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Joy Remains: An Interview with Randall Goodgame

“As long as we’re singing, we might as well be smiling, too.” As I interviewed Randall about the new Slugs & Bugs album last week, he spoke that sentence so matter-of-factly that I knew he believed it the way a person believes more with each morning that the sun will rise tomorrow, too. And I wrote it down immediately.

Among many other things, we talked about making beds, changing light bulbs, and scooping up your dog’s poop, but I found that the thread tying our whole conversation together was an abiding conviction that a child’s sincere laughter can tell us more about what is ultimately true than any number of books. And what is true is that the joy and delight of the Creator himself keeps this world turning, even and especially when we are most tempted to despair of whether it can really be true at all.

It’s my delight to share here a transcription of our conversation. I hope it reminds you, as it did me, of this joy that lives at the heart of the universe. If you want to learn more about what Randall & co. is up to, then click here to explore their Slugstarter, where they are raising support for a brand new album full of silly songs: Modern Kid.

Drew: So where did Modern Kid begin?

Randall: Modern Kid came about because I feel so strongly about the mission of Slugs & Bugs: I want the way we walk around in the world as believers to be reflected in the stuff I make, whether it’s songs, books, or a TV show.

We had made four records of scripture songs in a row. And as great as that is, it skews towards the Sundays of our lives. So I started to feel the need for everyday songs, about all the other days—something about the grocery store, or making your bed, or walking the dog, or—

D: Pangolins! An everyday Tennessee encounter.

R: Why yes, of course!

The root of it is that I had wanted to balance out our mission and vision by reflecting in these songs how we walk around in the world, and celebrate it, no matter the context. Jesus comes with us everywhere we go, no matter whether we’re changing a light bulb or singing in a choir. I wanted some changing-the-lightbulb songs.

D: That was one of the main questions I wanted to ask you: I’ve sensed those two strands in the voice of Slugs & Bugs, one being scripture songs and the other being silly songs. Those are two formats that convey different sides of the same coin.

So I was curious to hear: Has that always been a given for you, those two channels as a writer? Which one came first?

R: Sure. So it began with writing songs, period. When my kids were little, I was just writing songs about them, to them, lullabies, silly songs. But even to call them silly songs is to presume I was trying to write something silly. I was just writing songs. I’ve always had humor in my songs, anyway—not in every song, but I’ve always approached songs with the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” influence. As long as we’re singing, we might as well be smiling, too.

So it was natural to dig into that more when writing songs for kids. But before I wrote scripture songs, I wrote gospel songs: songs that are specifically about the gospel, where Jesus and his mission are central. So I had songs like “Stop, Christ Is Speaking” and “God Makes Messy Things Beautiful” and “God Made Me Like He Made the Sea.”

It wasn’t until we started homeschooling our kids that I started writing scripture songs, and it was more utilitarian then. And it worked so well that I started recording them for Slugs & Bugs, and that was so powerful for me that it occupied my attention for nine years.

D: I really appreciate hearing how what has grown into two categories began so organically with the need that you’re filling.

R: Thanks. You know, deep in the DNA of these silly songs is the philosophy that by being childlike as adults, we are tapping into an aspect of our personhood that Jesus is calling us to anyway. In three out of the four gospels, Jesus says, “If you don’t come to me like a child, you can’t enter the Kingdom.”

Silliness, by its very nature, is childlike. There’s a self-forgetfulness required in order to be silly. It’s also required in order to be a disciple. I usually tell the congregation in my concerts that silliness is discipleship practice: you have to not take yourself seriously and forget about yourself, and it’s really in the service of someone else. You’re being silly for your kid, stepping into what it looks like to be a disciple.

Being silly with people is an opportunity to bask in a joyful sincerity. No one's being made fun of and no one's hurting; we're just rejoicing. Randall Goodgame

In that way, singing a crazy song about table tennis or a pangolin or poop in a bag is an invitation to joy for joy’s sake; joy is the one thing that remains in heaven, along with love. I mean, it’s not like I’m singing silly songs for the sole purpose of making people better disciples. First and foremost, it’s just fun. Everybody needs to laugh, especially right now. I definitely see the Lord’s hand in the timing of this record.

D: I’m reminded of the Wendell Berry quote: “Be joyful, though you’ve considered all the facts.” It’s a tall order, but it’s also kind of imperative, you know? If you’re going to survive, you have to find joy. And there’s something so defiant in a time like this to refuse to give in to despair—it’s worth rejoicing simply that we’re here and alive.

And that sounds like what you’re doing. The invitation to silliness and self-forgetfulness—it’s impossible to remain in control while you’re laughing.

R: Because the gospel is true, we as believers get to step into it with this joy and play and silliness, with this great power that is proclaiming, defiantly, the truth of what’s really most true about all of creation.

As opposed to the nihilist who says, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” There’s no power in that. It’s really just despair.

D: There’s really no joy in that, either.

R: Right, it’s intellectually dishonest, a sort of fabricated, false joy. But we get to rejoice in the Lord always.

D: Another element of a child’s joy is sobriety. When you talk about the nihilist and that joyless attempt at some sort of pleasure—that’s not sober; it’s not fully present in the way that a child’s laughter is fully present. There’s something even more dignified about an unbridled silliness that confounds the wisdom of the world.

R: It’s also so completely earnest and sincere. It’s trusting. When you’re being tickled by your dad, you’re not scared, even though you’re completely vulnerable. Being silly with people is an opportunity to bask in a joyful sincerity. No one’s being made fun of and no one’s hurting; we’re just rejoicing.

D: There’s something so medicinal about that invitation.

R: It’s very grounded in what is most true about the world. As believers, we get to know that truth: it’s that Christ has the victory. When we sing, “Catapultanaugahikawallawallarickitikianapoodloodlakastanvilletown”—there’s this instinct in all of us that says, “How dare you sing a thing like that in a time like this?”

Well, let me tell you how I can. Because I’ve been invited to “be joyful in all circumstances.”

D: It is daring to sing like that in a time like this.

R: It’s a daring characteristic of a healthy disciple. Because if you’re despairing, you’re really not reflecting the final word.

D: That’s so beautiful.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the particulars of this record. You said you wanted to lean in the direction of writing about changing light bulbs. So where did that take you? Take us through some of the daily life that’s being covered by the songs on this record.

R: Part of the DNA of Slugs & Bugs is planting our flag in the ground that Jesus is the Lord of dish-washing and diaper-changing as much as he is the Lord of baptisms. Every moment holy, so to speak! So my son Ben and I were out walking our dog, and you know, it’s the worst scooping up that poop. Like, am I really going to pick up this animal’s poop? You know, yes I am, because it’s right in front of this neighbor’s mailbox.

So I scooped the poop, and we’re walking along, and then I just start singing as I’m swinging it, “Poop in a bag, poop in a bag! I’ve got hot, fresh poop in a bag!” That grossed out my son and made him laugh. And I thought, “I love that melody. This has got to be a song.”

D: And it’s such a memorable melody. You sure did work it up! I was so beside myself while you were playing it at the Local Show on your piano, and just how through-composed it is. You took it to its absolute fullest fruition in a way that was delightfully surprising.

R: Oh my gosh, Drew! That is food for my soul. That’s always what I’m trying to do. Well, I spent a good, long time working on it.

So there’s that one, and then there’s a song about a balloon. You know how when a kid’s got a balloon, it’s very important to them! But I wanted to try to find a way to say that a balloon can’t last forever, and it’s okay to just love it while you’ve got it. While it won’t be here forever, it’s awesome while it’s here.

There’s another song about making your bed, and it sort of ended up taking the form of an old-fashioned folk song—“fi diddle-diddle aye-yay”—you know that song that goes, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza”?

D: Yes, the boy in that song is so clueless!

R: Yeah! Well in this one, there’s this poor little boy who can’t remember to make his bed. So he ties a string around his finger to help him remember, but he forgets there’s a string on his finger. So he doesn’t make his bed. So then he puts a feather in his bible, but he forgets to read his bible, so he doesn’t make the bed. So then he tries putting his cat in the bathtub. That kind of thing.

D: So what ends up doing it for him?

R: Well I’ll tell you—spoiler alert!

As a consequence of trying all these other things, finally the song goes, “the bugs flew in and the bat chased the bugs, and the cat chased the bat and the dog chased the cat, and the goose chased the dog and mom chased the goose and dad chased mom, and now everybody’s gone, so I tried to pick my nose. And then I felt the string around my finger, so I made my bed.”

So he makes his bed!

D: It worked!

R: Yeah, and then the end is this great anthem where there’s this shouting, “I made my bed!” And Don Chaffer is to thank for that.

D: That sounds marvelously like Don Chaffer.

R: Oh yeah, man.

D: Well the last thing I want to get some information about for people is of course the Slugstarter: what exactly is happening, how folks can get involved, and where the Slugstarter idea came from.

R:  Well, it’s our version of a Kickstarter campaign. I had crowdfunded the last five or so records through Kickstarter, but I wanted this one to be more personalized for our website.

So the other fun, new thing about this record is that there are characters from the Slugs & Bugs Show all over the record. So Doug the Slug and Sparky the Lightning Bug both appear, and many others. That was a lot of fun, working with puppeteers, having them come in and sing. But also bridging the worlds together—the books, the show, the raccoons, and now Doug and Sparky—lots of kids out there have fallen in love with Doug the Slug, so it was a real treat getting to have him come in. Watching a slug play the melodica is really a sight to behold, so that alone was worth the price of admission for me.

D: I can only imagine.

Well I’m so excited, and I really resonate with what you’re saying about the timing. On the one hand, it’s really hard to release anything into the world right now. But on the other hand, we’ve got a lot of time on our hands and a huge need for joy and delight. I think it’s the perfect time for a record like this, that’s so intent on celebrating daily life. This is what we need, and I appreciate you laboring to put it into the world.

R: It was a deep joy to make, and I have to thank Ben Shive and Don Chaffer for their unmistakable influence on this one. I’m in some seriously blessed creative company.

This project started in joy, so I’m hoping that joy is what listeners will hear through their speakers.


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