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October 2010

Lyric For The Day 21.10.10 from In The Sun by Joseph Arthur

Joseph Arthur 

“I pictured you in the sun wondering what went wrong
And falling down on your knees asking for sympathy
And being caught in between all you wish for and all you seen
And trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in

May God's love be with you
Always....
May God's love be with you...

...If i find
If i find my own way
How much will i find
You...
You...
I'll find you
You...”

    from In The Sun by Joseph Arthur

This is one of my favourite songs. Written by American artist and songwriter Joseph Arthur it is the prayer of a man who is in need of some redemption. At a concert in Belfast some years ago Joseph sang many such spiritual prayer like songs but in between songs spoke mostly about drug taking. Perhaps indeed he was “caught in between all you wish for and all you seen.” When I asked him afterwards if his songs were about drugs or God he was very adamant that they were about God and asked for the house PA to be turned down while he sang me the title track of his up and coming album Redemption’s Son. About a year later I got to interview him before a concert at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan and he was very allusive about the God part.

It would seem that perhaps this is the prayer of a recovering addict as part of some 12 Step Programme rather than being something written for the Sunday morning Church service. However, it is insightful in its laying out of the human condition and the need to find the transcendent. If we as individuals find our way what indeed is there. The suggestion is that without a connection to the Divine there will be no ultimate meaning or truth. And then the fade out chorus of “may God’s love be with you...” is as good a benediction as rock music has ever had. The song has been covered by Michael Stipe and Chris Martin for charity and Peter Gabriel on a Princess Diana Tribute album. Arthur’s voice though gives it a yearning intensity; spiritual pilgrimage!

more Joseph Arthur

Joseph Arthur review


Lyric For The Day 20.10.10 from A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell Blue 

“Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid
I remember that time that you told me, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time”

-      from A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell

In the very early nineties my friends in Lies Damned Lies were making an album with American producer Stewart Levine. One of his many pieces of advice was that you always hide the weakest track on side two, track four; no one will notice it there! Not so Joni Mitchell who put her most brilliant song in that very place on perhaps her best ever record, Blue.

I love A Case Of You and every cover version too. It is so crafted, so beautiful, so sad, so insightful, so objective in its emotionally raw subjectivity. It also has this ability to be about the spiritually universal truth as well as the very specific individual honesty that is at its core. These lines, that I have chosen for today’s Lyric For The Day, are beautifully painted in the poetry of the piece and two seemingly simple images are as profound as any preacher I have ever heard.

To be “frightened by the devil” but “drawn to those ain’t afraid.” Lovely. What an image of the Church; a gathering of those who ain’t afraid of the devil and who in this context seem to be a place of refuge for those tossed about in their fear. Oh to create such a positive opinion of Church instead of the bad images I often get thrown at me as a minister; “God doesn’t live in most Churches!” or “I want to bring my kids up to learn about Jesus but not be institutionalised by having to attend Church.” Oh to find an authentic community that would draw the frightened.

 “Love is touching souls” is another great spiritual image and the declaration is that whoever this person is they have touched souls with tangible love; “surely you touched mine.” Oh to be a toucher of souls. Again a community showing this kind of love would be a community that would draw those beleaguered souls that, my reading of the Gospels suggests, Jesus wanted to touch.


Lyric For The Day 19.10.10 - from God Walks On The Water by Romantica

Romantica 
“Beautiful girl is a beautiful thing
A beautiful song is something you can sing
If you’re feeling low the girl can hold your hand
But a beautiful song can understand

Life is a book that nobody read
Love is a thing that nobody said
Tomorrow I’ll know
Today I’ve been guessing
One day’s curse, another day’s blessing

I wanna go where nobody goes
I wanna do what nobody does
I wanna listen to the falling rain
When the bars are closed
God walks on the water
I walk through the rain
One day we’re gonna walk together
When he comes back again.”

          From God Walks On The Water by Romantica

When I hosted An Evening in Conversation with Welsh songwriter Martyn Joseph recently he spoke of songs as being companions on the road or something that tells you that you are not alone.

This song by Minneapolis-St. Paul band Romantica has been a companion to me and many time told me that I am not alone. I used the song many times during the illness and sad passing of my friend Lindsay Emerson a few years ago. The last time I left Lindsay’s bedside, believing that indeed it would be the last time, I fumbled on my iPod for this song and held it close to me the entire journey home. Ben Kyle, Romantica’s Belfast born songwriter, nails the frustrations of the limited knowledge of now and the belief of someday. In the beautiful, tender, vulnerable but hopeful poignancy of this song I fully recognized, “If you’re feeling low the girl can hold your hand/But a beautiful song can understand,” and I longed for the day when the companion to help me understand would not just be a song but Jesus himself. In the meantime I realized that songs like this would be very good friends.


JOHN LENNON - Imagine

Imagine 2 
 
Imagine is John Lennon’s finest work though many will disagree because of its smooth accessibility. After the raw vulnerability of Plastic Ono Band John decided that it was time to compete. The truth is that the entire Beatles and post Beatles’ music of John and Paul needs to be analysed as to how they were in competition, secretly jealous and envious of one another, openly speaking of their fractured friendship while missing each other desperately. Anyway, Imagine might even have been more in competition with the wee baby brother, mostly ignored, George Harrison becoming the biggest selling artist of 1970 and 1971. Imagine was strategically born to sell too.

The title track itself was a response to Lennon’s songwriting envy. He had lived in the shadow of Paul’s Yesterday since 1965 even admitting to its goodness on his barbed attack on Paul on How Do You Sleep on this very album. He had also been aghast that, the third best writer in the band, George’s Something became as popular a Beatles’ song as anything maybe apart from that aforementioned Yesterday. To have a song that would be as huge as those two was really important to the insecurities of Lennon. Jealous Guy here is not only a confession about his misdemeanours in love for Yoko but also an admission of the character failing that drove Lennon to write Imagine.

Imagine is a beautiful piece; simple, anthemic and revolutionary. It is Lennon at his most naively idealistic BUT it does inspire a hope of a fairer world. Though Lennon’s intention might have been a Marxian swipe at religion the truth is that the general vision is one that Jesus would have assented to though the Nazerene’s approach was not to imagine no heaven but to imagine a heaven and bring it to earth. Lennon’s approach is easy but leaves us bereft of a vision to apply, Jesus’ is harder but gives substance to the dreaming.

Elsewhere on Imagine we find every hue of Lennon. How and Oh My Love are those tender pieces like Love and Look At Me on Plastic Ono Band; I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier is an anti war song though maybe not his best; Gimme Some Truth is the seeker of meaning and purpose and he has rarely done it better; Oh Yoko declares his love for Mrs. L; and It’s So Hard gives that Yer Blues angst and a crunchier guitar work out.

Everything here though is calculated to a commercial impact and it worked. Old side kick Harrison, a special guest as the world’s most successful artist at the time, plays some great slide. Spector works the strings to sugar the topping. The tracklisting is as carefully crafted as the songs and production and as Lennon himself said to the NME it was “the best effin thing I’ve ever done.” His most ardent fans might react to the accessibility but they’d be betraying the heart of their hero. Lennon set out to achieve exactly what he achieved; a hit record. It sits as exactly that beside George’s All Things Must Pass and Paul’s Band On the Run as the best Beatle’s solo projects.  


Lyric For The Day 17.10.10 from In Heaven by Steve Turner

Turner 
"In heaven there will be no policemen,
because there will be no crime.
There will be no soldiers,
because there will be no war.
There will be no doctors,
no surgeons, no nurses.
There will be no prison warders,
security guards, undertakers,
insurance salesmen, judges,
watch-makers, fire-fighters, evangelists,
gossip columnists, prostitutes
or ambulance drivers.
But there will be poets.
Poets and musicians.
This much we know."

My friend Dave Campton sent me this on Facebook when he saw that I was preaching on the importance of art in all things Kingdom bringing. It is brilliant in that Steve Turner's artistic way. It proves the point of art's power and does it in an artistic way. So glad we'll have Steve Turner in heaven! I used it the conclusion to my sermon, read off Facebook on my phone!


MARTYN JOSEPH - Under Lemonade Skies

Under Lemonade Skies 

Martyn Joseph’s journey continues artistically and spiritually and both are utterly captivating. First the art. Under Lemonade Skies is the Welshman’s sixteenth album and arguably his best crafted work. It is almost given as read these days that Joseph’s songs are as good as songwriting gets on these islands so it is the production that makes the jury concentrates when judging every new record. Young American multi instrumentalist and producer Mason Neely has brought a layering of the soundscapes to these songs and there are times when you can get swept away on guitar, saxophone or piano playing. It is lush without being too smooth, immediately accessible without being too pop and intricately played without being too self indulgent. It is maybe Joseph’s best sounding album.

The songs take on Joseph’s usual themes; Lonely Like America is another use of that vast country as an analogy to individual lives; there is that hoping midst reality’s pain on There’s Always Maybe; those little reaching out prayers on You’re The Moment; and those journey songs like On My Way and Brothers In Exile. They are all of the highest quality but as I said at the outset the images, the rhyme, the economy of words when needed and the flurry of words when effective are getting better and better with every Joseph album.

This album was originally to be called Lonely Like America which perhaps musically is the centre piece. It does not though reflect the themes of the entire album and Martyn’s wife Sian chose that much more fitting title. Bush’s America is over and perhaps with it some of Joseph’s most recent anger is abated. Here we might have the new era template of Obama because these songs are more about empathy and brother/sisterhood.

In an Evening In Conversation with Martyn recently he spoke about trying to write songs that are companions for people on the road, songs that make you feel that you are not alone. He spoke of doing this vocation as his way to love his neighbour. He said that he wonders at times whether he has succeeded and feels jealous of the plumber who can leave having fixed the leak and no his job was a good one. Well, Martyn Joseph needs to be assured that in these songs he has succeeded. They are great companions on the journey, they are like little caresses of grace for all life’s experiences. Frederick Buechner speaks of vocation as the place where our deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need and Joseph has fulfilled his vocation most brilliantly on Under Lemonade Skies. I simply love having him and his songs as Brothers in Exile.   

other Martyn Joseph album reviews 

 


Lyric For The Day 15.10.10 from Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here... by Martyn Joseph

Whoever It Was 

“The glory is missing from this hollow room

Like a bride who knew better and jilted the groom

I’m trying to work out what it is I should be

A dented saint searching for some sanctuary

I’m remembering grace

And things I hold dear

And whoever it was that brought me here

Will have to lead me home.”

    from Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here... by Martyn Joseph

 Another song from Martyn Joseph that makes a good companion for the stumbling faith journey. I have used this song quite a lot in Reflective services and it touches the spot in people’s souls every time. The phrase “whoever it was that brought me here will have to lead me home” is from a 13th century Sufi mystic poet called Rumi and my other favourite band Over The Rhine used the same phrase on their album Ohio at the exact same time as Martyn’s co-writer Stewart Henderson slipped it in here.

 In this beleaguered lament Martyn and Stewart don’t only fulfil the Reformation’s tenet to find light from all quarters but with the phrase “remembering grace” they baptise it into a 21st century western Christian context taking me on another journey back a few centuries to the poetry and theology of hymn writer John Newton’s Amazing Grace – “Grace has brought me safe this far and grace will lead me home.”

 Christians often lose the impact of grace along the journey. Few argue with its importance to begin the Christian pilgrimage but we often lose sight of the fact that the same grace that is the only hope we have to lead us into faith is the only hope we have as the journey goes on. We humans in our fallen frailty can find ourselves just as lost twenty years in as we were at the outset. At moments when life knocks us off our feet and faith seems battered and bruised it is good to know and utter in prayer the great truth that “whoever it was that brought me here will have to lead me home” even when we are struggling to believe that he will.

 


John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band

Plastic Ono Band 

John Lennon was a seeker of salvation. The deep hurt of his damaged soul needed serious fixing and most of his life was spent searching for solutions to the very obvious dysfunction going on in his psyche.  Music and then the fame brought distraction but never solved and maybe heightened the angst. The wealth and fame of being in the biggest pop band in history certainly opened other doors to finding salvation. Using his fame to become a peace and justice campaigner gave another sense of purpose to the his turbulent soul at a time when his wee gang of best friends were falling apart. Avant-garde artist Yoko Ono was certainly the closest that Lennon ever got to soothing his soul but even that was not without some turmoil. Plastic Ono Band was an album that literally recorded one of his other attempts at redemption; his time going through Arthur Janov's Primal therapy.

Plastic Ono Band is a very raw piece of rock; in music, in lyric and in content. These songs were the screams of a man in therapy hoping their primal catharsis would save his soul. Green Day main man Billie Joe Armstrong has said that without Lennon he would not have “known what true honesty in music is” and when people think of his honesty Plastic Ono Band is where they start. Yet, Lennon had been pioneering honesty long before people even noticed. At the height of The Beatles’ mop top happy clapping “yeh yeh yehs” Lennon slipped onto 1964’s Beatles For Sale record his first cry for help, I’m a Loser, and followed it in 1965 with a literal Help!; a hit single, and title track of an album and film.

In 1970 with The Beatles as a collective dissolved Lennon had now a freedom to be even more explicit and autobiographical and this collection of songs sure was. It starts and ends with the crux of all Lennon’s problems, the loss of his Mother. The opening Mother could have been dressed and sold sentimentally every Mother’s Day but Lennon’s pain made it far from sentimental. Primal, honest, raw... call it what you will but it is one of Lennon’s greatest artistic moments. Mummy’s Dead is not so brilliant as a song but you don’t miss the truth of the message. The rest of the album is littered with similarly stark productions switching from guttural cries like I Found Out to respites of tender calm like Hold On and Love usually a turning back from the abyss for a kiss from Yoko.

Three tracks worth an exploration are Working Class Hero, How Do You Sleep and God. Working Class Hero is one of Lennon’s classic moments of songwriting. The fact he was never working class and might have written this in his luxurious Tittenhurst mansion doesn’t dilute a struggle to survive in a oppressively conformist world; whether the title is technically flawed or not it is a cultural aware, prophetically provocative and barbed. How Do You Sleep is on the other hand not the best example of his craftsmanship but as an attack on his old writing partner and best friend Paul McCartney it was always going to garner attention. It is clumsy of lyric but the cold hearted vengeance is near frightening. God? Well this is the heart of the piece. Here Lennon strips away everything claiming he doesn’t believe in not only God but nearly everything else in his world including, in concluding, The Beatles! He finishes, what could be seen as the theological or philosophical sermon, by claiming that when all is stripped away he is now simply John; that the world will need to move on; and that the dream is over. It might be the final full stop on all the hopes of the sixties.

All Lennon believes in now is Yoko and himself. His belief I guess is to strip away all the skins of the onion and he’ll get to the core, the truth. However, of course, when every skin is ripped there is actually nothing at the heart of the onion and we cannot find that salvation that Lennon was seeking without everyone else or indeed without God. Lennon might never release an album as intensely or intentionally painful again but Crippled Inside off Imagine, the entirety of Walls and Bridges and I’m Losing You from his final release Double Fantasy would be more pain filled reminders that he never found that salvation that he might have thought Janov had brought him in 1970.  


Lyric For The Day 13.10.10 from Rumblin' by Neil Young

Le Noise 

“When will I learn to listen?

When will I learn how to feel?

When will I learn how to give back?

When will I learn how to give back?

When will I learn how to heal?”

          From Rumblin’ by Neil Young

 Neil Young has been getting more and more spiritual as the years have gone on, as if the realisation of his mortality has focused his mind on transcendent things. His new album Le Noise, produced by Daniel Lanois, with a minimalist yet spookily electric sound, is littered with spiritual words and images; “Peaceful Valley,” “hope eternal,” “unconditional love,” “they pray to the Lord” and “God was crying tears” to name a few.

 The final track Rumblin’ is an apocalyptic rumble, where you can feel the world shudder around you in the distorted guitar menace. It is in the midst of such a kind of judgement that Young feels the finger pointing at himself and the words of this lyric for today point to a better way to live in a world that is needing change. It is about losing the self indulgence that seems to have perhaps brought on the “rumblin’” and focusing on ways to listen, give to and heal other people. These could be the sage like words of Jesus to a people needing an alternative way to live to free them from the oncoming doom. The deeply seated human satisfaction of salvation is found in the crucible of self denial and service for others.


Lyric For The Day 12.10.10 from Turn Me Tender by Martyn Joseph

MJ 

“And laments have a purpose and laments have a cost

A requiem playing gathers the lost

It sometimes tastes sour the sweetness of hope

When the blizzards are raging on this lovers slope...”

-      From Turn Me Tender by Martyn Joseph

 While many songwriters have the ability to write a love song that could be about God, Welsh singer Martyn Joseph writes God songs that could be about love. Turn Me Tender is one of his best ever songs and could be seen as a love song but in the end it is a poignant prayer. The clues are in the lyrics – Jesus and the Psalms get name checked. This is another prayer for the journey, a journey of life and faith that has been the thread of Joseph’s work for decades.

 Turn Me Tender is a lament, clarified in the couplets that make up this particular Lyric For The Day. Lament is an important part of the spirituality of the Holy Scriptures, many of those Psalms also take the form of lamentation and an entire book takes that title in the Old Testament. The truth is that God believes lament to be a part of the healing that humanity needs for the many bruises of soul and breakages of heart. Somehow the tone of “a requiem playing gathers the lost” who are drawn by their need of confession or a cataloguing of the hurts of their flawed humanity plays its transformative part. Lament is a vital ingredient in the journey of catharsis that brings salve to the soul. It is a reason why songs are so important to our spiritual health.

 And if you are looking for songs to salve the soul in a lamenting way then Martyn Joseph is a great place to start!

 Martyn Joseph plays the Errigle Inn Belfast on October 14th and does An Evening in Conversation in Fitzroy Presbyterian on October 15th.

Martyn Joseph reviews