The Graceful Antithesis of Love

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There’s been some disagreement from time to time here at the RR about this or that. One such debatable item is to what extent we should expose ourselves to the toxicity of the world in art. Some say more, some say less. Pretty much everyone believes we should be thoughtful about it and remembers that we are called to be holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.

One area where I find it pretty soul-destroying to be in the toxic waste is in the area of music about love. We’ve pretty much boiled ourselves in a slow stew of erroneous notions of love for quite a while. So much so that if we aren’t intentionally counter-cultural we develop many horrific assumptions. Some of these are pornographic, some sentimental, but the field is full of lies and it’s hard to walk anywhere without being inundated with selfish messages which, if ingested, are a poison pill for us and those we ought to love.

I actually heard a song on the radio once (what I was doing listening to the radio I don’t know) and it was a song dedicated to extolling a mistress, even containing the phrase, “the entrée’s not as good without a little something on the side.” Wow. That’s not helpful.

OK, that’s a downer. But I am writing to commend. In the wasteland of love-songs which feel like the coordinated efforts of hell, there is a break in the fog. There are some grown-up love songs. And by grown-up I mean mature, in the sense of that great, biblical objective. There are songs which encourage a sacrificial and committed love. There are songs that admit weakness, but foster passion for the wife of your youth, for the woman of your vows. There are songs that speak the truth with beauty, and I love them. I’m certainly not someone who insists on message music, or message art in general. But messages are everywhere, and I’ll just say that it is much better for me in every way to hear AP’s “Don’t Give Up On Me,” than the “A Little Something on the Side” song

“Don’t Give Up On Me” is perfectly expressive of real, grown-up, married love. Not sentimentalized for a sort of emotional pornography, or celebrating intimacy of body and detachment of committed life. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in a social science to see that everyone does better when mom and dad are committed to each other, faithful, passionate for each other, not lied to about the cost of messing with God’s design.

I think songs like “Don’t Give Up On Me” help us maintain the necessary antithesis with grace, something that’s sometimes pretty hard to do.

I have to mention one other song and that is Sara Groves’ song “Loving a Person.” Sara has many songs that fit in the category of “grown-up, truthful love songs,” but this one may be the best. (Plus it’s right after my favorite Sara song, “Why it Matters.”) Check out the simple profundity of the chorus:

“Hold on to me
I’ll hold on to you
Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through”

That’s grown-up love. That’s the kind of song I want my kids to think of when they think of love.  And myself. That’s the song I want stuck in my head while I’m at work, or when I’m walking past a Victoria’s Secret store.

So my question for you, kids, is what grown-up, truthful love songs do you love?  I call “Don’t Give Up On Me” and “Loving a Person.” And I’m fighting the urge to name some other favorites.

What are your favorites? Why?


45 Comments

  1. josh

    Love is Different by Derek Webb… go read the words to it and I think that’ll be plenty of explanation

  2. Jeannette

    “Give it Time” by Andy Gullahorn. Amazing reminder that the things that might drive me nuts now are the things that I may treasure down the road..

  3. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Ron, I wasn’t expecting to see a reference to “Trashy Side” on the Rabbit Room, but since we’re on the subject, I do love that little couplet from the chorus:

    ‘They say that opposites attract, but I don’t agree.
    I want a woman just as tacky as me.’

    My wife, oddly, doesn’t like that couplet as much as I do.

  4. Aaron Roughton

    The Pina Colada Song. Because what’s more grown up than being disgruntled and putting an ad in the newspaper to find another lover and having your own disgruntled mate answer the ad? Awkward. Maybe a song describing the aftermath and whether they ever became fully gruntled again would have been more grown up.

    Sorry, I tried to hold it together and not be flippant (for once), but I just could not come up with a serious entry, at least not by a secular artist. The closest I came is a song by Nuno Bettencourt on his first solo album after leaving Extreme . It’s called Fine By Me, and the chorus says:

    According to them I’ve lost my freedom
    Love ’em and leave ’em is not my freedom
    Maybe it’s true I’m a bit addicted
    But being free is simply loving you

  5. evie

    Two immediately come to mind, and not just because of their to-the-point titles. Both selections have such perfectly simple, sparse melodies and instrumentations — fitting backdrops for the yearning that emanates from each vocal (and its surrounding harmonies). I’m including favorite phrases:

    “Your Love” by Julie Lee
    You’re like a cloudy day in August, bringin’ all that lovely rain
    Never knew that I was thirsty until I had a taste of your love….

    “Love” by Paul Simon
    Cool me, cool my fever high
    Hold me when I cry
    I need it so much
    Makes you want to get down and crawl like a beggar for its touch
    And all the while it’s free as air
    Like plants, the medicine is everywhere…

  6. LauraP

    “Any Other Way” by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn. “When first we met, love was a feeling But making it last, that’s a decision.”

  7. rachel

    beth nielsen chapman is one of my favorites … all of her songs that are about her husband (who died when their son was only a few years old) are heart-rending, soul-exposing grown-up love songs. i really like “no one knows but you” (and “sand and water” is so good, if not an orthodox ‘love song’), but my favorite favorite favorite is “seven shades of blue.”

    I want to hold you now
    And listen to you breathe
    It’s like the ocean’s sound
    Whispering through the trees
    In the hollow of your shoulder
    There’s a tidepool of my tears
    Where the waves came crashing over
    And the shoreline disappears

    O’baby close your eyes
    Fly back there with me
    Where the phosphor shines
    Green flashlights from the sea
    And our nets were full of soft shells
    And our hearts were free from toil
    And we made love on the kitchen table
    Till the water reached the boil

    We hold it all for a little
    while, don’t we… Kiss the dice, taste the rain
    Like little knives upon our tongue
    We can do no wrong when the lights go on
    And the music plays And we take the stage
    like we own the place As if time were cheap
    and the night forever young

    So let ’em turn my soul
    Seven shades of blue
    And with the ocean’s roll
    I will wave to you
    And the birds will sing my laughter
    And the whales will steal my song
    But I’ll be ok forever after
    And the world will get along

  8. Charlotte

    “Hold up My Arms” by Andrew Peterson. I love that song! I want it played at my wedding!

  9. whipple

    I’ll have to say that one of my favorite albums to do with honest love is “Drunkard’s Prayer” by Over the Rhine.

    The liner notes talk about how, after their landmark success with the previous record, “Ohio,” Linford and Karin had to take time off from touring, writing, and recording in order to sit down and really try to be committed to their marriage (not that they were uncommitted before, but the work of touring and playing had made that quiet time of wordless conversation difficult to come by). For a while, they sat down every night at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and talked their way through the entire bottle – not to get stammering drunk, but to remember the sounds of each others’ voices. Out of this, through beautifully honest writing, came songs like “Born.”

    I was born to laugh
    I learned to laugh
    Through my tears
    And I was born to love
    I’m gonna learn to love
    Without fear

    Pour me a glass of wine
    Talk deep into the night
    Who knows what we’ll find
    Intuition, deja vu
    The holy ghost haunting you
    Whatever you’ve got
    I don’t mind

  10. Jessi

    “When the Summer’s Gone” by Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken. Aside from the great melody, Derek and Sandra ask the very real questions all married folks ask: “Will our love be strong when the summer’s gone?” And they reaffirm their commitment. That’s how love is strong. Yeah.

  11. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    David Wilcox’s song “All the Roots Grow Deeper When It’s Dry,” is both a life song, and a love song.

    Summer lasted a generation
    A generation – and then the winter wind
    The bounty harvest that seemed so endless
    It seemed so endless until it gave what it could give

    Prosperity will have its seasons
    Even when it’s here, it’s going by
    And when it’s gone we pretend we know the reasons
    And all the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.

    It looked so easy, we change the weather
    We would turn this world ourselves our world so small
    But slower rhythms – still unheard of
    Said that every blessed summer someday has to fall

    Prosperity will have its seasons
    Even when it’s here, it’s going by
    when it’s gone we pretend we know the reasons
    And all the roots grow deeper when it’s dry, when it’s dry.

    Prosperity will have its seasons
    Even when it’s here, it’s going by
    And when it’s gone we pretend we know the reasons
    And all the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.

    © David Wilcox, All rights reserved.

  12. kevin

    “Fly” by Sarah Groves.

    “For Baby for Bobby” John Denver

    “Annie’s Song” Denver again

    Ron, you’re such a troublemaker…

    Being southern myself, there is a certain draw for me to ANYTHING by Confederate Railroad, especially “Jesus and Momma”, but that’s for another day.

  13. Chris Slaten

    “That’s Where I Belong” by Paul Simon. It’s also on You’re the One.

    “When I see you smiling,
    When I hear you singing,
    lavendar and roses,
    every ending a beginning,
    That’s the way it is I don’t know why.
    That’s where I belong.”

    “All I Want” by Joni Mitchell

    “Is to bring out the best in me and in you
    I want to talk to you, I want to shampoo you
    I want to renew you again and again
    Applause, applause – life is our cause
    When I think of your kisses
    My mind see-saws”

    A few others I would add:
    “Do you Remember” Ben Shive
    “She is the Rising Sun” Ben Shive
    “Time Has Told Me” Nick Drake
    “Let my love open the door” Pete Townshend
    “This is Us” by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
    “Get out the Map” Indigo Girls
    “Keepn’ it Real” Mason Jennings
    “Unit 4+2” Concrete and Clay
    “I love to see you smile” Randy Newman
    “You belong to me” covered by Kate Rusby
    “Song of Songs” Pierce Pettis
    “A Love Supreme” John Coltrane
    I second “All the Roots Grow Deeper”

  14. Julie

    Kevin, I was also thinking Fly by Sarah Groves. And Fly Farther by Jars of Clay (with Allison Krauss) is such a sweet song. Oh, and Fly by Jars of Clay as well. Pretty much any song with the word Fly in the title ; )

  15. david

    ‘Love As Strong As Death,’ by Rich Mullins, performed by Kevin Max on the ‘Canticle of the Plains’ soundtrack. does anyone else have/know this album? it’s one of my favorites, but can’t ever find anyone who knows it…

  16. Andrew Mackay

    Baby Don’t Worry by Andy Osenga on Souvenirs and Postcards is a great love song. It makes me cry just about every time I hear it. It’s so good that I listen to it anyway.

    Lyrics:

    Ma’am, it must be your machine,
    There was money in there yesterday
    Ma’am, it must be your machine
    I’m telling you, I swear, I just got paid

    All she wanted were some flowers
    To plant in the yard
    A shovel, hose, and spade
    And to watch her walk those aisles
    Putting them back in the shelf
    Well, something in me broke that day

    Baby, don’t worry
    I k now were going to make it if it kills me
    Baby, don’t worry
    I know we’re going to make it all right
    Baby, don’t worry
    I know we’re going to make it if it kills me
    So close your eyes, sleep and dream tonight

    There’s a message on the telephone
    Like the one that they left yesterday
    We sent them fifty bucks two weeks ago
    But they never seem to go away

    This is just like the stories
    Our parents told us
    Babe, you know they’re doing fine
    As long as we’re together we’ve got it all
    The rest is just going to take a little time

    [Chorus]

    Dream of children growing
    Getting married, and children of their own

    Dream of a back porch, a new couch
    Whatever you want
    Me, I’ll keep these old cars running
    And I’ll wear those tired, old clothes
    We’ll get out of this one, Baby
    We’ll show them who we are

  17. Greg Sykes

    I have to go further out on the limb for a song and artist that always grip me. How about “Have A Little Faith In Me,” by John Hiatt? It fits this theme perfectly:

    “Cause I’ve been loving you, for such a long, long time
    Expecting nothing in return
    Just for you to have a little faith in me
    You see time, time is our friend
    Cause for us, there is no end
    And all you gotta do, is have a little faith in me
    I will hold you up, I will hold you up
    And your love, gives me strength enough to
    Have a little faith in me
    Hey hey
    All you gotta do for me girl
    Is have a little faith in me “

  18. mKhulu

    “I’ll Give You A Daisey A Day Dear” from the sixties by someone on the radio. Also the “love song” from the movie The Wedding Singer (I think that was the title any way): “I Want To Grow Old With You”. Two non-classics that will tug at dedicated heartstrings everywhere.

  19. Connie Solomon

    Ditto on “Daisy A Day Dear” Jud Strunk but love singing “Rocking Years” (Dolly Parton & Ricky Van Shelton duet) with my hubby.

  20. Joshua

    This is not a love song, but I thought of the lyrics to a song by Brandon Heath as I was reading this post. They are from his song, “I’m Not Who I Was,”

    “I write about love and such
    maybe ’cause I want it so much…”

  21. Aaron W.

    My wife, a most traditional and orthodox woman, actually names as her favorite love song “Endless Love” by Lionel Richie. And as sappy as that song is, it’s the message of exclusive commitment (an “old fashioned” concept) that speaks to her most.

  22. Kristin

    I am still fairly young and have not stepped into marriage yet, but the first time I heard “Don’t Give Up on Me” by AP, I had the thought pop up as it does every time I hear a truthful, soul awakening song–“I need to hold on to this.”

    I come from a different view point and thought I would share a few others I have been holding on to. Along with others previously mentioned, two more are by Brooke Fraser. Her newest album has two songs that stick out to me in this area. The first is called “Deciphering Me”.

    (chorus) Oh can you feel the gravity falling, calling us home?
    Oh did you see the stars colliding, shining just to show we belong.

    (bridge) It’s love, it’s love that holds us. We will be alright.
    It’s truth, it’s truth that shows us, if we’ll walk in its light.

    I guess my hope is that when I do meet that someone that it will feel like home. And through the midst of ups and downs, love will hold us and truth will guide us, both things that ultimately come from the Father.

    The other song is called “Love is Waiting”. It is a brilliant song, especially for those who are in the waiting stage. The lyrics basically point to the verse in SOS that says, “Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases.”

    …I’ll give it time, give it space. Honey, be still for a spell.
    When it’s time to walk that way we want to walk it well.

    (chorus) I’ll be waiting for you baby, I’ll be holding back the darkest night.
    Love is waiting ’til it’s ready, ’til it’s right.

    (bridge)…I could write a million songs about the way you say my name.
    I could live a lifetime with you and then do it all again.
    Though like I can’t force the sun to rise or hasten summer’s start
    Neither should I rush my way into your heart.

  23. kate

    Wow, so many good songs mentioned here.

    To David – My husband and I own the Canticle of the Plains CD and had “Love’s As Strong As Death” played at our wedding. It’s a great song.

    “So We Never Got to Paris” and “To Keep Love Alive” by Out of the Grey are also favorites of mine now that I am several years into marriage and more appreciative of what these songs really mean.

  24. Roger Wagner

    How about Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind”? One of the most important and useful lessons if you want to “go the distance.”

    We said we’d walk together baby come what may
    That come the twilight should we lose our way
    If as we’re walkin a hand should slip free
    I’ll wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me

    We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side
    We’d help each other stay in stride
    But each lover’s steps fall so differently
    But I’ll wait for you
    And if I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
    But you and I know what this world can do
    So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
    And I’ll wait for you
    If I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now there’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead
    There ‘neath the oak’s bough soon we will be wed
    Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
    I’ll wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me
    Darlin’ I’ll wait for you
    Should I fall behind
    Wait for me

  25. Chris Yokel

    Some of my favorite “real” love songs:

    “I Will Be Here” Steven Curtis Chapman
    “A Man and a Woman” U2
    “Time Takes It’s Toll on Us” Bebo Norman
    “Wanted” by Andy Osenga
    “Head Over Heels (In This Life)” by Switchfoot

  26. Anna

    Mmmm, I love “In the Middle” by Act of Congress – wonderful the way it explores disillusionment in relationship and sweetness of reconciliation.

    Always on defense, you and I
    always having trouble seeing eye to eye,
    I guess everybody’s got excuses and dreams
    and agendas it seems, these days

    What kind of person do you see
    when peeking into this heart that’s
    beaten down with failures, taunts and insecurities
    I am cynical it seems these days

    So what’s the point? Where do we go from here?
    Throwing bricks to get our kicks, and that’s the heart of the issue
    I’d like to say there’s a better way, so let’s change,
    cause love remains in the middle

    What penance is there left to pay?
    Have we disengaged and thrown it all away?
    I just want peace of mind and coffee with my cream,
    but I’m still cynical it seems these days.

    Hearts are stone, they’ll never get it
    love will find us if we let it

  27. Marie

    Jars of Clay has written many songs about struggling with love and commitment in marriage that are honest and “grown-up”

    Water Under The Bridge
    “I do not love you the way I did when we met,there are secrets and arguments that we haven’t finished yet
    It’s only that grace has outlived our regrets that I’m still here”

    Either Side – co-written with Sandra McCracken
    “Night fades into day, we used to lie awake, when the love that we took was the same as the love that we gave
    White flags in our hands, holding out for truce, there’s more hope in surrender than all of the battles we lose”

    Safe To Land
    “I’m in no weather for apology,I need your runway lights to burn for me
    And if you say that I can come around I’ll love you right, I won’t let you down, I won’t let you down
    Cause I’m coming home,if these wheels touch down
    I’m coming home,I’m waking you up, in the middle of the night, i’m not giving up
    I’m gonna stay till we make it work, we’re not going down even if it gets worse
    We’ll work it out, I need your light, guide me in…”

    Scenic Route
    “we’re just sitting like novels we’ve picked up but never read through
    you think you know my ending, i think i know yours too
    you see, nowhere in these old conversations is there anything new…

    I don’t want to get home soon…we have another state to cross
    we could find each other out, tell our secrets on the scenic route”

    and there’s more songs that I don’t have time for right now…Oh well!

  28. Cara

    This is such a great post, here are my five cents:

    Alright Here by Andy Gullahorn

    She’s Everything by Brad Paisley

    I Wanna Marry You All Over Again by Derek Webb

    My Love Goes Free, A Mirror is Harder to Hold and In My Arms by Jon Foreman (among others)

    Steven Curtis Chapman’s All About Love disc

  29. Jodi B.

    The Ballad of Love and Hate by the Avett Brothers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7xUZkKd58c&feature=related) is a great listen, and the last few lines are especially good.

    “Hate stumbles forward and leans in the door.
    Weary head hung, eyes to the floor.
    He says “Love, I’m sorry”, and she says, “What for?
    I’m yours and that’s it, Whatever.
    I should not have been gone for so long.
    I’m your’s and that’s it, forever.”

    You’re mine and that’s it, forever.”

  30. Janna@RainbowDull

    Mr. Eric Peters (of scary bird book fame) has a couple of sweet songs that I really enjoy, both for their simplicity and specificity:

    You Can Be Yourself
    You come over me

    And although “Metropolis” is more of a spiritual song, it has the same feel as “Honesty” by Sara Groves, which is another good one about fighting through the tough times. Which of course brings to mind, “Roll to the Middle?”

    Brainstorm! How about a compilation album or some sort of “Marriage Tour” featuring these kinds of songs? Awesome, right!? A sort of “FireProof” for those of us who are already Christians and still struggle to have God-honoring marriages.

  31. Jodi

    This conversation popped into my head this morning because I just discovered my version of the perfect grown-up love song: “All the More” by Christa Wells. I serendipitously discovered her album (Frame the Clouds) on Noisetrade a couple weeks ago and added half the songs to my favorites list the first time I heard them. There’s only a sampler available on Noisetrade now, but you can buy and download the entire album from her website: http://www.christawells.net/2009/05/full-album-download-herepreorder-cd-next-week.html

    A taste of the song:

    You were perfect in so many ways
    I thought surely one of these days
    Some skeleton’s gonna come calling
    After awhile I came to see that your humanity
    Only made me want you all the more.

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