I love John Mays.
In 2000 I began meeting with record label presidents and he was my favorite. That’s not to slight the others, but he stood out to me as someone I connected with on a more important level than just business. He was the only one of the five, for starters, who warned me about the downsides to being a successful artist and advised me on how to deal with them. He talked about the need for true friends, a solid marriage, accountability to other Christians. We talked about what a Christian is, he didn’t assume I knew. He asked me what I’d tell someone after a concert who asked me how to become one. He stressed to me how much more important it was to him that I be a good follower of Christ than it was that I be a good singer.
I was so impressed with his character, his concern for me that I wanted to sign with his label after one meeting. But it didn’t feel right. It’s the only time in my life I can remember being certain about a decision but unexplainably unable to carry it out.
I remember the day I met with John to break the news. I told him I wanted to work with him but that I didn’t think it was the right move for me and I had no idea why.
The next week his label was closed down by its owner, folded into another unexpectedly. His artists, who signed with him, then had to work with another man, another philosophy, another label and had no choice in the matter. I dodged that bullet but from time to time I wish things had turned out differently and I had signed with John at a label that was still around today.
This morning was one of those moments when I found myself wishing I could have worked with John. This morning I spoke about “the Good News” to a crowd of indie artists gathered for GMA‘s Academy event in Nashville. And John introduced me. But first he encouraged the group with a few words.
He relayed a story from Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote about his experiences in the concentration camps during Hitler’s reign. One day Viktor witnessed a fellow Jew being badgered by a Nazi guard. The captor put a gun to the prisoner’s head and the man, knowing he was seconds from death, spoke only three words: “I’m not repeatable.”
John asked us all rhetorically why a man would say this to his executor. Could it be, John asked, that this man wanted his killer to know that for a hundred generations before him and for a hundred generations after him there would never be another like him? Could it be that he wanted to assert how special he, a Jew, was? What a valuable creation God made him to be? And John went on to encourage these indie artists, and me, to be what God made us to be, to use the criticisms and successes of this weekend and of life to grow into the unrepeatable valuable person God planned us to become.
I felt like writing music again. I felt like hopping in a time machine and signing with John Mays’ label even if it only lasted a week and I’d spend the next seven years working for another man. Because John is unrepeated in this industry I’m in.
(Tomorrow I’m talking about why being independent is better, for some, than being signed.)