Wesley Randolph Eader
“Oh lord you know, I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home, oh lord what would I do?
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”
-The Carter Family
I remember a time when a stranger walked up to me after I played a short set at a coffee shop. It was one of my first “public” performances and I think it was obvious: I didn’t really know what I was doing and I hated being in front of crowds. He came up and said “You sounded great up there, but just a little out of place”. Lord knows what led that gentleman to make such a claim against me. It could have been my southern drawl or how I stared blankly at my fretting hand or my long blond hair and ginger beard or my sloppy guitar playing or how I played both murder ballads and gospel hymns. I don’t really remember how I responded to him and frankly I didn’t really care. I was just relieved to be out of the spotlight. Looking back now, I know I should have said something along the lines of: “That’s probably because I am out of place, but aren’t we all my friend, aren’t we all”.
I’ve always felt a deep sense of misplacement, like there’s some other place or time that I’m supposed to be walking, talking and singing. The feeling is not the feeling that a lonely outcast would have, but the feeling that a lonely outcast among a bunch of other lonely outcasts would have. I’ve just recently discovered that’s just another trait of human nature, we all seem to hold within us a collective detachment from some original meeting place. We’re all misplaced souls, searching for the long and narrow highway that leads home: “we’re just going over Jordan, we’re just going over home”. On this darker side of life we only catch glimpses of the other brighter side, and we take what we can get.
Hopefully “Of Old it was Recorded” is a small glimpse into that brighter side, that “golden shore” that’s been sung about a million times but still glimmers like its been recently polished. Before writing any of the songs that make up the record I was exclusively listening to old-timey blues/country gospel performers like Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Buell Kazee (Kentucky banjo player/ballad singer and baptist minister who wrote a little book called “Faith is the Victory”) The Louvin Brothers, The Stanely Brothers, and The Carter Family. I had written a decent number of songs in a couple short years since i first picked up a guitar back in 2007. I began a sort of unintentional quest seeking the secret formula to songwriting. I shut myself in my room and learned as many songs as I could until I got bored with other peoples words and had to write my own. My searching finally revealed that songwriting required hard work and an irrational obsession to bring the unseen and unheard into the realm of reality: I found at the artistic center a little thing called faith. “Of Old” is not merely a collection of songs about faith but a holistic dealing with faith. The songs were like learning to speak again.
My parents moved out west from Tennessee and they tried everything they could to raise us kids the proper Southern way: my sisters took piano lessons, we went to church every Sunday and dressed our best, we didn’t cuss, didn’t cheat, didn’t lie, and we kept our elbows off the tables. The only catch was we lived in the pacific Northwest, so that southern micro-culture didn’t hold up long. It was misplaced too.
I remember being ten years old and sitting cross-legged on the orange corduroy covered pews of that little country church. The old grange hall turned baptist church was filled with the typical small town crowd—mill workers, railroad workers, teachers, truck drivers, restaurant owners, the elderly, the unemployed, the kids that couldn’t sit still at school or Sunday school, recovering alcoholics, widows, ex-convicts, orphans, single-mothers, divorced dads, broken families, broken hearts. On Sundays the creaky wooden doors would bust open and a crowd of folks would flood into the building, shaking hands, sharing laughs, saying “God bless you, How’s uncle Jimmy doing?”. The women wore their dresses, the men donned their suits and ties, then big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak, all felt the same unified joy and oneness in the Spirit. My father, the pastor, would announce: “Please stand and turn to Hymn #417, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” and the lady at the upright piano would plunk and pound away on an intro while the congregation frantically flipped through the hymnal to land on the proper page just in time for the first verse:”Have you been to Jesus for the cleansin’ pow’r’? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you trusting fully in His grace this hour? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”. As a young kid it was easy to get lost in the singing, so many voices: weary ones, happy ones, rattled ones, reluctant ones, pretty ones, southern ones, loud ones, quiet ones. There were no demands put onto the music, no stylistic chains or impure motives, just the common sense that saints had been belting out these hymns for a hundred years. Whatever anybody lacked in harmony, they made up for with heart. Through those old songs any feelings of misplacement were replaced with the feeling of returning home at last.
Memories like these must have leaked out of me as I wrote the collection now known as “Of Old it was Recorded”. The writing process was undoubtedly one of faith. It felt like I was reaching my hand into a song bag hoping there were a few more floating around that I could claim, sometimes I pulled out a pile of lint sometimes I pulled out a chorus. The songs never felt forced, they came when they wanted to, whether I was ready or not. Maybe I should call it a clean sense of tradition, like i was starting fresh by discovering what had been there all along. The songs seemed to come out of nowhere and at the strangest times. I was sitting across from a friend at a restaurant when I suddenly got the chorus to “I’m Gonna Rest in Jesus”, I reached over for a napkin and wrote the words down. Times like these I can credit to the fact that I was immersed in a community at Door of Hope, a challenging, revival-seeking, gospel-centered church. I was hearing the gospel every week so the songs were merely overflow.
Most of the songs on “Of Old” stumbled into existence over a two month period at a place affectionately known as “The Clinton House”. It was a predictably rainy fall in Portland and myself and four other guys had just moved into the dusty old American foursquare (I’m posed in front of it on the album cover) that was sent over by train from Chicago in the early 1900s. It was just another link in a long misplaced chain of events that led to the writing of these songs. When I played out on the porch I envisioned the old-time music that once had been played at its genesis, and the people that once shared that same humble stage. My roommates and I decided to leave one of the bedrooms empty, set aside as a place for prayer, and the ongoing joke became: “Jesus is on the lease”. The room was solid wood from floor to ceiling and the acoustics sounded like you were stuck inside the body of a pre-war Gibson. We had regular prayer meetings and sometimes crammed about twenty people in that tiny room. As if the warmth from the body-heat wasn’t enough, we had candles lit throughout the night (side note: one night i accidentally caught my hair on fire on one of the candles). In between the prayers, myself and others would lead songs deep into the evening. The walls were paper thin and the singing went out into the streets and up a few blocks. I remember neighbors and passerbys coming to the door awestruck, wondering what was going on upstairs. The word ‘revival’ was on all our hearts and the house became known around the neighborhood as the “Jesus” house.
Needless to say, the prayer room was a true sanctuary of sound, and I spent many hours in the prayer room singing old songs and writing new songs. I soon found that my new songs, mostly written for personal reflection, understanding, and confirmation of God’s grace, were resonating with the community around me and they wouldn’t stayed pinned down for long. My audience shifted from myself to the people around me, and it was through their encouragement and confirmation that most of the songs were completed.
In many ways the songs on “Of Old” aren’t really anything new, the content has always been around, I merely made myself available to arrange them into new poems and songs. The songs are topical, and they share the same old story that has been told over many generations and across many lands. These are songs of redemption, conviction, and reunion. They present Jesus at Calvary, of the Blood of the Lamb, of Saints and Sinners, of “Heaven’s purest skies”. The songs talk of the greatest misplacement in all of history: that wonderful and intentional misplacement theologians fancifully label Atonement, a pure picture of God’s grace going where it shouldn’t, to rebellious, evilhearted sinners and God’s wrath also going where it shouldn’t, to God’s perfect, blameless and pleasing son. They speak of that sacrifice made by Jesus and the burden he took on our behalf and the judgment rightly meant for a sinful world that could only be satisfied by the blood of Jesus. It’s in this wonderful misplacement where humanity finds salvation and experiences grace. This is the story to which I have come to find a place to rest. I hope that listeners can find a place in this story as well.
-Wesley Randolph Eader