Recently I was talking with a friend about old folks songs inspired by her invite to join her and her husband for a John Prine concert. They were surprised I knew about old ‘Sam Stone’ from 1971, which recently made Rolling Stone magazines Top 10 Most Depressing Songs of all Time list; it’s about a war veteran who returns home injured and dies of his addiction.
“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, and Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.” He dies at the end after “popping his last balloon” in a “room that smells just like death.” Rolling Stone Magazine
My father loves John Prine and I grew up listening to songs like that. Unfortunately, almost exactly one year ago today my only brother died a similar death, and my father found him dead.
“Those songs depress the heck out of me anymore,” I said. “That Sam Stone song is a reality for me, but there’s no life in it.”
“Artists ground us in uncomfortable truth,” she replied.
“Yes, and a lot of BS too,” I remarked.
I knew Jesus Christ didn’t die for nothing, but that song still made me sob that day. Feelings from another time came flooding back and I was reminded how different I was back then. In fact, I’m not even the same person I used to be, at least I don’t think I am. Worship music makes me feel so much better, but I began to wonder if I was using those praise songs to cloak my pain. Was I really transformed by Jesus, or was I just hiding behind Him?
The answer for so many Christians is yes. Yes I was transformed. Yes I was hiding. Yes I’m still hiding in many ways. What I do know for sure is that when God delivered me from addiction and despair, He took me “from the domain of darkness” and transferred me “to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Colossians 1:13
I can raise my hands in worship listening to those praise songs in thankfulness for what Christ has done for me. And old Sam Stone is a constant reminder of people all around us battling addiction and despair who need the eternal hope that only God can offer.
Old Sam Stone may be dead, but Jesus Christ is alive and well and my brother made it to heaven; even though his life was riddled with addiction and despair – kind of like old Sam Stone.
I can’t imagine life without music, even though both are so intertwined with truth and lies.