On the way down to Honduras I was able to read Dan O’Neill’s biography of the great Christian musician John Michael Talbot. Signatures: The Story of John Michael Talbot is a must-read for anyone who appreciates Talbot’s art (he’s one of the few musicians I listen to who I think actually deserves the title of “artist”.)
I first started listening to Talbot in college and have returned to his music time and time again ever since. I frequently use his song, “I Am The Bread of Life,” in our church’s communion services. I’ve been able to see him only twice in concert, but I remember both occasions as truly remarkable experiences of worship.
O’Neill’s treatment of JMT is fascinating and informative. I had no idea that JMT had been married and divorced as a young man, or that he has a daughter. He seems to have truly grieved over his wife’s divorcing him and, in many ways, it seems like an open wound for Talbot. But they both were very young and he was, by his own admission, a bit of a mess. Interestingly, she left him after his conversion. She could not understand his “radical” concept of discipleship, though Talbot makes it clear that his ex-wife loves the Lord herself.
JMT’s journey from on-the-fast-track country-rocker in Mason Proffit, to disillusioned celebrity, to fundamentalist Christian, to Roman Catholic monasticism is an intriguing journey that is told effectively by O’Neill. JMT is quoted extensively in the book which also includes some fascinating (and humorous) pictures.
I will admit to finding JMT’s reasons for converting to Roman Catholicism to be a bit cookie-cutter and unconvincing. That being said, his diagnosis of what passes for worship and theology in many Protestant churches is spot on. But JMT doesn’t linger here. He’s a peacemaker and seems to have no interest in debate. Perhaps this is why he has such strong cross-over appeal?
I feel as if I truly understand the man and his music better after having read this book. There are some very interesting moments here. JMT’s description of his rocky relationship with the late Keith Green will likely sadden and frustrate those who read it. His relationship with his brother Terry, however, will encourage the reader.
I suspect that the most skeptical reader will have to admit that JMT is sincerely seeking to honor the gospel of Christ even as many readers will disagree with some of JMT’s theological and ecclesiastical conclusions. Regardless, JMT’s music is bathed in scripture in a way that makes much of what passes muster in the CMM industry today seem shallow and cheap.
If you want to read an interesting account of a fascinating musician, this is it. But if you really want to get the measure of the man, listen to his music.