Marc Cohn’s Moment of Grace

By

Last week Jamie and I sat in a small, classy theater in downtown Franklin, Tennessee and listened as one of the finest songwriters in America blew my mind.

I first encountered Marc Cohn’s music in 1991, my junior year of high school. I was steeped in heavy metal, hair metal, pop rock, swamp rock, prog rock—basically, [choose any adjective] rock. (I know, I know. Shocking. I’m saving my Tesla/Extreme post for another time.) But when “Walking in Memphis” strode through the airwaves back in 1991, I experienced something altogether different.

I liked the emotion and the musical high I got when I was listening to straight-up rock and roll, but I often rolled my eyes at the lyrics (except for those of the aforementioned Tesla and Extreme). Lyrics mattered to me even then, but not enough to make up for my disdain towards what I thought of as Easy Listening music. Basically, if it was on my dad’s radio station, I avoided it like homework. This included James Taylor, Paul Simon, Jim Croce, Jackson Browne, and others I’ve come to love.

So, I kept looking for stories and deeper meaning in rock and roll, but I just couldn’t seem to find it. Then one day I heard a pretty piano part dance out of the car stereo, and a raspy, warm, and welcoming voice sang,

Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain.

I sat up straight and paid attention. It was as if I had happened upon a deer in the woods. I froze. I don’t remember the exact moment I first heard that song as a seventeen-year-old kid, but I was probably driving my dad’s Pontiac station wagon with the volume cranked, wearing a look of dumb delight. Like a great film or a great book, that song goes everywhere your heart wants it to go, and yet you’re still surprised by it. It’s no overstatement that “Walking in Memphis” feels like a moment of grace.

As soon as possible I drove the thirty miles to Turtle’s Music in Gainesville and bought the cassette single (remember those?) with money saved from stocking shelves at the IGA. The B-side to that cassette was a song called “Silver Thunderbird.” Lo and behold, I was blessed among piano-playing teenagers: here was yet another beautiful, moving song to work out on the old church piano, along with an opening lyric that will always make me feel like I’m ten again:

Watched it coming up Winslow, down South Park Boulevard
Well, it was looking good from tail to hood
Great big fins and painted steel
Man, it looked just like the Batmobile
With my old man behind the wheel.

I’d love to type out the rest of that lyric, because every single line is just perfect—and if you don’t know the song I want you to, doggone it. (Here’s a link to a video of him singing it several years ago at NYC’s The Bitter End, a venue I was lucky enough to play with Caedmon’s Call about 15 years ago.)

I wore out that little cassette. Those two songs opened up to me a world of music. I discovered Songwriting, as distinct from just Music or Rock & Roll or “Dude, did you hear how high that Steelheart guy can sing?” I realized that behind some songs there was a writer with a story to tell, and all he needed was a piano or a guitar to tell it. I was no longer merely experiencing the emotional satisfaction of a powerful song, but the real, down-to-the-marrow resonance of a narrative set to music—the kind of narrative that tells you as much about yourself as it does the narrator. I hadn’t thought much about songwriting up to that point; songs were written by bands, hashed out in studios during jams, or—or something. Heck if I knew. But Marc’s songs sounded—don’t misunderstand this as arrogance—attainable. They sounded like a guy sat down at the piano and found a way to tell a great story. I heard them and thought, “I want to try that.”

For most writers there comes a moment when you encounter a book or song or poem that doesn’t just level you with its power, it also invites you in. It seems to show you the mountaintop and at the same time reveals the road that leads you there. That doesn’t mean you’ll ever reach the peak (I certainly haven’t come close to writing a “Silver Thunderbird”), but of course, the journey’s the thing. In hindsight, discovering Marc Cohn was a significant step toward my becoming a songwriter. I didn’t encounter Rich Mullins’s songs for another few years, so as much as I loved these new sounds it still hadn’t occurred to me that this newfound love of songwriting could coexist with a calling, as I feel it does now. Anyway, I splurged and spent $14 on the whole tape (yes, children, that’s how much cassettes used to cost). Song after song entranced me. I learned them all on the piano, even “Ghost Train,” which had the weirdest and warmest keyboard driving the song. As it turned out, it was a Fender Rhodes, the sound of which, even today, transports me straight to high school and lonely drives in the mist. Listen:

I’m telling you, that first Marc Cohn album is among the great records of the last thirty years, right up there with Graceland, August and Everything After, and The Joshua Tree. The lyrics, the melodies, the instrumentation, the sounds are all but miraculous. I wish I had time to tell you about every song: “Ghost Train,” about the passing of his mother when Cohn was a boy; about “True Companion” and how I sang it at my roommate’s wedding and goofed up the words; about “Dig Down Deep,” and how I included a nod to it in “World Traveler”; about realizing after a hundred spins what a genius lyric “Walk on Water” is. (It paints these pictures of people waiting for miracles, which seems like enough of a song, right? Then at the very end he sings, “I’m willing to wait for the miracles, but I just can’t wait…for you.” So with those two words the whole song changes: I have better odds waiting for a miracle than for you, he tells her. Painful.) And then comes “Strangers in a Car,” a beautiful, sad picture of two people who don’t know how to know each other any more. Then there’s “Perfect Love,” a sweet song made sweeter by James Taylor’s background vocal. Believe it or not, I could go on. And that’s just the first record!

The Rainy Season is another masterful batch of songs. “She’s Becoming Gold,” somehow sounds golden. How on earth did he do that? “Don’t Talk to Her at Night” is a great mystery to me, but I love it all the more for it; and learning the guitar part led me to writing “Pillar of Fire” late one night in 2002. I still play “From the Station” half the time I sit at the piano; that song led me to “Mountains on the Ocean Floor,” which is a straight-up Marc Cohn ripoff, as far as the sounds go. If you don’t believe me, one of these days I’ll tell you the story of how Marc sat in Ben Wisch’s mixing studio in Greenwich Village with Ben Shive and I and listened to it. “Beautiful song,” Marc said, when it was over. “Sounds familiar, I guess,” I said bashfully. “Aw, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Marc replied. “We were ripping somebody off back then too.” A gracious answer. I’m sitting here wishing I had a week to write about all the things I love about this guy’s songs. And I’ve only breezed through the first two records—there are several more, all with excellent songs. But I’ll get to the point.

At that show last week, Marc told the story of how he wrote “Walking in Memphis,” what he jokingly referred to as his calling card. And for better or worse, it’s true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned Marc Cohn to someone and then because of the blank stare followed it up with, “You know, the ‘Walking in Memphis’ guy.” That bums me out, because he has so many great songs. But it seemed the other night like he had more than made peace with it. After all, if you’re going to be known for a single song, it might as well be that one.

Marc told the crowd that when he was a struggling songwriter in New York City he followed James Taylor’s advice (songwriters, pay attention!): when you’re stuck, go someplace you’ve never been, and the new environment might unstick you. Marc chose Memphis. While he was there he visited Al Green’s church (“Reverend Green, he’ll be glad to see you / When you haven’t got a prayer“), and had an experience. Marc said that, though he was Jewish, something profound happened when he heard Rev. Green preach the Gospel, that the man’s voice gained in strength as he preached hour after hour, and soon Marc found himself weeping. He joked that he had cried in temple when he was a boy, but not the same kind of tears. These were tears of joy.

Here’s the story, in his own words:

A few days later he ended up at a cafรฉ called the Hollywood, where a sweet old lady named Muriel played the piano on Fridays.

Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her, and they asked me if I would
Do a little number, and I sang with all my might
She said, ‘Tell me, are you a Christian, child?’
I said, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight.’

That lyric couldn’t be any better. Writing it down just now, I’m as amazed as ever by the succinct, graceful way he sets the stage and tells us what happened, with all the emotion and magic that he felt that night. Marc said that in between Muriel’s songs he would talk to her, and she pressed in. He told her about his struggle to write songs, about his grief over the death of his mother. By the end, he was singing all these Gospel songs and hymns with her. He said that though “Walking in Memphis” is populated by famous characters like Elvis and W.C. Handy and Al Green, little old Muriel at the piano is the most significant character in there. Then he dedicated the song to her and played it. He brought the house down. I saw folks with their hands in the air, just like at church.

So here’s what I kept thinking. It was clear that Marc knew he had encountered something in Memphis all those years ago. Whatever it was changed his life. Not only did he weep with joy at Green’s church, but he was ministered to by a humble Christian woman. He came back to New York and wrote a legendary record. He won a Grammy and gained a career’s worth of dedicated fans. Then a few years ago Marc and his band were mugged after a show in Colorado. Marc was shot in the head and lived to tell about it. As I listened, it was hard to deny that this Jewish kid from Ohio was being pursued by, and perhaps even protected by, the great love of God. Maybe it’s to bring Him glory. Whether Marc meant to or not last week in Franklin, that’s just what he did. I don’t know where he is, spiritually, but think about this beautiful irony: the one song he has to sing at every single concert of his life, the song that changed everything for him—his “calling card”—reminds him night after night of Reverend Green’s four hour sermon about Jesus, about sweet Muriel’s saintly concern for him, about one luminous encounter with joy. Whether or not Marc believes in Jesus, I found myself the other night giving thanks not just for Marc and his music, but for the God who has lavished on him the grace to write these songs and tell these stories, to survive gunshots, to cast a warm spell over a room full of souls, to soothe and inspire us with a piano and a one-of-a-kind voice.

I get a sense that he has his ear to the tracks, and he can tell that something beautiful is out there and coming his way. I pray he’ll keep listening, that he’ll keep his eyes open, that he’ll look around from time to time at this beautiful, broken world and wonder if there’s not some secret companion following him through the trees—maybe sweet Muriel at the piano was telling the truth all along.

————————————————————–

I made a quick iTunes playlist of some of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, in case you’re looking for a place to start. Click here to check it out.

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.


60 Comments

  1. Brave Sir Robin

    _The Joshua Tree_? Now, now, don’t insult Marc Cohn by comparing him with U2. (Just kidding… kinda. Everyone can jump on me now. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    The piano pop sound he cultivated is really quite a lovely little niche. It’s one of those sounds that will always be fresh, that will never go out of style. Today, Five for Fighting is sort of carrying on the tradition. It’s inspired me in my own writing and playing for sure.

    I wonder if you’ve heard the rare B-side single “One Thing of Beauty.” I found it on Youtube and it’s definitely one of his best songs.

  2. Brave Sir Robin

    Oh yes, and now that I’ve read the rest of the post… you REALLY ought to check out Five for Fighting if you haven’t already. John Ondrasik loves to ask the big questions too.

  3. Jenn

    Thanks so much for this. Just a beautiful reminder of the power of song not only for the audience, but the performer who crafts the piece. Also, I still love Extreme ๐Ÿ˜‰ — rock on!

  4. Jenn

    Thanks so much for this! Just a beautiful reminder of the power of song, not only for the audience, but for the performer who crafts the piece. Also, I still love Extreme ๐Ÿ˜‰ — rock on!

  5. Mickey

    Some songwriters seem to scratch so close to the gospel in their songs. I pray for them too. And I thank god for His revelation to them – then I ask Him to make it just a little more explicit to them!

    Actually, I’ll be seeing Behold the Lamb tour in Maryland and another concert the very next night in Phila. with one of the songwriters I pray for. I was just thinking about the contrast between the types of music and the similar ways your music and this other songwriter have affected me. So different spiritually and aesthetically, yet both lead me to Christ. Non-Christian one: led to me Christ. Christian one: leads me deeper into Christ.

    This article sorta dealt with the same mystery.
    I gotta think about more…

  6. tricia prinzi

    this post is wonderful. and thank you for the playlist. i thought it couldn’t get any better after your _weepies_ recommendation. man, this guy is balm for an aching soul. love it.

  7. Brave Sir Robin

    Well, I suppose in a sense one could say that God has already made His revelation as clear as it’ll ever be, and the choice is up to mankind to recognize it.

    The other day I was listening to “Slip Sliding Away,” and this line struck me again:

    God only knows
    God makes his plan
    The information’s unavailable to the mortal man

    I always want to say “How do you know? How do you know the information’s unavailable? Did you ever think the Bible might be more than a collection of fairytales?”

  8. Cory M

    I am not familiar with Mr. Cohn’s works, so thank you for the introduction. I was looking for a way to use an iTunes gift card. Easy decision.

    Andrew, the ways you describe this songwriter helps me put words around how I feel about your songwriting. I love the imagery of being taken to the mountaintop and also shown the path to get there. That is gorgeous. Gorgeous. I have clumsily attempted to imitate some of your songs as well because they seem similarly attainable.

    Anyways, I wanted you to know that you’re doing this as well. May God further gift you with the humility and trust (and ability) to continue to show others the way to the mountaintop.

  9. April Pickle

    Giving thanks along with you. “I can see it swirling, whirling, spinning all around” all over this post.

  10. Brendt Wayne Waters

    Whatever the opposite of “fisk” is, I could do that about this article. So many great things to comment on. But I’ll limit it to one.

    Andrew, when you describe your reaction to and analysis of Marc’s music (esp “not only level you, but invite you in”), please know that there are many of us out there who see your music the same way.

    It’s an interesting progression. One of my favorite things about Rich was that he would write the things about God that I couldn’t put into words. Then you came along with “Three Days” and wrote about Rich what I couldn’t put into words. Now you’re writing about another great songwriter, but really describing yourself.

  11. Kevin M. McCray

    We’re of similar age Andrew (I’m 38 today). In a couple of ways we grew up similarly too. I also was into rock of basically any form and eschewed most forms of pop that were popular and trendy then. My mom loved pop, and since she was the one who drove everywhere we listened to it quite a bit in the car. She was pretty supportive of my rock bands (yes, she loved Extreme and Tesla among others). And my family loved to sing in the car. Her and both my brothers, all four of us, would just belt out songs when they came on the radio that we loved. “Walking in Memphis” was one of those songs.

    I distinctly remember after it came out we were talking about songs that really got into you, and made you just want to sing them, made you LIVE vicariously and joyfully in their exultation, even if you didn’t sound great, or hit every note perfectly. I remember my mom (whom I always considered much wiser and insightful than myself) said she loved the song and it became one of our common bonds when we really didn’t have many (rebellious teenager and all). I remember her saying the only thing she didn’t like about the song was the lyric where he talks about Muriel asking if he was a christian (most of my family is, not all.. but most) and he answered “Ma’am I am tonight”. She was upset that he could just be a christian for the night, transient and in the moment while performing for others and I thought “Wow, she’s right… that’s almost, if not, blasphemy against the holy spirit”.

    That tinged the song for me for, well, decades now. I still loved it. I still sang it at karaoke (usually to little fanfare). I never got over the fact that the guy who wrote the song could be like that when I connected so well with absolutely everything else he wrote about. And now I wish my mom could read this because she loved the song so much, but refused to totally embrace it because of that. Hah! She’d laugh about it now, I’m sure (she passed away back in the early 2000’s). So… Thank you. It makes me feel better knowing the real story of what happened with Marc and that its actually the story of his anointing ( I believe we’re anointed with the Holy Spirit when we first accept Christ ).

    And a few years after that I ‘discovered’ Rich Mullins. And my life (and my mom’s) was never the same ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Brave Sir Robin

    Hey, while we’re naming best records of the 20th century, I’ll put in a word for _Scenes From the Southside_.

  13. April Pickle

    @Kevin. :). Happy Birthday and I’m glad you shared that. I remember thinking similarly about “Walking in Memphis.” Thought he was saying “When in Rome…”

    But I kept singing the song. Just felt both rebellious and honest when I did. The song caused me to declare “I’m a Christian child” but also gave me pause as to why I was declaring that. Was it only because I was surrounded by Christians? Often it was.

    It’s an honest song, carrying truth in lyric and music regardless of what the songwriter was thinking at the time or what the audience tries to make of it.

    p.s. My family stopped in Memphis for the night in September on the way to Nashville and that song was playing in my head the whole time as we walked around downtown and rode the streetcar, blues and “gospel in the air.” It was magical.

  14. Brave Sir Robin

    (Er, should have said, of the last thirty years. If we include whole 20th century we have lots more to choose from. Then we get to include Simon & Garfunkel.)

  15. Brad Richardson

    This is beautiful AP. I have to tell you that the way you view Marc is the way some of my kids view you. ChrisB is our guitarist but he regularly sits down at the piano to work out some of your tunes. I played “Walking In Memphis” for him and while he thought it was a good song, he said it didn’t really inspire him like yours do. So for some anyway Andrew Peterson > Marc Cohn!

    We are in the rock world but still wanting to write truly good songs. Funny you mention “Joshua Tree” because I consider U2 to be a group we look up to and I would dearly love to hear your take on their music. And, I wish that I could see what you see and hear what you hear when you listen to songs. I often feel I am missing out, blind and deaf to so much that you seem to see and hear, but I am learning. Thanks for the wonderful read. I am inspired!

  16. Randall Lawrence

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us brother Andrew….and thanks for sharing Marc’s story….I have always felt something deep in my heart for him anytime I hear his music….for the man, not just the music….I am thankful, and yet jealous, that there are folks like you, Marc and many others, who have worked out the God given gift that you have and shared it with those of us who can’t quite connect the dots….many of us who feel both the words and the music in our hearts also feel like they are stuck there…until someone else comes along and unlocks the door with the lyrics and music of a song……often you say the things that we want to say (but we cannot find the words) and you play the songs we want to play (but we do not know the chords)……. keep unlocking hearts with your music brother….and I will be praying for you….

  17. Brave Sir Robin

    April, funny you should hear it as “Christian child,” because I always thought of it as a term of endearment, like this: “Tell me are you a Christian, child?” Double meaning awesomeness.

  18. Brave Sir Robin

    Andrew, you mentioned “Silver Thunderbird” — I was thinking, not many songs have perfect rhymes all the way through do they? That’s one though.

  19. Scott Riggan

    I’m a longtime fan of Marc Cohn, and I was working one of my first radio jobs when “Memphis” came out. I remember how that song made the hair on my neck stand out as I played it the first few times. It was so charged with passion and stood in such contrast to so much of the plastic music that I had to spin on the air at the time. The artists I seek out today, like Marc, tell meaningful stories and make music that feels real and true. Thanks, Andrew.

  20. Scott

    I had a “music epiphany” moment a few weeks ago and actually wrote about it on my blog. It’s pretty cool how music and lyrics can hit us like this:

    In my quest to enjoy books, movies, tv shows, and music, I sometimes discover a favorite by accident. Conversely, I also run into some duds. What I’m learning, though, is that sometimes I just wasn’t ready for whatever it was. I may come back to a book years later and really enjoy it. I may re-watch a movie, only to have it become a favorite (at one point, I actually like Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School better than Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, which is now in my top five favorite movies). This happens with music as well. I remember having Hootie and the Blowfish’s first album and not really listening it to it much, until it was everywhere on the radio. This brings me to Switchfoot.

    About 3 years ago, I bought Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot. It was a special Thanksgiving sale at Family Christian and I thought I’d give it a try. ABC was playing some of the album while going in and out of commercial breaks during college football games, and I liked what I’d heard. Only, I had tried to like Switchfoot several years earlier and never really found myself listening to the CD’s. Hello Hurricane changed that. I’m not sure what changed, really, but that album was like a sucker punch in a good way. Nearly every song grabbed ahold of me. The lyrics challenged me and the music moved me. I’ve since seen them in concert and tried to obtain all their albums. I find myself listening to the songs I dismissed earlier, and really connecting this time. In fact, some seem to be even more applicable. And this brings me to the thought, or lyric, of the day. It’s the chorus of the song “This Is Your Life”, which from The Beautiful Letdown.

    This is your life, are you who you want to be?
    This is your life, are you who you want to be?
    This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?
    When the world was younger and you had everything to lose

    As I’ve passed 40, this seems more and more applicable. It’s a great check on my values and priorities. Anyway, I encourage you to check them out. You won’t be sorry, and you may find a new favorite.

  21. Brad Richardson

    Scott, love Switchfoot. A very intelligent band there. Their new album Vice Verses is one of the most complete albums I’ve ever heard. Gotta listen to it beginning to end. The way I enjoy the depth of AP’s music I enjoy Switchfoot as well and I think that is especially unique for a rock band.

  22. Chris Whitler

    I have been thinking all week (probably because it finally turned “fall” here in the central valley in California) about Randy Stonehill’s 1989 album “Return To Paradise” (produced by Mark Heard). I started singing the songs the other day and had a realization that it is the album that saved my musical life from the wasteland I wandered into in the 80’s. I’ve been pondering writing a piece about it for my blog. This is good inspiration. Looks like I need to check out that playlist.

  23. Kate O'Leary

    Jodee Messina remade “Silver Thunderbird” a while back. I didn’t realize it was a remake. It was always a favorite and now I know why. Cohn is a wordsmith and a master storyteller. I love how he sneaks in “..the secrets that old car would know” into such a whimsical refrain. It reminds us all how wish we were in a few of our own Dad’s secrets.

  24. Jenn C

    I’m pretty sure loving Marc Cohn’s music drew me into yours in the first place. When I found out you were a fan (how many people can you say ‘Marc Cohn’ too and have them have a clue who you mean?) I was one happy girl. Thanks for this post – I’ll be pulling out the songs in the morning, and going to bed with a sweet song in my head tonight. I’d pull out the cassette for the first album, but I wore it out long ago. And I’ll be finding that nod to “Dig Down Deep” in “World Travelor” right now..
    He didn’t by any chance mention a new album, did he? Dreaming, I know!

  25. Joel

    Andrew — thanks for being one of those Marc Cohn kind of inspirations in my writing and dreaming and storytelling. I’m so very blessed by this post and its rekindling witness to my heart.

    Joel
    Twitter (@joelrockemann)

  26. Josh Kemper

    Great stuff. Those scruffy lower-register background vocals kind of remind me of a similar part on Queen of Iowa. Coincidence?

  27. Brave Sir Robin

    Back pain keeps me from sleeping, so naturally I’m listening to Marc Cohn. Easter egg detail on “Silver Thunderbird” — anyone else hear the faint “Hi-ho Silver”s in the background towards the very end?

  28. Dale Best

    Saw Marc perform live at the Canal Club in Richmond VA in 2004. I went to hear Memphis and stumbled upon an amazing catalog of music. Great songwriter and a great tribute by Andrew. I have the same prayer for every writer whose music seems to transcend this broken world.

  29. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for the great comments, folks. It makes me happy that some of you are just discovering some of these great songs. And yes, Josh Kemper, those BGVs are heavily influenced by MC–those and about a hundred others on my songs. I think The Far Country is probably the album that borrows sounds the most, especially in “Mountains on the Ocean Floor” and “For the Love of God.” And that’s partly why I asked Ben Wisch, the guy who produced and mixed that first Marc Cohn record, to work on it. He was amazing, even if he beat me at ping pong, and heading to NYC to mix that album was a great experience.

  30. Brave Sir Robin

    All of you die-hard Cohnies should check out the Youtube channel of stepsofthemuseum. He has rare B-sides, grainy audio of Marc’s first concert given at the age of 18 with all-original, un-released songs… all you can eat collectable stuff. That’s where I first heard the song “One Thing of Beauty” (Andrew I don’t think it’s on iTunes for you to add it to your playlist, but I can send you an mp3 if you like).

    Thinking about “Ghost Train” (by the way thanks for sharing that Andrew, rich stuff), I realized it’s pure autobiography about losing his mother. Lends a whole new depth of pain to the piece. And notice how it’s placed back-to-back with “Silver Thunderbird,” no doubt dedicated to the father he lost mere years after losing his mother.

  31. DrewSMusic

    Really beautiful post, Andrew. That first Marc Cohn recording is one of my favorites. I hadn’t considered what a gift it was to my overall musical worldview until today. I can still start all the songs in the right key, their opening notes embedded in my brain. And i still find tears in my eyes when he sings of “the man with the plan and the pocket comb,” probably the best succinct description of a lot of our dads. Fortunately my dad is still with me. Also, he’s recently been pretty disappointed by Ford Motor Co.

  32. Brave Sir Robin

    I do have a question about “Strangers in a Car.” Marc says it came from a dream about a girl being abducted. Now that song when you hear it is very romantic, very beautiful and touching… but if it’s about an abduction, isn’t it inappropriate to romanticize it?

  33. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Brave Sir Robin: thanks for the mp3. I’m listening to the YouTube channel now, and am happy as a clam. I had no idea there were so many unreleased songs available. Beautiful stuff. Honestly, this week has been a rediscovery for me–not of his music, because I never lost track of it—but of just how much I love it. I tend to mention Paul Simon, Rich Mullins and James Taylor as my favorites—listening to all these songs reminds me that Marc belongs in that list too.

  34. Brave Sir Robin

    Oh it gives me warm fuzzies that I helped you discover great music you hadn’t found before. I’m so glad. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m not sure if “Old Soldier” is in that channel, but that came out on some sort of compilation for Olympic athletes a while back, and it’s amazing too.

    I admit that of all his records the debut still stands out for me. You can cull some gems from the others, but #1 is like his greatest hits album. “Walking in Memphis” truly is an American classic and justifiably his best-known song.

  35. Matthew Benefiel

    Thanks for the post, I will have to check out Marc, haven’t really heard him, nor Rich Mullens for that matter, but I loved the song you played from Rich down in Cincy for the Light for the Lost Boy show. I’m just 30 and I still remember spending $15 of my hard gotten money (no allowance for five kids on a military/nursing budget – which I’m not complaining about) on a Steve Green cassette tape. Turns out Steve started loosing his voice at that time, but I still remember buying it.

  36. Stephen Clark

    I read this post on Friday and thought that maybe I should check out this guy’s music. I knew Walking in Memphis, but could have never told you who sang it. Saturday morning, I was dumpster diving at the local Habitat Restore finding some quality used books for a dollar each and a brand new lawn sprinkler for $4 when I saw a bunch of old cd’s. I started looking through them, passing on the Color Me Bad cd, when my hand landed, almost providentially on Marc Cohn’s, The Rainy Season disc. I thought that was pretty cool and I kept looking through the stacks. Just a minute later, I saw Marc Cohn’s self titled debut. Needless to say, I am now the proud owner of a couple of Marc Cohn cd’s which only cost me $2. I have enjoyed both and I can understand the songwriters draw to an artist like Marc. As many have said here, Andrew Peterson’s music contains the same draw. In a world were a song with 3 chords, a bridge and a hook combine with meaningless, uninspired lyrics, it is always a comfort to listen to songs written by songwriters, not music producers.

  37. Derek

    Wow AP. Fantastic post. Such as it is with your music, I love great songwriters and digging into the meanings of the lryics. Some of my favorites (among many others) include: Josh Ritter, Gregory Alan Isakov, Josh Garrels, Bon Iver, and Mark Kozelek.

    But I have to admit that besides knowing the song “Walking In Memphis” I never really listened to Marc Cohn’s music. In 1991, I started my first year at Taylor, so was listening to stuff like: U2, A Tribe Called Quest, R.E.M, 77’s, etc. And from there into the grunge years.

    So, now, I am really excited to get to know Marc Cohn’s catalog and dig into something new and something that clearly is timeless in many ways.

  38. Andrew

    “She said: ‘Tell me, are you a Christian child?’
    And I said: ‘Ma’am I am tonight!’
    When I was walking in Memphis….”
    Pure gold.

  39. John

    Your Marc Cohn discovery story is very similar to my own. He is one of the finest songwriters I have ever encountered. His music takes me places I have never been. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

  40. Phil

    Great post, Andrew, and I had many of the same thoughts upon discovering Marc’s music (albeit at a more advanced age than you!).

  41. yankeegospelgirl

    I’m so glad I found the song “Old Soldier.” Recently I’ve been learning about the life of Steve McQueen and his late conversion to Christianity. Truly, a remarkable story. I wept when I read about his last days. Then I went and listened to that Marc Cohn song again, and I couldn’t believe how perfectly it fit. I thought about the old McQueen, in his own words, “getting too old for this s—,” fighting against cancer, the glory of his youth long faded. I’m not gonna lie, I cried. I realize what a powerful meaning that song has now—before I didn’t have a “hook” to hang it on, but now I get it.

  42. dan taylor

    Great Post Andrew. In so many ways. I can relate to the joy you felt in hearing a great song for the first time. And the magic and mystery of marc’s experince in grace. Always glad I popped in the Rabbit Room.
    Merry Christmas Amigo

  43. Matt

    I have always loves ‘Walking in Memphis’ and it was amazing to learn more about its writer, his heart and how God gets tied up in the middle of it all. Beautiful. I enjoyed your writing too, well executed.

  44. Carri Keller

    I loved reading all you had to say about Marc Cohn. It was just beautiful and brought tears to my eyes.

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