How to explain Carman?
He’s either someone you’re very familiar with, or not at all. He is a perfectly passable singer, but he was far more interested in a sort of rhyming, spoken word, preach-rap that defies description. Whatever it was, it was hugely, deliriously popular among a certain demographic of Christianity—selling millions of albums back when people still did that sort of thing and setting a record for the most people to ever attend a Christian concert.
And yet, if Carman (if he has a last name, I’ve never heard it) will be remembered for one thing, it is absolutely his music videos. They are insane.
Sometimes they feature Carman as a MC Hammer-esque dance machine. Sometimes, he’s a stormy revolutionary bringing God’s honest judgement to a world on the fast track to hell.
But the videos were never better than when they took on an operatic grandness, depicting the forces of good (Carman) holding his own against the forces of evil (a demon horde that looked like they’d been recruited during The Nightmare on Elm Street‘s wrap party.)
They are incredible. They are badass. And they demand to be ranked. If you know who Carman is, you’re probably already hooked. If you don’t, you’re about to be. Mark my word.
(NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list of all of Carman’s music videos. That would be impossible. These are simply his most badass music videos.)
10. A Witch’s Invitation
Not Carman’s most badass moment, but a good introduction to what it is he does nevertheless. Not quite a spoken word jam, but not quite a song—it falls into some genre of music that belongs to Carman alone, and that is hardly the weirdest thing about this video.
In this story, we find Carman (our hero, always) being invited to a house that looks like Walgreens’ holiday aisle the day after Halloween, featuring a Ouija Board, a Dungeons and Dragons player’s guide and, most chillingly, herbal tea. This house is owned by the titular “witch,” who has everything except for red horns and a pointy tail.
These are Carman’s younger days, so we can excuse the fact that there is no bloodshed or violence—just a claymation demon dragging an old man to hell. But never fear. Things pick up significantly from here on out.
R.I.O.T. (Righteous Invasion of Truth) has not the Shakespearean scope of other videos on this list, but what it lacks in plot development it more than makes up for in sweaty dancers. This video finds Carman and his youthful compatriots enslaved in some sort of smoke-making factory. Carman escapes, explodes everyone else’s shackles, and then it’s time for a DANCE R.I.O.T that doubles as the first Occupy movement.
My second favorite thing about this video is that Carman and his fellow sweaty dance troupe overthrow The Man with the power of funk. My favorite thing is that it literally begins with Carman giving us Webster’s definition of a riot.
8. No Monsters
“Tyler! You’re putting ‘No Monsters’ down at number eight, despite the fact that it is the song you used to dance to in your bedroom when you were a little boy every single day?”
Yes! When I was a child, I thought as a child, I danced as a child. Now that I am grown, I see that this video really doesn’t pick up till the end, when Carman uses the Bible to chase a bunch of ’50s-era movie monsters (and one walking alligator?) back into the TV.
7. Heart of a Champion
So, in 2001, Carman finally went for what I have to think he was sort of gunning for all along and made a movie in which he stars as
Rocky Orlando, a washed up boxer with one last shot at redemp—OK, admittedly, I haven’t seen it, so I am sort of guessing at the plot here, but it’s a calculated risk.
The song here was “inspired by” the movie, insofar as someone can be inspired by a movie they wrote. It’s not his best work, but let’s give him credit for those pecs! Looking good, Carman!
OK, here’s an interesting concept for a music video. The audio of Carman’s impersonation of a conversation between Satan and a demon minion is played over the footage of two actors in sinister demon masks, mouthing the words, growing increasingly panicky at the idea of a Carman concert. These clips are interspersed with footage of an actual Carman concert, the righteous power of which seems to cause Hell to fell apart, culminating in the explosion of Satan’s chair? It is ludicrous and it is awesome. More music videos should end with the Satan’s exploding chair.
5. The Courtroom
This plot follows a poor dude being brought before the divine judge’s bench, where Satan (the prosecutor) accuses him of being a sinner. God (the Judge) is almost convinced to send the guy to hell, until Jesus (the defense attorney) steps in to remind the judge that sins are all forgiven.
That’s shaky theology (God seems to find Satan’s argument very convincing, which is upsetting) but that’s not what’s amazing about this video. What’s amazing about this video is that Carman CAST HIMSELF IN EVERY ROLE. He plays Satan the Prosecutor (with a sparkly red blazer, billowing ascot and little goatee), Jesus the Defense Attorney (in a lily white suit) and God the Judge, who is a bit incidental to the story. That is a lot of responsibility for one man in one music video, but full credit to Carman for committing to every single role.
(This is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the room: Does Carman actually talk like a Philly meat packer, or is it an affect? Impossible to say. One of the great mysteries of the ’90s.)
4. Our Turn Now
The narrative here is a little loose too, but this Carman’s furthest foray into the complex web of the modern education system. He suggests the problem with American schools is that they stopped opening their days with prayer. Even if that were true, I don’t think having Carman and Petra sing about it the school hallways between periods is helping.
3. Great God
This is not Carman’s most badass music video, but it is the quintessential Carman music video. Although he exercises a lot of moderation in how many roles he casts himself in (two), they are the most important roles in the entire movie.
You know, I had gone my entire life just assuming Carman had written the treatment to this music video on a napkin the minute the credits started rolling in the theater he watched Braveheart in, but I did a little Googling and found this music video actually PRE-DATES Braveheart by two years! Was Mel Gibson, in fact, inspired to make Braveheart because of Carman’s “Great God?” There is no way of knowing for sure, but let’s assume yes.
2. Mission 3:16
Where to begin with this one? Carman’s identity here: “Agent 3:16.” His “Q” character: Gets weak in knees when Agent 3:16 jokes about getting married. His enemy: Josef Armin, “a very dangerous man,” with a dastardly plan to be a global downer.
Nobody besides Carman seems very into what’s going on, so it’s a good thing Carman is very into it. That’s actually what bumps it to the second spot because, let’s face it, it’s not the production quality. But you can tell Carman is having such a good time here, I can forgive everything else. Who among us wouldn’t like to star in our own James Bond short film? Some of us dream about it. Carman went out there and did it. That makes it one of the great Carman videos of all time. It’s almost as good as …
1. Satan, Bite the Dust
I’m sure this will be no surprise to anyone with any familiarity of Carman’s body of work, but man, it’s all here. Carman’s rap/talk hybrid. The Nightmare on Elm Street masks. The swift musical justice, here represented by an actual gun. Carman’s enemies, here represented by demons very explicitly identified as various vices like alcoholism and, uh, infirmity. The fact that cowboy Carman actually shoots Satan to death outside an old time-y saloon. I truly couldn’t love it more. I’ve almost certainly watched it more than I’ve ever watched any music video (Christian or otherwise).
In conclusion, it’s impossible to look at this body of work and not conclude that being a Christian pop/spoken word star wasn’t a little bit of a vanity project for Carman. Even moreso than being a Christian pop star is in general, I mean.
But let’s give him more credit than that. Christian music is notoriously, suffocatingly self-serious, forever burdening itself with saving the world with one hand while reminding yourself of what a bad person you are with the other.
Carman wasn’t immune to that, but it was definitely an afterthought. He saw it all, first and foremost, as something exciting; a call to be Clint Eastwood, James Bond and William Wallace all rolled into one. If that’s a little bit egocentric, it’s also pretty fun. For an 11-year-old Christian boy living in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, let me tell you, it lent something to the whole concept of Christianity nothing else did: It made it cool.
Carman is coming up on 60 years old and, having recently survived what was evidently a serious cancer scare, I hope he’s around to give us another music video or two. The forces of hell remain forever in need of an ass kicking, and who among us does it better than Carman?