Friday, December 8, 2023

Hymn #9 - "I Can't Put it into Words"


On August 20, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 2 spaceship on a one-way ticket to oblivion. Three weeks later, its sister craft, Voyager 1, blasted off with the same destination. Their mission for the first dozen years or so, as they cruised through the solar system, was to gather data from the planets. Their goal for the next 60,000 years or so, as they leave us far behind, is to carry a message in a bottle to the stars. 

Alongside an array of high-tech cameras, infrared instruments, and a large parabolic radio antenna, each Voyager bears a stylus, a phonograph record, and directions for playing it. This record is made of copper and plated in gold, created to last forever, to offer an audio and visual slide show of all things Earthly. This is who we are, it says. Or were. 

And at the very end, summing up the power and the pathos of everything that went before, are two singular pieces of music by two singular men who couldn’t have been more different. One was a deaf German whose song was recorded by a string quartet in a professional studio. The other was a blind Texan who played his song on a cheap guitar in a Dallas hotel room. The German is Ludwig van Beethoven.

Leading into it is a song recorded and played by a twentieth-century street musician, Blind Willie Johnson. The song is “Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground,” a largely wordless hymn built around the yearning cries of Johnson’s slide guitar and the moans and melodies of his voice. More... The Soul of a Man.

I can only hope and pray that my version did Blind Willie Johnson's masterpiece justice.  It haunts me and yet fills me with an intense joy that is hard to put into words.

No comments: