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“Live Like a Living Soul”: A Reflection on Eric Peters’ Album BiRDS OF RELOCATiON

 
 

“Live Like a Living Soul”:  A Reflection on Eric Peters’ Album BiRDS OF RELOCATiON

Keith Whitfield

 

I am not a person who hears a song once, and then the lyrics stick in my head. As a matter of fact, if I am not careful, music can be merely background noise to whatever task I am doing or thought I am considering. As has happened in so many areas of my life, my wife has helped to change this. She has taught me a new way to listen to music, and she makes me slow down to listen, directing my attention to both the lyrics and the way the musical arrangement accompanies them.

 

What I have discovered is that lyrics of songs often give me a way to express thoughts I already have, but more clearly and with more force. Sometimes I find them giving me words for what I have yet been unable to express. Music also has led me to discover truths and levels of understanding about life that I was not even aware I was looking for. When that happens, it is a great surprise and that song becomes a treasure. I remember one of the first times this happened for me. I was listening to James Taylor’s “Secret O’Life.” The opening line— “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”— quieted my wrestling soul when I heard it. Now, there is more to life for sure, but there was something profoundly restful in this idea. I learned in this song that time is not my enemy. Rather, it is the means by which I can enjoy all the blessings that God has given me.

 

Eric Peters’ new album “Birds of Relocation” has dozens of penetrating and thought-provoking lyrics that have helped me express my own ideas and verbalize my own experiences better, as well discover new insights into the “secret of life.” I have discovered in these songs much more than a new awareness of reality. I have discovered a call to a beautiful life.

 

You might explore the message of “Birds of Relocation” from different unifying themes, but for me, there is one that seems to be at the center of these eleven songs. That theme is taken from a line in the first song on the album, which calls one to “live like a living soul.”

 

This central theme is a call to live, and with the call, Peters offers a freeing, inspiring, and transforming path to walk. The path emerges as one reflects on what unites the songs on this album. Reflecting on Peters’ work takes you through various twists and turns. This is intentional. He is aware of it. In describing his own work, he says, “I write songs: big scenes, quick and short strokes, abstract and arcane at times, but with every new glance the work reveals a new layer that, at first, might have gone unnoticed.” In all of this, there is something that calls out “living” in us. At times, his big scenes give words to pain, while some others inspire in us the hope of newness. Our attention is caught with the repeated “quick and short [verbal] strokes,” and returns us back to the somewhat abstract and arcane connections that are made. His abstract connections stimulate the senses of our curiosity, without fully satisfying them, and thus bringing us back for another encounter. In these abstract connections, the complexity of our lives is given a voice. Peters knows that trying to over-explain, trying to get at the precise connection, and trying to put his figure on it can flatten the life that we really live. He does not want to do that, not because he does not have hope, but because his hope is for a real life: a life where “something changes, but nothing ever does.” In all of these unique and rich characteristics of his song writing in this album, we are offered a vision of living in a “world [that is] turning upside down.” He writes because he believes that “one word [is] enough to save another soul” (Peters quoting author Barbara Brown Taylor).

 

Peters does not just sing about this story. He lives it. By his account, 2008-2009 was a “mentally brutal year.” He faced the pain and disappointment of watching sin unravel the lives of friends, compounded by the grief of losing three loved ones, and rising self-doubt because of where he found himself in his music career. He admits that these things along with chronic low self-esteem, the daily pressures of being a parent, and the impact kids can have on marital relationships produced in him a paralyzing amount of anxiety.

 

He sings out of this, and out of it he releases an album that he describes as “shockingly bright.” He does not merely sing out of it, but rather for it, and he does so because he understands that we are never completely out of it. Hope broke in on his life, but he sings as he is “fighting for [his] life.”

 

Because of the power of his lyrics and the embodied expression of his own story through these songs, listening to this album is like a counseling session, where he invites us to learn (in his words) “the language to be able to proclaim, ‘To hell with fear and paralysis.’” In these songs, he calls us “to laugh when we need it.” And, he laughs, saying, “Ha ha! To the old year.” He calls us to “cry when we need it.” And, he cries . . .  “I’ve been knocked down, I’ve been made a wreck, Everything my fingers touch turns into an awful mess.” He calls us to “smile when we need it.” And he smiles when singing “Goodbye, denial, goodbye” and when singing about his wife— “She loves me for my smile, For the crow’s feet on my eyes, She loves the Song deep inside my chest, She loves me soul and flesh.”

 

These resolutions are woven throughout the album, and they offer a vision of living in this present world that is “turning upside down” and of not “waiting for happily ever after.” In his song “Today Dream,” he confronts daydreaming, because it is one of the greatest threats to this life. The dangers of daydreams are they take your “maybes” and “turn them into present state” and they are “thoughts that steal right now.” So, instead of daydreaming, in one of the more enigmatic references in the album, he calls us, “[to] live your life like a purloined letter.” With this reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, Peters says life is a mystery to explore rather than a dream to construct.

 

In the fifth song on this album, he confronts one of the other great enemies to living as a living soul. This song is titled, “Voices,” and in it, he confesses that he loves the things that hate him most: The strength of his weaknesses. The waywardness of his heart. The passing hopes that he once had. These are the voices that lead to sorrow and the feeling of worthlessness. But, in midst of these voices, he knows there is another voice. Not one from the inside, but one from the outside—“the saints’ and angels’ voices.” He finds life again when he listens to these voices.

 

Life is a mystery, and through it, we may live, in the words of Peters, “like you’re found lost in the cure, ‘Cause the life you live was never yours.” This line comes from a song that he writes for his wife. “Found lost in the cure” is the realization that hope emerged as he saw in his relationship with his wife, he was in “the cure” all along, because in the comfort of that relationship that he realized that there is “nothing to lose, and nothing to prove.”

 

Life is also a mystery, because we see in “Today . . . yesterday made new.” Peters sings of the power of this transformation in the song “Lost and Found.”

 

Here I fell on impoverished floor

And came to rest beyond the reach of light

Though the world would not think twice of me

You searched for me in your own peculiar fight

Fathers wait for a long, lost child

Scanning dawn and its bright horizons

 

Through this new, redemptive reality, we “Come see the dawn with the darkness refused.” This is what Peters means by being a bird of relocation. It is living your life “perch[ed] on hope’s repair,” living in “The New Year.” For Peters, this life is real. In this album, he sings about it with an earthy, raw conviction and paints with his words such a compelling picture of the “bright horizon,” and it stirs in me the desire to live that life with him.

 

Keith Whitfield

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

 

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