A River Ran Through It

Two_Rivers

How shall we sing the Lord‘s song in a strange land? -Psalm 137:4

By the rivers of Babylon
Where he sat down
And there he went
When he remembered Zion

Well, it was only a matter of time before I got around to writing a post about Linda Ronstadt. It’s no secret that I’ve always held a strong affinity for the SoCal country rock scene of the early 70’s, and Linda was certainly it’s First Lady.

Lately, even our President has confessed to having had a crush on her in his earlier years. She definitely was one of mine, not only for her timeless beauty, but for that “big as a house”, “neck hair raising”, “chill bump inducing”, voice that God graced her with. She has certainly had an effect on me; ever since first hearing her with the Stone Poneys in 1967, I’ve been smitten with brown eyed brunettes. (and yes, I married one)

For the wicked carry us away
Captivity require from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land

Linda was not a songwriter; she was a song whisperer (if there is such a thing). A master interpreter of songs from the kings (or queens) of rock, country, soul, bluegrass, gospel , American standards and international themes. As my wife once said, “I love Elvis Costello’s songs…when Linda Ronstadt sings them.”. The list of artists she’s covered is like a songwriter’s “Who’s Who”: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Webb, Mick Jagger, John David Souther, Warren Zevon, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Lowell George, Karla Bonoff, Ry Cooder, Jimmy Cliff, Elvis Costello, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. Country legends like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, Mel Tillis, and Phil Everly. R&B greats like Smokey Robinson, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Martha Reeves and Booker T. The list is endless. And, most of the time, her cover versions trumped the originals (appropriate bias applied here). 🙂

So let the words of our mouth
And the meditations of our hearts
Be acceptable in thy sight, over  I

I’ve chosen two of her songs here, “Rivers Of Babylon” – written by the Jamaican reggae band, The Melodians , and “Many Rivers To Cross” – written by Jimmy Cliff. Both songs were featured in the movie, The Harder They Come. The two songs were on “bookend” LPs from 1975 (Prisoner In Disguise) and 1976 (Hasten Down The Wind). I personally think that Hasten Down The Wind was Linda’s absolute best album. And I defy anyone to challenge the trilogy of albums that Linda produced from 1974-76 (Heart Like A Wheel, Prisoner In Disguise and Hasten Down The Wind): all three having gone platinum in sales.

The lyrics for “Rivers Of Babylon” come directly from Psalm 137, describing the feelings and heartaches of the Jewish people following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 607 BC. Given the current happenings in Israel, I think it’s a good time to give it a listen.

Many rivers to cross
But I can’t seem to find my way over
Wandering I am lost
As I travel along white cliffs of Dover

While “Rivers Of Babylon” shows off Linda’s ability to harmonize (with almost anyone), “Many Rivers To Cross” is a perfect showcase for Linda’s soaring vocal style. I’m not sure if these two songs were meant to be correlated, but it seems to me that there was some sort of cosmic connection at play here.

Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride

The Jews are God’s chosen people. And certainly, they have had the will to survive, all the while fighting for their place and forced to live in exile. Jimmy Cliff wrote the lyrics to “Many Rivers To Cross” to share his feelings of despondency as a struggling young artist, just trying to find a home and acceptance in the musical world. And if Jimmy’s version of the song doesn’t have a prayerful, “take me back to church”, gospel feel to it, then nothing does.

Many rivers to cross
But just where to begin
I’m playing for time
There have been times I find myself thinking
Of committing some dreadful crime

As for Linda, she’s had her own share of river crossings; passing through her nearly 50 year career migrating from her country roots, to SoCal rock, to New Wave, to 40’s standards, to pop and country, Latino traditional and beyond.

It was studying the album liner notes for Linda’s albums (along with Jackson Browne’s and James Taylor’s) that taught me the ability to appraise the quality of an album before ever popping the shrink wrap. If I looked at the artist credits on a new album and saw the likes of Andrew Gold, Dan Dugmore, David Lindley, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Wendy Waldman, Nicolette Larson, Emory Gordy, Danny Kortchmar, Don Grolnick, Rick Marotta (and many many more) featured…well you knew it was gonna be good.

Linda’s singing voice has recently been silenced by Parkinson’s, but if you listen to just a few of her tracks; you know it will live on forever.

Listen to a few samples here:

 

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Paradise And The Great Divide

dry-cracked-earth

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. – Leviticus 25:23

And they came from everywhere
to the Great Divide
Seeking a place to stand
or a place to hide

Too much stuff…when it comes down to it. Most of us just have too much stuff. And we want more. Why? Ever thought about it?

I met a man recently, a very wealthy man. Until his house burned down. Along with everything in it. Including his six car garage, with all the vehicles still inside. He told me he’d never felt so blessed, so free, or so at peace (once he got over the initial shock). He’d never realized how badly all of that stuff was weighing him down.

And, if you’ve never watched Annie Leonard’s “Story Of Stuff”…well, you need to. It may just change your life. Not gonna tag it here, but it’s on YouTube.  🙂

And they called it paradise
I don’t know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
while the town got high

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. And we turn inward to our own pursuits while the world burns. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s getting older. I’m not sure, but I do know this: it is our endless quest for more possessions that leads to this destruction of the very thing which God has charged us all with safekeeping.

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught ’em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
people bought ’em

Now I’m no “tree-hugger” for sure, but doesn’t it kind of turn your stomach when you pull into these new housing developments where they just bulldoze the land flat and then build a bunch of “McMansions” 12′ apart? Then there’s the ultimate insult added to injury. Yup, they plant a single small tree in the yard, positioned just so. And a few cute bushes. Ain’t that grand?

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

It’s no secret that The Eagles are one of my favorite bands of all time. To me (other than the lineup changes) they were the second Beatles. The songwriting skills of Lennon/McCartney vs. Frey/Henley. Sgt. Pepper vs, Hotel California. The guitar chops of Joe Walsh vs. George Harrison. The Long Run vs. Let It Be. Breaking up (seemingly overnight) at the peak of their fame. McCartney vs. Henley as a solo artist. Let It Be was released in May 1970 and the buzz from the Beatle’s breakup had barely died down when “Take It Easy” came rolling smoothly off the airwaves in May of 1972.

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God

How much stuff do we really need, anyway? How many TV’s are in your house? There’s seven in mine. For four people. Most of the time only three, as my daughter is away at college. And, as the Boss sang: “There’s 57 channels and nothing on…”. Actually closer to 400 at my house. And can you conceive of the carbon footprint needed to supply them?

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it’s like up there
They call it paradise
I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye

 

No wonder so many people have a dim view of organized religion. Henley has painted the picture perfectly here. As we stand in church and sing, the majority of us have no real concept of applying what the Bible says to our everyday lives. People looking in from the outside shake their heads and we don’t understand why. If Christians behave the same way (or worse) than the general public, then how valid can the argument for Jesus be? If only they knew; the Church is simply a hospital for sinners. We go to try to get well.

In a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Don Henley said, “The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence — by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth that is capable of destroying his environment.”

“The Last Resort” was the last song on side two of the album, Hotel California, but was later re-released as the “B” side to the single “Life In The Fast Lane”. Seems perfect: I guess that’s where the fast lane ultimately leads…the last resort.

Yup, we’re singing about Heaven on Sunday and living in Hell all week.

And thus endeth my rant. 🙂

Note: Due to copyright laws I couldn’t find an Eagles original version to share. Sorry!

 

 

The Road To Redemption

lightning-road

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, [as] silver and gold. 1 Peter 1:18

The screen door slams
Mary your dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely

If there was ever another artist tailor made for this blog, it’s The Boss. He is the yang to Elton John’s yin. Whereas Elton openly decries Jesus, the Bible, the Church and anything remotely connected to organized religion, Bruce Springsteen is God’s own Prince of Rock n Roll. In fact, there are so many religious reference and themes connected to Springsteen’s work, there is a Rutger’s University course titled “Bruce Springsteen’s Theology”.

Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

We are all looking for something…some meaning… to make sense of it all.  And we are all looking beyond ourselves to someone, or something, for the answer.

You can hide ‘neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets

We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves. The Boss is simply, as Aaron Neville sang, “telling it like it is”.

Well now I’m no hero
That’s understood
All the redemption I can offer girl
Is beneath this dirty hood

Yet (with apologies to Mick Jagger) there are ways to gain satisfaction in this world. At least those of a more “temporary” type. You just have to be real about it.  And understand that this satisfaction is a pale imitation of the larger pursuit of eternal happiness.

Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels

According to professor Azzan Yadin-Israel, who teaches the Springsteen course at Rutgers, Bruce is actually imploring the young woman to not waste her time pursuing salvation in these earthly pursuits, but at the same time saying, essentially: “Hey, while we’re here, let’s have some fun and enjoy what we can.” The only thing he can really offer her is the kind of redemption we can have in this world.

Climb in back
Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land

Certainly Bruce is no angel here; nor is he the devil. I think most young men and women (and sometimes older ones) have gone down this road in seeking happiness. This is not a song about love, but lust. And, like cheap pizza, it’s not that great, but it’s not that bad, either.

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free

During a performance on VH-1 Storytellers, Bruce commented on the lyrical meaning to say this was “My invitation to a long and earthly, very earthly journey. Hopefully in the company of uh, someone you love.”

There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets

And like Billy Joel before him, with the Catholic girls who “wait much too late”, Bruce cautions against the opportunities passed by.

And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone

“Thunder Road” and the album Born To Run were a definite turning point for Bruce’s career. His first two albums had not done well, even though critics were already naming him the new “rock-n-roll Messiah”. It was “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” that first caught my attention, with Clarence (The Big Man) Clemons’ roaring sax pulling it right out of the gate. But over time I’ve come to see “Thunder Road” as the true jewel on the LP. A bookend companion to “Born To Run” you might say.

Springsteen took the song’s title from a movie poster he had seen from the 1958 Robert Mitchum movie. He never saw the movie itself, but said the poster for it just stuck with him.

So, climb on on in, the door’s open. Loosen’ up and let it roll.

Oh and you can check out “The Boss And The Bible here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/arts/music/boss-and-bible

 

It Won’t Be Too Long

man-on-cliff

Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, – Joel 2:1

 People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long 

No matter what, this old world just keeps on spinning…one more “trip around the sun” as Jimmy Buffett sang. And there’s nothing new under that sun, especially through the eyes of God. Wars continue to rage, weather continues to change and we all just continue to turn the page in the book of Life.

Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long

Yes, the road goes on forever and the party never ends, as Robert Earl Keen said. Or does it?

Back in 1973, Stevie (no longer “little Stevie”) Wonder certainly didn’t think so. He thought our time was short and the day’s end was nigh…the Judgement Day, that is. So short, in fact, that he wrote “Higher Ground” in about 3 hours. According to a later interview in Q magazine, Wonder said: “It was almost as if I had to get it done. I felt something was going to happen. I didn’t know what or when, but I felt something.”

I’m so darn glad He let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach my highest ground

Interestingly enough, “Higher Ground” and the album that contained it, Innervisons, was released just 3 days before Stevie was almost killed in a car accident on his way to a  benefit concert in Durham, North Carolina. A logging truck ahead of his car stopped suddenly in front of them, throwing a log through the windshield and striking Stevie in the head. He was in a coma for 4 days!

After recovering, Stevie said “I was definitely in a much better spiritual place that made me aware of a lot of things that concern my life and my future and what I have to do to reach another higher ground. This is like my second chance for life, to do something or to do more and to face the fact that I am alive.”

Yes…we definitely have the God of second chances. He loved us so, and realizing we could never come close to “earning” our way into Heaven, he offered us his Son. Yes…Jesus is the ultimate “do-over” for us all, Stevie included.

Don’t let nobody bring you down (they’ll sho ’nuff try)
God is gonna show you higher ground
He’s the only friend you have around

Innervisions was almost at the midway point (the 16th of some 30 odd LP’s he released) and the follow up to 1972’s Talking Book which featured a touch of the young Stevie (‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”) and a glimpse of the new, more sophisticated Stevie (“Superstition”). It was on the strength of Talking Book (and opening for the Rolling Stones tour) that really catapulted him from Motown teen idol to the R&B legend he became.

Till I reach my highest ground
No one’s gonna bring me down
Oh no
Till I reach my highest ground

Stevie’s message is definitely one to heed. As the Bible says, no one knows the time or the day, but it’s coming. Until then all we can do is to try our best to reach our own “higher ground”.

And don’t let nobody bring you down.

Listen to the original here:

Fantastic version from Playing For Change (musicians around the world)

 

 

 

 

 

Battle Lines Being Drawn

kentstateflowerpic

The noise of battle is in the land, and great destruction. – Jeremiah 50:22

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Ahh yes, the 60’s. The British may have been invading the music scene, but it was boots on the ground for the US of A. Both in the paddies and hills of Vietnam and in the streets and college campuses here at home.

TV channels were limited then, so there was no hiding it. A whole generation had gone to war with it’s predecessors.

And each side had chosen it’s own form of weapons.

Buffalo Springfield’s message to us was a clarion call to stop, look and listen, just like Elvis Presley before.

I was a shade too young to be shipped off to war in 1967, but all of us in the neighborhood had or knew someone’s older brother who had gone. And some did not return.

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

It certainly was time to look at what was going down and, as Marvin sang, what was going on. It seemed like the earth was spinning off it’s axis in a thousand different directions and we were truly on the road to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”. It was college kids battling the police, protesters damning the war, parents battling teens on drugs, soldiers fighting the war and blacks and whites trying to come to terms with the ending of “separate but equal”.

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

In the middle of it all, there were peace symbol necklaces, soldiers flashing peace signs and rockers with protest songs. There was “flower power”, “make love not war” and Dr. Tim telling us all to “turn on, tune in and drop out”. Very groovy, baby!

It certainly was hard to tell what was right from wrong. But you could sense something in the air; a change was gonna come.

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

All we really had to do was listen. For Jesus had established the righteous truth long, long ago. The peacemakers,  the pure of heart, the merciful and the persecuted…they were all blessed. And they were the light unto the world. It took all of these events unfolding to fulfill Jesus’ words on the Mount. And goodness prevailed.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

Buffalo Springfield, in it’s original 1966 lineup, included the likes of Stephen Stills and Neil Young (CSN&Y), Richie Furay (Poco), Dewey Martin (The Monkees session player) and Bruce Palmer. In retrospect, they were probably the first (or second if Cream got in there ahead of them) “supergroup”.

They recorded only 3 albums and their biggest hit “For What It’s Worth” was not on their debut, but after it took off on the charts reaching #7, was later added to the re-issue. The title never appears in the song’s lyrics and legend holds that it came from a conversation that Stephen Stills had with Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records (who was the first guy to recognize the genius of Ray Charles btw) when they were about to be signed to a record deal. It’s been said that Stills said to Ertegun, “I have this song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.”

While “For What It’s Worth” came to symbolize the Vietnam war protest movement and the tragedy at Kent State University, the truth is the song was written about a 10:00 curfew law in the LA/Sunset Strip club district. When one of LA’s most powerful radio stations announced a protest, over 1,000 young demonstrators (including young celebs like Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson) turned out for one of the first of what were later referred to as the “Sunset Strip Riots”.

The 60’s are like a bookend to me with the 2000’s. My politics have reverted (liberally) over time. My religious beliefs have been strengthened.

I look at everything through the lens of WWJD.

And that’s what rules…for what it’s worth.

 

 

 

The noise of battle is in the land, And great destruction. – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Sound#sthash.vS5Fnyni.dpuf

For The Want Of A Nail

rusty nail pic

He has taken it out of the way; having nailed it to the cross. – Colossians 2:14

He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Nails#sthash.ftCZXfY4.dpufI’ve been wronI had plans so big

But the devil’s in the details
I left out one thing
No one to love me
No one to love

One of my old friends from the music biz recently shared a post on Facebook about Todd Rundgren’s album, Nearly Human, and that prompted me to look at some of Todd’s considerable work for a good UTRS post. It didn’t take a lot of looking to find something good!

I first picked up on Todd in 1972 with the release of his ambitious double album, Something/Anything (a massive 25 song collection that included: “Hello, It’s Me”, “I Saw The Light”, and the closet hit, “Wolfman Jack”). If you listened to Top 40 radio at all in the early 70’s, you could not have missed “Hello, It’s Me” or “I Saw The Light”. Todd was such a prolific hit writer during this period, he had to shake off the nickname “the male Carole King”.

Todd’s virtuoso performance on this LP (he not only produced the recordings but played all the instruments and sang vocals on all 18 of the songs on he first three sides of the album) was fueled by a strange combination of Ritalin and marijuana. He said the songs just “poured out of me at a frantic pace…”I Saw The Light” took only about 20 minutes”. I guess this may be a testament to the creative and concentrative (is that a word?) qualities inherent in those two drugs!

The fourth side of the album was recorded in a separate session with an eclectic mix of available studio musicians at the Record Plant in NYC. Basically, Todd just put the word out at the studio that he was going to need help recording, and waited to see who would show up!

But, I digress…

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost
For the want of a rider, the message was lost

You know, the little things in life can have a huge impact. You can look at it in terms of negligence, but I prefer to view them as sins of omission. How many times have you said later “I should have….”. And most of the time it was something really simple, so easy for us to have done. The things left unsaid, the things we leave undone; can bring the biggest regrets.

For the want of a nail, the world was lost

Speaking of a lost world. And of things that could have been left undone. Certainly, Jesus could have chosen another path. But he didn’t.

No lack of a nail there.  And the world is eternally grateful.

Multiply it a billion times
Spread it all ’round the world

And now this is our mission. To spread the Word until all the world’s people groups are reached. It’s been a long time coming.

Everything seems to fail
And it was all for the want of a nail

Nearly Human was Todd’s 12th release (not counting the Nazz stuff) coming almost 20 years later. It featured an ex-model turned background singer named Michele Gray, whom Todd later married.  “For The Want Of A Nail” featured the ever-soulful Bobby Womack (“Across 110th St.”) on backing vocals. Brother Bobby passed away just last week. And the Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons, jumped in on “I Love My Life”.

“For The Want Of A Nail” was Todd’s last charted hit. Seems appropriate enough to me. But, if Todd wanted to tear himself away from the production side, I’m sure he could spin out another smooth Top 40 hit in a half hour.

Another interesting tidbit: the Japanese release of the album featured an alternative cover (the main cover art showed a hand print with six fingers). The Japanese version showed a “normal” five fingered (actually four plus thumb) hand print, due to some secret religious significance in Japan.

So my friends, have no regrets. Go ahead, say the word, make the gesture. Just reach out with your human hand. Don’t let the little things trip you up.

Listen here:

Todd Live at Daryl’s House:

More Todd w/Daryl: