Friday, March 18, 2011

Story Week Day 5: Story Behind the Song

I love songs. They are stories in themselves a lot of the time, but a lot of times they also have a history behind them. Today I'm going to share with you the history behind two very different songs: It Is Well with My Soul by Hoartio G. Spafford, which is a hymn written in 1873, and Fire and Rain by James Taylor.

Fire and Rain
James Taylor

Apparently, at first there was a lot of debate about what exactly Taylor had written this song about, but eventually he narrowed it down to what each of the three different parts was about.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone. Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you

This part of the song was speculated to be about Taylor's good childhood friend, Suzanne Schnerr, committing suicide, and this was what this part of the song ended up being about. Suzanne died while Taylor was away recording his first album, and he didn't even know about it until six months later because his friends and family at home were afraid it would distract him from his "big break".

Won't you look down upon me Jesus, you've got to help me take a stand, you've just got to see me through another day

This second verse refers to Taylor's struggles with drug addiction and depression.

Well there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

This third verse doesn't refer to a plane crash, but a band Taylor worked with briefly. It also dealt "with coming to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there."

It Is Well with My Soul
Horatio G. Spafford

It is Well with My Soul is probably on the other end of the spectrum from Fire and Rain, but has just as interesting a story behind it, if not more interesting.

Horatio dealt with a lot of grief and pain in his lifetime. First of all, he lost a fortune when the great Chicago fire consumed the city in 1871. Soon after, his only son who was only four, died from scarlet fever. He tried to forget about his grief by working to rebuild the city and help the newly homeless.

Then, only two years later in 1873 Horatio decided to take his wife and daughters to Europe, although there was complications with his job and he ended up sending them on the boat to Europe ahead of him. His wife, Anna, and their four daughters Maggie, Tanetta, Annie and Bessie all boarded the ship Ville du Havre that November with Horatio promising to join them soon.

At sea, the ship collided with an iron sailing vessel. Within hours, the mighty ship had sunk. All four of Horatio's daughters died, and Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious clinging to a piece of wreckage.

Horatio hurriedly boarded a ship to go and join his wife. On the way there, the captain mentioned when they passed over the spot the Ville du Havre had sunk. Horatio went down to his cabin and said, of all things, "It is well; the will of God be done."

And thus the hymn "It is Well with My Soul" was written:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
"It is well, It is well, with my soul."

It is well (It is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul!

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho't
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!


O Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul.

Here's a modernized version of the hymn if you want to hear what it sounds like:

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