Theme Song

Back in the 1990s, I occasionally (but in Hindsight, not nearly occasionally enough) watched a TV show called Ally McBeal. Man I wish I could get those hours of my life back…

As tempting as it is to rant about the many ridiculous aspects of the show, I’ll cut to the chase here: In one running gag, this perplexingly surreal legal dramedy had its title character going to a string of eccentric psychiatrists, one of whom (Tracey Ullman) told Ally she needed to choose a theme song for her life.

I’m not sure how clinically sound this prescription is, but the idea of adopting a theme song – albeit informally – held significant appeal for me long before I ever heard of Ally McBeal.

I’ve gone through lots of them over the years – Parental Guidance by Judas Priest, Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss, Chicks ‘n Cars (and the Third World War) by Colin James and even (a bit shamefully) We Shall Be Free by Garth Brooks.

But the one that’s lasted the longest for me is a little ditty written by Leonard Cohen in the late 1960s called Bird on the Wire. I love the chord progressions and the melody, but its lyrics really speak to me.

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been touched by this song – according to Wikipedia, it’s been recorded by two dozen artists, aside from Mr. Cohen.

I first heard the tune in 1989 at a Tom Cochrane and Red Rider concert at the Saddledome in Calgary – Tom and the boys played a very credible version of it, and around the same time released a live recording of it on The Symphony Sessions with (the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra).

And as soon as I heard it, I was awestruck. ‘This song is about ME!’ I whispered to myself. Yes, at age 18, without ever having left my parents’ basement, I figured I’d accumulated enough regrets, wisdom and perspective to fill a Leonard Cohen song. It seems laughable now, but at the time it was genuine. And when I hear the song now, it’s still about me – and I’m sure I’ll find that just as laughable in another two decades.

A few years ago, I belatedly stumbled upon the songs of another Canadian songwriting virtuoso – Stan Rogers. I say ‘belatedly’ because he was killed in an airplane fire in 1983. His life and musical career were all too short, but he wrote and recorded some absolutely timeless songs. Look him up; you won’t regret it.

My favorite Stansong is 45 Years – it’s just a simple love song about how nobody and nothing could ever hold a candle to the way he feels about his wife. And although its lines have very little, literally, to do with us, this song could be about Karen and me. If Bird on the Wire is my theme song about me, then maybe 45 Years is my theme song about Karen and me. (Our as-a-couple theme song will always be Eric Clapton’s Running on Faith.)

So, Baldy, what does any of this have to do with Disciplehood? I know you’re asking the question (if you’re still here at all).

Just hang on, reader(s). I’ll get there.

But first, enough about me – let’s talk about you: do you have a theme song? A tune that has a direct line to your heart – an anthem that could have been written just for you?

If so, I have a theory: it was written just for you.

There are lots of great songs in the world, but only a handful that can really touch us – triggering those Goosebumps I write so much about. Songs that meet us right where we are and pick us up when we’re down. Songs whose lyrics, melody and chord progressions come together so perfectly; they capture our thoughts and our feelings so precisely that they’re a revelation when we first hear them and we never get tired of them.

And I don’t think those songs were written, exactly.

I think they were Revealed.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the statement attributed to Michelangelo that before he even picked up his chisel, the David sculpture already existed inside the giant block of marble, and Michelangelo’s job was merely to make it visible. The implication, I think, is that God put David in the marble, and the artist’s job was nothing less than to give his hands, his mind and his will to God, and allow the Almighty to make the masterpiece visible.

I don’t think this humanity-divinity collaboration was a one-time event, and I don’t think it only happens in sculpture. Because music is sorta like the official language of my heart, I see this phenomenon at work most clearly in songs, but I’m sure it happens in all sorts of artforms and media.

Perhaps Michelangelo, being the rare multi-talented supra-genius who actually connects with a significant chunk of his potential, was aware of that fact, and approached the marble with the appropriate mix of boldness and humility.

But most of the time, I don’t think God waits for artists to hit upon that little piece of epiphany – He’s so eager to share the little wonders, those glimpses of divinity, that He does so quietly and subversively. The artists He uses for this purpose probably don’t realize what’s happening – they may not even believe in Him. That’s the artist’s loss, not God’s – and He’s not one to let human frailty get in His way.

As the theory continues, once in a very long while, a few members of the sleeping throng of Homo sapiens accidentally stumbles upon one of these treasures and is dumbfounded about how loudly it resonates in their own lives.

So when Cohen and Rogers wrote these songs (and others), they were writing them for cathartic reasons, or for the people in their own lives, or merely for money. But on an entirely different and perhaps even more authentic level, God was writing them just for me (and simultaneously, just for a few million other people – but that doesn’t at all dilute the fact that these songs were written just for me, because HE’S GOD!)

So I ask again: do you have a theme song? If not, get one. Start listening to music a whole lot more deliberately until you do – you won’t regret it; trust me!

Or maybe your theme song isn’t a song – maybe it’s a painting, or a poem, or a dance or a movie or a book. Whatever it is for you, it’s out there. May you find this little glimpse of heaven, grab on and hold fast.

Peace be with you.

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About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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