Joe Henry —
The Mystery and Adventure of Life and Songwriting

In life as in song, Joe Henry says "we're really called not to dispel mystery but to abide it, to engage it." He brings an inward wisdom to the art and craft of making music. Cherished by fans and fellow musicians alike, he’s produced a dozen albums of his own and for an array of artists, including Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and Billy Bragg. And, he’s written songs together with Rosanne Cash and Madonna. With Joe Henry, we probe the mystery and adventure of discovering life through music.

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is a Grammy Award-winning producer and singer-songwriter. He's recorded 13 albums and produced dozens of other artists. He's the co-author of Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him and his latest album is Invisible Hour.

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There are few more influential writers than the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. His writings continue to inspire, mentor, and impact new generations of readers. Our columnist Parker Palmer remembers when he first met Merton's words and how they continue to shape him today.

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In the Room with Joe Henry

Joe Henry performed "Sparrow" from Invisible Hour at On Being on Loring Park. You can listen and download the song, and watch his full performance.

"It wasn’t peace I wanted
So it wasn’t peace I found,
I wouldn’t stand for reason
And it never would sit down."

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Writing for me is like breathing. I can't live if i can't sing 'cause singing is a call to the Mistery. This is stronger than any music business, it brakes any chains and every limit and it makes me fell FREE

Singing is like breathing. I couldn't live without singing. It goes beyond every limit and it's a direct call to the Mistery! It brakes every limit and any music business logic

Great show!

Joe's song "Good Fortune" lifted me out of a deep, dark hole.

Beautiful reflections. Thank you.

An absolutely inspiring discovery. My thanks to Krista and her team. Keep up the very fine work that you do!

I am a devoted fan of On Being and listened to Krista Tippett when her NPR show was Speaking of Faith. I've listened since my earliest days as a professor and ethnomusicologist +15 years ago. I am also a singer-songwriter.

Listening to this show with Joe Henry, I really admired the quote from John Cage (who I learned was quoting artist William De Kooning's dictum – "The art of the past doesn't influence me, I influence it"). The Cage quote was "The past doesn't influence me, I influence it." I truly loved what Joe shared about Harry Belafonte confronting rap artists in Berlin. A great interview...as usual.

What a rich conversation to listen to on a long drive home last night. Thank you!

Ah, dancing around the "G" word and, wrestling with angels, or G-- her/himself. Being an uncomfortable American or person from a Christian background...Thanks Joe and Krista. I am jealous of your relationship with David, Joe. Lucky you.

I very much enjoyed listening to this interview with Joe Henry and appreciate his willingness to articulately discuss his creative process and other anecdotes from his life. I had never heard of him before, but after hearing several of his songs I was struck with by their beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics. I loved what he took away from reading Thomas Merton regarding writing for yourself versus writing for the love and betterment of humankind. "The Sparrow" is a gorgeous song. After listening to this interview, I feel as though I just turned over a rock and found a gold nugget that will make my life more enjoyable and thoughtful. Thank you Krista Tippett and the team at On Being for bringing Joe Henry to my attention. He's an artist with a lot to say, and he does it in a beautiful, thoughtful way.

Thank you for introducing me to Joe Henry. His poetry and music are a breath of fresh air and really give me something to chew on.

Joe speaks of how he came to know this show, of hearing Joanna Macy invoke Rilke and read his words, and of knowing that this kind of expression was something that he knew he belonged to, that this was his lineage in some way.

When I heard this discussion and Joe’s comment I found myself saying “yes” to something that I had not yet been able to articulate myself. This show is such a gift in bringing together these very different folks from so many disparate worlds who speak, nevertheless, a common gracious tongue.

My own Macy/Tippett moment came when Joanna read Rilke’s “Widening Circles”:

"I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?"

I thought of these lines again as Joe spoke of his parents’ faith that was not his own, and yet how the imagery of that faith is something that he draws from for art, yes, but also for life itself. As a Midwestern preacher’s kid just about the same age as Joe and Krista, and also following a different path, I feel like we are all still singing the old songs from the old hymnal, but that the songs are now our songs because we have lived them ourselves, true as possible to our own callings.

I also don’t have any idea what I am—bird or weather or music—but it seems enough to say that I am someone who has been circling, never knowing whether the next circle will be my last, still giving myself to it.

A wonderful conversation, Joe and Krista.
Thank you.

The Accompaniment of Hands

on a sunny day
amidst the shadows of a border town
continents of musicians play.

I recognize each one
at percussion, at keys, on brass and guitar.

Virtuosos, anchors in other bands,
disparate bodies gathering to jam.

This will be a conga from Brazil to New Orleans.
This will be known by every foot here:

no CDs for sale
not an audience but a migration of souls.

This is grandparents,
mothers and sons.

This is a spinning of dervishes
round their dads.

Tell me
What is this sabbath?!

What is this day
we are raised into?!

Thank you for this respectful reflection of Mr. Henry’s music and muse. That Ms. Tippett and Mr. Henry can hold differing spiritual aspirations, and still appreciate one another’s intentions and productions is wonderful to witness. I think Kyle Meredith hit it right when he said to you, Mr. Henry, you are like “The Great Rememberer.” So, keep on, keep on with the realizations: musical, lyrical, and humane.

Buckminster Fuller quotes? I am curious where the Buckminster Fuller quotes come from. I find them intriguing, but did a quick internet search and did not come up with anything. Does anyone know?

Thank you for this. I was amazed and touched by how profound and articulate Joe Henry is, not always a quality of musicians.

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