Veteran American pop gospeller DAVID MEECE recently recorded his most critically acclaimed album. He spoke to Jan Willem Vink about the pain and the healing that was the background to the album.
In America David Meece has long been a CCM institution. Since his first album 'David' in 1976 the classically trained Houston-born singer/pianist has offered a stream of crisply produced pop gospel albums which, apart from a stylistic aberration when he pastiched the Bee Gees disco sound and sang in a reedy falsetto, have been pleasant Cliff Richard-style exhortations of faith in Jesus. But in the 90s David has cut only two albums and when he returned to the Christian bookshop market place with the StarSong album 'Once In A Lifetime' it was with songs of an altogether deeper and darker hue than many of his older Christian radio hits. For the lyrics of 'Once In A Lifetime' deal in part with David's wretchedly unhappy childhood. In many ways David sees the themes of 'Once In A Lifetime' as an extension of those explored on his 1990 album 'Learning To Trust'.
"I was growing from the experience of being able to forgive my father and the alcoholism and the abuse that took place in the home I grew up in. One of the things was figuring out that once we were able to trust God for the forgiveness that we need in our lives, to forgive ourselves as well as those around us, once we get to that place, what happens then? A lot of the people that were really impacted by 'Learning To Trust' came to me asking 'what happens two or three years after the fact; are you well, are you fixed, are you now in this position to not have any more struggles?' The one thing I learnt in all of this is that some problems never go away. You can do all you can to solve them, but they seem to resurface in other ways, they seem to come back and haunt you, even when you think they're gone. What I learnt in a very practical way is that life is more about learning about and knowing God personally than it is about being comfortable. One of the most important things we can learn is to trust God, not only for our hurts and our struggles, but also on a day-to-day basis. 'Once In A Lifetime' is hopefully reflecting what has happened in my life over the last two or three years. Once you've learnt to trust, once you've gone through a real healing process, what happens then. My objective was to share what I've learnt and what I've gone through."
Recording 'Once In A Lifetime' was a long drawn-out process. "It was the longest I've ever spent recording a project, it took six months in the studio recording it, most of the other albums took three to four. One of the reasons was I played all the instruments. When I was recording 'Learning To Trust', we used more of a band thing. I used a lot of players from White Heart, and other groups came in and played. 'Once In A Lifetime' is really based on my synthesizer and keyboard playing. Fortunately, technology has made it possible for me to do that. So now instead of having a bass player play the part you want, you play it yourself. It was very hard to squeeze in, and one of the reasons for the length of time between my fast two a/bums was my concert schedule. I was touring so heavily that I didn't have time to record. I remember my executive producer at the record company came up to me and said, 'David, we need to start working on a new record', and I said, 'Gee, what about a year from now?' I was totally booked up doing concerts. It's been a real heavy two or three years. So it took me a good time to work ahead and block the time so that I could record."
The album was produced by Brian Tankersley. "Brian and I go back a long, long way," chuckles David. "He was the executive producer, the representative for the record company back when I did 'Chronology' and 'Candle In The Rain' for Myrrh Records. He and I developed a real close friendship. His wife was in charge of design for my last three or four albums. It was really a sort of a family thing almost. We just all became very close. I have always admired his work. Working on 'Once In A Lifetime' was very difficult for him because he's always taken it and done it the way he wanted to and I have always co-produced my own records. So for the first time Brian had to listen to my input and my suggestions rather than doing it his way and it was a real struggle for him, although we get along as well as two people could, I think. It is difficult though when you're used to working in the studio all alone and suddenly you've got another individual in there every day all day, for month after month. You can only take so much of another person. You start zoning out. I wanted to use Brian because of his expertise in technology. We set up in a studio that had a concert grand piano that was midied through his rack that has about 3,000 sounds in it. So I was able to play the piano, where I'm most comfortable with live, and play whatever instrument or sound with it. That made it really possible to do the music really more as I heard it in my head than I did before."
The lyrics on 'Once In A Lifetime' abound in paradoxes. For example: "In my brokenness/ln this hour of darkness/I will lift my hands and worship you." "I think one of the hardest things for us to do when we're hurting is to turn and choose to worship God. But if you do you begin to realise that all things are taking place for his glory and our good," comments David. "It's a very hard thing to accept, especially when we're really hurting painfully inside. Yet that's especially what God wants us to do, in our darkest hour, in those moments of incredible struggle, he wants us to turn to him and trust him and worship him, and realise that he's got all things in control and in his hands and that there is no-one over him. By doing so we come into a deeper fellowship with him and learn more what it really means to trust God in the midst of struggle and difficulty."
On another song on the album "My Father's Chair" it becomes evident that the events in David's youth are still very much a part of who he is and how he functions today.
'My Father's Chair' is one of my favourite songs on the record, not only because it speaks about a very true struggle that I had as a young kid growing up, but also it talks about the joyous faith that we have and what we look forward to as far as sharing our eternity with our heavenly Father. I would love to feel that I would come to a point where I would feel that things that happened in my childhood were no longer an influence in my life, but that's simply not the case. No matter who you are, what happens at any point in your life, can affect you for the rest of your life. You can pretend it didn't happen, but the reality is that no matter what you do you're going to struggle and going to hurt. A song like 'My Father's Chair' is simply a statement of reality. The truth is no-one was there in my father's chair when I was growing up. My father was an alcoholic, and when he was there he was drunk and then after my parents divorced there was simply no one there, and it was a source of very deep pain and struggle for me. And that's why I talk in the second verse how important it is for me to create a home environment for my children. I have two little children, an 11-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. And I guess more than anything else, the reason I entered a recovery programme was trying to work through these things and trying to create a home environment that was very different from what I was in. The last verse of the song deals with the hope that we all have, when all things are made new, when we come face to face with our heavenly Father and sit in his chair, if you will."
On his new album David's wife helped write a couple of the songs. When they married, she knew little or nothing about the singer's youth. Comments David, "That's something that's very common in dysfunctional families and alcoholic homes. You're taught from day one not to talk about it. It is like a family secret. Because people would outcast you if you admit that you're struggling or that you're having a problem at your home. So when my wife married me, when I met her she was a violinist at the conservatory and I was a piano major. She thought she was marrying a nice guy who was a piano player. It wasn't until years later that she started noticing some very deep seated hurts that I had and how often times I got very defensive about a lot of things. She didn't understand why. But little by little as this was revealed, she came to understand better. My wife was very pivotal in helping me experience healing in my life. She was the one that was very instrumental in getting me with my pastor and my spiritual counsellors to help me work through these things as difficult as they were. And on 'Once In A Lifetime' having her involved in the lyrics of a couple of the songs was also a very exciting thing for me, because she is a very deep thinker and a very gifted writer. My wife plays viola on the project, my daughter, who is seven years old, actually sings the second chorus of "My Father's Chair" with me on the record, there's a little child's voice in there, that is my seven year old. My son, we did a devotional book that was released in the US. My wife wrote the devotional book or most of it with me, and my son did the illustrations. So this album was really a bit of a family affair. My wife and kids have really become a big part of my life, and a very important part."
With the passing years more and more of David's material is becoming worship orientated. "The interesting thing though is that years ago I viewed a lot of my songs as praise and worship. What's happening now though, is that in the context of restoration and healing, I think that the whole worship process has become a lot more personal and a lot more real, and all of a sudden you see more clearly the place of praise and worship, even in the midst of difficulty. Which I didn't really understand for a great part of my life. I think it does help immensely. I think there are some things that you simply can't control, actually you can't control anything, a lot of times we don't realise that until we hit the floor and we realise that no matter what we do we can't fix it, we can't correct it. In that particular instance we realise that the only thing we can do is trust God about it. And praise and worship him and thank him for his faithfulness, and to trust him for the outcome of this particular problem or struggle. Once again we go back to the issue of brokenness. The song, that's what God wants us to do, to praise and worship in the midst of struggle. Which is not the natural thing for us to do, that's what's hard about it."
There is a note on 'Once In A Lifetime', which says, "We must be willing to move into relationships in a more emotionally honest way." Comments David, "One of the biggest problems we have is dishonesty in relationships. So very often we do it under the guise of, 'Well, I don't really want to tell them the truth, 'cause it might hurt them.' Well, that's a legitimate concern. But I wonder if a lot of times though we don't side step our responsibility in loving others, in being honest, emotionally and personally with people. I'm just using this as one example. A lot of times we're emotionally dishonest, in other words, we don't really share our feelings with each other. Consequently it is very hard for us to communicate. I wish more Christian leaders and Christian people would share honestly about their struggles. About the things they have problems with. Each one of them have different things that they have struggles with in their lives. We're all struggling with it and we'll continue to struggle with it our entire lives. The thing though that the Christian walk is something that hopefully is an onward journey and the further we walk on that road, the more that change takes place, our life becomes more of a reflection of the character of Christ than a reflection of our defensive purposes and our relationships."
Despite the serious thrust of David's music he still uses a lot of comedy in his concerts. "I've said that my humour was a mask to hide my pain a great deal of my life. That's true. When everything got too uncomfortable, I would always try to shift the focus away from me and try to get everybody laughing, and forget really the deep portions of my life that I was trying to keep secret. I think that's something we all do. I used humour and my piano to hide. A lot of people use drugs or alcohol, a lot of people use work, really a number of things, we can use anything to try and mask what we're really struggling with in our lives. I feel that as these changes are taking place in my life, from "LEARNING TO TRUST" on to "ONCE IN A LIFETIME", I think that the humour I used to do was good, and a lot of it is still funny and I still enjoy it. I love to laugh and I love to see others laugh. I think more than ever now my humour has more of a basis in who I am and what I'm really doing. I don't think I've become more serious necessarily, I think I have clearer understanding of life than six years ago. Consequently the things that I talk about from stage reflect that."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.