Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#307: The Song “Time Bomb”

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #307, on the subject of The Song “Time Bomb”.

Last month I introduced a new web log miniseries as a vehicle through which to publish my songs, and began the process with my favorite of my songs, web log post #301:  The Song “Holocaust”.  I explained much of the reasoning and the process there, and won’t repeat much of it here, but will introduce the second song on the list.

This second song on the list was the third song on my list of best songs and fourth on the list of quality of recordings; Tristan listed it as one of his (four) first choices.  It was thus the second song submitted to The Objective.  It is entitled

Time Bomb.

I went from a public high school overrun by the Jesus Movement of the early 70s to two Christian colleges for five years and then after a brief stint working security into five years ministry on a contemporary Christian radio station.  Then a few months after I left that I landed in the first secular job I’d had since a summer job in the back reaches of a warehouse doing inventory and supply.  I was surrounded by people near my own age who had an entirely worldly and secular view of life.  It was a bit of culture shock for me.

I remember one girl in particular because something she said very much inspired this song.  She said that eventually she was going to settle down and straighten up, but she had time for that, and she was going to enjoy the partying life for a while first.  I wondered whether she would have the time, and began to think about people who think they have time.

We performed the song with TerraNova, much as it is here but without the keyboard–harmonics on the rhythm guitar with the counterparts by the bass and lead, five vocals, I think the rhythm played the introductory breaker.  We were working on a three-vocal version for 7dB and later for Collision, but never had them performance ready.  I’ve tried to come up with a one- or two-vocal version, but it loses too much.  The choruses were originally written for four vocals; the “descant” was added when I we added a soprano vocalist to TerraNova, and the alto was delayed to be out of synch when I was making this recording.

My good friend Reverend David D. Oldham once said that this was his go-to song for demonstrating how to integrate musical style with lyrical content, that the choruses, verses, and bridge each have their own flavor that captures the essence of the messages within each.

Much of this, and some other stuff, was included in the material about Collision‘s repertoire, here.

This recording was made using something from Turtle Beach called Orchestra something-or-other; it only supported four vocals, so I covered the fifth with a midi trumpet.  Although additional vocal capability came with the upgrade to Record Producer Plus, I never returned to upgrade the earlier songs, having too many songs on my list of intended recordings.  The instruments are all programmed midis through a Soundblaster sound card, and I sang four of the five voices, but had to bring the soprano down an octave on the bridge.  Here are the words:

She thinks she’s got the world by the tail,
Whole lot o’ money and she couldn’t fail.
Too much time to be changing life now–
Does things her Daddy never would allow.
She goes to a party ev’ry Friday night–
Friends keep tellin’ her her life’s alright.
She’ll change someday, she knows it’s true–
There’s plenty of time for what she wants to do.

And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time bomb,
And the time that we once had is nearly gone,
As the world winds down to its final hour
When the Son of Man shall come with mighty power.

His money is his only friend;
Got more money than he’ll ever spend,
Big investments in stocks and gold,
Building up security for when he’s old.
He can’t take it with him, and he knows it’s true,
But now it helps him do the things he wants to do.
Lives his life like it’ll never end,
But when it does, on what will he depend?

And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time bomb,
And the time that we once had is nearly gone,
As the world winds down to its final hour
When the Son of Man shall come with mighty power.

Give him a number, call him double-oh-four
In God’s secret service in the holy war.
He’s a Christian in his private room
But wouldn’t tell a soul to save it from its doom.
He’s bound for the pearly gates, but you can’t tell–
He acts the same as all the people bound for hell.
Friends and family will have to wait–
He hopes that someone tells them all before too late.

And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time bomb,
    (And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time)
      {Ticking like a ticking time}
And the time that we once had is nearly gone,
(Bomb, and the time that we once had is nearly)
{Ticking time bomb–time we had is nearly}
As the world winds down to its final hour
(Gone, as the world winds down to its final)
{Gone, winding, winding down until He}
When the Son of Man shall come with mighty power.
(Hour, He will come with mighty power.)
{Fin’ly comes with mighty power.}

Lift your head, He’s calling the dead to come forth!
Lift your eyes and see them arise!
Lift your heart, let praises now start to come forth!
Worship the risen son, Christ!

And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time bomb,
    (And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time)
      {Ticking like a ticking time}
And the time that we once had is nearly gone,
(Bomb, and the time that we once had is nearly)
{Ticking time bomb–time we had is nearly.}
As the world winds down to its final hour
(Gone, as the world winds down to its final)
{Gone, winding, winding down until He}
When the Son of Man shall come with mighty power.
(Hour, He will come with mighty power.)
{Fin’ly comes with mighty power.}

And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time bomb,
    (And the time keeps ticking like a ticking time)
      {Ticking like a ticking time}
And the time that we once had is nearly gone,
(Bomb, and the time that we once had is nearly)
{Ticking time bomb–time we had is nearly.}
As the world winds down to its final hour
(Gone, as the world winds down to its final)
{Gone, winding, winding down until He}
When the Son of Man shall come–
(Hour, He will come–)
{Fin’ly come–.}

I can only hope you benefit from the song in some way.  I will continue with additional songs in the future.

#305: The Cross Case: Supreme Court Sours on Lemon

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #305, on the subject of The Cross Case:  Supreme Court Sours on Lemon.

I have been watching for this case since it hit the circuit court, and so was pleased to see that the Supreme Court had decided it.  It seems on one hand to be a simple question:  is a century-old war memorial in the shape of a forty-foot cross originally built by private citizens but for half a century maintained on public land at public expense a violation of the “establishment” clause, that is, a constitutionally impermissible promotion of a particular religion by the government?  That’s the question; yes or no?

So imagine my surprise to discover that although Justice Alito managed to write a seven-to-two majority opinion that said no (that is, the cross can stay), there were five concurring opinions (a concurring opinion is one that agrees with the conclusion but not with all the reasoning) plus a dissent.  So how is there so much confusion over so simple a question?

At the time of this writing, I was unable to find the official Supreme Court PDF online; however, Justia has it in an easy-to-access form.  The Court combined two cases into one, so the title reads

THE AMERICAN LEGION, et al., PETITIONERS

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.; and

MARYLAND-NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION, PETITIONER

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.

A lot of the trouble revolves around what’s been called the Lemon Test, named for Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), in which the court articulated a three-part test for whether something violated the establishment clause.  The short version is:

  1. Does the action/activity have a secular purpose?
  2. Is the principle or primary effect one that neither advances nor inhibits religion?
  3. Does it avoid fostering an excessive government entanglement with religion?

By these three questions all such cases were supposed to be answered.

Let’s get some backstory.

Just after World War I, a citizens group in Bladensburg, Maryland wanted to honor the forty-nine men from their community who died in that conflict.  Quite a few of the fallen in that war were never returned, and more were never identified.  The monument would serve as a surrogate grave for them, for their families to visit, and as a recognition of the service of so many others.  They hired an architect/sculptor, who designed a large Latin Cross, modeled on the crosses that had been used as temporary grave markers for the over one hundred thousand Americans buried in European graveyards.  (The Star of David was also used for such markers, but only about five percent of American casualties were Jewish, so crosses dominated the photos that came home and were emblazoned in the minds of the mourners.)  The citizens group raised money through donations, but ran out before completing the work, so the American Legion took over, adding their emblem to the cross, finishing the work, and maintaining it at their own expense into the early 1960s.  At that time, actions were taken to transfer the ownership of the property to the Maryland Parks Department, in part because the road around the monument had become a major traffic problem, in part because the American Legion was no longer able to afford it, and in part because the State wanted to expand the surrounding area into a memorial park with monuments for all the other wars.  Since then the monument has been maintained by state funds.  However, a few years back the American Humanist Association filed suit claiming that the cross was offensive and an impermissible endorsement of the Christian religion.  They wanted it removed, or demolished, or at the very least stripped of the crosspiece so it would be an obelisk instead of a cross.

The Federal District Court applied the Lemon test and sided with the park service, stating that the primary purpose of the cross was to honor the dead of World War I, and there was no evidence that any religious purpose was intended in its design or its present maintenance; any impartial observer who knew the history of the monument would conclude that it was not about promoting Christian faith, but about honoring the war casualties.  A three-judge panel of the Circuit Court, however, disagreed in a split decision, again applying the Lemon test but asserting that the cross was so tied to Christian belief that anyone seeing it would think it was an emblem promoting that religion.  The full court declined to review the case en banc (that is, all the judges), and the Supreme Court granted certiorari (or cert., agreeing to hear it).

Justice Alito wrote that there were many problems with applying Lemon, and that since the the test has a lot to do with motivations and intentions it is particularly difficult to apply the case to situations with deep historic roots.  It can’t be said that those who originally erected the monument had a religious purpose in view.  He cites other situations in which crosses are used as an emblem that do not have a religious purpose, notably among them the International Red Cross, whose red cross on a white field was designed to call to mind the white cross on a red field that was the flag of the neutral country Switzerland, and so marking the deliverers of medical care as neutral.  So, too, the crosses that dotted graveyards throughout Europe had become an image of the fallen in that war, popularized alongside the poppy even more by the poem In Flander’s Field.  Shortly after the war the same emblem became the basis for the national congressional medals known as the Distinguished Cross and the Navy Cross.  There was no reason to suppose that the original designers of the cross intended it to have any greater religious significance than that which is attached to any grave marker.  Indeed, one of the members of the committee which began the work and approved the design was Jewish.  Further, there is no evidence of bias or prejudice, sectarian or otherwise.  At the dedication ceremony, a Catholic Priest opened with an invocation, a politician gave the keynote address, and a Baptist minister gave the closing benediction.  Although racial tensions were high in the country and the Ku Klux Klan held a rally within ten miles of the site within a month of the dedication, black and white soldiers were listed together on the plaque.  To claim that the original intention was religious is to read our own ideas into their situation; we cannot do that.  Further, he argued, the fact that the monument has been there for almost a century means it has taken many other significances, historical and cultural.  We might think there is a religious significance to it as well, but it is a relatively small part of a memorial that has been part of the community for so long.  Besides, to destroy or deface it would appear to be an act against religion, not an act furthering religious neutrality.

The opinion did not overturn Lemon; it simply said that in dealing with matters steeped in history, it was generally impossible to know the motivations of those who made the original decisions, and so Lemon was rendered useless in such cases.

Justice Gorsuch in the main agreed, but went further.  Lemon, he said, was useless as a test.  Case law demonstrates that a court using the test can reach any conclusion it wants.  More pointedly, the notion of the response of a reasonable observer (whether a reasonable observer would think that the purpose was primarily religious) has created an “offended observer” status, that someone can file suit against an action on the grounds that it offends him.  This, Gorsuch argues, is not real injury and the Constitution gives no basis for anyone to sue without real injury.  Overturning Lemon and getting rid of its test would resolve much of the confusion in the courts and mean in the future cases like this, in which someone claims to be offended by the sight of a supposedly religious object, would be dismissed perfunctorily.

Justice Thomas agreed with that, but went further.  The Establishment Clause, he observed, begins “Congress shall make no law”.  He explains what kinds of laws had existed that were eliminated, but asserts that the protection has nothing to do with actions that are not based on laws made by Congress.  He suggests that one might apply the I Amendment to the States by virtue of the XIV Amendment, but even so the original purpose of the Establishment Clause was to forbid legislative actions compelling citizens to support a specific church or denomination.  Local creches, non-sectarian thanksgiving services, opening invocations and closing benedictions, and memorials to the dead are not covered by this, as they are not compulsory and in the main are not legislative acts.  Lemon, he asserts, should be overturned because it goes far beyond what is Constitutional.

Justice Kagan also wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with nearly all of Justice Alito’s opinion but for two sections.  The important disagreement is that she asserts that Lemon, with its focus on purposes and effects, is still very valuable even though it does not resolve every Establishment Clause problem, and she would retain it.  Her lesser disagreement is that Justice Alito suggested that history would play an important part in Establishment Clause analysis, which she does not reject entirely but does not wish to see embraced as a principle of law.  She agrees, though, that it might be important to consider whether long-standing monuments, symbols, and practices reflect respect for different views and tolerance, with an honest effort to achieve non-discrimination and inclusivity, and a recognition of the important role that religion plays in many American lives.

Justice Kagan also agrees with the concurrence written by Justice Breyer, who has long said that no one test works for all Establishment Clause cases, but that in each case the court has to consider the purposes of the clause, “assuring religious liberty and tolerance for all, avoiding religiously based social conflict, and maintaining that separation of church and state that allows each to flourish in its “separate spher[e]”.  He says that the majority opinion is correct that there is no significant religious importance to the Bladensburg Cross, and that its removal or destruction would signal a hostility toward religion against the Establishment Clause traditions.  However, he objects to any sort of “history and tradition test” that might permit religiously-biased memorials on public lands in the future.

That, apparently, is a suggestion in Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence.  He fully joins the majority opinion, but emphasizes the importance of reviewing history and tradition in such cases.  He suggests that the Lemon test has proven useless and is never really used by the Supreme Court.  He also expresses sympathy for those, particularly Jews, who feel alienated by the cross, which he says must be recognized as a religious emblem.  The fact that it is a religious emblem does not mean the government cannot maintain it–but the government does not have to do so, and other branches of the government could take action to remove the cross or transfer its ownership and care to a non-governmental entity.  The objectors do have recourse to the political process if they wish to pursue this; what they don’t have is a court decision declaring that the cross cannot be maintained by the State.

Which leaves Justice Ginsberg’s dissent, joined by Justice Sotomayor.

Ginsberg maintains that the Latin Cross, defined as one in which the lower upright is longer than the other three branches, has always been recognized as a Christian symbol, and has never had a secular meaning or application.  (This in contrast to the Greek Cross, in which the four branches are equal.)  The Bladensburg “Peace Cross” is thus offensive to anyone of any other religion or of no religion.  Marshaling evidence that even in the aftermath of World War I the cross was identified by the government as a sectarian symbol to be put on the graves of all Christians and of any persons not known not to be Christian (in case they were), with Stars of David placed on all graves of soldiers known to be Jewish.  (Those who were known not to be either could, at the family’s request, have a plain stone, be transported home, or be interred in a private cemetery overseas with a headstone of their choice.)  There has never been a case in which a Latin Cross was identified as a non-sectarian emblem of death, and historically it has been regarded as conveying the message that Christians are saved and all others are damned–an offensive message to all those others.

While Ginsberg’s claim is well-supported, it is not clear that the modern cultural view of crosses as memorials perceives them as specifically Christian.  It comes to me that many graves of pets are marked with crosses, but no Christian denomination of which I am aware supports the theological belief that animals can be Christian, The Vicar of Dibbley notwithstanding.  (The eternal destiny of animals is not something the Bible tells us, which makes sense, as C. S. Lewis would have said, because it’s not actually something we need to know.)  Crosses are also frequently used in decorative graveyards such as in Halloween displays.  To many, the cross says “grave marker” much more than it says “Christian”.

I can’t say that everyone perceives such memorials as non-sectarian, but I do think that over time they have become more so.  It appears that the Court, in the main, agrees with that:  memorials using crosses in their imagery have become non-sectarian by their use over time, and the Bladensburg Cross far more represents the fallen of World War I and, since its rededication in 1985, all the American casualties of all our wars.  Lemon has not been overturned, but it has been significantly limited in its application in the future.

The Peace Cross stands.

#301: The Song “Holocaust”

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #301, on the subject of The Song “Holocaust”.

On my recent trip to Nashville for The Objective Session it was recommended to me that I start my own publishing company, and so publish my own songs.

That would be excellent advice for anyone with a knack for business.  I have more than once proven than I have no such ability, and so I will add that to the list of good advice I hopefully wisely did not take.

However, I am going to publish my songs, so consider me self-published.

The plan is this:  I have mostly poor recordings of perhaps sixty of the hundreds of songs I have composed over the decades.  In anticipation of the aforementioned Objective Session I selected thirty-some of these for consideration in inclusion in a package of materials to be submitted to Nashville professionals, and ultimately gave them copies of the top three.  I am now going to give those songs to you, my readers/fans, beginning with those same three, continuing through the list of thirty-some others, and adding a few that I have since been told ought to have been included.

There are other songs that ought to have been recorded which never were, or which were long ago on tapes no longer in existence.  If there is enough support through the Patreon and PayPal me links (at the top of the page) I’ll obtain new recording software and work on laying tracks for some of them.  (The old software, Record Producer Plus, was actually rather good, but Turtle Beach decided not to support it when I attempted to reinstall it after a computer crash, so I recommend avoiding anything from them because they are unreliable in terms of future support for older products.)

In compiling this list, I went through all my recordings and eliminated a few for specific reasons–a couple of them because they are part of a nearly finished opera from which very few songs have been recorded (I will remedy that if I get the software), a few because the recordings I have of them are more severely flawed than I can reasonably permit myself to release publicly (although with the caveat that some of the recordings I am releasing are seriously flawed).  I used a pocket digital recorder to record, live with an acoustic guitar, a few more songs I thought should be included which I could manage that way.  I then made two copies of the list of songs I had compiled, one listing them in what it my opinion were best to worst songs, music and lyrics, the other listing them in what in my opinion were best to worst recordings, performance and technical.  I averaged these and also asked a bunch of people (family, mostly) to comment on the list, and one, my son Tristan, responded, selecting eighteen of the songs which he thought definitely should be included, divided into the four best, the next four, the next four, the next two, and the final four.  I averaged his opinion in with mine, and that gave me the list I am using.

The first song on his list was the first song on my list of best songs, although it was only fifth on the list of quality of recordings.  It is entitled

Holocaust.

I suppose it makes sense that the song both I and my third son list as the best would already have appeared on the web.  My wife included part of the lyrics on a site (a long time ago, one of the GeoCities web sites), and I put the lyrics up in a section of this site dedicated to the songs of a defunct late 90s band called Cardiac Output (who never actually did the song, although TerraNova did back in the mid 80s), and also gave a rather detailed recollection of the process of composing it in connection with the history of the band Collision.

It may be the most powerful and is probably the most poetic of my songs (which I must again mention is co-written with my wife Janet Young and our friend Robert Leo Weston) despite its frequent disregard of rhyme and meter.  Its double meaning metaphor carries through the sung portion of the song and is cemented with the spoken poem at the end.  It was written as a duet, and in the places where both voices are singing each is regarded its own melody, neither a harmony of the other.

This recording was made using Record Producer Plus with a Soundblaster sound card; the instruments are all programmed midis, and I sang both voices.  Here are the words:

Reality has come over me as I slip away from myself.
The people I know can’t tell the truth,
And I don’t think I even care.
I can see the face of a thousand people passing by on a train.
The silence of a world as they pass on by still resounds in my brain.

Shed a tear (shed a tear) for all the earth (for all the earth),
For she has closed her eyes to all the pain!
What will you do when it comes to you?
Will you run or will you hide?
I can hear the screaming–

Lambs to the slaughter, they open not their mouth.
A sacrifice displeasing to their God
(The innocent must die).
Smoke is rising from eternal fire.
The one we would expect
Would be there to protect
Now breaks his vow and deals the fatal blow.

Shed a tear (shed a tear) for all the earth (for all the earth),
For she has closed her eyes to all the pain!
What will you do when it comes to you?
Will you run or will you hide?
I can hear the screaming–

I was dumb when they took my neighbor
(I hear those footsteps getting closer),
Held my tongue when they took my friend
(Oh, my heart, no need to be afraid).
I was still when they took my brother
(They’ll never take me).
Who will speak up for me?

The sacred dream is ended in the silent scream!
The breath of life is stifled by the surgeon’s knife!

A holocaust inevitably comes
To those who place themselves too high,
To those who teach themselves the lie
That life and death is in their hand–

Mere men!  Too small to understand
The truth, the value of one soul.
And so their wisdom takes its toll
In infants shattered on the rock–

Such pain!  And yet it does not shock
Our hardened hearts, our souls of ash–
We throw their bodies in the trash
And tell ourselves, it’s for the best.

And that is how we treat the rest–
The useless crippled, and the old.
With every death our heart grows cold
‘Til someone puts us in our tomb.

The gift of God comes in a maiden’s womb.

I can only hope you benefit from the song in some way.  I will continue with additional songs in the future.

#297: An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #297, on the subject of An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.

Late last year I received an invitation from someone representing something called The Extreme Tour inviting me to investigate mutually the possibility of participating in their program.  The big piece of the puzzle was something called The Objective Session, a long weekend of meetings in Nashville which they correctly say defies characterization as a convention or conference or retreat or just about any other label we might put on a large gathering of persons for a specific purpose.  The Greeks would probably have called it an ekklesia, which means a gathering of people called together by a common interest, but which we typically translate “church”–and there is a sense in which church is not a bad name for what this is, but it’s very unlike any church I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended many in many different denominations.

The odd thing was that I could find very little online about either The Extreme Tour or The Objective Session.  Then many events conspired against any hope I might have had of attending–our car’s transmission died to a tune of almost as much as we were still paying for the car, I was hospitalized twice, money was getting tighter.  I wasn’t investigating the trip as diligently as I otherwise might have done because it was beginning to look impossible–but I was still praying about it.

Then with literally less than a week to go the last pieces were falling into place; it transitioned from a ridiculous impossibility to a very difficult possibility.  I posted to all the Christian musicians groups I knew to see if anyone could advise me on this, and got almost no response at all, and none that was informed.  On Tuesday morning I was literally weeping, for reasons I cannot really explain in this post beyond that it had looked as if an opportunity to do something with the music had been placed in front of me and I was going to have to decline it.  That’s a lesson for a different forum, but an hour later the last piece of the puzzle fell into place and the decision was made:  my son Adam and I were going to Nashville to attend The Objective Session.

It was then that we started getting advice from musicians, and it had three things in common.  The first was they were universally against our going.  The second was they knew no more and probably less than I did about the program.  One person asked if I had ever heard of a concert being presented by The Extreme Tour, which was a pretty useless question because I’m pretty sure that of all the concerts I attended and even promoted when I was at the radio station, I knew who presented or sponsored very few of them.  Another person seems to have a very odd view of divine guidance, suggesting that no believer would ever be uncomfortable doing anything that was what God was directing him to do.  The third commonality was that most of them had received invitations and ignored them.

The decision had already been made, so this advice had less impact than it might otherwise have had.  We went.  It was a twelve-hour drive, and over the course of Wednesday night through Monday morning we probably spent between two and three hundred dollars on food, gas, and tolls; lodging at a cheap hotel less than half an hour from the site even in morning traffic was less than two hundred dollars for three nights, although with how intense the event was it probably would have been better for us to have stayed in the area the nights before and after.  Parking at the venue was free for the event, but we made a point of arriving early and not moving the car until we were done, because it was very crowded.  Because we had been invited the meeting itself cost us nothing, and I don’t want to quote the price I heard for tickets for those not invited.

What I want to do in this post is provide information for those who have been invited and don’t know whether it would be worth going.  I’ll give you the short answer up front:  I don’t know what will happen from it, but for us it was worth going.

To fully understand The Objective Session you probably need to understand The Extreme Tour.  Ted Brunn, founder, has one of those testimonies on the order of he should have died and the doctors don’t know why he lived and were themselves using the word “miracle” (fell seven stories and landed on his head on rocks).  At some point he became extremely sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of lost people out there who don’t believe that anyone cares about them, and he began an organization that works with local non-profit groups to put on free shows in places no one wants to perform.  The shows include select artists and talented extreme sports athletes (e.g., skateboarding exhibitions), and the message to the people is that someone does care about them.  All of the performers, as well as all of the staff, are volunteers; the money that the organization collects really does go to the expenses of doing what they do, such as hiring sound equipment for venues.  For some situations they defray costs of performing artists, but this is not an organization designed to make you rich.  It is rather designed to enable you to contribute your talents alongside those of others to take the good news into places you probably could never go alone.

The Objective Session is from their perspective an opportunity for them to meet potential volunteer performers; to facilitate that, they also gather many music professionals from the Nashville area.  Although in spare moments throughout the weekend I tackled the program book, I never finished reading all the names and credentials, and I’m only going to name a few here.  I will also mention that there were said to be six hundred of us in attendance, and I met many of them and have CDs from a few.  Probably the last thing I did was give a couple CDs of my own music to a young artist who was probably the first person I met when I arrived; it seemed the right thing to do at the time, as he wanted to hear the rest of the song I had partly sung the day before, and I was in no condition to attempt to sing it.

I will tell you that from the moment we arrived things were happening.  Because of the fact that we drove eight hundred miles and twelve hours with one break for dinner and gasoline (don’t tell my hemotologist) arriving around noon central time and staying up to reach our hotel twenty minutes outside the city after midnight, so I was immunologically compromised, we left the event a bit early on Friday and Saturday nights.  There are no meal breaks; there are food trucks in the parking lot said to be some of the finest in the city (and the ones I patronized were very good) and they recommend you slip away and bring back food to eat during the meetings.

Let me say I have been to several retreats for Christian musicians over the decades.  This one was what all the others only dreamed of being.  Here are some of the highlights of my experience.

Many of the speakers were excellent.  I apologize that with that intense a schedule I can’t specifically pinpoint what we heard from Wes Yoder (one of the original business names in the CCM world), Tom Jackson (the go-to guy for staging a musical show), or any of the others; I do remember that Dr. Ken Steorts, founding guitarist of Skillet, delved into a Biblical understanding of the function of artists (he has a book on the subject).  I had private meetings with Ezra Boggs and Vince Wilcox for the specific purpose of gaining some career advice, and I attended a songwriting session led by early Petra member Rob Frazier, at which I was invited to sing a portion of my song Free.

There were some things for which there was a charge, or an extra charge, and I took advantage of one, submitting a few of my songs and some biographical information to be distributed to a list of Nashville professionals who wouldn’t take anything like that from a stranger but would take it from people they know at The Extreme Tour.  That was just under two hundred dollars, and I don’t expect to hear the outcome of that for at least a few days, probably a few weeks.  I did not get tapped for a recording contract or management representation.  However, I did not pay the extra to be one of perhaps a dozen performers who played two songs each for a panel of industry judges on Friday and Saturday evenings.  Adam said it sickened him to watch eight strangers critize the performances of these mostly wonderful artists, although I sometimes found myself agreeing with their criticisms as things I would have said.  He felt even worse when I told him that those artists had paid somewhere around five hundred dollars each for the privilege of being so criticized.  However, while we watched a young band called Zoe Imperial absolutely wowed the attendees (and most of us fancy ourselves professional caliber musicians) with a rock/hip-hop blend in a show choreographed and performed as well as anything I’ve seen since Servant, one of the judges, Lamont Compton a.k.a. Supreme, leapt up on stage to offer them a management deal with him, so it does happen.

Recording artist Jennifer Knight playing with kids at inner city picnic

What Ted Brunn hopes will be the real impact, though, is that on Saturday night we were broken into teams and sent to Broadway in Nashville to make music and get attention and talk to people about the hope that is in us.  Because it was so late and my condition was deteriorating I did not attend these, and Adam took me back to the hotel; I’m sorry he missed it, but I did that kind of thing at the Boston Common and the Topsfield Fair decades ago, so I’ve seen it.  On Sunday afternoon we put on a concert (I really just watched) supporting a local church barbecue (O.K., so I also ate a hotdog and some chips) in a field that was supposed to be a park but there were too many shootings there for people to feel safe outside in it ordinarily.  Most of us were to interact with the people, to let them know, once again, that someone cares about them.  I watched a recently signed Universal recording artist attendee dancing with young ghetto children, and a Christian rapper hold a children’s dancing contest on the portable stage someone had loaned the Tour at the last minute when transportation for the stage they were going to use failed.  This organization is really about taking the message to the hopeless, and it was worth every minute of it and the respiratory distress I was still fighting to overcome the night after.

It struck me that this might seem like a lot of effort for the opportunity to play a bunch of free concerts.  I can’t speak to participating on the tour because I haven’t yet done so and have no guarantee that I will be invited.  However, it seems to me that my experience is fairly typical, that most of us play most of our concerts for free, mostly in venues which reach only Christians.  That’s not a problem for me, because my ministry is to be a teacher, which is primarily a ministry to believers, and my music frequently reflects that; but Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, and there’s good reason to think that that instruction is for all of us, or at least all of us doing any kind of ministry at all, so the opportunity to do for free what you are already doing for free but in front of people who need to hear the message alongside others doing the same might be worth the time and effort.

So to all those who thought it was some kind of scam, I am persuaded otherwise; and to those who wondered whether it would be worth it, I am persuaded that it is.  Probably you won’t get a Nashville management deal or recording contract; those are few and far between.  Maybe you won’t be convinced to volunteer for free concerts in ghettos and such, but you will still benefit, I think probably enormously, from the experience.  Maybe you will get something from it that will move your music and ministry career forward in a significant way.  Maybe that’s not the point of what you’re doing, and maybe you’ll discover what it is God really wants from you.

#292: Rising Resurrection Band

When I first arrived at the radio station early in ’79, I had heard of Resurrection Band.  They were known to be the cutting edge of Christian rock music at that time.  However, I had never heard them.  My first exposure came when our program director handed me the recently arrived copy of Rainbow’s End and told me we were never going to play it, so I might as well take it home and enjoy it.

I’m sure I listened to it once.

I don’t think I would say it was too much for me.  Rather, the distortion levels were so high that I couldn’t make much of it.  Wendy and Glenn Kaiser shared the vocals, and they both had very gravelly voices.  I often thought Wendy sounded a lot like Janis Joplin, although I’ve read others say she was reminiscent of Grace Slick.  I never cared for Joplin’s voice, and Wendy’s grated on me similarly.  Its best feature was that it blended well with Glenn, who although rock-rough was easier to hear.  When I try to think of the band’s typical sound, I always recall Wendy’s song Area 312, a somewhat cryptic reference to living in Chicago (312 was the Chicago telephone area code–remember those?).

I met Glenn sometime in ’82 at a local concert, where he gave me a copy of the DMZ album about a week before the record company released it.  I immediately fell in love with No Alibi; it is still my one go-to Rez Band song, and I have a good story for it.  You’ll remember that our station management had trouble with the concepts of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music.  The first time I played this song on the air I did so with some trepidation, concerned that we were pushing the envelope beyond what the management would accept.  In the middle of the song the general manager walked into the studio and said, “What is this?”  A bit nervously I replied that it was No Alibi from Resurrection Band‘s newly-released album DMZ.  She said, “Those are great words,” and turned and walked out of the studio.

I believe I said, “Yes!” in a most emphatic way.  It is a fabulous song.

I next encountered Glenn at Creation (’82, I think), where Resurrection Band was leading Sunday morning worship with songs like I Need Your Love.  I was backstage with Jeff Duffield, who with his wife Sue toured the church circuit with a Gaitheresque Inspirational/MOR sound.  He commented to me that he simply did not understand how music like this could be used for worship, yet it was obvious that the people in the crowd had hands raised and eyes closed and were singing along with their focus on Christ.  A few minutes later Glenn came our direction, and I mentioned this to him.  He recounted being at a festival on the west coast where one of the artists was a Christian punk rock band.  As he listened from back stage, he was thinking, “Lord, how can You use this?  How does this glorify You?”  Yet as he looked out at the crowds, he saw that the band was reaching the audience–and he felt so convicted, because he was passing the same kind of judgment on the new musical styles that had been passed on him.

I have had contact with Glenn over the internet sporadically since then.  Wendy turned her attention to raising their family, and Glenn shifted to Christian Blues with The Glenn Kaiser Band.  They’re leaders in the Jesus People USA organization in Chicago.

One does not stay the leader forever, though.  Not long after DMZ came to us, we received a single–a six minute single on, if memory serves, a ten-inch disc–from a new band called Barnabas, under the title Waiting for the Aliens, from their forthcoming album Approaching Light Speed.  I believe we played it once, just so our listeners would know it was out there–although it was very good and very well done.  Rez Band had blazed the trail for such bands to follow, and more would follow in the years ahead.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos.
  26. #290:  James the Other Ward.

#290: James the Other Ward

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #290, on the subject of James the Other Ward.

I have several times asked myself why I listed James Ward for an article of his own, instead of grouping him with the batch of male vocalists in one article still to come.  Part of the answer, I think, is that my cousin the Reverend Peter Grosso would probably kill me if I overlooked or minimized this artist who is, I understand, a friend of his, but part of it is that his Mourning to Dancing album is among my favorites, so he has at least earned that much from me.  I also heard him live once, but that’s part of the story.

One of three known covers of Ward’s Mourning to Dancing LP

It is of course not uncommon for persons with the same surnames to be unrelated, and although James Ward has the same name as Matthew Ward of Second Chapter of Acts, same as the maiden names of Matthew’s two sisters Annie Herring and Nellie Greisen from that same band, it does not appear that they are related; at least, no one ever suggested this, and in the entertainment world you usually do hear about such connections.  The Ward family of Acts appears to have been west-coast based, while James was on the east coast.  I know this because Peter, my cousin, apparently knew him through a New York state area summer camp called Peniel.  Sometime, possibly when I was still in high school (graduated in ’73), certainly before I got to Gordon (started in ’75), he was waving an album in front of me and raving about it–as “raving” as my soft-spoken older Presbyterian cousin ever raved.  Somehow, I don’t think he played any of it for me, and I can’t tell you anything about the sound, but my recollection of the cover was that it was that of a low-budget self-produced release, and in perhaps my own youthful hubris I was not impressed.

When I was at Gordon College, Peter was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary right up the road (the official connections between the two schools were finally and formally dissolved during my first year there), and when Ward played in our cafeteria (we had no auditorium, and the chapel wasn’t large enough to hold the entire student body) with his band Elán, Peter came.  After the concert, Peter wept.

I, a musician in my own mind, found the concert interesting and enjoyable.  Elán was an avant-garde jazz band that did a lot of atonal and non-metered instrumental music.  They were very good at it.  I don’t know that I would have bought an album had they offered one, but it was the sort of music a composer should hear at least once so he has some idea of what’s beyond the traditional boundaries of music.

Peter was a pastor, in training, and his memories of the performances of James Ward were that they ministered.  Elán did not minister; they performed, and they talked about how they achieved some of the effects, like a song that really was a musical version of an impressionist painting of a sunrise.  For Peter, every good thing about a James Ward concert was lost.

Perhaps half a decade later, when Mourning to Dancing was released, Ward commented in an interview that people “didn’t understand” Elán.  I thought at the time that he was wrong, at least that in relation to his earier fans–such as Peter–it wasn’t about whether or not they understood the music, but that they missed the ministry.  I once sat on the edge of a conversation between some listener who had opinions about the nature of music (possibly reflecting Francis Schaeffer’s work) and some Christian musician who had grown up in church (and it may actually have been Ward after that concert) in which the musician was attempting to elicit from the listener an explanation of what made particular kinds of music “Christian” or “not Christian”.  As a composer, I am inclined to agree with the musician:  if modernist tonalities communicate what I want to say, they are Christian to the degree that I am communicating a Christian messsage through them.  However, if I have placed this conversation correctly in my memory, both parties were missing that critical element:  it isn’t whether the music fits a particular style or mold, but whether it is communicating a worthwhile message.  Pendereki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is one of the most discordant atonal non-metered pieces ever written, but it communicates something significant.  There is no particular reason why avant-garde jazz could not be a medium for a Christian message.  The problem with Elán was that it wasn’t.

Peter and I never talked about Ward again.  He left Gordon-Conwell for a pastorate in Pennsylvania, and I became a Christian disk jockey in southern New Jersey.  Thereafter we were rarely at the same family gatherings, and the matter never arose.  However, I received Ward’s Mourning to Dancing album at the radio station, and the spare copy went into my collection and was much enjoyed here.  It is the kind of album that has no losers on it, and which is best heard straight through.  From the opening strains of Highway (reminiscent of the the Elán days until the verse shifts into light rock), the album gives insights into the life of an on-the-road Christian musician along with solid Christian songs such as Hold Up My Hands (no online video found), Who Can Separate Us (again, no video found), and then the mellow title song Mourning to Dancing.  The “B” side began with another glimpse into the life of the musician, Late At Night Again (again, no video), and the intriguing Holy Observer (need I say it?), then Gotta Get Home (“…to her own bedroom….”) (again), in which the life on the road includes that he traveled with his wife and young daughter.  The bouncing Precious Is Your Mercy follows, and I am really disappointed at just how many of these are not available online, but the final song, the wonderful So His Honor, was covered by the band Truth in this recording.

I find myself very confused as to why I recognize the cover of his next album Faith Takes a Vision, but none of the titles are familiar and the music is barely so, despite being very good.  Maybe it was just that I didn’t get a copy so it slipped into forgetfulness.  Listening to the vaguely familiar Not How, Maybe I’ll Trust You Now, Take Hold, Don’t Blame It On My God, and others, I can’t help feeling that I missed something good.

Those were the only albums I heard; I wish I had heard the one Peter had, which does not appear in online discographies, although I don’t know the title and barely remember the cover.

I feel I should mention that Ward’s talents lie in his musical compositions and lyrical content.  His piano work and arrangements are always solid.  His voice, though, is unique, and it would be easy to fault him there.  He does his own backup vocals quite well, but it would be difficult to imagine someone else blending with him.  He is in the category of singer-songwriters carried by the strength of their songs rather than their singing.  That’s not, from me, a criticism.  I just sometimes notice the flaws in his voice, as one does often with other popular singer-songwriters.  I like it overall; it’s expressive.  It certainly is not operatic, and probably wouldn’t win any television competitions.  Yet it makes for comfortable listening.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos

#288: Prophets Daniel Amos

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #288, on the subject of Prophets Daniel Amos.

When I arrived at the radio station and first encountered the self-titled 1976 debut album from Daniel Amos, my reaction was, why have I never heard of these guys?

Not that they were the top of my list of favorites then.  They were the sort of southern country rock typified by The Eagles, and I have always joked that The Eagles were a country band (because they rank among my wife’s favorite rock bands, and she declares vehemently that she hates country music).

On review, I remember The Bible.  However, the song that sticks with me, the one that decades later I still sing sometimes when I’m driving in the car, is the nineteen-forties jazz-styled novelty Skeptic’s Song.

I never heard the follow-up Shotgun Angel, but they moved away from the southern fried rock sound with Horrendous Disk, an album I think I never heard because the program director decided it was too extreme for our format at the time.  I do remember seeing it, but that isn’t much help.

I’m not sure whether they were influenced by Mark Heard (we’ll get to him eventually) or whether they were reaching the same conclusions independently, but their next album was something called ¡Alarma!, volume one of three in The ¡Alarma! Chronicles.  The songs were Alternative Rock and New Wave, the target audience the secular listeners of Europe.  It was set up as something of a rock opera type album, and its liner notes went for enough pages almost to qualify as a novella, telling the first part of a story which had me lost and confused.  I more vaguely remember the second volume, Doppelganger, and am sure I was out of the station before Vox Humana was released.

I’m guessing that it must have worked somewhere, because they not only managed to release all three volumes (albeit on three different labels), they continued releasing albums in spits and spurts up through last year’s Ten Biggies From Beyond.  I was impressed by the quality and direction of their work, even though very little of it actually appealed to me.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.

#286: Blind Seer Ken Medema

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #286, on the subject of Blind Seer Ken Medema.

I had heard of Ken Medema, and even heard one or two of his recordings.  He was the Christian version of the blind piano player singer-songwriter, and was a dynamic performer by all accounts.  It was said that when you spoke with him personally, his sense of space was so good that he appeared to be looking directly at your eyes.

When his best of collection, Ken Medema’s Finest…Lookin’ Back, reached us at the radio station around 1980, I recognized at least two of the songs.  One, which closes the collection, was the title song of his debut album, Sonshiny Day (yes, there is a pun in the spelling).  It was what we would have called Contemporary MOR–a technical term in the industry for “Middle of the Road”, the stuff of adult contemporary radio stations and inspirational radio in Christian circles.  It was strongly jazz influenced, but without being Jazz, and his piano playing was always as good as anyone.

The other familiar song is probably his signature piece, the one known by most people who have ever heard anything by him, although it is almost more a dramatic performance than a song.  I’ve seen someone do interpretive dance to Moses, and although I don’t think I could ever do the entire song, I find myself singing fragments of it from time to time.  It is one of those songs you really should hear at least once in your life.

We later received a quiet relaxing solo album, mostly just Ken, his voice and his piano, entitled Sunday Afternoon.  I found a discography for it on his own site, but nowhere else, and I find no videos of the songs I remember–particularly the title song which opens and closes the album (“I know the feeling will not last, ’cause Monday’s comin’ soon, and How can I hang on after Sunday’s gone, how can I hang on to Sunday afternoon?”), and the dynamic On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (“…I stand and cast a mournful eye to Canaan’s fair and distant land where I shall never die.”)  It is a wonderfully relaxing recording throughout.  It ranks among my favorite quiet albums.

Born December 7, 1943, he is reportedly still here and still performing.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.

#285: An Expression of Gratitude

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #285, on the subject of An Expression of Gratitude.

I need to thank a lot of people.

The complications include that I do not know who you all are, and I’m not sure of the propriety either of naming those whose names I have or contacting you personally.

Thus I am thanking you all, however many of you there are, through this web log post.

This arises from the fact that I recently had a myocardial infarction–a heart attack–which put me in the hospital.  I posted that in this Facebook post, and somewhere about twenty responses down I posted again with news of the Friday and Monday procedures, and my Tuesday discharge and such.

Many of you sent what I guess would be called “good wishes”, that is, comments, messages, whatever, hoping that I would get better.  Thank you.  I have done so to a significant degree, although I am still a bit weak and officially convalescing (and my wife has already scolded me for overworking once she knew how much I did yesterday, the day after my discharge, but someone had to get the boys to work and someone had to pick up my prescriptions, and more often than not I find that someone is me, particularly when she is working a string of night shifts, driving herself for the first time since her broken hip, and needing to sleep during the day).  So I am not fully recovered, but I am back at work.

Many of you prayed, and for this I am particularly grateful.  You have, of course, obligated me to let you know about the answers to your prayers so that many of you can give thanks to God for the grace extended through the prayers of many of you (cf. II Corinthians 1:11).  I have largely done that in the Facebook post.  I am not out of the woods entirely–I have a bag of new medications (and of all things the pharmacy couldn’t fill the “aspirin” prescription (chewable baby aspirin–how could they not have that?), so someone has to go back for it today), and I have two appointments for a cardiac stress test and a followup to decide what the test results mean.  Those are in the second week of March.

At least two of you made a point of spreading the word of my debilitation, and of encouraging people who at least know who I am to support me financially during this time.  That has resulted in a few gifts of significant amounts through my PayPal.me account–the first real activity there since it opened, and enough to pay for this bag of prescriptions and a bit more.  I have not seen any new Patreon patrons yet, but Patreon’s notification system is sometimes wonky so I’m going to include mention of that–because I am grateful to those of you who have made an effort to keep me going, and thankful to God that you are there, to those who contributed and to those who encouraged others to do so.

I’ll extend these thanks to those who have been meaning to send a bit of help my direction and simply haven’t yet done so; I know what that’s like, as there are often times when I have something I need to do soon that goes for days or weeks or even months before I manage it.  So thank you for the prayers and support you are going to send in the future.  You really do make a difference.

As the picture says, thank you.

#283: Keith Green Crashing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #283, on the subject of Keith Green Crashing.

As we already covered (in web log post #281:  Keith Green Launching, linked below), Keith Green had two excellent and successful Christian albums without a weak song on them.  Now he produced So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt, of which the somewhat goofy title song was an instant hit.  There were several other excellent songs on this album as well, such as Pledge My Head to Heaven, Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful, and Grace By Which I Stand.  However, whether it was because they weren’t quite as good or because by the early eighties the Christian music field was starting to get more crowded, it was not the music on this album that made it significant.

When Keith delivered the masters to his company Sparrow Records, he told them he did not want them to sell it–he wanted it to be given away, to anyone who requested it, for whatever they chose to give, even if it was nothing at all.  He thought it more important to get the music into the ears of people than to worry about paying bills, and was confident that the contributions would cover all the costs of the record.

Sparrow didn’t see it quite the same way.  They were certain that donations would cover the costs of Keith’s record, but that’s not how the music industry worked, even in the Christian field.  The problem wasn’t whether those donations would cover the costs of distributing Keith’s record but whether there would be what we would call profits–a dirty word for some, but an essential facet of the way the system worked.  You see, when Keith made his first album, Sparrow Records took a chance, advancing a considerable sum of money to pay for professional level production of an album by an unknown artist which might be completely lost.  Sparrow was still in the business of finding and funding new artists, paid for from the profits from the established artists, and a new album from Keith Green was a guaranteed best seller which would provide a lot of money for that purpose.  Keith was taking that away from them, on the grounds that he thought he should be able to give away his record free if he paid them the cost of producing it.

A compromise was reached.  In the United States, Egypt was released by Pretty Good Records; Sparrow handed the standard distribution channels–record stores, radio promotion–and all overseas releases.  Keith and and his wife Melody set up an organization to mail copies to anyone who wrote to them requesting one, putting the donations toward costs and future recordings.  In a sense, he had cut himself off from helping any other Christian artists; in another sense, he had focused his ministry on reaching the listeners.

Two years later he released Songs for the Shepherd, which was a good but not remarkable recording, again through Pretty Good Records with Sparrow’s assistance.  Several other Keith Green albums would be released in the years to come, but this was the last one he would see.  That year, 1982, he had visitors at the ranch where they ran everything, and wanting to show them all they were doing he took them up in his private airplane.  The plane was already heavily loaded with records and literature that went to concerts with him, and the number of passengers exceeded recommendations, and it crashed killing all on board.  Melody was not on that plane.

Many in the Christian music world were upset; many said that apparently God had decided to take Keith home.  That was not the unanimous opinion.  At least one Evangelical author at the time wrote to say that Keith died because he broke God’s law–in this case, God’s Laws of Aerodynamics, trying to fly a plane that was overloaded.  If, he argued, you violate the laws of God, the end is death, and sometimes it comes swiftly, as it did here.  This is on some level a bit ironic, because Keith often veered toward legalism–his The Sheep and the Goats misses the point of that parable, and Glen Kaiser (of Resurrection Band) informs me that more than once others in ministry felt it necessary to admonish him on that point.

I cannot begin to guess who is right.  I know Keith has been missed since, and that he would have continued as a popular and successful artist, but it seems likely that, as with quite a few of those we have already covered and will cover yet who were huge then but are barely recognized now, he was probably past the zenith of his career and on the slow decline.  Those first two albums are still among the best Christian music has ever produced, and it is doubtful that even he could have surpassed them.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.