deep water

10 PM. 94Ëš outside. Nashville thinks its Halloween and its dressing up like Phoenix.

Nine years ago I spent most of my time in a van with a few of my young friends, driving around the country playing songs, learning what it means to be a band. In the parking lot of a Red Roof Inn a guy named Tim gave me his beat-up copy of a cd of some of his friends, Don and Lori. He had the cover, but not the case, so the yellow and green cover with the handwritten "Sink or Swim" was forever housed in red plastic. It will always have that reddish tint to me.

I borrowed a portable cd player (I have never owned one) and some headphones and listened. It was very raw and heartfelt, rough around more than just the edges, but obviously done with care. The songs spoke out to me in a language I wasn't aware I knew. It was a whole new way of thinking about songs.

Priests laying dead, the ring down at the riverside, I know the plans I have for you... Dark but hopeful stories with these Old Testament allusions thrown in all over the place. Not "the sea tore apart like two buildings across streets" but "the buildings stood apart like the walls of the sea..." (I should use that). It was an entirely different way of writing, of telling the story of Jesus and redemption and it changed my life.

Changing the way I looked at songs meant I had to change how I wrote. The first steps were awkward, as first steps must be, but I got (am getting) the hang of it after a while. If I'm any good at all it's due largely to their influence and inspiration.

I became obsessed with this band. I got Cason obsessed with this band. We hounded our manager and booking agent until we got to open a tour for them. Got to know them. They were what we needed them to be. Honest, human, loving and weird. We were too awe-struck to really become friends then, but the years passed, we stayed in touch, somehow they turned into regular people and friends we became.

I had a great day with my daughters today. I popped in for a few minutes this afternoon between meetings and Sadie pulled up for the first time (and then the second) right then. I came home again later and Ella was so glad to see me. "I'm happy now," she told me after my first minute home.

Tonight my wife, my daughters and a room full of friends gathered because those old friends were in town for a few days. I sat back and watched my old inspiration playing and laughing with my new inspiration.

What a true joy and honor it is to become friends with your heroes. It is, by far, one of the greatest things about the path I've gone down.

A few weeks ago I got a copy of a new collection of their songs. The first they've done in many, many years. It's as great as the early records, maybe better. (It's hard to tell because, in large part due to them, I don't hear music like I did back then.) But I know it's great and have enjoyed listening to it immensely. It's now available here at their site and here on iTunes. I honestly hope one person reads this and finds them a tenth as inspiring as I did nine years ago.