Lives of Quiet Desperation

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My first career was radio broadcasting. My big break came when I was hired as the all night guy at 59/WOW Omaha. That era was the tail end of the glory days for music on AM radio. With 5,000 watts and a favorable dial position, our signal blasted into Canada, seven or eight states, and with the skywave signal during my shift in the middle of the night, sometimes more. With high profile promotions and good ratings, it was a heady time for a small town boy of nineteen. I was the all night Jeff Spencer.

A big part of my motivation for choosing radio as a career was music—choosing it, playing it, and living it. In retrospect, the late 70s weren’t really the glory days of rock and roll, but I still have many good memories and I’ll admit it—I thought the music was pretty good.

I appreciate the way that music anchors memories with a vivid association. Like Pavlov’s dog, the feelings attached to those memories come rushing back when those old songs are played.  With many songs I can tell you where I was, what I was doing, what I felt, and what I was thinking when I first heard them.

I’ve always been a lyrics man. Is it any wonder that Andrew Peterson became my favorite artist? I like a great radio hook as much as the next person, but an artist with a flair for writing great lyrics almost always has my ear.

When it became commonplace for record companies to remaster and release music on CD, that was initially released on vinyl, especially those that hit big prior to 1980, I started buying up a lot of the albums I listened to and played on the radio (not necessarily the same thing).

I could have spent my money wiser because I rarely listen to that old stuff anymore. I know some of you will understand when I say that it just felt good knowing that I had it. Like the musical equivalent of money in the bank, I could simply pull it out when I needed it or wanted to have a little fun. In the early days of CDs, who would have thought that most genres of music—even crap—would later be widely available? I think I had a low-grade fear that I might never see some of that stuff again—and just wanted to preserve my copy.

Like a willing and able butler at our beck and call, the world wide web has evolved into nearly whatever we want it to be. I particularly relish the way in which it serves as a massive archive, a never ending literal musical repository. Whether it’s auction sites, Amazon, artist and record company websites, down-loads, iTunes, myspace, Virb, YouTube and so much more—it appears my fear of obsolescence was unfounded. Apparently, the music will live on.

Anyway, I’m rambling; I’ll get to the point. For no particular reason, I dug out The Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley (I know, I know) a few weeks ago. Blessings sometimes come to us quite serendipitously.

It was fun singing along to “Nights Are Forever,” “Gone Too Far,” “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” and “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again,” but when “Love is the Answer” came up in rotation, a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1979, it was like I was pierced by an unexpected arrow. It was a puncture that was sharp and quick, somewhere between pleasure and pain, blood and tears. I was a little shocked to be moved by something so familiar and linear. After all, over 25 years ago I’d memorized the lyric and sang along hundreds of times. I don’t necessarily mean to imply that “Love is the Answer” is a particularly great song though I can’t deny liking the song. In fact, England Dan and John Ford Coley used two annoying instrumental devices that permeated the radio waves in that era: the artificial sounding electric piano, and the saxophone. But despite the once trendy, now archaic musical vibe, the strength of the lyrics still reached out and grabbed me by the chest.

The song was written by Todd Rundgren—a pretty good songwriter many would agree. I played and sang “Love is the Answer” hundreds of times, every 2 1/2 hours every day during my air shift alone. I casually remember thinking of it as another ubiquitous good-bye song, disposable pop music, and on some level, that’s what it is. I don’t remember being captivated by the obvious spiritual connotations.  But isn’t that the truth about life? Better yet, isn’t that true about the way God often instructs us, revealing important truths in places we least expect to find them, even in the middle of a cheesy old pop song? I doubt that I expected to find anything of value. So I didn’t. Until recently.

Indeed, in my lens of forty something eyes, I heard a different song this time—one that brought me close to tears, both for myself and my fellow man. Sometimes the ostensibly commonplace is so common, if there is something of beauty to be discovered, it can’t be placed. I was bowled over by it’s heretofore camouflaged message—a simple, yet profound message that our Lord proclaims incessantly: LOVE IS THE ANSWER (I AM THE ANSWER). It is, of course, His primary message. And yet, in an age when a beer commercial  or political debate is often more apt to capture our attention than the Still Small Voice, that fundamental message gets lost in the obnoxious jungle of modern culture.

We may behave as an adults with a veneers of confidence, happiness, and material stuff. Still, we walk the path of homeless, lonely, itinerant beings. The Henry David Thoreau quote about, “The mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation,” seems more true now than ever. Sadly, the world averts it’s collective eyes as we walk on by. Yes we care, but we are nursing our own hurts, and reaching out is risky business. And we are in a hurry. We are busy.

The Bible is clear. As believers, we are new creatures. As His children, we can find hope and joy. Walking in Him, we bask in peace that passes all understanding. In Him, we can do all things from the strength which He alone provides. Yes, we are complete TODAY. It’s not a tall tale, this Christianity thing. Still, the place in which we find ourselves right now, is literally down to earth.

We aren’t Home yet. It’s sometimes painfully obvious. Having tasted the joy of Jesus, it’s almost as if by contrast—when God is silent, when Tsunami comes, when an elderly loved one endures the winter of their lives with unbearable pain and purpose that is hard to unearth, when missing friends that are scattered about, when tossed about like styrofoam on a hurricane ravaged sea only to be pulled underwater at the very moment our stregth seems expended—when we lean on our own understanding for any of this, it’s then I realize how much I long to be a child again—in the arms of my Lord.

Is that you, Lord, telling me to keep on walking towards home?

“Love is the Answer”

Name your price
A ticket to paradise
I can’t stay here any more
And I’ve looked high and low
I’ve been from shore to shore to shore
If there’s a short cut I’d have found it
But there is no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me, Love is the answer
Shine on us all
Set us free
Love is the answer

Who knows why
Someday we all must die
We’re all homeless boys and girls
And we are never heard
It’s such a lonely world
People turn their heads
And walk on by
Tell me is it worth just another try

Are we alive
Or just a dying planet?
What are the chances?
Ask the man in your heart for the answers
And when you feel afraid

Love one another
When you’ve lost your way
Love one another
And when you’re all alone
Love one another
And when you’re far from home
Love one another
And when you’re down and out
Love one another
And when your hopes run out
Love one another
And when you need a friend
Love one another
We got to love one another


3 Comments

  1. Steve Narrow

    My dear friend Curt,

    What a wonderful post! I remember that song but had not understood it’s meaning until re-reading the words of your article. I’m in complete accord that music rests someplace deeper than what we read, hear or are taught by other means. The evidence for this 50 year old is that I can still remember music from by younger, bygone days. (I used to love “the Runt”)

    The imprinting in my soul helped move me along in my relationship to the Lord when, as the Proprietor so eloquently penned, “I heard the song that took my hand…” That song, that album was “Carried Along”. I was so impressed with the lyrics and depth that I was moved in my spirit to surrender even more to the calling of Christ for relationship and obedience. As a result, I sold my entire secular record collection and now fill my ears with songs that teach me about and glorify our Great God.

    Please understand, I don’t condemn secular music at all. There is much that honors God that would not be thought of as expressly Christian, such as the topic of your post. I tend to agree with a pastor friend of mine who says that music and media in general can have one of three outcomes when consumed: It can draw us nearer to God and glorify Him; It can have a neutral effect; or it can send a message that detracts from our relationship with Him. For me, I have simply found that the precious few hours I have to listen to music are far better spent with that which draws me nearer to the Lord. Kathy Mattea wrote “My mind is not a junk yard… It is holy ground”. I believe this to be true and try and fill it today with the things that touch my soul and imprint for the good.

    Thank you for the great words as I’m reminded how it was the music of one A. Peterson that took my hand. Glory to God.

    Steve

  2. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Curt, you and I are from neighboring generations, but do you want to know something funny– and absolutley true? My first memory of live music was when my parents took my brother and me to see England Dan and John Ford Coley. Not kidding at all. We used to love to listen to them on the record player, along with Anne Murray, Dan Folgelberg and Kenny Rogers. I haven’t thought about them in years, but jut seeing their name in print in your post shot me back nearly three decades to images of two brothers in front of a console record player in a pink and white mobil home in the farmlands of Indiana.

    Thanks for the trip.

  3. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    This is a song that CCM artists have covered for the very points you make here–similar to “Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel.

    It’s really cool how God was kneading His love into your soul though you thought you were just digging a pop song. I’ve had similar experiences with countless tunes from my past — its really an awesome thing to know “That in his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9) and songs too. 🙂

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