Friday, March 04, 2011

Bill Mallonee

That album -- Killing Floor, by Vigilantes of Love -- was and is a revelation to me. When I first heard it (1993, as I recall), there were precisely two Christian songwriters I respected. Mark Heard operated uneasily from within the CCM world, spinning out his poetic tales on the intersection of faith and doubt. And Bruce Cockburn operated entirely outsides the confines of CCM, another restless poet, mystic, and relentless musical innovator.

Bill Mallonee, the lead singer and songwriter for Vigilantes of Love, was number three. He remains one of my favorite songwriters. He's the best of the three at conveying the Christian As Asshole theme, one that I can both affirm personally and attest to on a wider basis. He understood grace in profound and wondrously literate ways, and he could convey the same basic thought -- I'm a screwup, but a screwup loved by God -- in a thousand different metaphorical contexts. That thought remains central to my theology, such as it is. He was and is a superb songwriter, and it didn't hurt that he employed a musical approach that was influenced by Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

He's coming to Columbus next Friday, March 11th, for a concert at Grace Central Church (237 W. 2nd Ave.) The show starts at 8:00, and there's a $5.00 cover. You should go see him if you get the chance. Like Dylan, he's on a Neverending Tour. And like Dylan, I hope and pray he finds his way home. You can catch him on the road, midway to the destination, next Friday.

we were thrown into a snowbank
into this screaming night
i heard the splintering of bones
i heard the cries of pain and fright
we had laughed and shared a kiss
mingled there our lives honey
doing ninety miles an hour
when our train hit the ice

now i can't remember
what was i so excited about
i can't remember
why all the fuss and shout
i can't remember
ah watch the ember going out

we were joking about the club car's
noticeable bad taste
the food was barely edible
and the opulence and waste were simply astounding
the passengers spent hours dismissing
rumors of their demise
and it's true a little make-up
can make a corpse look fine

but i can't remember
i've been this way since birth
i can't remember
who gives a rat's ass who is first
i can't remember
ah what is any of it worth

i caught sight of a body
in a coat that looked like yours
and i called out your name darling
but i guess you never heard me
instinctively i reached out
and i pulled you near to me
sometimes God's grace won't let you look upon
what you can't bear to see

but i can't remember
all the idols on parade
i can't remember
buy low sell high trade away
i can't remember
ah watch the embers die away

i saw Jesus in the air
now there's a face that you can't miss
i saw Him brush away the snowflakes
and bestow on you a kiss
He gathered you up in His arms
God you looked so fine
that white dress you were wearing darling
like a billion stars did shine

-- Bill Mallonee, "I Can't Remember"


Jeff said...

I still to think that 'Resplendent' is one of the most effortlessly complete songs I've ever heard.

Caleb said...

(Long-time Andy Whitman fan, first-time commenter.)

Bill is pretty much my favorite singer-songwriter ever. I'm seeing him at a house show tomorrow night. Pretty exciting, especially since he's in town to record his first studio album in about five years.

Anonymous said...

The last time I heard Bill Mallonee divorced his wife and left his evangelical roots-I sold all my records by Mallonee-wonder what he is going to sing about now? peace Jonny

Andy Whitman said...

Jonny, Bill is divorced and has remarried. I suppose that the notion of "leaving his evangelical roots" is up for interpretation and debate. I do know that, as is almost always the case with divorce, there is pain and heartache involved for multiple people. It's not my place to sort it out, certainly from a theological standpoint, but I'd like to be kind and compassionate to everyone involved. The music is extraordinary, and certainly praiseworthy, as far as I'm concerned. As for the rest, I suspect that prayer is always a good response.

Anonymous said...

(another longtime reader, first-time commenter)

Bill is one of my favorite songwriters as well. In a better world you would have to explain to everyone who he is... He is definite proof that talent and hard work isn't enough to make it in this world.

All that being said I wish he had space to develop his songs a little more. The guy is writing for his life and it shows. There are some gems in his stuff in post-Locket full of Moonlight catalogue, but they are kind of buried in the volume of material and need a little room to breathe and develop.

Anonymous said...

Andy thanks for responding to my comments about Bill's music-the reason why I sold all of Mallonee's music was because he always sung about his love for his wife and kids-about his faith etc... I saw Bill every time he played at Calvin College Grand Rapids-even one time talked to him and told him I liked his music-but then I found out he left his wife and left his church-I agree about your remarks about Bill leaving his evangelical roots "Calvinism"-but the point is that it was hard for me to listen Bill sing songs that no longer were true-I do agree Bill is a good singer song writer-I have been reading your blog for years and pray the Lord bless you/family richly -peace Jonny

TimMex said...

I lost track of him some time after "Audible Sigh" but "Killing Floor" is one of my favorite albums. I saw him live at Cornerstone in '92 I think and since I couldn't find it in cassette, it was the first CD I ever bought... I had to ask a friend to make a cassette copy so I could listen to it.

He's always good live. I remember you raving about him on r.m.c back in the day

lbotta said...

Andy, Bill Mallonee is one of the first artists I learned about on your site through a link from Jeff Overstreet bringing me to the top Christian Rock Albums article you wrote awhile ago. I listened to Killing Floor over and over for a few weeks and I still love it. I think Audible Sigh might be better but either way I love his transparency in his music and lyrics. Another Christian tryin' to figure it out. God bless him, Jamey Johnson and others for sharing their hopes, dreams and heart with us. My prayers go out to him.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite Mallonee songs. I think I was 18 or 19 when I heard it. After growing up listening to to a bunch of CCM that was fed to me, I stumbled upon VOL. This is the first song I can remember that had me in tears upon the first listen. Many train songs have an aspect of unknown hope. This one is so sad, but at the same time glimpses the biggest hope that I have.

Thanks Andy.(and Bill)

Lindsay said...

Jonny, a wise man once told to me "trust the art, not the artist". It's hard when you realize that the songwriter is only just a man, his life is just as ordinary and as complex as yours and mine. People's actions in the future don't really change where they were when they write their songs and music. But then again, sometimes what they write is more of a reflection of how they wish things were rather than how they are.

Read into music what you wish, what you want, but don't expect too much perfection from the artist.

But then again, what do I know?