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HomeCulturaDiscovering Treasure in a Damaged Land: America's Finest Songwriter, Thirty Years On

Discovering Treasure in a Damaged Land: America’s Finest Songwriter, Thirty Years On


Chances are high, you’ve by no means heard of John Mark Heard. Don’t fear, it’s not since you reside below a rock—most, it will appear, do not know who the Georgia-born people rocker was, nor how indebted the fashionable music trade is to his physique of labor.

And once I write, “the fashionable music trade,” I don’t imply the pop singers who hog the limelight and the headlines, I’m speaking about the actual movers and shakers, the songwriters and producers who’ve raised the bar and constructed the pedestals on which a lot of these pop icons stand. Individuals like Phil Keaggy, who’s persistently ranked among the many biggest guitarists to have ever lived, or famend Canadian export and insurgent folkster Bruce Cockburn, who famously referred to as Heard “America’s greatest songwriter.” Individuals like Pierce Pettis, of whom Oscar-winning composer Justin Paul of Pricey Evan Hansen and La La Land fame as soon as mentioned, “Generally I’ve to cease listening to a Pierce Pettis monitor midway by way of as a result of he makes me need to quit on songwriting,” or legendary Nashville artist and producer Buddy Miller, identified for producing albums for Grammy Award winners like Shawn Colvin or the late Dr. Ralph Stanley.

Some folks put on their hearts on their sleeves—Heard unashamedly put his into his lyrics. Maybe that’s the reason it gave out all too quickly.

These are the varieties of people who really feel no small debt of gratitude to Heard, which is probably going why all of them (and plenty of others) have turned as much as assist produce a number of Mark Heard tribute albums through the years. Miller’s cowl of Heard’s tune “Fear Too A lot” was awarded Music of the Yr on the 4th Annual Americana Music Affiliation Honors and Awards. Mark Heard, it might be mentioned, is the inspiration behind the inspiration, a real songwriter’s songwriter, in lots of regards the person who, in his forty quick years on earth, left his indelible mark on individuals who went on to grow to be “greats” in their very own proper. How totally different would possibly the state of the trade be—particularly the hopelessly self-aware and infrequently offensively simple-minded “modern Christian music” scene—had Mark Heard not been referred to as residence within the late summer season of 1992?

In 1998, Pierce Pettis gave an interview with J. Robert Parks. Throughout that interview, he advised the next story:

I sat down the opposite night time with the drummer for a band that has offered possibly 20 or 30 million data. That is someone you’d undoubtedly have heard of, and this man was over at my home—fantastic man—and he was speaking about how he was so burned out and that music has gotten so processed and predictable. I mentioned, “Let me flip you on to Mark Heard,” and I placed on [Heard’s album] Satellite tv for pc Sky; and I’ve by no means seen an individual fall in love with a file. That’s what Mark’s music does. There was no agenda with Mark. He simply wrote nice music.

In that very same interview, Pettis remembered Heard as “a really humorous man with a fantastic, nice humorousness” who “had an incredible capability to be spontaneous irrespective of how drained he was” and “couldn’t stand phoniness, he wouldn’t tolerate it.”

It was truly on stage with Pettis and Kate Miner that Heard suffered a coronary heart assault whereas performing in 1992. Ever the stainless musician, he completed his set earlier than heading to the hospital. He entered cardiac arrest two weeks later and died on August 16—thirty years in the past immediately. Pettis’s long-standing admiration of his buddy is much more pronounced if you understand that each album he has launched since 1993 opens with a canopy of a Mark Heard tune.

Anybody who has ever had the pleasure of discovering Mark Heard understands precisely what Pettis is speaking about in that Parks interview. Personally, I do not need a musical bone in my physique (although I do remorse not taking the time to learn to play the banjo from my grandfather), however I do love the sound of music and have fairly various and eclectic tastes. And I, for one, bear in mind being “turned on” to Mark Heard again in 2015 by certainly one of my professors on the Moody Bible Institute.

Since then, I’ve been firmly in Cockburn’s camp, recognizing Heard as very possible the best songwriter I’ve come throughout, or on the very least the best lyricist. I can nonetheless bear in mind the lyrics that first made me sit up and take note of what the person was doing: “I’m sufficiently old to know that goals are rapidly spent / Like a pouring rain on heat cement / Or fingerprints in mud / Nectar on the wind / Save them for tomorrow and tomorrow helps you to down once more.”

That, of us, will not be songwriting—it’s poetry. Heard had a method of taking phrases and organizing them, arranging them into pictures in such a method that after they permeate your ears, you form of neglect you’re listening to music. He persistently wrote the antithesis of the a lot mentioned and pre-programmed “earworm” that so many trendy songs make use of; no, Heard wrote songs that didn’t need to attempt to curiosity you as a result of they had been simply attention-grabbing songs, plain and easy. Some folks put on their hearts on their sleeves—Heard unashamedly put his into his lyrics. Maybe that’s the reason it gave out all too quickly.

An antidote to each hopeless secularism and blind, unreflective religion, a lot of his songs seemingly exist to seize listeners by the lapels and shake them awake.

The power of Heard’s lyrics and the ability of his haunting imagery possible comes from the truth that he refused to be simply one other “cultural Christian.” He dared to query his convictions, to step into and embrace doubt—and in flip turned a stronger believer for it, reinforcing the conviction of Frederick Buechner that “Doubts are the ants within the pants of religion. They preserve it awake and shifting.”  Many within the twenty-first century would do properly to concentrate to Heard, who understood the battle going through the youthful generations on the finish of the 20 th century when he wrote, “Caught between these voices / The sirens and the sage / One too many selections / For the victims of the age.” With globalization and the rising stranglehold that expertise has on the cultural panorama (an Web and social media “influencer” is seemingly an actual job now), that battle has solely amplified.

This fearlessness might be what led him to L’Abri, a criminally underrated Christian sanctuary and research middle based by theologians Francis and Edith Schaeffer in Huémoz-sur-Ollon, Switzerland in 1955. The doorways of L’Abri stay open to this present day, touted as a “shelter for trustworthy questions” the place “people have the chance to hunt solutions to trustworthy questions on God and the importance of human life.” Heard traveled to Switzerland within the mid-Seventies to check below Schaeffer for 2 years.

“I’ve plenty of U. S. Christians inform me, ‘Oh, you go to Europe? It’s a horrible secular society. They’re all atheists!’,” Heard as soon as remarked in an interview with CCM Journal. “Nevertheless it’s not any worse than the US. We simply have smiling, yellow completely happy faces in all places to assist us assume God is concerned someway. However that is nonetheless a secular society. It’s nonetheless primarily based on non-theistic presuppositions.”

His time at L’Abri, mixed together with his chopping cultural evaluation and pluckiness, formed the fledgling songwriter into an mental and artistic drive to be reckoned with when he returned to America and moved to California together with his spouse, Janet, in 1977. However the actual worth of his music comes from the unpretentiousness that Pettis feedback on. Heard approached neither theology nor songwriting strictly as a thinker, however as an trustworthy human being outraged by a widespread lack of frequent sense and a want to inform the reality about himself, his doubts, his beliefs, and what was each sacred and profane. An antidote to each hopeless secularism and blind, unreflective religion, a lot of his songs seemingly exist to seize listeners by the lapels and shake them awake.

Contemplate, for instance, the lyrics of “The Winds of Time”: “It takes greater than senseless ardour / It takes greater than dogma in mine / It takes greater than virtuous vogue / To resist the winds of time.” Or take a look at the lyrics to “One of many Dominoes,” which opens with the plea, “Heaven assist a timid youngster in a classy tide.” In the identical interview with CCM Journal, Heard defined of this tune, “When Christians hear ‘Dominoes,’ they have an inclination to assume, ‘That’s talkin’ in regards to the world on the market and the opposite folks.” His subsequent assertion, nonetheless, makes clear his wide-reaching intent and common attraction. “However, truly, I’m additionally speaking about Christians and Christian songs as a result of many instances we choose up our values in the identical method. When one thing new comes alongside, we don’t assume… That’s not psychological or mental information. We don’t take the data that is available in and course of it earlier than it comes out of our mouths.”

Regardless of being largely forgotten by the plenty, Heard’s flame nonetheless sparkles within the dim corners of the music trade. That is due in no small half to the aforementioned tribute albums (the most up-to-date of which was launched in 2017), in addition to the eye of different well-known singers with ties to the Christian religion, equivalent to fourteen-time Grammy Award-winner Emmylou Harris and the late Wealthy Mullins. Like Mullins, although he was steadily lumped in with the modern Christian musicians of his day, Heard was one thing of a nonconformist, and to relegate him to the pages of ’80s “Christian rock” does his legacy a fantastic disservice. His music was infinitely extra considerate than that, and the reminiscence of him extra deserving.

Greater than the songs for which he’s predominantly identified, equivalent to “Orphans of God,” your complete corpus of Heard’s musical library is overdue for rediscovery. How determined we’re for a voice like Heard’s these days, with the altering tides of faith and the decline of Christianity in America. One can solely speculate at how vastly totally different the panorama of contemporary music—and never simply Christian music—would possibly look had Heard been granted greater than twenty years of lively music manufacturing. Much less pushed by “senseless ardour” in all probability, and definitely extra considerate and poetical.

In his private journal, Heard as soon as wrote, “Maps cover cities / Cities cover homes / Homes cover faces / Faces cover hearts / However hearts nonetheless beat quietly / Few really feel even their very own pulse / However hearts are made to beat.”

This was, maybe, the person’s biggest conviction. It permeates virtually each lyrical stanza that he ever wrote. If the good downside of the fashionable age is disillusionment and, as Francis Schaeffer himself argued, detachment from actuality, then Heard’s music is the defibrillator meant to assist us really feel our personal pulse once more. And the good present of music ensures that, although the person’s personal coronary heart gave out thirty years in the past, it nonetheless beats on, surprising us awake and pulling us towards the God who imbues us with a way of that means and fact.

Beat on, Mark. Beat on.



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