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with Jesus

By David Werther.

Don Chaffer, What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You (Independent, 2002).

           In an interview with Scott Raymond, Don Chaffer of Waterdeep referred to his work on this solo effort with the words of Philo of Alexandria, "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle."

           The CD begins by recalling Lou Gehrig's description of himself as "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" in his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4,1939. Suffering from the disease that now bears his name, Gehrig retired from baseball after 2,130 consecutive games. He spoke the following words to his admirers that Independence Day:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in this ballpark for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans . . . When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know. So, I close in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.

For Chaffer, Gehrig is a symbol of gratitude in the midst of suffering:

and in the face of that disease
when the muscles start to squeeze
the life right out of you
when most men shudder at the dread
here's the thing you said
'bout being the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

"Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" is followed by five other songs featuring electric guitar and drums. And then, beginning with "People Go By Like a Flame," there is a shift to acoustic guitar and the mood becomes more somber. One of these acoustic songs, the outstanding "Up Before the Sun," Chaffer dedicates to the monks at Conception Abbey. On June 11, 2002, a 71-year-old man visited the abbey with an AK-47 and a .22-caliber rifle. He killed two monks and wounded two others before taking his own life. "Up Before the Sun" is about the anxiety and anger of suffering, anger that is aimed at God:

to chewing on my fingernails
up before the sun
angry with your word.

The penultimate song, "Leave Me Alone," is one of Chaffer's best compositions and performances. In it he expresses some of the profound grief and exhaustion occasioned by the death of his mother, Elizabeth Louise Chaffer, to leukemia. Here the emotional intensity in Chaffer's singing is overwhelming.

turn out the lights
close the door
I'll not be taking visitors anymore
shut off the power
take down the sign
and let the machine answer the line
leave me alone
not because I'm angry
just because I need to hear myself breathe
and be alive
and wonder why she's gone . . .

The final song, "Farewell," is a cello instrumental because "my mother always loved it when I played the cello." There is courage, comfort, and grief to be shared in these lamentations from Don Chaffer.

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