Not Just For Some

But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.  1 John 2:11

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

Some songs resonate because of the beautiful simplicity of their message. Some concepts in life are so simple, it’s hard to understand why some folks just don’t seem to understand them. It’s like that poster/meme you’ve probably seen on social media. You know, the one about “All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten”? Some of the most important things in life are really basic; even a child understands.

Lord, we don’t need another mountain,
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross,
Enough to last till the end of time.

Somehow I sat, blissfully unaware last night, as to the horrible happenings in Las Vegas. I can’t believe it. I didn’t turn on the TV until about 11:00 last night (to catch the tail end of Sunday Night Football, but you would have thought there would have been some news breaks during the game. But I never saw anything. And, because of my schedule today, I didn’t hear or see any news at all until about 3:00 this afternoon. When I did, it felt like an “out of body” experience. Is this really true? Did this really happen? Does this much hate really exist in our world?

Lord, we don’t need another meadow
There are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow
There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine
Oh listen, Lord, if you want to know.

As a young boy  growing up in the turbulent 1960’s, I saw firsthand, on the nightly news, just how much hatred can exist in the hearts of man. But it wasn’t real to me…it just happened on TV.  Then I started to get closer exposure to some of those things that Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley were talking about. My best friend’s older brother didn’t make it back from Vietnam. A girl in my 4th grade class had a cousin who was severely beaten during a civil rights demonstration in college. The school I went to was desegregated and the fights got bloody. Looking back, it was a rough time and a lot of bad things happened, but a lot of good things eventually came out of it.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.

In 1965, in the midst of all of the turmoil, came a sweet, simple song that seemed out of place with all the bad news. Jackie DeShannon, burst onto the airwaves with a message that we all needed to hear. “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, co-written by the lyric and melody masters dream team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was like a giant bowl of soothing salve for the American psyche. It was just what we needed to hear, just when we needed to hear it most. And, best of all,  it was wrapped up in a tune and words that even a child could understand.

In an interview with Bacharach for Record Collector magazine, Burt had this recollection: “Dionne (Warwick) rejected that song. She might have thought it was too preachy and I thought Dionne was probably right. Hal pushed me to play it for Jackie De Shannon who we were gonna record. Otherwise, I would have let it be and it would still be in the drawer.” What an awful shame that would have been!

I can’t imagine what it would have sounded like if Dionne had recorded it (I’m sure it would have been great), but Jackie’s voice just seemed like a perfect match to me. It seems like a lot of folks must have been ready to hear the message; as the song, featured on Jackie’s debut album, wound up going all the way to #7 on the Billboard Top 100.

In times like these, it seems we all need to be reminded of where our priorities should be. When He was asked which of God’s commandments was the most important,  Jesus responded in this way: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is: Love your neighbor as yourself.

And, by the way, I’m pretty sure that he meant that to be:

No, not just for some, oh, but for everyone.

Peace and love, everyone.

Listen to Jackie sing it here:

And, just in case we forgot, here’s her follow up hit from 1969:

To Build A Wall

A day for the building of your walls! On that day, the boundary will be distant. ~ Micah 7:11

There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re traveling with me

With all the recent talk of “building a wall” and political discord in our country, this song just jumped out at me when it popped up on my Spotify feed a few days ago. As I have explained to some of the folks (thank you very much, both of you) who read this blog regularly, I don’t really pick the songs that are featured; they come to me, begging to be reviewed and remarked upon. This is certainly the case for this song.

Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win

When I first considered writing about it, it was for the more obvious reasons – those of a political nature – and immediate thoughts came to mind. But, as I continued to mull it over and began to formulate the story, other directions began to take shape. And I began to wonder how many people out there are feeling the same way I am right now, especially when it comes to the state of our country and some of the crazy things that seem to be happening.

Now I’m towing my car, there’s a hole in the roof
My possessions are causing me suspicion but there’s no proof
In the paper today tales of war and of waste
But you turn right over to the TV page

Now, I’m not here to launch into a political rant…this is surely not the forum for that. But something I think we ALL can agree on right now is a growing feeling of being a little lost, a bit unsettled. This world – and our lives in it – have never seem to be more divided or polarized. It’s no wonder that so many of us reach for the distractions of TV, routines, or other busy work to keep our heads clear of it. It sure seems it’s much easier to do those things than to address the myriad issues at hand.

Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win

Oftentimes, the result of these distractions is the erosion of our most important blessings in life – our relationships with others. And that erosion can further extend into disillusionment with our relationship with God, as well. So, sometimes we need to simply shut out all of the noise and remind ourselves of what is most important. When He was asked what are the most important of His commandments, Jesus said they were these two: to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love the Lord with all our heart and soul.

Now I’m walking again to the beat of a drum
And I’m counting the steps to the door of your heart
Only shadows ahead barely clearing the roof
Get to know the feeling of liberation and release

Auckland, New Zealand’s Neil Finn founded Crowded House in 1985, along with his older brother Tim and drummer Paul Hester, after the breakup of their former band, Split Enz (“I Got You”, “History Never Repeats”, “One Step Ahead”).  The band name was inspired by the tiny rental house in Los Angeles the guys were living in at the time. Released in 1986, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” was the only major hit for the band, reaching #2 on the U.S. charts, as well as #1 in Canada and New Zealand. Neil explained his meaning in the song as one of feeling kind of hopeless and lost, yet still wanting to urge himself on.

Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win

Urging himself onward is exactly what Neil – and the rest of the band – continued to do. The band went on to record four more albums, but only secured one more minor hit: 1992’s “Weather With You” which reached #7 on the U.K. pop chart. Even so, Neil and Tim soldiered on after Crowded House broke up in 1996, collaborating on a fantastic lp, Finn by the Finn Brothers. The brothers were subsequently rewarded by the Queen as inducted Officers of the Order of the British Empire for their contributions to New Zealand’s musical heritage.

This song, with it’s dreamlike chorus and simple, melodic guitar riff, has always been uplifting to me and stands to remind all of us that are feeling a little lost to persevere. They may indeed come to build a wall between us, but they’ll never, ever win.

Listen to the original here:

A Moment of Truth

sunrise-couple

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. ~ Psalm 13:5

Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start
And they may not want it to end
But it will it’s just a question of when
I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
Because it’s always been a matter of trust

Trust you say? Everybody wants it, but few actually have it. Who can you trust? Friends? Family? Lovers? When you’ve lived as long as I have, you can get a bit jaundiced when it comes to matters of the heart. And, despite the reference to getting burned, we know that it’s a cold, hard world out there. And, in times like these, it feels like it’s only getting colder. But we have to try…what would life be if we didn’t even try?

I know you’re an emotional girl
It took a lot for you to not lose your faith in this world
I can’t offer you proof
But you’re going to face a moment of truth
It’s hard when you’re always afraid
You just recover when another belief is betrayed
So break my heart if you must
It’s a matter of trust

So, how do we go on? How do we pick up the pieces and try again? It’s not easy, but we have to have faith and trust. We can start with our faith and trust in our Lord and Savior and build from that. I have often heard faith described as “choosing to believe in something despite the absence of proof”. No one can offer us proof that we can fully trust them, until we take that first leap of faith. We have to have the courage to take that first step forward. Only then can they begin to earn that trust.

You can’t go the distance
With too much resistance
I know you have doubts
But for God’s sake don’t shut me out

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be prudent. I’m not saying we should be careless with our hearts. I’m not saying we should be totally open books with the pages flapping in the wind. But, at some point, you have to hold out your hand (and your heart). Because the bottom line is; we can choose to be open and trusting, or we can choose to be closed and unbelieving. And that, my friends, is no way to live this life.

This time you’ve got nothing to lose
You can take it, you can leave it
Whatever you choose
I won’t hold back anything
And I’ll walk a way a fool or a king
Some love is just a lie of the mind
It’s make believe until its only a matter of time
And some might have learned to adjust
But then it never was a matter of trust

A friend of mine recently wrote something on this subject that really touched me (I’ll paraphrase it here) and it inspired a lot of what is in this post.  She said that you can’t just stop loving, or wanting to love, because when it’s right, it’s the best thing in the world. Words have never rung more true to me. To try to deny the most human, most personal of our basic needs is an exercise in futility. You just can’t hold it back, no matter how hard you try.

I’m sure you’re aware love
We’ve both had our share of
Believing too long
When the whole situation was wrong

billy-joel-pic

Billy Joel has written a lot of songs that follow this theme (“Keeping The Faith”, “Honesty” and “The Longest Time” are a few that come to mind), so we know that he has experienced these same feelings, very deeply and often. This song, long one of my “80’s Billy Joel” favorites came off his tenth studio album, The Bridge. “A Matter of Trust” went all the way up to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 shortly after it’s release on July 28, 1986. The Bridge was Billy’s follow up to his 1983 lp, An Innocent Man, which was widely recognized as his doo-wop laced “celebration of love” to Christie Brinkley, and it’s clear that he was still basking in the glow from his burgeoning relationship with her.

Some love is just a lie of the soul
A constant battle for the ultimate state of control
After you’ve heard lie upon lie
There can hardly be a question of why
Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start
But that can’t happen to us
Because it’s always been a matter of trust

Now, of course, we know that it can happen to us.  Billy and Christie’s relationship didn’t last forever and, sadly, it’s clear that this happens more often than not.  But, I’ve always felt that the spirit and essence of this song totally captured the hopes and dreams that we all have of finding, and keeping, that perfect relationship.

And, it’s out there…trust me. You just have to take that first step.

Enjoy the original video here;

Something To Hide?

hiding-in-plain-sight-19

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. ~ Ephesians 4:25

You had something to hide
Should have hidden it, shouldn’t you
Now you’re not satisfied
With what you’re being put through
It’s just time to pay the price
For not listening to advice
And deciding in your youth
On the policy of truth

Now there’s the dilemma: not whether or not to tell one another the truth, but when and how much of it? I mean, I don’t think we set out to be bald faced liars; I think most of us start with good intentions and want to be honest if not completely open (wait is that really being honest?) in our relationships. But, for a variety of reasons,  most of us fall short of being completely truthful in all things. And therein the difficulty lies (pun intended).

Things could be so different now
It used to be so civilized
You will always wonder how
It could have been if you’d only lied
It’s too late to change events
It’s time to face the consequence
For delivering the proof
In the policy of truth

Wait, let me un-ring that bell. Maybe in our desire to be truthful we actually handicap ourselves and our relationships. Could that be true? Sometimes there are things better left unsaid? Or, is the foundation built on half-truths and kept secrets just as shaky as one built on outright lies?

Whatever the case, I know we all feel a strong need to be tell the truth, hard as it sometimes may be to do so. And yes, God forgives us, but that doesn’t remove the consequences we face in this world.

Never again is what you swore
The time before
Never again is what you swore
The time before

Live and learn is what they say…and we swear we’ll do better next time. But we never do. As Elvis (Costello) sang: “History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats.” And the wheel rolls round and round forever.

If you’re looking for answers here, I don’t have them. I just know we have to try to do better. I know the truth is what God wants from us, but my experience says that there are times when things are better left unsaid. Times where damage is caused by words spoken that you can’t erase. I think there are times we must bear our own burdens and keep it to ourselves…with God’s shoulder to lean on, of course.

Now you’re standing there tongue tied
You’d better learn your lesson well
Hide what you have to hide
And tell what you have to tell
You’ll see your problems multiplied
If you continually decide
To faithfully pursue
The policy of truth

Depeche+Mode

Depeche Mode was a beautifully crafted group from the New Wave and second Brit Invasion of electronic pop in the early 80’s. They have always been one of my favorites from this genre and have certainly stood the test of time, forming in 1980 and still going strong today. They have had over fifty singles charted in the U.K. and have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. “Policy Of Truth” was not one of their biggest hits, but to me was the “sleeper” hit from their 1990 album, Violator, a mainstream smash that catapulted them to international success. “Policy Of Truth” only made it up to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, but went all the way to #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

A few interesting tidbits about DP include:

  • The band’s original name was “Composition Of Sound”. Before they really got started they renamed themselves “Depeche Mode” after a French fashion magazine (depeche mode means fast fashion), because it sounded cooler.
  • They never had a drummer and didn’t try to hide it, often placing their drum machine on a riser right in the middle of the stage, in concert.
  • At age 17, Dave Gahan earned his place as lead singer by auditioning with a strong rendition of his rock idol David Bowie’s “Heroes”, which also happened to be a favorite of founding members, Vince Clarke and Martin Gore.
  • Dave later moved to New York and found his kids attending the same school as Bowie’s; they bumped into each other several times attending school plays and events.

Truth and deceit in relationships continued to be a theme in DM’s songs, including hits like “Personal Jesus”, “Long Time Lie” and “Secret To The End”, but “Policy Of Truth” always rings most true to me.

Check out the original here:

 

 

 

My Secrets To Reveal

magnet

Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. -Proverbs 27:5

Now I told you so you ought to know
It takes some time for a feelin’ to grow
You’re so close now I can’t let you go
And I can’t let go

With you I’m not shy to show the way I feel
With you I might try my secrets to reveal
For you are a magnet and I am steel
For you are a magnet and I am steel

Isn’t there something in the Bible about not “coveting” your neighbor’s things? I’m sure I recall hearing and reading that somewhere. But who hasn’t done this? I have to believe this is one of the most common sins we all have. As hard as we might try not to, somewhere along the way, this little bugaboo bites you.

I can’t hope that I’ll hold you for long
You’re a woman who’s lost to your song
But the love that I feel is so strong
And it can’t be wrong

Now, this sin can come in the form of material envy -say your neighbor’s classic 1968 ‘Vette – or wealth envy – how did he or she get that job? – and just occasionally in the form of thy neighbor’s significant other.

And sometimes this bite is so hard and the pull is so strong, that you just have to give in. As the late, great Luther Ingram once sang “If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”. You know in your heart it’s not right, but it’s just too good to resist.

With you I’m not shy to show the way I feel
With you I might try my secrets to reveal
For you are a magnet and I am steel
For you are a magnet and I am steel

Yes, the attraction is just like that; a magnetic pull so strong you just feel locked in. You throw all caution and rational thought to the wind and just go for it.

“Magnet And Steel”, the hit single off of Walter Egan’s second album, Not Shy, is a tale of exactly this type situation. In this case, the coveted object was one Stevie Nicks, the ex-wife of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Now we may have to give Walter a bit of a pass on this, as I believe that Stevie and Lindsey were not exactly “together” at the time. But given the close relationship between Egan and Buckingham, it seems a bit too close for comfort, if you ask me.

egan4

Walter met Lindsey at a party in 1976, and as a big admirer of his work on 1975’s smash hit Fleetwood Mac, he asked Lindsey to help with his debut album, Fundamental Roll. Lindsey agreed to work with it a bit and brought in Stevie to provide some background vocals. Walter wound up naming Buckingham and Nicks as album co-producers, along with himself and Duane Scott.

After that, it was a natural progression for Lindsey, Stevie and Rumours producer, Richard Dashut to jump in full force on Not Shy. The rest, as they say, was history. The album’s hit single “Magnet And Steel” went on to sell over a million copies and reached #8 on the Billboard charts.

Walter tells the story “behind the story” on Songfacts.com:

“On the night when Stevie did the background vocals for my song ‘Tunnel o’ Love,’ (on the Fundamental Roll lp) my nascent amorous feelings toward her came into a sharper focus – I was smitten by the kitten, as they say. It was on my drive home at 3 AM from Van Nuys to Pomona that I happened to be behind a metal flake blue Lincoln Continental with ground effects and a diamond window in back. I was inspired by the car’s license plate: “Not Shy.”

By the time I pulled into my driveway I had formulated the lyrics and come up with the magnet metaphor. From there the song was finished in 15 minutes. It was especially satisfying to have Stevie sing on ‘Magnet,’ since it was about her (and me).”

Most folks regard Walter as another “one hit wonder”, but he actually went on to release a total of 9 albums, with the latest being 2011’s Raw Elegant.

A few more interesting notes about Walter:

  • He never had another Top 40 hit himself, but a cover version of his song “Hot Summer Night” went to #18 for the band Night, who also had a female lead singer named Stevie (Stevie Vann aka Stevie Lange).
  • In 1985 he was a four time champion on the TV game show Catch Phrase.
  • He got credit as a co-writer on Eminem’s hit “We Made You” because producer Dr. Dre felt the song’s bass line was influenced by “Hot Summer Night”.
  • Walter got his start in music with a group called the Malibooz, imitating the Pac coast surf music sound of the Beach Boys and the Ventures, although the group was entirely from NYC and had never even visited the West Coast.

So, quit admiring your neighbor’s new car and focus on the blessings you have in your own hand. And please repress those longings for beautiful “things” others may possess. Then again, just looking never hurt anyone…did it?

Listen to the great original studio version here:

Night’s hit version of “Hot Summer Night” here:

Sources for this post include:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Egan

Songfacts.com: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=10286

Walter’s website: http://www.walteregan.com/

 

First Wound Of Pride

candle_heart_texture

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. -Proverbs 14:8

Dying flame, you’re free again
Who could love, do that to you
All dressed in black, he won’t be coming back

It’s over, right? Yep. He’s/she’s gone right? Yep, gone, long gone, gone like yesterday, and gone like a freight train, as Montgomery Gentry once sang.

But it’s not over.

And the truth is, it never really will be. Oh sure, you move on and accept the new reality, but it’s always still there, burned in like the exposed images on the negatives from an old-time camera’s film.

Look, save your tears
Got years and years
The pains of seventeen’s
Unreal they’re only dreams
Save your cryin’ for the day

I turned 21 in April of 1978, and Chris Rea’s debut album, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini and the hit single “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” was all over the airwaves. Years of teen angst were still fresh in my mind and I was in the nether world between a high school romance lost and a long distance relationship via college separation gone awry. The song absolutely cut me to the quick. But it was so irresistibly catchy, I couldn’t wait to hear it again.

Fool if you think it’s over
‘Cause you said goodbye
Fool if you think it’s over
I’ll tell you why
New born eyes always cry with pain
At the first look at the morning sun
Fool if you think it’s over
It’s just begun

“The folly of fools” as the Bible said, was certainly all over me in trying to deceive myself. The real fool is one who thinks that just because you say it’s over, it really is. And yes, you must open your eyes and face the harsh light of reality, as painful as that may be.

Miss Teenage Dream, such a tragic scene
He knocked your crown and ran away
First wound of pride, and how you cried and cried
But save your tears, got years and years

I guess I’ll never really be able to understand the female side of this equation; I can only imagine what that must be like. I’ve always believed that women were much stronger emotionally than men, for all of our posturing and denial of feelings. I know that the key for men is to feel respected above all, and when not loved, we can justify that as less a loss of respect and more as a loss of value. OK, so she left me for something of higher value. No loss of respect there, right? It’s like she’s getting a new job or trading up for a new car. But a wound of pride? Definitely.

I’ll buy you first good wine
We’ll have a real good time
Save your cryin’ for the day
That may not come
But anyone who had to pay
Would laugh at you and say

Speaking of wounded pride, Chris would probably be chagrined to know that most folks here in the U.S. would probably call him a “one hit wonder”. While it’s true that his biggest hit came from his first album release here – instead of in his native U.K. – he later returned to Europe and recorded over 30 additional LP’s with several singles reaching the charts in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as in the U.K..

In fact, his U.S. record label became so disenchanted with his efforts that they didn’t bother to choose a name for his fourth album (Chris Rea), and they just dumped out a bunch of his raw demo tapes as his fifth. Ironically, the fifth album ,Water Sign, became a surprise hit in Ireland and Europe, spawning a Top 20 single, “I Can Hear Your Heartbeat”.

Chris’ career in Europe took off like a rocket after that, with his breakthrough #1 charting LP The Road To Hell coming in 1989.

Fool if you think it’s over
‘Cause you said goodbye
Fool if you think it’s over
I’ll tell you why

No one here in the U.S. these days ever really wonders much about Whatever Happened to Benny Santini and Chris Rea, but here’s a few interesting tidbits to chew on:

  • The album’s title came about because Chris’ record label originally wanted him to change his stage name to – you guessed it – Benjamin Santini.
  • The album was produced by Elton John’s producer, Gus Dudgeon. Chris always wanted to try to sound more like Elton and/or Billy Joel.
  • Ironically, “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” was nominated for a Grammy (Song of The Year) but got beat out by Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are”.
  • And to prove it really wasn’t over, British pop singer, Elkie Brooks, scored a 17 on the U.K. charts with her cover version in 1982.

So light a candle, pour yourself a glass of good wine and admit to yourself that a great song, like a great romance, will never really be completely over.

Listen to the original studio version here:

Elkie Brooks cover version on Top Of The Pops here:

Sources for this post include:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Rea

Songfacts.com: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=19641

 

Beyond The Sky

The_Burning_Sky

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. – 1 Corinthians 15:31

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

You can run, but you cannot hide. Sooner or later, we all get to a point in life where we begin to question what it’s all about. For some, perhaps due to unusual life circumstances or events, this question raises itself early in life. For others like myself, it comes later.

All the things you were once so sure of; you no longer are. All those things that once seemed so important; they no longer are. You begin to feel this vacuum, this emptiness, a chasm that seems so deep and wide. You don’t know what to grab onto. All the confidence of youth is lost.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

And you get to the point where you say “this is hard, it’s just too hard”. Why can’t it be easy, like it was back in your younger days? So carefree, so open, so optimistic…and so, so, very naive. And what is the alternative?

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please.”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

And those friends you thought you had? Like family? I was told by my father when I was young that if, at the end of my life, I had more true friends than I could count on one hand, I would be an extremely fortunate man. I still hope I can prove him wrong, but I’m no longer sure.

There been times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on

But the very good news is this; a change is indeed gonna come. I no longer care as much about who is  going to be a friend to me, but rather to whom can I become a friend. And that all starts with a relationship that we all have right in our hands, all along.

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

Mike Farris’ story is one of coming to what I call “that shining moment of clarity” earlier, rather than later in life. If there ever was an artist’s story that was perfectly crafted to fit into what this blog is all about, it’s Mike’s.

Mike’s troubled childhood led to early problems with drugs and alcohol, resulting in his almost dying from an overdose before he was 21 years old. I first picked up on his music in 1994 via the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies with their self-titled release that included the smoking hot single “Shakin’ The Blues”. If you are a fan of the 70’s “southern boogie” style of music made popular by groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd,  The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, etc., you should definitely check it out.

Jon Stewart famously said of Bruce Springsteen at his Kennedy Centers Honors tribute: “I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. They abandoned this child on the side of the road between the exit interchanges of 8A and 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. That child is Bruce Springsteen.”

I’d like to make a similar speculation. I’m not sure where Mike was born and who his real parents are, but if Al Green and Eric Clapton somehow had a child and abandoned him in La Grange, Texas to be fostered by Stevie Ray Vaughan, well he would probably sound a lot like Mike Farris.

The SCW’s enjoyed a fair level of success with seven album releases between 1994 and 2004 and  five Top 30 charting singles. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Mike really had a personal breakthrough, becoming clean and sober for the first time since he was 15 years old. From this newfound state of clarity came his 2007 release, Salvation In Lights, which featured the Sam Cooke classic “Change Is Gonna Come”.

At this point, Mike’s career and accolades really began to take off. His achievements included an Americana Music Award for New/Emerging Artist in 2008 and a Dove Award in 2010. And his live performances at Bonnaroo and SxSW – among others – were all getting rave reviews.

But like the song said, just as it seemed he was beginning to stand solidly on terra firma, something knocked him back down again. This time it was an addiction to painkillers resulting from ruptured discs, back surgery and the death of his manager, Rose McGarthy, along with other personal issues. This time around Mike sought help in rehab.

Proving you can’t keep a good man down, Mike has re-emerged in 2014 with the release of what I think is his greatest work ever on Shine For All The People. The album includes a wide range of sounds and emotions with cuts like Blind Willie McTell’s “River Jordan”, J.B. Lenoir’s “Jonah And The Whale”, the heartfelt “Mercy Now” written by Mary Gauthier and my personal favorite “Power Of Love”. If listening to SFATP doesn’t make you want to take a front row seat for a blistering hot Wednesday night Pentecostal tent revival…well, nothing ever will.

As Mike said in a recent mini documentary for the album, “I sing because I have to sing.” and “(Gospel) it belongs to the people who had to go up the rough side of the mountain”. And as Rodney Crowell said: “It  (the music spirit or muse) must have some kind of intelligence behind it, because it chooses a vessel that’s the perfect delivery system for inspiration.” But Ashley Cleveland probably sums it up best, saying: “I would say he’s a gospel singer for the people…and I mean ALL the people.”

So, you can close your eyes and picture Sam Cooke’s original while listening here to Mike. And while you’re at it, take time to reflect and consider all the changes that are surely gonna come.

Oh and as an added bonus, be sure to check out the two cuts from Shine, as well.

Listen to Mike’s version of “Change Is Gonna Come” here:

From his new release: Shine For All The People:

And one more:

Sources:

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Farris_%28musician%29) and           (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screamin%27_Cheetah_Wheelies)

Compass Records (http://compassrecords.com/mike-farris)

Mike Farris website (www.mikefarrismusic.com)

 

The Empty Sidewalks

sidewalk_leaf

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? – Amos 3:3

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day

Just walk away Renee
You won’t see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You’re not to blame

Walking away.

It’s not always easy, is it? For even if you do, that’s not the end. These relationships leave an indelible stamp on our hearts, in our minds and deep in our souls. They cannot be erased any more than an old chalkboard’s marks. Maybe not visible to the eye, but still the fine dust and subtle imprint will remain.

And the sidewalks will surely never be the same, because (as Dionne sang) “there’s always something there to remind me”. Those too, just won’t seem to go away. You can avoid those places and things but they’re always still around, lurking in the shadows of your mind, just waiting to reemerge.

From deep inside the tears that I’m forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide

Just walk away Renee
You won’t see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

The Bible clearly tells us that there are times to walk away from troubled relationships. When it’s clearly not good for us. When it’s creating wrongs for others. When they are just plain unhealthy.

Sometimes a tree has to be trimmed to ensure it’s long term health and beauty. And so it is with our lives, our pasts and sometimes, those people who are just no good for us.

But it’s hard. As Christians, we sometimes allow ourselves to be trapped in toxic relationships by our false belief that it would be sinful on our part to cut it off, and that God calls on us to remain with love, patience and tolerance.

But that’s not really true.

Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me, though they’re so small

Just walk away Renee
You won’t see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You’re not to blame

“Walk Away Renee”, originally recorded by The Left Banke in 1966, was written by keyboard player Michael Brown – he was 16 at the time – after he met the song’s namesake, Renee Fladen, who just so happened to be the girlfriend of the band’s bassist, Tom Finn.

Legend has it that when Michael went into the studio to record the harpsicord part for the song, Renee was there. Her presence made him so nervous and his hands shook so badly that he couldn’t manage the piece. He left without finishing and came back later that night, after she had gone, to record it.

Obviously, young Michael was quite smitten with Renee, as he wrote another song about her – “Pretty Ballerina” – a year later. “Walk Away Renee” was clearly an admission to himself that Renee belonged to another and would never return his advances, so he was better off forgetting about her.

“Walk Away Renee” went on to reach #5 on the Billboard Top 100 and was covered by artists as diverse as The Four Tops (it went to #3 on the British charts), Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Linda Ronstadt w/Ann Savoy, Rickie Lee Jones, The Cowsills, Vonda Shepard and many more.

Each of the cover versions have their own unique qualities, but the ageless beauty and universal meaning in the song remains clear and shining bright, no matter who does it.

So, go ahead, let yourself off the hook, and know that it’s OK sometimes to let go.

Then again, we never really do, do we?

Listen to the original here:

Great live version by Southside Johnny and the Jukes here:

The hauntingly beautiful Rickie Lee Jones version here:

 

 

A Red Coal Carpet

house-burning

I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest. -Psalms 55:8

 

Ooo, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

Storms; life is full of them. And the Bible teaches us that we will face troubles in this life.  Some are major hurricanes, others minor squalls. It is some comfort to have the reassurance that Jesus overcame this world and so shall we. But that doesn’t make the troubles any easier to deal with in the present.

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

And so it was in the summer of 1969. On August 17th, the heat of the Gulf Coast night was broken by the howling 175 mph winds of Hurricane Camille. My Uncle Richard was living in Metarie, Louisiana at the time, near the shores of Lake Ponchartrain. Fortunately he, my Aunt and cousins were able to evacuate before it hit.

When it was all over, there were 259 people dead and over 1.4 billion dollars worth of damage. Camille was the second of only three Category 5 hurricanes to strike the U.S. in the 20th century, along with Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 and Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992.

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

And, yes the war in Vietnam raged on with still over 500,000 U.S. troops on the ground and more than 11,000 of those killed in battles that year. Even as Ho Chi Minh passed away in September, the war was still very much in question.

The flood is threat’ning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I’m gonna fade away

So it was, and the mud and the blood and the flood all indeed seemed to be overflowing like a “red coal carpet” and a “mad bull lost it’s way”.

And just a couple of weeks before Camille struck, we were all shocked to the core by the horrific Sharon Tate murders, committed by the truly evil Charles Manson and his desert based “family”.

Dark days indeed.

And they were for the Rolling Stones, as well. In that same fall of 1969, the Stones were struggling with the year long prospect of pulling their latest album, Let It Bleed, together without the help of the band’s founder, Brian Jones. Brian had been dismissed from the band back in June due to increasing personal issues and drug problems, and was found dead a month later in the bottom of his swimming pool.

Let It Bleed was a somber tome, perfectly matching the events swirling at the time and “Gimme Shelter” was no exception. In the book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones , author Stephen Davis wrote: “No rock record, before or since, has ever so completely captured the sense of palpable dread that hung over its era.”

Mick and the boys had surely captured a sign of the times.

I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away

In an interview just a year ago on NPR’s All Things Considered, Mick Jagger talked freely about the dark lyrics and the making of the song. “It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit…When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in this tune. It’s still wheeled out when big storms happen…”.

But some of the most intriguing factors in the recording were created by the incredible background vocals provided by gospel and soul singer, Merry Clayton. Like many great singers, Merry grew up singing in the church. Her father was a Baptist preacher in New Orleans, so I’m sure you can imagine what some of those church services sounded like!

She later pursued singing as a career, performing backing vocals for Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley and The Supremes among many others, but is probably best known for her work as a member of The Raelettes, Ray Charles’ backup singers.

As the story goes, Merry got a call in the late evening (she was already in bed for the night) from a producer she knew – Jack Nitzsche – begging her to come down to the studio to lay down some backing vocals for this project he was working on. At the time, she didn’t even know who the Rolling Stones were.

Merry was reluctant; she was pregnant at the time and her husband even got a little miffed at Nitzsche for calling so late. But once he understood who it was -the Stones – and what was going on, he said  “Honey, you know, you really should go and do this date.”

The rest is history.

She got out of bed and went down to the studio – curlers still in her hair – and met with Keith Richards, who ran through what they wanted her to do. She was bit put off by the dark lyrics at first, but once she understood the gist of the song and it’s meaning, she was ready to go. She did three takes and said “It’s late, I gotta go back to bed.”

Those three takes were some of he most powerful backing vocals ever recorded. She put so much into it that her strained voice began to crack right in the middle of the “Rape, Murder” part.  And, if you listen very closely on a good recording of the song, you can actually hear Mick, Keith and Jack hooting and hollering in the control booth in sheer amazement at the emotional delivery she poured into the track.

It was one of the greatest performances of her career.

Ironically, it also turned into tragedy, as she lost her baby to miscarriage shortly after leaving the studio. It has been widely assumed that the strain of the performance caused it. Years later, Merry still found the song hard to hear, and nearly impossible to sing, due to the dark memories of the night.

“Gimme Shelter” went on to be named the 38th ranked song on Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2004 and was also the name of the documentary film detailing the final weeks of the Stone’s 1969 U.S. tour culminating at the disastrous  free concert at the Altamont Speedway in California.

Martin Scorcese must have also been a big fan, as he has used the song in three of his films: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed. Interestingly enough, he chose not include it in his 2008 documentary film about the Stones, Shine A Light.

So, crank it up loud and let it roll, as only Mick and the boys can do. And though things may seem grim; remember that love truly is, as Merry sang “just a kiss away”. And be sure to listen for Merry’s voice breaking. Wow!

Unbelievable footage w/Merry Clayton track exposed

Awesome Playing For Change cover here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Word Rings True

sun_dancing

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:4

The boys were singing shing-a-ling
The summer night we met
You were tan and seventeen
O how could I forget
When every star from near and far
Was watching from above
Watching two teenagers fall in love

What a picture these lyrics paint and definitely one I can remember from my own teenage years. I was seventeen and, yes, she was very tan. I had just moved to Atlanta and was trying to meet and make new friends in the summer of 1974 and she was the step-sister of one of my coworkers. He called her up to get a ride home one night after we closed and when she arrived, he introduced us. There must have been a little magic in the night air because, after a few minutes of conversation, he got his ride home and I got a date with her the next day.

The way we danced was not a dance
But more a long embrace
We held on to each other and
We floated there in space
And I was shy to kiss you while
The whole wide world could see
So shing-a-ling said everything for me

The movie Grease was still a few years away from reminding us of a time when the sounds of doo-wop ruled, but there were still a few songs rolling out of the speakers in my 1970 Chevy that could carry you back to those days. Ringo Starr was singing “You’re Sixteen” by Johnny Burdette, Grand Funk had a hit with Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion” and The Guess Who had us all singing along to “Clap For The Wolfman”.

And oh the poor old, old folks
They thought we’d lost our minds
They could not make heads or tails
Of the young folks’ funny rhymes
But you and I knew all the words
And we always sang along to
Oh sham-a-ling-dong-ding
Sham-a-ling-dang-dong

Every generation has a hard time understanding some of the musical styles and preferences of the next – and vice versa- but I think the translations from some of the great old doo-wop songs and their trademark nonsensical lyrics had to be hard for the generations on either side to fathom.

“Shama-lama” and it’s cousin “Rama-lama”, “Sh-boom”, “Rat da tat tat”, “Shinga ling”, “Bomp bomp ba bomp”, “Dip-de-dip-de-dip”, “Oo-wah, oo-wah” and even “Doo-wop” itself are just a few examples of the lyrical style incorporated in the genre.

It may have sounded like gibberish to some, but young hearts in love instinctively understood every word.

So after years and after tears
And after summers past
The old folks tried to warn us
How our love would never last

And so intense that romantic swell must have been, just as those who are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit also sometimes burst out into languages that no one can understand.

I’ve never seen anyone “speaking in tongues” firsthand, but I know folks who have. If you ever want to experience it for yourself, just check out your local Pentecostal church and ask them when they are going to have their next Revival. It’s not my usual taste in worship style, but I do think it might be invigorating every now and then!

And oh the poor old, old folks
They smile and walk away
But I bet they did some
Sham-a-lama-ding-dong in their day

Jesse Winchester was a southern born and bred singer-songwriter who I believe could have been every bit as influential on the 70’s music scene as James Taylor, if not for his having left the country for Canada to avoid service in the Vietnam war. Branded a “draft dodger” and prohibited from playing in the U.S., he never achieved a high level of popularity as a performer, but his work as a songwriter flourished nonetheless.

Jesse’s songs were recorded by countless artists as diverse as George Strait, Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire, Emmylou Harris, Wilson Pickett, The Everly Brothers, Nicolette Larson and many, many more.

Elvis Costello included Jesse Winchester’s 1970 debut album in his “500 Albums You Need” list created in Vanity Fair in 2000.

Oh those sweet old love songs
Every word rings true
Sham-a-ling-dong-ding means sweetheart
Sham-a-ling-dang-dong does too
And it means that right here in my arms
That’s where you belong
And it means sham-a-ling-dong-ding
Sham-a-ling-dang-dong

Jesse, along with many others who left for other parts of the world to avoid the war, was granted amnesty by President Jimmy Carter in 1976. His first U.S. concert was sold out in Burlington, Vermont and was covered by Rolling Stone magazine who dubbed him “the greatest voice of the decade”.

“Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding” was on Jesse’s final album Love Filling Station in 2009 and quite fittingly was featured that same year on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV series. I think it showcases not only his tremendous gift songwriting and vocal style but his great talent as a guitar player, as well.

Jesse lost his battle with cancer and passed away at his home in Virginia earlier this year, but his gift lives on through the many hit songs he penned for others.

So, young or old, and even though we might not understand exactly what some of those old doo-wop lyrics meant, just as Jesse sang, I’m sure we’ve all  experienced a little “Sham-A-Lama” of our own sometime throughout our days.

Listen to Jesse live on Spectacle here: