From Unguarded to Simple Things:
The Spiritual Progression of Amy Grant Lyrics
As far as religion is concerned, I was raised with the very simple, yet highly effective, mantra for being good: don’t be a selfish jerk. And literally that was it. It was easy to follow because it was both easy to remember and not open to vague interpretations. No weekly sermon was required. No bizarre rituals. Hypocrisy was easy to spot within its parameters. It’s worked so well, I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket.
In fact, it’s possible I go overboard from time to time. For example, before Thanksgiving, while I was transporting my new pet fish home from his office fishbowl, I turned down the volume on my car radio in my sudden dismay that ‘maybe Basho doesn’t like Abba as much as I do.’
I’m a far cry from perfect; this goes without saying. But I do care about the feelings of others (in person, if not always in writing) – even when I’m told, in this dog-eat-dog world, I shouldn’t bother – and I try to contain my instinctive greed and self-absorption. But toward this end, I’ve also developed an aversion to aggressive preaching from other flawed souls who practice more complicated forms of trying to be good.
Being good means something more than accepting some organized paradigm. It involves sincerely appreciating what you have, living your life to its fullest, questioning our own heart, trying to love without inhibitions (I have a lot of work to do here, personally), and actively exploring how this fascinating universe works.
For these reasons, I’ve never had any real interest in perusing the genre of Christian pop music for all it’s limited life scope and exclusive close-minded thinking. And specifically, Amy Grant is not one of those musical careers I’ve ever been meaning to follow. But somehow, I keep finding myself drawn to a particular turn of phrase in a lyric here or there.
A while back, I came across her most recent album, Simple Things, at a public library. Once again, a new line in the album struck me powerfully, so much so I kept repeating it in my head for days; and it helped me start interacting with people in a new way. So you could very well say it was a line in a pop song that changed my life in a small but meaningful way. And before long, the whole album had captivated me with its sustained peacefulness and concentrated contemplation – I couldn’t stop playing it over and over again in my car – when Basho was not around, that is.
Amy Grant lyrics occasionally have a way of getting to the bone of the matter, speaking to both our spiritual resolve and something complicated in our fragile hearts. And she can do this in a way that comes across as ‘on the level’ rather than preachy. It’s as if you can tell she’s doing some real labor with these tangles of God and humanity she’s tinkering with.
Today, Amy Grant is known as a Christian singer who turned secular, although every Amy Grant album to date seems to reference a Christian God formally at least once. Her hit 90s cross-over album, Heart in Motion, marketed as a secular record, introduced her to many mainstream fans.
Interestingly, crossing the line from gospel to pop is encouraged by artists of color, such as Aretha Franklin, Stephanie Mills, Gloria Gaynor and Al Green. But immediately, after Grant stopped name dropping Christ & Co., she was accused of selling out on God by a few shortsighted white Christian fans. Amy Grant never went back to singing exclusively Christian albums. But she has never stopped singing about spirituality.
Grant, like other white religious singers, chose the tidy genre of Christian pop/rock over let-it-loose gospel. The genres of gospel and Christian seem to require opposite vocal archetypes in a range from innocence to experience. Grant’s early suburban-high-school sounding white voice, full to the brim with the sound of sweet innocence, suited her particularly well to Christian “youth gospel,” or white gospel, rather. Christian singers do not wail, in fact; they enunciate. There’s something uber-normal about Grant’s voice, which may explain her early 90s, girl-next-door popularity. Her voice is often disparagingly described as “pretty” and “pleasant.”
Amy Grant co-writes the majority of her songs with a common circle of writers, which include one-time husband Gary Chapman, longtime producer Brown Bannister, the popular Christian singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith and most often, Wayne Kirkpatrick, among others.
Her material has progressed this way:
As Grant started to deal more with personal conflict in her material, the moral content of her lyrics moved from toe-the-line Christian fortitude to forgiveness and a philosophy of living in the God-spangled Now. Consequently, her cumulative message has taken on a larger, extra-Christian-encompassing spirit.
This movement can be seen as an evolution from simplistic religious innocence (constant Christian call-outs to Jesus and the Messiah) to hard-core soul searching (more inclusive and open concepts like miracles, forgiveness, and the generic God). In fact, her progressive line of themes forms a classic William Blake-like arc from Innocence to Experience.
This Christian Greatest Hits compilation album encompassed the following: Amy Grant (1977) – released at age 16; My Father’s Eyes (1979); Never Alone (1980); In Concert (1981); Age to Age (1982); In Concert, Volume 2 (1982); Straight Ahead (1984); and Unguarded (1985), the album that contained her first secular breakthrough song, “Find a Way.”
The material, although pre-experienced spiritually, is sometimes nicely catchy and some of these albums earned Grant both Grammys and Dove awards. However, compared to her later material, they are innocent and shy vocally and thick with Christian cliche. Jesus references abound.
“Angels” (from Straight Ahead/Brown Barrister, Gary Chapman, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith) tells the literal story of Herod sacking Peter in prison. The moral of the song is that the same angles who were watching over Peter are watching over Grant, who avoids the perils of modern life as a result. This is a self-absorbed religious philosophy that unacceptably labels too many poor, accident-prone souls as forsaken by God.
Grant sings “Emmanuel” (from A Christmas Album/Michael W. Smith) with such force of passion, the song becomes an over-the-top fan letter to the “Lord of life, Lord of all, Prince of Peace, mighty God, holy one, Emmanuel!”
“I Have Decided” (from Age to Age/Michael Card), country/gospel encourages re-listening despite its trite message because it’s catchy. It begins with promise, discussion about a person’s religious awakening point, and early on alluding to a common type of deceptive religiosity:
But we go downhill with:
Here we go again with exclusionary absolutes.
Equally catchy, the song “Too Late” (from Never Alone/Amy Grant, Brown Barrister, Chris Christian) does a slightly better job with the same intention. For those who are paralyzed with the indecision of good vs. evil, “it’s time to choose your side.” As if it were as easy as sides and life were a game ‘red rover, red rover, send the bad boy right over.’ It’s too late for walking on such fences, “no more middle line…better get wise!”
There are quite a few references to “getting wise” in early Grant lyrics, assuming that, through due religious diligence, an attainment of wisdom in later years will come. In this paradigm, gaining wisdom is a part of becoming spiritually mature.
“Too Late” would fit in the above category of religious nagging to solidify your Christian fortitude: “Please make up your mind.” Unfortunately, such direct imperative-sounding ultimatums between humans often lead nowhere good.
The song “I’m Gonna Fly” (In Concert, Volume 2/Amy Grant) sounds like it could have been plucked from a Broadway musical about a little girl singing out to the universe from her back yard. The song captures a particular time of quixotic innocence, reminding me simultaneously of the Cee-Lo Green song, “El Dorado Sunrise (Super Chicken)” and of the time when I was eight years old and hung my smoke-swirled opal heart pendant on the backyard fence post as an invocation for a romantic and adventurous life. Grant must have had similar dreams of living life to its fullest,
She sets a course to pursue “a dream that’s mine…even if I am the only one who wants to fly.”
Interestingly, the year this song was written for her live album in 1982, Grant married Gary Chapman, a Bill Pullman lookalike who had written a few of her earlier hits about being a tenderly innocent and goodly Christian. Was she ready for the adult challenges of marriage at this point?
The song “All I Ever Have to Be”(from Never Alone/ Gary Chapman) and “Father’s Eyes”(from Father’s Eyes/Gary Chapman) are two examples of Chapman’s early work for Grant. “All I Ever Have to Be” could have succeeded as a Tao treatise on accepting the situation of your current state of being if not for the explicit sanction of the Christian father-figure. Humbly accept that you are part of God’s plan.
In “Father’s Eyes” we sense a double reference to both the approving biological father a little girl wants to please and the heavenly Father approving of his little Christian pilgrim, Amy Grant, with “eyes that find the good in things when good is not around.” At judgement day, she states she wants to be recognized for all the good she saw in life, which sounds a bit like she’s doing it for the sake of a Fatherly pat on the head. Is that good? Or is that needy? And what does it mean that Gary Chapman wrote these lyrics? Was he was thinking of himself or Grant when he wrote those lines? How much was Chapman himself a father figure to Grant? And did his approval and/or spiritual guidance help her on her spiritual journey or impede her? Not to imply too much about Grant’s personal life invested in these songs, but I feel much more comfortable about her later material, where she added some input into her lyrics.
Which is not for a minute to say two people cannot move together in one spiritual direction, as long as there isn’t a father-figure lurking in the pair. I was recently reminded of a subtle allusion to spiritual traveling between two people in this lyric by the “secular” rock group, Rush, from the song from “Closer to the Heart.”
Before Grant introduced electric guitars and synthesizers into her material in 1984, she was still sing-songing her material with traditional chorus-class piano arrangements. “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” (from Age to Age/Richard Mullins) is a perfect example. The song sounds like it could have been placed on the soundtrack of Fame and sung by Irene Cara.
“In a Little While” (from Age to Age/Amy Grant, Gary Chapman, Brown Bannister, and Shane Keister) is a disturbing song in this vein that implores the flock to endure the small aggravations of this life; for never fear, paradise is coming right after death. Grant gets a traffic ticket coming home; “what a day it has been.” She gets a letter from fellow Chistrian soldier and realizes “in a little while we’ll be with the father, home forever.” The song innocently dismisses real suffering and denies the God-given Now.
Grant would not know at this time, but beyond the top of that hill, she would soon find more, even bigger hills.
One of my friends from grade school had become soberingly Christian. She loaned me her cassette of the album, maybe to capitalize on my interest in the single and thereby save me. I was good in the way that every sheltered white suburban girl is good whose working-class/upwardly-mobile parents spoiled but instilled nearly socialist values into. But still, I had not accepted Christ.
A year or so later, I would find myself in a car with this gang of dangerously proselytizing Christians traveling to see Amy Grant in concert at the local amphitheater. I would endure a lot of God-chat just so I could hear Amy Grant sing “Next Time I Fall” live sans Peter Cetera.
“Find a Way” was written by Amy Grant and soon-to-be Christian megastar Michael W. Smith.
Those quiet, almost subliminal, questions in the chorus serve to challenge Grant, who retorts with passion, singing that one must learn to live with a faith in positive outcomes. She acknowledges that there are questions that cannot be answered. She dismisses them.
Overall, I was glad my friend pushed Unguarded unsolicited on me. Along with the guitars and new lite-rock sound, you can feel some sort of new enthusiasm in Amy Grant voice that was almost contagious. Grant songs here are less about praising God and seeking praise from God. By now she was actively writing self-help for others. She was speaking now to the human struggle, albeit in a very lite, Christian pop sort of way.
We do get direct Jesus references in “Love of Another Kind” (Wayne Kirkpatrick, Amy Grant, Gary Chapman, Richard Mullins); but because the song speaks to human issues, not Christian issues, it’s easy to do a search-and-replace on these references. The ‘love’ in this case can be interpreted not simply as Jesus’ love, but a joyful love of the world, meaningful fellowship, and determined positively. There is also a theme in the song common to Amy Grant material: the duality of elements. The idea that what causes pain also causes love. The two are opposites but also one. Love is cruel and fragile but also ultimately healing.
“I Love You” (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Dann Huff) is an interesting study in the type of love songs Grant sang while married to Gary Chapman (innocent love) and the later love songs she would sing while married to Vince Gill (love after the experience of a traumatic divorce). The earlier lyrics are about working through problems and doubts, with lines like:
Although there’s no real conviction of experience there yet. In the meantime, she tries to work through the spirituality of her marriage:
This is remarkably different from the swept sureness of 2003’s love songs on Simple Things (below).
“Stepping In Your Shoes” (Chris Eaton, Amy Grant) is a throwback to earlier Grant material, full of be-good platitudes.
Unchecked ambition is still acceptable within the Christian ethic, which puts the “try to make good for you” directive in conflict with “learn the good rule.”
The songs “Fight” (Amy Grant, Dann Huff, Gary Chapman) and “Who To Listen To” (Gary Chapman, Tim Marsh, Mark Wright) are either condescending and preachy or hyperbolic:
“Wise Up” (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Billy Simon) again touches on the need for getting wise.
“Sharayah” (Chris Eaton, Amy Grant) is full-throttle conversion-intervention to a childhood friend.
But not all the material in this album proselytes so annoyingly. One of my favorite Amy Grant songs, or pop songs for that matter, is the final track on the album, “The Prodigal (I’ll Be Waiting)” (Amy Grant, Gary Chapman, and Robbie Buchanan). On its surface, the song is an internal monologue by the father in the biblical parable about the prodigal son.
However, the lyric is open enough to be read as a love story that transcends separation, or possibly even past lives, depending upon what you believe in.
One line of the song strikes me as so figuratively beautiful because it’s a line that resonates both literally in the song (a father who writes this letter to his lost son), but generally and personally (we write to communicate our humanity or simply to break through to a lost loved one): “If only you could see this pen scribbling down my heart.”
And I’ll never get over the heartbreak I feel every time I hear it. If only it could be on my tombstone. It speaks of the yearning to be heard, but what you cannot manage to say due to fear or an insurmountable distance. Scribbling is both a passionate flourish of a word and yet it describes something painfully sacrificial across a heart.
Me On - 1988
But at it’s best, Grant’s voice lacks self-righteousness and takes on a tone of real spiritual seeking. “Lead Me On” (Amt Grant, Michael W. Smith, Wayne Kirkpatrick), references the Holocaust and how people persevere. On another level, it seems to speak about deliverance and seeking with a very strident musical confidence, and surrender which also works for other genres of spiritual enlightenment.
“Shadows” by (Karen Peris, Don Peris, Amy Grant) is a non-illuminating (no pun intended) metaphor about sinfulness. “Saved by Love” (Amy Grant, Chris Smith, Justin Peters) is a narrative about love of family, but trite like a Norman Rockwell painting, ultimately lacking any layer of profound reality. Its platitudes feel synthetic.
Ironically, it’s the Jimmy Webb cover on the album, “If These Walls Could Speak,” that eloquently and in fine detail does the pro-family work “Saved By Love” fails to do.
Grant’s narratives tend to be weak and cliched. She does much better with piercing imagery and her ability to capture the elusive questioning nature of humanity and the struggle to heal and find the positive. Grant is fabulous with heart concepts and life encouragement. There she is believable.
“Faithless Heart” (Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith) draws on the same questions as “I Love You” above. It deals with the struggle for faithfulness in relationships. Human weakness and love’s boundaries are possibly more fluid than Grant believes here or that Christian institutions allow. Grant instead sees herself as weak and flawed for episodes of a faithless heart. In the song she begs for fortitude and implores herself to honor
Once again, she brings up a topic that begs contemplation: does the idea of pure faithfulness lead to jealousy, possession and manipulation? Is love so limited? Anyone who has ever loved and lost and loved again knows, from the experience of being divorced and remarried for example, that a profoundly true love can go beyond the bounds of one solitary person, that a profound love does not end, even as you take on others to love; and that this is ultimately a good and life-affirming thing. This song sounds a bit too much like the world of a practical kind of love trying desperately not to unravel.
By including the Kye Fleming/Janis Ian song “What About the Love” Grant acknowledges false righteous Christian institutions, including tithes, denying your body, and submitting to be made worthy.
But then the songs “All Right” (Amy Grant, Dann Huff, Phil Naish) and “Wait for the Healing” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Gary Chapman, Jerry McPhearson) pick back up with flaccid Christian platitudes. When shit happens (like dog bites and napalm),
Is this the old familiar Christian distrust of reason we’re hearing? Isn’t it usually passion that runs headlong into the latest rage? Down at the local shopping mall, I think I see passion with fashion all the time, but never reason. Is that me trying to reason again?
But then the album ends on two love songs I find very pleasant. “Sure Enough” (Wayne Kirkpatrick, Mike Brignardello, Shane Keister) and “Say Once More” (Amy Grant, Gardner Cole). “Sure Enough” is worth mentioning because it’s sweet and also because of the line in there about sticking together, “We’re doing what a modern world said that we could not do,” which sadly illustrates how modern life’s real complications will soon thwart Amy Grant. The line practically temps Experience like a bowling ball into the neatly placed, simplistic pins of innocence. The song also brings up the popular early Grant theme of blissful wisdom ahead:
This is a theme she will give up by the time of Behind the Eyes and Simple Things. Wisdom turned out to be awfully elusive. But remarkably, we don’t hold Grant’s ignorance against her here primarily because she sings with such a lack of self-righteousness. She sings the lines with the sound of serious hope and self-encouragement, not a careless arrogance. There’s also a touch of melancholy in her innocence. Also, later there would be albums of atonement.
in Motion - 1991
Few songs on this album deal directly with Christian images or directives directly and critics like Allmusicguide maintained the album was popular because Grant was “not beating listeners over the head with her beliefs.”
The only song that overtly refers to Jesus is the last song, “Hope Set High” (Amy Grant). The hopeful joyous melody is refreshing but the lines
hearken back to the exclusionary, absolute Christian platitudes of days of yore.
Much of the music sounds dated to the 80s with the drums, keyboards and the zippy little guitar bridges. Grant had embarked on motherhood by this time and the album reflects what appears to be a joyful time. Her voice is confident and most of the songs speak of contented love with little struggle.
Quaint love songs include “Good for Me” (Tom Snow, Jay Gruska, Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick), a song about how opposites attract (“You get brave when I get shy”) with a very dated Mario Andrette reference, and “Baby Baby” (Amy Grant, Keith Thomas) a song that does double duty as a love song and a new mother song. The line “ever since the day you put my heart in motion” recalls a recurring image in Grant songs of the heart being ignited from a state of lying dormant. “Don’t stop giving love” is about as deep as these two songs go.
“Every Heartbeat” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Charlie Peacock) is a little better. There are a few lines that are reminiscent of concepts in earlier Grant love songs, a couple’s common spirituality, the need to be wise, and relationship perseverance, a “classic case of boy meets girl/moving in the same direction.” She then makes the humble declarative, “I’m simple but I’m no fool” and then describes this love as “a love that’s well designed for passing the test of time.”
And sadly, all of these realities, although somewhat more guarded than the platitudes of earlier lyrics, are still headed for disarray by the late 90s. We’re all simply more foolish than we realize and because we’re not always eternally moving in the same direction, relationships can fall apart.
“I Will Remember You” (Amy Grant, Gary Chapman, Keith Thomas) can serve to speak to that more fluid love of relationships past. There are arresting lines here which refrain from being overly sentimental.
Long after we are no longer together, I will not only remember you, but: "I’ll be your champion and you will be mine." Here is a love that speaks to reality, bittersweet and believable. You need never stop loving those whom you once loved. There’s a melancholy positively to this song which shows progression from her earlier songs about love.
“That’s What Love is For” (Michael Omartian, Mark Muller, Amy Grant), attempts to be an encouraging song of inspiration (and many were inspired enough to make it a hit), but many lines are still too vague and cliched. “Living through the fire,” love can “help us through it” by its ability to: “melt our defenses/round off the edges/talk us down from the ledges/give us strength to try once more.”
The song lacks the tight construction and powerful moments of other Amy Grant self-help songs. The guitars sounds like something from a quaint little Michael Bolton song. Later in the album, “You’re Not Alone” (Dennis Morgan, Simon Climie, Rob Fisher) does a better job with the same idea with a simpler structure, which lets the striking lines stand out more. The song also contains the recurring duality of elements theme: “Love can soothe what love has burned.” In fact the duality of elements is highly explored in this album, the duality of fire, water, and therefore love.
“How Can We See That Far” (Amy Grant, Tom Hemby) explores this most poetically. The song speaks about doubt and relationships once again. Instead of simply re-affirming her love in the face of doubt, she uses the metaphors of dualities to explain how love can soothe what love has burned. Although the verse narratives are again too clichéd – a couples timeline of marriage and childbirth – the chorus poetry is unforgettable,
There is profound hope to be found in these lyrics only because they are sewn together with threads taken from the natural order of a dualistic universe. Dualities that make sense in nature mean there are dualities that make sense in the heart.
She admits, she cannot predict the outcomes of their relationship (a first) despite her fortitude and it takes real courage to say, “I cannot think that far.” Spirituality that incorporates physical matter and honest acceptance of doubt gives her lyrics a deeper scope and poignancy.
The other stand-out song on the album is “Ask Me” (Amy Grant, Tom Hemby), a song about incest. When I first heart this song, I knew Grant was doing something beyond frivolous. Grant, in her liner notes, explains that this song is about a friend of hers who went through the ordeal of incest. The lyrics are simply terrifying as she describes the experience through they eyes of a child.
Then she describes the perspective years later as the adult,
However, she comes to feel “she’s finally safe and sound/there’s a peace she has found.”
The chorus is sung with bold defiance against religious doubt,
She’s in your face with these Ask Me choruses. And although there’s no explicit answer to the question ‘is there a God up in the heavens’, Grant alludes vaguely to a “mercy in the middle” of pain; it’s really her passionate singing during the chorus that implies the answer. You don’t need to know explicitly what Grant would say, that if this woman can survive incest to find spirituality, there must be a God who exists either in the mercy of her inner strength or, from a Christian perspective, a God who actively aids in her healing.
Now I don’t know about other Christian songs, but this in not the type of material one would hear on VH1 or MTV or pop rock radio in 1991 and that’s because writing a song like this takes courage, and not bravado.
the Eyes – 1997
By the time Behind the Eyes is released in 1997, Grant was going through hard times in her marriage. This album marks a real change in sentiment for Grant and this album, along with Simple Things, breaks with simple platitudes and deals directly with the often complicated spiritual scenarios Grant and every one of us have to face. The material is full of personal questioning and conflict. At times, it’s downright depressing. It’s almost as if she were morphing from innocence to experience right before our very eyes.
She begins to question whether we will ever be old and wise? Life’s heartbreaks have revealed themselves. Love is often a quagmire of pain, the suffering of being torn apart and loving the wrong people at the wrong time. Even the music has changed to a melancholy, contemplative, spiritual-sounding acoustic folk The cover art is even somber, not the smiling, pretty, joyful Grant portraits we have come to expect.
These album consequently contains a new spiritual maturity. She admits confusion, regret, suffering and a lack of understanding. There is no “love will find a way” anywhere here. In fact, love seems to have wrecked the way.
Grant is also working more closely with Wayne Kirkpatrick on material, including the song that received the most airplay, “Takes a Little Time” (Amy Grant Wayne Kirkpatrick) which is a subdued reversal of “love will find a way.” This is Kirkpatrick and Grant at their best, with interestingly compact metaphors,
Unlike earlier songs that seek outside guidance from God, this song implies you have to do work on your own to change your negative circumstances. It reinforces the work as opposed to talk, “We’ve been talking and you know what…I’m sick of this talk.”
“Cry a River” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick) revisits earlier discussions about faithfulness and a wrong love at the wrong time. Again, without knowing any of the particulars of her personal life, this sound is poignantly situated at the end of her first marriage, and appears to be markedly personal.
Her performance is filled with sadness as she implores herself to cry a river and flood the sea. “How do you argue with a feeling deep in your bones?" See? Platitudes don’t help you with those bone feelings. I jest, but it’s true. This is not an acceptable situation for strict Christians. They are pushed to decide whether to follow true love or adhere to the strict paradigms like soldiers,
Grant, in this song, heartbreakingly decides to soldier on. I wonder if “just let it go” means she let herself love somewhere in secret or lets love itself slip away.
In “Turn this World Around” (Keith Thomas, Amy Grant and Beverly Darnall) Grant is in pain and entirely not sure anymore.
The song is filled with maybes. Maybe someday we could “face our fears/reach out through our tears/and turn this whole world around.”
“Curious Thing” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick) illustrates through narrative examples, which have improved, how strange life is and how it can often give you what you don’t expect. Grant is again expressing surprise and admitting her lack of understanding in ways we’ve never seen before.
“Every Road” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick) deals with the struggles of a relationship and Grants desire to keep trying, although the language has changed to take in the new perils of her personal life.
“Missing You” (Amy Grant) shows Grant new leanings toward a country sound. The song has a real “you can’t always get what you want” heartache. She is trying to accept the painful realities that wont go away. There are no happy endings in lines like “missing you is just a part of living” and “I’m living out the life that I’ve been given.”
“The Feeling I Had” (Amy Grant) alludes to infidelity and weakness of the human heart once again. Here with admitted weariness, Grant throws up her hands and resigns herself to a fate she never saw coming, with lines like
The following is another one of Grant’s lines that has stuck with me over time, a line about the frailty of hope against harsh realities: “I’m tired of stitching up my dreams with this thread of hope.”
Although she’s “still a believer of twin hearts and timeless love,” she admits that every choice available can be hard to manage. Then she introduces a new theme in her work, that on the other side (of life or of pain and difficulty), she will look for her battered compadres, the ones she has loved and lost,
There’s a very sad bridge in the middle of all this acoustic intimacy. She then talks with cynicism about the futility of words,
Cynicism of this kind almost feels like an epiphany of sorts in Grant songs.
“Somewhere Down the Road” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick) further explores her questioning, going from dismissing the ‘whys’ in 1985s “Find a Way” to morning them:
Without the answers, she appears to feel helpless and hopes later she will attain, if not wisdom now (that may be asking too much, as it turns out), some kind of basic comprehension. Possibly comprehension as later as in an afterlife, as this song contains one of the few references to God directly.
Back in the song “In a Little While” back in 1982, Grant remarked “I can almost see the top of the hill.” Now she admits “I thought I’d climbed the highest wall/The learning never ends.”
Simply deciding to follow the lord will not set you on a road to peace. And although paradise may exist in the afterlife, there are real dilemmas and heartaches to be resolved now. Maybe Grant fears she is faced with unsolvable questions when she says, “All I know to do is to keep on walking.” It sounds downright spiritually Eastern.
In 1999, Grant and Chapman, her husband of 16 years and father of her three children, divorced. In 2000, it was revealed that Grant and Vince Gill were to marry. Once again, Grant came under fire from Christian fans. Christian radio stations banned her songs and allegedly some Christian retail outlets refused to stock her albums. Grant and Gill gave birth to a daughter a year later, fully eight years after their “House of Love” duet. Turmoil surrounding the new blended family and 9/11 pushed back the completion of her next album.
Things - 2003
The album begins with a song called “Happy” (Amy Grant, Lamar, McPherson), an unabashed love song about the joys of making someone else feel happy. This is the song with the line I kept repeating it in my head for days upon days, the mantra that led me to rethink how I was responding to people when things get simultaneously intellectually and emotionally charged.
“It’s better to be kind than right…it’s better to be kind than right.” As a person who has spent a pathetically large amount of effort through the years in a pointless attempt to prove I was smart enough, like Hermione Granger in Harry Potter with her hand straining over her head trying to prove herself, constantly squealing “I know! I know the answer!” like a nervous tick. To hear this line was to hear that maybe the obsessive need to be though of as right wasn’t so smart or good after all.
So scientists and philosophers need not head this supposition, but how sobering and liberating on a person to person level: “it’s better to be kind than right.”
And Grant is ready to take stock in her past,
In “Eye to Eye” (Amy Grant, Keith Thomas) Grant works to try to repair damaged relationships. You can read the song as an interpersonal call for reconciliation or as some culture to culture outreach post 9/11, some “eye for an eye” anecdote. Again, Grant addresses the duality of elements.
Grant references our children. This could refer to her own children with Gary Chapman and their post-divorce disputes, or the world’s children and seeking a peaceful alternative to war.
The title track “Simple Things” (Amy Grant, O’Brian, Owsley, Keith Thomas) speaks directly to the enjoyment of a spiritual Now and the divinity of small things. A bird’s song reminds her of the song “Unchained Melody,” and she references “the miracle of forgiving,” a point that may pertain to recent events in her life and acknowledging both a self-forgiveness and a divine forgiveness.
No spiritual plan. How deceptively simple and ultimately true.
One of my favorite songs on the album would be “Out in the Open” (Eaton, Amy Grant) because it gently and wonderfully coaxes souls out of self-doubt and seclusion through an act of sublime self and spiritual forgiveness.
She admits that this world is,
She calls “come on out, come on out, come on out” as if to a frightened animal or child, reassuring the tentative soul,
Grant relinquishes being a judge herself and dismisses the other judges.
“I Don’t Know Why” (Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick) revisits the quest to understand the painful ‘whys’ of life with a Buddhist’s surrendering. The song was written immediately before and after 9/11.
Grant is firmly planted in the moment. She is no longer looking for wisdom ahead (over time, she’s just found more ‘whys’ than she began with), or paradise down the road, or a pat on the head from the heavenly father.
“Looking For You” (Amy Grant, Keith Thomas) deals passionately with the discovery of true love, but also works like the reversal Christian/secular switch-out: you can view the song as about looking for God, as well. Interestingly this song sounds much more believable than the prior, more quaint-sounding, love songs of the past.
Likewise, “Touch” (Amy Grant, McPherson, O’Brian) is remarkably carnal beneath the weak metaphor of star-burning passion. I appreciate the water references in the heat of the moment, however,
“Innocence Lost” (Hemby) bears mentioning because it references human failings of choice (you cannot undo what you have done), and the heartbreak of disappearing illusions. It mourns the loss of innocence with “there’s no way to know all the harm this world can bring.”
It’s her first formal reference of God and her desire, through God, to be forgiven and to be pure again. It also reminds us that Grant still holds to the idea of eventual redemption from a Christian Father.
In “After the Fire” (Amy Grant), Grant again revisits the idea of getting to the other side (although she’s not calling it ‘home forever with the heavenly Father’ anymore) and looking for lost loved ones.
Grant has come up on the other side already in many ways, through struggle, to a place with a broader spirituality and renewed hope, and beyond the empty platitudes of ‘you better wise up.’
For are we ever really any wiser?
Amy Grant may never have intended for her music to attract such non-Christian spiritual seekers as myself. Most of her pop/secular early-90s fans dropped off years ago and the far Christian right may be still be infuriated by her life’s flawed artistic and personal choices. For the most part, Grant was probably harder on herself than all the angry, judgmental Christians fans have been.
I suspect some of these fans have returned. I honestly don’t know who her fans are these days, maybe people in the middle like me who find certain tentative messages comforting in these strange times of extremism: from libertine selfishness to religious zealotry. It’s nice to see a spiritual soul work the puzzle in a modern atmosphere of religion without real contemplation, a time when sincere questioning is under suspicion from so many political directions.
I’m comforted to believe Amy Grant is one who is unafraid to stand in the thickets of her own judgements and disillusions. I am comforted she could fall into a pit of spiritual crisis and find a way out. Between fundamentalist Christians and the modern music industry, two institutions whose explicit purpose is to market delusions, Grant has never given in to eitherside. She has stayed course and never stopped writing about her soul.
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