Monday, April 25, 2016

Prince: Not my life’s soundtrack. Not even close. But it is still well with my soul.

The world has turned purple, the color of Prince. Everyone is humming snippets of “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret”, and “1999.”

By now, even if you were completely unfamiliar with Prince, these tunes have probably been earworms for at least part of your recent days.

There have been a spate, so it seems, of celebrity deaths. Doris Roberts (aka Raymond’s mom, 90), Chyna (Joan Marie Laurer, 45) who was a WWF retiree, Michelle McNamara (writer and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, 36), and, of course, Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson, 57).

Of these, Roberts death was probably the most impactful for me, I loved her in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I have to be honest and say that I knew little of Chyna and less of McNamara. The latter two, both dying very young and very suddenly. All three tragic, yet overshadowed by the passing of Prince.

On social media and in “person on the street” TV interviews, most are lamenting the loss of Prince, who they credit with having provided them with the “soundtrack of their lives.”

But this is not true for all.

All music is not created holy

Sarah McCammon, a writer for NPR, and I share similar upbringing. Explaining her lack of sadness over Prince’s death, she writes,
“[It’s] because I grew up in a conservative evangelical home in the Midwest in the 1980s and ‘90s, with pop culture kept carefully at arm’s length. We were told — at my charismatic church where the faithful ‘spoke in tongues’ and believed in miracles, and at my strict Christian school where girls wore skirts below the knees every day — that rock nroll was ‘the devils music.’”
While I share an affinity for the Christian musicians McCammon enjoyed — Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Kim Boyce — I was at least aware of Prince, David Bowie, and many others. You could say my taste in music ran and runs very eclectic.

The very first record I owned, and still have, is a Christmas album with the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen. In our little church, bluegrass was the anchoring style for the song service.

But when I wasn’t buying books with my hoarded lunch money and allowance, I was buying the latest 45s.

I could sing along to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” “Summer in the City,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Brand New Key.”

Beyond the top 40, I was also into Henry Mancini, Tim Hardin, Percy Faith, Arlo Guthrie, Rod McKuen, Horst Jankowski, Astrud Gilberto, Joni Mitchell, with a dash of Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart.

I relished classical music (E. Power Biggs rules!) as well as musicals (South Pacific, Camelot, etc.). And let’s not overlook Tennessee Ernie Ford, Mahalia Jackson, and George Beverly Shea (who recently died at 104).

Just because hallelujah’s in the lyrics doesn’t mean it’s a holy tune

Still, again like McCammon, I’m not that shaken by the loss of Prince. I appreciate his talent but am not a fan.

As far as looking to someone I’d label as the supplier of my life’s soundtrack, no one artist would fit that bill. Even favorites like Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Band, or Leonard Cohen don’t come close.

There are many songs with evocative messages, that when I hear them or sing them, both happy and sad emotions well up.

One of these is Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a song that has religious overtones but is not at all Christian, not in the least. I’m always both amused and saddened when Christians tout it as a quasi-worship song.

This past Sunday, one of the hymns we sang was “It Is Well with My Soul.” This one gets me every time.

When times are tough, there are anthems to lift the soul

The lyricist, Horatio Spafford, wrote the hymn in the 1870s after the loss of his fortune and the deaths of his five children. After so much disaster, still he was able to declare:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know or say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
I love the hymn and love singing it, but get choked up nearly every time. As much as any song I can think of, this one has been a personal anthem of sorts.

My sister and I used to sing duets in church. In the mid-80s, I was living in northwestern Ohio and going through a divorce. At the time I was carless and nearly homeless.

My parents came and got me and took me back home to Indiana for a few days. There, at our little church on 18th and E., during the Sunday service, my sister and I sang this song as a “special.”

I can still see my parents watching us with love, pride, and pain, all mixed together. The pain was empathetic.

The next time my sister and I sang this song together was in 1992 at my father’s funeral. We had a hard time, but got through it for Mom.

And the final time I sang it as a solo was eight years later at my mother’s funeral. My sister decided it was too much for her so I went it alone. It wasn’t easy. I’ve not done a solo since.

Each time I hear the song, these three events flood my memory. Any time I bump up against life’s inevitable pointy hard places, the words of the hymn lift my heart.

Life needs more than a catchy tune with a beat you can dance to

“Raspberry Beret” and “1999” are catchy tunes. They’re fun to listen to and hum along with. But they are not soul-affirming in any holy sense. Not in the least.

Even “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which is an almost-hymn that uplifts and sends chills down the spine, still doesn’t match the power and depth of meaning inherent in “It Is Well with My Soul” and other great hymns.

Prince was a creative guy, no doubt about it. But his music does not help me or anyone achieve the chief end of man, the purpose of our divine creation.

What is the chief end of man, you ask? Simple. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

For me, regardless of who is lost from this world, whether a noted celebrity I admire or a close relative I love dearly, when life hurts, I can turn my eyes upon Jesus and sing...
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

        It is well with my soul,
        It is well, it is well with my soul.

Were you a fan of Prince? If so, what did you like about his music? Who are some of your other favorite artists or songs? Do you have a favorite hymn? Why is it so meaningful?

How important, in general, is music to your life? Do you have a life soundtrack? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

And in the meantime, enjoy the hymn and sing along (the lyrics are below)!

Lyrics: It Is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

    It is well, (it is well),
    With my soul, (with my soul)
    It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

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