"Kyrie", #1 Hit, 1986, 616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Academic Achievement, Billboard Pop Chart, Christianity, Crazy Eddie's, Faith, Imagination, Kyrie Eleison, Lyrics, Manhattan, Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon New York, Mr. Mister, Pop Culture, Pop Music, Race, Richard Page, Walkman
Twenty-five years ago this week, Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” made it to the top of the Billboard pop charts, making me goofy and giddy beyond belief. March ’86 was the beginning of a great month of music for me. I bought my first Walkman — a Walkman-knockoff really — from Crazy Eddie’s on 47th and Fifth in Manhattan, as well as the first of what would be about 200 cassettes of my favorite music. Not to mention a ton of musical experimentation — most of it bad, goofy and un-listen-able for even the musically impaired.
For many of you, Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” would likely fall into that last category. It was semi-religious rock at a time when the closest thing to that was Amy Grant. It was Creed a whole decade before Creed, but with better musicians. It was a group of studio musicians putting out a breakout album that actually stood apart from the super-serious or super-sugary music of the mid-80s. It was a perfect storm for a sixteen-year-old in search of inspiration beyond the chaos of 616 and the lonely march toward college via Humanities and Mount Vernon High School.
“Kyrie” was one of two songs that kept me in overdrive in and out of the classroom through most of my junior year at Mount Vernon High School. Simple Minds’ “Alive and Kicking” was the other song. It almost became my mantra in the months that straddled ’85 and ’86. Every time I heard that song, especially the album version, was like going on a game-winning touchdown drive at the end of the fourth quarter. Studying was time to throw screen passes or seven-yard slants, to run the ball on a power sweep or on a draw play. It was methodical, the drums and synthesizers, and put me in a determined, methodical mood as I prepared for a test.
But Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” was magical. Short for “Kyrie Eleison” Latin/Greek for “Lord have mercy,” it became my go-to song for every big academic play I needed to make for the rest of the year, even for the rest of high school. “Kyrie” combined all of the elements that my vivid imagination relied on. My faith in The One, my hope for a better future, lyrics that made me think, music that evoked a big play, like throwing it deep and completing it for a game-changing score. It was as methodical as “Alive and Kicking,” but the bigger bass guitar and heavier synthesizers as the background gave me the feeling that God’s grace was with me wherever I went and whatever I did. It was a true underdog’s song.
It was like I was singing a high-falsetto, four-and-a half-minute prayer whenever I played “Kyrie.” Some of my classmates, as usual, didn’t appreciate whatever deeper meaning I saw in the song or in its lyrics. See, my being Black and high-pitched singing to it was another obvious sign of my weirdness. Yet somehow, when it came to music, I didn’t really care what any of them thought.
As I went off to college and became more sophisticated in my understanding of music, I realized that there were some songs I couldn’t completely part with, no matter how goofy or out-of-date the music video was. “Kyrie” was one of those songs for me. I didn’t play it regularly by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t sing to it in high-falsetto while shopping at Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh when the song would come on over the PA system.
Once iPod and iTunes technology became part of my household in ’06, I uploaded the old song and listened to it regularly again. I’ve wondered from time to time what would the sixteen-year-old version of me would think about me at forty-one. I’ve achieved more, and been hurt and lost more, than I could’ve possibly imagined a quarter-century ago.
It’s taken me more than twenty years to fully understand Richard Page’s lyrics about “would I have followed down my chosen road, or only wish what I could be?” The answer is both. Life is a funny and winding journey, even when on the path of the straight and narrow. Christian or atheist or of some other faith, it’s always good to hope that someone is there to watch over us, to protect us, even our younger selves from our older and allegedly wiser versions of ourselves. And that’s what I here now when I listen to — and sing high-falsetto still to — “Kyrie.”