My music tastes run decidedly to Classic Rock. The soundtrack of my youth has become the background of my, um, not youth, and I’m always good to listen to Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, or Tom Petty. All classic, all the time.
Until Dawes, that is.
A 21st Century California-based band, Dawes is listed as “alternative” or “roots rock” on Apple Music, but I experience them as much more than that. They’re simultaneously throwback and modern, timeless and timely. Their musical sound echoes the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and even, improbably, Big Tent Revival.
Yet it’s their songwriting that has me writing about them and to you today. Dawes’ lyrical sensibilities equally wry and witty with an occasional heartbreak thrown in.
To top it off, they have an unparalleled gift of analogy. They drop “likes” into their songs, not as shout outs to Valley Girls, but instead as a sophisticated way of letting the hearer “see” the song. Let me show you what I mean.
Things Happen, for example, includes this observation:
Like an honest signature on a fake ID
Like the guilty conscience with the innocent plea
You can just ignore it put it out of mind
But ain’t it funny how the past won’t ever let something lie
I had a fake ID! I remember the anxiety of getting it, keeping it, living that lie. That particular analogy mixes ambiguity with metaphor – who would really be unthinking enough to put their real name on fake ID? Yet all of us know what it’s like to claim to be one thing while becoming something else.
In God Will Rest My Soul the band unexpectedly turns a stint in rehab into a cry of faith … and the analogy makes it happen:
And just like how I’ll drink myself
Through my seventh relapse
Like a captain of his sinking ship
Clutches to his maps
What the figure on the cross thinks
With his one final gasp
This too shall pass
Can you see the desperate sadness of a captain grasping his oceanographic maps even as his ship sinks beneath him? I’m not sure what Dawes believes about the figure on the cross; I just know that they have the ability to teach me about image, metaphor, and observation.
And finally, If I Wanted Someone begins with this mixture of nostalgia and longing:
Like the memory from your mother’s house
From before you got too old
Like the feeling from a photograph
Before it’s meanings all got told
The words I say can be silver
But what’s left unsaid can be gold
Some memories and some emotions, then, are too deep for words. When I went away to college, my parents moved away from the only home I’d ever known, and this lyric allows me to see and feel that pain all over again.
And it’s the analogies that do it. Whether song writing or sermonating the “what’s that like?” moment takes the message from conceptual to concrete; from abstract to vivid.
In all my sermon prep work, after arriving at the bottom line, I jot down the question “what’s that like?” For example, a message from the Royal Pains series landed at what you tolerate today will dominate you tomorrow. Well, what’s that like? Oh, it’s like the recovering alcoholic who kept a full liquor bar in his house for entertaining purposes. Two years later he was dead, having fallen off the wagon – hard – and into self-destruction. It’s like the newly married young woman who convinces herself that the occasional abuse she is already suffering will “work itself out.” It’s even like the denomination who under the guise of “open-mindedness” allows “just a little” innovative doctrine. Ultimately that denomination finds itself controlled by the same small movement it originally allowed. This I know from painful, personal experience.
What’s it like? That question needs to permeate every sermon truth ever communicated. Because if you get it right, your sermons might just end up sounding like – and looking like – a Dawes song.