When the day slams shut.
Sky burns out.
What face will you
forget to remember?
Ideals still unpacked,
disasters still unhapped,
what bell will wake you from
a life free of derision?

Go ahead, go ahead, plant it now.
Are you saving your hope for later?
Ripeness rots, seeds suffocate,
don't hold out for a savior.
Spill a little bit of it on your shirt,
bite your lip and savor.
Put an iron spike to the ropes
that keep your voice from growing braver.
Spill a little bit of it on the road.
Bite your lip and shiver.
Don't let your song depreciate.
Belt out a gospel river.

Everyone must taste the ground
for ears to know the sound
that young tendrils push
without fear of hesitation.
When the day slams shut.
Sky burns out.
What face will you
smile upon remembering?

from the album Overland Underground
lyrics by Andrew Gerber
music by Andrew Gerber and Double Barrel Darrel

Listen to "31"

Reflections on "31" by Andrew Gerber

As a kid, my siblings and I would play with tape recorders. We would record songs or skits on a cassette tape (often over a cherished recording of my parents.) I remember being in grade school and writing the first song that had a formalized structure. It was about a fart. I still remember it. There was a pause in junior high and high school as I learned the songs of other folks. I also learned to play guitar during this period, a tool which has been primary in how I write songs.

At the beginning of high school, my family was in Somalia with Eastern Mennonite Board. I had a hand crank tape recorder. You had to turn the crank in order for it to play. Its intended purpose was to play sermons to the isolated Christians in Somalia. I received one without a handle and had to build a handle for it. My friend from Minnesota sent me a tape with the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" on one side and Dave Brubeck on the other. I listened to that tape and U2's "War" over and over and over and was relieved when I finally figured out how to hook the tape player to the solar panel on the roof. The prophetic bent in my songwriting likely comes from U2, and the hand crank tape recorder unexpectedly brought the gospel to a young isolated me.

While at boarding school I was supposed to only listen to "Christian" music. So I started listening to death metal, even though I didn't have a real affinity for it. I remember my friend Eric Kurtz bringing over some unapproved music, which was U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Sting's "The Dream of the Blue Turtles." I was fed in ways I didn't even know I was hungry for listening to these albums and the songwriting was vivid. I struggled with the concept that the "living word" or creativity, which was so holy to me, was "supposed" to only take a certain form. "The Joshua Tree" seemed to address holy mystery more than any approved praise song with the word "Jesus" stuck in it. I wrote an essay for a school contest about an apple at the bottom of a cess pool, trying to express my frustration with stifled creativity. The seeds couldn't grow because there was no air. I was sent to the counselor for writing this essay, but this experience is part of what opened me to the power of words.

While at Goshen College I was a part of a songwriter's group. It was intimidating to be with so many talented people. I wrote a few songs during that time period, but struggled with what my writing voice was. My real songwriting started when I found my long lost brothers at Goshen College: Double Barrel Darrel. Aaron Kingsley, who wrote the majority of DBD's songs, is the most profound influence on me as a songwriter. The intimacy of sharing newborn works with people that will help flesh them out and perform them over and over is vulnerable and scary. The work of honing something that started as "mine" in the context of the group sometimes left me feeling like a kid who wanted to take his toys and go home. I learned some great lessons from this process including: if you want a song to be born you have to surrender it to the community of your group.

The song "31" is about turning 31 years old. It is about not knowing how to engage with my culture and society and feeling the pressure to “settle down,” but knowing that this is not what my ancestors struggled to bring me to this point for. If I settle for less than that, I will be forgetting their faces. It is also a conversation between a future me at the end of my life and the 31 year-old person writing the song. The end-of-life me is encouraging the younger me with the chorus:

Go ahead, go ahead, plant it now.

Are you saving your hope for later?

Ripeness rots. Seeds suffocate.

Don’t hold out for a savior.

Spill a little bit of it on your shirt,

bite your lip and savour.

Put and iron spike to the ropes

that keep your voice from growing braver.

Spill a little bit of it on the road,

bite your lip and shiver.

Don’t let your song depreciate,

belt out a gospel river.

The lyrics come from a Kabir poem that I have carried for decades (started reading in high school) titled "Hope for the Guest while You Are Alive." Kabir writes “If you don't break your ropes while you're alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?” It has been my eschatological mantra for a long time, and it finally made it into a song.

Meister Eckhart is here in his "rid yourself of god for god’s sake." The line "don't hold out for a savior" is referring to the fact that mystery may show up wearing different clothing than you thought she would. I am asking my younger self to allow for sloppy mistake-making in the letting go of what I think my life should look like. There is also some Rumi in here from his "Spiritual Window-Shoppers":

Even if you don't know what you want,

buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,

like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference

what people think of you.

I guess this song was written as a sermon to myself. I am encouraging myself to make large mistakes in following divine mystery so that I die with a smile and in remembrance of my ancestors.

About the Author

Andrew Gerber

Andrew Gerber is a hospice nurse from Chicago. He performs with band Double Barrel Darrel, a band based in Goshen, Indiana, which has released albums including Nashville Made in China (2001), Geophagy (2004), and Overland Underground (2007). Gerber earned a B.A. in bible and religion and a B.S.N. (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) from Goshen College. In addition to working as a nurse, he has worked as a guitar builder and carpenter.