The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Album Credits

Produced by Michael G. Kuzma and Doug Howell • Compositions, arrangements, keyboards, drum programming, lead vocals by Doug Howell

To Mike Kuzma, my longtime producer and friend, without whose encouragement and generous support many songs would have gone unheard; and to the unfound friend: I dedicate this Truth.

Supporting vocals by Lonnie Hull and Doug (except “Blair,” by Shirley Stockwell and Doug; “Where Could She Be?” and “According to Your Word,” by Kathy Darlington) • Electric and acoustic guitars by Daniel Leonhardt • Bass guitar on “Blair,” “Let Go” and “Liar” by Rob Martens • Flute and recorder by Kathleen Janka McClatchey • Soprano saxophone by Louis Stockwell • Percussion by Ken Michalik

Recorded at Solid Sound, Ann Arbor, MI; December, 1985 – May, 1986 • Engineered by Rob Martens with assistance from J. Willard Spencer • Mixed by Mike Kuzma, Doug and Rob Martens • Mastered by Steve Hall, Future Disc Systems, Hollywood, CA • Photography by Mike Kuzma, front photo taken in Dawn Treader Bookshop, Ann Arbor; • back photo taken at Washtenaw Community College • Original art by Nancy Oleszkowicz • Film work by Jack Wolak • Typesetting by George Elemont and Robin Prasaquet

Thanks to Debbie Kuzma for loaning Mike to me, keeping the business going in his absence; to the folks at Solid Sound and SASI Sound Productions for the neverending supply of bagels and yogurt, and for helping me pay the rent; to Chris Ranney for technical assistance; to Carol Larsen; to Nance for helping with the pix; to my family and friends for their constant support and prayers.

Digitized from the original master tapes in July, 2005, by Sonic Landscapes, Jackson, MI. Released on CD 2006. Remastered for CD 2007.

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP) • All songs © 1986 by Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

Note: See The Old Albums Revisited for general notes on the how’s and why’s of creating CD versions of the first five albums.

Lyrics & Notes

Truth is the only album that did not include song notes with the original release. It’s the hardest album to understand, the hardest to explain, and contains the edgiest music and lyrics. We were purposely trying to hearken back to Bluer days: more rocky and more raw. I think we succeeded for the most part, but at the same time, it wasn’t really possible to return to the Bluer days. Time and technology were marching on.

It’s easy to hear that this was recorded at the beginning of the computer music sequencing era. Even though we’d used synthesizers from the very first album, this marks the first time the parts were sequenced—recorded and played back via MIDI (the Musical Instrument Digital Interface standard). I can’t even remember what equipment we used to sequence most of the drums, bass and synth parts—I think it might have been an Atari I borrowed from the studio. But in any case, the album predated my Macintosh period, which dates from 1986 to the present. Which means it was primitive in many ways, compared to the control and nuance you can achieve through modern-day music software like Digital Performer. We decided on this method (sequencing) partly to save money, and partly just to go for something different.

My producer, Mike, always pushed me vocally. But on this album he carried it to the extreme. I would do a perfectly fine track—or so I thought—and then he’d pick a fight with me, trying to get me to reach further in to deliver something farther out. On some of the tracks I ended up almost screaming. I understand why he pushed me, but I felt at the time that he was pushing me too far. I still cringe today at some points in the album, thinking we just went too far. Thankfully, there are some nice moments, too, though.

Mike pushed me in other ways on this album, too. On “Can’t Feel It Anymore,” he loved the lyrics, but didn’t think the music matched their emotional intensity, so he asked—perhaps I should say strongly suggested—that I rewrite the music to the entire song. That’s the only time I ever remember doing that, and as it turns out, I’m really glad I did. The song turned out to be one of my personal favorites.

So, whatever its imperfections and quirks, Truth still captures an essence and still communicates something. Exactly what it communicates is the subject of the rest of this article, I guess.

Shifting now from music to meaning… You’ll read song-specific notes under each title, but some overall comments are definitely called for. You’ll probably notice there is a lot going on in these songs! There is anger, confusion, passion—sometimes all at once. The main reason is that there was a colossal struggle going on in me during this period. I was finally (yes, finally, as I was already in my thirties—I am nothing if not naive) starting to come out of the closet. Yes, Virginia. That closet. The process would take another three years—another year before I’d really begin to accept who I am, and then another two years before I would make a commitment to my life partner, David. At that point, I guess you could say that I was out, although it’s really a life-long process.

Around the time Truth was released, I was in a 12-step program called Homosexuals Anonymous, and in the middle of six years of psychoanalysis, all aimed at making me into something I wasn’t, something I thought God wanted me to be. So I hope the listener will forgive a few tortured rants and raves on this album. I actually might have had an easier time of it if I’d learned to rant and rave a bit earlier in life.

The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Summer, 1985

all you want to hear is a sweet song
you don’t want to hear from me
just three short, painless minutes
and a hook that’s hot
crossover Christianity
but tell me, where’s the sacrifice
when we always keep things nice
following some formula conformity
you say you’re protecting someone else
but it’s really just yourself
who can’t accept your own humanity

the truth is stranger than fiction
and stranger’s truer than friend
it may hurt far worse to tell it now
but it’s gonna hurt far less in the end

now tell it
now tell it

take a look around
how can we cover up our eyes
to the sick and suffering lives
to the oppressed and murdered millions
nearby some starve for lack of bread
and we congratulate ourselves on our
quite comfortable existence

the truth is stranger than fiction
and stranger’s truer than friend
it may hurt far worse to tell it now
but it’s gonna hurt far less in the end
the truth is stranger
it’s far more dangerous
the truth is stranger than fiction
but it’s what I long to see
in somebody’s eyes tonight

so here’s another album to be labeled on some shelf
another song still longing to be heard
passed by like the feelings we must somehow suppress
choked and gagged without a single word
but here’s one humble pilgrim’s story
one search for love and glory
one statement you can take or leave
God’s truth is shouting all around us
it rains on just and unjust
whether you do or do not believe

the truth is stranger than fiction
and stranger’s truer than friend
it may hurt far worse to tell it now
but it’s gonna hurt far less in the end
the truth is stranger
it’s far more dangerous
the truth is stranger than fiction
but it’s what I long to see
in somebody’s eyes tonight

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

I used to put out a newsletter. It was a great way to tell “stories of the road” in much greater detail than was possible in the brief song intros of live concerts. The last edition came out as I was releasing this album. Here's an excerpt from the lead article, which was based on this song:

I had sent song No. 5 ("According to Your Word") to a publisher, along with a few other songs. The reply I received made me a little angry at the whole Christian music business. The publisher said that what they really wanted were some up-tempo praise songs; that if I wanted any other Christian artist to consider recording this particular song, I'd better consider changing a few of the lyrics. Like the lines: I've spent my whole life running away from pain, thinking it wasn't Your will. That implies that pain sometimes is in God's will. And some people don't believe that.

Oh. O.K. I wonder what those people do with verses like, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Lk 22:42), or "it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him..." (Phil 1:29). Not a complete teaching on suffering, mind you, but enough to show us that it's not going to be—or even supposed to be—hunky-dory all the time.

I guess I had heard the "up-tempo praise songs" bit once too often. Hence, the title song from my latest album: "The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction." The album, in one sense, is my response to a world where what matters is what sells; where sex is synonymous with love; where looking good is more important than being good. On another level, it's my response to seeing these twisted values in myself and the struggle to opt for painful transformation rather than convenient conformity.

As I wrote the article, fresh in my mind was a correspondence I'd been having with a nice A&R rep from one of the LA Christian music companies of the day. She took offense at the article, and I don't blame her, although I never meant for it to be taken personally. The article said in more caustic tones the very same things I had been telling her in response to some of her critiques. But she was not the only one in the industry who'd criticized my subject matter. She was just the latest in a long line. OK, I guess I wasn't old enough to have a long line yet. Let's just say a medium-length line.

The critics wanted me to put more scripture in my songs, and less about feelings. Now I certainly have nothing against worship or scripture songs. In fact, one project I've always wanted to do is to record my own collection of favorites from this genre. But that's not what God was giving me to write. Why should I write something that other writers were already writing? Doesn't it make more sense to write and sing the things God has given to only me (read: us)? But even though that argument makes logical sense, logic really had little to do with it. When it came down to it, I simply had to write what was inside of me. What was real to me. That was the only option.

Often when I was planning my set lists, I'd wonder if this or that song should really be included. Sure, I felt like singing it, but would anyone really understand it, or get anything out of it? It was just too personal right at that moment in my life. But almost without fail, someone would come up to me after the concert and mention that song in particular. It was that song that spoke to her. I see that truth borne out time and time again: the more we try to generalize and share things that will mean something to everyone, the fewer people we seem to reach. But the more personal we get, the more risks we take, the more people are touched. Strange, but true. It's the “cracked pot” syndrome, I guess. If we pretend to be lovely pots, all glazed and shiny and new and unbroken, the power stays hidden. But the minute we're honest, human, real, the minute we let all our ugly cracks show, that's when the powerful, transforming light of Christ shines through. It's our epiphany and Christ's, all in one.

Let me close with the final paragraph from that newsletter article:

What we were all really meant to do is just to tell the truth. About God. About you. About me. In love. Yeah, don't forget that part. But don't sugar-coat it either, baby. Tell it to me straight. Tell it like nobody else can.

Blair

22 Oct 1979

Blair, I was used to playing solitaire
but you caught all my defenses unaware
and my feelings long since fallen into disrepair
but you made me feel like a millionaire

how I hate the thought of leaving now
how I wish that I could stay somehow
but I will always remember you
and I will always love you
across the moments and the miles
and I will sing this song about your smile

Blair, I can close my eyes and see your golden hair
and your eyes reflecting rainbows in the air
you were an answer to a hopeless prayer
I want to wrap my arms around you
but you’re not there

how I hate the thought of leaving now
how I wish that I could stay somehow
but I will always remember you
and I will always love you
across the moments and the miles
and I will sing this song about your smile

there are so many feelings stuck in my heart
waiting for a smile from you to save it from breaking all apart

how I hate the thought of leaving now
how I wish that I could stay somehow
but I will always remember you
and I will always love you
across the moments and the miles
and I will sing this song about your smile

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

You know, the Lord has used children so often to speak to me at important times in my life. I've got several songs to prove it. And none spoke more potently than a little Georgia kid by the name of Blair.

It was the fall of 1979, and I was in the midst of one of the most remarkable tours of my performing career, the last before I was to leave Kansas and return to Michigan. Yes, it was truly remarkable. Even as I look back on it now, 32 years later, I have to say it. I can't say whether it was because of all I was going through at the time, what God was trying to tell me, that people were ripe to hear what I had to sing—or the phenomenally gorgeous weather!—but it seemed that every single concert was a special, amazing, wonderful event. And right in the middle of that remarkable trip, a few days before my birthday, I sang at Wesleyan in Macon, Georgia.

After working on lead sheets, taking a long nature walk, and borrowing a shirt, I sang to a small but enthusiastic crowd, and afterward, was escorted to Crystal by nine of Wesleyan's finest (and probably zaniest) women. And then, behind this illustrious lineup, came a blonde-haired, brown-eyed boy. Since I couldn't get a word in edgewise with the nine in front of me, I said "Hi" to the boy and we talked about the crazy girls. Later, as we waited for our order, the girls did something particularly boisterous. I rolled my eyes and happened to catch his eye and he smiled so big and unaffected that it just seemed to light up the whole place. And I couldn't just let it go at that.

So I went over and put my arm around him and asked his name and we talked a little about the weather and my trip and his family. I told his Dad that I'd just performed at Wesleyan and asked if I could come by the next day to visit Blair and give him an album. One of the girls, Paula, later told me I should have seen his eyes light up right then. Maybe he couldn't believe it was happening. But then, neither could I.

So before leaving town the next day, I went by Blair's house. There are lots of things about that visit I won't forget: Hearing him yell "Hi," and come over and sit on my knee. How we talked and talked about everything and how he said "yes, sir" and "no, sir." How we played frisbee and he'd catch that thing even if he had to dive for it. How he showed me around his house, and fixed me a glass of tea, and said "Thanks" for the album at least 3 times, and just kept radiating at me. How I took his picture by the roses and he said he'd better tuck in his shirt. And how he smiled then: posed, yes, but so real. Like the kind of sunshine that melts a winter's worth of cold on that first warm spring day.

Too soon, it was time to leave. I got down on my knees, wrapped my arms around him, and said, "God bless you." He said, "God bless you, too." And he was only 9 years old, but he was a friend to me that day, a friend that reminded me how much God loved me, smack dab in the middle of my topsy turvy life. It seems to me now that it must have been a little glimpse of heaven, unveiled just when I needed it. A glimpse that I'll never, ever forget.

Hollywood

Sep 1981

walking down the boulevard
the eyes so hurtin’, flirtin’ and hard
you’re utilized and tossed aside each moment
and bit by bit enamored by all the trumped up glamour
your greed begins expanding by exponent

you take refuge in the numbers game
forget your honor, despise your name,
you settle in behind your anonymity
just think of all you’ve been denied
and fabricate your alibi
and sacrifice your freedom in the name of liberty

welcome to
Hollywood
they believe in the power of the pocketbook in
Hollywood
everybody loves you when you’re lookin good in
Hollywood
stars and starry-eyed people are trampled underfoot in
Hollywood

flashing lights defy the moon
and draw you to the silent doom
of scavenging some substitute for love
so you chain yourself to endless racks of magazines and paperbacks
two-dimension fantasy, full color and glossy to the touch

welcome to
Hollywood
they believe in the power of the pocketbook in
Hollywood
everybody loves you when you’re lookin good in
Hollywood
stars and starry-eyed people are trampled underfoot in
Hollywood

the neon lights of tinsel town
they’ll hypnotize you and turn you around
your love lies under the spell of the silver screen
so you’re taken in the bargaining
you find your conscience hardening
and horrified when once the truth is seen

better get out of
Hollywood
they believe in the power of the pocketbook in
Hollywood
everybody loves you when you’re lookin good in
Hollywood
stars and starry-eyed people are trampled underfoot in
Hollywood

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

Should be fairly easy to figure this one out. It's one of the tracks where the whole gestalt of my anger and confusion just spills over from my own predicament into the subject matter at hand. The song was inspired by a trip to Hollywood, but just as much by the conflict that rose in me as I tried to come to terms with what I saw, what I wanted, and who I was. I of course hadn't figured out fully who I was yet, so that made things worse (as it tends to do). The song's a diatribe against the superficiality I saw in everything around me—including the music business—but also against my own weakness at being enamored by it and drawn to it. Very much sounds the same messages found in "Liar," written a couple years earlier. Would come off awfully self-righteous if I wasn't describing myself. Including myself in the starry-eyed masses. Guess you could say it's a little look at Hollywood's downside. Its underbelly. Maybe it's about as far from an up-tempo praise song as I could get?

Can’t Feel It Anymore

4 Sep 1980

you telephoned
how can you sound so close, yet distant
we keep pretending time is nonexistent
you’re laughing like you used to do
but the most that I can seem to do is
smile at the illusions I had planned
cause now I hold your laughter in my hand
somehow it’s lost the power of command

I can’t feel it anymore
can’t conceal it anymore
neither joy nor pain can enter through a bolted door
and I can’t feel it anymore

ghost towns
they lived here once, but now they’re gone
they gave up all the hopes they’d counted on
just reminders of what used to be
just tumbleweeds and dust, and tell me,
what sense would there be in going back
to all those empty streets and swirling sand?
how many disillusionments can love withstand?

I can’t feel it anymore
can’t conceal it anymore
neither joy nor pain can enter through a bolted door
and I can’t feel it anymore

there’s no turning back
once the current starts to flow
there’s no changing courses
once the wind begins to blow
don’t think love can last
if you refuse to let it grow

what sense would there be...
to all those empty streets and swirling sand?
how many disappointments can our love withstand?

I can’t feel it anymore
can’t conceal it anymore
neither joy nor pain can enter through a bolted door
and I can’t feel it anymore

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

About the time I wrote this, I found myself at the end of a string of failed relationships. Quite an accomplishment at 28. 'Course you may say, when a gay boy falls for a string of straight boys, you can't expect it to turn out too well. Yes, true, but you're forgetting: I hadn't figured that part out yet, had I? (We grow 'em slow out on the farm.) All I knew is that I was falling in love. I couldn't even see how I was smothering every one I loved with my incredible, unquenchable need.

Strangely enough, the hallmark of hopeless romantics (and if you don't think I'm a card-carrying member, you haven't heard enough songs yet) is hope. That's how you know you're in real trouble: when the hope evaporates. In your early adventures, you take your pummeling and move on. But after a string of rejections, you start sensing that armor and it just gets heavier and heavier, darker and darker, choking what little is left of any feeling, until that blank, horrible, empty moment comes when you realize that all you hoped for in this relationship—or any other—is irretrievably gone. There's no going back. There's no going forward. It's just over. Ghost towns. It's not just where you've ended up this time and several times before. It's where you always end up, and there's never going to be a different ending.

Again, no up-tempo praise song here. But that doesn't mean there's no praise. It's still there, but it may be harder to find. It may seem dark and empty. But you just keep breathing, keep moving, keep singing, keep praying, and you feel like a zombie for a while. But then, somehow, one spring day, you catch yourself starting to believe that maybe the story isn't over yet. Maybe there will be another ending, someday.

According to Your Word

28 May 1980

I’ve spent my whole life
running away from pain
thinking it wasn’t your will
always asking questions
demanding you explain
never hearing you say,
“Be still.”

let it be done to me
according to your word
till your love flows through me
into this dying world
can’t shut my eyes to all I’ve seen
deny what I have heard
let it be done to me
according to your word

Lord, I know you never
turned away from pain
instead you took it face to face
you won the victory
even through the cross
Lord, I want to follow
in your ways

let it be done to me
according to your word
till your love flows through me
into this dying world
can’t shut my eyes to all I’ve seen
deny what I have heard
let it be done to me
according to your word

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

Like Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun, I'm getting more familiar with Mary these days. 'Course it doesn't hurt to have a high-church Episcopal priest for a partner, either. But she's always captured my imagination. And quite right, too. When God asked her to give everything, she said Yes. And of course, this song is based on her response: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Lk 1:38, KJV). John Wesley, in his Notes on the Bible says it is not improbable that this prayer of humble obedience and faith was the very moment of conception. Could any more blessing come from one simple act of obedience?

Are we willing to set aside our own plans in order to follow His bigger plan? Are we willing to risk following God, even when it looks like it might lead to suffering and ridicule? I wonder what phenomenal, glorious things might happen if we could?

Lord, whenever and whatever you may ask, let my answer be the same, simple, faithful answer of Mary.

Keep On

5 Aug 1980

keep on, keep on driving
even when the lights go out
and you just can’t figure it out
keep on, keep on walking
when the darkness falls around
and the circumstances confound you

Jesus, did I love your blessings
more than I loved you
Jesus, take away your blessings
still I will love you

stand on, stand on his word
when the earth crumbles beneath your feet
and you can’t help feeling defeated
hold on, hold on to his hand
when the sky tumbles into the street
and your dreams lie on the concrete

Jesus, did I love your blessings
more than I loved you
Jesus, take away your blessings
still I will love you

Jesus, do I love your blessings
more than I love you
Jesus, take away your blessings
still I will love you

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

Like I was saying in the notes on "Can't Feel It...," there comes a time when just keepin' on is all you really can, or should, do. But just doing that is enough to get you to the next step. It's also a good time to test yourself to see if you're a fair weather disciple. It's always easy to follow when it's raining pennies from heaven. Not so easy when it's hailstones. But He's our shelter, and our light, and our steady hand, even as the sky tumbles into the street.

Where Could She Be?

Apr 1982

if I’m meant to live my life alone
I know you’ll give me the strength to be on my own
knowing I’m your own is enough for me
but if there should be something more to your plan
than I can see from where I stand
and if there should be one special hand to hold
please tell me

where is the woman you meant for me
to cling to and sing to
where is the girl who could make my life more complete in you
if it’s true that there’s someone waiting for me
where could she be

you’re the one who said
it is not good for man to be alone
and I agree
so do you have an Eve for a lonely boy
there’s so much joy in being close to you
you know I don’t want that to change
but if it’s true that three can be as close as two
if it’s true, then

where is the woman you meant for me
to cling to and sing to
where is the girl who could make my life more complete in you
if it’s true that there’s someone waiting for me
where could she be

in conclusion, Lord, what should I say
I don’t think you want me to play in this masquerade
you just want me to pray and leave the rest to you
expect the best from you
I’ve grown so sick of dating games
the faces and numbers and names
I just want somebody who’ll feel the same
about you

where is the woman you meant for me
to cling to and sing to
where is the girl who could make my life more complete in you
if it’s true that there’s someone waiting for me
where could she be

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

Man, what can I say about this one? I guess at its simplest, I was just saying to the Lord, "If you want me to live alone, I know you'll give me the grace; if you want me to get married, you'll give me the grace then, too." As you can pick up from the lyrics, at this point I by no means had any assurance that I would ever marry. Though I certainly seemed to have many opportunities to marry, I just as certainly did not want to involve another person in my own confusion, or pretend to the sorts of actions that should come from the heart. I had seen what happened when people took that course, and I did not feel it was right. So I prayed and studied and waited. I prayed and waited a very long time, in fact. A good five years after this song was written, I was still praying and waiting, but by then, some big changes were in the air. (For more on that, see my notes on "Lightning in a Bottle.")

I think this song was my attempt to give Mary's faithful answer to God, responding with the information available to me at the time. If God wanted me to spend my life in partnership with a woman, He could bring that about, all evidence to the contrary. The evidence was very contrary, of course, as I had no trouble at all falling in love with men, while women could never seem to go a step beyond dear friendship, psychotherapy, 12-steps, or no. But one thing I knew: whatever the answer turned out to be, I couldn't live without Him. That much was certain.

Liar

30 Oct 1978

yesterday at the fair you really took me for a ride
you said if I’d surrender you’d keep me satisfied
but after just one time around it all came down the same
leaving me to hate myself for playing in your game

liar, liar
you really took me for a ride
liar, liar
you’d better run and

you’ve been saying so long you’ve got exactly what I need
you sold me to a dream marked "satisfaction guaranteed"
I wanted so to believe you, you know I blinded my own eyes
but now I recognize you beneath your foul disguise

liar, liar
you really took me for a ride
liar, liar
you’d better run and hide

you’ve made a career of tantalizing
making sin so appetizing
and treachery so pleasant to the eye
but it’s all a deadly lie

I know it’s all in your plan to rob me of my youth
but Jesus lives inside me now and he’s the way the life and the truth
you can cash in on my weakness
go on and dare me if you can
but when I’m weak in him I’m strong
you better find another plan

liar, liar
you really took me for a ride
liar, liar
you’d better run and

Jesus has already beat you
in the end we will defeat you
you’re just a liar
liar

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

On an album about Truth, there must be a song about lying. In my notes on "Here I Am," I talked about being accused of lying, and not understanding how the accusation was meant. Several songs on this album revolve around telling the truth about who I am. This one is my response to lying about who I am. Some have said that almost all of Satan's assaults and accusations come from an effort to convince us we are not who God says we are. Which voice do we listen to, when both are swirling around in our heads?

If the enemy can persuade me that I'm a spiritual imposter, and focus my attention on my own unworthiness, he's won the battle. But if I rest in who God says I am, based on Jesus' work and goodness rather than my own, then I'm secure, I'm strong, I'm loved. Nothing can prevail against me, no insinuation, no suspicion. I'm not defined by my failures, but by His forgiveness. (And if you want a lot more eye-opening insights into the tactics of the devil, read The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis.)

Through all my struggles with "the big H," as I used to call it in my diary (Tchaikovsky used to call it "X" in his), I've struggled in the no-man's-land between those two views of myself. And if Paul's writings are any indication, it is a struggle that will continue as long as I am on this side of the grave. When we die to ourselves, that's when we live—and all the other seeming contradictions and ironies that go along with that one.

One important word of clarification, though. All of this assumes that you will remain a pilgrim for truth. No, truth is not that neatly tied bundle of scripture verses and traditions and cultural norms you swung over your back and left childhood with. Truth is much bigger than that. And with each step you take, it gets bigger. You will not just suddenly arrive there someday. This is a learn-as-you-go proposition. Around every corner is a new vista, a new lesson, a new challenge, a new risk. Doesn't look the same to the people behind you, nor to the people ahead. You're just like the pilgrims of The Pilgrim's Progress or Hinds' Feet on High Places. You must keep on traveling through the multidimensional mountain range of truth, keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, keep your heart trained on your Shepherd, and your hand in His.

Oh, September

6 Aug 1980

oh, September
why’d you have to come so soon
just when I finally started to have some fun
I remember well
the spell of an August moon
and I was just gettin used to livin in the sun
look what you’ve done,
September

summer’s warmth is gone now
there’s that coolness in the air
seems like love is changing with the leaves
how can I be happy when the trees stand stripped and bare
it’s plain to see it’s summertime that this boy needs

oh, September
why’d you have to come so soon
just when I finally started to have some fun
I remember well
the spell of an August moon
and I was just gettin used to livin in the sun
look what you’ve done,
September

sing your praise to autumn and the harvest of the seed
but I can’t take these gray days and this rain
fall has fallen and left me with nothing but a need
and I don’t see how spring could ever take this need away

oh, September
I remember well
the spell of an August moon
and I was just gettin used to livin in the sun
look what you’ve done
September
come on ahead
December

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

I used to get asked to sing at weddings all the time, and by the time I wrote this song, I had grown to hate them. Well, maybe hate's too strong a word. Let's just say I was getting awfully tired of participating in a ceremony where I felt I'd never be able to be the guest of honor. Singer, sure. Best man or groomsman, sure. But never the groom. Guess it was my version of "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" syndrome.

Anyway, I'd been invited to the wedding of a childhood friend. You know, the kind of friend that shows up alongside you in all your baby pictures? It was a nice wedding, and I was doing fine, all the way up to the "garter part." At that point, I usually felt pretty out of it for obvious reasons, and just wanted to escape. And on this particular occasion, I did escape. Out into the street. I walked back and forth under the streetlight and the August moon, dreaming of another August moon, and wrote this song.

Dweller by the Dark Stream

Feb 1980

well-mannered, cool and calmly persuading
myself that I am truly what I seem to be
a beast of greed unbounded still is raging
barely contained beneath the straining liturgy
they joke of pain as if it were so distant
I laugh along, a desperate play for comedy
but if they knew my most inflexible resistance
can scarcely curb the madness of my villainy
I’d be crushed beneath the heel of their intolerance
and left alone to face my own Gethsemane

dweller by the dark stream
how can I escape the meaning of my name
pilgrim of a fair dream
dream yourself some wings for all your chains

wind blowing cloudy hair and sky above
he’s lost inside a cinematic sanctitude
he lost his heart to a movie screen lover
he drives into the West
and the story continues
pursuing some vision of beauty
he’s haunted by faces that remind him
of something he’s seen
and wounded by the passing touch
of eyes that taunt him
to own for just a moment
and lose eternally
a martyr so fearful of dying unwanted
he justifies his sadness
as humanity

dweller by the dark stream
how can I escape the meaning of my name
pilgrim of a fair dream
dream yourself some wings for all your chains

dweller by the dark stream
how can I escape the meaning of my name
prisoner of a fair dream
lose those binding chains and fly away

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

My name, Douglas, is of Celtic origin, and means, roughly, "dweller by the dark stream." It's fitting really, because my last name, Howell, is of Welsh extraction, after Hywel, a 10th-century Welsh king, meaning "eminent" (yeah, let's go with that one!), or a more English meaning "at the hough (depression or valley), at the well." Anyway, I've always felt my name fit me, both on and under the surface. Hence this song. In fact, I started writing a whole suite of songs based on the meaning of my name, but this is the only one that's seen the light of day so far. Both Mike and I felt it fit well with the theme of this album. Telling the truth about who you are is a pretty important element of telling the truth in general, don't you think? (See also comments on "Liar.")

I'm sure you'll have no trouble picking out the recurring themes of longing to fly, to escape; feeling chained by circumstances, bound by conventions, traditions and my (then even more limited) understanding of the scriptures; being forced to pretend when that's the last thing I wanted to do; hearing friends and family make jokes about other people, knowing all the time that inside I was just like those people; loving the unattainable, whether they were on the silver screen, or unavailable emotionally; the mainly hopeless character of my dreams... "The beast of greed unbounded still is raging, barely contained beneath the straining liturgy."

It's impossible to describe what it feels like to be trapped inside your own body, inside your own persona, when you long to be free, but thank God for music and poetry. Without music, I don't know if I could have survived through all the confusion, hurt and despair. Music, the constant love of family and friends, but most of all the fact that "Jesus loves me." There may have been some not-so-great things pounded into my head during my Baptist upbringing, but there were some very good things, too, and chief among these was: Jesus loves me. Thank God, I believed that from the earliest days I can remember, and believe it to this day. Somehow that belief became the bedrock of my life, and endured through all the uncertainty and upheaval of my first 39 years.

It remains the biggest mystery of life: why Jesus should love and bless us so. We can all escape the meanings of our names through him. Through faith in Him, through our baptism, we have a new nature and a new name (Rev 2:17, 3:12). I have fancied mine to be something like "dweller by the light stream," but I don't know for sure. Not yet.

Let Go

30 Oct 1978

let go
why is it so hard just to let go
let me give you all the good things that I’ve planned
do you believe that I love you?
I know, I know all your dreams
but do you know I’ve got some dreams for you
can you trust me to make them come true
they’re good dreams
no matter how empty they may seem
but you can’t see beyond your loneliness
no, I don’t go back on my promises
don’t you remember
you belong to me

trust me, please
I just want to make you happy
don’t hang on to your love
it revolves around yourself and leads to nowhere
oh, you think you know what makes you happy
but I’m the only one who can keep you satisfied
oh, I’m not trying to hurt you
i love you
oh, I love you
how I long to throw my arms around you
but with your hands so full of self-made dreams
how can I give you anything
don’t you remember
you belong to me

oh, I know
I know all your dreams
but do you know
I’ve got some dreams for you
can you trust me to make them come true
oh, they’re good dreams
no matter how empty they may seem
but you can’t see beyond your loneliness
no, I don’t go back on my promises
don’t you remember
don’t you remember
don’t you remember
you belong to me
you belong to me

℗ © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

2011 Notes:

While I lived in Wichita, Kansas, with the wonderful Schultzes, our Bible Study Fellowship group had a gathering at First Baptist. There were snacks—healthy snacks—at the end of the meeting. I had already gotten my share of healthy snacks, celery and carrot sticks and the like, and an empty cup, and was in the punch line. As I reached the drinks end of the table, someone offered me a cup, already filled with punch.

For a minute I was stymied, sort of in limbo, and didn't know what to do. I started to reach out one hand, then the other, but of course, that didn't work because my hands were already full. You'll be glad to hear that I did, eventually, figure out that the most intelligent thing for me to do was to put my empty cup down and take the full one offered. Mistake! For as soon as I set down the empty cup, I heard a word from the Lord. Just one word, slicing across my mind: "See." That's it. Just "See." And in that one word, the Lord gave me a little object lesson for a principle He'd been trying to teach me for months. Probably longer.

See. There you are with your empty cup. Nothing in it but emptiness, loneliness, hopelessness, despair. But, boy, it's all you've got, so you're hanging on so tight! And I have another cup for you, full of my blessings, my love, my peace, my guidance. And there's only one thing you need to do. Just let go. Just reach out and take it. "With your hands so full of self-made dreams, how can I give you anything?"

So there you have it, my faithful listener, my friend. We've come to the end of another album full of music and lyrics and notes. The hardest one of the lot, it was. The hardest to sing, the hardest to write about, the hardest to learn, the hardest to earn. But there it is. No up-tempo praise songs. But hopefully enough truth to set us both free to be who we were always meant to be, and enough praise to keep us looking up and out, and keep us going until the next song comes along.


Lyrics © 1986 Dweller by the Light Stream Music, assigned to Creative Measures.
2011 Notes © 2011 Creative Measures. All rights reserved.