Mark of the Beast

Charles S. McVey unleashes his 'Animal,' a meditation on faith and desire


Charles S. McVey

Let's just get it out of the way—yes, he's really getting peed on by Jesus in his new CD’s album art.

Does Charles McVey have your attention now?

Good, because he'd like to use that sacrilegious imagery to lure you into his new music and its exploration of religion. McVey's "Animal" is a piano-based pop record filled with pretty songs about ugly topics, ranging from existential despair to masturbation.

If you can get beyond the shock value, you're in for a thoughtful meditation on faith and desire. McVey joined us to discuss "Animal" and, you know, getting peed on by Jesus. (WARNING: Graphic images that many will find offensive and/or sacrilegious are posted below. )

No-fi highlights from the podcast The Jesus on the cover is played by a porn star...


The cover, initially, wasn't going to be as racy as it is. My drummer Eric was supposed to be on the cover, but he recently got a tattoo that wouldn't have worked with my Jesus idea. My last album, "Modern Living," had a homoerotic cover and I wanted to be consistent, but I didn't want to ask any of my friends to take their shirt off. I ran across Scott Campbell, who is an adult film star that lives in Kansas City, and I emailed him. He checked out my music, said he liked it, and was down. Four days later, there I was—porn star in a cheese cloth.

Podcast episode


Mark of the Beast

Charles S. McVey joins us to discuss his new album,"Animal," and getting peed on by Jesus. (CAUTION: This interview may contain backwards messages.)

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And the bodily fluids…?

We should just talk about what it is—in the album art, you can run across a picture of me dressed like a priest and Scott in his Jesus outfit. We're in front of an altar meant for receiving communion, and he's urinating on me while I'm looking up at him with affection.

That photograph was not originally part of the plan. Eric and I kind of brainstormed, "If we have a porn star doing this, what else will he do?" It was inspired by a Clive Barker story where a priest gets baptized in urine. So it actually came from a gay horror writer's mind, not mine. I thought it was so over the top that I said I couldn't do it. 

I initially cheesed out on it. Then, the day of the shoot, I thought, "You know, this is stupid of me to be afraid." If I'm afraid of something I think is a good idea, I tend to force myself to do it. We popped the idea on Scott, and he said, "Alright." Really, anything we executed in that photo shoot was nothing compared to what he does on a regular basis. Contrary to what the lyrics off of "Animal" might lead you to believe, that was the first golden shower I've ever received. I sincerely did if for the art.

Past Event

Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division / Charles McVey

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 9 p.m.
  • Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass., Lawrence
  • All ages / $6


Is it confrontational for the sake of being confrontational?

It wasn't the point to just be confrontational. I feel like it complements the record. The picture itself is hidden under the tray of the CD case, which was in part a nod to the fun '90s artwork of Tool. "Animal" is about asking questions, exploring ideas, and maybe not finding what you expect. And the photo is part of that—if you're curious in nature, you'll find it.

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The Dog and Pony Show

Interviewing the Pansy Division's Jon Ginoli...

Growing up queer in a small town can be a difficult experience. As a budding gay youth in Hays, Kansas, during the '90s, it was difficult to find people I could relate to, let alone role models. That is, until I ran across a CD that would change the way ...

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Are you hoping for some negative feedback?

Sure, I guess so. I plan on sending the record to Focus on the Family. They were such an inspiration. I listened to a lot of Christian radio for this album.

Did growing up in Kansas, the bleeding red heart of conservative America, influence you as an artist?

Of course it did. Because of this record, everybody asks me what my childhood was like in regards to religion. I hadn't even pondered that my disillusionment started in childhood. I thought it wasn't until puberty, because that's when I really started to question things. But as a child, there were disagreements between my parents as to how I was supposed to be raised and what church I was supposed to be brought up in. They were from different religions. I thought it was the stupidest thing as a child. My very vague concept of God at the time was that God was good and everybody would get along. Of course, that's not really the case, is it?

Do you see no good that can come from organized religion?


Inside art on McVey's new CD (modified for inclusion here).

I think a lot of good can come from people who are in organized religions, but that has to do with the individual. I think religion can be inspiring, but the idea of morality derived from religion is just silly. "Thou shalt not kill" is just a good idea and shouldn't have to come from God. My problem with religion is that people are taking irrational beliefs and acting on them. We have 21st century technology with 14th century values. People kill each other on a daily basis because of religious differences. All they know is that you're a Jew or you're a Muslim or you're a Christian, and that's worthy of death. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

Do you think that's just human nature, and religion is just an excuse to act on those impulses?

No. I have more faith in human nature than that. I feel like human beings have really great potential and that we've held ourselves back with religion. Those ideas and morals were meant to control us. Some people don't even want evolution discussed in schools.

Listen to the full interview, with snippets from McVey's new CD or download it here.


Tex 13 years, 1 month ago

When you're a little older, you will look back on this and weep.

JSeraphim 13 years ago

I don't think this fellow has any idea what he's talking about. I'm having a hard time imagining the profound questions his "art" might ask through his music.

alm77 13 years ago

Jsera, I think he knows what he's talking about. Listen to the interview; he seems well read. I think he's wrong and it's sad, but I definitely think he had thought his position through very thoroughly and he's being honest about it (while trying to shock people at the same time, (which never wins anyone over to any way of thinking)).

that_will_do_pig 13 years ago

This is a strange interview... but that's usually with good intention. I think that some of the confusion and disgust here might come from the frame of the questions asked... I mean, what about his music? If it's a tough topic, why the poppy upbeat music? I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions he's drawn, and I certainly think that there is FAR MORE to the point that religion incites masses into violence; it's just not as simple as "you're a Muslim, I'm a Christian, I must hate you and harm you." That's a very simple-minded way of thinking, but I think that the intention to explore it is in the right place.

But I certainly don't think that it's a good idea to tell a young person that exploring hard concepts and ideas, even if he hasn't quite reached a solid understanding, that he's wrong for trying. I hope that he doesn't grow up and feel sorry, or "weep," that he did this. We should only hope that he keeps looking and searching for whatever answers he wants to find.

And if the only local musicians we featured here were those that packaged it all up nicely with sunshine and rainbows and "life is good," or even those that lament about breakups and booze... well then, we'd be close-minded and dense too.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 13 years ago

Nicely said, Jenny. That second paragraph may be one of the most mature things ever said in this forum.

alm77 13 years ago

witch, I'd say I'm the opposite of you. I loved the sound, it was the message/controversy I didn't like. He wasn't kidding when he said he'd spent loads of time on Christian radio stations. I could definitely hear those musical influences, both musically and vocally. It was beautiful.

DOTDOT 13 years ago

Christians, Jews, Muslims, and don't forget those of us who share an unshakeable belief that it's better to get pissed off than pissed on.

Tex 13 years ago

"I hope that he doesn't grow up and feel sorry, or "weep," that he did this."

I respectfully disagree. William S. Burroughs once said interviewers frequently asked him, if looking back over his life, he had any regrets. With a gasp of horror and perhaps disgust, he said, I can't look back over this day without having regrets and you want me to review a whole life? Years ago, I saw a little boy having a temper tantrum outside the Paradise Cafe. His mother had brought him outside because he was screaming about being denied a cinnamon roll. He got so wound up that he took off his shoe and threw it at his mom. This interview with Charles McVey brought that incident immediately to mind. The Church won't condone the lifestyle he has chosen so let's just pee all over it. Take that, God. Searching is fine and to be expected and commended. Childish displays of anger such as those evidenced in the contemptible photos displayed here are not. I'm a dad and a Catholic who spent nearly 25 years away from the Church; I know what it's like to be frustrated and disappointed with the Church and I know what it's like to deal with a child who's throwing a temper tantrum.

that_will_do_pig 13 years ago


I have to say that comparing a child throwing a temper tantrum - throwing his shoe at his mother, all because he was denied a cinnamon role - to someone's music album with a controversial cover (or image rather, because as he says in his interview, it's actually inside under the CD) is not a fair nor helpful argument. Sure, it's inherently shock value, but that "contemptible" photo and McVey's interview are certainly not suggestive of anger. Confusion. Perhaps disgust. Irritation and disbelief... all likely. But anger? And especially pure, childish anger in the vein of "my mother should give me what I want whenever I want it"? No.

As a former studio art student at KU, I saw kids make art like this all time. No, not necessarily pushing knee-jerk religious buttons, but art that is likely too blatant or obvious to make an effective, intelligent point. But every time a piece like that was created, the intentions were honest. And no matter how much I dislike trite, "shocking" artwork that doesn't seem to dig deep enough, it's somebody DOING something, instead of stagnantly complaining about things. Why then should anyone sit at home on their computer and anonymously reprimand a young kid for doing something constructive with his time?

All I'm suggesting is that responding to something like this with any amount of anger, hatred, disgust, etc., only reinforces what McVey has said confuses him about religion and the way that people interact about it. We shouldn't be telling people to weep and feel remorse because they did something we don't like, but that ultimately causes no harm to anyone else (except for maybe himself, because well... a golden shower from a porn star? Get out the disinfectant?). Especially not on a newspaper forum.

The Burrough's quote is interesting because as much as I enjoy reading him, I still disagree. What a horrible way to go through life, assuming that you will regret the things you do, every day. McVey might look back on this in 10 years and feel a little ashamed, or maybe he'll laugh at it, but wouldn't you rather he learned that this method of finding answers didn't work for him so he moved on to searching another venue? And if you do want him to feel regretful about it, then you're only suggesting that because you hold beliefs that you feel are right and morally superior to his, and that, once again, is not fair nor constructive.

alm77 13 years ago

" Why then should anyone sit at home on their computer and anonymously reprimand a young kid for doing something constructive with his time?"

---ooooh. Did we really go /there/? sigh

I didn't find any "anger, hatred, disgust," in Tex's comments. I found concern as well as a relational "ouch, that's gonna hurt" point of view.

that_will_do_pig 13 years ago

Fair enough.

But I certainly hope that if I ever post a story on here about my views of religion or politics, or share pictures of my artwork and you happen to not like it, I'm not equated to a child throwing a temper tantrum over sweets.

alm77 13 years ago

I'm guessing any art work you would put on here would have more depth and be less obvious (based on what I've read from your posts) and that it wouldn't lend itself to such simplistic comparisons. I would also guess that you would be able to facilitate a discussion rather than make a statement and just hope it sticks.

Tex 13 years ago


There's a difference between anger and a temper tantrum. Also, it seems to me that you imply that honest intentions confer validity. Sincerity is a disastrously overrated quality; the picketers from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church are intensely sincere. I have to agree with alm77; there's no hatred in my response to this matter. Perhaps there's an assumption of anger because I am an un-lapsed Catholic and Mr. McVey went way out of his way to profane the Catholic faith not only in general terms but by a symbolic desecration of the very center of our faith, the Blessed Sacrament.
Lastly, the quote from WSB didn't imply that he would regret the things he did every day. I don't consider him a role model, may he rest in peace, but I do respect his honesty much more than the claims of many people that they don't have any regrets about anything. Anyone living on planet earth today who thinks that he or she has never done anything that they should regret or be ashamed of isn't thinking very hard.

DOTDOT 13 years ago

I don't know, Tex. I kind of agree with Kratz in a way. Condescension is a double edged sword, and I realize your chalking this picture up to a tantrum of a developing mind was meant to actually give this guy a break. But still.

My own opinions about the church haven't evolved much since I was 11 years old, and I've knocked off more than half a century. Which goes to show either what an enlightened little boy I was, or what an immature man I've become. Probably a little of both. The point is that people get over Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as children, but are expected to buy into this one last fairy tale that happens to be allegedly real. Questioning this weird twist on our civilization is as ageless as god.

I don't get what you are saying about the blessed sacrament. Maybe you listened to the music or read some other interviews or did research otherwise that I'm not going to. But hear me on this. If you are basing the fact that this is a profanity against the catholic faith on the idea that an image of jesus was used, then you are addressing my core beef with the catholic church. And that is the arrogance that the church owns jesus.

The foundation for anti-Roman sentiment is real. I know that the catholic channel shows speakers that have great fun mocking and belittling those who have left the faith and can't find a way back. But hear me on this - FUCK them. The arrogant catholic is no better than the Westboro intelligentsia, and both lend validity to Charles McVey's statement.

Tex 13 years ago

DD, Listen, I spent a long, long time away from the Church; even now that I'm back in, I still get angry at times. If you'll grant me patience, I only want to say something about a couple of your points. Where, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, does it say that the Church owns Jesus? If somebody distributed nasty photos of someone you love, would your defense of the offended person imply that you owned them? I do not know anything about you or your background, but one of the reasons I left the Church in the first place (other than the fact that, at heart, I wanted to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with nobody to tell me otherwise, i.e., live like a 2 year old) is that I really knew almost nothing about the Catholic faith in spite of having taken months of instruction. Maybe I was poorly taught, maybe I just didn't get it at the time, but I left without knowing what I was leaving. Second point: it sounds like, at least from what you said, that you are basing your perception of an entire group of people on what you judge to be the worst actions of a few. By that token, I would look at this article and denounce all gay folks as people who like to mock the cherished beliefs of others while somebody pees on them.

DOTDOT 13 years ago

Fair enough.

The arrogance I refer to is not necessarily expressed explicitly in the Baltimore Catechism, but underlies the premise of the Catechism in the first place. I was raised on the Catechism, whether through school in my early years before Vatican II reached full swing, or in my house where my parents were hard core Catechists (wrong word - Catefiles?). Simplifying fundamental abstractions into pat little memorizable answers is simply not enough for some of us. Why should a child abdicate responsibility for independent thought? The brainwashing is seen by its proponents as a pathway to The Faith. I see it as a barrier to faith. Always have, and at this point, probably always will.

But either way, the damage inflicted by the church (inclusive) on the people is rarely seeded in the source documents themselves. It's usually based on how people propogate a manifestation of their understanding. The idea that the host becomes the body and blood of jesus christ (and the exclusion of those who don't concede this), has as much validity as a suicide bomber getting his seven virgins. Transubstantiation IS a weapon.

We don't need God or Jesus Christ to treat each other like shit. But we (the species) have use the IDEA of God throughout history to exactly those ends.

And Tex, I wish I was indicting the faith based on the actions of a few. I actually see it as the opposite. I have had the honor of living life with some of the purest faithful who's beauty is offended by the actions of the many.

And I personally don't measure "maturity" as a level of concession to ideas that one doesn't really believe. Sure, Charles McVey wouldn't have made this picture if he had a family to feed and a job he could lose if his boss got offended by it. That's why some of the keenest work is done by younger people who haven't been bound by life yet. The same premise that created the tradition of sending our young men and women into harms way for our country. It is entirely appropriate for the most challenging ideas to be expressed through this age group. That's not immaturity, that's strategy.

That's life.

Tex 13 years ago

"It is entirely appropriate for the most challenging ideas to be expressed through this age group. That's not immaturity, that's strategy..."

What is challenging about a dude mocking Jesus peeing on another dude mocking the Church and the Blessed Sacrament? There seems to be a widespread idea that "shocking"="progressive," bound up with the idea that "art" created by young people is somehow more important than "art" created by old people. For every Beatles, there's a Jessica Simpson. Many, many artists in all fields created their best work in their 30s, 40s or beyond, and I'll bet some of them did so despite objections from their publishers, patrons, record companies, etc. Youth does not confer validity any more than simply being shocking does. Is anybody lifted up by somebody else being degraded?

that_will_do_pig 13 years ago

I think we've strayed away from the point, at least, I guess, the point that I was supporting/trying to make.

First of all, please do not ever again compare "me" to Jessica Simpson because of my age. EVER. I think everyone can agree that using the Beatles versus Jessica Simpson as a comparison of the talents of "old" people versus the talents of younger people is ludicrous, and clearly tailoring a point to your favor.

I think what Dot was trying to say is that we can no more write off a person in their 30's or 40's as out of shape and out of business than we can write off someone in their early 20's because they know nor understand nothing. Folks, that's ageism. You shouldn't disagree with McVey's imagery because he's young, but certainly, (and I believe that you do Tex), disagree with his work because you follow a different spiritual path. There's nothing wrong with that.

What I DO think is due to a little bit of youthful indiscretion is the use of shocking, weak images to convey a much more deep and almost "academic" idea. As I said before, I saw this in my studio classes a lot. But we're learning, aren't we? It takes time, energy, and trial after trial to learn how to convey messages in your art without overtly and glaringly throwing them in your audience's face. Maybe he's just not there yet. And hey--if in fact he wanted it to be this obvious, I still (and maybe for reasons I don't understand, just a feeling?) don't think that he's trying to spit in the face of Christians. I mean, how is this really any different than the people who stand up downtown or on campus and yell about how we're all sinners who must repent or pay the dire, dire consequences? Because that is offensive to me.

Tex 13 years ago

I apparently didn't make that point well; the point is, the Beatles made great music (even art, you might say) when they were young, while Jessica Simpson et. al. probably didn't create a lasting body of work. That is to say, youth + ability does not necessarily equal talent or result in great achievement. I was responding to dot dot's assertion that most of the "keenest" artistic achievements are made by young people because they have so few obligations and responsibilities (I'm paraphrasing). Keen? Charles McVey isn't really doing anything that Serrano didn't do twenty years ago. David St. Hubbins:"It's such a fine line..." And, JK, you honestly don't think CMcV is trying to "spit in the face of Christians?" I guess literally, in the sense that the bodily fluid in question isn't saliva. Quite a stretch comparing that to a street preacher.

Tex 13 years ago


"I mean, how is this really any different than the people who stand up downtown or on campus and yell about how we're all sinners who must repent or pay the dire, dire consequences? Because that is offensive to me."

Penn Jillette says it better than I ever could:

DOTDOT 13 years ago


I said "some of the keenest work" not "most of the keenest artistic achievements." See what happens?

"What is challenging about a dude mocking Jesus ..." Well, in the past couple of days, I read through the Baltimore Catechism, had this conversation with you, reconsidered the faith of my father, got Jenny Kratz's view on the subtlety of art, decided I am no more sophisticated than I was when I was 11 years old, and googled Serrano.

Whether I blame you or CMV, there you have it.

Tex 13 years ago

DD, Sorry, I did say that I was paraphrasing your comment. I'll try not to be so lazy and scroll up next time. I'm glad this discussion hasn't degenerated into name calling like so many of the discussions on ljw stories do (like, say, the current story about the '90s music scene reunion this weekend). I'm also glad that you were positively challenged. This particular discussion seems to have 1. gone on longer than I thought it would and 2. dwindled down to three folks. It's been an interesting exchange; I'm going to go do the dishes now.

alm77 13 years ago

Hey, you may be the only three posting, but there are still some of us hanging around to take it all in. You've each handled it nicely enough. ;)

Oh, and dots, I don't think Tex jumped in because he Catholic and they "own" Jesus, I think he jumped in because he's Catholic and Mr. McVey has particularly portrayed Catholics here. I'd probably be just as pissed if they were identifiably my denomination. But then again, I don't know what a catechism is, so maybe that disqualifies me from knowing what I'm talking about.

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