The Golden Boy & The Prodigal

By

My entry today may be aptly titled, since I’ve been a bit of a prodigal myself here for the past several months.  Over my head in the deep end of a new recording project, I’ve had little time for much else than approving mixes and rtwork and everything else that goes along with releasing a new record.

But the record is done and I’m starting to rejoin society again, and I thought I’d share something that I hoped might be of interest to rabbit roomers.

esicu-cover-final-webMy new record, Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue (which some here may recognize as a Lord Of The Rings reference), is significant to me if for no other reason than I was afraid it would never come.  If you’ve read some of the conversations I’ve had with Matt Conner and others here, you might remember that this record was preceded by nearly 3 years of writer’s block that left me afraid my music making days were over.  Much of the writer’s block, I know, was spurred by the fear of men – the fear that a song would not meet with the approval of the jury I had assembled in my head ranging from fellow artists, fans, radio people, reviewers, and so on – a wide range of discordant voices who could never agree on anything.  Any song start would be met by some imagined critical voice, and then the shouting would begin.

In some ways, it can be selfish to only write for one’s self and then presumptuous to expect others to love and buy it.  Self-expression can be fine – great even – but if you’re making music for a living, you do well to consider your audience. The great artists usually do their best work when they’re reaching for a broader audience, but are often in danger of being irrelevant when they become too self-indulgent.  So there is a balance to be struck of following the personal vision you’ve been entrusted with while not forgetting the audience you’ve been entrusted to serve.  The other danger, of course, is to disrespect your audience by pandering to them. The narrow road is framed by a deep ditch on either side.

My mistake, and it’s one that I commonly make, is to imagine that I can please everybody all the time.  The thought of disappointing people is often a crippling weakness of mine.  And so in my pursuit of that imagined perfect balance that holds all things in tension, I suppose I assembled that varied and motley crew of critics in my mind to help me keep my equilibrium on this narrow road, but who eventually became so boisterous and noisy that I could no longer hear my own voice.

In the midst of my writer’s block, my wife – wise and insightful as she is – told me to go to my writer’s room and write a song either about explicit sex or with profanities in it.  Of course the true thing she was saying was that I needed to go write something that couldn’t be useful – either to my ministry or my career.  Pragmatism has long been the enemy of truth and beauty, and as I felt the weight of the need for a new recording project increasing exponentially, I was beginning to be desperate for songs that would be useful to the purpose of making a record with a record label that serves the Christian market.  A song about explicit sex or laced with profanities wouldn’t be useful, and therefore might find it’s way to the surface through the myriad of conflicting voices in my head.

Well, some of you may be disappointed that I didn’t write that kind of song – that day (wink) – but I got the point and sat in my writer’s room and emptied myself of all expectations, real and imagined.  There was an idea I’d been twiddling in my mind, like the young girl who sat in front of me in my 6th grade social studies class who incessantly wound her finger through a curl of hair that hung over her right shoulder.  It was an idea that seemed particularly un-useful and that provided what might be an invigorating challenge. It wasn’t necessarily earth-shattering, but it was an idea I could be passionate about and seemed convoluted enough as to be exactly the kind of song that probably wouldn’t end up on a record.  It wasn’t a controversial or sensational kind of idea, but an interesting one that posed a seductive songwriterly challenge in terms of translating it into a lyric.

So… I started writing. And by the end of the day I had the first real song I’d written in nearly 3 years.  It had no chorus, no “hook”, it was essentially 6 long verses, and I was self-indulgent enough to use words like “doppelganger”.  And I was so happy with it.  This was a song I wrote just for me, for the sake of telling some truth I had experienced, and it became like a little rampart of light in the dark night of my soul, shining on the part of me that had been buried under the cacophony of a jury of strident voices, empowered by my insecurities to speak my worst fears to me. I took hold of that little rampart of light like a lifeline and let it draw me to the surface where I found I could breathe again… and I started writing.

I brought 13 songs to my last record, and we recorded 12. The funny thing is that by the time we had the song meeting for this record, I had 32 to weed through…  And I’m also humbled and grateful to say that I think this batch of songs is maybe the best I’ve ever recorded – both commercially and “artistically” (an adjective I never like to use for my own music because of how presumptuous it feels, but you get the idea).  It’s got songs that, of my work, stand the best chance at radio as well as songs like this one, “The Golden Boy & the Prodigal,” that have a blessed uselessness about them.

And here’s the punchline of my little story: when I wrote this song, I assumed it would never end up on a record, but I was willing to fight for it’s inclusion if for no other reason than the fact that it was the song that broke the long cold winter of my creative block.  When the time came, I didn’t have to fight for it, and was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone involved was really passionate about the song.  And now that people are starting to hear the record, the early feedback I’m getting is that “The Golden Boy & The Prodigal” is their favorite track.  I guess the joke is on me…


[audio:GoldenBoy.mp3]

The Golden Boy And The Prodigal
Jason Gray
There are two sides to every person
Like the two sides of a dime
Heads or tails it depends upon
Who’s watching at the time
Though I hate to say it
Mine is no exception
One part is the prodigal
The other part: deception

Like the prince and the pauper
Like Jacob and his brother
Each hide a different heart
Each a shadow of the other
Me and my doppelganger
Both share the same blood
One I have hated
The other have I loved

One of them’s the Golden Boy
The man I’d like to be
I show him off in the parades
For all the world to see
The other is much weaker
He stumbles all the time
The source of my embarrassment
He’s the one I try to hide

The Golden boy is made of straw
His finest suit will surely burn
His vice is the virtue
That he never had to earn
The prodigal’s been broken
And emptied at the wishing well
But he’s stronger for the breaking
With a story to tell

I’m not easy with confessions
It’s hard to tell the truth
But I have favored the golden boy
While the other I’ve abused
And he takes it like a man
Though he’s longing like a child
To be loved and forgiven
And share the burden for awhile

So take a good look in the mirror
Tell me who you see
The one who Jesus died for
Or the one you’d rather be
Can you find it in your heart
To show mercy to the one
The Father loved so much
That he gave his only son…

Jason’s new record is available at www.jasongraymusic.com.  When you pre-order it, you get an immediate download of the record. Check out some of the uber-deluxe pre-order packages being offered to find out how you can get a phone call from Jason, a shirt out of his closet, his mini-van, or a guided tour of Seoul Korea.  Seriously.


36 Comments

  1. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    I’m glad you posted this song first. It is definitely one of my favorites — especially for the use of doppelganger. “Holding The Key” is probably my current favorite. It touches on some themes we are pondering here locally as it relates to small group ministry.

    Overall, this is a solid effort my friend. I am really happy the dam burst on your writer’s block. I pray it bursts in terms of recognition commercially. That is long overdue.

    Look forward to chatting soon. I’ll barter Facebook posts for another post like this one that includes s a plug for a couple of ministries (IJM http://www.ijm.org/ and Street Grace http://www.streetgrace.org/ ) using “Fade With Our Voices” (another favorite).

  2. Kaitlyn

    Jason,
    I love your honesty in all of your work. It’s one of my favorite things about your music. This song is no exception to what I just said above. It is absolutely, positively my favorite song on the record. Thanks so much for all you do! 🙂

  3. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I can’t tell you how happy it made me that my song elicited a “holy crap” from you, Ron. That’s one of the best compliments you could have given me.

  4. Aaron Roughton

    Jason, thanks so much for this post. I teared up several times as I read through as I identified with your writing struggles. Thanks for sharing them here and providing some hope and encouragement that I’m not even sure I knew I needed.

    I also love the song. I’m heading to your website now to purchase a cd and your minivan. (Those packages are hilarious. Gives selling out a fresh look. I liked how you didn’t put a “creepy stalker” disclaimer in until the $8999 package.)

  5. cheryl

    love, love, love the new music. and i think your wife is brilliant. can’t wait to hear the song she suggested you write. we need more of those in Christiandom. love “Song of Songs” by Pierce Pettis, but some variety would be nice! 😉

  6. Chris Slaten

    “I assembled that varied and motley crew of critics in my mind to help me keep my equilibrium on this narrow road, but who eventually became so boisterous and noisy that I could no longer hear my own voice.”
    Amen.

    How long was it between when your first song broke through and the other 32 finally arrived?

  7. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Holy Crap! I have your other records, which I love, but man, I’m with Ron. I’m gettin me some of this record.

    Holy Crap! Indeed.

  8. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Chris – this was the first song that broke the block, and then others began to trickle out, slowly at first, but increasing up until the day we met for our final song list, and many of the songs came the last two months leading up to the record.

    The other thing that really helped me was when I found a good writing partner in Jason Ingram, who has a gift for writing really accessible, radio friendly pop songs. It was after I wrote a few songs with him that we knew were “singles” that I felt like I could relax and write the rest of the record. Having the singles in place took a lot of pressure off the rest of the writing. But I don’t think I could have written the singles first. In fact I tried, but I suspect that was what started the block in the first place. I think something I learned was that I just have to write the heart of the record first, and worry about singles later, maybe midway into the process, and then write the rest of the heart of record. Does that make sense? At least that’s how it worked with this batch of songs… who knows how it will be next time. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m not as in control of the process as I wish I were.

    And Cheryl, I have written those songs! Waiting for the right time to record them – probably when I’m an indie artist again 🙂 But if you’re looking for “Song of Solomon” type of songs, check out Charlie Peacock’s “Love Life” CD and Over The Rhine’s “Trumpet Child” – well crafted expressions of eros – beautiful and sensuous.

    And Holy Crap Russ! I’m so glad you’re with Ron!

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    At least it wasn’t “Wholly crap!”

    Actually that would be a good ambiguous thing to say, like, “You can flat sing!” or “I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

    Jason – great lyrics, great song, and I loved the article. I haven’t written a decent song since I finished my last record, DoorWay, three years ago.

  10. E

    Jason,

    Thanks for telling this part of your tale here… I suspect there are a fair amount of folks out here like me that are songwriters, not as a day job… but as a smaller and more devotional part of our lives.

    That is a different ballgame to be sure. At this point, no one would be disappointed, except me and possibly God, if I didn’t have a song for them in the near future. At the same time, anyone who has tried to do this has some appreciation for what you’ve gone through.

    I would just like to say that I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I know exactly how you feel.

    I’m very encouraged by your heart and breakthrough and I’m looking forward to hearing your songs that have come as a result.

  11. Joe Thayer

    I am glad to hear a 3 year writer’s block is not as unusual as I thought. I think mine started with my first visit to GMA week. Thanks for the post Jason. The phrase “blessed uselessness” made me shout, “Hey Karla, blessed uselessness!”. My dear one read this post first so she knew the context of my shoutin’. She and I have had many conversations about my songwriting and my own “boisterous and noisy motley crew”. They are a noisy bunch (I like to call them J crew) and I will most likely continue to listen to them. But their words are less convincing as I hear from brothers like you. Your words are true. Your songs are true. Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks for the music. I will be buying a C.D. soon. What color is the interior of the mini van? Leather?

  12. Paula Shaw

    I downloaded this CD immediately yesterday after reading this post and listening to “The Golden Boy and the Prodigal”, which is my fave on the CD. Running a close race with this song is “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue 2”. They both helped me to articulate a letter of repentance to a very old friend who God is healing and redeeming my relationship with. Thanks be to God! (and to you, Jason, for being patient, for staying the race, and for allowing God to use whatever it took to teach you whatever He needed to, and to open the floodgates of writing some of the most humble and God-inspired lyrics ever!)

    Thanks again!

  13. Pastor Robert

    I have NO musical talent, but enjoy great music – and this is great music. Thank you for your patience in trusting that God would show up – anyone who has listened to this song once has already been blessed.

    On a side note – I love your “out of the box gorilla marketing campaign” – as a Rabbit room newbe, might I suggest – you add a “Jason Grey” anthology download for x$.

    ARTISTS – all of you (From a non-artist) – I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to find a new artist – get their latest album – want to hear more, then spend all day on ebay trying to find older albums (Read Hear Andrew Peterson’s Clear to Venus) , only to be outbid by some other fan (who in God’s sovereign wisdom and will needed to hear it more). This causes discord among the brethren, fosters emity and jealousy (all things Jesus doesn’t like).

    God Bless the Rabbit Room! (Where the ungifted like me can come in and sit and listen at the Bard’s Table)

  14. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Yeah but think of how much more rewarding it is to go through the long and arduous task of hunting the music down and the sense of accomplishment and triumph comes when you’ve finally won the bid and claimed the prize as your own 🙂

    Or there’s always itunes…

    Seriously, that’s a good idea. Don’t quite know how I’d do that right now since my label owns my recent records and I own the ones before that. Hard to know exactly how to bundle all of that since I’m not in total control of a number of the titles… I’ll look into it!

  15. Tom Bubb

    Jason I’m very very excited for the new record!! I have listened to this song more times today than I can count and it strikes me as beautiful and powerful every time. Congrats on a job well done and also props for THE most unique uber-deluxe pre-order options I have ever seen. 🙂

  16. Randall Goodgame

    This is beautiful, Jason. I remember you talking about it many moons ago… tell Taya thanks from all of us.

  17. Rob

    This song reminds me of Larry Norman.

    And that’s a huge compliment (in case anyone wondered).

    I miss Larry.

  18. Stacy Grubb

    This is so great, Jason. It’s the type of song I hope to be able to write one day; advance from crap to holy crap.

    And Ron, I’m using your ambiguous compliments in the future. I’ve certainly needed them in the past.

    Stacy

  19. Mike

    Jason I read this today. Its from a book called “Christianish” by Mark Steele

    …………we as a Christian culture disguise the ugly, bury
    the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We do it as an effort
    to put our best foot forward, believing that “faking good” ministers
    more than “revealing bad.” We have an emotional need to seem holier
    than all the “thous” we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless
    world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.
    We delay. We block. We blame.
    We cover up.
    And we somehow believe that this delivers a better impression of
    what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford
    Wife makes us some sort of recruitment tool. But the truth is, we
    have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning
    inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those
    who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the
    ground.
    SCANDALOUS

    This song is a remedy to this problem. Thanks for being real. I too need to add a little Jason Gray to my music.

  20. Janna Barber

    Allow me to be self indulgent here and quote my good friend Nathan who once told me, “Sidehugs make baby Jesus cry,” in response to a post I wrote (http://rainbowdull.blogspot.com/2008/02/id-bless-rains-down-in-africa.html) dealing with my own two sides. And Holy Crap, I don’t have any of your records either! My husband does most of the music purchasing at our house, so I’ll blame him. I’ve got a hunch though, that this might spark his interest. NIcely done.

  21. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Okay now, in defense of side-hugs (or maybe I’m just old-school – I’m open to that…) – I can’t tell you how many awkward full frontal hugs I got from young clingy girls when I’ve been on tour with bands like Rush Of Fools, Matthew West, and others who attract the youth group crowd… it’s even worse when I’m out with Shawn McDonald at college campuses with young attractive co-eds. Yes, I know I’m in my mid-30’s and happily married, but I’m also human… sheesh! It’s especially bad when they go in for the full frontal hug and then hold on… tight… for… too…….. long…….

    Side hugs may make baby Jesus cry, but sometimes full frontal hugs make the teenager Jesus inside of Jason blush… 😉

    So I stand by the side-hugs. Unless they’re male.

    (Is that awkward?)

  22. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Side hugs vs front hugs – sounds like a good Rabbit Room topic, Jason.

    Sometimes side hugs are really Law-hugs. Not always.

    Sometimes frontal hugs are license hugs. Not always.

    It all depends on the persons hugging.

    If we rely on Christ within us as our inner power, and put Him on as our outer armor, we’ll have a great deal less worry about such things. If we are led by the Spirit we are not under Law.

    I don’t care for Law hugs or license hugs. I like confident, Christ-trusting, grace hugs.

    You also forgot the kind of hug where the person leans way over and embraces basically with the head and top of the shoulders, and arms, so that no other part of the body touches the other person.

  23. Janna Barber

    As usual, Ron is probably right. Jason, I hadn’t thought about it from your point of view, only mine, which misses the brotherly hugs she doesn’t get from her Dad and li’l brother often enough because they live out of town, and sometimes wishes more men saw her as a sister or daughter first, and a woman second.

  24. Stacy Grubb

    Jason, I thought you side-hugged to avoid leaning over an extra 4 feet. I’m now trying to remember if I may have unwittingly subjected you to an awkward hug. Most everything I do is unwitting.

    I met a lady the other day and the first thing she did was give me a hug. “Hi, my name’s Stacy.” “Nice to meet you, Stacy, gimme a huuug, sweetheart!” It’s just what we do around here, so I only ever knew of two main hug categories: The “Come ‘ere, I love ta hug,” Hug and the “Well, crap, now I have ta hug,” Hug. Or maybe those are just my own two categories. That doesn’t mean that because they’re rampant, all are innocent. There used to be a guy at church who was definitely a license hugger. I avoided him like the plague. Not only would he hug me at least once before and after the service, but he’d hang on and start a conversation. Nothing like someone getting all hands-y at church.

    My own hug-itude can often be schizophrenic, but for the most part, I’m all about a sincere, non-license hug. If I know a hug is a law-hug, it might get weird. High-fives, instead.

    And what about those guy hugs where you basically touch shoulders and smack the crap out of one another’s backs? I’ve received one or two of those in my day and they’re not my favorite.

    Stacy

  25. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Janna – in my personal life, side-hugs make baby Jesus cry. In my professional life, full frontal hugs from certain people = awkward.

    Ron said:
    “Sometimes frontal hugs are license hugs. Not always. It all depends on the persons hugging.”

    And I would add that it also depends on whether or not they’re wearing a halter top, short shorts, and they have names like Buffy, Lola, or…. Andrew.

    🙂 (I add smiley faces because I’m terribly insecure that some people might not realize I’m joking)

  26. Stacy Grubb

    Janna, my dad adores hugs and gives the best ones around. When we were little, he used to always ask us to hug his head. Sounds funny, I know (and let it be noted, he’s got a massively huge head). So, I asked him once when I was an adult why he would have us hug his head and he said, “Because I could hear your little hearts beating when you did…and it sounded so precious to me.” I reckon I haven’t hugged his head since puberty, but it still puts a tear in my eye when I think of how sentimental he is.

    Jason, I was hugged by a halter-top wearing Andrew once and you’re right…it’s weird.

  27. Joe Thayer

    I play at fancy restaurants where they don’t hug as much as that weird air kiss. I still don’t know what to do. It isn’t a law kiss or a license kiss. It’s more of a confusion kiss. Like a tower of babel kiss. Most of the ladies look like my Grandma and I sometimes give em a big wet one on the cheek instinctively. Doesn’t go over so well. Need advice. Dear Rabbit room: please clear up the whole hugging and kissing issue. It would be a great service to the church.

    I wish I knew how to do that cool complicated hand shake with all the bumps, slaps and grips that end in a snap. That would be awesome.

  28. Adam Bennett

    Jason
    I’m late to the scene, but awesome song. Can’t wait to hear the rest. As always, thank you for being willing to step out from behind the Golden Boy and let us see the Prodigal. You only convict us and give us the courage to do the same!

    Love ya brother!

  29. Andy

    Jason,
    Got the album yesterday and haven’t stopped listening to it yet. Over and over I’m stunned at how you got access to my email and have been writing songs to address the themes of my recent life one after the other. Thanks for not giving up during those 3 years of block and for putting down in lyric and tune what He’s been whispering in my heart. It’s nice to know that someone else is learning those lessons too and that I’m not the only one hiding behind live lobster tanks.

  30. Peter B

    Jason, I just bought the download version — I wanted some of that instant gratification — and already it’s working its magic on me. Thank you for such a tireless, fierce devotion to the love of God in your work.

    Confession time: some of these tracks bear a sound-resemblance to a few bands that get “Christian” radio air time, and for a minute I actually felt guilty about enjoying your music so much. Then my regular rational self kicked in and kicked me out of my stupid reactionism, and today I lead a healthy and productive life.

    Well, somewhat productive. Back to work for me now.

    I hope to catch you in Texas this go-round, though the lack of Dallas shows makes that somewhat less of a certainty. Fight on, brother.

  31. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Thanks Peter! Kind of you to say. You hit upon the topic that is a source of apprehension and gratitude with me about this record. Centricity’s goal for me with this record is to take what I do and try to make it accessible to Christian radio. Centricity is very respectful of artistic integrity, but their reason for partnering with me was to help expand my ministry platform, and for them that means releasing a record that makes sense to the market they serve. (and when I see the balance sheets of what is spent to help break an artist and what is actually recouped… it’s amazing that they are as respectful of artistic integrity as they are…)

    So I wanted to honor their investment and it felt like a fun challenge to see if we could make those kinds of songs that might win at radio but content-wise still felt true and worth singing. I’ve never worked harder on a record, and I think we accomplished the goal. I hope it wins at radio and that it’s a happy story for everyone. But still, my version of a pop song still doesn’t really line up with what the market is looking for (tobymac I’m not). We’ll see.

    At any rate it was a fun challenge and I’m glad that in reading your comments you’re experiencing the album in the way we hoped people would. I love that if you take 3 songs off this record you have a pretty solid pop record, and that if you take a different 3 songs off, you have a pretty solid singer/songwriter record. I love how ambiguous it is that way and am grateful for that – and for your kind words! I guess the record is in a sense equal parts Golden Boy & Prodigal 😉

  32. Filipino Kid From Cebu City

    Jason’s brand of pop rock is so ear candy catchy yet thought provoking that could actually make u think of your current life…

    most christian pop listeners will never bother listening to the likes of Rich Mullins or Keith green or Andrew Peterson but will gladly accept Jason’s new songs when played on their beloved CCM station… and thus bringing light to the oftentimes dark world of CCM..:-)

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