In 1997 The Vigilantes Of Love recorded a song "Love Cocoon" which, because of its unflinching celebration of married sexuality, caused the band to be dropped by American Christian bookshops. Phil Crawley and Andy Higgs talked to the writer of that song, BILL MALLONEE.
For fans of the heart warming sounds of alt country/Americana, Bill Mallonee is something of a hero. His Vigilantes Of Love band made a stream of critically acclaimed albums between 1990 and 2001 and since the band broke up Bill has continued the good work with three well received solo albums. An artist who very much works in the mainstream of music the brief brush the Vigilantes Of Love had with the contemporary Christian music world began very well - with the song "Double Cure" winning the band a Dove Awards nomination in 1997 and a cover story in 7Ball magazine. But the next release, 1997's 'Slow Dark Train' contained a new version of "Love Cocoon", a song an earlier version of Vigilantes Of Love had originally recorded on the 1990 album 'Jugular'.
"Love Cocoon" caused huge controversy in Christian bookshops, particularly Family Christian Stores, who informed the distributor they would not stock 'Slow Dark Train'. What was the nature of the song which brought forth such disapproval? "Love Cocoon" dealt with the subject of marital sex which Mallonee contrasts with the vain sexuality in the world all around him. The lyric went, "The whole world keeps on banging, they just come and go/It's just a part of their scenery, a part of their show/But I've got this wedding ring wrapped around my finger," before launching into a chorus of unbridled passion, "I wanna attack your flesh with glad abandon/I wanna look for your fruits, I wanna put my hands on 'em/I wanna pump up your thermostat beneath your skin/I wanna uncover your swimming hole and dive right in."
The reaction of Christian Family Books to "Love Cocoon" was sadly predictable. For hundreds of years parts of the Church have maintained an attitude towards human sexuality which is completely unbiblical, teaching it is an unwholesome and even unclean activity. In taking this position the Church often fell into the ancient heresy once expounded by the Gnostics. Speaking to Bill Malonnee in a crowded dressing room during his UK visit to the UK with country maestro Buddy Miller, I asked Bill what was his thinking behind the "Love Cocoon" song.
"I told people it was kind of like the Song Of Solomon which is an erotic Hebrew love song and English versions are kind of tame compared to what I think it really says but for the same reason the Jews in Jesus' time felt it was inspired and they kept it in their cannon of Scripture. You know, only later on did the Church shift its position and say this is a love poem between the bridegroom and the bride of Christ, though there is probably some truth in that too. I know that was the theological position in the Middle Ages; it could just be an erotic love poem. There's no doubt 'Love Cocoon' is a bit more ribald, a bit more locker room, but it wasn't ever meant to offend and I didn't want it released as a single. The reason why it caused such a fervour in the States was because the manager at the time had persuaded us that Capricorn wasn't going to release it as a single, it was going to be either 'Locust Years' or 'Tokyo Rose' and so I said, 'Okay, well I'll record that song.' We never handed it to them. The label basically told us, 'Well, this is one of our tracks.' They said there was another band they were doing an advance on, another band that wasn't doing so well on and they'd already sent out this record and it was already being returned right. They said, 'We're not going to be able to give your record very much attention. Now we really like your record but we'd be a lot happier about it if you were to record "Love Cocoon" and put it on there.' My biggest fear was that they were going to release it as a single; I think that it's a novelty song. I don't think it's representative of The Vigilantes Of Love, it was kind of a nice little side line. We kind of extracted a promise from them that they would do 'Locust Years' or 'Tokyo Rose' with a bit more garagey sound and darn it if they didn't go ahead and release 'Love Cocoon' as the first single anyway. So we were Think about the context, six months earlier we were being nominated for a Dove Award for 'Double Cure'; six months later we were being pulled off the shelves by Christian bookstores."
Bill is surprisingly phlegmatic about the whole "Love Cocoon" debacle. "It probably did more good for us in the long run. But I think it's kind of sad when you've got the CCM defined such blinkered attitudes such as you can only say this or you can only record that. It's like all of a sudden the world gets smaller and smaller and to a certain extent more unreal and kids pick up on unreality in a post modernist culture. Kids pick up on reality real quick, that's the big thing about a post modern mindset; they want to see the relevance of something. If it's not there in the music then we are being too small in the presentation of things, too weak, then no wonder they go elsewhere."
Known for their alt country-styled material The Vigilantes Of Love latterly departed into rock territory. Explained Bill, "I am content with wearing two hats when I am playing to British audiences, the typical thing I do is playing one of the Troubadour things. I could play stuff off 'Foetal Position' and 'Locketfull Of Moonlight' (Bill's solo albums) which is a little more on the pop side. Actually I could split the difference, 'Summershine' is a bit more rock than pop. But really 'Summershine' and the solo internet records were supposed to be more like pages from a song book. You know, one week I might be writing country rock songs and the next some kind of weird psychedelic thing, a kind of Strawberry Fields phase and I really like both of them. The problem with the pop stuff is that to really recover and make it sound great, you really do want to have the band play. So the tendency for me over here is to do more Troubadour stuff."
Bill faces up to the financial realities of life after The Vigilantes Of Love and is philosophic about his years with the band. "I'm basically having to downsize it. Just Jake and I do these concerts. But I'm still writing like crazy. We just hired a drummer and a keyboard player for the new band, so we'll go out and do some shows probably in June. But I'm married with two teenage boys and it's hard to support. The thing about The Vigilantes Of Love which I've always stressed to our fan base is that it was never going to stay together very long, even when we were on Capricorn Records, good budget records, they were never a label that supported us for more than two weeks on the road. You just think on your feet a lot and I think for those guys we got to the place where we realised that the friendships were tested. I've been through so many musicians who have been dumb enough or brave enough to get in the truck with me and do this, chase this dream. It got to the point where I just felt it was unfair to ask these guys to do this, I can't offer them anything. You know, the band wants to be able to paint a good picture, a good statement of beliefs and when we got back from the UK tour of 2000, which should have been a great tour but was in the wake of . we'd just got robbed, a couple of thousand dollars of stuff was gone, I had to pony up the credit card just to keep the tour running. I don't think the label was all that sympathetic. We came back to the States in December, there really was no reason for us to get back in that truck and do this again and that was because I think the friendships needed to be intact. We're still on great terms with each other; I think if we'd done another six months then, we'd have been bashing each others' brains out. There's a tendency when things get hard for people to finger point and blame and I just didn't want that to happen to us. I wanted us to walk out of that with some integrity. But I'm proud of what we've done."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.