crystal blue persuasion

Written by Sandra Heska King

PRAY EDITOR "Once a nurse, always a nurse," they say. But now I spend my days with laptop and camera in tow as I look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I'm a Michigan gal, mom to two, grandmom to two, and wife to one. My husband and I live on 50 acres in the same 150-plus-year-old farmhouse he grew up in. I love this quote by Mary Oliver, "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." That's how I want to live. And I'm still learning how to be. Still.

August 28, 2012

Grace has brought a blue-topped spiral notebook as well as two big containers—one of markers, one of crayons.

She’s drawn a yellow sun in the left corner, and I smile because the prelude was called “Sun of my Soul.” We missed the prelude.

“Be sure to put the top back on when you’re done,” I lean down and whisper as she pops it off the blue marker and sweeps a sky back and forth across the white page.

Our pastor’s been preaching on the book of Revelation. He reminds us this morning that the book ends “like most great stories do.” The last chapters, he says, are hope filled.

He talks briefly about the 1969 hit song, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” I remember it. But it’s not about drugs, he tells us. Tommy James wrote the lyrics based on imagery from the book of Revelation.

Who knew? Or am I the last to know?

It’s an example, our pastor says, of how the Bible can influence pop culture.

Not that I don’t trust him, but I’m a good little Berean, so I do some searching on my own. (Well, actually he offered a prize to the person who could find the most Biblical references in the lyrics.)

And I learn:

Tommy James was brought up Catholic, but he told SongFacts, “I really didn’t know my faith very well, didn’t know what I believed, why I believed what I believed.”

He “stole” a Gideon Bible from a Holiday Inn (and felt guilty about it) after reading “the greatest UFO story in history” from the book of Ezekiel. “I was just blown away, because I knew that was God talking to me. It really changed me. God was real. Suddenly He was in the now.”

Three months later (in 1967), he put his nose up to and his hand on a television screen when Billy Graham gave an invitation during one of his crusades. “That was the night I was born again,” he said, “and thank God He never let go of me.”

He continued to struggle with drug abuse and checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic in 1986 where he felt God speak to him through Psalm 32. “Essentially it says don’t make me treat you like a wild donkey.”

He says “Crystal Blue Persuasion” is about becoming a Christian, about Jesus. His reading in the book of Revelation inspired it. Though the words themselves aren’t strung together in scripture, it’s how his heart strung them together.

He uses his musical platform now to quietly share His faith.

He was asked in a 700 Club interview if he’d seen the “invisible hand of God in his life.”

“Oh without a doubt,” he said. “It’s a miracle. What I’m saying is the Lord has not only directed my path, but He’s been my Shepherd all my life. He’s been kind to me. He’s been generous to me. But He’s also let me know that it’s Him. When I’m appearing somewhere, I get to throw little seeds out there. I’ll say at the end of “Sweet Cherry Wine,” which is about the blood of Jesus, ‘Keep looking up. Jesus is coming.’”

I’m persuaded that God doesn’t waste any of our moments. And when we look back on our stories, we can see how He was working all along, even through the hard times, the bad times, the running times. We can see how He’s drawn us back, how He’s in the process of weaving everything for good, and we’re reminded that there’s always, always hope. That He’s making something new.

Grace has drawn a bright yellow house under the sun and blue sky. A huge tree stands in front of it. I think of the tree of life and how all she’s missing is a river flowing across the page.

SongFacts Interview with Tommy James

BGEA’s Hour of Decision Interview “Tommy James’ ‘Crystal Blue’ Persuasion Conversion”

700 Club Interview “Tommy James: Behind the Crystal Blue Persuasion

37 Comments

  1. Leslie Rowe

    So interesting, the fingerprints of God on a life, a song, one I’ve heard often but never knew its background. Good stuff!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Don’t you think that we’re sometimes (often?) blind to God’s fingerprints on a life? It’s so easy to judge. We don’t always know how He’s working in the background.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Franson

    So, when that song was popular, I was being taught to burn all my rock-and-roll records because they were the devil’s music. Who knew, indeed? Thanks for digging around and sharing this. I never was a huge Tommy James fan, but at least I feel a little less guilty for not burning all my records 🙂

    (Okay, I never really felt guilty about that in the first place)

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      I remembered the group name–the Shondells. But if you had said “Tommy James” to me, I would have looked at you blank. I was fresh out of nursing school when this song came out. I found out he was from Michigan and is actually playing in an accessible concert next week (though we may be in the Upper Peninsula.) Of course, my judgement genes kicked into gear when I saw it was at a casino. But then what better place to sow a few seeds?

      Reply
  3. HisFireFly

    Who knew? Who knew is right.. I too always assumed he was talking about drugs — it was the culture I grew up in. Well done Mrs. Snady, well done indeed!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Thanks, Karin. It was fun to research, and I had to sift through a lot of articles that had him getting his inspiration from the Jehovah’s Witnesses blue book. I went looking for his own words. Who wouldn’t assume this was just another song in the psychedelic hippie scene? Of course, he probably was high when he first sang it back in the day. And God was working on him even then. Gives me hope for some I know.

      Reply
  4. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    What an amazing story. He is so good. (God, I mean–though Tommy James isn’t half bad!).

    Now I’ll be humming all day. Thanks!

    Love the photo, too.

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Another thing that intrigued me was how he worked creatively. Like the song Crimson and Clover was the result of just playing with two words he liked. And MONY? Came from seeing the Mutual of New York’s sign (or building–can’t remember.)

      I’m thinking of getting his book that came out last year. He mentioned that if he had actually gotten the 3-4 million dollars he was owed, it would have destroyed him.

      Reply
      • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

        That is intriguing.

        How fortunate that he recognized what the $$ would have done to him.

        Reply
  5. adela

    I love the idea of throwing seeds out there and hoping for germination. So sweetly subtle.

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      I love how you put that adela. It’s sometimes more effective than “in your face.” We might never know what God does with those seeds. It’s His job after all.

      Reply
  6. Lynn Mosher

    So cool, Snady! I loved all this. So great to read his background. Like Adela, I love the idea of throwing out seeds and wrote once that they were tiny descendants of the future. We never know what fertile-soil heart will receive them. Thanks so much for this, sweetie!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Tiny descendants of the future. What a neat thought. Was that in a blog post? I don’t remember it. I’ll need to go hunt it down.

      Reply
        • Lynn Mosher

          {sigh} That was supposed to be us not uses! 🙁

          Reply
          • Lynn Mosher

            Thank you, sweetie. Actually, that’s a favorite of mine. ;D

        • Sandra Heska King

          Oh, I remember that one. Seedlings of hope…

          There was so much good stuff there. I must have missed that particular metaphor. The line that really stood out to me then was this one, “But if not for the fire, the song would not have been released.”

          Reply
  7. kelli woodford

    Grace draws that sun, that tree, and that river of hope on my page, too.
    Every. day.
    And His promises stand firm as the ground beneath my feet.
    I’m upheld by nothing less.
    Thanks for this, Sandy. Beautiful how God has people everywhere.

    Reply
  8. Diana Trautwein

    LOVE THIS. Don’t know the musician or the song – but I love this story – and you told it so very well. Thank you, sweet Sandy. And here’s what our Grace did yesterday that spoke sweetness into me: she was playing Lego with her Poppy and all we have is our son’s old stuff – this set was of a gasoline station. That girl rummaged around in the bin and found a small flower pot, which she hastend to put right on the roof of that station. Flowers and petrol – yes, I like that! Sweet right in the middle of the stinky. That’s Grace, too, right?

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Oh, how sweet! If our Grace couldn’t find beauty in the bin, she’d probably create it. She’d be looking for ribbons or she’d create something. Though she might also go the tomboy route. 😉

      Reply
  9. Megan D. Willome

    Love this, Sandy! This is the kind of stuff that really inspires me because it’s not all in that super-Christian-y world, yet it is. Now, off off to iTunes.

    Reply
  10. Martha Orlando

    I never knew anything of this concerning Tommy James. Thanks for the info, insight, and inspiration, Sandy!
    Blessings!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how can He can redeem and uses our locust-eaten years. You rock, Martha.

      Reply
  11. Shelly Miller

    I remember that song and what a story! Would’ve never known it was about Christ. Such redemption in his personal story and its one more example that resonates with me lately, that we’re all real people dealing with same issues of living, just in different circumstances. Great story.

    Reply
  12. SimplyDarlene

    Hope filled.

    And with Christ, it’s not just full, but overflowing, aye?

    Great piece and God-grande image, miss Sandra.

    Blessings.

    Reply
  13. Deidra

    I kept seeing people on FB, talking about this post, but couldn’t get over here to read it for myself. Finally! I’m here! And, man! This is great, Sandra! No wonder the people were talking. I’m listening to Crystal Blue Persuasion now. As the mother of an artist, I needed to read this today. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      Thanks, Deidra. I’m thinking we may judge too quickly about the meanings behind art. I’m also thinking that when we’re seeped in the Word, we can’t help but spill it in some form. And I’ve been singing that song all week now.

      And I’m so glad you’re here.

      Reply
  14. Marcus Goodyear

    I love me some Groovy Jesus Rock! Sandra, you made me laugh out loud with the quote about the greatest UFO story in the Bible.

    And I didn’t know about the Bereans. Cool tidbit!

    Reply
    • Sandra Heska King

      He said he was quite into UFO’s at that time.

      We helped start a new Sunday School class back in the day. Called ourselves the Bereans. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Patricia W Hunter

    Awesome post, Sandra.

    Reply

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crystal blue persuasion

by Sandra Heska King time to read: 3 min
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