Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Good News Hurts

It was an odd thing, hearing from someone I had worked with many years ago.  I wondered if some old mutual friend had passed away, or if I’d been seen flipping off the wife of the assistant minister at a nearby church when she nearly plowed into my stopped car.  Busted?  Seven on the Enneagram; I tend to think the worst at times. 

It turned out that Jeff was calling to invite me to play songs from Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us at a benefit for an amazing charity called International JusticeMission.

I had only to check out their website to know that their mission was unique and courageous, trying to set captives free from the world of human trafficking.  I knew that I needed to be at the benefit, not just to play my music, but to become more aware of a world that none of us wants to imagine.

I called Cindy Morgan and Amy Stroup to see if they would want to make cameo appearances and chime in on the songs they’d contributed to Mercyland.  They didn’t hesitate.

The day approached and I packed up my Blueridge guitar and headed over to the Renaissance Hotel for the big fete.  I was still basking in the glow of the concert of Mercyland songs we had performed the week before during the Americana Music Association’s convention.  Emmylou, Buddy, Shawn Mullins, The North Mississippi Allstars, sweet Matraca Berg, Kasey Chambers and a few other pals had sung their hearts out in this sold out concert.  People saw that as my night, my triumph, whatever, but I knew that it was an evening revolving around doing good in God’s name.

A week later, this evening wasn’t my evening; it wasn’t about my music, or even about my friends.   It was about doing something good in the name of God. 

And that made me happy, because there is so much more bad done in God's name than good.

My Southern Born Woman and I sat with Amy on our left and Cindy on our right.  Several Tennessee Titans sat at the table next to ours, basking in the glow of finally winning one by the skin of their teeth; first win of the season.  Wine and conversation flowed freely.  Jena Nardella, the young woman who gave a stirring benediction at this year's Democratic Convention was in attendance.  Forget the Titans, I've got to meet that woman, I thought.

Once the meal was over, Cindy and I ascended the stairs and took our microphones, and sang “Leaning On You”, our hillbilly hymn of brokenness- “I keep meanin’ to be leanin’ on You”.  Lord A-mighty, isn’t that how it is?

Then Amy got on mic and sang “Fell Like A Feather”- “Somebody make it stop, can’t look at the face of God”.

Our third and final number, Mercyland, the title track was tailor made for the evening, Merrill Farnsworth’s lyric articulating God’s best dream, “Ain’t no borders, ain’t no jails, ain’t no souls put up for sale”.

We used up our 15 minutes in 12, and that was that.  A speech about IJM’s work followed our music, and then the appeal for funds.  When you watch a film about an 11 year old girl sold into the sex trade, and see an interview with a slave owner, gleeful about his 25 years of success, the light of truth is alarming. 

Like my boss Emmy has sung on occasion, “Love hurts”. 

I found the evening gratifying and beautiful, as people of means wrote checks to a good cause.  It was good seeing old friends and associates from a world I don’t venture into much at all anymore.  A few old acquaintances shook my hand and hugged my neck.  I thanked Jeff for inviting me to be a part of the night; I would be leaving with a heart fuller than when I'd arrived.

And then everyone left.  We went home to our McMansions (or something with a roof at least), our computers, our comforts, our companions, our places of forgetting.

And now I’m trying to remember the face of a freed slave, his ragged teeth gleaming, his lips curved into a rapturous smile, his eyes reflecting light…

“Can’t look at the face of God, gonna give it all I’ve got, but the light stings as it tears through unbelief”.

Kyrie Eleison, Y'all.


  1. It's so nice to be reading you again. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  2. Russell Thompson12 March, 2013

    Phil, I saw you awhile back at the Station Inn with your Mercyland Review, and was deeply impressed by the musicianship, the soulfulness, and the demeanor of yourself and all those playing with you that night. Right away you felt like an old friend. Reading your blog about your father's hat, and the blog about the benefit that you played for just further affirms those feelings. I recently moved here from California, and it is so refreshing to me to see musicians of your class and stature with such humble, down to earth attitudes. Keep it up. I look forward to seeing you and hearing you many, many more times!!

    An admirer, friend and supporter,
    Russell Thompson

  3. really this is good news to singers every singers will like to visit this post. thanks for this post.
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  4. For my sanity's sake; please publish the lyrics to the mercyland songs. There are real gems in there. Fell like a Feather feels especially deep but this page is the first time I got that lyric right. I've spent hours on Google and Yahoo. Somebody make it stop.

    P.S. Best album since Slow Train Coming. imho. Paul Clayton


Your comments are welcome, and I will try answer any questions, if possible. Thanks for reading! pkm