Song Guy … July 28, 2012

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I didn’t know what an ordination was. Probably worse is–I didn’t care. It’s just that this guy I knew was going to be ordained and he asked our fledgling group, Soul Purpose, to sing a tune at his ordination service.

He was probably only twenty-seven years old, but because I was only twenty, I thought he was ancient. (Twenty is that age when anyone nineteen or under is a punk and anyone over twenty-three is heading for social security.

I am sure when this guy asked me to have our group sing, he was thinking about something like Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art. That was not the way I thought. Even though I was only twenty years old, I had already written two songs, recorded them, put them on a 45 RPM record and had begun to travel around to small coffeehouses and area churches in order to convince all those willing to listen that I was worth hearing. So the invitation to sing a tune at the ordination prompted me to write another song. Now, I lived in a small town, where song-writing was normally relegated to Francis Scott Key or George Gershwin. Young men from the community–especially those who had not gone to college–were not permitted to participate in such a flamboyant activity. So the mention of writing a song was usually greeted with a frown or a snicker. It just wasn’t done.

So when I announced to my friend that I was going to write a special song just for his ordination, he was rather nervous. Matter of fact, he discouraged me from doing so in the nicest way possible. I didn’t care. You see, I wanted to be a Song Guy. One of those people who writes “the songs the whole world sings” and “wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

So I sat down and wrote a song, fittingly entitled To Be Ordained, taught it to our group and performed it at the ordination, to surprised appreciation. I had now written three songs and was convinced that Bob Dylan was in danger.

Shortly after that I was inspired again and wrote a fourth song, called The Blood of the Son Makes Us One. About two or three months after writing that song, I attended a concert by a well-known gospel group called The Rambos, and through a series of near-mishaps and unbelievable events, got them to listen to my song. They ended up liking it. They signed it and decided to record it. I was amazed at how easy this was. I had only written four songs and I was already poised to become the next great Song Guy.

And then … I learned what I probably should have known (but of course, I wouldn’t have known it because there was no place for me to have learned it).

I arrived in Nashville to present my song in front of the music publishers, and they, being good business people, wanted to hear my “entire catalogue.” You may not know this, but those picky folks in Nashville don’t consider four songs to be a catalogue. I was in a room with a captive audience of very influential and prosperous men and women, who were anxious to hear the entire body of my work, and I didn’t even have a thumb.

It was embarrassing. It was debilitating. They wanted more … and I had nothing.

You see, I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to be a Song Guy. I wanted to be a guy who wrote A song that made lots of money and then everybody just kept giving him money because he wrote THAT song. I became aware that I had been trained to work on what I wanted to BE instead of actually practicing and performing what I could DO.

It is one of the flaws in the American dream. AFter all, the hypocrisy and presumption is in the title itself. It is a dream–a fantasy of where we want to end up, with no comprehension about what it takes to get there and even less passion for the actual labor itself.

I walked out of that office in Nashville that day resolute. I would never put myself in that position again. I realized that I DID want to be a Song Guy, but not because I wanted to be recorded, make a lot of money and be famous. It was because I really had something to say. And whether anyone ever heard it or not, it needed to escape my body–or it would possess my soul.

Within two years, I wrote an album’s worth of material, which ended up being recorded and played nationally. I then turned around and wrote a fifteen-song musical based on the Sermon on the Mount which toured across the country. When I got together with my family, I wrote at least three albums of songs, which we never actually recorded, and even today, I feel compelled to compose enough music for at least one album per year.

I actually have less attention to my work than I did when I had my four little songs at age twenty, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t write music, books or even this jonathots because I am secretly awaiting the arrival of fame and fortune. I write music because deep in my heart I want to be the Song Guy. I have to allow the music to escape.

The greatest lesson you can teach any young person (or even yourself if you missed it on the way to older) is: Don’t think about what you want to be. Just start working on what you can do. It may be the flaw in our higher educational system. We ask people what they want to be when they grow up instead of giving them a chance to do it and finding out if it wears well on their everyday bodies.

I am a Song Guy. I don’t worry about whether I’m great. I’m not concerned about sitting in rooms with the upper crust of the music industry, seeking their approval. I write songs because they’re in me, I have something to say … and God seems to enjoy listening to them.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Korny, Part II … March 24, 2012

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I wasn’t a dork.

I mean, I had survived ninth grade health class and perused numerous dictionaries and Bible commentaries seeking definitions and explanations. So I knew what “fornication” was. But in that moment, confronted by this pious parson, I experienced a temporary “icing over” of the cerebellum. Maybe it was because I was exhausted, hungry, confused, embarrassed–or just generally surprised that this stranger would ask me about my sex life. But I stalled long enough that the minister thought he’d better elaborate a bit on his original question.

“What I mean by ‘fornicating’ is, we just don’t want any hanky-panky.”

God forgive me, but my young thought waves immediately went to Tommy James and the Shondells, and I nearly burst out into a chorus of “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky.” Fortunately I resisted that impulse, took a deep breath and responded.

“You see, pastor, it’s not that we don’t know that they’re girls and I’m a guy. Matter of fact, when we first met we flirted a lot. But you can’t travel with someone, work closely together and even think about something resembling ministry and have in the back of your mind thoughts of ‘jumping their bones.’ Let me put it to you this way. It’s not very smart to steam up the shower because then it’s hard to see yourself in the mirror.”

I thought it was a pretty cool answer. He just gazed at me, a bit confused–similar to the look my dog gave me when I first purchased a frisbee and suggested we play.

“Okay,” he said. “Just be good.” He turned on his heel and left.

The girls gave a cheer. I silenced them because I knew there was a chance he might return in the next ten minutes, to try to catch us in the first fruits of “hanky” or the throes of “panky.” When he didn’t return, we immediately addressed our hunger. We were starved and all we had left were eight Zesta saltines and three-quarters of a can of Tab. We hunted through the basement for any provisions. At length we found a large can of pork and beans and half a loaf of Wonder bread with six slices not yet sprouting any “green.” We also found a single burner with a frayed cord, which we carefully plugged in the wall so we could heat our beans. We warmed the beans, found a spoon, spread them over our bread, crumbled up crackers on top and had beans-and-cracker sandwiches. They were delicious. (Sometimes I think it’s important to actually reach the point of starvation so you can remember how good food really tastes.)

Dinner was over, and even though we tried to talk and giggle, we quickly grew sleepy. I let the girls have the only couch available. They nestled up, foot to head on either end, and I threw some old coats on the floor and prepared for a night’s sleep.

I couldn’t. Sleep, that is.

The girls were gone in moments, so I quietly rose to my feet, kind of inched my way through the dark to the staircase leading to the sanctuary. It was so quiet. It’s kind of half-spooky and half-heavenly to be in a church late at night. Reaching the sanctuary, I went to the piano and sat down. It was a little chilly so I shivered, placed my hands on the keys and gently played. I felt inspired; I felt empowered. Here I was, sitting in Nebraska in the middle of the night at a piano, doing what I wanted to do, free as a bird, literally full of beans.

I continued to play until a particular series of chords stirred a melody in my mind. I just sang the word, “Jesus,” over and over again, as the chords changed beneath me and the melody submitted to the revisions. I don’t know how long it took me, but soon I had written a new song. I was a little embarrassed because this new composition really only had two words–“Jesus” and “everything.” But it was so pretty. I wondered if I just thought it was pretty because the night was so dark, lonely and peaceful.

So since my eyes had adjusted, I ran down the stairs and woke the girls up, telling them I had a new song. To their credit, they were such troupers for the cause that they were overjoyed, climbed the stairs with me, and we sat in the dark that night, learning a new song together, all of us overwhelmed by the tranquility of the moment and nearly in tears over the simplicity of the melody.

Amazingly, six months later, with many blessings and hard knocks along the way, we found ourselves in a recording session in Hendersonville, Tennessee, at the House of Cash. It was time to record that song that had been written a half a year ago in that small church in Nebraska.

I turned to the girls and said, “What do you say we do it the way it really happened?”

They were a little confused until I reached over and turned off the light in our booth, and with the soundtrack playing in our ears, we joined hands together in the dark and sang that song we had written that night: Jesus Everything. It was so simple; so free of pretense, so completely out of the box from the normal fare of the day. It went on to be one of the most popular songs on our album, receiving air play all across the country.

But to me it will always be that moment of freedom when I climbed the stairs in an old, clapboard country church in Nebraska and let the words and music pour from my heart. Jesus. Everything.

The pastor would be happy to know that there was no fornicating in his church that evening. But we did have a threesome around his piano at his altar that produced some equally exciting results. We were young, we were free, we were creative … and we believed we had the ear of God.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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