn’t Mormon any more and doesn’t want to broadcast it. I have a copy of his 2001 autobiography (written with John Einarson), Randy Bachman: Takin’ Care of Business, which makes his then Mormon beliefs clear and a major theme of the work.

  16. Kent Larsen Post author

    Disraeli (14), I’m not sure that what you claim implies that there is no syndrome here. My point isn’t that some people promote their mormonism more than others, but rather that Mormon culture as a whole ignores the Mormonism of some and promotes the Mormonism of others despite what the person does. I suppose I could be wrong — that its only the Mormons who promote their membership who get the notice. But it doesn’t feel like that.

  17. dubya

    clark is a perfect example of how rumours are so prevalent for the bachman family or maybe its anyone famous? Randy was NEVER “a bishop in vancouver” and theres no DOUBT he is NOT a mormon ANYMORE theres no contreversy there pardon my spelling.

  18. Clark

    Sorry for the mistake. I had been told he was one by some people from the Vancouver area. There’s no reason to get so excited. It’s just a mistake.

  19. Chris

    I heard Randy B. speak at a fireside in 1979 when I was visiting Calgary. He told us that in his family they didn’t feel the sacrifice by merely paying tithing, so they did chores and other things to help feel like it was more of a sacrifice. Can’t remember the details precisely – been over 30 years. I remember being impressed by his faith but I also thought he was a bit fanatic. I’ve seen extremists at both ends of the spectrum leave the Church over the years.

  20. Chris

    I should add I have incredible respect for someone who lived by his principles while surrounded by every kind of temptation imaginable.

  21. Mark Penny

    I lived in Coquitlam, BC (part of the Greater Vancouver Regional District) when Randy Bachman was supposedly Young Men’s president in White Rock (also part of the Greater Vancouver Regional District). I’m pretty sure any local Mormons who knew about The Guess Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive had heard that Randy was LDS, but it was more a case of his being a famous Mormon than of his being famous for being Mormon. Actually, the only time I recall anyone referring to Randy as a member of the church was one time when a bunch of us were sitting in a car in White Rock. I think we all thought it was cool that a famous local rock musician was a member of our church, but in the end it didn’t mean anything more to us than the fact that my orthodontist was also my stake president meant to me.

    I lived downhill from Doug Stewart (Saturday’s Warrior, Starchild) for eight months and occasionally saw him at stake activities. Nice house but no really big deal. Linda Higham Thomson, the woman who novelized Starchild, was a member of our ward, a friend of my mother’s and a casual mentor (she apparently told my mother she thought I was a writer’s writer—and I’m starting to fear she was right) and I ran her and her husband’s distribution office for a week or two while they were on vacation. Regular folks with their names in lights. I’m sure Doug did a few firesides here and there, but I got the definite impression that the only person who thought having these people in the same neighbourhood as us was any kid of a big deal was my mama. Everybody else was used to it, I guess.

  22. Kent Larsen Post author

    Mark, perhaps a current contrast in the sports arena might make what I’m trying to say in the op clearer.

    Take Jimmer Fredette. Does any Mormon who follows sports not know all about him? Even today, as he plays reasonably well, mid-pack as far as I can tell, nearly every Mormon I know who follows sports knows who he is and that he is Mormon.

    In contrast there is Bryce Harper. He’s not from Utah nor did he play in Utah. He hasn’t caught the attention of the Wasatch Front media the way Jimmer did. But, like Bachman back in the day, Harper is known as a Mormon in his profession, but not so much among Mormon fans. Even though Harper and Jimmer are at roughly the same place in their careers, I run into Mormons all the time who haven’t heard of Harper and don’t know he is Mormon.

    And, which of the two is considered likely to be a superstar? a once-in-a-decade (or more) player? Not Jimmer.

    The issue I see isn’t about what their neighbors think of the person. Its about who is getting attention and whether or not they deserve that attention. I wouldn’t suggest that Jimmer doesn’t deserve attention—he clearly does. But I think it is clear that Harper deserves much more than Jimmer, but among Mormons he is getting less, much less.

    The problem is that what is popular in Mormon culture is largely controlled on the Wasatch Front, which is quite parochial in what it promotes.

  23. Mark Penny

    I got what you were saying. I was just adding a perspective.

    Let’s go back to the second sentence of your third paragraph,

    They gain respect and even fame outside of Mormonism, and somehow fail to get any respect or even attention from within Mormonism.

    Put another way, they rise high in their high-profile professions but don’t achieve notoriety within the Church. Yes? I suppose there can be all kinds of explanations for this, but two that make sense to me are that (a) the fact of their membership in the church is not loudly noised abroad and/or (b) the fact that a member of the church is highly successful in a given profession (or niche thereof) is of little or no concern to members of the Church (or niches thereof).

    It can also depend on whether either side of the equation is attempting to capitalize on the relationship. If a star of some kind is LDS but doesn’t make religion part of the publicity campaign, there’s a good chance the religious affiliation will slip through the cracks of church members’ attention. If the church (at whatever level or in whatever form) doesn’t campaign on a member’s notoriety, again, member’s won’t notice in sufficient numbers or with sufficient intensity for the name to be strongly associated with the Church.

    The Osmonds got it from both sides. Orson Scott Card made Mormonism part of his career. Gladys Knight got free publicity. Randy Bachman was a Canadian in a world of more exotic fish—and made neither bones nor hay of his faith.

  24. CHRIS

    YEAH, RANDY BACHMAN SPOKE AT A FIRESIDE I ATTENDED WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER…HE WAS A COOL CAT

  25. Brainy

    UNLV used to have a running back named Frank Summer that played against BYU three years in a row….the funny thing is, Frank was LDS (baptized but non-practicing) through his Samoan mother. In fact his cousin, Martin Tevaseu, was even recruited by BYU before landing at ASU and then later with Frank at UNLV. Despite playing against BYU, and having some notoriety….he was never known to be LDS.

    If you don’t wear it in your sleeve, it’s difficult to know.

  26. Brainy

    Also, look at the Neon Trees….despite ALL of them being returned missionaries and the band being from Utah, some people are still unaware that they are LDS (well the bass player and drummer are still active).

  27. Kent Larsen Post author

    Brainy, I understand your point, and I thank you very much for your examples — I haven’t heard at all of Frank Summer and Martin Tevaseu and I need to add them to my lists.

    BUT, my point wasn’t just that some are never known, but rather that there is a kind of assumption, almost a bias, against those who aren’t from the wasatch front. Given equally inactive or equally active Mormons, one from the wasatch front and another from elsewhere, the one from the wasatch front will be better known among Mormons.

    But, I again thank you for the information — two more from among the many who have been overlooked.

  28. Joy

    Yeah, I knew Randy Bachman was LDS. I think my mom told me that. As far as a bias towards the Wasatch Front, I think that’s inevitable still because that’s where the predominant LDS Community currently lives. There’s people out there who still worship the Osmonds. That being said, having lived out of state for the past 13 years, I always encounter a bias against being from “Utah,” from other Mormons. I think that bias towards the Wasatch Front is diminishing.

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