Jim Morrison, the great singer with even greater presence, takes command. As “The Soft Parade” opens, Morrison bellows out as a tent revivalist would. The theological take isn’t the same, however. Morrison calls out to his assembled multitude, the millions listening to the title song from the Doors’ fourth album. Morrison works his pulpit:
When I was back there in seminary school
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer
You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!
Morrison’s voice could fill a revival tent, but his words would hardly suit the congregants in such a place. He, as did poet T.S. Eliot in “Ash-Wednesday,” alluded to a journey in search of solace. Morrison seeks “sanctuary.” Looking out from his rooftop in Venice Beach, California, he observes the materialism of mid ’60s America and the rat race joined in order to acquire the materials.
All our lives we sweat and slave
Building for a shallow grave
Unlike Morrison, Eliot’s sanctuary was spiritual (he wrote “Ash-Wednesday” shortly after joining the Anglican Church in 1927). He sought peace ordained by God, “Even among these rocks.” Roughly thirty years after his conversion, Eliot described his religious views as a blending of “a Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage and a Puritanical temperament.” That wasn’t the environment Morrison found in Venice Beach.
“The Soft Parade” is an array of sounds and visions. One could say it was a work with everything – including the kitchen sink (and some may call elements of the track pretentious). It wasn’t so much a song as “Running Blue” and “Touch Me,” the more direct and accessible tracks on the same album. Quite often, the poet/experimentalist Jim Morrison overwhelmed the rocker Jim Morrison. He had long studied the poets and philosophers, citing their influence. Yet Morrison’s chief talent was creating driving rock and roll with dashes of soul and jazz. He could belt it out with the best of them when it came to wide open, sweaty music –as sweaty as those tent revival preachers on a summer evening in southeast Georgia. After all, when Morrison sang, “I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer,” the effect was far more blissful than hearing “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.”
People, no matter what kind of music they favor, or faith they embrace, are happy when others pray for them, especially in times of need. For example, in the wake of the Newtown murders, prayers crowded the skies for the families and friends of the young victims. It was hoped the prayers would provide the survivors with just enough strength, if nothing else, to make it through the day. That thought prevails when we “petition the Lord with prayer.” But what about those same parents in Newtown, who prayed daily for their children’s safety when they sent them off to school? It’s a mystery; even people who pray daily are bound to work the question in their minds over and over again.
The rock artist Darryl Rhoades, who grew up in a South Atlanta suburb, has done his share of pondering as well. On his 2007 album, Weapons of Mass Deception, he brings up the matter in “The Edge of the World.” The song is a prayer of sorts; one that questions God having “a plan.” Rhoades is talking to God, if not petitioning him.
This Could Be the Match of the Milleniums.
In this corner, a deity billions have prayed to. The one recognized throughout the world as Lord of all, whose followers pack His houses of worship every week. His book, printed and distributed by countless publishers since Gutenberg, remains a bestseller.
While in this corner, we present a man some have prayed for. The man who nearly packed the Variety Playhouse in September 2009. He was featured in a 1977 Rolling Stone article. And for the longest time he was this close to a major record deal. Darryl Rhoades!!!!
Sounds like a mismatch.
But “The Edge of the World” is a thoughtful song. Darryl Rhoades isn’t tearing down anyone’s faith. He’s trying to understand aspects of the faith, if not all its mysteries. The song features a pretty melody that emulates an Elvis Costello approach. The vocal by Rhoades, tuneful and clear-eyed, recalls that of Rick Nelson. Upon hearing it, one thinks of how great it would sound on the old car radio. Yet in the days of cruisin’ to the music, the tunes were about missing the only girl you had. “The Edge of the World” concerns missing out on eternal questions.
Rhoades, who grew up in the Church of the Nazarene -just like Gary Hart -appears to be in a lonesome town, an even bleaker outpost than Rick Nelson sung about. It was “a pretty angry place,” he wrote “The Edge of the World” from, according to Rhoades. He was looking up – above the clouds – wondering why two friends were struck down in the prime of life. One had suffered for a long period with cancer. The other died from a heart attack while sitting behind the wheel at a traffic light. Saddened and angry, Rhoades couldn’t fathom why two such gentle people suffered so, only to leave the planet before their time. He looked back at the faith he grew up with, remembering being told over and over of how God loves and cares for us all. It just didn’t make sense to Rhoades. He takes his petition to the Lord:
Hoping is denied
A hunger unsatisfied
In every miracle, I’m told to give you praise
But right now I’m filling up with blame
A lonely soul that needs to know
Rhoades articulates what many of the faithful have gnawing at them after a loved one has died. “What happened? I just knew with the prayer chain up and down the coastline that he’d come through,” many cry out, if only to themselves.
Then there are “miracles” which stir us too. The brother of a friend (known to Rhoades as well) was on his death bed. The hospital was making plans for the bed as it would soon be empty. The man was told he had very little time left. A few hours. The family could come in, say goodbye and at least, lift up a few prayers. In those few hours, however, he took a turn for the better. Several weeks later he was back on the streets of Athens, Georgia in search of the perfect taco.
Before Rhoades returns to the song’s very catchy chorus, crying out, “I’m sliding off the edge of the world and I might not make it back,” he asks God if life’s in vain. Showing some attitude along with his petition, he implores, “Could you explain?”
The apostle Paul said faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” Yet there’s still a lot of mystery to behold. Those picking up or dropping faith are also mysteries to us. People change. Attitudes sharpen or they soften. On “Beautiful Boy,” a heartfelt song on his last album released before he was killed, John Lennon sings, “Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer. Every day in every way, it’s getting better and better.” That line intrigues as we remember Lennon rejecting the Bible, Jesus, Gita, etc, ten years earlier in his puzzling but liberating song, “God.” Some mysteries can be discussed for days and nights on end. God and those of us here below move in mysterious ways.
(Darryl Rhoades, Thermos Greenwood and other stellar musicians will appear at The Great Southeast Music Hall Reunion at Smith’s Old Bar, August 4. You got to be there.)