"I do have a sense that maybe the more I grow up, the more the mystical appeals to me. Maybe it's because I have shed that youthful confidence of knowing how things go. I think it's likely that to touch the mystery is everything. We live in a culture that nearly rules out the mystery that is at the heart of who we are, and who God is. It's wonderfully elusive stuff."

feature by Laura Harris


Nineteenth-century essayist Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it." In every age there have been those artists, those writers, who possess the ability to hear the songs that elude the masses. They see beauty and mystery in the mundane, and their musings offer an invitation to see the divine in everyday, ordinary things. {{Billy Crockett}} is one such artist. The twilight of the twentieth-century finds him wrestling with paradox and dancing with questions - things that have defined his music for almost fifteen years.

Ask Crockett what he's thinking, and he's likely to tell a vivid musical story that gets at the very heart of the matter. In the mid-eighties, songs such as "41 Lawnmowers," "Portrait of Love" and ""He Is The Wind" changed thousands of musical spectators into participants. Rather than merely hearing about life and faith, people saw themselves in his stories, giving expression to their own questions, longings, hopes and joys.

In 1989 he released ==The Basic Stuff==, which offered such Crockett-classics as "Love Carrier," "Outta My Mind" and "Build A House," songs that are still sung frequently in many church and youth group worship services. 1991's ==Any Starlight Night== - perhaps his most critically acclaimed recording to date - and his last two albums, ==Red Bird, Blue Sky==, and In These Days have all been firm steps in his musical journey - and ours.

His most recent release, ==Watermarks==, is no exception. As usual, Crockett explores the profound and the complex through the scope of the simple. There is much to learn from something as basic as, say, water. "I have been moved by water since I was a little boy," he remembers. "It's just so perfectly simple and so necessary for life - you can't live without it. The last line of the movie, 'A River Runs Through It' is 'I am haunted by waters.' I think in a certain sense, I am too. There is a continual theme in the story of God's involvement with people that includes water; it continues to be the stuff that brings change. God works Himself into people's lives so many times through water, and so I began to see water as this beautiful, elemental launching place for stories - tragic stories, and beautifully hopeful stories - all of them containing God's touch."

"You look at the gospel in the Hebrew text and you see Red Seas parting, you see Jonah being thrown overboard, and then he 'gets it,' he continues. "You see the story of Noah, the account of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, and even the tears of Rachel. It was a great experience just going through as much of the text as I could get my hands around and telling those stories in the title song. It's about people being in touch with God through water. Those people are just like us - I am them and they are me."

And therein lies Billy Crockett's gift. He is able to weave fallen people, a passionate God and the stuff of everyday life into songs that illustrate what is true about us all. In doing so he abandons himself to the process, whether it is telling a charming story or asking a difficult question.

In "The Question Pool," he rehearses several questions that have entered the minds of most at one time or another. "I want to say that there is great value in questioning, but it's one thing to say that there's value in it, and it's another thing to actually get out there and live with the heart of your questions," he says thoughtfully. "For me, I find that the possibility of finding me and finding God is sometimes more about getting down to the real questions than it is about applying the answers. I am really comforted by the fact that those who put the canon of the bible together did not shy away from those excruciatingly hard questions. The Psalmists were not kidding around when they said, 'Who are we' in Psalm 8, 'that you would spare a thought for us?' That isn't a Hallmark card," he says, with apparent delight at the spontaneity of that thought. Another psalmist says, 'I'm waiting, I'm waiting, I'm waiting. How long, God, am I going to be here?' Or to paraphrase again, 'Do you think that it would be very effective, God, for me to praise you in hell?' I hear some real edge on that. These are vital, vital questions because they keep us in relationship - because they're honest. Otherwise we're hiding."

The inspiration for Billy's songs comes from some pretty unexpected places. "Lines" - a song about our belonging to one another - came from an experience he had with a church youth group. "Higher Love" was inspired by an afternoon walking through a cowboy cemetery, reading the names on the headstones. "21 Times" took shape after Crockett read the book, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. "Truth in art can be rendered by telling something honestly hopeful, or by telling something that's bleak that leaves the shape of what's clearly missing," he reflects. "It can be an artful tragedy and be really hopeful and deeply truthful because it leaves the empty space around something that should be - that isn't."

And while some have chosen to make music that stays in the safe confines of what is certain, and understood and obvious, Crockett thrives on exploring the mystery of things. "I do have a sense that maybe the more I grow up, the more the mystical appeals to me. Maybe it's because I have shed that youthful confidence of knowing how things go," he says, laughing. "I think it's likely that to touch the mystery is everything. We live in a culture that nearly rules out the mystery that is at the heart of who we are, and who God is. It's wonderfully elusive stuff."

Wonderfully elusive stuff is what paradoxes are made of. And whether it is deeply reflective or joyfully animated, Billy Crockett's music continues to strike a chord in the hearts of resonant souls. "What does an artist do but carry the paradox around in them?" he asks. "In light of all these beautiful conflicts, an artist will take something like, 'there is strength in weakness' and wrestle with it. They'll say, 'well, let's go there - what would that would look like?' And so we end up with songs about questions. Tragedies. Treasured friendships. The simple essential quality of love between a man and a woman. Stories. These are some of the things that are keeping my faith alive at the end of the century."