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What They Feel
Daniel Amos and Frederick Buechner Open Up Their Veins.
Written by: Jason Burton
Although the seventy-something year-old Buechner may never be a big Daniel Amos fan, it is not hard to think of these two creative entities as kindred souls residing on the outside of their respective genres. The connection for me started with the liner notes to Daniel Amos' great record, Motorcycle, that encouraged me to actually check out some of Frederick Buechner's writing. It was Buechner's Wishful Thinking, that was the inspiration for such Motorcycle tunes as "Grace Is the Smell of Rain" and "Banquet at the World's End." Wishful Thinking has since become one of my all time favorite books, and Buechner one of my favorite authors. How wonderful to find that Daniel Amos' just released project is a double CD of all new material titled Mr. Buechner's Dream. Buechner has a new summer book release, titled Speak What We Feel, in which Buechner reflects on one work each, by four of his favorite authors.
One of the most striking parallels between Daniel Amos' and Buechner's latest projects involves a quote from Red Smith in which he observed, "It's really very easy to be a writer -- all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein." In the introduction to Speak What We Feel, Buechner uses the quote to describe truly good writers, ones who genuinely write from the heart. On Mr. Buechner's Dream, lead singer and premier songwriter, Terry Taylor borrows the vein-opening image for a line in "Thick Skin." A song in which Taylor describes his song writing process and his hope that DA's music will get under the listener's skin. He says in the final verse, "I've opened up a vein and let the ink get out / It's dripping from the hand I'm moving." While it may be a coincidence that both artists make use of the vein-opening image, it is not surprising given their mutual tendency to write out of their own, often painful, personal experiences.
It is painful personal experience that Buechner finds at the heart of the works of the four authors he discusses in Speak What We Feel. In the works by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, and Shakespeare he finds a common commitment to portraying the darker side of existence without necessarily offering a happy ending. Although Buechner only mentions it briefly in the after word of Speak What We Feel, those who are familiar with his body of work, know that he has had quite a bit of sadness in his own life. Among other hardships, his father committed suicide when Frederick was just a boy. It is these types of experiences that appear again and again in Buechner's memoirs, and are at the heart of his fiction. Offering readers insight into, not just the author's pain, but also their own. As the author writes in the introduction to the new Speak What We Feel, "all of our stories are at their deepest level the same story."
Taylor has had his own share of personal sadness in the last year, with the deaths of his father and of his friend, and Lost Dogs band-mate, Gene Eugene. But like Buechner himself, and the authors he writes about in Speak What We Feel, Taylor has never been afraid to confront the darker side of faith and doubt in his art. In "The Author of the Story," a song about a girl's death, Taylor sings "But that's how it has to end / On this side of glory / Some wounds will never mend / Says the author of the story." And later in the song Taylor admits, "Sometimes there seems to be no author of the story / These thoughts occur to me on this side of glory." A bold confession in the usually feel-good /God-makes-everything-better world of Christian music. But as Buechner writes, in his definition of 'doubt' in Wishful Thinking, "If you don't have any doubts [about faith] you are either kidding yourself or asleep."
This type of honesty, this willingness to open a vein and speak what they feel has largely kept Buechner and Daniel Amos from gaining widespread acceptance in their genres. Daniel Amos will probably never win a Dove award or be offered a tour with Steven Curtis Chapman. (!) Buechner will probably never find his name anywhere near Tim LaHaye's or James Dobson's on the Christian bestseller list (though he has been nominated for a Pulitzer). Both men recognize their unique positions and are not interested in preaching to the choir. At a recent press conference Terry Taylor described Buechner as, "too spiritual for the world and not . . . cliche-ridden enough for the Christian world." He could just as easily have been describing himself and Daniel Amos. As Taylor sings in "Ribbons and Bows," "Love is a question mark / Life's in a shadow box / God hides himself sometimes / Inside a paradox," yet most people want their truth "...lined up in little neat rows." In their unwillingness to ignore the paradoxes and doubts inherent in faith, Buechner and Daniel Amos have effectively alienated, and at times offended, a large portion of the Christian music and book buying public. But those that are willing to take a chance may find comfort in discovering they are not the only ones with unanswered questions about faith and life.
In the title track on Mr.
Buechner's Dream, Taylor imagines the author dreaming of a gathering
of great writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, T.S. Eliot and
G.K. Chesterton. A group of authors who, for the most part, share a spiritual
vision with Buechner and Taylor. And, like them, more often than not wrote
what they felt, even when it wasn't pretty. Who knows, maybe someday Buechner
will write a story in which Terry Taylor dreams of a gathering of great
songwriters; Brian Wilson, John Lennon, or Paul Simon maybe? The majority
of the world may never make the connections between Taylor and better known
song writing geniuses, or between Buechner and the great authors Taylor
imagines him dreaming of, but for those who have taken the time to listen
and to read, there is little question of their own commitment to open their
veins and write what they feel most deeply.