I had been learning to play bass guitar for two years when I was finally asked to be in a real band. The fact that I had a new Fender Jazz bass and an Acoustic 360 watt amp that I had worked and saved for the summer prior didn’t hurt my chances of being asked to be in the band. At 15 years old, I was anxious to show all the stuff that I knew, and as a singer I could remember an incredible number of words of various songs. There I was, for the first time with the band, in one of the member’s living room where we practiced…then someone said, “can you sing A Whiter Shade of Pale?”
I should have known they would be playing that song. The keyboard guy had a Hammond B-3 and a Leslie, perfect for playing the song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem. If you are too young to know the song, pull it up and give a listen. The song was a big hit in 1967, it was one of those tunes that just drew everyone in—and no matter where you were, people would sing along—the only problem was, no one really knew the words! They were a bit slurred in the original, sung high (almost falsetto), and they were not normal everyday words but rather kind of mystical and mythic (what is a vestal virgin anyway?). Back to the living room.
I got the chords from one of the guitar players and we began. I sang…
And we were off…I was able to finish the song through a series of fakes and slurs and singing too close to the mic when I forgot a line…if anyone knew, I never found out, they thought I did okay. Fortunately, that song never became a standard for our band and I never had to learn all the real words, still don’t know them all but I have that same great feeling whenever I hear the song, even if it is just because of the way the song feels. Now, for the analogy.
I’ve been reading and studying the Bible…a lot, for over 35 years! There is some stuff I get, and I know well, like most of Jesus’ stories about God, himself, human beings, the earth, etc. After reading Jesus for a while I get a feeling for what life is about. Then there are lots of things I don’t get—most of which we have to create particular theologies for in order for them to make sense—still, when lined up with the simple words of Jesus, they often still don’t make sense. This doesn’t bother me anymore.
I like hearing and reading the Bible. I like to try to listen to it through the filter of what I know (and experience) through Jesus. Lots of times, it sounds beautiful, like a song I can just enjoy both hearing and living out (like that Hammond B-3 organ coming through pure and simple). Other times, I have to admit, I have theologically faked the words—pretending to know more than I really do. As I get older, I’m trying not to do that anymore. In fact, I’ve come to hate the pressure of faking the words and I am coming to enjoy the simplicity of not having to have all the answers. And guess what? The song is even more beautiful when I admit that I don’t know all the words. I’m enjoying as much of the song as I can understand without theological gimmicks or slurs and it sounds pretty dang good from here.
And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale