Soon after I had turned six, a tragedy occurred that I could not comprehend until I became older. It was a tragedy that robbed the world of one of the most incredible musicians that ever lived. On September 19th, 1997, a rolling Jeep ended the life of Rich Mullins. As an artist, he was incredible. As a human being, he was remarkable. As a man of faith, he was unshakable.
His was the first music I ever remember hearing, and thanks to my efforts to emulate my brother, he became my first favorite musician. His death passed my notice once it happened, but I remember being disheartened upon hearing the news (but not nearly as much as seeing Mufasa's death the first time; ah, the values of the post-toddler). Since then, Mullins and his music has been an integral part of my life, from his genre-bending "Awesome God" (the first worship song I ever learned) to his timeless words of "Sometimes By Step," from the delectably catchy "Screen Door" to the brazen beauty of "The Color Green." His is a brand of music that never gets dated, and never grows old. He's one of the best instrumentalists and songwriters of his time, and there is no doubt he would have stood even taller in our time. He made the hammered dulcimer and Irish tin whistle stand front stage in front of music fans who had their ears trained on synthesizers. He ingrained the words of the Nicene Creed in the minds of even the most historically ignorant. And, indeed, perhaps more than any artist since Larry Norman, he changed the landscape of Christian Music as we know it (maybe barring Amy Grant, whose performance of the Mullins-penned "Sing Your Praise To The Lord" gave him his big break, AND improved Grant's popularity).
But as a man, you could hardly imagine someone more fascinating. His humility was unbounded, to the point that he decided to finish his college education at the peak of his career, attending Friends University on a trombone scholarship. His charity was immense, to the point that he lived on $24,000 a year by the time of his death, giving everything else away. He lived the larger part of his last several years on an Indian Reservation in his effort to share God's love. He was a vagabond who ruffled the feathers of the Evangelical culture whenever he spoke, not caring what others thought about himself as long as he was serving God with everything he had. He was a scholar whose depth of biblical knowledge was profound, and a teacher who could mesmerize child and adult alike. And he was a wanderer who needed no more than a trailer home in New Mexico as a "permanent" residence.
Now more than ever, a man like Rich Mullins is sorely missed on the CCM scene. While the spirit of his music is captured by artists like Andrew Peterson, his creative expression and aura of magnificence that his music evoked, as well as his faultless expression of God's beauty, is significantly lacking. Even if he were still around, I don't know if he could deal with the way the music scene has changed (and mind you, not for the better). Ask yourself, what in the world would today's music industry do with a man who gave away almost everything and moved onto an Indian reservation? But I digress.
So those of you who don't know this man, take a moment. And those who do, recall his ingenuity... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhGOosxTLrY
- Mark Rice