A Legacy of Love: My Rich Mullins Story

By

Hey, folks. It’s Monday morning, just over twelve hours after the Rich Mullins tribute show ended. It was, for everyone involved, an unforgettable experience. The audience were wonderful, the band just killed it, the guests and the crew and the management poured themselves out. I’m really glad I wrote this intro for the souvenir booklet a few weeks ago, because after last night, I have no words. Many of us have a Rich Mullins story. This is mine.

The first time I met Rich Mullins was right here at the Ryman. Backstage, to be exact, at the exit door by the security desk. I tell you this with some hesitation, because I’m not proud of how it all went down—downright embarrassed, to be honest. It was November 12th, 1995, on the Brother’s Keeper Tour, which featured a full band along with Ashley Cleveland and then-new artist Carolyn Arends. I lived in Florida at the time, and was a persistent (read: annoying) and passionate (read: obnoxious) young Bible college student who had written about fifteen pretty bad songs and therefore felt called by God to be Rich Mullins’s new best friend. Like I said, I’m not proud of this.

I was a student at Florida Christian College, which is now a part of Johnson University, and part of the reason I was in college at all was my discovery of Rich’s music. Three years earlier, in 1992, I had long hair and was playing in a super lame rock band, unsure of the Christianity I had grown up with. Then a friend named C.J. gave me a Rich Mullins tape and asked me to learn “If I Stand” on the piano so he could sing it in church. I took the tape and a boom box to the church late one night to figure out the song. Little did I know I was about to be ambushed. The way I usually tell it, it was as if God reached his holy arm out of the stereo, through the lyrics of the song, and plunged his hand deep into my shadowy heart—then turned on a light switch. All at once I was weeping. Light seemed to be shooting out of my pores. It’s no exaggeration to say that that one encounter with Jesus through the music of Rich Mullins altered the course of my life and led me by the grace of God to this stage tonight.

After that fateful night I dove deep into Rich’s music and found my heart drawn toward Bible college, something that would have been unfathomable even six months prior. I met my wife the first week of school at an ice cream social for the freshmen (since, other than ping pong, that was all we were allowed to do), and Rich’s music was responsible in part for our first kiss. Jamie and I were in her Dodge Daytona on the way to sing hymns with some other students at a nursing home, and I was trying to figure out how to tell her I wasn’t ready to date anyone. The World as Best as I Remember It, Volume II was playing, and the triple-threat of “What Susan Said,” followed by “Growing Young,” followed by “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” drew my attention to the big Florida sun going down over the cow pastures beside the road. I pulled over. We climbed out and sat in the tall grass with our backs to the car, listening to Rich as the sky caught fire. As I explained to her all my stupid reasons for not wanting to get serious, the songs and the sun and her gorgeous hair kept tugging my face closer and closer to hers. “What am I doing?” I said out loud, mostly to myself. “I don’t know,” Jamie replied, “but I wish you’d hurry up and do it.” No joke. While Rich’s music played we kissed till the sun was completely down and a cop pulled over to tell us to go make out somewhere else. We’ve been married for twenty-two years now. Thank you, Rich.

It was during Bible college that I started writing my first real songs and doing my first real concerts, usually at Sunday night church services and youth conferences. Since I only had a few of my own songs I filled in all the blanks with Rich’s. I sang “Growing Young,” “Home,” “Hold Me Jesus,” “Peace,” “The Waiting,” “Sometimes by Step,” “Who God Is Gonna Use,” and more, always fighting back tears as my faith in, love for, and gratitude to Jesus were bolstered by those songs. Singing them night after night was reshaping my heart, rearranging my imagination to make room for the possibility that God was someone worth knowing and that he might actually love me. As much as I loved Rich’s songs, it was the God he sang about that I was enamored with.

Back then the internet was a new thing, and the only way to get online was with the one computer in the college library, via a dialup connection. Every day I went to the cubicle and loaded the Rich Mullins fan page, which I think was called “Calling Out Your Name,” to read concert reviews. I ached to see Rich live, and to maybe meet him to tell him how grateful I was for his music. I also ached for a mentor, someone to teach me songwriting, and to help me know how to be a steward of the gift people told me I had been given. The problem was, I was a selfish kid, audacious and opinionated and foolish—and yet, at the same time, I belonged to Jesus and was on what would turn out to be a long and painful road to realizing how terribly broken I was. But that came later. Right then I thought if I could just meet Rich, maybe he would like me, maybe he would see that I had something to offer and would help me know how to offer it.

That was when I drove up to Nashville for two reasons: first, because I was scouting it as a place my new bride and I might move to after graduation, and second, to see my songwriting hero in concert. The show, of course, was wonderful. During her set, Carolyn Arends took a photo of the audience, which was my first clue that the Ryman Auditorium was someplace special. Her music was so good, and I’m glad to now call her a friend. Ashley Cleveland was funny and passionate and slayed us all. But I just loved watching Rich do his thing. Those of you who saw him live know what I’m talking about. There was nothing quite like it. Something about his concerts made it easy to believe that God was real, and that Jesus actually loved us the way the Bible says he does. There was something about the semi-detached look on his face while he sang that convinced us that the God he was singing about wasn’t an idea, but was an actual person—a person Rich knew.

My Bible college roommate Mark had just moved up here and had a job at a little studio on Music Row, so the afternoon before the show I recorded two demos—terrible demos, mind you—of two terrible, terrible songs. But like I said, I was audacious and thought that if I could just get those songs into Rich’s hands, maybe he’d listen and like me and I would have a shot at a career or a mentorship or maybe just a shot at feeling less invisible. So here’s the embarrassing part. I snuck backstage after the show (a small miracle, given the reputation of ushers at the Ryman), stood in a crowd of Rich’s friends, and like a fool tried to get myself invited to the post-show hang. I know, right? I’m horrified now. I wish I could go back and stop myself. I feel like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption talking to the parole board about how he wished he could go back and talk sense into that stupid kid he used to be. I was a nuisance, and if you were there that night and remember it, please know how sorry I am. I have since prayed that God kept Rich from listening to that demo, and that he forgot me completely.

Fast-forward a year, and I met Rich again. I’m less embarrassed by this encounter, but only just. He and Mitch McVicker played a show for my college, mainly because I badgered the staff guy in charge of concerts. I volunteered to be the food guy, which meant I got to take Rich’s and Mitch’s dinner orders. (They both ordered Outback steaks, by the way, which, now that I think about it, is a strange thing to eat just before a show.) When I met him this time around I just said, “I’m Andrew. I’m the food guy,” hoping he didn’t remember me from before. During the show, Rich told the story about how David only killed Goliath because he was bringing sandwiches to his brothers—and then he glanced at me in the audience and said something like, “There’s nothing wrong with being the food guy.” After the show I gave him a copy of my indie EP, which I sincerely hope none of you will ever hear, and he stuffed it in his dulcimer case. I also remember being intensely jealous of Mitch, wishing he’d get strep or something so I could fill in. Years later, after Rich died and Mitch and I had done a few shows together, I bashfully said, “You want to know something crazy? We actually met years ago.” He nodded. “Yeah, I know. In Florida.” Cue the needle scratch. I was appalled that he remembered. “Well,” I said, “sorry if I germed you guys. I gave Rich a copy of my record, and I’ve always wanted to ask….” I took a deep breath. “Did you guys ever listen to it?” He laughed. “Yeah,” he said with a grin, “we kind of hated it.” I love that story so much.

Jamie and I moved to Nashville in the summer of 1997. I got a job at the Olive Garden, she got a job as a babysitter. In what I believe was the intervention of the God of Abraham, I met the band Caedmon’s Call and they graciously let me open for them at a few shows that fall. The highlight of each show was getting to come out for the encore and sing a verse of “Hope to Carry On.” They were friends with Rich, and I hoped that maybe he’d show up at one of their shows and hear my songs. Maybe that would redeem the fool I had made of myself at our first few meetings. Then on September 19th, just over twenty years ago, Jamie and I got home from a date and a friend who was staying with us at the time stood in the kitchen with tears in his eyes and gave us the news that Rich had died in the wee hours of the morning. Of the many things I grieved that day, one very selfish one was that I never got to hang out with him. I never got to pick his brain about lyrics, or about movies, or about Jesus. I never got to be his friend.

Looking back, I see a young man on the verge of a music career that would wound him in innumerable ways, even as it blessed him tremendously. I see a young man doing his best to follow a calling without having the slightest idea how—other than the example set forth by Rich, who at least seemed to be more interested in following Jesus than anyone’s advice. And yet, what I wanted then, and want now, is to be able to just give Rich a call and commiserate, maybe have a Guinness and talk books, or express to him my befuddlement about the nuts and bolts of following Jesus when all I ever seem to do is fail at it. I’m older now than Rich ever was, but I still feel like that dorky twenty-year-old who has no clue what he’s doing, who most days can’t believe that Jesus loves him.

Since I never got to be Rich’s friend, all I had was the songs. So many of you in this room carry memories of your friendship with this guy, and all I really have is the knowledge that he didn’t like my music. Many times I’ve wondered if the fact that my career began just as his life ended was actually the mercy of God—maybe he wouldn’t have liked me, and that would have hurt a little too much. So instead I got to be one of a handful of artists who have traveled the country for decades and tried to keep his songs alive. I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a dorky fan of Rich’s songs (if we had time I’d challenge you all to a sing off; I know his lyrics better than I know my own), so after I sang, “Rich is on the radio, and I think we ought to take it slow,” on my first radio single in 2000, I got something as good if not better than a friendship with my hero—I got to be friends with his friends. I met the Mullins family out in Wichita with Mitch, I played a bunch of shows with Eric Hauck and Michael Aukofer, two Kid Brothers of St. Frank. I went on Compassion International trips with Keith Bordeaux, sat at the bonfire out at Rich’s Ashland City house with Connie Hawk and Steve Cudworth and David McCracken, and eventually got to know Reed Arvin.

Because they knew I was a fan, people around the country would tell me stories about crazy stuff that Rich did. One person told me he used to show up unannounced at some house in Florida and trade room and board for a concert on their organ; another gave me a handful of acorns from an oak tree in the woods in East Tennessee where he used to sit and pray. I’ve heard hundreds of anecdotes, most of which I can’t repeat. Last year Steven Curtis Chapman gave me an amazing birthday present: Rich’s copy of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, the book that inspired lines in “Creed” and “Growing Young,” and probably more. Kathy Sprinkle and Beth Lutz entrusted me with the lyrics to “Mary Picked the Roses,” and Gabe Scott and I set them to our own music, which amounted to a post-mortem cowrite. For all of these stories, and for all of you who have stewarded them well, I’m profoundly grateful.

In the years soon after Rich’s death, whenever I covered one of his songs, the crowd would go bonkers. But about ten years ago I realized that fewer and fewer people reacted. More recently, whenever I play something like “The Love of God” or “Land of My Sojourn” I have to tell most of the audience who wrote it, and then when there’s still no reaction I have to say, “He’s the guy who wrote ‘Awesome God,’” and then they know whom I’m talking about. There are always a handful of hardcore Rich fans at my shows, but the army is small and getting smaller. This, as you know, should not be. It makes some sense, however, when I go back and listen to the records. They do, in fact, sound a bit dated (and I think Reed would agree), but what music doesn’t? Not only that, Christian music isn’t the same as it was then, so people have to sort of push through their modern pop-worship sensibilities to hear how brilliant the songs are. But on every album, if you listen for it, there’s an undeniable fire of talent burning through the sounds of the 80s and 90s. And with each record, that fire grew brighter and brighter as the production grew more and more organic. By the time the two World as Best as I Remember It albums were out, Reed and Rich (along with Beaker, Jimmy A, Billy Crockett, and the other players) had found a sound that set things up perfectly for the masterpiece that is A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band—as if it was the bottom of the ninth and a perfect pitch sailed toward the perfect batter.

The Ragamuffin Band album, in my opinion, is one of the finest start-to-finish albums ever made. While some of Rich’s most popular songs came earlier, and while we may have favorite individual songs on other records, I don’t think any of the other albums stand up as complete works of art like this one does. When I describe what I love about the songs of Rich Mullins, I usually reference the album title Winds of Heaven/Stuff of Earth. It’s that mashup of lofty poetic language (“From the place where morning gathers you can look sometimes forever till you see what time may never know”) and gritty, earthy imagery (“Two lonely-eyed boys in a pickup truck, and they’re driving through the rain and the heat, and their skin’s so sweaty they both get stuck to the old black vinyl seat”) that makes his lyrics so uniquely Rich. But it’s not just the lyrics that do it—it’s the music too, thanks in no small part to Reed’s production. I’ve always loved the way songs like “Peace” have such tasteful instrumentation—that gentle piano part, Jimmy Abegg’s melodic guitar lines—right there next to Chris McHugh’s explosive, majestic drums. The same thing happens in “The Color Green.” First there’s that quiet, rolling piano, then there’s the soaring string section. Stuff of earth, then winds of heaven. And that was Rich’s life, too. I’ve heard stories about his vagabond tendencies—his hitchhiking, cigarette smoking, barefoot, unshowered self—right there along with his brilliant Chestertonian wit, his obvious love of literature and film and Scripture and theology. And then he just comes right out and says it in the title of this album: liturgy meets legacy. Ancient Christian worship meets American heritage. A good Midwestern boy on a hammered dulcimer—there is no folkier folk instrument—meets a sweeping orchestra and an Irish whistle. It’s no wonder that Rich loved Chesterton, who always used paradox to convey the mystery of God—who is both the infinite Lord of the Galaxies and the lowly Nazarene.

I never knew Rich Mullins. Most of the people on the stage tonight didn’t. But we knew his songs. And because he was such a remarkable person, sometimes I wonder if the people who were always around him paid as much attention to his songs as we did. Maybe the largeness of his personality overshadowed what he was writing. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people who knew him talk more about him and his delightful oddness than they do his songcraft—evidenced by the fact that when I saw the Ragamuffin Band on tour after Rich’s death, they struggled to remember the lyrics. But the lyrics were all the rest of us had, and they were enough. They were enough because they always pointed us toward Christ, always realigned our compasses toward the God to whom our allegiance is due, the God who is the giver of all good things. There have been plenty of memorials to Rich’s life over the years. Tonight is our chance to remember and to honor his work, and the work of those who were on the journey with him. In the Pursuit of a Legacy film by Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson, he says, “If your ambition is to leave a legacy, what you’ll leave is a legacy of ambition.” Tonight is a celebration of the legacy of love that Rich left us in his music, which is not a love for music, but a love for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

If you had told me twenty years ago, on the day that I found out Rich died, that I’d be standing on this stage tonight, surrounded by such good friends, playing these songs for a sold-out crowd, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are. If you had told me that night at the church piano in 1992, as I wept like a man who was longing for his home, that God would let me sing for him for these twenty years, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t think God could be that good, that generous to the likes of me. I wouldn’t have thought that love could stoop so low. But here we are.

C. S. Lewis wrote an essay called “Meditation in a Toolshed.” In it, he describes the difference between looking at something and looking at its source. He saw a beam of light coming through a crack in the roof, and found it beautiful. That’s a good thing. But if you go and stand in the light and look along the beam, he said, you can see through the crack to the trees and the sky outside. What we’re doing tonight is looking at a lovely shaft of light. Don’t stop there. Come stand in the beam, look through the brokenness where the light gets in, and gaze at what lies beyond it. Behold the world that is more real than the air we breathe, and behold the source of the light, which is the Word through whom all things were made. Remember, I beg you, after tonight is over, after the music fades and the lights go down and you close your eyes, that the stories are true. There really is a God. There really is good news, and it really is worth singing about.

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.


28 Comments

  1. Joe Howren

    Amen.  Now I have a tape to give to YOU!  They may or may not be terrible 🙂 Thanks for everything you do.  Praise God!

  2. Jeff Mize

    Andrew, this might be my favorite thing you’ve written. Rich may not have liked your EP, but I’m certain he would’ve loved BTLOG. It’s your own masterpiece, just as LLR was Rich’s.

  3. Bill Burnette

    @billbintn

    Joe’s right- now that you have told this story, you’ll be getting the songs of aspiring songwriters everywhere you go… And you HAVE to listen to them! 🤣

    Seriously though, this is a beautiful tribute and testimony. The show was incredible!

    May God bless you and keep you.

  4. Bill Burnette

    @billbintn

    Joe’s right- now that you have told this story, you’ll be getting the songs of aspiring songwriters everywhere you go… And you HAVE to listen to them! 🤣

    Seriously though, this is a beautiful tribute and testimony. The show was incredible!

    May God bless you and keep you.

  5. Jay Holland

    What a God-filled night.  Thank you so much for following through on such a great, difficult dream!  My wife and I flew in from Florida for the show and it was so very worth it.  I cried vicariously with you as your precious little girl led us in “Step by Step”, as I though about my own 15 year old daughter stepping deeper into the faith of her father.  Andrew, in the past two decades I’ve buried a wife, walked through leukemia with my son, and struggled to find rays of home with an adoptive mentally ill child.  Interspersed in more events than I could tell you are songs from Rich and you.  Giving me words when I am wordless.  Helping me to explain to others why I’m not hopeless.  Pointing me back to love after the last tear falls….  Thank you!

  6. Ashley R

    The first time I heard you play was at Furman University, opening for Caedman’s Call, right after Rich had died. When you spoke about how his music had influenced you, I just kept nodding my head in agreement. I grew up in the same church tradition and had the privilege of having Rich lead worship for teen conventions. I was able to go to several concerts just down the road from me at Milligan when I was in high school. I’m making sure my kids grow up to know his music and his name. It shaped me so much as a young Christian and brought me face to face with Jesus in the sort of conversion that can only happen if you’ve grown up in church every Sunday and suddenly come to call Jesus your own. But your music has been a gift to me, too, because your lyrics speak out of the everyday experiences of family and adult life and have met me in each stage of my journey: young marriage, parenthood, questions of calling, struggles with depression, new understandings of what it means to live by faith and trust in the goodness of God as we get older and life gets harder. So thanks for that. Thanks for carrying on what Rich’s music started but couldn’t continue because he never got as many years down the road as we have living out faith in this life.

  7. Matt Friedman

    What a beautiful tribute. I remember when I heard that Rich had gone “home”: I had been in South Asia at the time for a number of years, and an acquaintance told me that he’d just died. I remember responding with horror that one of the great songwriters had died, but at least there was still Mark Heard… and then he informed me that Heard had died some five years previous (again, South Asia, pre-Internet). It was pretty terrible. Your tribute brings a bit of a healing quality to all of this, too, as well as your own transparency in your own account. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Nathaniel Miller

    @nmiller

    Thank you so much to you and Ben and the other musicians for all the hard work of putting this show together.  It was the perfect celebration of Rich’s music and Jesus who is the heart beat of them.  It was my first ever concert at the Ryman to boot, so I can’t imagine a better experience.  I couldn’t help but think as I read this and watched the concert that your music has impacted so many of us the same way Rich’s music impacted you.  So while the concert may have been a tribute to him, we gathered because your music has changed us in the same way his did.  I am so grateful.

  9. Christen

    Perfect.  Just so you know your songs have had that kind of impact on lives as well- I have followed you from the beginning and somehow you’ve always managed to write something that spoke to where I was at the time.  You’ve written the soundtrack to my walk with Christ.    Thank you.

  10. John Unger

    Andrew,

    Thank you for sharing this. Incredible story, soul-food encouragement, and well-honoring to Rich.

    I found out – years after we met – that good friend of mine was an acquaintance of Rich at one time. He shared with me an experience that epitomized Rich’s penchant for the unpredictable.  The story goes like this:

    My friend was attending Cincinnati Bible College during a winter semester, and unbeknownst to him, his roommate was a friend of Rich. Turns out Rich hitchhiked 300 miles from TN to OH, through a blizzard of a storm. Upon his arrival in Cincy, Rich walked into the dorm, soaking wet, snow still clinging to his hair, and without so much as a knock or even a word or a glance, he ambled over to the nearest bed, climbed in, and just slept for 12 hours straight. After he awoke, he said nothing about his trip, and just acted like nothing had happened.

    Rich passed away 3 days after our son was born, and on the same day as my wife’s dear, faithful grandmother died. We laughed and cried about the fact that Grandma got to meet Rich before we did.

    Your assessment of the Liturgy, Legacy… album is spot on. It’s in my own top 5 albums of all time. Amazingly rich (no pun intended) compositions. That album changed my own musical world indefinitely, especially as Rich’s cover of How to Grow Up Big and Strong introduced me to the music of Mark Heard, whose music I have grown to enjoy and appreciate – dare I say it – as much as I do Rich’s (Speaking of Mark, it was sad to see no tribute to him this year, which was the 25th anniversary of his passing in 1992).

    Your story makes me hope I get to meet you someday, maybe even share a Guinness or two. I promise not to bring a demo tape or any expectations, just a warm handshake and gratitude for sharing your craft and your life with those of us who are blessed to be your audience (oh, and by the way: the Guinness is on me).

    In Jesus,

    John Unger

  11. Jack

    My wife, a rabid Rich fan, found out about the concert about 2 weeks prior to the event. When I went on the website there were scant tickets available and only single seat obstructed. I was able to get greats seats on Stub Hub and we headed from Michigan to Nashville. To be honest, I was not sure what to expect, but suffice to say the evening was much more than I could have ever expected. It really turned out to be a hey-let’s-use-this-opportunity-to-celebrate-Rich’s-music-but-really-just-worship-Jesus night. Awesome gathering of believers.

    Two highlights for me – being a religiously brought up, former drug addict/alcoholic, radically saved believer who still bucks against traditional Christianity – were two simple, but profoundly powerful things. Turning to others and saying “The peace of Christ be with you” WOW! There is such power in our words and the impact of that was visceral. I was overwhelmed. Then the doxology at the end. I am not kidding. Sitting in the second row folding chairs, the sound coming from the audience was like a heavenly choir. I have never heard anything like that. The blend was like a trained choir who have sung together for decades (are you sure there weren’t half recording artists in the audience!). Of course, the entire evening of music was beautiful. My wife was singing along with every song, I only knew a few, but tears streamed down my face as Christ was present in the worship.

    Lastly, I have an experience of meeting Rich dating back to before he was really known as an artist. I had accepted Christ in March of ’84 and somewhere around July of ’84 I was attending a Baptist bible study in Hudsonville MI where a lot of the attendees were farmer families (I believe one of the leaders and the Mullins families were friends). One of the leaders said, “Hey, we’ve got this guy here tonight who is gonna play the piano and sing for us” I had no idea who Rich was as he sat at the upright piano and plunked away singing in his raspy voice, “Sing your praise to the Lord, come on everybody, stand up and sing one more, Hallelujah”. I don’t think anyone at the bible study really knew. A few years later, after marrying my wife and learning her love for “all things Rich” I would joke that Rich and I were old friends, having hung with him long before ;^).

    Thanks again for a wonderful evening!!!

  12. Chris Barrett

    Thank you, Andrew. As always, beautifully written and a tribute to being able to see your hero as a person. Rich would have hated to be put on a pedestal. We are grateful for that encounter with Rich’s music. You have blessed many of us with your music and how Jesus shines through your gifts and your humanity.

  13. Elizabeth Pitre

    Andrew et al, thank you so much for the obvious hard work you put into the tribute concert. You must know what you did for those of us who never got to see Rich live in concert. We have always appreciated the intricacies of his music, especially the Ragamuffin album. Listening to his music is a feast for the ears. Watching your performance was a feast for the eyes!!  Seeing the amazing balance of every instrument in time with the others was beyond incredible. And you were right about the sound. Almost perfect!! Our 16 year old daughter couldn’t sing along because she watched the entire 3 hours with her mouth gaping open in awe. We had to stop her from standing after every song!  What an amazingly talented group of musicians. 3 days later, we are all singing Peace, The Howling, and The Color Green loudly. The kids are going between the guitar, piano, drums, and flute trying to pick out their favorites. Thank you again. Love from Louisiana, the Pitre family. 

  14. Chris

    It may or may not matter to you that when I introduce your music to people who haven’t heard it, I say “he’s kind of like a new Rich Mullins”

     

  15. Jenney

    OhMyGOSH, I read all the way through this thinking, “oh, this dude feels the same about Rich Mullins that I do about Andrew Peterson,” before noting who wrote it. Ha! That’s what happens when you blindly follow links wherever they may lead.

    I can’t sing or write or even dream of having those talents, so I’ll never show up at a show with a demo, but I’m sure that if I finagled a backstage pass somehow that I would totally babble like a teenage fangirl. I would have with Rich Mullins, too, and Mark Heard, for that matter. It’s probably a good thing for everyone involved that I never have these sorts of opportunities.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. Andrew Peterson and Friends: The Ragamuffin Album, Live at the Ryman – ChrisHubbs.com

    […] Last Sunday night I had the privilege of attending an Andrew Peterson-organized and -led concert honoring the legacy of Rich Mullins at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Peterson and his cadre are roughly my age, and we share a deep debt to Mullins, who in his all-too-short musical career penned songs that showed that Christian music could be artistic, poetic, and honest in ways we hadn’t before seen. (Andrew wrote an essay for the concert booklet telling his Rich Mullins story that’s well worth a read. It’s posted on The Rabbit Room.) […]

  17. Dana Daggett

    @danadaggett

    Thanks for helping to keep Rich’s music out there for people to remember and for people to be introduced to for the first time.  At the risk of having my RR membership revoked for heresy, I have to say you are every bit as good a writer as Rich.  Thanks for taking a risk and being vulnerable, and always reminding us that the stories are true.

    P.S. Thanks for the bits about Mitch.  I am going to have to give him a hard time when I see him about your first EP…was it Walk?

     

  18. BenjiKunz

    This was so emotional to read, Andrew, because I relate to it so much. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have shared it because now folks will have no qualms about annoying you with demos since it’s just giving you a taste of your own medicine.  🙂 It’s encouraging to see where you started and to see my own story in your story, although I have no clue what the Lord has for me on the music & songwriting front. For now, I’m still in that annoying-the-heck-out-of-your-favorite-songwriter-while-in-Bible-college-for-the-sake-of-attention stage. Although you’ll be happy to know I denied the Lord’s calling of being your best friend when I realized you’re almost 20 years older and could technically be my dad.

     

    All seriousness though, your music has done for so many of us what Rich’s music has done for you. And I’ll bet there’s quite a few budding artists who want nothing more than to carry on the legacy that God began in Rich and has continued through your own music. Honestly, I’d love for one of those folks to be me. It’d be amazing. But that’s assuming a lot about both the will of God and the quality of my music. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep emailing you demos and thinking I’m something special until you listen to them and tell me their terrible. Because your story just gave me permission to do so. In fact, there’s a really rough EP in your inbox that I sent a couple weeks ago and if you ever listen to it and get the chance to respond, it’d be a huge blessing. Even if you hate it.

     

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  19. Ashley Lind

    @alind

    Thank you for this, Andrew. I did not grow up with Rich Mullins’ music, but it was impossible to read this and not have the urge to listen to his music! So, as of today I am the happy owner of Liturgy. Good music is never out of season, and you’re helping to introduce it to new listeners.
    Also, I know that this has been said already, but if Sunday’s show were ever published as an album, I would love to hear it! I’ve been trying to imagine what it sounded like as I listen to the original. 🙂
     

  20. Bethel

    Andrew, this was beautiful and sad at the same time. I felt that hurt when you wrote that all you really have is the knowledge that Rich couldn’t stand your first EP. I concur with others here that he would unquestionably appreciate the work you have produced as a mature artist, but I know it still hurts.

    I also *really* feel what you are saying about that dawning realization that fewer and fewer people even remember who this guy was. It’s true, but it hurts. I know it must feel lonely sometimes for you, but you should know that there are others out there, and not all of them are over 30 years old. There are still people who believe in memory and preservation and just plain good old-fashioned songwriting. And people who recognize an authentic literary voice when they see it, because hot dang that guy could write some prose.

    Like you I have only come to “know” Rich secondhand, but one thing I am consistently struck by when I watch him is his wholesome imagination. He was un-selfconscious in ways that might offend prudish 21st-century people, but there always was this wonderful innocence about it (the clip where he talks about waltzing is one of my all-time favorites for this reason). This was a guy who really saw clearly the divide between darkness and light, and it permeated his interactions with his audience and his own thinking about all kinds of art.

    I may not identify with every aspect of his personal story (I was blessed to have a great relationship with my father, for one thing). But when I look at this goofy, weird guy who sometimes talked too loud and too long, who had a Memorex memory that would spit out sound bites at random intervals, who would obsessively re-watch favorite films and agonize over the song sequencing on his albums and tell bone dry jokes that fell flat and accost people with his favorite books, I go, “That’s my guy. That’s a guy who would get me, and I would have gotten him.” Rich’s great gift was meeting people where they were, but I get the sense that only a handful of people could meet him where he was. How I wish I had gotten that chance.

    I have played with the idea of doing my own tribute project to Rich, because I hear many of my own musical instincts in both his vocals and his piano. I have come to feel that some of his real soulfulness as a musician was smoothed out in the studio process (especially in the early days–just compare the live and studio versions of “Verge of a Miracle”). I would love to recapture some of that, even if it’s really for nobody except me. I’d love to go back to songs nobody remembers like “What Trouble Are Giants” and ask myself “What would Bruce Hornsby do?” I’d love to take his gorgeous version of “Be Thou My Vision” that’s on YouTube and has like 100 views and record it in a way that’s actually listenable. I’d love to attack “Elijah.” But the one song he did that really undid me, the one that blew me away like nothing else I’d ever seen him do, was his version of “This World is Not My Home.” I had no idea what a stamp he had put on this until literally just this month. It was so full of dignity and class, and resonated so strongly with my own love for the American legacy of spirituals and gospel songs. I knew I wanted to do my own version, so I quickly learned it and recorded this in my room. I hope I’ve done some justice to it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwRum84J-RY

    I wrote one other thing I wanted to share, but I’ll put it in a second post, because this is long enough. Again, thank you so much for keeping the memory alive.

  21. Bethel

    This is a brief poem I wrote while reflecting on Rich’s painful death and sometimes painful life (and also on the recent loss of a young scholar and missionary named Nabeel Qureshi, who passed at only 34 of cancer but also left behind a mighty legacy). It’s my testament to the peculiar sorrow and beauty of men who die too soon.
    Glory be to God
    For shooting stars
    And strong sons, striding
    Across an open sky
    Of unfurled grace.
    For great hearts that could not
    Rest
    Until they found their rest in Him.
    Glory be
    To the one who heals the broken
    To the one who breaks the saint.
    Glory be to the Father
    Who stoops to gather fallen soldiers
    And rock them in the arms
    That rock the sea.
    Glory be to the Son
    Who bids men come and wrestle,
    Who stretches out his wounded hand
    And leaves them with a limp.
    Glory be to the Spirit
    Who breathes into our empty lungs
    The breath of life.
    To the one who counts our yesterdays
    Our todays
    And our tomorrows
    As but a little span
    And raises us to life eternal
    Be all glory forever
    Amen

  22. Scott Barry

    This is so wonderful to read. Thank you, Andrew. It’s funny, I’ve longed to find a way to give you a “tape” (not sure what that is) of the music my wife and I have recorded as The Growing Roots. I sat in the audience at Wheaton College last October and wished I could meet you. When given the chance after the show to stand in line, I decided not to. Maybe it was because I was 39 and not 21. Twenty-one year old me would have snapped a selfie and handed you a CD. Ha! And, you probably would have hated our music, too.

    Take heart, I’ve discovered the music of Rich because of you and this Rabbit Room community. Again, thank you. I feel more on fire for Jesus this morning after reading this.

  23. Toni Paxton

    Thank You Andrew,  Will this be aired on TV?  Wish My son could have been there.  He is an accomplished Hammer Dulcimer player because of Rich Mullins.  We as a family watched a DVD of one of Rich Mullins probably 11 years ago and my son Kyle hasn’t been the same since.  He was already a great pianist but had to try the Dulcimer.  My son tells everyone that Rich is his biggest influence.  With a great big heart for God in the most authentic way Rich Mullins continues to impact our entire family.

    Toni Paxton

     

     

  24. Scott Riggan

    I was at that 1995 show in Nashville. I’d seen Rich twice before and had been a huge fan since first hearing “Elijah.” The “Liturgy” record resonated for me (and still does) in a way that no other CCM of its time did, and as a songwriter I was equal parts inspired and daunted by its genius. Like you, I also longed to meet him and have some kind of affirming interaction; to be liked by your hero is a powerful thing. And when I heard the news of his death I was deeply shaken. And disappointed, since I was booked as the opener for two upcoming shows. So I never got to meet him. But his songs remain, and I’m grateful.

  25. Hannah Eagleson

    Hi Andrew, I first encountered your music when I had just started graduate school and gave a few of my colleagues a ride somewhere in a minivan I was borrowing from my parents (I’m a harpist, which is why I was driving a minivan as a single 20-something grad student). One of them noticed Rich Mullins in my cd collection and told me I should listen to your music. Your music has been a deep and lasting gift to me in the twelve years since – it helped get me through one of the hardest times of my life when graduate school difficulties coincided with life disappointment on a bunch of other fronts, it gave me amazing times with friends and family while driving or hanging out around the kitchen table or going to hear you live, and it’s been a deeply meaningful thing to share with the old friend I eventually married.

    I can’t claim to speak for Rich Mullins, who I never met, though he’s one of the other musicians whose work has meant the most to me over the years. But as someone who is a musician and who has spent a lot of my life studying poetry as my day job, I hear a lot of the same things in your work and his – poignant stories, a love for language, and a powerful blending of the language of folk music and other styles. There’s another thing that I find endlessly compelling about your work and Rich’s, and that’s a weaving together of everyday lives in the here and now and the Biblical story, both in its vast grandeur of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Resurrection and in the ups and downs of everyday saints throughout the Bible and what their stories have to say to us. I wanted to thank you for all of that.

  26. Chad

    @chadmeeh

    Thank you Andrew for your story.  I had been a fan of Rich for a few years before his death.  His music helped form my belief in my new-found faith.  Upon hearing of him passing away, I also shed a few tears.  I knew someone special and powerful in Christ had been called home.  I also longed to one day meet him, but never did.  I find myself continually going back and listening to his music, reading lyrics and reading his articles.  Everything he wrote and said always re-centers my faith, brings back my focus on Jesus.  Your music and words do also.  As many others have mentioned, in my opinion, you have taken up the mantle that Rich carried.  And you are carrying it faithfully, just like Rich.  Yes, we all have our burdens, rough edges and such.  But with all of that, to let the light of Jesus shine through and reflect Him is the best any of us can hope for.  Thank you again, Andrew, for sharing.

  27. Bobbi Standish

    Oh goodness Andrew, you have no idea what you have meant to my life and the ripples that have flowed from there. And I am so thankful for what you wrote here, it was total joy and amazement to read. And I must comment on your lament about “the army of Rich fans getting smaller and smaller”. because as always in God’s way of things, you just never know. I am an old woman of 71 and just only in the last couple of years “discovered” Rich Mullins and fell hopelessly and totally in love with the man, the music, his spirit and the presence of Christ that simply flowed out of him, his songs, his lyrics and the way he spoke and related on stage; even though I never met him or saw a live performance. I now have every album of his, printed out his lyrics to bombard others who will listen with the wonder of it all, and scoured the internet to find every scrap of video and info related to Rich and his friends and given away CD’s of his music and even a DVD I had of his last concert. I too lamented that I did not “discover” him sooner and see a live concert or meet him in person. So you see, there may still be hordes of us out there, young and old, who have yet to discover Rich and Andrew as well!       Now back to discovering Andrew Peterson. I first loved your web site and your love of C. S. lewis, who is truly one of my first loves, and the name of the site “The Rabbit Room” and your writing; I have collected your albums, my husband and I listening and loving the songs over and over. The funny thing is I can’t stay consistent and keep up with the great stuff I find online as much as I would want, but I always have gotten the greatest discoveries and enjoyment and enlightenment every time I come back to this site. You were the one who offered Josh Garrels album, “Love and War and the Sea in Between” on your site and now we have every one of his albums and have seen him in concert (with Gungor) when he came close enough to us (Glorietta).  Loved your Wingfeather Saga and gave it to my granddaughter for her enjoyment. Anyway there is no way to tell you the wonders I have gleaned from you web site and your writing, however inconsistent I have been in attendance here. So again you never know the impact you (or Rich!!) can have on one old lady and the ripples that flow from there. Guess God and all His kids are just full of neverending surprises. Many more blessings to you and your family and your friends. This old lady is very glad you are here and sharing your tremendous gifts.

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