Meanings of Positive Pop -
An Analysis of Meanings of "Positive Pop":
Responses to Rich Mullins' Death
Stephen D. Perry, Ph.D.
and Arnold S. Wolfe, Ph.D.
Illinois State University
Department of Communication
Submitted to the Religion and Media Interest Group
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Contact: Stephen D. Perry
Department of Communication
Illinois State University
Campus Box 4480
Normal, IL 61790-4480
Phone: 309 - 438-7339
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Running Head: Meanings of Positive Pop
An Analysis of Meanings of "Positive Pop":
Responses to Rich Mullins' Death
The untimely death of contemporary Christian music artist Rich
Mullins led to the creation of texts on web sites and a radio station
that provided a clear opportunity to evaluate the meanings of CCM for
listeners to this music genre. This qualitative research analyzes the
texts of the tributes and finds many meanings in the spiritual, social,
and psychological realms. Meanings range from spiritual conversions to
social involvement to comfort during times of mourning.
An Analysis of Meanings of "Positive Pop":
Responses to Rich Mullins' Death
Though there are more radio stations and formats than ever before
with receivers in 99.9% of U.S. homes, researchers often overlook the
radio medium. It is often used in the background. Still the average
listener spends 2.9 hours, or about 20% of waking hours, using it
("Abstract," 1997). The vast majority of those using radio are tuned to
the FM dial which predominantly features music formats. In addition to
the time spent with radio, Americans invest more than 5 hours per week
with recorded music ("Abstract," 1997). About $9 billion per year is
spent on recordings. One group, college students, listen to this
recorded music an average of just under three hours per day (Black,
Bryant, & Thompson, 1997). With all the time spent with both radio and
recorded music, what meanings to audience members make of the music
Carroll et al. (1993) looked at a "meanings" factor in radio. They
applied the meanings label to quantitative survey analysis showing a
combination of uses and impacts listeners believed radio had in their
lives. Both the popular and scholarly press contain numerous
references to these "uses" and "impacts." While we look at "meanings"
in a qualitative way in this study, it is useful to examine what more
quantitatively oriented research would have to say about musical
DeFleur and Dennis (1996) make specific reference to music as a
force that influences thoughts attitudes and behaviors, noting that
rock music has been believed to influence drug use, sexual activity,
and satanic worship among youngsters. They claim a limited view of
such effects is probably most accurate according to scientific
Others claim that subliminal messages are included in some music
promoting destructive behavior. This has led to some court cases to
determine if artists should be held liable for the results of such
messages (Wilson & Wilson, 1998). The popular press has indicated that
racial polarization could be an equally important if not more potent
effect of popular music (Leland, 1992; Painton, 1992; Pareles, 1991).
Scientific research has examined negative effects of such music as
"gangsta rap" on certain societal groups. Johnson, Jackson, and Gatto
(1995) found a more positive attitude toward violent acts and a
reportedly higher likelihood of participating in violence after
exposure to violent rap music videos. They also report that
African-American youths tended toward materialistic identification and
away from a desire to succeed in education. Zillmann et al. (1995) on
the other hand found no negative effects on African-American high
school students after exposure to "gangsta rap." They did, however,
find pro-social effects among white students who were more likely to
support racial harmony efforts after viewing videos of this genre.
Hansen (1995) says these responses are actually similar in cause. She
cites primed schema, an information-processing theory, as the causal
link that ties these two articles and other experiments together.
Therefore, music videos with anti-social themes or those that debunk
traditional sex roles have been found to lead to similar attitudes in
audience members for at least the short term.
While some see the media as a force that influences people's lives,
others see social movements and popular culture (including music) as
"reciprocal and mutually reinforcing" (Eyerman & Jamison, 1995, p.
464). Instead of seeing the events in society and music as different
modes of activity, some see them as interactive and synergistic. This
"contribute(s) to wide-ranging and long-term processes of cultural
464). Wolfe's (1995) inquiry into the lasting popularity of the
"All You Need Is Love" (AYN), documents the "reciprocal and mutually
reinforcing" (Eyerman & Jameson, 1995, p. 464) interchange between a
subculture (here, Beatles fans or those youthful enough during the
1960s to identify with the subcultural category of
"youth") and that subculture's mass media expressions. Wolfe (1995)
studied two distinct types of data, vis., books, scholarly articles,
and articles from popular sources about the Beatles, AYN, and popular
musical communication in general" (p. 73). Then he and his associates
interviewed adults who were college-age when AYN was first released and
executives at radio stations that still aired the song in the early
1990s. By means of qualitatively analyzing both data sets, Wolfe
(1995) found that culture had an impact on the creation and
dissemination of the specific musical text. He also discusses the
enduring popularity of AYN, in part, due to the meanings ascribed to it
by listeners. The enduring quality of important songs are part of what
keep some social movements alive (Eyerman & Jamison, 1995).
Zillmann and Bhatia (1989) suggest that the use of particular genres
of media-disseminated music is related to belonging in an "imagined
subculture" (p. 265). The use of such music promotes social cohesion
and identity among subculture members which in turn "foster(s) feelings
of social power" (Zillmann et al., 1995, p. 5) among group members (see
also Carroll et al., 1993) Grossberg (1986) echoes this idea in his
critical cultural study of rock music when he writes, "Rock and roll is
always located within a seemingly random collection of events that
interpenetrate and even constitute the specific rock and roll culture,
including styles of dance, dress and interaction, images of the band
and its fans, etc." (p. 54). The music may also promote identification
with and imitation of
the artist who sings it (Dotter, 1987) a situation that can be far
from positive as is demonstrated by the use of guns "emblazoned with
the letters N.W.A., signifying the gangsta rap group Niggas With
Attitude, known at that time for their controversial rap song "F . . .
the Police" (Hansen, 1995, p. 44), in the shooting of a police officer
in North Carolina.
The research into the impact of music genres has largely looked for
detrimental effects or meanings of the music. Other forms of music,
however, that are not expected to have detrimental meanings for society
are found in the media. Perry (1993) examines the history and
distribution of contemporary Christian music (CCM), musical formats
used on religious radio stations (see also Perry & Carroll, 1995). One
religious station in the Chattanooga market used the term "positive hit
radio" for its music format and was called
"Positive Hits 107." Some stations use the term "family country" for
country style music with pro-social (mostly religious) lyrics. Others
use the label "positive country" (Hawkins, 1996). Early descriptions
of CCM included the use of the format label
"positive pop" (Eberly, 1982).
The term positive is vague in and of itself. What some people may
see as positive, others may see as negative. The promotion of specific
religious beliefs in songs of the genre is certainly regarded as
positive by those who adhere to the same specific religious beliefs.
At the same time, an atheist might believe that such promotion is at
best a waste of time and at worst an effort to brainwash listeners in
cult-like practices. Others may interpret messages promoting
limitations on social practices like abortion or divorce as positive or
negative depending on their world view.
While arguments on these grounds and others may be made to dispute
claims of positive meanings, this research will file these arguments
away for another time and will rest on the meanings assigned by
listeners to the musical genre under discussion. Pauly (1991) states
that "for the qualitative researcher, knowledge exists only within the
framework of some discourse that names the situation in which such
knowledge works" (p. 7). He also says, "The researcher cannot simply
replace or supersede the terms by which groups understand themselves"
(p. 6) and the life worlds they construct. Therefore, this research
will call "positive" that which CCM listeners deem to be positive.
Many musical genres may have songs with redeeming qualities and
promote values some listeners call positive. The Beatles' "All You
Need is Love" exemplifies a song used to promote love during a time of
world strife (Wolfe, 1995). Nevertheless, only in CCM are the
beneficial claims of those who make and air the music so overt.
The Research Question
This study will examine the impact and uses (i.e. "meanings" using
Carroll et al.'s (1993) term) of CCM in the lives of listeners. Due to
the nature of the evidence used as a sample (described below), comments
are expected to be biased toward positive responses. Therefore, the
research question and discussion will be centered around positive
meanings. The evidence should reveal what types of meanings the music
has had, whether these meanings are spiritual or exist outside of the
spiritual realm, and the perceived depth or importance of this meaning
in listeners' lives. Succinctly stated, the research question is:
What are the positive meanings of CCM as revealed through the willingness of
the genre's listeners and consumers to share with others their experiences and
emotional connection with the music and its artists?
The Sample for Analysis
While there are many artists and groups that perform the music in
the CCM genre, a recent tragedy led many fans to voice their
experiences with the music of one particular artist, Rich Mullins.
Mullins, 42, was killed in a traffic accident near Peoria, IL, on
September 19, 1997. Over the next week, the radio station in the
Peoria market that aired a CCM format dedicated a tribute line for
callers to call in and leave a 60 second recorded message about what
Rich Mullins' music had meant to them. Those calls were aired with
only minor editing for clarity and playability one week after the
accident (phone interview with Chuck Pryor, program director, Sept 25,
1997). The resulting tributes were one part of the data analyzed.
An additional, and much lengthier, source of narration was
identified on an Internet site for fans of the late artist. Webmaster
Brian Williams, a college student fan of Rich Mullins, created a new
page on his Rich Mullins Fan site specifically for the posting of
e-mailed tributes about Mullins. The page's text stated, "I am in the
process of compiling (tributes) and I hope to print them out and bind
it in a book form to send to his mother" (Williams, 1997). He
acknowledged the "thousands" of people who had e-mailed him with their
"sorrow and grief, as well as their expressions of thanksgiving and joy
at the miracle of Rich's ministry." He then indicated that he would
post all e-mails received so that "with the words of support from each
other, we can together praise God for a life well lived while dealing
with our own sorrow at his passing." Since the e-mailed postings
received by September 26, one week after Mullins' passing, took up 100
printed pages in small type font, and since this date coincided with
the date of the radio tribute, this was used as a cut off date for
tributes from this source.
A third, smaller, sample of tributes was gathered from another
Internet site that was found a few days later. CCM Magazine's web site
was also found to have a tribute page. However, the magazine's online
staff had only selectively posted e-mails on its web site.
Nevertheless, these were included because they were quality narratives
that revealed the meanings and effects attributed to CCM by the
listeners ("Rich Mullins Tribute," 1997).
A Case for Representativeness
A fundamental assumption guiding this study is that the inscriptions
of fans responding to Mullins' death not only signify meanings Mullins'
fans assign to his music, but meanings CCM fans assign to the entire
genre of CCM. In determining how representative Mullins was of CCM
generally, several factors were considered. First, since Mullins was
both a singer and songwriter, we considered what musical artists had
recorded his songs. Second, we examined and analyzed what had been
written about him in the industry's premier magazine, CCM Magazine.
Third, we looked for evidence that his songs had received high enough
sales and airplay to be accorded "hit" status. We aim to show that
Mullins was a mainstream CCM artist. In addition, we found numbers of
web site hits, a few selected quotes, and comparisons to other
musicians to add color and give credence to his central place in CCM.
The first examination of whether or not other artists had used his
songs in their own recordings revealed that as of 1986, Amy Grant,
widely regarded as the queen of CCM, had recorded three of his songs
including "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," a mega hit (Granger, 1990;
Lessner, 1997), "Doubly Good to You," and "Love of Another Kind," a
song included on her Unguarded recording project which crossed over
into the secular
or mainstream markets. Mullins also wrote some songs with titles
that remind one of public domain songs. These included "The Battle
Hymn of the Republic," recorded by CCM artist Benny Hester, and "O Come
All Ye Faithful," recorded by successful pop and CCM crossover artist
Debby Boone (Scruggs, 1986).
Before his death, CCM Magazine had published five stories that
featured Mullins. These spanned the period from January, 1986
(Scruggs, 1986) to the most recent one in November, 1995 (Long, 1995).
The articles reported news about then-new recording projects released
by Mullins' label (Halverson, 1993; Newcomb, 1992), profiled Mullins'
personality and what made him tick (Long, 1995; Scruggs, 1986), and
talked about his concert style and approachability(Granger, 1990).
Mullins recorded more than 50 hit songs in his career (Lessner,
1997). His "My One Thing" went to number one on the pop Christian
charts (Newcomb, 1992), a measure of airplay and album purchase, while
"Awesome God" was listed one of the top three most popular songs of
the1980s decade by Christian Research Report (Rockafellow, 1997).
"Awesome God" also received a Dove Award nomination, the Christian
music equivalent of the Grammy Awards, for Song of the Year in 1989,
one of ten songs nominated in that category (Granger, 1990). He was
nominated for 11 other Dove Awards during his career, though he was
never awarded one. In a monthly survey of its readers' listening
preferences, Christian Music Review magazine listed his album Never
Picture Perfect (1990) as one of the top 50 most listened to albums for
5 months ("Top 50," 1991).
One final quantitative indication of Mullins' popularity is revealed
by increases in
"hits," or requests for access to web sites that covered news of his
death. Christian radio
station KTLI in Wichita reported more than a fourfold increase in
monthly hits to its web pages. The station usually receives 25,000
visits a month. Within one week of Mullins' Death, the station
experienced 93,000 hits and received 9000 e-mails (Kennedy, 1997).
The Wichita Eagle's coverage triggered six times more hits for than
coverage of any other story the paper published in the 10 months since
it had gone online (Kennedy, 1997). Mullins was en route to Wichita
when his fatal accident occurred (Rockafellow, 1997).
Other evaluations of his music are less measurable but at least as
revealing. Granger (1990) credited him with "turning out some of the
most creative and thought-provoking songs in contemporary Christian
music." The Wichita Eagle Online called him a "core artist in
contemporary Christian radio, someone whose songs become the pillars
around which other artists' songs are programmed" (Lessner, 1997,
paragraph 14). Pop Christian star Michael W. Smith said, "Rich
Mullins' life and music has impacted me more than anyone I know. He
had the ability to take the mundane and make it majestic. Nobody on
this planet wrote songs like he did(,) and I feel we've lost one of the
only true poets in our industry" ("Christian Music," 1997, paragraph
Those who paid tribute to Mullins in our data set likened him most
frequently to the late Keith Green who was known like Mullins for his
depth of lyrics more than for his singing ("Keith Green," 1982).
Perhaps the connection is as much because of the untimely death of both
as it is in their styles of music. Green died in a plane crash in the
early 1980s. One tribute imagined Mullins in heaven playing the
dulcimer--he often featured the hammer dulcimer in his music--and Green
playing the piano. He was also compared to Mark Heard, another
Christian musician who died an untimely death, as well as David
Meece, and Michael Card, both of whom have recorded numerous albums
and write much of their own music and lyrics.
Analysis of the Tributes
Evidence of a deep level of identification with the artist, a
para-social relationship, is found in many of the tributes. Many were
not as straightforward as one radio tribute that said, "Rich wouldn't
have recognized my name or face, but he knew me . . . . better than
anybody next to God. . . . He poured out his soul and I found a friend
in a complete stranger." However, they indicated their close bond with
Mullins in other ways.
Fans indicated that they were praying for the family or left an
e-mailed prayer in tribute. Responses such as, "May our prayers be
with his family," and "Remember to pray for all whom Rich's life
touched," were typical responses from those who encouraged prayer. The
very act of praying is exemplified by a fan who wrote, "Father, we pray
that you will give peace and comfort to the family of Rich Mullins at
this time . . . . Let them know that they will see him again in
Paradise . . . . In His Name [sic]."
Other fans showed their depth of connection with Mullins by their
tears. One web user wrote "Why does my heart ache for someone that I
have never met. [sic] I rarely ever cry, but I can hardly stop."
Another wrote, "I didn't cry for (Princess) Diana. I didn't cry for
Mother Teresa. But when I lost Rich Mullins, it was more than I could
stand." Still another, stirred to the point that he said the football
game had faded into a buzz in the background and the phone was on the
floor in a heap, wrote, "What is it to love a man who has brought you
out of darkness, drawn a tear from the hardest of rock,
broken the greatest of fortress of a man's soul [sic]. . . . What is
it then that lets us love this man that we have never known."
Many tributes remarked on Mullins' musical ability. They ranged
from straightforward comments like, "Mullins has stood out as one of
the greatest inspirational songwriters of our time," "The way he played
the Hammer Dulcimer [sic]. . . it was like he was the dulcimers'
creator," and "Mullins . . . the world's finest musician," to more
poetic responses. "His songs gave me hope when I was hopeless,
strength when I was weak, and joy when I was sorrowful," wrote one.
Another wrote, "I paid a very small fee to see him (in concert), I
received more than money could buy." One radio tribute wove pieces of
lyrics from his music into a poetic ensemble saying,
Over the last decade, you have carried us through "God's reckless, raging,
furious love." You've shown us "The Color Green" more vivid and beautiful than
we have ever seen it. . . . we have "heard the prairies calling out your name."
We've sat in a temple of "silence and stars," crying out the name of the one who
loves us. And we've watched God put "leanings on our silent hearts." We've sat
back and watched you wrestle with our God, asking him the questions that we were
afraid to, and then found our answers in your songs. . . . You have the ability
to say what our hearts were full of, the stuff that we really felt but couldn't
put into words of our own. Yet [your words] became our own. Our praise was
made beautiful with your lyrics . . . .
The most frequently mentioned lyric was from his song "Elijah." The
lyric recounts the passing of the prophet Elijah who in the Biblical
account was taken to heaven without dying. The lyrics of the chorus
When I leave I want to go out like Elijah,
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.
And when I look back on the stars,
It'll be like a candlelight in Central Park,
And it won't break my heart to say goodbye.
One web tribute took the lyrics to that song, including the verses,
and rewrote them in the past tense to refer to Mullins' death and
subsequent transportation to Heaven. Another fan did the same with
Mullins' song "The World as Best as I Remember It," renaming it
"As Best as I'll Remember Him."
These examples of how Mullins' fans reported praying, weeping in
response to news of his death, and those that wrote tributes that
poetize or use Mullins' lyrics signify certain listeners had formed a
bond with Mullins. These bonds were rooted deep within many of those
who responded. They seemed to feel a kinship or oneness with Mullins.
Following Wolfe (1995) and Wolfe and Haefner (1996), it is our
contention that a useful point of departure in any attempt to account
for the bonds fans formed with Mullins lies in the musical texts he
produced rather than, for instance, in his rather unextraordinary
physical appearance. The meanings Mullins' music made in the lives of
its listeners will be examined next.
Some fans credited Mullins' music for leading them to a spiritual
conversion. Listeners wrote, "[I] just found Christ this year, and it
was thanx [sic] to Rich and his music that I did." Another fan
indicated that Mullins' "songs led me into Christianity." Another
distinguished between knowledge about Christianity and deciding to
life because of Mullins' music. Wrote one fan, "I made my first real
commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ through Rich's music" (emphasis
At least two fans mentioned one specific Mullins song, "Hold Me
Jesus," as key to their spiritual conversions. One said, "I had
trouble finding Christ, but then one day I heard Rich sing 'Hold Me
Jesus.' Hearing this song was [as] if Christ had spoken to me, and I
too learned to stop beating my head against those walls and found peace
in the arms of my personal Savior." Another fan credited the song
"Creed" for starting a conversion process that eventually ended with
the listener adopting the Catholic faith.
For others, Mullins' music supported or reinforced their faith. One
fan's radio tribute said, Mullins "uplifted me many times with his
music . . . throughout my different high points and low points with the
Lord." For some, Mullins' encouragement came on the heels of a
spiritual conversion. "When I became a Christian, someone gave me one
of his tapes[,] and I've been inspired and ministered to ever since."
Still another said, "His songs . . . lifted me up when I was down,
brought me back to earth when I was getting too stuck on myself."
Typical of a faith-reinforcing comment was, "During the mountain tops
[sic] of my relationship with God, Rich's music pointed me to paths of
[even] higher worship."
In addition to those whose faith was reinforced, Mullins' music
encouraged some fans to renew or re-establish their faith. One radio
listener "had [not] been . . . really walking with the Lord like I
should have been." He attended a Mullins concert and it "just turned
my life around. . . . [Rich] pretty much just turned around some things
in my life that needed to be turned around." An e-mailer wrote, "Even
when I fell away, I couldn't stop listening to his music, and gently,
patiently, God used that to bring me back."
Mullins "challenged, inspired, and pushed me upwards in my walk with
God," another fan wrote. A third said, "Something about Rich's music
brought . . . us to a 'greater intimacy with God.'" An e-mailed
tribute posted by CCM Magazine said, "He made a lot of us uncomfortable
in our downy faith nests." One fan even reported he "had a flash of
the Holy Spirit and it seemed in a way as though I had been looking at
Others have been influenced in a career path toward Christian
ministry. One listener wrote that Mullins is "the single biggest
reason that I am going into the ministry." He described Mullins as
"the mentor that I needed as I searched for the Lord's will for my life
and career." Still others already in the ministry also reported being
nourished by Mullins' music. One minister said that Mullins' song
"Creed," inspired a sermon he later preached. Another reported using
Mullins' "Prince of Peace" as the theme for a parish renewal weekend.
Mullins' life and death also had a bonding effect within families in
both social and spiritual ways. One parent said, "As I drove my son to
school this morning, we cried all the way and sang 'Hold Me Jesus' (my
son's favorite song)." Another said, "We used to sing 'Awesome God' as
a family and it really blessed us . . . . Those were some of the most
memorable times I can think of." A mother's tribute written in thanks
to Mullins said, "Thanks not only for me but for my 5-year-old son.
'Cause now he sees me crying, not only for losing you, but for losing
his daddy in an accident just like you. . . . Your music is helping me
raise my son to know a God who loves him passionately." Perhaps the
words of a child demonstrate how Mullins' music, and death, helped
create a family bonding experience. Using his own grammar and
spelling, the child wrote [sic], "Dear
Rich; you were my favorite signiger in the whole world. This morning
when I found out you had been killed in a car accident I cried and
cried, my mom told me don't cry you'll see him in heaven someday. I
hope you are having a good time in heaven right now!"
Not only did Mullins' music mean family bonding between parent and
child, but it also held a romantic love together which resulted in the
couple's marriage. The tribute said that the album A Liturgy, a
Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band "mirrored perfectly many of our concerns
spiritually and the fear of the awesome steps we were both taking,
getting married and I moving from my home country of Ireland. . . .
God used that album to hold us together in a way which transcended love
on a human plane."
Another theme evident in the responses was voiced by fellow
musicians or other persons with creative aspirations. One "songwriter"
noted, "I had hoped to attain the level of spiritual depth and maturity
that Rich so fluently expressed," and "as I was forming what and who I
am today as a musician, Rich's music directed my course." Another
amateur musician wrote, "I will continue to sing his songs in church. .
. ." A six year old was also inspired, though with guidance, according
to a parent who wrote, "My daughter . . . has learned hand motions to
'Awesome God' at the Catholic school she attends." Another communicator
noted how a "class of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. . . [was] working on
[learning] 'Awesome God' in their music lessons."
Some fans were encouraged to get involved with social ministries. A
parent credited Mullins' music with motivating her daughter to sponsor
a needy child through Compassion International, a group for which
Mullins performed benefits. This was not the only response of its
kind. This same daughter was also considering teaching on a
Native American reservation. Mullins had taught on such a
reservation ("Christian Music", 1997).
Many listeners expressed how Mullins' music gave them comfort or
strength when they were disturbed or weak. One listener reported how
listening helped him grieve the death of a friend. Mullins' "Awesome
God" was used in the funeral ceremony. Mullins' music gave another the
courage to undergo cancer surgery. "Unable to sleep the night before
her trip to the hospital[,] we prayed and sang together, and every song
was written by Rich. . . . Throughout her stay in the hospital her
Walkman was playing Rich Mullins albums." Similarly, a woman diagnosed
with inoperable cancer listened to Mullins' music
"over & over again" for comfort while dealing with her disease.
Mullins' music got a college students through her freshman year,
when she was
"almost suicidal." Another noted that it was Mullins' music that
"welcomed (him) to America in 1993." A 16-year-old recalled how, when
younger, she used to sing
"Awesome God" or listen to Mullins' recordings whenever she had a bad
dream or had trouble sleeping. One fan claimed in a tribute sent to
CCM that an infant son, born with complications and confined to the
hospital, "ALWAYS responded to Rich's songs" (emphasis in original)
when his mom sang or played them for him. Similarly, a father reported
how his infant son's tears stopped flowing when he heard a Mullins'
song. "Now everytime [sic] he gets a little fussy, all we have to do
is play Rich's music[,] and he cheers up." A mother noted how she
played Mullins' recordings during her labor and delivery. Our daughter
"came into the world hearing the songs," the woman noted. "She'll be
hearing his music for some time to come."
This study has demonstrated at the least how fans responded to
Mullins' death. In a study of CBS network news coverage of John
Lennon's death, Wolfe (1988) found that the coverage echoed
"significant characteristics of Lennon's music" (v). Similarly, the
responses of Mullins fans echoed the "positive," pro-Christian aspects
of Mullins' music. Beyond identifying Mullins as a "friend" and
reporting feelings of loss over his death, reactions included
conversion to Christianity, support for existing religious beliefs, and
spiritual renewal. Cultural meanings between Mullins and his fans seem
to have been shared and mutually reinforced (Eyerman & Jamison, 1995).
Others chose a career path in ministry or found inspiration for the
ministerial role they were already in as a response to Mullins' songs.
Not patently religious responses included encouragement for those
who desired to become or already were striving to be musical artists,
as well as for those helping the needy and less fortunate or planning
to do so. These social meanings show a level of imitation and
identification occurring as suggested by Dotter (1987) in other musical
genres. While Hansen (1995) suggests that such imitation is often far
from positive, here the opposite is true with those who sponsor needy
children providing money for their nutrition and education.
Psychologically, the music provided comfort and strength to
listeners in times of physical disease and distress. It helped people
through grief, pain, and trauma. It served as a tool for bonding
together lovers in addition to parents and children. Claims were even
made that the music has a pro-social impact on infants.
Clarification of many of the points presented in this analysis would
be achieved through interviews or focus groups. But, since the data
gathered for this study were almost entirely anonymous, contacting
these same individuals for such an effort would be next to impossible.
Still, comments such as "this prophet poet knew how to write songs that
broke into my world, that broke my heart, and helped me to see the boy
and man God wanted me to be," are rich as they stand.
Seeking responses from those who would comment on a wider range of
CCM would also be helpful. Does the music of Amy Grant or Michael W.
Smith, artists who have achieved "secular" success, have the same
meaning to CCM fans as Mullins' music? There is some evidence that CCM
generally would have at least some of the same results. Letters from
listeners to the CCM formatted WNAZ-FM said, "just a note to thank you
all again for your beautiful music. I am a cancer patient and your
music helps so much. I use it to worship and to praise my Father and
my Savior" ("Dear WNAZ-FM," 1997, 2), and
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 Other similarities between the artists include their work with the less
fortunate. Green ran a shelter for the homeless in California while Mullins
lived and worked with Navajo Indian children teaching them music, a subject not
available in their schools.