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Monday, February 24, 2014

SongStories 24: "You Alone" (NALR, 1984)

Over the last few years, I've been fascinated (but not obsessive) about the relationship between loves (eros, philia, agape) in life and therefore in worship, and therefore in song. We aren't always capable at all times and with everyone of all the different variations of love. But I have to believe, I think the Church believes, that all love flows from divine love, in the sense that wherever we drink from the river, we drink from the source. My love for God, at times in my life, might be eros because that is the only kind of love of which I'm capable. At other times, it might be philia, as is suggested by one interpretation, at least, of the reconciliation of Peter at breakfast that morning on Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. It's all the same to God, who waits to welcome us in the ocean of agape when we are ready, finally, to take that plunge.

So worship music, too, will express all kinds of love for God, as erotic, filial and familial, corporate and communal, and ultimately agapic. I might be wrong, but I perceive a lot of "praise chorus" kind of music as arising out of eros, and trying to be philia or storge. I don't think that's bad, at all. Eros is full of divine presence. It's the best we can do, sometimes, and it must be all right with God. I'm trying to get around to saying here that I've written music that wants to be worship music when the God is see is agape but I only have the musical vocabulary or the spiritual wits to respond with eros. I only hope to be moving in the right direction, and open to divine inspiration to get me, eventually, to the right place.

Here's a good example, though it's specifically about the wonderful Liam Lawton's song, "Cloud's Veil." My wife, Terry Donohoo, is featured with Liam on the original recording of his song on his GIA CD, Cloud's Veil. If you are familiar with that recording, you will remember that the lyrics of the refrain were slightly different from the way the appear in the printed music and hymnals. As recorded:
Even tho' the rain hides the stars,
Even tho' the mist swirls the hills,
Even when the dark clouds veil the sky,
You are by my side.
Even when the sun shall fall in sleep,
Even when at dawn the skies shall weep,
Even in the night when storms shall rise,
You are by my side, you are by my side.
For some inexplicable reason, when this song was published, "You are by my side" became "God is by my side." Was anyone really confused about this? As sung poetry, I feel that the Anglo-Saxon word "God" falls like a rock in the line, while "you" breathes into the verb. Furthermore, and this is important, "you" has a wider semiotic field, and frankly, it is a better choice. While the lyric, taken with the verses, never wavers from "you" as God as its central meaning ("Bright the stars of night/That mirror heaven's way to you..."), employing "you" at the end of the refrain allows for a glimmer of semiotic ambiguity that suggests the possibility of an even richer meaning, that lovers, friends, family, and community might be you, the manifestation of solidarity in Christ that is an epiphany of the divine for Christians.

Well. All of that is by way of introduction to "You Alone," the title song from my 1984 album, my first collection of liturgical songs. It was the first song on Side 2 of the vinyl, which is where we put "Do Not Fear to Hope" on the next album, and where "Mystery" appeared on the cassette, though by now we had switched over to the CD where song placement didn't matter so much, side A/B-wise. I remember "birthing" this song in 1982, living with my wife and two children (and mom?) in the house in which I had been born in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix. I was not yet working full time in music, I was a weekend warrior, who made his "real" living as a travel agent, and frankly, I was being pulled in all kinds of directions, not all of them healthy.

That house of my childhood, to which we had returned to share expenses with my mom, had a carport that early on my father and grandfather had converted into a fourth bedroom/playroom. Like the rest of the house, it was not air conditioned, but was cooled in the Arizona summer by evaporative cooling, which in those days was accomplished by large exterior box fans blowing lots of air over water-soaked asbestos pads (welcome to cancer central...). Amazingly, this managed to work pretty well, at least in those days when air was dryer, making the evaporation work for us for more of the year. Anyway, I found myself escaping on evening to that old bedroom and lying on the thinly carpeted floor, seeking some escape for quiet for my thoughts. The passage in the Sermon on the Mount about the lilies of the field had always been a favorite of mine. I had written a little song about it in my days as a folkie and guitar enthusiast, and Therese Marie and I had even used the passage at our wedding for the gospel. Augustine's famous phrase sentence from The Confessions was also on my restless heart, trying to make sense of the knots and mazes that were part of my life: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. (Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te. 1.1) And I started writing a love song, the song that became "You Alone."

A few things about this song. As I look back now on the melodic contour of the first two lines, with the harmony, it is reminiscent of a song that was on the radio in 1982 and that I really loved, a duet John Denver wrote and sang with Placido Domingo called "Perhaps Love." It was completely subconscious, I assure you, but I think that that song probably affected the shape of the melody. It's not so obvious that I noticed it back then, but I notice it now. It's interesting to me that, though it is a tender love song, it was written by Denver in a time of personal turmoil. My friends in Phoenix took it, though, and in two or three years, when Gary Daigle and John Gallen came to the Casa, "You Alone" became a kind of Advent anthem. I had never thought of it as an Advent song, but Gallen saw in the "unfinished business" of the human heart the restlessness that Advent is about, that is only settled by the incarnation, the awareness of the reality of God-among-us. John also was fond of telling me that "You Alone" was "the Protestant hymn par excellence," not because of its musical style, but because it was an anthem about God alone, not a reference to human goodness or works, but to the enthralling presence of the Lover who calls us into relationship as a people of love.

This was not the first song that Terry recorded on the album. That was "Yours Today." I tell the rest of that story in the "Albums" post on this recording. Here's a link, if you'd like to read it.

The section of the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus's beautiful words about the lilies of the field and the grass are coming up this Sunday in the scriptures, so we're using "You Alone" at St. Anne's this week, something I don't do very often. It will bring up all those different loves I've felt in my life, and remind me of the one love, agape, that is the source from which all of them flow. How about I leave you with this - the bridge lyrics from "Perhaps Love," by John Denver, and the refrain lyrics of "You Alone." I think that makes a good quodlibet, a mixtape to the Divine Lover.

O love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel.
To some, a way of living; to some, a way to feel.
And some say love is holding on, and some say letting go,
And some say love is everything. Some say they don't know. 

You alone, O Lord, can give us safety.
You alone, O Lord, can bring us home.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,
They can rest in you alone.

Lyrics for "Perhaps Love" Copyright © 1981 Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company, Inc.
Lyrics for "You Alone" Copyright © 1984 OCP.

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