It feels almost odd writing this blog entry because for so many years I tried to be careful to not talk about someone I knew as a friend, confidant and inspiration during my childhood. It was out of a weird protectiveness that I chose to not talk about the fact that Rich Mullins, the Christian music artist who died 15 years ago today, was a family friend.
I think it started when one time I told someone and they reacted like it was a huge deal that I knew someone famous. That felt almost disrespectful to Rich, who never seemed to seek out the spotlight. I didn’t want to be a “name dropper” or act like I was telling people for the attention, so I just didn’t say much. I later became protective because the Rich I knew was more than the shoeless singer who made the hammer dulcimer sing. He was a friend, someone who seemed to “get” that I was going through my awkward stage early and he always knew just what to say. I almost felt like I was protecting his privacy somehow, as if I knew anything majorly private about him.
The world knows Rich Mullins as the writer of songs such as Awesome God, Step By Step, Calling Out Your Name and countless others. He was also a teacher, a brother, a son and a friend. Rich died in a car wreck Sept. 19, 1997.
I still remember getting the call from my dad that night. I was away at college at JBU and dad tried to break the news gently. I made him stop and tell me if Rich had died and once he finally said yes, I let him finish telling me the details. That may seem morbid, but I have always had a “reverse pyramid” brain. I needed the news then the details in order to comprehend the details.
The days and weeks that followed his death were so strange because I was mourning the loss of a friend while so many others mourned the loss of a legend. I don’t consider my loss to be greater than theirs, especially considering the Rich I knew was during my childhood and I can’t claim to have really known him. Also, his music has meant so much to so many people who I see why people have taken his death so hard. The grief is just different is all.
I think the thing that helped me get through that time the most was when his memorial service that was live-broadcast from my home church was also broadcast live on KLRC, the station from JBU. I was able to experience the memorial service from hours away and feel like I was right there mourning and celebrating with my friends and family.
So many Rich memories
I could share stories of Rich for hours. They wouldn’t be complete stories for the most part because I truly just have snippets in my mind.
I remember going to the concert rehearsals where he would practice the concerts before going out on the road or before a big performance. I remember his dog, Bear that really was like a giant teddy bear. I remember going to his and roommate Beeker’s house for dinner one night and he fixed shrimp in some kind of sauce. I remember the time I got a new hair barette and he noticed and complimented me on it. I remember when he would make little political commentaries that would both shock and amuse people. I remember thinking it was weird that he saw Dances with Wolves in the theater like a dozen times or something. I remember seeing him in the hallways at church and him always talking to me about my day, my life happenings. I remember as a teenager going to church camp and thinking it was so weird that people knew Rich’s music. How had they heard of him? I remember the “cup song.” I remember going to his house and thinking it was both weird and cool that my dad was his landlord and friend. I remember the friends from St. Joseph Square. I remember him and Beeker coming over to our house and bringing a date and me seeing Rich hold hands with his date during the prayer and thinking it was cute. I remember him giving me a flute from the back of his truck.
I remember when he would make it rain.
For some reason, the memory that sticks out the most is when I asked him for his autograph. I saw others doing it and thought, wouldn’t it be fun to tease him by asking for his autograph and also get something cool? He wrote:
Be God’s! Rich”
Sustaining memories over time
Although I was raised in a Christian home and I’ve always believed in God, I didn’t have a real relationship with him until the last few years. Although some of it has been nostalgia, Rich’s music has been a constant throughout all of those years of turmoil. Even when I was running the farthest I could from God, I always listened to Rich’s music and found truth, comfort and yes, in some ways found God.
I wish I could name what song means the most to me, but I can’t. My favorite seems to change with my walk of life, even my mood. I love the poetry, the hammer dulcimer, the piano and the rough beauty of Rich’s voice. I have to admit, it drives me crazy when people try to sing his songs “pretty.” Rich’s voice and Rich’s music was far from pretty. It was rough, often dissonant. It was beautiful. It is beautiful.
I wish I had the chance to know Rich during my adulthood. There’s so much I want to understand and so much in his journey that somehow I feel a kindred spirit with that I want to know if that is more than just a feeling.
One thing is for sure, I’m betting Rich would think all the hullabaloo over his music and life was strange to say the least. I’m sure he would have some very philosophical and truthful commentary about it!
The truth is, though, is that Rich is gone. Not gone, but he’s with Jesus. All we can do is remember and cherish the gifts he left in the form of his wisdom, wit and music.
Oh, and never forget to “Be God’s!”
(By the way, YouTube is a treasure trove of Rich memories. Here is the sound recording of his memorial service that I referenced above)