Sing Your Journal
By Marvin Payne
A few months ago I suggested that you write in your journal to the mellifluous accompaniment of my music. Here’s something better: Why not write in your journal to the mellifluous accompaniment of your music? Even better, why not sing your doggone journal? There is scriptural precedent for this.
Last week I played Moses in a film the Church is making to help support our study of the Old Testament. It’s just a seven- or eight-minute film, but was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had acting in front of a camera. I would have included a picture here of me, transfigured and glorious and my head festooned with seven thousand dollars worth of hair, but the seminary kids have first dibs on the film and if they see me now in Meridian Magazine as Moses, without the music and the wind machine and green-screen effects, they’ll all start getting their Saturday’s Warrior jokes ready and miss the spirit of the film when they finally see it. (“Dude! Maybe he won’t command Satan to depart. Maybe he’ll just slap him! Ha-ha!”)
It’s the magnificent scene in which Moses leaves his sheep to pray. Um, it’s Moses who prays, not the sheep – they don’t pray, as least as far as we know. (The sheep! Oh, man, the sheep! On the first day of shooting, the wardrobe department noticed on the call sheet that the next morning they had to costume five sheep wranglers. It also said on the call sheet that they were only hiring eight sheep. This was a mystery. Well, the next morning we shot Moses wandering around in the desert for awhile and still had three hours to go before moving the whole company out of the west desert and back to Provo for some special-effects shooting. “What will we do for three hours?” asked the makeup department. This too was a mystery. Both mysteries were instantly cleared up when we met the sheep, who, when gathered into the hillside area from which Moses was to depart, bolted, as one, over the ridge and a couple of miles southward, pursued by several grips on ATVs, Jeeps, and motorcycles and of course the five wranglers, robes flapping. Much as the Church wants to keep things untainted by the slick formula Hollywood style of filmmaking, this is what happens when you hire non-union sheep.)
Having, with a sense of immeasurable relief, finally left the sheep behind, Moses climbs the rocky foothills and finds his prayer spot. Suddenly he’s carried away by the Spirit to a high mountain, where the Lord shows him every particle of His creations and every soul who would ever live in them (not in the particles, per se, but in the aggregate, so to speak). Moses is utterly overcome, and wakes up back in his foothill sanctuary, only to meet the adversary, who pathetically tries to counterfeit the Lord’s glory and commands Moses to worship him, Satan, instead. Moses, just having seen the real thing, won’t. So Satan throws this monumental tantrum which scares Moses into allowing into his mind visions of hell and universal destruction and eight sheep. Then Moses calls upon the Lord and receives the strength to banish Satan, provoking, probably, an even bigger tantrum somewhere else, off camera.
I’ve always been moved by the scene and felt honored to play it. It’s always fun, too, to be virtually the only actor in a film. (Both the Lord and the adversary are played by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who isn’t really an actor. But why hire an actor when you can have an apostle? Um, you’ll have to see the film.)
This supernally exciting story is preserved in the Pearl of Great Price, which volume has the distinction of bearing the most understated title of any book on earth. In contrast, the most exciting part of the Moses story as told in the Old Testament is the deliverance of the children of Israel (a couple of million souls, in my reckoning, “six hundred thousand men of war,” each presumably with a wife and at least 2.5 children – probably even more children, since it was the Israelites’ birth rate that spooked the Egyptians more than anything else). And, with the help of Brother deMille, we have to pretend it’s more exciting than it really is, even. We have to pretend that Moses was being so bold as to demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites permanently, when all he was really asking was to go sacrifice in the desert and be back to work on Monday.
Of all the millions of players in this deliverance drama, probably the Lord, Moses, and maybe Aaron, knew they weren’t coming back on Monday. The average Israelite was probably surprised when the three day’s journey turned into fourteen thousand six hundred. (How could they have been told? We are all, in this current political climate, well aware of the awkwardness of “leaks.”) It was the discovery that they weren’t coming back that got Pharaoh into his chariot and onto the road, without his water wings.
Yes, the Israelites, on the farther shore of the Red Sea, found themselves perhaps unexpectedly unemployed. But with a pretty good severance package. Which they promptly melted down to make a golden calf. Go figure.
Still, lots of miracles, lots of heavenly gifts, lots of grace to remember. And how did they remember? Well, back to this month’s thesis. They sang about it!
Moses sang about the great things he had seen and felt God do in his life, as did Deborah, Nephi, and Isaiah (who sang about great things he saw and felt God do in our lives, even). David sang about practically everything in his life. His son Solomon even sang about stuff in his life that the prophet Joseph suggests he maybe shouldn’t have sung about, at least not in the Bible.
I sing about stuff in my life all the time, and if you listen carefully, you’ll discern that it’s mostly about the great things I have seen and felt God do in it – in my life, I mean. If, for example, you listen carefully to the song “Addie Lea” you’ll sense something of the joy of having a tiny daughter whose oldest sibling is thirty-five. (This joy is virtually impossible to miss in the happy plonk of an unamplified Epiphone Zephyr Regent guitar. ((This joy is virtually impossible to miss in the mere name of the Epiphone Zephyr Regent guitar.)) ) If you listen carefully to “John’s Romp” you’ll sense in simple images like creekbed stones, crunchmeal leaves, and sand-dollar moons the intimacy of God’s love warming through the enormity of His creation. A really careful hearing of “The Song of Ages” might reveal what said song is really about, and boy, will that be a surprise, or what! A funky down-and-out song like “Abilene” transforms, in the careful ear, into a longing for Zion. And of course the bluesy solo treatment of the hymns doesn’t even require careful listening to bring their meaning home.
Oh, but wait. You can’t listen carefully to this musical journal of my life, laughs, and longings. You can’t even listen carelessly. Because it wasn’t released until TODAY (!) (unless you’re coming to Backstage Graffiti late this month, and then it wasn’t released until a couple of weeks ago). Oops. How could I have been so inconsiderate as to plant such rich expectations about this living illustration of our thesis here, and then leave such expectations unfulfilled?
Well, let’s just rectify that. Read all about the new way-guitary Marvin CD, “Front Porch Hymns & Humns,” at http://www.marvinpayne.com/. (Meridian Editors: Could you make a cool blue link out of the preceding Internet address? Or, wait, could you make it link directly to an order form? Or, well, heck, just link it directly to my account at the Bank of American Fork.) Slam-dunk rectification.
(This CD had its genesis in Steven Kappp Pperry’s “Cricket and Seagull” visit (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/radio/060203.html) with me here on Meridian several months ago. It feels a little like that music does, except, well, in tune. Mostly. And there’s a ton more of it. And none of the F chords are flubbed. Very badly.)
“Okay,” you think. “That’s all well and good and fine for you to say – you’re a songwriter!” Well listen, if you feel you hath no music in yourself and are thus fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils, no sweat! You are saved by your religion! You come from a culture that merely borrows music for your words from other folks! You are part of the Roadshow Culture! (As a professional songwriter, this promiscuous borrowing of tunes rather challenged my moral sense until I quite recently became aware that “parodies” are not protected by copyright. It comforts me now to know that our roadshow lyrics to hit tunes are only immoral if they’re not funny.) We’re the people who take the tune to “I’m Just a Gal Who Cain’t Say No” and write lyrics like these:
I’m just a gal who cain’t say yes
to dates before I’m sixte-e-e-en.
We wrote this show to boys impress
with this, ’cause it’s this year’s the-e-e-me.
When a fella asks twelve-year-olds out,
I know they oughta give his face a *punch.
He should wait until they’re sixteen and
then go out not with one, but with a bu-u-u-n-n-ch!
(*What keeps this song off the Rodgers & Hammerstein litigation radar is the humor embedded in this “punch” image. Granted, it may, in itself, hover just slightly below the hilarity threshold, but it would, of course, be choreographed with a degree of enthusiasm that would not only ensure audience hysterics and a “first place in stake” designation, but leave sufficient facial scarring that many of your more superficial young women would think twice before dating these boy actors, even after age sixteen.)
So we have been culturally prepared since our teen years to do the same thing with our journals as we do with our roadshows! You can do this! Consider, you’ve just begotten your new daughter, Addie Lea (or Emma Emily), and you feel compelled to write your feelings about it in your journal. Or:
(to the tune of “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame”)
There is nothin’ like a birth! Nothin’ in the earth!
If you want some joy and mi-i-i-rr-th,
there ain’t anything like a birth!
Hmm… maybe it would be better if you just buy my CD and sing your journal, um,
Marvin Payne is a professional actor, wordcrafter, songwriter, and recording artist.