Bluer Than It's Ever Been

Record of Participation and Cooperation

Compositions, arrangements, lead vocals, keyboard, drums & percussion, synthesizer/Doug Howell • Background vocals/Bobbi Page & Doug (except Love That Comes Too Late/Barbara Young & Doug) • Bass guitar/Hoppy Colvin • Flute, alto flute/Kathy McClatchey • Acoustic 6-string, electric guitar/Dan Leonhardt • Acoustic 12-string guitar/Dennis Kisko • French horn/Steve Pike • Cornet/Randy Merritt, John Larkin • Trombone/Larry Daugherty, David Luurtzema • Singalongers & cheerleaders on Life Is Like a Melody/some very precious Ann Arbor brothers & sisters

Production & general inspiration/Michael Glenn • Engineering/Michael Glenn, Doug Howell, Kim Flanery & Hoppy Colvin at Morgan Sound Theatre, Ann Arbor • Mastering/Bob Dennis, HDH Studios, Detroit • Pressing/North American Music, Scranton • Album jacket design/Michael Glenn & Doug • Photography/Michael Glenn & Barbara Young • Photographic composition/Jack Wolak • Typesetting/Glenda Harmon • Jacket Fabrication/New Directions, Dearborn

All selections copyrighted & published/Trinity Sound [later assigned to Creative Measures]

Special thanks to all the friends who contributed joyfully a wealth of both talent and spiritual encouragement. • This album is dedicated with love to my precious brother, Bob Laurent. • All glory to God. It is He Who is our life and song. He produced this album and somehow brought it to you. Maybe He wants to tell you something. Digitized from the original master tapes July, 2005, by World Class Tapes • Compact disc mastered by Doug Howell

Creative Measures (ASCAP) (originally Trinity Sound Corporation, 1975). All songs ℗ © Creative Measures (ASCAP) (originally Trinity Sound Corporation, 1973, 1974, 1975)

Inside the fold-out cover:

I'm standing here knocking at the door. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door I will come into him, and then we'll both be home. "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." —Colossians 1:13

The Old Albums Revisited (2005)

When I recorded Bluer Than It's Ever Been, it didn't really seem possible that I could live past the year 2000. I would be how old? Didn't seem worth bothering about. Well, here—quite a few years later—we are. I've lived long enough to see cassettes of my first recorded album (well, the first one I'll admit to, anyway) get so old that they no longer play without sticking. In fact, hardly anyone knows what a cassette is anymore. And after many years of talking about it, I was finally able to put my hands on the master tapes of several of my albums, thanks to my former producer and friend, Mike Kuzma. My buddy, Willard Spencer, and the other helpful folks at World Class Tapes, baked the original tapes (no kidding, baked, in an oven) and digitized the thing. Voilá! The results are finally available on this site, and I'm very thankful.

It's been quite an interesting experience hearing the albums again. On the one hand, they sound better than I've heard them in many years—since the recording studio, really. No wow and flutter, no clicks and pops—nothing that wasn't on the original tape. But on the other hand, they sound old. Dated. I've been asking myself things like, Why did I ever think I could play the drums on this myself? (Poverty can drive you to make some pretty foolish decisions sometimes.) And I sound so very, very young. Very inexperienced in life, and faith. The lyrics have just as much meaning as they ever did, but the meaning is, well, different. Deeper. More complex. Different. As Paul Tournier said, it all comes down to the meaning of words.

I thought it might be interesting to revisit my notes on each song as we travel through these albums, so come with me, and I hope we can uncover a truth or two in the process.

First of all, before we begin, I want to thank you for listening all these years. I get a letter, a call, an e-mail every couple of weeks. You say you've lost your copy of Bluer, or worn it out. Or you've just moved to a new house, and run across your old Freed album and wonder if there are any copies still available. Or you just happened to do a Google search one day and found Creative Measures/Eden Records on the Web—a Web that wasn't even dreamed of when these particular Eden Records were recorded. Or a friend told you about Hinds' Feet, and you wonder how much it would cost to send a couple of copies to Australia.

And some of you—just like you used to do so many times so many years ago—ask me what the songs are about. Even now, after all this time. For some reason, the song's stuck with you, and you still wonder... Well, for all of you, and for myself, too, I'll try to say a few more things about these songs. I hope that it makes them more real, and more meaningful. I hope it disillusions you just a little and makes you appreciate the ordinariness and wonder of everyday life. I hope it makes them more likely to last along with us another 30 years or so. (By the way, Bluer was released 30 years ago this year!)

Life Is Like a Melody

7/73

Life is like a melody
rhythm and rhyme and harmony
sweet and simple sunshine melody
since he came into my life
bad times are gone
good times have arrived
and life with him is like a melody

it's such a shame
the way we complicate our lives
when God meant us to lead
a simple life
it's such a shame the way we let a dark cloud
take away our song
when we should be teaching
someone to sing along

(repeat chorus)

oh, there are times I get
so tired of singing songs
when I begin to think there's
something wrong
but then the Lord begins to
comfort me and give me back
my smile
and I realize once more
it's all worthwhile

(repeat chorus)

1975 Notes:

The summer of '73 I was working nights on a golf course. I would usually change sprinklers every 90 minutes or so, spending the rest of the time by myself in a small room next to the bar. I spent some of the loneliest times of my life in that room, listening to the madness next door.

Sometimes I would sneak in after closing and play the honky-tonk piano well into the wee hours. I remember many nights when Jesus comforted me with love songs until dawn. One night he gave me four songs, of which this is one (maybe I can play the other three for you sometime).

I'm not very proud of how I wasted that summer, but it has always amazed me how Jesus can change the worst summers into songs.

Psalms 40:1-3; Romans 8:28

2005 Notes:

I think of all the songs on this album, there's none that showcases my young faith and exuberance like this one. I think it has been the most requested song from this album. It's been fun listening to it again, and remembering what a great time we had recording it in the studio with everyone singing along. I still remember that little room by the bar, too, but now the word “madness” seems a bit much. Maybe it was mostly just people having a good time. There may have been no more madness on their side of the door than there was on my side. I was a pretty up-tight kid back then, and I sure had a lot to learn. But none of that changes the fact that life is music. Was then; is now. It's just that not every melody is necessarily as “sweet and simple” as this song might lead one to believe.

“All things work together for the good of them that love him...” I knew that was true back then, but I hadn't yet lived through very many of those “things” Paul was talking about. Even though I thought I knew, at 21, what a slimy pit was, I didn't.

So where does all this leave us? Let's just say that life's melody is a lot grander than I ever imagined it was. The rhythm is a little more polyrhythmic. And the harmony? Richer than Rachmaninov. So close to dissonance sometimes it's excruciating. But somehow, at the end of that final movement, I believe it still resolves into peace.

Brother

10/73

brother
I have written so many songs
in my day
but you know I'd give
them all away if I could only
find a simple way
to make you understand
how I feel today

brother
you know I felt just like a song that came too soon
and no one ever sang it quite in tune
I can't forget the day
God gave me you
cause no one ever sang
that song like you can do

sometimes I think that you must have been there
when God made the world
cause I could swear
I've seen his sunlight
shining in your eyes
and I could swear
it's his life that I feel
each time you smile

oh, brother
if a tree could keep from reaching for the sky
and if a bird could tell how it feels to fly
then I could sing to you
the reason why
I love you so
and need you so
then maybe I could
sing the reason
why

1975 Notes:

I often find myself at a loss for words. Most often, he fills me with silence, but some of these times, as in this case, he fills my heart with a song.

II Samuel 1:26

2005 Notes:

There's a sense in which you can't fully know God without someone else. The Body of Christ is made up of many parts. Only when all the parts do their parts can there be real fullness. Watchman Nee has a lot to say about that.

I guess the time when I wrote this was so magical because I'd never known before what it was like to really share God's love with someone else. I'd known the longing, but not the sharing. Not with someone so close. I'd always been a dreamer, but on my own. Up in a tree somewhere. Now there was someone else to dream with. And someone to sing to.

The II Samuel reference? That would take a whole book. But the short version is this: I think I used to use that verse as a sort of proof text. Irrefutable, biblical evidence that I wasn't crazy after all. That there really was a love as deep as the love I felt, a love as unlike the typical boy-girl thing I saw happening all around me. A love well worth dreaming about and praying for and waiting for.

It's a Pity

7/73

it's a pity
you say you can't find
a good enough reason
to believe anymore
it's such an art
the way you've learned
yourself to close your eyes
to the answers
you once searched for

you've got it all worked out so
you don't have to depend on anyone
well it might seem like a foolproof plan
but it's a fool who wants to live a life without love

anyone can see it's a shame
you've got your own set of
questions to which no one
could begin to reply
and you're so sure of yourself
and your philosophy you laugh
inside each time I try

you've turned your back on God when
every breath that you take comes from him
well you can laugh till the day you die
but when your life's over
what will you have
to show for it?

anyone can see
it's a pity

1975 Notes:

I remember going to see him that night. I waited two hours—and when he came home all he could do was tell me I was wasting my time and he'd already had all his chances. He was crying out for love, I knew it, and I tried to tell him how to find it, but all he could say was “goodby” and “don't come back” and “go save somebody else.”

I was trying not to hurt so bad but I cried all the way home.

Ezekial 18:32; I Corinthians 13:2

2005 Notes:

Not much to add to this one except that time changes a lot of things. Life could be very different for my friend now. Everyone goes through phases where they're incorrigible, unrepentant, unloving and unlovable. All we can do is hope that we come out the other side in time to find and give love again.

I Wanna Spend Time with You

12/73

I wanna spend time with you
not just a moment or two
not just a year or a few
I wanna live life with you

there are so few times in life
when people really live
and there are so few moments
when people really give
most people say they want love
but they don't want their plans to change
ah, but it's just fine with me
if all my life and dreams you rearrange

I know it's a miracle how
God led you to me
and why he cared for us
that way I'll never see
and just to think that God meant
you for me and me for you
it makes me get down on my knees
and pray I'll always share
this life with you

1975 Notes:

This song was written for a friend's wedding.

Do you remember that story about how David once wrote a song for King Saul? Everyone thought it was such a loyal expression of David's love for the King. But David could never look into the King's eyes as he sang it. Because the song was really for Jonathan.

Well, this song is really about needing somebody.

I John 3:16, 18; Romans 12:5

2005 Notes:

More cryptic references to David and Jonathan. Not hard to tell that I had just read one of the most captivating books of my lifetime, David the King, by Gladys Schmidt. The author seemed to reach me in a way no other had ever done before, and it made a difference. Finally it seemed I wasn't quite so alone and different as I had thought I was.

The main thing I was trying to say here was that the song wasn't really about a wedding. In fact, it had nothing to do with formalities or ceremonies at all. It was about loving someone so much that you didn't mind changing your plans.

Have you ever been with a couple where everything is a hassle? Each new item on the agenda is a gauntlet thrown down. Which will will win out? Well, as far as I'm concerned, what's the point? If your being together can't create something different, something that's worth compromising and sacrificing for, forget it. Do yourself and the world a favor, and stay alone.

When you love someone, something new is born. Something that's never been on this earth before, and never will be again. Something that asks everything of you, including the willingness to change. I saw this way back when this song was written, and I see it even more clearly now.

Bluer than It's Ever Been

6/73

my world just used to turn around
and even when it hurt
it really didn't seem
to slow down much
but you know when I met you
you stopped it cold
and all I knew is it felt
like I would go through an
opening door
and I knew that you would never ever leave me
anymore
and I don't know what to do
though I should know
just what to do
and how I should react to you
but I just don't know what to do

at times my sky was filled with gloom
and sometimes there were clouds
but when you came to me it was
bluer than it's ever been before
than it's ever been
and though I couldn't move
I thought I finally knew
what it felt like to soar
and you know you made me wonder
if I'd ever loved before

and I don't know what to do
though I should know
just what to do
and how I should react to you
but I just don't know what to do

Jesus, it's all up to you
to show me just what I should do
and how I should react to you
oh, Lord, I know you'll see me through

1975 Notes:

Do you remember what it was like when you first met Jesus?

Ephesians 2:4-7

2005 Notes:

You know, life just doesn't come in neat little packages. Spirituality over here in this package. Love over there, with a bow. Pain in a duct-taped box in the basement. That's not how it was meant to be, and not how it really is. In fact, when we try to live life like that, it's a very big mistake. Life is supposed to be all mixed up. Everything's a part of everything else. It cuts across more dimensions than we even realize exist. (Some scientists now say there are at least 29, you know. Dimensions, I mean.)

So many of my songs have been about both spiritual love and human love. Maybe it was about human love at the beginning, but I didn't know how to describe it—or was afraid to because I thought no one would understand it, or accept it—or didn't even know how to describe it in purely human terms. Maybe it started out as human love, but turned into something else, opening up a whole new world and changing me somehow. No matter where the love came from, to me it all revolved around God anyway.

And just maybe it was something I didn't want to give away completely. So I wrapped it in a little mystery. You haven't listened to these songs very carefully if you haven't heard that much. Maybe that's the reason everyone asked me so often what my songs meant! But believe me, I wasn't just trying to hide or to be obtuse. I really truly wasn't sure myself. And still am not. That's part of where that community living comes in. Some of you readers had to—and may yet have to—help me figure that out. After all, maybe you know about a dimension I haven't heard of yet.

He was beautiful, and he caught me completely off guard. He wasn't God, or was he? He certainly seemed like a close relative. And he was quite profoundly beyond my world. And all he did was hand me a golf ball. But somehow, it was the world. The whole, wide, beautiful world. And a door opened inside. One that had been closed for a very long time. Even thinking back on it now, I'm not sure. Does that sound human or spiritual to you?

Love That Comes Too Late

8/72

last night on the road
there was a guy thumbin' a ride
and I said, “Lord, I'd pick him up,
but I've gotta get where I'm
goin' on time.” I said,
“Can't it wait 'till tomorrow
when I've got more time to waste?”
but the Lord said,
“Do it now, my child,
cause tomorrow will be too late.”

love your brother now, my brother
please don't hesitate
there's not a kind of love that's worse
than a love that comes too late
now's the time to show some kindness
man, why do you wait?
don't let the only love you've known
be a love that comes too late

I knew a guy who left home
without so much as a word goodbye
he couldn't care less 'bout
the feelings and the tears of the
man and the woman he left behind
I know that someday he'll be sorry
'bout the love he should have had
but when the church bells toll
and that house is empty
it's too late to understand

Jesus is the greatest love
this world has ever known
it brought him down to a life
in flesh and bones
to a death he died alone
but now let me just remind you
that he did it all for you
don't let your life come to an end
before you've said
“Jesus, I love you”

1975 Notes:

I think we're all taught to live as though we had all the time in the world. I guess I felt that way too once. But the Lord tells us what we should already know—that we can't live in the past and can't count on the future. All we're given is the moment. That means everything we ever do has to be done here and now.

Please—let's start loving.

John 4:35; James 4:13-17

2005 Notes:

You can tell this song was written in a more innocent age, too. I certainly wouldn't encourage people to pick up hitchhikers nowadays, but that's not really the point. What it means for each of us to show God's love to those around us—friend or stranger—can't be put down in a three-minute lyric. It has to be lived, day by day. That hasn't changed.

With You Beside Me

1/74

with you around it all seems new
I don't know what to say
or what to do
and deep within my heart
I always knew that
someday I would love you
and why you love the likes
of me I'll never ever know
with you around it all seems new

since I met you it's all worthwhile
and all it takes from you
is one sweet smile
and if I had to walk a thousand miles
I'd find a way to fly there
and if you'll take my hand
then we won't face the world alone
since I met you it's all worthwhile

with you beside me I can't sleep
I've gotta stay awake
to hear you breathe
and deep within my soul
I've gotta keep
the gentle sound your heart makes
and I wanna be there to smile for you
when all your dreams are gone
there's nothing left to do but weep
with you beside me I can't sleep

1975 Notes:

A producer recently called this a secular song. Begging his pardon, it is not a secular song. It is a Christian song. I am a Christian. To me, Christ is everything of value and everything of value is Christ. To explain this song would be too long a story. So just let me say it's a love song. And who else can a love song be about?

Ephesians 5:32

2005 Notes:

Read my notes on “Bluer” and you'll understand this one a lot better. As I read the original notes for this song again, I find I still agree with them. They're still true. But if I said this now, my motivation for saying it would be totally different. It would be said with less smug matter-of-factness and less defensiveness, and a lot more wonder. It's the compartmentalization thing again. I think the longer I live, the harder it gets for me to think of anything as merely secular. That never was an easy one for me to buy, and now I'd say it's pretty much impossible.

And in case you think I'm getting way too ethereal again, let me throw you a human tidbit: the person who inspired this song inspired at least three songs on this album. Maybe more.

Life Is More

4/72

all her silver's sittin'
in a row on the shelf
along with a fine-carved wood
how I wish she could have made it
she always wanted the good things
and now they've got her

she's got a golden car with a
six on the floor and
shoes for every day of the year
will she ever hear the children?
she used to bend down and touch them
now she just looks down

yesterday she could see the world
the way a child alone can see
and I can remember how she used to
smile at me but today she could only
cry

she told me she'd had enough of God
her love for the Lord had died
and how it hurt inside to hear it
she wanted so much to live
but now she's dying

don't you know life is more?
you're turning your back on an open door
oh, why won't you listen when I tell you
Jesus wants to give you a life that's
free

1975 Notes:

I remember going to the jewelry store and watching all the newlyweds pick out their china and their wood carvings and their silver. And I wondered if any of them knew life is more.
Matthew 6:25; I Timothy 6:7-10

2005 Notes:

This song seems to equate materialism with backsliding, but it's a lot more complex than that. (Big surprise.) Materialism is just one of a smorgasbord of things that can insulate us from reality, from God, from others and ourselves. It's an easy one to pick on because it's so obvious—at least it seems like it on first inspection. But the older and wiser we get, the more we learn that those “obvious” things are often not quite what they seem.

It's not so much what's in your hand. It's how tightly your fingers are twined around whatever's there. It's whether things flow out as easily as they flow in. There's a song called “Let Go” about four albums from now that really puts it in a nutshell. If we could only see the value of things—and people—as God sees them...

Willie

6/73

willie is the name of a love
that I'm aching to know
I've never known you
but I miss you so
and why do you always
have to go?
why can't you ever
stay?

willie is the sweet simple smile
that my heart can't forget
at least I know it hasn't yet
and you might be the only chance I'll get
to give myself away

when I was young
I watched the clouds form
castles in the sky
but then as now
the things I'd dream
would somehow pass me by

willie is the name of a dream
that will never come true
after all, how could I
expect it to?
and I would love to spend
my life with you
but what would people say?
someday I think I'm gonna
run away

1975 Notes:

Sometimes I wonder if it's worth putting my life on the line. But then I wonder if anyone even knows I'm doing just that.

John 11:35

2005 Notes:

After concerts I used to feel about like a wet dish rag. Totally drained. Like I had gone out there, put myself on the line, let everyone know how totally human and vulnerable I am, and come back completely spent and empty. It's never easy to tell people how you feel. Especially people who know you well.

If “Life is Like” was the most requested song from Bluer, “Willie” was the most often asked-about song. In fact, it's still happening. The end of last summer, I was up on a ladder installing siding on our front porch when I got a call from a Kansan who I'd known many years ago. When David handed the phone up to me, guess what the person had called to ask? Was “Willie” about human love or divine love? I must have sounded flustered as I said “human love.” I was tired, and not in the best situation to be carrying on a long phone conversation. He sounded disappointed at my quick answer. Afterwards, I wished I'd talked with him a little longer and come down from the stupid ladder long enough to find out something about him.

It's strange when people you don't know very well want to talk to you about very intimate things. It used to happen after concerts all the time. Now it happens a lot less often, usually through e-mail or a note scribbled on a record order, or a random phone call. But it's still odd, and I don't always feel like opening up and telling everyone every personal detail. I'm sure you can understand.

But anyway, my caller friend, here's a better, more thoughtful answer, and I'm sorry if I was bit abrupt with you on the phone. Please forgive me and give me another chance.

I've already spoken a lot about this human-love-versus-divine-love thing in previous notes, and there's a lot of those same principles operating here. When I told you “Willie” was about human love, I was being a bit dismissive and a bit rebellious. Maybe I was trying to say: What's wrong with human love, anyway? Is that somehow less divine than divine love? Doesn't it all come from the same place anyway? It would have been kinder and more accurate to say both. It's about both kinds of love.

Willie's someone I had seen—not even someone I knew—in truth, a character in a movie. A character that seemed like someone I needed. Or someone I had lost. Maybe a part of me so deeply hidden I couldn't find it. Or maybe some combination of all three. Anyway, seeing that character roused such longing in me and such disappointment, and such hope against hope... The result was this song, and it's my favorite one on the album.

Roads

3/71

so many roads to choose from
I don't know which way to go
is there a map to help me
out of this mess I'm in?
when will my life begin?

tell me where the sky is
show me where the sun shines
tell me where the love is
that they talk about
on Sunday afternoons

so many roads to follow
I'd be in desperation
but since I put my faith in God
I have peace inside
knowing he's by my side

I know where I'm going
and I know he's always there
tell him that you trust him
and his love will flow
don't go on alone

oh, you know it's gotta be
a hard decision
you know you know
it's a hard decision
but you know
he never said it was easy
just remember
remember I tell you

you never have to be alone
if you'll only choose
the lonely road

1975 Notes:

Where are you going?

I know Somebody with a map you could use.

Proverbs 14:12; John 14:6
Deuteronomy 30:11-20

2005 Notes:

Strange how such a young, naive kid could write cynical words like these: “tell me where the love is that they talk about on Sunday afternoons.” You don't have to live very long before you sense the great dichotomies of life. There's love, and then there's talking about love. Seems there are always at least two roads ahead of you, at almost every moment. Not always life and death. Sometimes just good and better (or worse). Sometimes you go one way, and sometimes the other. Those choices lead you to the person you are, to the people you befriend, and to the God you serve. May the one who is the Way help us each choose well.

All I Ever Want

8/73

all I ever want to say
and all I ever want to be
is you, Lord
yes it's you, Lord
all I ever want is you

everything I want to do
and everything I want to feel
it's you, Lord
oh, it's you, Lord
all I ever want is you

I'm fed up with searching
my whole life away
I don't want to waste
even one more day
I'm telling all my doubts
that they can fly away
cause all I've ever wanted
is what I've got today

it's you, Lord
yes it's you, Lord
all I ever want is you

1975 Notes:

That summer I had my eye on a Chevy Nova I wanted to buy, and my anticipation mounted each time I saw it or took it for a test drive. When I bought it I drove all over the country showing it off—it felt so fine. It was just like I thought it would be—almost. But by the time I parked it at home the excitement was gone. I was just as alone as I had been the day before.

If I had to choose, I guess this would be my life song. When it came to me, I thought it would be the last one—ever.
I couldn't imagine having anything more to say.

Philippians 3:7-10

2005 Notes:

And, in a sense, there still isn't much more to say. But in another sense, there's always more. More to say, more to do, more to be, more to learn. We keep on learning the same lessons over and over again sometimes, but each time it goes one layer deeper. Just when you think you've hit bottom, you discover there's another layer.

That's what I'm trying to say about love, I guess. I used to think there were many different kinds of love. (C. S. Lewis says there are four. I love that book.) Yet the more time marches on, the more I sense things merging. And that sort of sums love up, in a way. It's not about separating, it's about merging. As Hannah Hurnard said, it's about recognizing your oneness with those around you—those who aren't your favorites, as well as those who are.

And speaking of summing things up, Davey says I should summarize things here. Where do all these thoughts leave us, after all? But I can't. Not quite yet. I have at least four more albums to go, and we are bound to discover a few more things about love on that journey. So for now, I'll thank you for listening to these songs yet again. It's been a neat experience for me, listening to them and learning how to play them again. Especially this last one. I just played it tonight, as a matter of fact. Just when you think something is too old and too tired and hopelessly worn out, you discover that it has a little life left in it after all. It has a little more to show you. It's like the words keep becoming true in new ways. And if it's anything I wish for all of us, it's in the last line of that bridge. May each of us experience the joy of knowing that “all I've ever wanted is what I've got today.”


Lyrics & notes © 1975 Trinity Sound Corporation, later
assigned to Creative Measures. 2005 Notes © 2005 Creative Measures. All
rights reserved.