Cartoons in Catchy Tunes

Rich Mullins 'Cartoons' in Catchy Tunes

by David Yonke

Toledo Blade November 18, 1995

Rich Mullins's song "Awesome God," with its reverant and easy-to-sing chorus, was an instant hit in the Christian music field and quickly became a popular modern-day hymn.

The song reached No. 1 on the inspirational charts, and the chorus is sung during worship services and in concerts around the world. Despite its success, Mullins doesn't consider it to be one of his best efforts.

"It's not one of my favorites," he said frankly. "It's kind of preachy, and, generally, I don't enjoy that kind of preaching, like someone's yelling at you."

The singer-songwriter, who brings his Brothers Keeper tour to the Stranahan Theater tomorrow night, said in a recent phone interview that he prefers to take a serious subject and "cartoon it."

"You can take anything as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously," he explained.

Mullins wrote "Awesome God" in 1987 and was in a hurry, enroute to a conference on songwriting. He penned the words to the verses, then the chorus, and barely had time to sketch out a melody.

"That's why there really isn't much of a melody in the verses," he said. "I gave the words to a friend of mine and said, 'Say this any way you want. Just drop it over the chords.'"

But the tune's enduring popularity has been rewarding because the audience almost always joins in when the band starts playing it.

"That's nice," Mullins said. "One of the things that I enjoy in concert is how much people sing with us."

If any fans feel disillusioned that the lofty strains of "Awesome God" had rather mundane origins, they might be comforted to know that hard work and perspiration is Mullins' usualy modus operandi.

"I'm not a big believer in inspiration," he explained. "I come from a family that has a good, strong work ethic. And I tend to have one. And part of it is that I think the effort is the good part."

Mullins, 40, was born in Richmond, Ind., the third of five children.

He began his music career as a songwriter, gaining his first national exposure in 1982 when Amy Grant recorded one of his compositions, "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," for her Age to Age album.

That led to Grant's recording two more Mullins compositions, "Doubly Good" and "Love of Another Kind," and he scored again when Debby Boone taped his version of "O Come All Ye Faithful."

Mullins then signed a songwriting contract with Blanton/Harrell, Inc., a major Nashville artist-management firm.

In the winter of 1983, he took a six-month break from writing and worked as a music minister at a small church in Grand Rapids, Mich. It was during this sabbatical that he decided to become a performer as well as a writer.

Mullins, who is single, recently received his bachelor's degree in music education and moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, where he teaches music when he's not touring or recording.

"I went to college in 1974, and I finished in 1995," he said with a laugh. "It took me 21 years."

He said he had little interest in moving to Nashville, even though the city is the center of the Christian Music industry.

"The truth is, nobody lives in Nashville. It depends on what you think of as living. People work in Nashville, and they socialize, and they party. I lived there for a while, but I found that life was pretty scant there."

Turning 40 this year was not traumatic at all, he said.

"I'm always glad to get to the next decade. I was never a particularly happy child. My 20s were pretty turbulent. In my 30s, things kind of settled in. I'm thinking that things have gotten better, generally."

The title track of Mullins's latest release, Brother's Keeper, is a ballad about love and acceptance in which the songwriter tactfully handles the subject of human frailties.

The lyrics describe a plumber whose spigot has a leak, a mechanic whose car clanks, and a preacher whose thoughts are wicked.

"My friends ain't the way I wish they were," Mullins sings. "They are just the way they are. I will be my brother's keeper, not the one who judges him."

Mullins says the song was written as a general commentary, not a response to specific incidents.

"Part of the truth in the Christian faith," he said, "Is that people are made in the image of God and that they are loved by Him. And if that is true, you cannot love God and treat people with contempt at the same time."

Rich Mullins and his Ragamuffin Band will perform tomorrow night at the Stranahan Theater. Opening will be Ashley Cleveland and Carolyn Arends. Tickets, $12, are available at the Stranahan box office and through tickemaster.