People don’t listen to Rock FM radio much these days. It’s become outdated by the plethora of streaming services, satellite radio, and internet radio. However, it wasn’t always that way. There was a day when FM was the Wild West of rock and roll radio. Casting aside the mono pop radio of the AM bandwidth, stations popped up across the FM dial. It was perfect for rock and roll – they refused to follow convention, shunned playlists, and introduced new artist regardless of their spot on the Billboard Top 100.
By the time I started high school in the early seventies much of rock FM radio was listed as Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) and had begun to develop playlists for said genre. Still, there were the musical rebels that played all the albums (yes Virginia, there is such a thing as vinyl recordings) and tracks not found on the AOR stations. They tended to be somewhat obscure – hidden on the dial by their limited range and smaller broadcast wattage. When I found one it was a true treasure. It’s where I discovered everything from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention to Bob Marley or Jackson Browne. It’s also where I discovered John Prine.
I was driving down the highway in my ’67 Chevy Impala SS, listening to one of those maverick stations when I heard “Hello In There” for the first time. It was by this guy named John Prine and honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. If it could elicit that kind of emotional response, I had to check this guy out. I bought his debut album the next day. It started a relationship with his music that still goes on today and I still say “Hello In There”.
Fast forward to 2020 – FM radio is a stereo version of AM pop music and vile talk radio. What’s now considered “classic” rock is anything but classic. It was commercially successful among Baby Boomers back then and lacks any of the substance of FM radio’s glory days. The hidden treasures I once valued died an ignominious death at the hands of corporate media giants.
Sadly, not only is FM radio gone, but the world lost another treasure – John Prine. He died of complications from COVID-19 last Tuesday. I was in my truck on the way back from the farm when I heard the news. I still listen to FM radio, but I’ve traded the commercial crap for National Public Radio and some local Red Dirt radio (if I need to explain, you wouldn’t understand…).
I, like so many others, have spent the week listening to tributes, old interviews, and a constant stream of a lifetime of John Prine music. The songs took me back to the first time I heard “Illegal Smile” and knew exactly what he was talking about. That smile faded as I became older and began to identify with his classic “Sam Stone”. Originally titled “Great Society Conflict Veterans Blues” it became one of his greatest protest songs. For me, it became too real. “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…”
Thank you, John Prine, for a lifetime of sarcasm, wit, reality, and truth. That’s why he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s why he’s an American treasure. That’s why I miss him…
Thoughts From the Porch: A stunning late winter sunrise started my morning. I drank my first cup of coffee to the varied songs of our resident Mockingbird. Nesting season has begun and my little friend sings once again, reminding me that spring in almost here. He brightened my morning even more that the rising sun.
Sometimes I can’t offer anything more than a simple thank you in my morning prayers. I see mornings like this, and I hear God speaking quite clearly. It’s time to just sit here and listen, to bask in His glory and miraculous creation.
The Mockingbird fell silent around the time of our first early frost. I’ve missed my little friend who greeted me in song each day as I set abut my porch time. This winter has been mild – eighty-degree days in January – and I would’ve thought he’d come by now and then, but his internal timing told him to wait until now. He saved his melodies for me and this very morning. Thank you my little friend…
Thoughts From the Porch
Like many people, I probably fall into the “spiritual, not religious” polling category these days. I still claim membership to a large non-denominational church that used to wear the name “Church of Christ”, but I rarely attend anymore. Even though there are many things I love about my faith tradition, I find myself uncomfortable in a place where “white, suburban, middle-class” continues to be the dominant member demographic.
To be fair, my church tries to be inclusive and has always been welcoming of everyone. They serve both the local and global community. It’s just that for the most part, most of the congregants are white. That’s what happens when you’re located in a predominantly white suburb. It’s the whole “birds of a feather” thing. It’s not intentional, or is it?
The issue of race and racism in my church began to rise to the surface last year. Although it saddens me that it took so long to come up, the minister took a bold leap and preached a series on race. For most of those of the Caucasian persuasion this meant having to discuss racism and race, particularly in the church, for the first time. I applaud their efforts. Quite frankly, white people are extremely uncomfortable talking about such subjects. They deny the problem like an alcoholic denies their alcoholism. It requires a level of honest appraisal that most folks shy away from. Ripping off the intellectual bandages to reveal an ugly, festering wound is painful, but necessary to heal properly. That’s why I was excited to see them offer a seminar “Let’s Start Talking About Race”. At least they’re talking, right?
“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. that is, we are all in a common relationship with Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s ‘descendant’, heirs according to the covenant promises”. Galatians 3.28-29 – The Message
My biggest fear is that my church will stop at ‘talking’ about the problem. My friend, Jim, always told me that “when all was said and done, more would be said than done”. Like the alcoholic who sees the reality of their alcoholism, the church is left with a choice: either continue the destructive behavior or take an active part in the healing process. Action is often simple, but far from easy. Honestly, most of us choose an easier way. That’s scary and a bit hopeless. The good news is we don’t have to do it alone.
I don’t pretend to have the answers. I know however, that relationships are the key, especially ones with people of color. Several years ago, I was working for a local ministry on a community garden on the heart of Como, a predominantly African American and neglected, low income community here in Fort Worth.
During the first days of tilling, building beds, and planting, a guy who rode his bike past the garden each day, stopped and asked why we were tearing up the vacant lot where old downtown Como used to be. I explained to him what we were doing – building a garden that would serve the community. His response was unexpected.
“You white folks come down here and tell us what’s good for our neighborhood as if you know better than us. Your white church comes down here for a few days to help us poor black folk so you can feel better about yourselves and tell everyone to look and see what you did. Then you go back to your nice comfy suburbs and leave us to clean up the mess”.
I thought for a moment, looked him in the eye, and said, “You’re right, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here tomorrow and the day after that.” He grunted and rode off down the street.
What the gentleman passing by didn’t know was that I was working for a neighborhood ministry. Still, I learned something that day. Good intentions hide the fact that we’re still a part of the systemic racism that plagues our society. We don’t listen to communities of color because we think we know better. We think know better because of our implicit bias that says the dominant white culture is ‘normal’ so it must be right. What is that but white supremacy. Ouch…
Several days later, the same guy began to say hello as he rode past each morning. This continued for a few mornings until one day he stopped to ask what “that was coming up over there?” We began a conversation and he introduced himself as Stephen. I introduced myself and we talked about what else was coming up. A couple of days after that his stops became more frequent.
He spoke of the rich history of the land I’d planted, how the neighborhood movie house had been there and how the old downtown had been a vibrant gathering place for the community. He began to stop regularly and chat, asking how things were going. His initial combative attitude changed to one of neighborliness.
The lesson I learned from all of this is that we begin to see each other differently when we spend time with each other. People cease to be ‘them’ and divisions begin to break down. That’s hard to do in a place, especially a church, that lacks diversity – diversity of thought, color, and culture. Unfortunately, Dr. King was right – “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” That lesson has been reinforced many times over the years. I’ve had to take a long, hard, honest look at myself in the process.
I’ve had to identify the old tapes and the old ways of thinking I grew up with. I had to be honest enough to admit my shortcomings and ask God to remove them. I had to repent, or rethink, my old ideas and actions.
I love the word repent. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to a solution, whether it be in spiritual or worldly matters. Jim always told me that once I identify the problem I’m halfway to the solution. Repentance is full of hope and possibility – for all of us.
As I have said, I don’t know all the answers and I’m certainly no expert on racial issues However, I know everything has a beginning. Honest conversation (and listening is the key to conversation) is a great place to start. Just don’t stop there and start walking…
I’ve been taking a personal writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks. It’s been quite busy with Opal’s Farm and client requests. When life gets a bit too hectic I’ve learned the value of a Sabbath rest…
Fortunately, it’s been gloomy and rainy here for the past two days. Thursday’s downpour and yesterday’s off-and-on showers allowed me to complete many of the projects I have going. I woke up this morning to a glorious sunrise, bright skies, warmer temperatures, and a brain worm…
Jonathan Edward’s “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” kept echoing through my head even though the last thing I want is for the sun to leave. It’s a great song from my younger days though. It led me to look it up on You Tube. I couldn’t help but listen to the subsequent playlist – Greg Allman, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet – and my favorite from the morning, Arlo.
Now I know some of you have no idea who Arlo is. I know I’m dating myself, but Arlo and his father, Woody (as in Guthrie) shared a musical wisdom few possess. (Aside: I still follow the ritual I started some forty years ago by playing “Alice’s Restaurant” each Thanksgiving Day at Noon!).
As I was watching the video from one of Arlo’s more recent performances I was struck by the fact that some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard of not come from preachers and pastors, but from artists. There’s a spirituality in art, particularly music, that I’ve never found in a church service.
I hope you enjoy the clip. It’s rather long. Then again, most preachers go on a lot longer. (Another aside: When I was a kid we always found on preachers who went past the allotted twenty-minute sermon time – the Baptists would beat us to Luby’s…)
Anyway, I found it particularly meaningful on a bright, sunny day. By the way, Sunshine don’t run off…