I’ve never been one to idolize superstars. There has never been a movie star, musician, or any other celebrity that I’ve gone absolutely gaga over. As a matter of fact, I’m the kind of guy that rolls my eyes when I see fans weeping over the loss of their idol. It’s always bugged me, people getting so attached to someone they never really knew. How could you actually be sad? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of many people and groups, but outside their work, I’ve never been interested in celebrities.
But today, life or the Devil hit the one celebrity who could actually make that kind of impact on me. I truly think there was only one, and through him, I finally understand why fans get sad when their idols are stricken. He’s a Christian artist who, sadly, goes unknown by many in my generation. His big moments were in the 80s and 90s, so our age group missed out. Except me.
His name is Carman. And he has cancer.
Carmen Dominic Licciardello was pretty much the biggest thing of his time. A singer, songwriter, and performer, Carman’s shows combined powerful gospel truth and heart-pounding entertainment. His songs took the Christian world by storm and tens of thousands have been led to Christ by his message.
If I could describe Carman in one word, it would be “Power.” Carman was one of the products/causes of the 80s revivals. As such, there was a bone-chilling strength to his work. He was passionate and courageous and vehement against the powers of Hell. My parents were married in 1982 and breaking free of a very strict, but very powerful Pentecostal church, they were huge fans of Carman’s revival prowess. They even tried to move to Tulsa to be a part of his church!
That didn’t work out, but they still had tapes, CDs, and videos. Then I came along in March of 1988, right in the midst of Carman’s highest point. We didn’t have a lot of videos back then, but we did have some Carman concerts on VHS (remember those?). In the car, we had Cassette Tapes (Remember those?). Whether at home or in the car, Carman’s music filled my entire life.
I have a video of me on my 2nd birthday singing to his “Radically Saved” video concert. My parents got me a toy microphone and I stood in front of the TV singing Carman songs. That’s right, by the time I turned 2, I knew his music so well, I could actually sing along fairly well. I even added my own “Praise God!” at the end. Carman was that powerful, and I was that cute.
What can I say? The guy knew how to make music! And the most impressive thing was Carman’s absolute variety! Carman wrote rock and roll, country, big-band, ballads, love songs, rap, funk, 50s music, heavy metal, gospel, Spanish music, Italian opera (5 points if you know what I’m talking about), techno, even spy music! He didn’t make genre albums, no, he mixed them all together. Carman wrote whatever the heck he wanted to write and sold it!
But the best songs were the story songs. Carman wrote poetry and put music in the background to tell a story of some sort. “The Champion” was the Jesus story played like a boxing match against Satan. “Revival in the Land” was the report of a lower demon warning Satan of an oncoming revival. “A Witch’s Invitation” told the true story of a man who was challenged by a warlock. “The Courtroom” played out the Eternal Judgment like a court case with Satan as the prosecutor and Jesus as the defense attorney. They were original, extremely clever, and powerful beyond words.
Here are a few the most influential tracks for me.
- All the story songs I already mentioned–they still give me goose bumps!
- “No Monsters.” — A bold song for kids about the monsters under their bed. He doesn’t shy away from the fact that evil forces exist, and there may be something under your bed after all. But he assures children that they have absolutely no power over a child of God, in fact, when a child stands up against the monsters, they run away crying. “You won’t get the screamin’! You’re nothing but a demon! It’s time for you to go now!…Get out, in the name of Jesus Christ cuz I don’t want no monsters in my house tonight!”
- “This Blood.” –It’s like Passion of the Christ set to song. It’s visceral brutal, and hard to listen to. But Carman reminds us that every drop of Christ’s blood was made for us. As Jesus is being whipped, he turns to the soldier and says, “This blood is for you.” Hunting and beautiful.
- “Revive Us O Lord.” I mentioned before how I have a tape of my 2-year-old self singing to Carman. Revive Us O Lord was the big one that stuck with me. I only bought this song for myself about 2 years ago and I still remembered it. My heart cries every time.
- “Satan, Bite the Dust.”–Carman dressed up as cowboy for the music video, taking on the Devil in a Western standoff. I lost track of how many cowboy hats and toy guns I went through to take on Satan in my own living room. “Well how do you feel about that, Devil?” “I’m a-feeling’ mighty low.” “Good.”
And Carman didn’t quit there. He went on to make a couple of short movies, even a feature-length film called “The Champion.” According to his website, he’s working on a novel that sounds kind of cool. Even into high school, I was still getting Carman albums (for free because I lived at home with Carman fans–shazam!) and now he occupies more space on my iPod than probably any other artist. To this day, with all the Christian artists that have come and gone, no one has had the same effect on me. Call is nostalgia, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone with the same variety and ability that Carman had.
On February 13th, 2013, Carman put out a Facebook status that he was diagnosed with Myeloma Cancer. I don’t know what that is, but his doctors gave him 3-4 years to live. My mom told me the news on Wednesday and I went on his website to make sure.
It dawned on me then that I wasn’t even aware Carman had a website. It’s been a long time since I’ve kept up on his stuff, besides keeping an eye out for any new albums. There’s been a lull of Carman for me for quite a while. And yet, that news hurt. It struck me in my childhood. Carman says he’s going to keep doing this as long as he can. He added on Facebook, “I will not leave this world quietly and I want the devil to know that he put cancer on absolutely the wrong Italian.”
I feel old. I’m only twenty five and to some of you, that’s diaper age (and some of you, that’s prehistoric), but no matter how young you are, you can’t deny the impact of change. It hurts. It resonates. Fight as we may, Time is an undefeated warrior. Now I know why fans cry and mourn over their idols. It may not be an idol at all: it’s a memory, a piece of youth, a childhood, a better time, a slice of life that is being chipped away from us, something we can never, ever have back.
I say I’m twenty-five, but I actually won’t turn it for another week or so. Maybe I’ll put in that old Carman tape and watch it again. I recently converted all our tapes to DVDs. One of them, that “Radically Saved” concert that I sang to when I was two, was royally beat up. That top flap on the tap has been missing for years. The film has been snagged and exposed more times than I remember. But it still plays (Find a DVD that can do that!). Like God preserved it just for me. Maybe I’ll sing with him again.
I want to see him again, one last time. It’s been over a decade since I last went to a Carman concert, but I would like to go again, to relive those childhood moments, hear about what he’s up to now, and give closer to a little piece of myself. I do hope he makes it out all right, but I’m glad of one thing. I knew him. Not personally, not truly, but I heard his music. I experienced his passion, his boldness, his warrior’s heart, his raw, unfiltered power. And I’m glad he plans to continue being a warrior until the very end.
He came, he saw, he conquered.