Friday, May 11, 2012
I love stories and I teach by telling my own. My best professors made me feel as if I were a character in the tales they were weaving. One of my favorite books is Twelve Ordinary Men, an in-depth look at the inner circle with Jesus. What stories they could have told, and some did in the Gospel accounts! The following is about my favorite musical story teller, Jim Croce. This is from June 14, 2006.
They are at it again. As it seems happens on a monthly basis, the folks at the Public Broadcasting System are in fund raising mode. I can't complain. PBS has excellent programming and it's free. Invariably, during these pleas for assistance, the shows tend to be documentaries on musicians. In the past several days, I've seen shows featuring Elvis Presley, The Who, John Denver, and Roy Orbison. Last night, during commercials of the NBA Finals, I peeked in on a biography of singer-songwriter Jim Croce, killed in a plane crash in 1973 at age thirty. Featured as part of the commentary were interviews with Croce's widow, Ingrid. What fascinates me about songs is the background and circumstances that caused their writing. One of my Croce favorites is Operator, a gut-wrenching, one-way telephone conversation of a man trying to make peace with the loss of his love. Ingrid spoke of the origins of Operator. While in the military, Jim listened at pay phones as soldiers, often in pouring rain, would call their exes after receiving a Dear John letter. Their pain over the termination of their love became the inspiration for one of his finest lyrical efforts. In 3 minutes and 49 seconds, he summarized the despair of anyone whose heart has been crushed after illusions of eternal fidelity. Verse two is the essence of poignancy:
Operator, could you help me place this call?
I can't read the number that you just gave me.
There's something in my eyes,
You know it happens every time,
I think about the love that I thought would save me.
Songs that tell stories are my favorites. Most of us place ourselves inside the common experiences gifted writers set to music. I read once a commentator lamenting the coming of music videos. His point was that before songs were synchronized with film, each listener had a unique memory or interpretation of a particular number. With music videos, the audience would tend to have identical associations for songs, based on the images on a television screen. What I like about the parables of Jesus is that I can close my eyes and visualize the man burying his talent- he might look like me. I read the words of Jesus telling about the man who had two sons... and the one in feeding the pigs bears a strong resemblance to the typist. In the story of the two men who go into the temple to pray, am I the Pharisee or the tax collector? (That's a tough one!) In the Parable of the Great Banquet, I can take the role of the man who bought animals, the guy who purchased land, or most likely, the newlywed. (No laughter.) In so many of Croce's songs, I taste the flavors of my life, some sweet and some bitter. In the parables of our Lord, I find the characters that I act out on a daily basis. In both cases, I can become part of the narrative and I'm forced to search the experiences that formed me. That's what storytellers do.
Applicable quote of the day:
"If you tell me, it's an essay. If you show me, it's a story."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Steve Hawley at 8:27 PM