top of page

Lives of Quiet Desperation

My first career was radio broadcasting. My big break came when I was hired as the all night guy at 59/WOW Omaha. That era was the tail end of the glory days for music on AM radio. With 5,000 watts and a favorable dial position, our signal blasted into Canada, seven or eight states, and with the skywave signal during my shift in the middle of the night, sometimes more. With high profile promotions and good ratings, it was a heady time for a small town boy of nineteen. I was the all night Jeff Spencer.

A big part of my motivation for choosing radio as a career was music—choosing it, playing it, and living it. In retrospect, the late 70s weren’t really the glory days of rock and roll, but I still have many good memories and I’ll admit it—I thought the music was pretty good.

I appreciate the way that music anchors memories with a vivid association. Like Pavlov’s dog, the feelings attached to those memories come rushing back when those old songs are played.  With many songs I can tell you where I was, what I was doing, what I felt, and what I was thinking when I first heard them.

I’ve always been a lyrics man. Is it any wonder that Andrew Peterson became my favorite artist? I like a great radio hook as much as the next person, but an artist with a flair for writing great lyrics almost always has my ear.

When it became commonplace for record companies to remaster and release music on CD, that was initially released on vinyl, especially those that hit big prior to 1980, I started buying up a lot of the albums I listened to and played on the radio (not necessarily the same thing).

I could have spent my money wiser because I rarely listen to that old stuff anymore. I know some of you will understand when I say that it just felt good knowing that I had it. Like the musical equivalent of money in the bank, I could simply pull it out when I needed it or wanted to have a little fun. In the early days of CDs, who would have thought that most genres of music—even crap—would later be widely available? I think I had a low-grade fear that I might never see some of that stuff again—and just wanted to preserve my copy.

Like a willing and able butler at our beck and call, the world wide web has evolved into nearly whatever we want it to be. I particularly relish the way in which it serves as a massive archive, a never ending literal musical repository. Whether it’s auction sites, Amazon, artist and record company websites, down-loads, iTunes, myspace, Virb, YouTube and so much more—it appears my fear of obsolescence was unfounded. Apparently, the music will live on.

Anyway, I’m rambling; I’ll get to the point. For no particular reason, I dug out The Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley (I know, I know) a few weeks ago. Blessings sometimes come to us quite serendipitously.

It was fun singing along to “Nights Are Forever,” “Gone Too Far,” “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” and “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again,” but when “Love is the Answer” came up in rotation, a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1979, it was like I was pierced by an unexpected arrow. It was a puncture that was sharp and quick, somewhere between pleasure and pain, blood and tears. I was a little shocked to be moved by something so familiar and linear. After all, over 25 years ago I’d memorized the lyric and sang along hundreds of times. I don’t necessarily mean to imply that “Love is the Answer” is a particularly great song though I can’t deny liking the song. In fact, England Dan and John Ford Coley used two annoying instrumental devices that permeated the radio waves in that era: the artificial sounding electric piano, and the saxophone. But despite the once trendy, now archaic musical vibe, the strength of the lyrics still reached out and grabbed me by the chest.

The song was written by Todd Rundgren—a pretty good songwriter many would agree. I played and sang “Love is the Answer” hundreds of times, every 2 1/2 hours every day during my air shift alone. I casually remember thinking of it as another ubiquitous good-bye song, disposable pop music, and on some level, that’s what it is. I don’t remember being captivated by the obvious spiritual connotations.  But isn’t that the truth about life? Better yet, isn’t that true about the way God often instructs us, revealing important truths in places we least expect to find them, even in the middle of a cheesy old pop song? I doubt that I expected to find anything of value. So I didn’t. Until recently.

Indeed, in my lens of forty something eyes, I heard a different song this time—one that brought me close to tears, both for myself and my fellow man. Sometimes the ostensibly commonplace is so common, if there is something of beauty to be discovered, it can’t be placed. I was bowled over by it’s heretofore camouflaged message—a simple, yet profound message that our Lord proclaims incessantly: LOVE IS THE ANSWER (I AM THE ANSWER). It is, of course, His primary message. And yet, in an age when a beer commercial  or political debate is often more apt to capture our attention than the Still Small Voice, that fundamental message gets lost in the obnoxious jungle of modern culture.

We may behave as an adults with a veneers of confidence, happiness, and material stuff. Still, we walk the path of homeless, lonely, itinerant beings. The Henry David Thoreau quote about, “The mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation,” seems more true now than ever. Sadly, the world averts it’s collective eyes as we walk on by. Yes we care, but we are nursing our own hurts, and reaching out is risky business. And we are in a hurry. We are busy.

The Bible is clear. As believers, we are new creatures. As His children, we can find hope and joy. Walking in Him, we bask in peace that passes all understanding. In Him, we can do all things from the strength which He alone provides. Yes, we are complete TODAY. It’s not a tall tale, this Christianity thing. Still, the place in which we find ourselves right now, is literally down to earth.

We aren’t Home yet. It’s sometimes painfully obvious. Having tasted the joy of Jesus, it’s almost as if by contrast—when God is silent, when Tsunami comes, when an elderly loved one endures the winter of their lives with unbearable pain and purpose that is hard to unearth, when missing friends that are scattered about, when tossed about like styrofoam on a hurricane ravaged sea only to be pulled underwater at the very moment our stregth seems expended—when we lean on our own understanding for any of this, it’s then I realize how much I long to be a child again—in the arms of my Lord.

Is that you, Lord, telling me to keep on walking towards home?

Name your price A ticket to paradise I can’t stay here any more And I’ve looked high and low I’ve been from shore to shore to shore If there’s a short cut I’d have found it But there is no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me, Love is the answer Shine on us all Set us free Love is the answer

Who knows why Someday we all must die We’re all homeless boys and girls And we are never heard It’s such a lonely world People turn their heads And walk on by Tell me is it worth just another try

Are we alive Or just a dying planet? What are the chances? Ask the man in your heart for the answers And when you feel afraid

Love one another When you’ve lost your way Love one another And when you’re all alone Love one another And when you’re far from home Love one another And when you’re down and out Love one another And when your hopes run out Love one another And when you need a friend Love one another We got to love one another


bottom of page