Ragamuffins Headline Mullins Tribute
Susan Hogan Albach
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
November 7, 1998

Before he was killed in a vehicle accident last year, Rich Mullins took a boom box and recorded nine new songs he'd written. Those rough cuts, plus the same songs recorded by his band, the Ragamuffins, were released in June in the double-disc package The Jesus Record.

Mullins, who died at age 41, recorded more than 80 songs during his lifetime. His music was prayerful and reflected Jesus' heart for the marginalized. Mullins wrote from the perspective of a sinner yearning for God.

At the height of his career, he took a vow of poverty, chose to live in a hut on a Navajo reservation, formed a lay-Franciscan community of artists and missionaries, and gave much of his money to people in need.

Next Saturday, the Ragamuffins will lead a tribute to Mullins at Bethel College in Arden Hills. Ragamuffin Rick Elias, who produced The Jesus Record and is the lead vocalist on many of its songs, including his own Man of No Reputation, spoke with the Star Tribune recently about the tour.

Star Tribune: How should Rich Mullins be remembered?

Rick Elias: Rich was a very complex person, but he had a very simple and direct faith and almost desperate faith in God's ability. Despite his intelligence and weaknesses, he never used that as an excuse to sidestep God or the responsibility to be obedient or forgiving. That doesn't mean he was always obedient and forgiving.

ST: In his passion for Jesus, he was critical of the church, yet also defended it. How come?

RE: Rich loved church. I can think of about 8 million things I would rather do on a Sunday morning. I question the whole notion of having to listen to some guy get up there and tell us about his week and give us his opinion about scripture. But Rich looked at it and said, "Who said it has to be about you? Who says you have to even like it? Maybe it would be good for you to go somewhere for about an hour-and-a-half every week and have it be about anything else besides you and what you like and what you want."

ST: How did you meet Mullins?

RE: I met him on a trip to Guatemala with Compassion International. I didn't know him and hadn't heard him, either. He had heard my first record and liked it, and we became fast friends. It wasn't until I got back to the states that I realized he was a big deal in Christian music. Then he asked me to form the Ragamuffin Band.ST: What do you think about the tribute albums being done with Mullins' music?

RE: It would be uncharitable for me to comment on that too much. We're not real crazy about it. You have to question their motives. I think there's a certain amount of ownership about Rich that should be respected and that is through his foundation and his family.

What we did with The Jesus Record was with their blessing and at their request. But The Jesus Record isn't a tribute album. This was Rich's music made exactly as he intended it to be made. Rich felt it was his best work. We wanted to do it well for Rich's foundation, not personal opportunism.

ST: Will the concert be a celebration or more a memorial service?

RE: It depends on the audience. While it can be a traveling memorial service, it's only that in the most celebratory sense of the word. It's not a somber evening. People sing along. Sometimes it hits them on an emotional level. The people performing - we're all like the ongoing musical legacy of Rich Mullins. We sing songs he either wrote or invested himself in.

As much as we reminisce about Rich and honor him, we try to make it as clear as we can that Rich's ultimate goal with his music and his life was to try to draw people, himself included, closer to Christ. That's our goal for the concert - to draw near to Christ through Rich's music.

Copyright 1998 by Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

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