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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Favorite Songs - O Sacred Head Now Wounded (and American Tune)



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Not only does this classic hymn have one of my favorite tunes, which was used repeatedly by Johann Sebastian Bach in his music, but it also has one of my two all-time favorite hymn verses...

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest friend
For this, Thy dying sorrow
Thy pity without end

Oh, make me Thine forever
And should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee

Wow. Try to beat that.

(In case you're wondering, my other favorite hymn verse is from "Rock of Ages," by Augustus Toplady:

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling
Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly
Wash me Savior or I die

That's the only verse that can rival the final one of O Sacred Head, IMHO.)

The music from O Sacred Head Now Wounded was also the inspiration and foundation for another of my favorite songs--American Tune by Paul Simon...



Friday, September 13, 2019

Favorite Songs - Cautionary Tale by Wake Up John



To hear "Cautionary Tale" click here. (For some reason Blogger wouldn't let me import the video.) To order Wake Up John's new EP click here.

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I wanted to post this right now because today is the release day for Wake Up John's new EP Fugitive Closure. So this will be shorter than my other Favorite Songs posts in order to get it out on time and get back to work on things I actually get paid for.

I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that the singer/songwriter is my son Nathan, but I try to be as unbiased and critical as I can of his music, and this is still one of my favorite songs after many, many listens. And I'm thrilled to hear the polished production touches that have been added to it for the EP, especially the strings section that makes the climactic ending even more powerful. They remind me of a similar use in "Comfortably Numb" and "The Final Cut" by Pink Floyd, but unlike those songs the lyrics of this one are actually congruent with the feeling of hope created by the music.

That's one of the things I love about this song--the emotional and spiritual "rags to riches" story arc traced by it. It accurately depicts the real struggles that we face but also rightly suggests that there is a solution--not necessarily in finding all the answers we've been seeking but in surrendering to the light we have been given, and specifically to the life that is in Jesus Christ. That's what I hear when I listen to the song, anyway (not being sure which word is actually in the lyrics, I hear both of them:).

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The ancient writer named John woke up to the fact that Jesus was "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), and I pray that everyone who plays the song will wake up to that as well.

Here's a live acoustic version of the end of the song, before the other band members joined Nathan and Hannah:



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Favorite Songs - Eden and How You've Grown by Natalie Merchant



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I couldn't decide which of these two songs to post about, so I'm doing both. They're from the same album, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorites. All the songs on Our Time In Eden by 10,000 Maniacs are really good (something I can't say about very many albums), but the best among them, besides these two, are Noah's Dove, Gold Rush Brides, and Jezebel. My only complaint about it is the name of the band...has there ever been one that is more incongruent with the nature of the music and the leading member? Thankfully Natalie Merchant went on to make the rest of her albums under her own name, including another of my all-time favorites, Ophelia

"Eden" literally sends chills up my spine every time I listen to it, and my emotions always pinball. From the most beautiful and satisfying one-sound chorus ever recorded to the profound poetry of lyrics that always conjure interesting ideas (you can read them below), this is the rare perfect song (IMHO).

One of the reasons it's so great is that the lyrics can be understand in various ways and have different meanings depending on the listener. But considering the title itself and other biblical allusions in the song, I think I'm well-entitled to hear it with Christian ears and allow it to lead me into regret and repentance for my own participation in the Fall, but also into the ecstatic hope of the promised restoration of our world (both universally and personally). I don't know exactly how the song moves so subtly but inexorably from one to the other, from ennui to euphoria, but by the end of it I've always experienced both.


"How You've Grown" also makes me smile and cry, often at the same time. If there ever was a song that captures the conflicting feelings of time passing us by, this is it. And when it finally launches into its chorus, and then again the second time after a gorgeous violin solo, it has a kick that to me is as powerful as any ear-piercing hard rock anthem. This is a testimony not only to its subtly catchy riff of notes, of course, but to the effectiveness of five words that capture the quintessential emotional experience we could call "the sweet sorrow of parting."

Every time we say goodbye...

Like "Eden," "How You've Grown" also draws my mind and heart toward the wonderful truth that one day God will separate the bitter from the sweet, so that the latter will be all that remains. As Romans 8:18-23 says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us....the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God....For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as son, the redemption of our bodies."

And Revelation 21:1-5: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth....He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said...'these words are trustworthy and true.'"

We are the roses in the garden, beauty with thorns among our leaves
To pick a rose you ask your hands to bleed
What is the reason for having roses when your blood is shed carelessly?
It must be for something more than vanity
Believe me, the truth is we're not honest, not the people that we dream
We're not as close as we could be
Willing to grow but rains are shallow
Barren and wind-scattered seed on stone and dry land, we will be
Waiting for the light arisen to flood inside the prison
And in that time kind words alone will teach us, no bitterness will reach us
Reason will be guided another way
All in time, but the clock is another demon that devours our time in Eden, in our Paradise
Will our eyes see well beneath us, flowers all divine?
Is there still time?
If we wake and discover in life a precious love, will that waking become more heavenly?
Songwriters: DENNIS DREW, JEROME AUGUSTYNIAK, ROBERT BUCK, STEVEN GUSTAFSON, NATALIE MERCHANT
© WORDS & MUSIC A DIV OF BIG DEAL MUSIC LLC

How You’ve Grown

"My, how you've grown."
I remember that phrase from my childhood days too.
"Just wait and see."
I remember those words and how they chided me, when patient was the hardest thing to be.
Because we can't make up for the time that we've lost, I must let these memories provide.
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me.
I should have known.
At your age, in a string of days the year is gone.
But in that space of time, it takes so long.
Because we can't make up for the time that we've lost, I must let those memories provide.
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me.
Every time we say goodbye you're frozen in my mind as the child that you never will be, you never will be again.
I'll never be more to you than a stranger could be.
Every time we say goodbye you're frozen in my mind as a child that you never will be, will be again.
Songwriters: NATALIE MERCHANT
© Downtown Music Publishing


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Favorite Songs - At My Parties by Dire Straits



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

"At My Parties" is catchy, funny, meaningful, and impressive in its musicianship, all at the same time, which is pretty rare. On top of that I happen to really like the style of the music and Mark Knopfler's vocals. So I can listen to it over and over.

It's from Dire Straits' much underrated final album, On Every Street, and it's a satire about people who spend large amounts of time and money entertaining while they should be concerned about more important things. The lyrics are down below in case you can't discern all of them while listening to the song.

Speaking of discernment...As with most of my favorite songs by non-Christian artists, there is are both truth and error in this one. Knopfler captures well the insanity and sadness of hedonism and points us to something bigger and greater that we should be caring about. Because he's not a Christian, however, he doesn't point us to glorifying God and helping others to know Him, but to environmental concerns.

This provides an interesting illustration of what God says will happen when people don't want to accept His will as the greater meaning for our lives: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator" (Rom. 1:25).

Romans 1 also gives us a hint about why even very intelligent and talented people don't accept the truth of God as the guide for their lives. Verse 18 says that they "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth," meaning (at least in part) that they don't want to live by God's law because it would keep them from some practices that they enjoy. Perhaps for Knopfler at the time this included sexual immorality like the menage a trois described in "You and Your Friend," a song on the same album that I choose not to listen to, even though the music is great, because I don't want to be thinking about things that dishonor God and are detrimental to my spiritual life.

But "My Parties" is definitely a keeper, as long as we understand that the greatest crime of wasteful hedonism is not against created things, but against the Creator whom we should be worshiping and serving.

My Parties

Well this is my back yard
My back gate
I hate to start my parties late
Here's the party cart
Ain't that great?
That ain't the best part baby
Just wait
That's a genuine weathervane
It moves with the breeze
Portable hammock honey
Who needs trees
It's casual entertaining
We aim to please
At my parties
Check out the shingles
It's brand new
Excuse me while I mingle
Hi, how are you
Hey everybody
Let me give you a toast
This one's for me
The host with the most
It's getting a trifle colder
Step inside my home
That's a brass toilet tissue holder with it's own telephone
That's a musical doorbell
It don't ring, I ain't kiddin'
Plays America the beautiful and tie a yellow ribbon
Boy, this punch is a trip
It's okay in my book
Here, take a sip
Maybe little heaven on the fruit
Ah, here comes the dip
You may kiss the cook
Let me show you honey
It's easy, look
You take a fork and spike 'em
Say, did you try these?
So glad you like 'em
The secret's in the cheese
It's casual entertaining
We aim to please
At my parties
Now don't talk to me about the polar bear
Don't talk to me about ozone layer
Ain't so much of anything these days, even the air
They're running out of rhinos
What do I care?
Let's hear it for the dolphin
Let's hear it for the trees
Ain't runnin' out of nothin' in my deep freeze
It's casual entertaining
We aim to please
At my parties
Songwriters: MARK KNOPFLER
© Universal Music Publishing Group