Life has been rugged lately; don’t be shocked if I have to resort to a GoFundMe campaign soon to cover the bills. There’s been a not inconsiderable amount of screaming at the sky, yelling at God to kindly show Himself if in fact He’s there at all. You could accurately say my faith has been quite tattered and frayed as of late.
Thankfully, God is tolerant, revealing Himself in ways well known yet made anew. For example, the song referenced in this excerpt to the book I wrote some years back, this particular quote being from Derri Daugherty of The Choir and The Lost Dogs:
Where Daugherty seldom goes is anywhere near penning lyrics himself. Why? “I don’t know. Early on I tried to write a lot of lyrics, and I wrote lyrics growing up. But I was never very proud of much that I did. At some point I became embarrassed enough to where I told myself I didn’t want to do this lyric thing.”
He continues, “For me to do it, I have to be deeply inspired. The muse has to strike hard, which doesn’t happen very often. I don’t have a lot of patience for it or confidence in what I might come up with. Plus, Steve is so good at it he ends up saying a lot of the things I’d want to say. Once you get a band going, hopefully you realize the strengths and weaknesses of the other members and relinquish your weaknesses to their strengths.”
And yet there is confidence in his ability to write music … “I’m not real confident in music writing either,” Daugherty laughs. “Overall I’m not a very confident guy. For me with music, I get lost in the sound. That’s why my stuff has never been overly complex. It’s more about simple parts; working hard to get this cool sound I like that inspires me.
“Music is an easier thing to do. I believe even the best of lyricists would say lyrics are a challenge. It’s hard to keep coming up with something unique and inspiring, yet not repeating yourself.”
There has been at least one instance in recent years of something unique taking place that inspired Daugherty to write a lyric, said incident moving him to write “Mercy Lives Here” on Flap Your Wings which given its setting – a bar – raised a few eyebrows. Doesn’t exactly jive with your average conservative view of American Christianity, y’know.
“Right,” Daugherty replies. “It doesn’t. The reason I wrote it was an epiphany I had in a bar.”
He continues, “I had been reading The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. It’s one of my favorite books. It’s about this priest who’s fallen and renounced not his faith, but his priesthood, and he’s running away. In the midst of him running away, he keeps encountering these people he reluctantly has to become their priest to in order to minister to them. It keeps happening over and over and over again. It’s a very inspiring book to me.
“At that time, we were at the place with our band where things were winding down. It was the point of your career where you realize while everyone in it feels like we’ve done a lot of good things, we’re never going to be the big band. You’re in that moment of hitting the wall and realizing the wall is real. You’re not going to go any farther. It’s bittersweet, and you’re fighting all those feelings.
“Well, we were playing in Akron that night in a little club along with Over the Rhine. We were opening for them, and they wanted to do their sound check later because they weren’t going to get there for some reason. So we set up and did ours. We had a bunch of free time after that, so we went walking around downtown Akron.
“Akron was a very depressing town. The whole downtown was boarded up. However, there was this one thing with lights on that was sticking out, and it was this Egyptian kind of tent that came out from the wall like an awning. It said, ‘Cairo.’ So we wandered in there and sat down.
“It was this weird little bar, and the characters in the song, in the lyric, are all real. There was this midget that was dressed like a clown, with clown makeup on and overalls. He was sitting at the bar, and next to him was an Amish-looking guy that was obviously an alcoholic who was shaking. There was a guy in the back with a woman who was obviously a hooker.
“We spent a couple of hours there hanging out. They had a jukebox that had all these old ‘40s songs that was two songs for a dime. It was this surreal cross between David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. Very weird.
“So I’m looking around, observing it all, and all of a sudden it was like the Lord spoke to me showing me all these broken people and how His mercy was there. It was in this place with these people. In the midst of all of their brokenness and failure, God’s Spirit was there. He was watching over them. He was looking out for them. He was loving them and caring about them. It was an intense experience. I remember sharing it with Steve (Hindalong) after we left. I got back in the van that night, and wrote most of the lyric on the way to the hotel about that experience. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s stayed with me all these years.”