It is not a coincidence that my favorite Amy Grant album is “Behind The Eyes.” It is somewhat ironic that Amy Grant herself has been rather negative about the album in the years since its release in the late 1990’s as her first marriage was falling apart. Perhaps it is the fact that the album was written and recorded during difficult personal times that makes the album particularly unpleasant in her own sight. As for me, I find the album to be inspiring because it most nearly matches my own tragic optimism, a defiant conviction to behave the best despite the worst that life brings.
It is not difficult to understand why Amy Grant herself would not wish to revisit such sentiments. Few people find it pleasant to pour over their trials and tribulations to seek the nuggets of wisdom found within. It is far too easier, especially if one is a sunny optimist (and this would appear to be Amy Grant’s natural temperament), to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls and pretend that that was just a phase, rather than seeking to examine what went wrong and learn from it. It is probably due to my own natural temperament that I have always found this album to reflect my own combination of grim realism and deep faith, along with a persistent sense of hope.
Let us examine some of the lyrics of Amy Grant’s songs to this album and see evidence of their tragic optimism. Here is the chorus of “Like I Love You,” one of the hits from the album, a song that deals with heartbreak but with optimism for the next relationship: “Ain’t nobody gonna say goodbye, / No, ain’t nobody gonna walk away. / This time, baby, I’m learning how to love you, love you. / Ain’t nobody gonna make you cry, / No, ain’t nobody ever really tried to love you / Like I love you .” Aside from the poor grammar of the lyrics, the sentiments of the chorus are easy to understand–as this is a song about opening your heart again and committing to love and the hope of a better future than one has known. This is tragic optimism at its core, sentiments that Amy Grant may find uncomfortable after the brief crisis of her life was resolved in her second marriage with Vince Gill, but sentiments that reflect my own personal worldview given my own life experience.
Or take the chorus to “I Will Be Your Friend:” ‘Cause I’m never gonna walk away, / If the wall comes down someday. / All alone and you feel afraid, / Be there when you call my name. / You can always depend on me
I believe until forever ends / I will be your friend .” Again, this is a song about loyalty to the end, regardless of what happens in life. This is the sort of song sung by people who are basically decent and honorable and loyal in tough times. Such sentiments are noble and worthy and deserve to be praised. They are not the sentiments of someone who is self-absorbed and emotionally immature, but rather someone whose character triumphs over their adversity. We ought not to run from such sentiments, but rather we are to honor them. If our times are evil, let us be good at least.
Or take the chorus to the song “Somewhere Down The Road,” one of the slower and more reflective songs on this reflective album: “Somewhere down the road / There’ll be answers to the questions. / Somewhere down the road / Tho’ we cannot see it now. / And somewhere down the road / You will find mighty arms reaching for you, / And they will hold the answers at the end of the road .” This is a song obliquely referring to God and the expectation of salvation and receiving the answers to our difficult questions in the world to come. It counsels us to have patience here and now while we puzzle over questions and problems, in the knowledge that not everything is meant to be known or understood in the here and now. Again, this is something that a tragic optimist like myself is well-practiced in dealing with, even if it is something that a sunny optimist might not wish to dwell on.
Or take the chorus from the song “Turn This World Around,” whose first verse provides the album with its title: “Maybe one day / We can turn and face our fears. / Maybe one day / We can reach out through the tears. / After all it’s really not that far / To where hope can be found. / Maybe one day / We can turn this world around .” Here again we see a song that is filled with hope and strength of character to overcome fear and to find joy even within the sorrow. This song (like the others on this album) recognizes the reality of suffering and trials and sorrow, but does not wallow in it. Instead it seeks to put such experiences in the larger context, to look at the good that comes out of the bad without denying the reality of that evil. Again, this may be an unfamiliar task for someone like Amy Grant (whose life, on the whole, seems to have been very pleasant, aside from this part of her life), but for some people this album represents the way they look at life in general.
As a whole, “Behind The Eyes” reflects a difficult period in the life of Amy Grant. It is understandable that she might not wish to reflect upon her divorce and remarriage, during a period that basically ended her success in the pop music world and forced her to make a dramatic effort to retain her core audience in Christian music. Nonetheless, this difficult period of her life left the one Amy Grant album that does not strike me as being too sweet and saccharine, the one album of hers that reflects my own particular type of faith and belief, one that is deeply (and perhaps even grimly) realistic while retaining hope in a better world to come, and in better times in this life. After all, Amy Grant found such times for herself, and so can the rest of us. In the meantime, this album has long revealed the sentiments and hard-won faith that lie “behind the eyes.”