Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amy Grant, Be Far Away From Me

Not long ago, Mike Keeton and I had another one of our impassioned discussions, this one about Amy Grant.  Normally, I don't focus much on the lives of music/Hollywood stars, but Grant unfortunately led a life of being such a billboard for the Christian way of life . . . and then decided to say, "Do as I sing and not as I do" in her personal life.

In Lamb of God days, Amy Grant was all but required listening.  The community would have a frequent "coffeehouse" on Saturday nights, and the woman who started it off would almost always sing a Karaoke version of Grant's "Angels" with its false ending, "Stay For Awhile", or something else.  Grant definitely made LOG's unwritten list of approved music for personal listening.  (Aside: I got hold of a Patrick O'Hearn tape and was playing it in one of the households in which I was living.  The guy who "ran" the house asked me what that music was, and whether it was Christian.  I replied, "Does it have to be?"  He didn't answer.)

I had bought Grant's 1987 release Lead Me On, and enjoyed it, mainly because most of the songs had good instrumentation on them.  Of course, I wanted to be a Good Boy and do what was right.  So, apparently, did Grant, with lyrics like these from "Faithless Heart":

At times the woman deep inside me
Wanders far from home,
And in my mind I live a life
That chills me to the bone.
A heart, running for arms out of reach,
But who is the stranger my longing seeks?
I don't know.
But it scares me through and through,
'Cause I've a man at home
Who needs me to be true.
Oh, faithless heart,
Be far away from me.
Playing games inside my head
That no one else can see.
Oh, faithless heart,
You tempt me to the core,
But you can't have a hold on me,
So don't come around anymore.

Grant co-wrote that with Michael W. Smith, and the song was apparently more autobiographical than it appeared, as she was apparently fighting off feelings for him.  She succeeded there, but didn't hold out for much longer.

Yesterday, while waiting for an MRI, I saw there was a copy of Good Housekeeping with a cover article on Grant and Vince Gill.  Now I certainly don't make a habit of reading GH, but I wanted to see what they had to say about how they left their respective spouses for each other.  According to the GH article (emphasis mine):
When their paths crossed in 1993, both were married (Gill to country singer Janis Oliver; Grant to Christian musician Gary Chapman) with children. They met at a taping for Gill's Christmas TV special, on which Grant was a guest performer. "The connection there [between us], that was kind of rare," Gill told Larry King in 2003. "The hang was easy. The conversation was easy." The Christmas shows became a yearly collaboration, and the backdrop for a growing friendship. "November would roll around and I'd go, Hey, we're doing that Christmas show again," Grant told King. "In my mind, I justified it: He can be my friend."

Though they have always maintained that there was no infidelity (during Gill's divorce, he and Grant were reportedly prepared to sign affidavits saying so), there was no hiding their emotional connection, both onstage and offstage. Gossip columnists noticed it; so did both of their spouses. Gill's ex-wife, Janis, reportedly told her sister that she initially tolerated the close friendship he struck up with Grant. But, Janis said, when she found a handwritten note from Grant saying, "I love you...Amy," in her husband's golf bag, she unsuccessfully asked Gill to cut his ties with Grant.

In 1997, the Gills divorced. "There was never like a magic plan — 'I'm going to go do this, and a couple years later, you [Amy] go do this,'" Gill told King. "I got a divorce, and said, Well, I think she'll probably stay [in her marriage]. I really did."

Grant, who learned of Gill's divorce by reading about it in the newspaper, was in the midst of her own marital woes. "The real pain of it is trying to take the high road," Grant told King. "But when you have such an easy rapport with another person, what it really does is it highlights where you don't have as easy a rapport."

Now, I readily admit Grant is hardly the first to go through this sort of thing.  Recall, for example, how Billy Joel wrote "Just The Way You Are" for his first wife, and then "Uptown Girl" for Christie Brinkley, and has divorced and remarried since.  But Joel never asserted Christian virtues through his music, either.  Also, I can't vote for Senator John Ensign, a champion of social conservatism who allowed himself to fall into emotional, then sexual infidelity.  That's a breach of trust.  But not many people are giving Ensign the pass that has inexplicably been afforded to Grant.

Grant was absolutely right back in 1987 to write about emotional infidelity; it can ruin marriages so easily, and perhaps more so than sexual infidelity.  But her subsequent wilting into the arms of Gill just makes her all the more a hypocrite: 

There were four kids in tow — Gill's daughter, Jenny, then 17; and Grant's three children, Matthew, Millie, and Sarah, who ranged in age from 12 to 7. "It was a long haul to feel like a family again," says Grant. "The parents have made a choice, but none of the kids have made the choice. And wherever it's going to wind up, you're not going to get there quickly. You just have to give people their space."

Translation: Deal with it, kids.  Our libido is what's really important, not giving you anything like a stable family.

And here's the final selfish insult:
Today, she speaks thoughtfully and evenly about the media firestorm that swirled around her in those days. As pundits weighed in on the sanctity of marriage, Grant recalls, she had starker worries. "I don't mean this in a flippant way, but I was so unconcerned by what somebody who I would never meet wrote in a rag," she says. "I felt like I had flipped a car over three medians and I was trying to figure out if my children — if we all — still had a pulse. I could not imagine going through life not by Vince's side. [Then I'd] hear people saying, 'I heard so-and-so say they're not playing your records anymore.' I had to trust that eventually everything was going to be OK."
What arrogance to make herself out to be a victim.  It was Grant and not ex-husband Gary Chapman who made the decision to leave.  It was a conscious decision to go against her marital vows and bring upheval into the life of her children.  And it's a lousy witness to a world in which marriage becomes more meaningless by the day.

Love is not a feeling.  Love is a decision.  My parents have been married for 51 years, and my in-laws for 50.  They've done it not based on their feelings, but on the seriousness of their commitment to each other.  They loved each other even when they Didn't Always Feel Like It, and they didn't seek out relationships that were New, Better, and Different.  They avoided the near occasions of sin.

"Nature . . . is what we are put in this world to rise above."  --Rose, The African Queen

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So Long, Old House

As I write, my mom and dad are "camping out" in their new home, a condo in Ellicott City, MD.  They have installed a phone line, but they can't yet unpack because the condo -- a short sale -- hasn't been settled on yet.

I guess it still hasn't hit me that I won't be seeing the old house or neighborhood in Baltimore anytime soon.  I paid a last visit in October to the house . . . and, of course, to Mom and Dad, which I certainly hope won't be my last visit to them!

Now this is neither the house nor the neighborhood I grew up in.  The six of us (excluding my two older siblings)  moved to Westgate-Ten Hills in West Baltimore in 1984 from Belair-Edison in East Baltimore to be closer to members of the Lamb of God Community.  I have written extensively on this blog (although not extensively enough) about the problems with LOG, but residents were actually glad we LOG members were there, as our increased presence stabilized the neighborhood and helped bolster property values for many years.

Although not a huge house, it had a lot of character, and even more so after Mom and Dad used massive amounts of elbow grease to strip and stain the woodwork.  I remember helping Dad build what would be my basement bedroom for four years, although we would later learn it was illegal because there was no way to get outside other than the stairs.  I know I would never have gotten through the small transom-type windows, and that was when I weighed a lot less than I do now!  The bathroom underneath the front porch had a shower, but it was always susceptible to mold and eventually wasn't used.  The hot water faucet on the sink never worked.  When it rained any appreciable amount, the bathroom would flood; before the remnants of Hurricane Gloria passed through in 1985, we just picked up the carpet in advance.

I cannot count how many times I hit my head on the basement ceiling as I came up the stairs toward the kitchen.  Otherwise, I might be 6'2" today.

I recall many a summer afternoon on the side porch falling asleep on our old wood-frame sofa while watching baseball or golf.  The azaleas around the porch were especially colorful in spring.

I was the lawn mower during my time at the house, as my brothers weren't yet big enough to do so.  The yard was a decent but manageable size, but what I had to watch out for was underground bee hives.  I can't count how many times I got stung in the leg or ankle as a result.

The only thing I didn't like about the kitchen was its size; it was a mob scene when we were all trying to clean up after a family dinner.  That's when we guys would sneak out and watch football.

We had a huge attic that was perfect for storing all sorts of stuff, although negotiating it up the foldaway stairs wasn't easy.  That's where my old varsity jacket, my bowling trophies, and 8mm movies resided for many years, even after I moved out.  Many of those movies were of the "magic act" variety, inspired by my cousin Steve who did those with his high school friends long before video cameras were commonplace.

I'm surprised my mom and dad were able to negotiate the stairs for as long as they did; they were quite steep.  They won't have to worry about that now in their new condo.

I only lived there for four years before moving out on my own, but it was the site of many family dinners for birthdays and holidays.  Thanks for the memories.