Questions and Answers: “Take Me Home,” featuring Phil Collins & Michael W. Smith

Questions and Answers: “Take Me Home,” featuring Phil Collins & Michael W. Smith October 17, 2012

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.”

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  • Lydia

    I always wondered what that song was about. You might find this article interesting:
    I can imagine that in any time and in any age a mentally ill person might have some of the experiences described in the song. Even the part about turning off the person’s feelings could apply to ethical but sad uses of medications to control things like schizophrenia. Sometimes it’s necessary to administer doses high enough that the person is in a fogged or zoned state just to control the severe symptoms of the illness. And the paranoia (“They don’t think that I listen/But I know who they are”) could easily be part of mental illness and would be an understandable reaction if one had to be kept under restraint.

  • Yes, and I could be wrong but I believe the narrator in the song is based on a specific character in the novel who pretends to be deaf and dumb to protect himself as a result of some traumatic childhood experiences. So it’s possible that line could literally mean what it says: They don’t think I listen because they don’t think I CAN listen.
    I should hasten to add that I’ve never read the novel or seen the movie (it’s called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and don’t plan to, because from what I know of the story it’s exceedingly unpleasant. The idea is that the patients really are treated unethically in that particular institution.

  • Oh yes, and thank you for the article. An amazing piece (the rest of my readers should read it).

  • Pingback: Recently Added: Phil Collins | Southern Gospel Yankee()

  • yankeetoo

    “I’ve never read the novel or seen the movie (it’s called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and don’t plan to, because from what I know of the story it’s exceedingly unpleasant.” Sheltering yourself from the horrors of the real world is a form of turning a blind eye. You should read it. Jesus would read it. Jesus didn’t turn away from suffering. If you read it you will perhaps better understand the very real suffering of other human beings. What could be bad about that?!?

  • yankeetoo

    If only it were so simple: that Jesus were the answer to mental illness. The church would be flooded with new followers of course. But it so much more complicated than that. Your connection between the two IS quite beautifully put together, but sadly unrealistic. Also, so much mental illness is caused by an “insane” world in the first place. Turning to Jesus won’t change that either. It truly saddens me that you might think that this is all there is to be done, that it is that simple.

  • Looks like somebody had too many chocolate frosted sugar bombs this morning. 😉
    I’m combining my answers to both this comment and the one below to save space. First of all, just because I’m contenting myself with a summary of a grim book’s happenings instead of immersing myself in the grim details of it doesn’t mean I’m “turning a blind eye!” Believe me, I’m familiar with “the horrors of the real world,” and I’ve engaged with plenty of art and history that enters into the suffering of other human beings. But refraining from reading one particular unpleasant, grim book cover to cover isn’t leaving me in ignorance about the fact that the world is sinful and fallen! It’s just using discretion about what I would like to add to the furniture of my mind. For the same reason, I don’t watch TV shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, or The Wire.
    Moreover, I think if you gave a bit more thought to your comment “Jesus would read it,” you would see how funny it sounds! Jesus is, y’know, the author of time, history, the universe and all. Omniscience is part of that whole package deal. I, however, am not omniscient. In fact, what did God tell Adam in the garden? He said DON’T eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil! Why? Because Adam didn’t need it. Now, we have obviously gained much more knowledge than Adam had in his pre-fallen state since the first sin, but the general principle still holds: that unlike God, we do not know everything, AND we don’t need to know everything.
    Now, your second comment leaves me in a bit of confusion about where you are coming from theologically, but I will answer it as straightforwardly as I can. You seem to be misinterpreting my thesis as “If you accept Jesus, all your pain, suffering and illness will instantly evaporate by magic, and you won’t need to rely on any pills or psychiatric help outside the church ever again.” Jesus never said he would take away our suffering if we accepted him, at least not right away. I think if you re-read my post and the comments on it, you’ll see this is the farthest thing from what I am implying.

  • Will

    MWS is a great composer but some of his lyrics are so very ambiguous, like “I Hear Leesha”, “Angels Unaware”, “Evening Show”, “Kentucky Rose”…

  • Oldies but goodies! That was back in his vague pop years. He figured out worship music was where it was at eventually though. (Not to paint him as a moneygrabber, just the way the market is.)