There’s a lot to be found in the world of YouTube, isn’t there? Some of it’s good, some not, and the vast majority of stuff falls somewhere in-between. I came across this clip and I thought it belonged in the first category.
Part of it has to do with the person playing the piano, Billy Preston. Preston was a wonder on the keyboards, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t play. He had a career as a solo artist, but he was best known for recording, playing, or touring with all of the big names—Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Little Richard, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. He also wrote the song, You Are So Beautiful. The guy had big-time talent.
But if Preston was remarkably gifted, he also had his share of pain and problems in life. Much of it was self-inflicted (drugs, insurance fraud, and other run-ins with the law). He had a self-destructive side that seemed to get the better of him as the years went on. He died a few years ago at the age of 59, his body worn out from a lifetime of abuse. I suppose his close friends knew this and did what they could to help and encourage him. That’s where this clip comes in. As they tell you in the piece, Preston and Franklin had known each other since their teenage years. There’s no friend like an old friend, is there? You can see that in the way they interact and how comfortable they are with each other. You can’t fake that.
What I like about the clip is the joy I see in Billy Preston. If you watch him during the final minute or so of the song, it’s obvious that he is caught up in the moment, the music, and Aretha’s powerful rendition of the song. He’s bobbing his head, looking at her, and smiling. I especially like the way Aretha keeps her arm around Preston’s shoulder for nearly the entire song. There’s nothing fake or staged about it, it is the sincere gesture of a friend, someone who maybe thinks of herself as an older sister to Preston. Anyway, it’s poignant. It’s almost as if Aretha (no stranger to hard times herself), can sense the pain that’s part of Preston’s life and wants to comfort him and try to keep him from it. Thank God for sisters like that.
And oh yeah, the song isn’t too bad either. Aretha can sing, Billy can play, and they do it quite well together. I especially like the part that says:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
The truth is, we were all Billy Prestons in this world, locked into our own sinful, self-destructive, and others-destructive ways. Christ appeared and told us, You don’t have to live this way. I made you to be something better! And then He showed us what we were made for by the kind of life He lived. We had no idea we had been created for such a high and lofty purpose and when we learned this we felt our worth and fell on our knees.
I know you can analyze things like this too much or you can take it in a different direction than the circumstances warrant. Qualify this any way you need to, but don’t miss the central thrust: all the tenderness and trueness of love that you see and hear in this song was in Jesus Christ. It is at the cross that He puts His arms around us, looks unflinchingly into our eyes and calls us to something better. There’s no soft bigotry of low expectations with Him (Gerson)—He knows we’re made for more!
The thrill of hope—a weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks, a bright and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees.
Oh hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine! Oh night when Christ was born!