Music of the Spirit

A 1997 Washington Post profile of David Wilcox asked the musical question, "Why Isn’t David Wilcox a Big Star?" Well, it’s because the mainstream music industry—or "the big machine," as he calls it—has no room for a David Wilcox. His brand of personal, acoustic folk music is out of fashion today—not that it ever was in fashion. Every so often, a Tracy Chapman or a Shawn Colvin mysteriously emerges into the Big Time. But folk artists, traveling around on their small-gauge circuit, know that such breakthroughs are the longest of long shots in our blockbuster, celebrity culture. If one is going to make folk music, it had better be a labor of love.

Labors of love have their rewards, however. One reward for the folk performer is a devoted, tight-knit community of people who listen—really listen. They aren’t numerous, but they are serious about the music, and the word "love" is not too strong to describe their feelings for it. For this community, Wilcox evokes particularly intense devotion. Why?

His new effort, Underneath, provides clues, but not a complete answer. In his gift for capturing a truth and expressing it in song lyrics, Wilcox has no peer. His words are by turns abstract and full of images, linear and obtuse, solemn and sly, gentle and confrontational. He has, as they say, all the right moves. He’ll spin from one apt metaphor to another within a song, or he’ll take a single metaphor and turn it into an entire song, shining his light on surprising facets. When Wilcox sings that a "Young Man Dies," it’s only to transform a metaphor of death into an unexpected celebration of rebirth into maturity.

"Down Here" evokes community. Wilcox describes people who are "different," "outcast," "weird," "cast aside," and living in a dungeon "under the radar of the status quo." But the tone is celebratory, and the emphasis is on the longing of the privileged "up there" for the fellowship the outsiders enjoy.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Subscribe