If you’ve attended a live presentation of mine over the last several years, chances are you’ve heard the soulful cry of Mike Mangione’s music. From the first time I heard Mike perform, I knew he was an “artist of the ache” – a guy who was brave enough to tap into that abyss of yearning in the human heart and give voice to it in his art. Since his band first accompanied my presentations at World Youth Day in Sydney (2008), Mike’s music has been an integral part of what I do whenever his busy touring schedule has allowed.
Speaking of busyness, my own has made writing this review of Mike’s latest album long overdue. But I’ve Seen the Stars was released in October. New albums in my life – the good ones, that is – typically seem “new” for about two months. But four months on and I’m still listening to Mike’s latest with the enthusiasm I had the first week it came out.
I have a deep connection to the title. It’s from a line in his haunting and hopeful song “Promised Land” which comes from a poem I introduced him to several years ago called “The Encounters of an Adventurous Snail” by Federico Garcia Lorca. I first heard the poem from a beloved professor in graduate school. “Forgetting the sorrows of his home,” a little snail, scared of the dark forest, nonetheless ventures along the path through the woods in search of eternal life. Along the way he encounters various challenges, the most dramatic of which was the violent martyrdom of a red ant at the hands of his own colony. The snail learns that the ant had broken code, stepped out of the assembly line, and went off to climb “the highest tree” in the forest. At the top of the tree, the ant discovered “the stars.” When she returned to share her wonder, the colony seized and savagely beat her. Still, the dying ant insisted, “I’ve seen the stars.”
Mike’s latest album, if you’re up for the climb, will take you up this highest tree to glimpse the stars. His song “Lay Down” may well be my favorite Mangione tune ever. The strings, the drums, the melody, the vocal performance are so joyful, so exuberant, I felt like the music was throwing me up in the sky, knowing I’d come down safely, like a child in his father’s arms, only to be launched skyward again for another thrill.
The first single from the album – “Riding Down” – has a compelling, artful video to go with it that conjures the mystery and dangers of being a man with a journey to make.
And the final track on the album – “Nothing Lasts Forever” – has become the standard closing number at our live events because it sums up everything we want to tell our audience: that “ache,” that hunger we feel inside for something … nothing in this world can satisfy it precisely because it’s an ache for “the stars,” for the infinite, for the eternal.
God grants us tastes of the eternal in this life, little glimpses of it. Still, as Mike pines, “No beauty of a sunrise can fulfill the ache I must know.” We await something that does last forever, and Mike’s music, without any altar call, respectfully points us there.
“Nothing Lasts Forever,” I’d say, is a misnomer. As we hear in the final line of the song, “Nothing lasts forever but the love of woman and man…” The eternal couple he’s singing about, however, are the lovers of the eternal song … The human story begins with a wedding in an earthly paradise that is but the foreshadowing of an eternal wedding in an eternal paradise – the wedding of God and all those who “have seen the stars” in this life and launched toward them.
For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the Heart. Watch the trailer below.