I first heard this song in 1988, at age 13, and it fired my imagination like few songs had ever done. The first verse talks of a people defeated and enslaved, but not broken. Even as they suffer “for someone else’s selfish gain” they sing songs to their God. The second is darker, more metaphorical, with its talk of “chambers made for sleeping forever.” It was not until I was somewhat older than I understood what that meant (“waiting for the train labeled with the golden star” should have clued me in, but I was thirteen).
Though I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get the historical references (the Jews’ enslavement by the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Holocaust, respectively) at first, the sentiment and imagery struck me to my heart. This was the universal cry of outrage at human cruelty: “Man hurts man, time and time again, and we drown in the wake of our power. Somebody tell me why?” But more than that, it was the hope that comes from faith.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the album, and especially the song, “Lead Me On” jump-started my dream of writing. Though at thirteen, I was hardly writing prose, I began to compose narratives, imagine characters, and inhabit the themes. I suppose I would be writing if I had never heard “Lead Me On,” but I think I would be a very different writer, a very different person.
I know that when I say “Amy Grant,” most people don’t think “imagery-rich brief musical histories of the persecution of the Jewish people, framed in hope and faith, crying out in outrage and empathy for their suffering, and those of others who have suffered persecution.” But 1988’s Lead Me On was a unique album from Grant, far different than any that has come before or since. She talks about loneliness (“If You Have to Go Away”), temptation to infidelity (“Faithless Heart,” “Shadows”), and outrage at hypocrisy and judgment, including her own (“What About the Love?”).
The album’s center is a sweet, melancholy cover of Jimmy Webb’s “If these Walls Could Speak,” a song that is as intimate as a solitary return to a childhood home. Grant returns to the subject of violence and oppression with “Wait for the Healing,” which is not as striking as “Lead Me On,” but still far more complex and raw than her other work. She ends with “Say Once More,” a ballad that carries the listener out of the wilderness of doubt and pain into a place of rest in love. But even that rest is not perfectly certain. “Tell me that time won’t erase,” she sings, “the way that my heart sees your face.”