Dream, Dream, Dream
A Theology of the Everly Brothers
Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
The Tingling: Toward a Theology of Harmony
“I honestly believe I've spent the last 40 years, on every record I've been part of for somebody else, trying to be an Everly. On every harmony part I've sung, I was trying to make it as seamless as Phil did when he sang with Don. They had an unfair advantage — they were brothers — but I've spent my whole life chasing that beautiful, beautiful blend."
-- Vince Gill, as cited in the LA Times obituary
Sometimes, when we find ourselves in times of trouble, it helps to listen to the Everly Brothers. The lyrics are occasionally effective and sometimes memorable, but the lyrics are not really the point. The point is that their harmonies can make you tingle, and this tingling is much deeper than it sounds. Usually Don is singing the melody and Phil is singing a harmony just a few notes above it. You hear two voices blending together in an extremely beautiful way while remaining unique and different. You long for this blending, too, and because they sing together you know it is possible.
As you tingle you may find yourself dreaming with them, not in images but in melodies. Inwardly you hear the possibility of a deeper harmony where many people -- not just two brothers -- are held together in a spacious embrace, with differences as important as similarities.
Christians who sing in church choirs understand what I am talking about. In singing alongside someone who is offering a harmony, and hearing your voice blend with theirs, you feel the possibility of real church: that is, a gathering of people from different nations and ethnic traditions who are with each other amid their differences. The New Testament puts it this way: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
Don't get me wrong. I don't think that Christians have a monopoly on this possibility of community, and I don't really think it is necessary for people to identify with Christ Jesus in order to partake of deeply satisfying community. To tell you the truth, I think everybody tastes something like this at certain points in their lives. They experience a holy harmony, a holy communion, and they know that they have touched something deeper than life, yet truly possible.
The oneness is not sameness. It is the uniqueness of people being together yet different, different yet together, like an Everly Brothers harmony. And it doesn't depend on blood but rather on love. Linda Rondstadt could sing, too, and it would still really be beautiful.
The Harmony of Harmonies
It goes further. I think that, when we hear or sing a harmony, we realize that maybe, in some dimension of the universe overlapping our own, there is a harmony of harmonies in which the possibility of spacious love is realized. In Adventures of Ideas Whitehead speaks of this actualization of spacious love as the Harmony of Harmonies, and in Process and Reality he refers to it as God. God is, for him, the deep and holy communion in which all communions dwell. God can be conceived in personal terms as a You with whom we fall in love or in more transpersonal terms as a Field of Energy in which all things are lovingly enfolded. There are gradations in between as well.
If we think in more personal terms, God would be the Mind of the universe who contains all our dreams and also the Heart who is affected by everything that happens as it happens all the time. Whitehead's idea is that, moment by moment, we add melodies to the life of God, sometimes painful and sometimes joyful. Our melodies are our thoughts and feelings, our words and deeds. As God receives them God dreams the multiplicity into whatever harmony is possible, relative to the situation at hand. It’s almost as if the universe itself is the melody and God is the harmonizer. The universe is Don and God is Phil, hearing the melody and adding a high harmony. It takes at least two parties -- God and the Universe -- to make a harmony.
Faith in Harmony
It is not surprising, then, that for some people the music of the Everly Brothers is, in the moment at hand, a small invitation to walk in a deeper faith. We can call it faith in harmony.
This faith cannot be separated from action. It is not simply a belief system, but a way of interacting with others, and it requires relativizing our egos and personal whims in the interests of holy communion. Don and Phil knew how hard it can be to walk in this way:
Their sibling rivalry was as intensely contentious as their sibling harmonies were celestially sweet. They often fought off stage, and sometimes on, and in 1973 famously called it quits in the midst of a performance at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. Both had struggled with substance abuse issues during the '60s, and when Don showed up to the show drunk, Phil smashed his guitar and walked out, ending their professional relationship.
In the Beginning is the Tingling
And if they had difficulty, think of the rest of us! Our lives so often fall short of the hopes we carry in our hearts. We can only hope that the one who blends our melodies into beauty is patient with us, sending us possibilities again and again for love and reconciliation.
"Don and I are infamous for our split," Phil told Time magazine in 1986, "but we're closer than most brothers. Harmony singing requires that you enlarge yourself, not use any kind of suppression. Harmony is the ultimate love."
The upshot of this is that we do well to dream the dreams, anytime night or day, and let those dreams include dreams of forgiveness, reconciliation and service to the world. We discover these dreams when we sense that there is a Harmony of Harmony in which the universe unfolds, whose comforting arms hold us tight; and when we hear a calling, inside ourselves, to get over our bickering and pettiness and get on with the greater calling of love, as best we can.
For some people the harmonies heard in popular music provide an invitation to enter into this greater calling. A student of mine, a very generous woman who appreciates the music of the Everly Brothers, puts it this way: “When I hear a harmony something tingles in me.” She is the one who gave me the word tingling, used earlier. She is a singer herself and grew up in the Ozarks of the southern United States singing harmonies with her sisters. Singing harmonies comes as naturally to her family as it does to the Everly Brothers. Sometimes I think of them as Everly Sisters, but they call themselves the Yinglings.
What is this tingling? I think it is a feeling of God en-fleshed or, perhaps better, God en-sounded. What is the song? Some call it love, some call it shalom, some call it justice, some call it peace. Patricia Adams Farmer calls it beauty.
It's the best song there is, and it can be sung in any key. It's worth living from, day by day in practical ways, dreaming your life away.
Phillip "Phil" Everly