“It never seems like American Christians are ever following the teachings of Jesus as I understand them to be—and they’re not that difficult to understand,” Taylor explained in an interview with the Washington Post. “So I’m trying to find this other way to faith. But I’m looking for a back door. All the common entrances seem incorrect.”
At the time I discovered Hiss Golden Messenger, I was looking for back doors, too, tired of the politics and culture wars that cloud the American religious experience. I found comfort in the simple words of a song called “Drum,” Bad Debt’s closing track and a thesis statement of sorts for Hiss Golden Messenger. The song unfurls like a psalm, Taylor playing the part of a prodigal son who has seen the light.
“I’ll beat my drum
Everybody to come runnin’
I’ll beat my drum all the day
I’ll rise, I’ll rise
I’ll rise in the morning
And take the good news
Carry it away
Take the good news
Spirit it away”
That simple resolution, to awake and proclaim good news, seems more difficult by the day. Each morning brings horrors anew, further straining the cords that bind us together. Cynicism and dark humor inoculate against the constant dread but, over time, lead to a kind of spiritual deadness in which despair feels truer than hope.
Taylor’s music presents an alternate path, one of sincerity, vulnerability, deep pain and abiding joy. In “When the Wall Comes Down,” we’re encouraged to come away from nihilism and towards a kind of broken-down grace. “Step back, Jack, from the darkness,” Taylor sings. It’s a simple song, like a hymn, and easy to sing along to. The words are both timeless and specific to this moment: America, 2018, when all of us are searching for a voice.
“When you guys leave here tonight, do something good for somebody,” Taylor says in closing benediction. “And when you’re with someone you love, remember to tell them that you love them. It’s simple, but it does a whole lot of good that we need.” He speaks as one who has been called, a messenger with a mighty word. Taylor has found something that endures, known to the psalmists, hymn writers and folk singers of ages past. This is the good news: a simple song, simple words and a simple melody, sung together by friends and strangers, forever and amen.