Percy Bysshe Shelley famously wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and today that lofty seat has been claimed by popular musicians. Industry group IFPI reports that global music sales reached $16.5 billion in 2012. So what subjects are singers piping into the populace’s collective ear? Time and again they keep coming back to love. As I write this, the Billboard Top 10 is full of songs about lost love (Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” at number one), heartfelt love (Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” at number seven), and love refused (Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” at number 10). You know what they aren’t singing about, though? Our top-notch troubadours hardly ever touch on lifelong marital love.
That’s why I enjoy the music of Andrew Peterson.
For those not familiar with him, Peterson sounds a little bit like Michael W. Smith would if he had a yen for Alison Kraus and Coldplay or perhaps like a Rich Mullins weaned on Tolkien, Lewis, and Buechner. Guitar riffs shrouded by distortion and jangly banjo licks underpin literate lyrics with the occasional mythic flourish. But more interesting than the sonic hooks are Peterson’s penetrating observations about the nature of the lasting union between man and woman.
As you listen to Peterson’s oeuvre, you get the idea that he wasn’t always so poetically interested in marriage. Few references crop up until his third album, 2003’s Love and Thunder. On “Family Man,” he chronicles all the bachelor-esque pleasures he relinquished upon tying the knot, such as swapping a Mustang for a minivan and hoarding vacation time for a trip to Disney. “But everything I had to lose / Came back a thousand times in you,” he concludes. “This is not what I was headed for when I began. / This was not my plan. / It’s so much better than.” Marriage becomes a repository of joy and also a place for adventure. Employing an extended metaphor, “World Traveler” points that the internal landscape of our spouses is every bit as vast as the globe:
But I had hardly seen a thing
Until I gave a golden ring
To the one who gave her heart to me. ...
I'm a world traveler.
She opened the gate and took my hand,
Led me into the mystic land
Where galaxies swirl.
So many mysteries I never will unravel.
I want to travel the world.
But Peterson doesn’t fall into the roses-and-chocolates camp of relationships. He knows that marriage “can hurt you as it holds you / In its overwhelming flood / Till only the unshakeable is left” (“For the Love of God”). It’s akin to “Dancing in the Minefields,” an experience alternately exhilarating and explosive. Some days get so tough you can find yourself begging “Don’t Give Up on Me,” which might take the prize for most honestly titled love song:
The road is long that leads me home tonight.
It disappears into the distant light, my love.
Don’t give up on me.
You know I love you, but I’m just a man.
Don’t always love you the best that I can, my love.
Just don’t give up on me.
By now it probably appears that I’ve succumbed to a fanboyish zeal for a particular artist and am trumpeting that enthusiasm from the proverbial rooftops. Honestly, though, that’s not my intent. I have two reasons for pointing out Peterson’s music, the first being simple encouragement. I suspect that most readers of Marriage Generation already feel that Western entertainers have skittered away from lifelong monogamy like a vegan from the Heart Attack Grill. But Peterson gets it. He understands that marriage is a thing born of beauty and pain, a union requiring equal measures of perseverance and passion. Best of all, he puts all the effort of his craft into making such suppositions beautiful, memorable, attention-grabbing.
My second reason? I have an exhortation to give: Creative types need to do just what Peterson does. I used to review music professionally and still had a hard time dredging up artists who addressed marriage more than once with any depth. (Let’s not get into those who have maligned, marginalized, or flat out ignored this bedrock of civilization.) May it not be so in the coming days. We need more legislators in rhyme, meter, and melody. After all, musicians work with more than amendments and riders. They write upon the heart itself.Media: