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Waking the Dead

February 13, 2009

File-6Tonight something very special happened.  Matt Hammitt (of Sanctus Real) and I have been talking about writing together on this tour and I got a text from him this morning that woke me up asking if I wanted to try and write today.  “Sure” I texted back and rolled out of my bunk and met him inside.  I was a little foggy and unprepared to try to write – usually I like to have a plan for what idea to bring to a co-write depending on what I perceive the other writer’s strengths to be, etc.  

With no preparation we just started to toss some ideas back and forth.  Matt is a sweet spirited man and it was easy to feel comfortable with him.  We wrote one song surprisingly quick and had enough time to wonder about another one.  

I don’t know why – it’s not something I would have done if I’d really thought about it – but I shared a scrap of lyric from a song that I had been working on with my friend Tim Helmen before he died of cancer going on 2 years ago now.  Tim was my closest friend and was a brilliant songwriter who was my very first collaborator.  Together we wrote some of my best songs at the time, and we shared a common love of books, music, etc.

I wasn’t ready for Tim’s passing, and it still brings me pain to think of it.  There have been many times when I thought of calling him up and then realized I couldn’t.  I have been blessed to become friends with some of our mutual heroes (Andrew Peterson, Andy Gullahorn, among others) and I think he’d get a big kick out of that.  I miss him.

I had wanted to record one of his songs on my last record and was working on a lyric with him not long before he passed away – trying to shape the music into something that would make sense on one of my projects.  After three failed attempts I put it aside.  If I couldn’t do it right, I wouldn’t do it at all.  I had brought it to a couple of different writers and was never satisfied with the results, never feeling like we found the heart of the song.

After nearly 3 years, for some odd reason I pulled it up again and showed it to Matt.  He immediately had a melodic idea that was more “me” than I would have dared to think of.  I had tried to move it away from the usual singer/songwriter treatment that I might predictably give it and turn it more into an anthemic pop rock thing, but Matt’s instinct was to go for a simple melody that was elegant and beautiful and it immediately felt right.  In no time at all a chorus came and it was becoming one of the loveliest songs I’ve ever been blessed to be a part of.  I hope others will agree.  I am, admittedly, biased on this one.

It was good to remember Tim and I felt he would be pleased.  Matt and I cried as the song began to unfold.  That Matt would cry with me over this sweet little song and on account of my friend Tim is a testament to the kind of guy he is.

Writers notoriously carry crushes for the latest song they’re working on, and sometimes the glow wears off after a few days.  But this one feels different, and I think it’s because it feels like something holy happened in our midst, and I feel blessed to have been there for it to fall on me, indebted to Matt for helping me find it and call it down, and honored to have spent time in the company of my dear friend Tim – if only in the spirit of a song that brought him back to life again for a couple of hours.

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