Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mr. Mister: Kyrie

It’s Spiritual Sunday and for my pick of songs it is the 1986 hit by Mr. Mister, “Kyrie.” I know, I can already hear the critics saying what on earth is spiritual about Mr. Mister? Some legitimately may ask this question because of their lack of experience in a religious tradition that utilizes the vocal response "Kyrie eleison" used in prayers.

When it was released, my friends from the Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions recognized the nature of the lyrics of this song; however, others from groups that do not use this response hadn’t a clue. Although not coming from one the aforementioned traditions, three years of college Greek was a plus, as I immediately connected "Kyrie" with the Greek noun κύριος – which is translated in English as Lord.

 Mr. Mister, Charleston, WV 1987.  Left to right: Jim Owston, Steve George, 
Steve Farris, Ed Neal, Robert Tipane, Richard Page, and Pat Mastelotto.

The line "Kyrie eleison" (Κύριε ἐλέησον) – "Kyrie" is in the vocative case (the case to identify someone) and literally is “O Lord.” The verb "eleison" (for those that need or care to know is a second person singular aorist active imperative of ἐλεέω) is literally translated “You show mercy" or "You be merciful.”  While the aorist tense normally shows past activities, when coupled with imperative mood/mode it is something that is accomplished in the present or future.  While imperative mood/mode is usually thought as a command, it can also be used when one is begging or beseeching someone. 

"Kyrie eleison" is used in religious circles as “Lord have mercy” – which is a prayer for the Lord to show His mercy or compassion upon us. It is the only remaining Greek found within the Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today.

The idea of Mr. Mister’s hit was that whatever we do, wherever we go, we need the Lord’s mercy.

The wind blows hard against this mountainside
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

Kyrie Eleison Down the road that I must travel

Kyrie Eleison Through the darkness of the night

Kyrie Eleison Where I'm going will you follow

Kyrie Eleison On a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be

Richard Page, lead singer and bassist, explains the origin of this song’s idea and his hesitance to record a song with overt religious overtones. By the way, it was their biggest hit peaking at #1 for two weeks on Billboard’s hot 100.

Mr. Mister was not the only artist to write a song with this title; Mozart did one as well for his "Requiem". Here’s a four part version of Mozart’s "Kyrie eleison" on guitar.

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