Song of the Day: David Wilcox

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Tuesdays are for music, and this week, it’s David Wilcox.

David has long been one of singer/songwriter-dom’s luminaries, one of those guys who generates anecdotes as often as songs.  There’s the one about how someone looked down an alleyway in Nashville and saw him playing a song for someone. Or the one about how he and Allen Levi played a show where each answered the other guy’s song with a song until a story had been told. Or the time he met James Taylor and James was the nervous one.

David was a special guest at the Behold the Lamb of God Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium in 2007, and one of my proudest moments was sitting beside him on the stage and hearing him enjoy, one after another, the music of my dear friends. He said, “Ahh” and “Mmm” in all the right places. It was a delight.

The other night he spoke in Franklin about songwriting for a few hours.  He fanned the flame of my love for stories and music and the way they come together in songs–not because of some clever line or hook, but because songs have the power to connect one heart to another. They even have the power to connect one heart to Another.

He said that when he sings a song for an audience, it’s like there are these wheat fields before him that need water. Behind him is an enormous reservoir. Playing a song that is True is like opening the tap and allowing some of that water to spill out. A beautiful picture, and the reason playing concerts and writing books thrills me so. That picture is what my song “Let There Be Light” is all about: using our gifts to speak light into the darkness, love into the loneliness, music into the clamor.

There are a lot of songs–a lot of songs–that I could choose, so I decided on the title track to the first Wilcox album I ever bought, with one of the best first lines I’ve ever heard.  It’s called “Underneath,” and features Alison Krauss and Union Station.  Here’s the iTunes link.

 

Underneath

I know that compassion is all out of fashion,
and anger is all the rage…
Grow up and give in to that cynical spin
that you see on most every page

We all know what’s wrong with the system
how the people are puppets and fools.
If they’re not strong, it will trick them,
they’ll get used up like factory tools:
The kids just give up in those schools…

…yeah, but what is it, really, that’s keeping me
from living a life that’s true?
When the worries speak louder than wisdom,
it drowns out all the answers I knew,

so I’m tossed on the waves on the surface.
Still, the mystery’s dark and deep,
with a much more frightening stillness…
underneath

Hopelessness always comes easy.
But “easy” does not make it right.
Courage can look past that surface,
but fear will still put up a fight.

When I get scared and scattered,
and I don’t know where to begin,
why even care; it doesn’t matter.
Why fight when you know you can’t win?
It’s easier just to give in.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


18 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Yes! David Wilcox! This man deserves an entire subject button of his own here in the Rabbit Room. He is a pure artist who has always struck me as fearless and generous with his writing– and the result is that you end up with albums you’d run into a burning building to rescue if you had to– maybe even before you’d save your pet.

    This song above and the entire album are both wonderful. “Underneath” was the fifth David Wilcox CD in my collection. There’s another tune from this record, “Down Here,” that when I first heard it, I sat back and wondered, “Who writes stuff like this? How did he just do that? Where did that come from?” It is a brilliant song from a brilliant record. “Guilty Either Way” and “Sex and Music” are also worth the prices of the record on their own in my opinion.

    Friends, this is the tip of the David Wilcox iceberg, in case you’re just finding out about him. “How Did You Find Me Here,” his first that I know of, is virtually flawless. I’m also a HUGE fan of his “Songs and Stories Live.” There you get to hear his live performance and the way he tells stories. He is a rare artist– the kind that somes along only every so often. Enjoy.

    David, if you’re out there reading this, welcome to the Rabbit Room. Write us a story some time.

  2. Chad

    The ice cap is melting into a slew of David Wilcox memories! I first heard the guy on a cassette tape that someone had kindly recorded for my roommate in college. When I heard those songs resonating from behind the closed room of his bedroom door, I placed my ear to the door and listened for what seems like an eternity before barging in to ask who was playing. After hearing the name David Wilcox, I never looked back! Turns out those songs were from the album How Did You Find Me Here which I find to be one of David’s most essential and pure albums from beginning to end. In fact I always list that album as the album of albums, the reason I listen to music, the reason why anyone should listen to music! It just doesn’t get any better! There have been albums that I tire of, get bored with, or just forget altogether; but this one stays with me. Fifteen years later it still resonates deep within me after first hearing it from behind that bedroom door.

  3. Aaron Roughton

    I’ve never owned a David Wilcox cd, but I’ve been to see him in concert out here in Austin 3 of the last 4 times he’s been here. I listened to some recorded stuff on line, but what was missing was the magic of the live moment.

    In fact, I really enjoyed NOT knowing the songs when he’d play them live. There aren’t many artists who can hold my attention with songs that I’ve never heard before, but he’s one of them. Andy G. is another. There’s an indescribable feeling of expectation at David’s concerts. I always expect to be moved, and I’m rarely let down. (No pressure, David.)

  4. Ron Davis

    Wow.

    That 2007 Ryman show was my introduction to Wilcox. I’ve picked up “Big Horizon” and “Live Songs & Stories” since then. And I just moved “Underneath” up my want list.

  5. nora

    I am not ashamed to admit that I discovered David Wilcox through Brian Boitano, because there’s no shame in loving figure skating. I don’t want to admit that I didn’t know it was Wilcox who covered John Waite’s “Missing You” for almost a decade after first hearing it (thank you, early days of Google.) I am a little ashamed to admit that when I saw Wilcox open for Jars of Clay, I didn’t head over to his merch table to discover “Big Horizon” there, waiting to answer the question that lingered in my heart for years.

    I drove alone from Indianapolis for the ’07 “Behold” show at the Ryman. When I saw David Wilcox listed as a performer, I believe I audibly gasped and wiped a tear from my cheek. I drove down to be a part of the Nashville music family office party, where everyone played a couple of their favorites and then joined in on the world’s best singalong. However, watching Wilcox break into a broad smile at the resolution of a chord or nodding in agreement to a poignant lyric produced a personal experience far richer than any I could have hoped for. As I drove home the next morning, I plugged in my iPod, put the four albums I owned on shuffle, and didn’t stop listening until spring.

  6. Tom Bubb

    Thanks so very much for posting this song Andrew! David Wilcox has been on my musical radar ever since a teacher at my old church played “Start with the ending” for us at the beginning of a bible study on Spiritual Discipline years ago. I meant to get How Did You Find Me Here ages ago but I never got around to it. Now that album and Underneath are at the top of my list with a bullet… and of course Mark Heard. 🙂

  7. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Count me among Rabbit Room David Wilcox fanatics. My David Wilcox collection includes every CD he’s released, except for the one he made with his wife, his recent download only record, and How Did You Find Me Here. I do have several of the tracks from How Did You Find Me Here on other projects. I’ve seen David twice live. His lyrics are spellbinding. If the guy wanted to travel the country as an instrumental guitarist, people would still flock to see him. His lyrics are often like musical parables. Few artists are as joyful as David Wilcox. If you haven’t seen him in concert, you must. That’s where he is really in his element. As Russ noted, Songs and Stories Live gives you a nice view from the stage. And to hear the guy laugh is worth the price of admission.

  8. Andrew

    I helped bring David to perform at Wheaton College in 1997. At the same time, we’d had another songwriter visiting campus to stage the debut of a musical he’d been working on.

    To say it was mind-blowing to watch David Wilcox over Rich Mullins’ shoulder wouldn’t do the moment justice.

    Another interesting David Wilcox intersection is this conversation he had with Billy Crockett. This is a beautiful exchange between two great artists:

    http://review.bluerocktexas.com/files/v3/as-if-i-came-from-the-ocean.pdf

  9. Ed Eubanks

    For what it’s worth, How Did You Find Me Here? was not David’s first recording; Nightshift Watchman was. Both are of the same caliber, by the way, though the recording on Nightshift Watchman is a bit more raw.

  10. Chad

    Ed – How Did You Find Me Here was the first David Wilcox recording that my ears heard, but not his first recording as you correctly noted.

    Listened to the interview on The Drew Marshall Show yesterday. Must say I hadn’t paid enough attention to the tune Three Brothers to realize it was speaking to the relationship between Jews, Muslims and Christians. Now I’m hearing the song in a different light. Also, was moved by David’s responses to Christianity in his own life and resistance to give simple answers to direct questions. After listening to the interview, I felt more compelled to seek understanding and mutual ground with those who hold opposing views to my own. This helped immensely with my conversations held over dinner last night with a friend from the Muslim mindset. I actually felt, strangely enough, more compassionate.

  11. Profile photo of Evie Coates

    Evie Coates

    @eviecoates

    Russ! Me too, me too!! “Down Here” just slays me — I remember listening to that album overandoverandover again while I was painting a circus mural in the back stairwell at a restaurant in Chattanooga. The eerie, almost creepy nature of that particular song put me in the right frame of mind, somehow, for painting borderline-mad tigers jumping through flaming hoops and sullen children with polka-dotted socks and tutus. When he whispers “the hatch is locked…..” at the beginning — geez. GOOD stuff.

  12. Larry

    Andrew,

    Great post. David Wilcox is a favorite of mine. He is one of few artists that you can take a few lines from one of his songs and just begin writing and journaling on their meaning and impact. His use of language is masterful. Eye of the Hurricane is my favorite album and I can’t hear Language of the Heart without reliving every unrequieted love.

  13. Tony Heringer

    Thanks all. I don’t anything about this fellow, but one song and I can see what all the buzz is about. I’m in the midst of a long look at the Wisdom books and this line jumped out at me “When the worries speak louder than wisdom, it drowns out all the answers I knew, so I’m tossed on the waves on the surface.” That line fits not only with the study, but with current events. I pray our public officials are reading this post
    🙂

  14. Kenny Clark

    So many great songs already mentioned. One of his lighter songs that I love is Rusty Old American Dream. I love the wordsmith-ing on lines like, “I am a tail-fin road locomotive from the days of cheap gasoline”.

  15. Peter B

    What a great way to wake up from my “away from the Rabbit Room” nap.

    Thanks, Andrew, now I have yet another reason to make that show at the Ryman someday.

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