Friday 17 May 2013

Disco Jesus

Today’s tracks come from Tammy Faye Bakker, the late, over made-up kabuki doll wife (well, for more than three decades, anyway) of the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker (pronounced Baker, apparently, not Backer).

We’re lucky here in Great Britain; we’ve never had to suffer (well, unless you’re a fan of the 50 or so religious channels available on Sky) the evil, pseudo-religious diatribe that spews across America’s cable television network day after day: poisonous preachers demanding money with menaces from gullible idiots who believe that they can pay their way to salvation. In the Bakker’s case it was the Praise the Lord (PTL) network and their ridiculous Christian theme park – Heritage USA - that systematically emptied the pockets of its parishioners and landed a tearful (and now, surprise, surprise, wholly repentant) Jim in jail. No wonder that many people insisted that PTL actually stood for Pass the Loot.

Jim and Tammy met when they were students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. The couple married on April Fool’s Day 1961 and, the following year, moved to South Carolina, where they began their ministry before heading off to Portsmouth, Virginia, where they became the hosts of Jim and Tammy, a children's Christian puppet show. Their success led to the pair joining Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1964, bringing their puppets with them. which they left in 1973 to form the PTL Club, an hour long Christian chat and variety show, which made its on-air debut in 1974.

During the PTL shows (later renamed the Jim and Tammy Show) Tammy Faye would often lead the obligatory evangelistic singalong – and this section proved so popular that Tammy Faye would go on to release more than a dozen albums (Jim and Tammy Faye also issued ‘joint’ recordings) of her dreadful caterwauling. Tammy Faye became known for her schmaltzy stories, hideous makeup (her eyes were often caked in mascara which would run as she turned on the tears) and her histrionic vocals style. Unusually, for someone on her chosen career path, she was an early advocate amongst Christian broadcasters of gay rights.

The Bakkers' control of PTL collapsed in 1987 when it was revealed that reverend Jim had been a bit naughty with the company secretary, Jessica Hahn, and reportedly used $287,000 of the church’s funds to buy her silence (that was a waste of money!). Further investigations into the Bakker’s extravagant lifestyle questioned their dodgy, and vastly oversubscribed, Christian hotel time-share scheme and the funds they had poured into their Christian theme park, Heritage USA.

With the couple in disgrace and Jim facing a stretch in jail, fellow televangelist and friend Jerry Falwell offered a lifeline, but under his stewardship PTL soon went bankrupt. In 1989 Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 24 fraud and conspiracy counts. Falwell and the (by now divorced) Bakker’s fell out, primarily it seems because Falwell was only interested in using PTL to boost his own television career, but also no doubt because the equally self-absorbed Falwell had the temerity to call our Jim a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history”. Phew!

Jim and Tammy Taye divorced in 1992; a year later she married former PTL bigwig Roe Messner – the man who provided Jim with the cash to pay of Jessica Hahn and who claimed, during the bankruptcy hearing for PTL, to be owed $14 million by the church. Messner filed for bankruptcy himself in 1990 and, just like his former friend Jim, wound up being convicted of fraud.

Today’s first cut Jesus Keeps Takin’ me Higher and Higher is from the awful (and hideously-titled) Tammy Faye: Tammy Bakker sings PTL Club Favorites. Tammy Faye had an okay voice when it came to singing the country-inspired gospel she usually stuck to, but ramping it up on this track (fondly known to fans as Disco Jesus) she’s beyond awful. The second track – The Ballad of Jim and Tammy – is Tammy’s own countrified take on the whole Jerry Falwell/PTL/Heritage USA saga. Tammy Faye may have hated Falwell at this point (the song was released in both 7” and 12" formats in 1987) but, despite their very public falling out, she managed to find enough Christian charity to forgive him before his death in 2007, two months before Tammy Faye herself passed away after an 11-year battle with cancer.

And just because I’m feeling generous today, I’m giving you a third track from Tammy Faye – the ridiculous Run Toward the Roar from her 1980 album of the same name. Hideous.


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