For most of America this phrase is about a small plane crash, which took place near Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, killing three early rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The phrase was first used by Don McLean in his 1971 ballad, American Pie.
For many Christians it refers to ten years ago Wednesday (9-17), when Rich Mullens died in a car accident on I-39 near Bloomington, Illinois. Rich’s Jeep flipped over, and since he wasn’t wearing a seat belt he was thrown from the vehicle and killed by a tractor-trailer swerving to avoid the Jeep. A simple precaution wasn’t followed or he might be alive today.
One day I will ask him about that. However, for me Rich was one of my musical mentors. He had a voice that I wouldn’t call pretty (one reason I liked him), but heartfelt, like his music. Sadly he joined another of my favorites, Keith Green, in an early departure from this mortal coil.
I was never able to see Rich in person, though I did sit a few feet from Keith Green while he performed in RFK stadium (April 28, 1980) at the Washington For Jesus pre-event rally. They reminded me of each other in their plain-spoken, grounded Christianity.
God has his reasons for his timing in calling his saints home, and I am far from questioning his decisions. However, it is sad to have those holes in our cherished mentors list.
Maybe I should explain that I consider musicians mentors, since they are extremely influential in our Christian walk. Music drives its lyrics deep into our being, far beyond what mere conversation can accomplish. That is why I am careful what I listen to, at least more than once.
Thank you Rich for all that you gave me and I look forward to sharing time with you when the Lord so ordains.
It’s hard to believe he’s gone, especially since his music still sounds fantastic and fresh all these years later. I’ll hear a song and wonder, “Is that a new Rich Mullins song?” before my brain kicks in to remind me he’s gone.
Like you, I’ve always had to be careful about the music I listen to. Singing is one of the gifts God gave me, so I – no doubt like you – am especially sensitive to music. It seems as if it can grasp the hands of my soul and lead it up or down. Powerful stuff, especially considering its history and theology.
I feel the same way about secular music, that is why I do not listen to a lot of it. Music touches us in some deep mysterious way, evidenced by how David could calm Saul’s rages with his harp.
I’ve never considered musicians as mentors but that’s a wonderful way to look at it. If that’s the case then consider me a disciple of St. Rich. 🙂 There’s been no one musician who’s been more influential in my life than he has.
I was fortunate to be able to see him at the Ryman before his death. It was a fabulous experience.
And I think I have a few questions about that seat belt as well…
Lyrically you can’t get much better than Rich. What I like about Rich and Keith were that both would plainly mention the name of Jesus. Currently many in Christian music shy away from the name of Jesus and prefer to mention “God”.
I miss Rich and he used by God in my life to draw me back into relationship with God and to pursue a life of holiness. I was blessed to see him in 1995. I look forward to asking him a few questions myself. I don’t question the seatbelt, I believe he was ready to go.