(September 19th is the anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I wrote this article along time ago about my time with Rich and that instrumental named after our house in Dublin)
We considered at one stage using the CD of A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band as our business cards. To see your address on the art work of a Rich Mullins album was certainly a thrill. Rich had told us he was going to use it but we never really believed him until the album arrived on our doorstep.
78 Eaton Wood Green was quite a legendary little place before and after Rich Mullins came to visit and later named an instrumental about it. Situated on the very south suburb of Dublin in a little village called Shankill, 78 is a four bedroom semi-detached house in a popular housing development, about half a mile from the Irish Sea, a mile to the north of the county border with Co. Wicklow and about a mile south of the home of one Bono, another singer of some note.
The house was owned by David Adams a young and pretty shrewd businessman and, during the time between his purchasing track 7 and getting married, to Olwyn in September 1994, was home to four young men becoming known as the 78 Community. There was a regular trail of visitors in what the quiet Dave had really allowed to become an open house. His first house mate was Tim Wray, later to be joined by Rob Lawson. When Tim left to buy his own property I then joined Dave and Rob before Rob moved out in September '93 to marry the lovely Roisin O'Farrell who bar living there was a lynch pin member of all that happened.
Rich Mullins entered the community, sometime in the summer of 1992. Rob phoned me, as I was living around the corner at the time, and asked me if I had ever heard of Rich Mullins. I had a vague recollection of seeing his name on the spine of a CD in some Christian bookshop. Rob went on to tell me that he was staying with them.
Some friend in America had been speaking to Rich after a gig and on hearing he was heading to Ireland told him he had to stay in 78. It was a legendary place you see. Anyhow, I happened to have a mission team from Uplands, Indiana sleeping over on my floor and just in passing told them this. Well, they went absolutely crazy, dragging tapes from their back packs and saying they'd just seen him at Taylor University and could they meet him. They did actually sit outside the house for hours one day but Rich never showed. They did however show me the cover of "Winds Of Heaven... Stuff of Earth" album and to tell you the truth I wasn't convinced.
Indeed, I didn't get to meet Rich and Beaker until some weeks later when they again came through Dublin from their European jaunt before heading back home. I think I spent quite a bit of that evening chatting to Beaker but I can remember Rich bringing out the hammer dulcimer, the like of which I had never seen, and he played us a couple of his new compositions.
The first time I heard Rich sing was therefore one of his first public performances, to about 5 of us, of Land Of My Sojourn. I was blown away by the stunning lyrics to that song, and was amazed that such a poetic talent was coming out of the CCM world. He also played us 78 Eaton Wood Green and that dulcimer had me hooked too. I personally think it a blessing that I met Rich at that stage of his career because without doubt A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band is his masterpiece. When you hear a singer for the first time and it happens to be Land Of My Sojourn and also happens to be in your living room that makes some impact. It didn't sound like the voice of the rather clean cut boy who appeared on the cover of that Winds of Heaven album that he was probably best known for.
So I moved into 78 at the end of April 1993 and was on a plane to America the very next week. The aforementioned Dave Adams and another friend David Baldock were joining me to drive a friend's car from Reading, California to Uplands, Indiana. We actually began the trip with friends in Vancouver and it was there that Dave decided to try and contact Rich. Now I didn't realise at that stage how flighty of mind, geography and schedule Rich was and so when I look back at that chance phone call I attach to it the very depth of the theology of luck to think that we not only arranged to see Rich in Witchita but also to spend time with him on the Navaho Indian Reservation at Windowrock on the Arizona/New Mexico border.
I can remember so vividly the drive into Windowrock. A naive Irish boy, who had been duped, deceived and poisoned by cowboy western TV shows as a kid, I had visions of tee pees, feathers, moccasins and peace pipes. To see cowboy hats and pick-up trucks was rather a shock and to be aware that this was another America was quite scary. To add to it our address was more or less "A Trailer, Windowrock" so by the time we got lost, found the trailer and left Rich a note we were feeling a little conspicuous. Still, it was a chance do some laundry and it was here that Rich appeared. "How did you find us?" He just lived. Not difficult. Just ask, "anyone seen three white Irish boys anywhere"!
Rich had three fellow college students with him and we spent the night listening to some freaky music Rich liked, Steve Reich, arguing whether Shawn Colvin's Fat City was better than Steady On. Rich was a huge Colvin fan and a particular fan of Steady On. He was probably right. I never did buy any Steve Reich though I do remember Rich convincing me to invest in James Taylor. We also talked a lot about the Navaho nation and Rich's desire to teach in Windowrock. This was the first time that I came across Rich's radical lifestyle. I mean here was a guy who could play music for a living but was studying so he could teach and move away from the centres of the industry to live on a reservation and teach. I think it was at this stage that Rich told me he could sell more records if he gave it the energy but that it didn't mean that much to him. He did talk about giving it up after his Reunion contract was up but I knew the way he carried his guitar everywhere that this guy would always be making music. He may not have been to interested in the commercial side of it but he knew he was born to be an artists and you do not need to be selling to create.
The next morning we got a Mullins breakfast of endless amounts of donuts, before they all went horse riding and we went off in search of Monument Valley. We met up again in the evening where Rich was doing a gig in Gallup and we got there just in time to hear a Navaho High School Choir who were nothing short of awful. It was this that left me with my most challenging memory on the life of Rich Mullins. I turned to Rich at some stage to give him my short and to the point review of the choir. He agreed with my conclusions but went on to inform me that he was going sing "Awesome God" with them and they hadn't rehearsed and it was going to be with a backing track. And so he did. Now why? Why would a man of this stature risk a ropey performance? It seems that it was more important for Rich to give these school kids the thrill of their lives and the sense of dignity of singing with him than it was for him to sound good. It was the first becoming last that the last might somehow be first. It is an act of sacrifice that still slaps the face of my selfishness.
Anyway Rich saved the night with a really great gig, just him alone with a keyboard, guitar and the old trusty hammer dulcimer. It was his voice that struck me; so strong and roughshod. I mention this to Rich later and he tells me that his producer Reed Arvin always says that they never quite capture his voice in the studio. Though the sound was again something short of top notch Rich's songs and insightful spiritual chatter was of the very highest order.
One song particularly touched me. I think it was about a tramp in the park called Charlie and the things Rich learned from him. He prefaced the song by informing us that the record company didn't let him release it but that they weren't there tonight so he'd do it. It reminded me of a Peter Case song and I wondered what Rich would sound like if he had total freedom over his work, instead of being straight jacketed by the CCM industry.
After the gig at a Mexican restaurant we mulled over such questions and how the CCM industry did have a great deal of censorship. Rich even shared how they had thought his song "The Howling" was about the people of Israel and he never told them that it was about the native Indians or it may have been left off the album. We discussed the late Mark Heard and his inspiration and influence on people like Rich who wanted to push the boundary but how he was judged by the evangelical community as not mentioning Jesus enough.
Back at the trailer I think I got as close to the real Rich Mullins as it is possible to get. This is a moment that since his death I have come to treasure more and more. I imagine very few people got as close to the soul of Richard Wayne Mullins as I had the privilege of getting to that night. There in a trailer, on a Navaho Reservation I watched Brother Sun, Sister Moon. This was the Zefferelli film of the early 70's based on the life of Francis Of Assisi. After the giggles at how 70's, hippie and flowery it was I can remember the pores of my soul being opened by the cinematic exposure of this saint's life. It was very radical and challenging stuff, very powerfully colliding against the spirit of our age where busyness and materialism are crowding out contemplation and sacrificial discipleship. This was the saint that most influenced Rich Mullins in his very focused desire to follow Jesus Christ. I reckon that if Rich could have shown all his fans this movie instead of playing them songs he might have done so. Indeed his later project "Canticle Of The Plains" was probably him trying to do that.
We then left Windowrock and met up with Rich three days later in Witchita. Even then we got little time with the man. We arrived after midnight and he and Beaker left the next morning before we got up to play a gig with Margaret Becker in Houston. We had to find our own way round the house and entertain the dogs, Bear and Jordan before we were rescued by Julie who showed us around Witchita and took us to a fireworks display. This very Julie we would later discover would become Beaker's wife. They then arrived back the next morning and we left after lunch, though I did get to drive Rich across a couple of States. The home in Witchita was comfortable but obviously not cluttered with materialism.
It was here while Rich was gone that I discovered the writing of GK Chesterton and Brennan Manning as well as getting the first listen to the Liturgy album rough mixes. It was the majority of the album without strings and for me that was the songs at their strongest. Again we did discuss the strings thing and Rich seemed to indicate that he'd prefer to do the album without it but was under pressure from the record company. Indeed I think it is interesting that he did the next album, "Brother's Keeper", without strings. Rich also said during this debate that he'd love to do a live album, to get a chance to do the songs the way he'd like them. I wonder if that was ever recorded and will ever be heard.
So across Kansas towards Ohio for Rich and Indiana for us. Rich drove the first part of the journey and had I had a note book or a dictophone I'd have stocked up on many wise and insightful Mullins' thoughts on America, Religion, Madonna and Gk Chesterton. Indeed I am annoyed today at how little I noted about our conversations in my journal. I drove the last five hours of our trip and Rich and Bear slept before we parted company in Greenville.
My next and last time with Rich was back here in Ireland in the summer of 1996 when he brought a few ragamuffins(Rick Elias, Jimmy Abegg, Mitch McVicker and Mark Robertson) to play at Summer Madness. Rich was doing a seminar one afternoon and I met his gaze at the door of the tent. It had been three years since I'd seen him and though he couldn't remember any of our names he recognised me immediately and we talked both of his time in 78 and ours in America. He remembered people vividly but not one name.
He gave a seminar about everything and nothing in particular that was just superb. Again it is one of the sins of our day that it wasn't taped and the thing that stands out most for me was his story about The Red Hot Chilli Peppers thanking Satan for their grammy award. Rich said that that was more honest than those who thanked Jesus for their Dove Awards because the devil was more interested in winning awards than Jesus was.
Again a nod towards that most crucial of all kingdom values - "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."
Of course then there was the gig. A typically laid back Ragamuffins jam come party with a couple of thousand of us invited to watch. Again it was funny, provoking, entertaining and brilliant. It left me longing to bring Rich to Greenbelt in England the next year. Way back in that Arizona trailer Rich had said he'd love it if I could get him an invitation to play Greenbelt. By 1997 I was in charge of booking the bands. My first booking was Rich and The Ragamuffins but at almost the last minute there was a hitch and they pulled out. By then I was busy with a very promising bill and thought that there would always be next year. Sadly, there wasn't and I'd missed my last chance for some of those tiny little specs on my time line that the Son could catch and make bright. Still, I am so thankful for those specs I had.
I left 78 Eaton Wood Green to move back to Belfast in the summer of 1994 and Dave married Olly in September of that year, Olly walking up the aisle to that famous instrumental. In 1998 Dave and Olly sold the house but it is thankfully still in the hands of Rich fans. Dave's sister Liz and brother-in-law Dougie buying it. Dougie played keyboards in a Dublin's Crystal River Band. So if you find yourself in the south suburbs of Dublin check it out and when you go to the door say "Are you the guy who played in CRB!"