Rich Mullins: 1955-1997
Copyright 1997 by the Charlotte Christian News
A few minutes before l0pm on Friday, September 19,1997, Rich Mullins met The Maker Of Noses. The poet laureate of Contemporary Christian mmusic and 24 year-old protégé Mitch McVicker were traveling from Chicago to Wichita for a Saturday night concert when they were involved in a highway accident. McVicker sustained severe head injuries and was hospitalized in serious condition.
Along with shocked and grieving family and friends, Rich Mullins is survived by a ten-year body of music that beautifully - and painfully - articulates the daily struggles of the contemporary Christian.
Following are remembrances from several of the scores of friends that Rich collected through the years. These appreciations originally appeared in Christian Research Report.
My honor and joy in the Rich Mullins story was that I signed him to his first publishing deal as well as his first artist deal.
Around the time that we were starting Reunion Records, I was standing at a carnival-type amusement park and a girl came up to me and said, "You need to listen to this guy named Rich Mullins." I said, "Fine, whatever," so she gave me a tape. I went and listened to the tape and about fell over about the song, "Sing Your Praise To The Lord." I played it for Amy and she went crazy over it, and Brown [Bannister], of course, went crazy over the song, too.
The process of recording that song on Amy's album opened up the opportunity for me to talk to Rich and as I did, I just fell in love with him. I decided that no matter what happened, we needed to sign him to a publishing deal, which ultimately led to the recording contract. And to this day, I don't know that we've had a more gifted or important songwriter.
Rich's passing is very bittersweet. I've never known anybody who so firmly had one leg already in heaven and one leg still on this earth. I don't think he ever felt fully comfortable or settled-in here, and he lived the type of life of somebody who was not settling in. I know he feels much more at home now than he ever did over here.
Early in Rich's career, I was at post-Dove Award banquet. It was the usual fancy banquet with all sorts of food and everybody was all dressed up. All of the servers were in white dress coats and white caps, and chefs were running to and fro to make sure everything was all right. I was walking down the dessert line and as I got up to this one dessert, I noticed that standing behind the counter serving was Rich Mullins, who had relieved one of the workers, and donned the cap and jacket. And he stood there the rest of the night serving people dessert, although I'm not sure that half the people knew who he was. That made a big statement to me that nothing mattered to him except the Gospel.
Rich used to come into the station quite a bit. He had friends who worked here and all of us knew him, so he would drop in when he was in town. He would just walk in the lobby and call out to any staff that was around, "Who wants to go to lunch? I haven't got any money!" That was Rich. He never had any money...
As I got to know him over the years, it was because he literally gave everything away. He really didn't have anything. I've spoken with the lady who was house-sitting his Navajo reservation home. She went over on Sunday [after the accident], and she said "There's nothing here." Rich just didn't collect things. A few musical instruments, a jacket...
So, Rich was just really about giving himself 100% of the time and even when it came down to something simple like, "I haven't got any money for lunch," it was probably because he had given everything he had to somebody that had needed it the day before.
VP/Marketing and Sales
I remember when Rich had gone back to Friends University to finish his degree. I called him one afternoon and he was a frantic mess - really stressed about a final test in a band class that he had to do well on to pass. He was so nervous about it. It was so ironic. He'd played in front of thousands of people, had already put out six or seven records, and was skilled on numerous instruments, and here he was having to be judged by this institution. But it was important to him because he needed the degree so he could teach music on the reservation.Of course, he passed and got his degree so he could teach. It was so Rich. It was never about him or for him, but so he could reach out, teach, and minister to others.
Former Member, Ragamuffin Band
In the studio Rich would say to me, "Don't make this too pretty." He didn't want to be sentimental. 'Hello Old Friends' says it outright: "Let love be stronger than the feelings."
He was always laughing about how out-of-tune his instruments were. He played a beat-up buzzing guitar until one day somebody came to the airport and handed him a new Guild which he received like an amazed little boy.
Life seemed trivial and dear, like some kind of holy joke. I suppose that it's no real surprise that his life ended abruptly. He did seem to live like a meteorite! The "reckless raging fury" of God's love is what he was onto! I simply hoped for more chapters, more chances, more strange improvisational occasions to play for and glimpse the wild heart of a true believer.
In 1993 Rich and I were in Ireland working on a video. We had a very, very long day shooting and went to a pub for a late dinner that night. At the pub there was a local Irish family band playing old, old, Irish instruments, with names you can't pronounce, so Rich and Beaker decided that they wanted to join in. They went out to the car, got their instruments, came back in, and started playing - just figuring it out as they went. It was the most incredible two hours of music I've ever experienced, just because of what it was - it was raw, it was spontaneous. We were kind of on a high, and by the time we got back to the hotel it was two in the morning. It was really late, but Rich knocked on my door - he was still going. That night had been one of the most incredible experiences for him, just to play with those people.
As we were talking the phone rang and it was my wife. She told me that my grandmother had died and that I needed to come home. I hung up the phone and Rich could tell that something was wrong. And I looked at him and said, "My grandmother just died." And he said, "Good for her" and he got up and left.
We were really fortunate to have Rich. He had a different perspective on everything - life, pain, sorrow, joy, trauma, sin.... You name the topic and he had a perspective that we'd never heard before. And that we'll never hear again.
I was with Rich two weeks ago in Window Rock at the Navajo Nation. We had spent two days working on the songs for the new record, then took a day to hike in the canyon. We came home late that day and the missionaries who lived in the compound invited him over for dinner. We were very tired, but he felt that he should go because this was his only opportunity to see them and he hadn't been home for six months. He had dinner with them, then came back in late. We were thinking he had come back to go to bed, but he grabbed his guitar and said, "I'll be back in a bit." He went back to them and sat in their living room until very, very late that night and sang through the whole new record to this missionary couple and their kids because they were his friends and he wanted to share the new music with them. That was the heart of Rich Mullins.
"But I look back over the events of my life and see the hands that carried Moses to his grave lifting me out of mine. In remembering, I go back to these places where God met me and I meet Him again, and I lay my head on His breast, and He shows me the land beyond Jordan and I suck into my lungs the fragrance of His breath, the power of His presence."
~Rich Mullins, 1/31/92
Transcribed by Sandy McMullen