My musical career is checkered.
When I was in sixth grade my class and school intensely prepared for an annual Music Festival. As we neared the big date the school’s music teacher, A Dominican nun, approached me and five classmates. She carefully seated us toward the front of the school’s bleachers in a tight group. This was my big moment. We were obviously being prepared for a big solo or ensemble piece.
Without much affection or gentility the good Sister said, “you six just mouth the words.” I was crushed. I suffered the same indignities throughout my academic career and when I was a fairly accomplished actor in high school and college I was doomed to the non-singing roles in musical theater. People look askance when I sing the National Anthem too.
The crowd of musical experts was not wrong. I can’t carry a tune and I don’t know a musical chord from a bungee cord. I do love lyrics, however. As I have reported in this blog before I am a fan of something called alternative country music largely because I find the lyrics so compelling.
Saturday night I was profoundly moved by a Paul Thorn concert at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum Theater. Thorn, a former boxer, is a very funny man. His humor entertained, his singing seemed great to my tin ear, but Paul Thorn’s lyrics were captivating and often stirring.
Thorn is the son of a preacher and though he is somewhat sardonic about that experience, his father’s vocation has obviously bred deep roots of philosophy and spirituality. Some of Thorn’s lyrics are funny, like “It’s better to be the hammer than the nail,” but many provoked a couple of days of introspection.
One of his Most powerful songs was “I hope I am doing this right.” This lyric really got me:
BEFORE I GO TO BED
I KNEEL AND PRAY EVERY NIGHT.
I WONDER IF GOD’S PROUD OF ME.
I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.
But then Thorn hit me with the chorus;
THE MORE I LEARN THE LESS I KNOW
THE MORE I CHANGE
THE MORE I GROW.
I PRAY THE ROAD I’M TRAVELIN’ ON WILL LEAD ME TO THE LIGHT
GOD I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.
I deeply admire a folk singer who can pose such a fundamental question of life with verve and talent. I don’t know about you but I wonder all the time whether I am doing this life thing right. Thorn’s words are not going to leave me soon.
But the talented musician wasn’t done with my soul for the evening. He asked another question I ask myself constantly, but probably don’t act on enough with the song titled “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?” That powerful chorus goes like this:
When have you helped someone who’s got it rough?
Oh we can change the world with a little love
What have you done to lift somebody up?There is a chance I was in a particularly reflective mood Saturday night, but I think an artist who can explore the basic lessons of life and entertain at the same time is a precious natural resource.
We all get motivation and provocation from strange and different places, but Saturday night a folk/rock artist from Tupelo, MS made me think good thoughts about life on this rotating sphere of ours. I hope those powerful lyrics make me act too.
Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance