“Yonder Stands the Quaker” was written in 1997 while I was serving as a Friend in Residence at the Woodbrooke Quaker study center in Birmingham England. It looks at Friends from an outside perspective, with a mixture of admiration and amusement. That’s probably me profiled in the first verse.
“That of Odd in Everyone” (2014) is not explicitly about Quakers, but it plays with the familiar Quaker conviction that there is “that of God in everyone.” The uniqueness of a human personality participates in the oneness of God. “Oddliness and godliness can intertwine.” As we become more ourselves, less driven by emulation and competition, we become more like God, more filled with compassion for others. More like Jesus, “a real oddity.”
“Eighty-Weighty Friend” was written in 1993, around the time of a country & western hit by Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy-Breaky Heart.” I wrote and performed the song for the eightieth birthday of my friend Barbara Graves, valiant Friend, a coordinator of Quaker relief work in Germany for the American Friends Service Committee after World War II, and matriarch of the Strawberry Creek Friends Meeting in Berkeley, California. I was pastor of the Berkeley Friends Church at the time. She was to be celebrated by the AFSC and local Friends and she asked me to write something that would keep things from getting too “reverential.” I used the song as an opportunity to reflect on the role of eldership in the Religious Society of Friends, which is a gerontocracy of sorts. With such radical reliance upon the Spirit’s guidance, Friends rely on elders with the life experience to recognize the many ways we can deceive ourselves. Younger Friends may have this gift, and older Friends may still be foolish, but age and experience usually offer useful perspective.
“Making Quakers from Scratch” (1989) was written for the occasion of a baby shower at Pendle Hill, the Quaker study center near Philadelphia. Robyn Richmond and Lloyd Guindon were expecting their second child (Julian) and Gay and Tom Nicholson were expecting their first child (Nathan). I started writing with the line, “Oh, no, I assure you, we don’t proselytize,” and the rest just took off from there.
“A Process in the Wind” (1997) was the product of participating in too many Quaker business meetings that wafted off into imponderability. We exalt “Quaker process” but a process is a means that sometimes becomes an end in itself. Perhaps it is symptomatic of our times, where technologies impose their own ends upon our lives. As the bridge suggests, Friends used to believe in progress, but now it’s process, “we do good by doing it well.” The song combines those old light-bulb jokes with Bob Dylan’s early classic.
“Back in the RSofF” (1995) takes off from the Beatles tune, adopting the persona of a guy who has found his way back to Quakers, after feeling oppressed as a child by his parents taking him to meeting. Now he swims happily in the alphabet soup of Quaker acronyms — and takes his kids to meeting.
“The Blue Bonnet Inn” (2013) was performed to a raucous crowd during Pendle Hill’s last Log Night in June 2014. It imagines what a Quaker gentlemen’s club might be like. It is surely the first song of its kind. In any case, everything in the song from lap-dancing elders to lounging overseers seems to suggest squalid sensuality but ends up with prim spirituality. Musical inspiration for the song was taken from Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” from Highway 61 Revisited. But while Dylan’s song was probably inspired by his experiences at Andy Warhol’s Factory, mine is set in the Quaker demimonde.
“Pendle Hill Revisited” was written in 1998 during one of my stints at Pendle Hill. The title was inspired by Evelyn Waugh‘s novel, Brideshead Revisited, in which the main character is enchanted by an English noble family and their great house. I have always been enchanted by Pendle Hill and its community, which has kept me coming back. The main character in the song is named Bill, only because it rhymes with Hill. The song’s chord structure is taken from Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” In my song, Bill keeps finding a way to stay on or return to Pendle Hill. The world passes away, and even Bill passes away, but as in the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” “you can check out, but you can never leave.”