“First thing I remember I was lying in my bed. Couldn’t been much more than one or two. And I remember there’s a radio,coming from the room next door, and my mother laughed the way some ladies do When its late in the evening and all the music seeping through.” Paul Simon
I was surrounded by music as we traveled the back roads of the deep south and the long stretches in between there and our starting point of Western Colorado. My mother and music and the old ripped upholstery of the 51 Chevy. Out In The Boondocks stood out as we traveled the wooded countryside of Georgia, fireflies flitting to and fro, inviting a young boy to run and chase, laugh and do all the things that young boys do to delight. The Duke of Earl, with its love message lost on my youth, but the bass line of, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl Duke Duke” worked its way into my conscious in a way not lost over the next fifty years of music. I would lie in my little bed in the little upstairs apartment where my mom and her boyfriend dejour would listen for hours on end to vinyl reproduction of the voices of Simon and Garfunkle. I was really sad about RIchard Corey and wished I could have been his friend.
The late sixties and early seventies were a time when I began to make my own musical choices. A friend, Tim Rolland, brought FM radio into my AM world and introduced me to classical music. I lost myself on the living room floor lying between two speakers and listening to Montovani and his orchestra. Mom and now Dad listened to country music exclusively. I heard Bobby Bear, Conway Twitty, and the duo of Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton. I was torn between the classics and Three Dog Night. Steppenwold made me think I was tougher than I was and turned my Schwinn Stingray into a burly hog with ape hangers. I knew I was “Born TO Be Wild”.
Hotel Califonia, Rich Girl, and even Lucille sang to me as I stepped out of my boyhood, and Jet Airliner sang me away as I flew off to basic training and a hitch in the US Navy. Got homesick and lovesick with all the mixed emotions of my new found life as I listened to songs like, I Like Dreaming, and When I Need You.
Music led me away from my home and then it brought me back home as I discovered faith in Jesus and a new musical soundtrack that accompanied me along that journey. Larry Norman told me about The Rock That Doesn’t Roll and Phil Keagy strained the strings of his guitar in the ultimate guitar anthem, Time. Pat Terry Group and Honeytree appealed to my not quite rock and roll heart. I began to play guitar and tired over and over again to master The Broadmore Song. I still can’t quite get it.
Jackson Brown, Supetramp, and especially Billy Joel rode along with me in my custom van as I traveled between the shipyard in Mississippi, Grand Junction Colorado, and the destroyer group at the 32nd street Naval Shipyard in San Diego.
I dove into praise and worship music, but never stayed faithful for long. Garth Brooks suddenly made country music sound fresh and more of what I loved about country and rock, combining the two and leaving behind those elements of cheese from both.
Deserving of it’s very own paragraph is the one album.. I was driving truck at the time, stuck in LA Traffic in a big, red Kenworth and the air conditioner was broken. I noticed a fellow in a BMW next to me having a grand old time. He was bobbing his head twisting rhythmically in the plush leather seat. Anyone could tell he was listening to music, or rather living inside of it. I hollered out something about that and he opened his car door and ran around his car as the other drivers stopped on the freeway with us looked on in confusion. I guess that doesn’t really happen all that often. Climbing the steps on the side of my truck he held out his hand with a cassette tape that changed my life as I plugged in and heard Graceland for the very first time. Time could have stopped as I lost myself in the marriage of African and American music, with lyrics crafted, forged and smithed from a refining process that was of another world. It was as if I had been kissing and making out with music all my life, but that hot southern California day I truly gave up my musical virginity, never to hear music the same way again.
In the 90s I began to play the sax. That exercise led me to the big band sounds. Anything from Les Brown to Goodman, from Minton to Hampton takes me to a time before my time. My minds eye sees art deco and cityscapes, fedoras and side parted hair, and of course manly men with New York accents walking through clusters of swing dancing dolls.
Today I prefer to listen to jazz. My heart engages but my mind can focus on other things. I guess it is sort of like speaking in tongues, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful” 1 Coringthians 14:14, He says it in sort of a negative way, but it isn’t such a bad thing. Spirit music? Coletrane, King Curtis, Miles Davis. Never really thought of them as ministerial figures before. Go figure?
Where did music go? Have I become jaded? Did my heart grow hard? I don’t even listen to music in my car. I listen to talk radio. It makes me mad, angry, furious. These talking heads push all my buttons. At least they stir up some emotion. At least I feel. I am a Christ Follower. I should like Christian music, but in general it leaves me unsatisfied. One hour of Christian radio and I am numb. Go ahead, pull a tooth and see. I love live worship and praise, at least some of the time as long as it doesn’t sound too much like the radio, ok? Too loud, too raw, too old and too new. That seems to work a bit.
Speaking of Christian music, the first song to move me in years is a song called All About That Bass. I know it uses some sexual references. OK, it all a sexual reference. Why can’t I shake the idea that the song actually should have come from a Christian artist? If there ever was a song that should have been written and performed by a crazy Christ Follower it is this one. It is a song, maybe even the only song, that really is making a difference in people’s lives. Accepting who you are. Who would have ever thought of that? Now that is a Christ concept if I ever heard one! Why are we so afraid to not sound religious? Are we afraid that if people are able to accept themselves that the Holy Spirit will no longer be able to work inside hearts? Are we afraid that accepting our shape will suddenly make everyone weigh 600 pounds or accepting that we are sexual beings will inspire everyone to start jumping in and out of bed with everyone else? I have an idea. I think we need to start having beer services. Three pints fully consumed before admission. Then music might become real. Our message might be a little more serious as we stop taking ourselves quite so much. Of course the musicians would naturally be required to consume at least 5. It’s just a thought.
As I started writing this piece about music a friend of mine in another city sent me a random text about a movie, Ragamuffin, that he had watched. It was about a musician, Rich Mullens, who died tragically. The movie made him sad. When Rich died it made me sad too. I remember I cried. I cried when Keith died as well. I don’t remember crying when Larry died,I saw that one coming. I did cry when I learned that he and Randy had made amends before he died. I really cried then*.
Why am I spending all this time ranting on about music? I am not exactly sure if there is a “why”. I don’t know if I have any kind of goal. Its sort of like the jazz I mentioned earlier, it is just there. Music is there. I think that every culture on planet seems to have a music and every life I know has a musical soundtrack, Kenny Chesney’s, I Go Back, tells the truth like no other. “we all have a song that’s somehow touched our lives. Takes us to another place and time.” I guess that just for this one, rainy gray Washington morning, I just want to remember. Just for a moment. Not to live, but just to lend a moments life to what was. I want to see my mother’s face again. She has been gone a long time. I want to see all the friends that touched me along the journey. Some of them I can’t even remember their names. They have all grown up and look like old guys and girls, like I do. Perhaps I might be the only one thinking of them today. If I don’t think of them then they might truly be gone. So for the next 15 minutes or so I will use my computer to listen to random songs from my past and close my eyes. I am going to smile into faces I haven’t seen for a very long time. I think I’ll go back.
* Keith Green, Larry Norman, and Randy Stonehill