Song Story #1 “Fade”:
People always ask whether the music or the lyrics come first. It’s often presented as a sort of chicken/egg situation. For me, songs usually start as a feeling. Sometimes the feeling can be expressed in words, sometimes it too deep for words and it just comes as melody. But there’s often a certain amount of brooding that has to happen before either the music or the words start to appear. I will feel something and then I’ll have to let it stew, sometimes for days, and then almost as if by magic it’s just…there.
“Fade” happened like that. I was in Calgary, laying on a friend’s hide-a-bed. I’d been doing music full time for about 8 month and the thought of continuing on indefinitely without a regular paycheck was starting to hit home and, frankly, it terrified me. Around that time a good friend, who’s a pastor in Calgary, was looking to hire a new worship pastor and he contacted me. So I did what I always do when uncertainty hits. I panicked and jumped toward the first life raft. He invited me out for a week to meet folks and have a series of interviews. I went out, spent time with them, and as much as it all seemed like a good fit, something just wasn’t sitting right. One afternoon, while I was laying on the hide-a-bed praying for direction, the real reason I was there came to light. Fear.
I believe in a personal God. I don’t believe He’s the silent type, even though I can’t blindly believe all the things people claim He’s said to them. So instead of saying He spoke to me in that very profound moment, let me say I believe that if God were to speak to me, He would have said, “Keith, what are you doing here? Are you here out of fear? Because I’ve not called you to live in fear. The scriptures say, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” And so I was caught. I knew I needed to continue on with my music ministry. As I warred with myself between taking the job and continuing on toward the unknown, it became more and more clear that I needed to turn down the job and keep going. As I lay there the words just appeared and I started singing, “Is this the end of the world, or something much stranger…?”. Immediately knew I had something. It felt like kind of a cosmic, intriguing first line to me. What could be stranger than the end of the world?
I turned down the position, and apologized to my friend for leading him on, and resolved to step out into the unknown. The chorus of the song, “Don’t let me fade into the darkness….” became my prayer. “Oh God, give me the strength to face uncertainty, to put my future in Your hands, and to trust You with all my heart.” I still pray that prayer, almost every day.
The rest of the song was written a few months later on the night before Palm Sunday. I had been asked to do special music at church that Sunday, and had turned it down. I didn’t have anything new written, at least nothing appropriate for Holy Week, but that night I sat down and the rest of the story came together. I performed it the next day and it went over really well. I wrote the verses from the perspective of one of the three disciples watching Jesus agonize over the coming crucifixion in Gethsemane, and trying desperately to stay away. I’ve always imagined it was John, for some reason.
The chorus, which I’d written earlier was obviously a prayer, but as I thought and wrote, I realized it wasn’t only my prayer. All who have truly walked the walk of faith have had to pray that prayer. So in the song, John is praying it, and then he’s watching Jesus pray it.
As far as the song is concerned, the prayer is never really answered. It doesn’t really resolve. There’s a pressure I feel sometimes as a Christian and a songwriter to make everything resolve or to end on a high note, but I felt like I resisted that in this song.
I don’t remember much about recording this song, in particular. I’d been playing it live for so long, we kind of breezed through it. I do remember Glenda Rae bringing her soulful voice to the background vocals, and I remember Brian Chan playing cello. (I LOVE cello and if I were producing, we’d probably have it on every song. Which I why I don’t produce.)
This is one song I’ve written that I never seem to grow tired of. I sing it all the time to myself, and if I’m playing in a church service and only have one song to play, this is usually the one I play. I’m really proud of it.
I like that it seems to connect with people. Everyone faces times of uncertainty, whether they’re part of the persecuted church, suffering in a prison somewhere, or a business owner trying to weather an economic downturn, or a parent trying to raise their kids. We all have times when things get difficult, and we feel like bailing-out. Even Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matt. 26:39)
One of the most beautiful reminders of Holy Week is that in Christ, God not only suffers for us, but with us. He is intimately familiar with doubt and fear and uncertainty. Knowing that, allows me freedom to write songs like “Fade”, to feel fear, to pray prayers that don’t resolve. Knowing that, gives me faith and strength to press on.
(Look for another post in the next few days, where I’ll tell the story behind “Streets of Jerusalem. Both songs are available for download on Bandcamp.)