Thursday, March 28, 2024

Not Fade Away

When I was a kid I listened to a lot of rock music.

Most of it I got off the radio. I owned a few albums of my own, but was never the avid collector some of my friends were. I had some favorites, and I tended to stay with them for as long as they pleased me, then move on.

One thing I noticed right away, both on my albums and on the radio, was the “fade-out”. At the end of a song it was customary for the artist or producer to reduce the sound level progressively until the music sort of seemed to dim out in the distance — as if the artist never actually stopped singing, but just happened to be traveling away from me. Then there would be short silence, and then the next song.

I always thought that was weird.

In live performances, people don’t usually run off into the distance singing or go auditorily “weak in the knees” and collapse at the end of a song. So this fade-out effect was a bit unnatural, really. And I wondered what made it such a popular practice.

I went to do a little research. And it turned out, so far as I was able to discover, that the convention of fading songs out really started with the radio, and particularly with the advent of rock music and the disc jockey.

Spinning the Platters

You remember those guys? They used to spin songs from morning ’til night, hit after hit, guided by the requests of listeners who phoned in their favorites. About once an hour they’d have to play the Top 10, followed by the requests, and then throw in whatever made sense for their playlist.

The whole thing must have been a little like trying to arrange a buffet: you’ve got tuna and prunes, gravy and apple pie, pickles and pomegranates — all good on their own, maybe, but together just not right. Yet somehow at the end of the day, the whole thing was supposed to turn out to be a pleasurable listening experience for a general audience; and if it wasn’t, then the station would naturally lose market share.

Fade-outs made these sort of eclectic arrangements work better. Music producer Jose Promis says, “I think back in the pre-rock era songs used to end cold often because they were not so repetitive and they tended to be more about a story. I think fades are more a rock-era studio trick and a way of ending when a song has a repetitive chorus. It gives the impression that one could continue singing the song forever since it just sort of fades away.”

Fade-outs were also handy for the producers of music albums. They always wanted to organize the individual songs so as to create a whole-album listening experience. It was quite a feat of electronic engineering and acoustic artistry to make every song seem to belong where it was. Thematically-continuous albums were generally more admired than ones with jarring divisions between songs. Just trail off into silence … leave a space to “freshen up” the listener’s ear, then come in with whatever you had next.

How things end is important sometimes.

Fade On

Now, pardon me for changing track so suddenly, but if you listen carefully I think you’ll catch the segue here. Imagine yourself turning on your radio. You come in at the end of one song, and we roll into the next. In between there’s going to be a bit of a transition, but basically we’re spinning on the same theme. And if you catch my drift, I think you’ll find the overall listening experience pleasurable.

Well, at least I hope so.

Jump in at the end of the Luke track of the Bible. Here are the last notes of that song: the work of Jesus on earth is complete, and he is about to ascend to the Father. Luke leaves our ears ringing with this:

“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.”

“While he was blessing them.” Luke’s wording is very interesting. He could have written, “When he was finished blessing them.” And yet he did not.

And with good reason, I would say. For when did Christ ever stop blessing his people? Indeed, when will he ever stop being a blessing — being the chief and only blessing that his people really need? Never.

Fade on.

Spinning the Next Platter

Now, what would make a nice segue is playing John next. “While he was blessing them …” to “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

That’s flow.

It tells us where that blessing came from. It pulls out the theme of the authority of the blessing, the power of the blessing, the duration of the blessing.

But now, follow that up with, “For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Nice. Smooth. We are so blessed. We are blessed fully, blessed over and over again. Blessed to the maximum.

I could make an album out of that.

Of course, I could spin it another way too, because thinking about it historically, narratively and chronologically, there’s also a fade into Acts. You’ll see that Acts starts with exactly the same “note” as the one with which Luke ends, the Ascension, and then rolls right into Pentecost and the establishing of the Church. Luke’s end-note in his gospel is his first note in Acts.

That’s tight. That rolls.

We are blessed by being brought into the fellowship of believers, the Body of Christ. The song continues: Christ blessing his people over and over, and continuing his great plan to bring them into greater and greater blessing. I like that.

Capping the Album

Now, that’s great. Luke rolls into John or Acts, whichever we prefer. But like any good album, it’s also got to roll to a good conclusion. So what have we got for a track to cap off the theme of the blessings of Christ?

Of course, our middle material is good. We’ve got from Acts to the end to unravel how the fade-out at the end of Luke is picked up in the life and doctrines of the Church from Romans to Jude, we can pick up “tracks” as we need them … and had we time to do so, this would be a study worth doing, for sure.

So before we undertake it, we’d better make sure this thing is going to end well. So let’s jump ahead, for the moment, and check our ending.

The Outro

The final track on an album or song sequence is called “the closer” or “the outro” (i.e. the opposite of the “intro” track). Of course, our album will have to end in Revelation. But I think we’ve got the right connections here too. There are three mentions of “blessing” there, and here they are.

First, a numberless multitude proclaims:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

The Blesser has also become the blessed. Worthy is the Lamb. Yes, he is worthy. Bless him. Bless him for who he is, bless him for what he has done, bless him for his greatness. Let the great, final song begin.

The theme is picked up and extended to all created things:

“And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ ”

On and on it goes, each chorus a better and more heartfelt one than the last. Each glory of the Lamb proclaimed more loudly, and his reign extended throughout all the earth and heavens.

Then the song is picked up again by the holy host of heaven:

“The angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ ”

Finally made worthy, everything that exists — all creatures on earth, the elders and creatures in heaven and even the angels themselves — bow down and pour forth blessings to our God.

And they do so forever and ever.

No closer, no outro. No fade-out.

Heaven Today

In heaven, nothing ever fades. All songs go on forever, building to greater and greater crescendos of joy. But all songs also harmonize, and the whole blends into an album the theme of which is the greatness of our God and Father and the joy of entering into fellowship with him through his precious son Jesus Christ. And this theme goes on forever, because eternal days will never exhaust how wonderful the person and works of the Son of God are.

This Sunday you have the unspeakable privilege to go and meet with others who love our Lord Jesus Christ. You may not think you have a great singing voice — maybe you never did, or maybe you have no voice left at all. But every tune of your heart will fill out the eternal symphony of praise to our God.

So let it flow. Let his praises roll. And let them not fade away.

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