I can remember buying the record. Vinyl. 1979 — my first year in seminary and her first record, self-titled: Rickie Lee Jones. The radio hit was “Chuck E.’s in Love,” but the record was full of great things beyond what was fed to the general public. I loved the abandon with which she sang and played, the mix of sounds and rhythms, the way she chewed up her words to make you work to understand what she was saying.
I loved that record and I had not thought about it in I don’t know how long until Sunday at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville. One of the announcements printed in the worship guide was an invitation to a church work day, which said something to the effect of, “If you have been planning to do something special for Lent and haven’t gotten around to it, here is your ‘Last Chance Texaco’ for Lent: come to the work day.” I had to hand it to Alan, the guy responsible for the announcement, pulling the title of a deep cut from a thirty-five year old album as your reference point was a bold and creative move. And there were six or seven of us in the congregation that actually knew the song.
it’s your last chance
to check under the hood
it’s your last chance
she ain’t soundin’ too good,
your last chance
to trust the man with the star
you’ve found the last chance Texaco
I know that because Ken, the pastor, asked who knew the song. Those of us who raised our hands were, as they say, of a certain age. Somewhere on my journey home yesterday, as I listened to Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin, it struck me that none of the gospel writers talk about Jesus making music. For all of the songs and hymns that are a part of Christian history, there is no record of Jesus singing or playing or even listening to music. The New Testament doesn’t have a soundtrack.
How did I not notice that before?
In my mind, they were singing all along — as they walked from place to place, as they gathered for meals and discussions, as the fished. Even at the Last Supper, I have an image of them singing together around the table. I can’t imagine being with Jesus and not singing, even though the gospel writers didn’t think it was important to mention. Even talking about the gospels sets me singing along with Emmylou Harris and Robert Duvall. I am incredulous, most of all, because I find so much gospel in the music around me that I guess I have always imagined the converse to be true. Life and faith are both full of melody and harmony and poetry.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am so pulled by things like Godspell and The Cotton Patch Gospel, both of which put Jesus to music. Years ago, when I had the chance to sit in the Garden of Gethsemane, I found myself singing,
because it felt like what they might have sung. Whether or not Jesus ever sang a note, the truth of our faith could not have survived the centuries had it not been carried by words and music. May we all keep singing.