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Friday, August 01, 2014
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The CCM Interview: Andrae Crouch

David Seay

” You’re Andrae Crouch, aren’t you?” asked the Los Angeles County Sheriff, as a cold, blustery wind blew across the nightscape. A snarl of traffic moved past the roadside tableau – a silver-grey Mercedes, pulled to the side, the pulsing red light of the police car reflecting on its shiny surfaces. A bearded black man, dressed in a jogging suit, stood beside the car and watched as the officer’s eyes swept past him and into the auto’s interior, to its dark, carpeted floor where a quantity of white powder had been spilled. The officer radioed for assistance and within minutes a half-dozen plainclothesmen swarmed over the scene.

“May we search you?” one of them asked the suspect, after a further investigation revealed a small television, a portable keyboard, and some shirts in the trunk of the car. Having obtained permission, the officer reached his hand into the hip pocket of the man’s jogging suit. He pulled out a short length of straw and a small glass vial, dusted with the residue of cocaine. “You’re under arrest,” he said and, handcuffing the suspect, led him away.

It was the night before Veteran’s Day weekend, 1982, in the Los Angeles seaside suburb of Marina del Rey. An event had taken place under the curious gaze of passing motorists that would shock and dismay the international Christian community. The arrest on drug possession charges of perhaps the best known, most popular gospel singer was one of those electrifying news stories that causes people to stop whatever they’re doing and strain between the lines of the matter-of-fact media accounts for what had really happened. It was, in a very real sense, a misfortune that had befallen not just this highly visible spokesman for the gospel family. It was, in its implications and ramifications, an incident of deep concern for all Christians. Even if the charges proved to be false, fear lingered in many hearts that deep damage had been done to the integrity of the church in the eyes of a watching world.

Yet, more than the public image of Christianity was called into account with the arrest of Andrae Crouch. Some troublesome attitudes held by many believers towards those in positions of leadership and authority were also exposed. Questions were asked to which answers must be provided. Does the merciless magnifying glass under which we place our public figures render these men and women larger-than-life and less-than-human? Are we quicker to judge, less willing to forgive the sins of those who live under the white-hot glare of notoriety? Does the Biblical warning that leaders incur a stricter judgment apply also to entertainers? Is there something about fame and fortune that isolates and alienates? And how, as Christians, are we to respond to both the pitfalls and rewards of great success?

Andrae Crouch, collected and composed amidst the immaculate splendor of his sprawling San Fernando Valley home, recently attempted to answer these and other burning questions revolving around the tumultuous events on that windy evening last winter. It was a thoughtful and reflective Crouch who sat in the striking red, gold, and black art deco of his living room and struggled, sometimes with tears in his eyes, to make clear both the events of the past few months and their meaning to him. His words were carefully chosen and, behind him, there was the sense that this man had found new sources of strength, new reasons to rejoice, and a deepened awareness of an ever-present help in time of greatest need.

Was Andrae Crouch guilt as charged? It is, of course, a question uppermost on the minds of millions, and the renowned singer/songwriter takes great pains to explain the circumstances of the arrest. Yet, what seems more important by far to him is what he sees as God’s purpose in the ordeal. Here he reveals both a great insight and a deep vulnerability rarely glimpsed in so public a figure.

CCM: A lot of people were concerned about your arrest, and they want to know what the story really is.

Andrae: I know so many people from many different walks of life. I share music with them and they love what I do, but all of them are not Christians. Some of these people knew I have an apartment in Marina del Rey.

CCM: Are they musicians?

Andrae: No. They knew I was going to New York. They would call and ask about using my apartment. Many times you feel this guilt if you’re not relating to some of the people you knew a long time ago.

CCM: Were these old friends?

Andrae: Yes, from a long time ago. They used to be in the church. I’m always trying to share with them. They knew me before things got better, but I still know that they’re rowdy. I said, “Okay, just don’t be loud. There’s a guy next door. If you get anything above normal conversation, he will bang on the wall.” I did it, just trying to make people think that I’m still “humble.”

Crouch went to New York for a 10-day period, and returning home he made a stop in Texas to visit another set of acquaintances. “I’ve always had this thing about losing weight,” the stocky singer continues, “and these people had been selling the Cambridge Diet.” A popular weight-loss program, the Cambridge Diet consists primarily of protein powder mixed with milk and taken instead of regular meals.

“They let me try some of the chicken soup, which came powdered in a can and I kind of liked it. They gave me a lot of it, including what was left of the can I’d tried.” The fateful container of chicken soup was sealed with a plastic lid and put into a small shopping bag with the other Cambridge products.

“When I got back to L.A.,” Crouch recalls, “it was raining. The shopping bag got soaked so I ran through the parking lot and when I threw it in the car, the chicken soup can opened and spilled about three-fourths of a cup all over the black carpeting.”

Thinking nothing of the incident, the singer planned to return to his marina apartment the following day to complete an arrangement of a number he was scheduled to perform on Solid Gold. He had also promised to take out to dinner one of the deacons of his father’s church while his parents were at a Church of God In Christ convocation in Atlanta. Calling late the afternoon of Andrae’s return to Los Angeles, the deacon reminded him of their engagement, and Andrae arranged to meet the churchman at his apartment.

Andrae: We got to the apartment, and he walks in the living room. I’m hoping the apartment is decent, not knowing whether they cleaned it up afterwards or whatever.

I had to go to the restroom. So I went right in and see this little vial. There was a straw, but it looked to me like it was empty. It was just a foggy vial. I was just shivering. I said “That’s just the reason I didn’t want these people over to my apartment. What if someone had walked in here?”

My idea was to throw it away. But they would totally deny it if I didn’t say, “Hey, this is the reason why I didn’t want you guys in my apartment!” You deal with all walks of life so you have to go over to people and tell them you know. Some people think a person would know what I represent and just act holy. But they don’t. There was a time that I thought that, until I missed the television, until I missed two televisions, until I missed a freezer full of food. Had I known all their character, I would have told them not to even come in the door. But you just don’t know.

CCM: Isn’t there a feeling of trying to stay with these people as long as you can?

Andrae: Yeah. It’s a thing of befriending them like Jesus used to do. He would preach to them and feed them or heal them. Then they were attracted to His kindness, hoping that some day it would win them. People from the church with machine-gun evangelism would turn these people off.

So I had on a jogging suit. I just put the vial there, totally forgetting all about it. I would have gotten home and thought about it the following day and used it as evidence with them.

The story now unfolds as a series of bizarre events gone out of control:

Andrae: When we got ready to leave, we were pulling out and I saw these police cars. In Marina del Rey, they’re always pulling people over. The brother was amazed at all the policemen around there. I said, “This is a high drug area.”

I’m a very cautious driver. I was getting ready to make a turn. I was at a stoplight. I see this police officer on the side of me. When we made a left turn on a two-lane one-way, immediately he gets behind me. I looked at the speedometer when I saw the police officer behind me. I was going 37 miles an hour.

CCM: Do you have the feeling that you got stopped because you were a black guy in an expensive car?

Andrae: Yeah, I looked the part. They have to stop you for something. “Erratic driving” – that means absolutely nothing. What is erratic driving? Is it that they see you put your foot on the brake too often? It’s just a way that they can stop you so that if they don’t find anything, you can’t come to them. It leaves them clean. I have nothing to say negative about that, because I want to see justice prevail, if it’s justice. But in our system, you’re really guilty until proven innocent. It’s not that you’re innocent until proven guilty.

So these two officers just start right behind me. Before I knew it their lights were on. I thought, “What is this guy doing? I’m not speeding.” I was just totally blown away. So, I pulled over.

He said, “Can I have your license, bud?” I gave him my license. He says, “Will you please step out of the car?” I said, “What are you pulling me over for?” He said, “Have you been drinking?” I said, “I most certainly have not.” He said, “You’re Andrae Crouch, aren’t you?” I go, “Yes.” The deacon pulls out a new album I’d just given him and says, “Yeah, this is really him!” So it was like a joke.

Then they just told me to get behind the car and they patted me down. If drugs had been my lifestyle I could have gotten rid of something I was using ‘cause there were bushes everywhere. I didn’t even think about that, ‘cause I knew I was clean.

So then they saw that powdered soup spilled on the carpet. They go, “What is that?” I said, “That’s the Cambridge Diet.” I thought, “If those guys think that’s drugs, that’s really far-fetched!” I thought that they would taste it. That’s what you see on TV, right? But they didn’t taste it. They’d never heard of the Cambridge Diet. You know all the press that it’s gotten? So that was really funny.

He goes back, and gets on his little walkie-talkie, and calls his guys. In five minutes there had to be over eight plainclothesmen.

I said, “What is this?” It looked like a television show! They opened up my trunk. They saw a television in there, a keyboard, and some shirts from a concert I did six months ago. I looked suspicious.

I was straddled against the trunk of the police car while they were searching the back seat. I said, “Why do I have to do this while you search the back seat?”

And they said, “Can we search you?” I said, “Sure.” So they put their hands in my pocket and come out with this vial. I said, “Oh my God!” I mean I could not believe it.

He put the handcuffs on me and said, “You’re under arrest.” I said, “Under arrest? For what? I just left my apartment….” The guy thinks he had a big fish.

CCM: What did you feel at this time?

Andrae: I totally went blank. I think I went into shock.

CCM: Did you know what this might mean when people heard about it?

Andrae: No, not then. I was worried about me. They told the deacon to take my car and drive it home. Before he left they scrape all this Cambridge stuff up and put it in a plastic bag.

CCM: Then they took you to jail?

Andrae: I got to the jail, and it was freezing cold. One guy says, “Hey, do you know who this is?” They say, “Who is it?” He says, “This is Andrae Crouch.” And one guy says, “Praise the Lord!” Another guy said, “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to be preaching the gospel and using that stuff, boy?” I just looked at him. I had to be the nicest guy they ever had in there, ‘cause I didn’t say a word!

CCM: Have you ever done drugs?

Andrae: No. In high school once I smoked a joint, and I hated it. I never got high.

Crouch was detained for close to 10 hours until his companion was able to arrange for the $2,500 bail. “I kept going to sleep and waking up every 10 minutes,” he recalls. “I thought it was possibly a dream, but I couldn’t snap out of it. One of the other prisoners told me that God would pull me through. ‘Just listen to you songs, man,’ he told me. But none of my music came to me except the words to “That’s Why I Needed You.”

“Maybe I’ll be somewhere feeling sorry for myself / ‘Cause I cried and cried and it didn’t seem that I could find any help.”

“I knew that if I could just talk to someone it would be all right,” he continues, the strain of these memories showing on his face. Yet, it was too late for things to “all be all right.”

“When I got home my housekeeper was crying. ‘Where have you been, Andrae?’ she said. ‘Everyone’s been calling. Your parents got the news over the radio.’”

CCM: How did you feel at this point?

Andrae: I felt like I wanted to die.

CCM: Did you think that people wouldn’t believe you when you told them the truth?

Andrae: I didn’t really care then. I was tired of talking.

Exhaustion, spiritual and emotional, have been a very familiar state to Andrae Crouch at the time of his arrest. One can’t help but acknowledge the conviction he puts to the word “tired” when he explains his state the morning after that terrifying night. Whether or not his detailed account of the circumstances meet the test of truth for all who hear it, there can be no denying that Crouch had reached a turning point in his life.

“It was the end of a long road for me,” he admits. “I’d felt so rejected by the church for so long – so rejected by people who didn’t understand what I was trying to do with my music – that I’d separated myself from all of it. I’d tried so hard on my last album, Finally, to tell my brothers and sisters how I really felt, and I was beginning after a long time to start to feel loved again. Then the devil did his number and I thought, ‘I’m through.’ I felt there was no way I’d ever be able to get close to any community of Christians again.

“I think people had started looking at me as a spirit,” Crouch says with a painful honesty. “It seems like their hands would go right through me, as if I was a ghost. I’d say to somebody, ‘That’s a nice car, where did you get it?’ and they’d say to me, ‘God gave it to me.’

“I knew that was the bottom line, but all I really wanted to know was if they’d gotten a good deal. No one could talk to me like a real person. Everything had to be spiritual. I couldn’t let people know that I was really hurting, that I was lonely. All my loneliness went into my music, into songs like ‘I Want To Be Closer’ and ‘I’ll Be Thinking Of You.’ People need to be touched and cared for. Me too. But as soon as someone would try and give to me I’d pull back. I’d been fooled into thinking that I had to do all the giving.”

CCM: Did you feel misunderstood?

Andrae: Yes. That’s always been a fear of mine. I have it in a song: “Men may try to scandalize your name, but let the sweet love of Jesus shine through you. They may do things wrong and say that you are to blame, but let His love shine through.”

At this time I figured God was just trying to show me something. He had to get me in a position where I was just flat on my back. I remember standing in front of the mirror and telling Him, “God, I’ve been through hard times with You before. But I cannot handle this one. I can’t take this one.” It was on the news every fifteen minutes. All of a sudden Andrae Crouch – the gospel singer who loves God and stood for righteousness – now he’s been in jail for drugs. I didn’t know this other person I was supposed to be. It was like someone had taken a different nose and different eyes and pasted them on my face.

Though within just a few days after the arrest the district attorney dropped the charges for lack of sufficient evidence, Andrae has not gone unscathed. “I’ve had to take therapy,” he says. “I’d be sitting at a meal and just start crying. The Christian therapist told me that I was in the same position emotionally as a woman who had been raped.”

It was at this point in his account that Crouch’s eyes flood with tears. There is a quivering sense that he’s come to an understanding that is hard for him to accept and explain. It is this revelation that lies at the core of the singer’s terrible and frightening journey, and the victory at its end.

“People pulled around me,” he says with a sense of awe. “I got over 4,000 phone calls, thousands of letters and telegrams from around the world. If I had any fears that the church, the precious body of Christ, would come to me and say ‘I told you so,’ those fears were blown away from the first day. There was something in the nature of what I’d been through that made people respond naturally. I saw people actually wash my dishes and say they loved me… they cooked for me and told me they loved me.

“’Andrae is just like us,’ it seems like they were saying.” He laughs, shaking the tears from his eyes. “’He hurts like we hurt. He’s a criminal…we love him.’ They didn’t say, ‘I told you so.’ They said, ‘We’re not going to let this happen.’ Suddenly all the differences I’d ever had with the church just faded away. People who’d criticized my music the most were loving me!”

CCM: When you did the Warner Brothers album a lot of people got down on your case and said that you were selling out. Did this experience make that seem less important?

Andrae: Yes, because I saw them come to my rescue. This little old lady prayed for me. She don’t understand the Hollywood scene, but she loves Andrae. You would have thought somebody died. Actually, somebody did die!

CCM: Who died?

Andrae: Bitter Andrae. The make-them-understand, make-them-get-my-vision Andrae has died.

CCM: How did you get so bitter?

Andrae: I was too sensitive. I wanted my music to reach so many people. I didn’t want to hurt anybody, so I just kept this glass wall. Maybe you don’t talk the way they think you should talk, so you almost feel more comfortable with non-Christians.

The bitterness isn’t something I’ve been healed of overnight. This isn’t going to deprogram completely my attitudes about being aware of people. Just because they like your songs may not always mean they’re good for you to hang around with. You have to stake your grounds and be a good steward of your space. Control your space and don’t always feel like you’re a minority. That happens when you grow up in the church and you do gospel music. You’re always walking on eggs when you’re playing in a white church, hoping that the real you wouldn’t offend them. It I was really myself, they wouldn’t like me.

Then my music starts getting a little popular, and the world doesn’t like you. The only way you can relate to the world is if they think you’re sort of like them. Everything they do can’t offend you. You’re trying to let them know that you accept them and you’re not just this holy guy. You want to minister to them in the long run, but sometimes you can lose control.

CCM: Has your attitude about the body changed?

Andrae: Yes, I didn’t know it was that developed. Churches would stand up and pray for me all over the country.

It’s easy to get tired of the hoopla. Jumping down the aisles and making every song a fast song. I wanted to get back to that old joy and get past that something that was holding me back. I wanted a real breakthrough with the Lord.

I went to my father’s church and just wanted to really worship the Lord. I didn’t care who was looking at me.

This lady was talking, and I was way in the back. She said, “There’s somebody in here right now that God wants to pull out.” I know she didn’t see me, ‘cause I was too far back.

“God wants to pull you out on you,” she said. “Your arms may not be folded, but they’re folded within your spirit.” The sermon had been preached already, and the church was in worship, you know. There were little outbursts of “Hallelujah” …a real sweet simmer. A move of the Holy Spirit. Like it was getting ready to be an explosion. And I wanted to be in it so bad!

But I was… I mean, my heart was crying. I was just saying, “God, I wish you would touch me.” And then the devil told me – I mean I heard him – “If you lift your hands like that, somebody’s going to think you really did all that, because maybe you’ll confess it and be saved today.” You know.

Then he said, “Well, if you do lift your hands and say, ‘Glory to God’ and praise Him and all that, you’re just doing it for these people. You don’t feel this.”

CCM: So did you do it?

Andrae: Amen! She said, “Lift your hands…” I said something like, “Yes, Lord. Thank you, Jesus,” like that. Then I just heard this “Whooo,” you know, in praise. Oh, I wanted to do that so bad and I…it just poured out, and poured out, and poured out, and that was it.

CCM: How long ago was that?

Andrae: A month ago.

CCM: In your father’s church?

Andrae: My father’s church. Back home. Back to where it all got started. They starting singing a praise song and I danced in the Spirit. I could not help it. I said, “I’m not going to let nobody rob me of this!” I’ve been going every Sunday. I’m back at church again, and I’m the regular old Andrae now.

CCM: How did this affect your music? Have you been able to write since then?

Andrae: I’m writing a song right now. “I’m back in the race again. This time I know I’m going to win. Back in the race again. I’m going to keep my feet on the track. Never, ever will I look back. Look out, world, ‘cause I’m back in the race again.”

 
 
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