Saturday, January 7, 2017

Friends - Michael W. and Deborah D. Smith

His name was Bill, and he must have been a pretty special friend. Deborah and Michael Smith were willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves one day in 1982, and with feelings that made them ache, “Friends” was the result. If you’ve lived among people and ever had to leave a buddy, a comrade, or perhaps someone you might have even called ‘family’, then you’re no stranger to what Michael and Deborah felt that day. Maybe you were even as close as the biblical David and Jonathan. (See this depicted here in von Carolsfeld’s 1860 painting.) The circumstances of leaving friends might be different each time, but the bottom line is the same – you miss them. How can one avoid the anguish? Maybe that was at the root of what Deborah was thinking, as she crafted the words that Michael would marry to music in just a few moments. Does our Creator know what it feels like to leave, or to see somebody special depart from us? What’s His solution?   

Both Michael W. and Deborah D. Smith had no doubt experienced this situation before, as they prepared to say ‘so long’ to their friend Bill Jackson. They’d been bible studiers together, probably providing insights and helping hands to one another spiritually and otherwise. Perhaps they might say there was even something like synergy when they were together. The rest of us might use the word ‘special’. It was Deborah who suggested they write a song for Bill’s going-away that would take place later that same day, and Michael the doubter that they could accomplish such an endeavor in time. But, once his wife – with an apparent God-given talent – gave him the poem within the hour, Michael must have known there was something exceptional in it. It captured something deep inside – could it have been the Spirit? He put it to music in minutes, and said it pricked the hearts of all who heard its debut that night. It hasn’t stopped doing so in over 30 years, he says, even inside himself when he performs it repeatedly for audiences today. Michael says kids who’ve lost friends tragically (as in car accidents, or otherwise in death), or just miss each other after summer camp, can identify with the song’s lyrics. ‘Everybody cries’, Michael says. It was part of the first album he put together, and it remains Michael’s signature song. And, its unique kind of genesis remains extraordinary, as Michael says almost all his other songs have developed with the music first, followed by the lyrics. Isn’t that interesting, perhaps even metaphorical for human friendship?

Friendship seems to be an integral part of the human condition. We don’t know exactly what’s in store for us when we encounter a new group of people, so we necessarily experience at least a few, but most likely numerous, times together before we develop true camaraderie. That’s kind of a metaphor for “Friends”, wherein experiences and the words shared between people precede the bonhomie -- the music -- of relationship. It’s glue-like, so that’s probably why it hurts to be taken apart – as when someone moves away. ‘I wish we didn’t have to say good-bye to Bill!’ Can you hear Michael and Deborah saying this about their pal? Yet, they didn’t run from it; they chose to sing about it. That was the Smiths’ solution. Lean upon the One who made us all this way. Trust the One that knows about our lifetimes, and that we can aim toward a time when friends never have to part, ever (alluded to in refrain of ‘Friends’). Do I hear ‘Amen!', somewhere?   

See biography of the composer here:
This link is the primary source for the song story:

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