Intense stuff today. This just might be the heaviest song pair I showcase in this series. I’ve listened to these two songs back-to-back many times now, and the impact never fails to blow me away. I hope you will join me as I discuss them.
The “question,” as some of you who can remember that far back might have guessed, is Phil Collins’ 80s hit “Take Me Home.” With its deep, driving drum groove, this song grabs your attention from note one and never lets go. I remember being completely bowled over by the music when I first heard it. However, although I sensed a lot of power in the lyrics, I didn’t quite get what they were referring to until I did a little research about the inspiration for the song. Once I understood that Collins was inspired by a novel about patients in a mental institution c. 1960, everything clicked. I realized that these lyrics were saying something very dark, yet very heart-wrenching. With that in mind, take a listen to the song:
(It’s even bigger live. This is probably his best performance, from the farewell concert in Paris. Long, but worth it. Not only is the extra drum intro rocking, but the audience is terrific. Not every audience I’ve seen responds well to the singalong invite at the end. For once, the French were completely on top of things.)
I think what’s so powerful about this song is that it takes a dark story of overwhelming sadness and gives it an uplifting musical backdrop. There’s no hope in sight if you just look at the lyrics, but the music evokes a sense of freedom and escape. The chorus is an unrestrained cry of pain that soars to the heavens: “Take, take me home… ’cause I don’t remember. Take, take me home… ’cause I don’t remember.”
Wherever home is, it’s not where the narrator is now. He calls himself a “prisoner.” His life is an endlessly monotonous, “ordinary” routine. Lines like “They can turn off my feelings like they’re turning off the light” imply behavioral manipulation, or worse, unethical psycho-neuro therapy/surgery. Yet the verses repeatedly insist, “But I, I don’t mind… no I, I don’t mind…” This implies docility, artificially induced peacefulness. Nobody sees him as a holy image-bearer, only a thing to be used.
So where is “home”? That word, of course, is fraught with earthly and eternal significance. The narrator has forgotten the way, so he can provide no clues for us, only the repeated plea “Take, take me home…” Yet somehow, we know exactly what he means. “Home” means security. “Home” means love. “Home” means a gentle touch and a kind face. “Home” means real peace and real rest. “Home” is where we all belong.
Of course, inhumane treatments for the mentally ill are no longer legal today. Yet mental illness itself can be a kind of prison. Patients can still suffer from paranoia, panic or depression. To be honest, I never thought much about insane people until I heard this song. But after getting that little glimpse into what it might be like, I felt compassion for them.
That compassion inspired me to reach for the complementary “answer” that could be the foil of light to this song’s darkness. Immediately, a Michael W. Smith song jumped into my head, and without even thinking about it I knew it was perfect. It’s called “I’ll Lead You Home.” I’d heard it many times before, but now there were all these bits of lyric that took on a deeper meaning when I thought about them in this context. “Wandering the road of desperate life, aimlessly beneath the barren sky…” “Vultures of darkness ate the crumbs you left, and you got no way to retrace your steps…” Not every line is an exact fit because the lyric is trying to encompass a variety of contexts. But taken as a whole, the effect is powerful. Just compare the two choruses. In the one, we have the cry of the lost sheep: “Take, take me home, ‘cuz I don’t remember…” In the other, we have the shepherd’s answer: “Hear me calling, hear me calling. You’re lost and alone. Just leave it to me. I’ll lead you home.”