“Art nourishes community. Community nourishes art.” Andrew’s been saying this for years, and I’ve seen beautiful ways that’s played out in his relationships, in the Rabbit Room community, and in some of my friendships, also. I hope you have, too. Let’s talk about that.
After the low sales of Love & Thunder … I got the fated phone call that I was being dropped.
Oh, how I wished Rich Mullins were still alive, just to have someone to talk to. I didn’t want to be worried about money. I wanted to be a barefoot vagabond musician who laughed his way through trouble and sang about Jesus to whomever would listen. But when you have a wife and three babies, you can’t just not think about money. …
He said, “Andrew, I have two things I want to talk to you about. First, and I’m sorry to say this, but in the light of the sales of your last album, we’re not going to renew your contract for the next two. Second, I know you’ve been talking about writing a book—a fantasy novel, wasn’t it? I spoke to a literary agent named Don who’s interested, and I’d love to connect you two.”
Even though I could tell he was throwing me a bone with the book contract, it was a kind gesture and I appreciated it. (As a side note, Don ended up being my agent and helped secure the publishing deal with Waterbrook/Random House for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, so it was a very good bone the label threw.) But in the moment I was devastated.
It never feels good to fail. Even if I knew all the Sunday school answers—answers I actually believed, by the way—the truth was, a bunch of people who believed in my music did a lot of work and put a lot of money on the line to try and sell it, and there was something about it that just fell flat somehow. I wasn’t a valuable enough commodity to keep on the roster. … I can still remember the brick-in-the-gut feeling I had when the call was over, the eerie, foreboding sense that something significant had just happened which would alter the shape of my life.
Here’s what I didn’t tell you about that phone call.
For years I had badgered the label to let me record Behold the Lamb of God, and for years they had said no. Finally they wrote me out of the contract for it, saying that they didn’t want it, and it wouldn’t count as one of the required albums on my contract but if I wanted to find the money myself and release it independently, I could. The day I was dropped from the label I was standing in Osenga’s backyard while he and Ben were in the basement studio recording electric guitars on “So Long Moses.”
I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, wiped a tear from my eye, and walked back into the studio. The guys were probably laughing at something and didn’t notice at first that my face was pale.
“I just got dropped from my label,” I told them.
They stopped laughing and offered their condolences. Then after a few moments of silence someone said, “So about this guitar part. Do you want it to come in at the top of the chorus?”
And we were off and running. It was God’s kindness to me that I was not only in the middle of a project and had so much work to do that there was no time to wallow in self-pity, but I was surrounded by friends, by community, by people who told me implicitly by their involvement in my life and work that this was still worth doing, label or no label. It felt so good to walk back into the basement, roll up my sleeves, and try to craft an album about Jesus.
That’s community. They look you in the eye and remind you who you are in Christ. They reiterate your calling when you forget what it is. They step into the garden and help you weed it, help you to grow something beautiful.
Discussion: How has community played a role in your life and art?
While he doesn’t directly mention this in his book, Andrew has an old song from Clear to Venus called “Hold Up My Arms.” In it there’s a line that says, “So hold up my arms / Like Moses in the desert, when the battle ran long / Hold up my arms / We can go at this together when my arms aren’t strong.” Have you ever experienced a time when you couldn’t keep going without the help of a trusted friend? Have you been able to hold up another’s arms so they can keep going?
(And did you notice that we might not have had Wingfeather—and thus this very discussion!—or Behold the Lamb if that horrible phone call hadn’t happened?)
Come on over to the forum for more discussion!
TONIGHT: Behold the Lamb of God is streaming live at the Ryman! It’s going to be wonderful. Get your ticket here.