Music Monday: The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)

Today’s Music Monday is a little bit different. Rather than focusing on a book in the American Made Music Series, we’re highlighting "The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)" by Switchfoot. My discovery of this song is rather timely; we have a new book out this month centered on the inspiration for "The Sound." Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins is a collection of essays on the famed activist and preacher, among the first to call for relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution in a post-Civil Rights America.

Born into a sharecropping family in New Hebron, Mississippi, in 1930, and only receiving a third-grade education, John M. Perkins has been a pioneering prophetic African American voice for reconciliation and social justice to America's white evangelical churches.

On the band’s website lead singer Jon Foreman has a thoughtful essay describing the influence Perkins had on him, calling him a “hero of mine” and discussing with great reverence the time he got to meet Dr. Perkins:

During our time together, Dr. Perkins treated me like a long lost grandchild. He told me that our generation was quite possibly the generation that could make our national creed a reality: "All men are created equal." Yes, for the first time in our nation's troubled history true equality might be reflected by our actions not just our words. He told me to write him a song. A song about the justice of love and the love of justice. A song about how compassion breaks the cycle of violence and creates new life. 

There were several moments during our conversation where I didn't know what to say. This was one of those moments. There were no words within my reach that could adequately communicate what I felt. I was speechless. 

I know what I would say now if had that moment back. In fact I left it on his voice mail the next morning. "Dr. Perkins, your life is louder than any song I could write. Your commitment to justice and compassion is more beautiful than any refrain that I could dream up." A friend of mine has a Nietzsche quote on his wall: "They must sing better songs before I shall believe in their redeemer." Reverend Perkins, your song could make a believer out of even a sceptic like myself. Yes, I will try to write a song about it- but your life will always be a better song than anything I could sing. 

I heard a story that sums up my feelings perfectly. When a man naively asked Dr. Perkins if he played the blues, Dr. Perkins grabbed his hand and smiled, "Brother, no. I LIVE the blues." Yes, you do Dr. Perkins. You live them beautifully. And tonight in Trnava, Slovakia I'll dedicate our song to your living, breathing melody. Truly, love is the final fight.
Tomorrow at noon at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson Peter Slade, editor of Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John Perkins, will talk about the remarkable life and work of this Jacksonian. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the program. The Honorable William F. Winter will introduce the speaker.