These days, it’s possible to feel a perverse nostalgia for Creed, the original kings of gloss-grunge Christosterone buttrock. After Stapp and Co. burned out in a blaze of ignominy, Nickelback popped into their slot at the bottom of the critical totem pole so gracefully that we barely noticed. But Creed was no Nickelback: Creed sucked better and sucked harder, and their hilarious music — even now that no radio station would be caught dead spinning it — is aging like a fine box of Franzia.
This month, Scott Stapp released his memoir, Sinner’s Creed, detailing his dark history of abuse, addiction, faith, and redemption. It could have been a leaden tale of spiritual struggle, but Stapp — and his veteran rock ghostwriter, David Ritz — pack it with all the qualities that make Creed songs so wonderful: It’s a grandiose, ridiculous, overwrought, egotistical, and unintentionally comical tale of spiritual struggle.
No secondhand description could do justice to the absurd majesty of this book. To convey the torment, the triumph, the martyrdom, and heartbreak, we must bring you Stapp in his own beautiful words. This week, Sound of the City is proud to present an unprecedented multi-part series on Stapp’s poignant struggles with his father, his God, his art, and, most of all, himself.
Part I: “I hate You, God!”
Like most Creed videos, much of Sinner’s Creed finds Scott at the edge of a crumbling cliff, striking of pose of crucifixion and heaving his bosom skyward, crying out for a God that has forsaken him. He is bedeviled throughout by depression, self-doubt, addictions, and, occasionally, actual devils; through it all, he screams at the heavens for answers. In our first installment, we’ll look at Stapp’s most dramatic moments of demonic warfare and holy angst.
The tone is set by the prologue, in which Stapp recounts hitting spiritual rock bottom, flinging himself from the balcony of a Miami hotel in an episode of drug-induced paranoia. From the get-go, Scott elaborately pleads with the man upstairs for one last break:
“How could You allow all this to happen to me?” I yelled. “You know I love You and my heart’s in the right place. Why didn’t You protect me? Do You know what humiliation this is going to bring to me? I’m going to be another one of those Christians who embarrass You. Listen, just take my life. I don’t care. But please spare my wife and son from shame. They’ve been through enough. I’ll never understand why You would bless me so much only to take it all away.”
As his grip weakens and he plunges from the deck, all the very real horrors of the underworld nip at his heels:
I felt my spirit plummeting through the stages of Dante’s Inferno. Devils were chasing me with knives and swords, bayonets and scythes. Snakes were curled around my arms, their mouths biting my neck. The Enemy himself, a pitiless beast with eyes of blazing fire, was in pursuit, looking to devour me whole.
Spoiler alert: Scott Stapp is not devoured by Satan (maybe in the sequel). Let that not diminish the fact that his tale played itself out on the grandest possible scale; Scott Stapp was not just a simple plaything of heaven and hell, but the king in their eternal chess game:
I felt like I was in the middle of an epic battle between God and Lucifer, good and evil, life and death. At that moment I couldn’t deny that the devil had complete control over me, but I also knew I had a heart that loved God. At many times throughout my life, I felt I was living under His divine control and following His purposes for me. So how could the devil have won?
Stapp’s relationship with God wasn’t always so fraught. In the beginning, he found love, comfort, and an on-the-nose literary arc:
I felt certain this heavenly Father loved me completely. Unlike my biological father, He would never leave me. (pg. 8)
But as life got heavier and faith became more complicated, Scott suffered a series of demonic attacks. Along with the unholy terror, he faced grim foreshadowing: Would his religion eventually become a liability in a music industry hell-bent on peddling sin?
It came through the brick exterior of our house, directly into my room, and stood in front of my bed. I heard its voice: “Scott, stop talking to others about Christ, or I’ll kill you.” (pg. 45)
From a young age, Scott was fascinated with rock and roll. This didn’t sit well with his stepfather, a terribly abusive fire-and-brimstone type. When he caught the boy experimenting with rock music, he issued an ultimatum that would haunt Stapp’s career:
“Why is the electric guitar so bad?”
“Because it’s the instrument of Satan, that’s why. It’s designed to deceive you, to cause you to do things you should not do. It’s an instrument geared to defy the discipline you need to do God’s will and God’s will alone.” He paused to take a breath. “In this house and in your life, there will be no electric guitars — ever.” (pg. 26)
(But, thankfully, there were.) As young Scott grew into a man, his faith only deepened . . . until the death of his grandfather, which provoked the first of many intense tantrums of wounded faith:
So in that moment of deep loss and shock, I turned on God. I slammed the phone down and bolted outside. Running down the street crying, I screamed at God, “Why? Why? How could You take him before I said goodbye? I hate You, God!”
I fell to my knees in the middle of the street and looked to the midnight sky. I couldn’t stop sobbing. I couldn’t stop asking why. (pg. 74)
As his fame grew, Scott found himself living the voluptuary life on a lapsed Christian. Had he become the very demon who had once boarded him in his bedroom? In the eyes of the public, it was a strong possibility:
There were also threats to my life — accusations that I was the Antichrist and should be crucified upside down. At one point we had to contact the FBI. (pg. 176)
Years of hard living, hard touring, betrayals and lapses took their toll, leading to the near-death plunge detailed in the prologue. Naturally, some old foes were along for the ride:
Amid the beauty of this free fall, I could hear hideous laughing. The laughter grew louder and louder, as if thousands of demons were welcoming me to my death. (pg. 205)
At the end of the book (well, right before Scott Stapp uses the last 50 pages to print every single Creed lyric, ever) our hero finds closure in a personal insight set to music:
But in the end I know that I’m fatally flawed. In the end I’m a slave to one master. That master is sin. After all is said and done, this is my Sinner’s Creed:
Sin screams, “What’s yours I want”
Sin screams, “What’s mine I’ll keep”
Sin is forever knocking, beating at the iron door
Don’t even open it for an instant
Sin always wants more (pg. 230)
In our next installment, we’ll see Scott Stapp putting himself and his art in context: How does he compare to Jim Morrison, Bono, Elvis, Job, King David, and God?
Note: I’m not exactly sure how page numbers on the Kindle work, so the numbers listed here may be partially or entirely meaningless; passages in the prologue were not assigned page numbers.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2012