JOHN MELLENCAMP - STRICTLY A ONE-EYED JACK

John Mellencamp 3

There’s a line in the Old Testament Book Of Ruth - “and as it happened”. It sounds like a a throw away linking phrase but holds a weighty theology of providence. Serendipity they now call it.

And as it happened I ordered a friend the biography of John Mellencamp for Christmas. I then got so intrigued by it that I ordered it for myself. 

The New Testament describes John The Baptist as someone who paved the way for Jesus. He came to make the paths straight, get us ready for the Christ.

Paul Rees’ biography did something like that, preparing me for the arrival of John Mellencamp’s 24th studio record. I had lost Mellencamp along the way and missed the revival of his essentiality these last fifteen years. 

When Mellencamp threw off the shackles of the demand for radio relevance, hit singles and big sales he discovered his muse, his reason to be an artist. T-Bone Burnett helped as producer and near pastor, working on Life, Death, Love and Freedom and Better Than This, and John Mellencamp has turned 70 making one of the best albums of his life.

Strictly A One-Eyed Jack grabs your throat in the tenderest of ways a few seconds in and refuses to let you go. It reeks of maturity like a long long oak barrelled whiskey. It reminds me a lot of Dylan’s Oh Mercy.

Mellencamp has been blessed. For many other singers such excessive smoking might have wrecked the voice. Instead Mellencamp has been given a new expressive instrument. His voice is now deep and ragged somewhere between Heart of Saturday Night Tom Waits and Mad Dogs and Englishmen Joe Cocker. 

Though at times he sounds ageing, this record comes across as musically vivid and vital. The playing is uncluttered but precise like the painter that Mellencamp has becomes over these last thirty years. 

I Am A Man That Worries is straight out of the Woody Guthrie legacy, protesty and campfire loose. And, when he is not trying, Say Did You Say Such a Thing could be a monster of a hit, so darn catchy and Springsteen on for good measure. The New Jersey Boss is on 3 tracks. Wasted Days could be on either’s record. It also gives us clarity to Mellencamp’s mind:

 

How many summers still remain?

How many days are lost in vain?

Who’s counting out these last dramatic years?

How many minutes do we have here?

 

The more rocking Lie To Me also talks about the shortening of time on this earth. Gone So Soon starts all crooners piano and end up as if it is lifted straight off an early Waits record. A poignant and beautiful piece of heartache. 

So, Strictly A One Eyed Jack is certainly one of the elders sharing how it is at the other end of life from Jack and Diane. It is personal. Eking out what is left. Missing those already gone. It is also littered with lies and seems to be implying there are liars afoot. Read that how you will!

The closing A Life Full of Rain lacks a little in hope, hope that has always appeared across recent Mellencamp records but even after its sombre close I am thinking that I hope that this guy has time for another few records yet. I wasn’t thinking that back in November!


THE MERCY NOW PRAYER

Mercy Now

I created this prayer song and liturgy for a BBC Radio 4 Service that Fr Martin Magill and I did on January 23, 2022. In their infinite wisdom and in my opinion lack of taste and grounding in the real world, Radio 4 cut it out. I then used it in Fitzroy for our Sunday Service. At least I have a say there!

READ: LUKE 6: 35-36

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

LISTEN: MERCY NOW by MARY GAUTHIER

NO… listen… these prayers will not make sense if you don’t listen…

PRAYERS

 

Lord we gather your Churches across the world

On the Week of Prayer For Christian Unity 

Across the miles

Across the ages

Across the denominations

Across the experiences of the week past

The anxieties and anticipations of the one ahead

And Lord… 

We could use a little mercy now

 

We think of our families

Ill, waiting for texts, facing tough decisions, grieving

Lord our families

Could use a little mercy now

 

We think of our Churches

Lord we confess we are not who we should be

On this Week of Prayer For Christian Unity 

We confess we are divided

A result of our theological arrogance and lack of mercy

We have paralysed ourselves as conduits of peace makers

Our witness has been weak, at times hurting others

Pushing away, rather than gathering in

We long for your forgiveness and your Holy Spirit’s oneness

Lord our churches 

Could use a little mercy now

 

We think of our country

This pandemic has taken a toll

We are at the end of our tether

And at times our leaders have been found lacking

Here in NI we seem to be as polarised as ever

Every single policy seems to divide us

Lord our country 

Could use a little mercy now

 

We think of planet earth

It is your art

So often we bask in its awe and wonder

Our favourite breath taking scenery

Yet, most days we our complicit in its destruction

The clock ticks on an environmental catastrophe

Lord our planet

Could use a little mercy now

 

Ourselves

Stumbling and tumbling after Jesus

Doing what we don’t want to do

Not doing what we long to do

Lord we ourselves

Could use a little mercy now

 

In Jesus name 

Amen


PEACEMAKING - GOD'S MANDATE - TOMORROW in FITZROY, RADIO 4 AND RADIO ULSTER - 23.1.22

Stocki  Marti and Radio 4

photo: Sheila McNeill

 

On Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity Sunday I can be found in a few places in the morning.

I have already blogged about Fr Martin Magill and I doing the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service (8.10am). We were asked on this particular Sunday to share our story. So we do. We share our journey but also the Biblical basis for what we believe we are called to do. 

I am very frustrated that being Radio 4 they have changed my music. I compromised as it was BUT felt that there is no better way to end prayers than Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now. Even that has been replaced... so I am afraid that this is my first and last Radio 4 Service. The music is as important to me as what I say so to have no creative control of that is so disappointing.

Anyway, that Service is also repeated on BBC Radio Ulster at 10.20am after David Campton, Mylie Brennan and Sue Divin talk about 4 Corners Festival .

Then at 11am I will be live in Fitzroy and streaming on Fitzroy TV.

At this service I will be preaching about Fitzroy's Peacemaking history and the Biblical basis for that. 

I would never call myself as an ecumenist though many of my critics would wonder why. I am far more interested in peace making, of reaching across our sectarian and denomination divides than I am about one massive global ecclesiological entity. I'd be suspicious of that.

I do believe though that we can learn from brothers and sisters, following Christ, in other denominations. I also think we need to be united in God's mission, in bringing God's Kingdom and in the Biblical mandate for peace making.

Fr Gerry Reynolds, so vital in Fitzroy's peace making work with Clonard Monastery, once said, "A divided Church has little or nothing to offer towards leading a divided people into the way of peace." How I agree. Prophetic.... but more of that in the morning! 

 


BAT OUT OF HELL, JESUS & ME - MY TRIBUTE TO MEAT LOAF

Meat Loaf

It was with sadness that I heard the news this morning of Meat Loaf's death. I am first and foremost a pastor and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Deborah and his daughters Pearl and Amanda. Below is my personal tribute, from a blog I wrote two years ago...

 

Meat Loaf might be seen as a really guilty pleasure. I was watching a documentary on Meat Loaf recently and it took me back to early 1978. 

I do not only remember Meat Loaf’s debut performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test but also the conversations the next day in school. Those of us particularly interested in music were all over this performance. We had seen or heard nothing like it. Bat Out of Hell blew us away.

The album however was not easy to get. Bat Out of Hell was originally a slow burn (forgive the pun!). It took awhile to find its way into Ballymena record shops. My first copy was a recording on cassette. It would be the end of the summer before I bought my own copy, during The British Open at St. Andrews!

I remember days where I listened to that record all day long. That was not something I tended to do. I had played Sweet’s Block Buster so many times in a row that I got bored with it so my policy was always play something else before replaying a single or album.  

I could not get enough of Meat Loaf and even now I can see what it was that caught our attention. Bat Out Of Hell was Queen through a blender with Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, E Street Band member Roy Bittan played piano and it was how a friend introduced me to Born To Run. Bat Out Of Hell was bombastic and dramatic but Jim Steinman’s songs were so strong that you forgave that and maybe secretly liked it. I mean Two Out of Three and You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth are great songs. When my daughters play The Greatest Showman or Hamilton I hear Steinman!

Bat Out Of Hell was full of desire, a lot of it sexual. It is not lost on my looking back four decades later that I was sixteen and not doing well with girls so it probably reached my teenage hormones. Jim Steinman’s songs though have more going on than sexual lust.

There is a lust for life. These are songs about milking all that life has to offer. I was a year away from finding Jesus. In my favourite verse in John 10:10 Jesus speaks about “life in all its fulness.” Bat Out of Hell might not have the creed, though heaven and hell are a core part of Steinman’s lyrics, but it is an adrenaline rushed soundtrack of that life in all its fulness.

To be fair it really helped that producer Todd Rundgren understood songwriter Jim Steinman’s vision and crafted the songs into a stunning piece of rock music. The melodies are strong. The playing has flourish. Meat Loaf has charisma. Some songs are long but there is not a wasted second.

For Meat Loaf it never got better. Oh I enjoyed Jim Steinman’s solo record Bad For Good and Meat Loaf’s eventual follow up Deadringer but nothing ever quite reached the heights.

Indeed when in 1993 Bat Out Of Hell II was contrived from its sound to its cover to how they sold it. The music business svengalis conned us all into buying the follow up. They gave us the sound, the image and took us back but I was almost twice my age with different tastes in music and at a different stage of life. We all bought the nostalgia and though there were some good songs, it was no longer who we were. When I took it to a second hand shop they refused to take it. They had so many already!

Yet, down the year I still came across Meat Loaf’s songs that I liked. A song on the radio or a documentary on television had me seeking out familiar songs and trailing new ones. At regular intervals, I want to hear that voice, that Steinman arrangement, a little bombast.

Maybe I am looking at that wee bit of nostalgia that was overdosed on Bat Out Of Hell II. Maybe I am looking for that adrenaline rush that thankfully for me is more than a rock roll dream come through but a real life imaginative way to live!

Thank sir. Thank you for the music and the memories. 


A MAN'S RESPONSE TO AISLING MURPHY'S MURDER

Ailing graduation

 

(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 20, 2022.)

 

When former South African President FW De Klerk died late last year I remembered a lesson he taught us about Peacemaking. Speaking to a group of my Queens University Presbyterian Chaplaincy students back in 2002 he told us that before we did any work of reconciliation that we needed to search our own motives right down to the very marrow. 

Deep deep search. It reminded me of Psalm 139. 

 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

FW’s advice came back to me this week as I tried to come to terms with the tragic death of Aisling Murphy. 

As a pastor the news of Ashling’s murder hit me deep in the heart. How do parents deal with that news. That loss. That heartache. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a Comforter and we have been praying in Fitzroy that Aisling’s family and friends would know that comfort.

But something more is rising out of Aisling’s needless murder. Men’s attitudes toward women. The fear that women feel. Aisling just went for a run BUT as a woman she would  always have been looking cautiously  ahead and fearing what might be behind her. 

I have two daughters almost the same age and this fear that women live with needs to change. We need societal turnaround in how men respect and act towards women.

I am back to FW De Klerk. In these days as the island grieves Aisling, men need to search themselves down to the very marrow. What do we think about a women’s place in society? Or in the Church? How do we treat women? Do we see women as equals? How do we look at women? How do women see us looking at them. We need to search ourselves… deep.

FW De Klerk’s second piece of advice… once you’ve searched to the marrow. Search yourself again. In case you have missed something.

We don’t need to lose any more young women in the prime of their lives. The answer lies with men. And we need to start now. First we have to search ourselves right down to the marrow… and then… search again.