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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Help of the Helpless

What keeps me coming back to the record store is the idea that inside each neatly wrapped disc or piece of vinyl might be some little secret that you'd never heard before. That secret might say any kind of truth, any kind of blurring of the truth, a flat out lie or any tall tale that might illuminate the world you live in. It might tell you something about a world somebody else lives in or a world that is to come. You either connect with a song or you don't, & even if you don't connect with it, it can still have a good beat with some nice harmonies. When you do connect with a song, it becomes a part of you, changes the way you see things. It reveals something new to you almost every time you hear it.

A good song is like a well pitched baseball game, you have to be paying close attention to the subtleties & nuances of the game, or it will be boring to you. It's also like a marriage, a performer can be giving it his or her all but if the listener isn't giving it their all the two of them might as well quit each other. A good song has many layers, it might mean something to one listener & something completely different to another. The way a lyrical phrase is turned can affect the meaning, making it completely different from the meaning on the page. Sometimes the meaning of a song is subtle, the performer wants you to draw your own conclusions, other times a performer can be beating you over the head with the meaning.

One song that's been finding me since I was a little kid is the hymn "Abide with Me". I have several recordings of this song (check out Ella Fitzgerald's version) although none quite sound like they did during evening church services sitting next to my mother when I was a kid. A version I've been listening to a lot lately is by Matthew Perryman Jones.

A simple definition of the word "abide" would be to stay with someone or something, but it means a whole lot more than that. To stay with someone can be rather passive, someone can stay with someone else for a lack of a better place to go. To abide, though, requires a persistence to remain with someone or something, even though the conventional wisdom is to leave. To abide with someone is not a pleasant experience. Think of two people holding on to each other while falling from an airplane. It's easier to let go than it is to hold on. What a perfect metaphor, God holding on to somebody that most people would say isn't worth holding on to when it would be easier for Him to let go.

Consider the lyric, "I need Thy presence every passing hour". The way my brain works when I hear this line is I think of a really hard time that I made it through, when I may have prayed for help. This is exactly the opposite of the truth that this song gets to. The inference I make when I think this way is that all the other hours I made it on my own. Every passing hour doesn't mean when I think I need "Thy presence" the most, it means every passing hour, regardless of how easy or hard, jubilant or depressing, exciting or mundane that hour may be.

This leads to the center of the song. A great song for me always has a center, one singular line that the rest of the song hinges upon. The rest of the lyrics are the background & the d'enouement. You have to have a problem if you need a solution, & the problem in this song is the line "thou hast not left me, though I've oft left thee". The reason I say this song has been finding me since I was a little kid, is that I don't think I choose to listen to it because it's got a good beat & some nice harmonies. It's not even up to me when I hear it. I used to think "though I've oft left thee" meant that there were times in my life in the past when I've strayed from God. When I hear it now, I realize that every day I stray from God, & every day he doesn't leave me. Every day He abides, makes a conscious effort to stay by my side, even when I give Him no reason to.

Five Favorite Songs of the Day

Abide With Me-Matthew Perryman Jones

Helpless-Neil Young with The Band

Go Folks Go-Bonnie "Prince" Billy & the Cairo Gang

Up on a Mountain-The Welcome Wagon

Lord I'm Discouraged-Charley Patton

Happy Sunday, friends...


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Grand Haven, Michigan
the sun shines on a dog's ass every now & then...