BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Michael English: The Prodigal Comes Home
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- By now, most people have heard about Gospel singer Michael English's fall from grace. With a vocal resume that included millions of records sold, multiple Dove Awards, and seemingly no limit to the heights his career might hit, Michael lost it all.
A marital affair led to a period of public shame, divorce, broken relationships, drug addiction, and even a period of homelessness. Instead of being at the pinnacle of success Michael had fallen into a dark pit of despair.
But God can perform miracles. Slowly but surely, Michael put his life back together – repenting of his sin, finding love again, and rediscovering the musical gift God blessed him with.
With a successful autobiography in 2007 and a new album this year ("The Prodigal Comes Home"), Michael has found himself back out on the road in 2008 sharing his testimony with thousands.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Michael to discuss the importance of sharing his testimony, why he chose to shine a light on his troubled past, and how his wife saved his life.
I think it is safe to say that you are back. When I last talked to you in 2006 there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether you would be accepted again by the general public. This year you have had a new album, you are going out on tour with Casting Crowns this Christmas season, and you have a happy home life. Everything is going well. Do you consider this a great personal achievement?
It is a blessing. It is a personal achievement. However you want to say it. I look back to the Bible where the prodigal comes home. I have lived long enough with the pigs. I really feel like God has blessed me so much to be able to be at this place in my life right now. To have been out on tour with Avalon earlier this year. To sing to thousands of people again. Just to be able to do what I do. And you know what? People are accepting me. They stood up and clapped for about three minutes after I gave my testimony recently. It is not me. It is God. I feel like every time that happens people are saying, 'Michael, welcome home. We are glad you are home.' It is just overwhelming.
It must be a good feeling to have people coming up to you and saying that your story has ministered to their life?
It is amazing how many people go through the things I have gone through and are fighting it on a daily basis. I am not just getting this at concerts. I am also getting it on my MySpace page. They are writing to me time and time again. So, I have started saving all of these great letters.
What is the best part of being a Gospel artist for you? You were highly successful early in your career and then struggled later on. Now you are experiencing some success again.
After the affair happened in 1994, I went and did a secular pop album. It was really odd because instead of doing Gospel music I was performing at cocktail parties. I was uncomfortable with that. Even though I had headed down a sinful path and ended up in the bars, and drugging, and drinking, and smoking, and all of those things, it was still not me. It was not what I was comfortable with. When I was doing those things I was in a rebellious state. I look back and think that what makes this so great is the message itself. When I sing a pop song I am just singing it. There is no heart. There is nothing to sing about. I was just going through the motions. But when I sing a song about God and about what He has done for me that is when my passion comes out. That is what makes me who I am. That person singing pop songs was not Michael English. He was just a singer singing pop music. There is nothing like singing a good old Gospel song.
Your book is out and it is doing well. Most people would have been just happy to bury the past, walk away, get on with their life and start over again. You chose to shine a light on it. Why did you make that choice?
There are a couple of reasons. One reason was that there has been too many stories that so many come up and ask and say, 'Did this happen? Did that happen?' I wanted to basically say, 'Ok, here it all is.' The other reason is, and without sounding super spiritual I want people to know what God can bring you from. How deep one can go and still rise above it with the help of Jesus Christ. There are many, many people who believe that there is no way, life is hopeless. Tell me, is there anything worse than being hopeless? I'm telling you Chris, Christ's willingness to restore someone like me is the most amazing thing.
I'm sure it is easy to fall into the trap of singing songs about your old life. And that is great because you have a story to tell. But what did you do to put a new spin on those songs that is different than the way you used to sing them?
When I tried to make that comeback before I really wanted to make it but I still had one thing I needed to overcome which was the addiction. But that so happened to be the biggest and I couldn't fight it. I ended up losing the battle. My management company had songwriters come in to say this is what we want. We want you to write this type of song. On the pop record, there were some good songs. It was one the favorite albums I have ever done vocally. But on my latest record ("The Prodigal") I can tell people anything. We didn't ask them to do anything. These songs came in one after the other. And everybody who asked me this question wants to know if I did write these songs. This is because it sounds like I would have written every one of these because of the lyrical content in them. It has been a great process. The story behind "The Prodigal" is that I did a demo on that song way back in the day. In fact, a friend of mine wrote it and he asked me to do the demo for it. I wasn't ready to sing it then but it lasted all this time. At the time, he wanted me to sing it and put it on my next record but it just wasn't the right time. I was not there. But everything came full circle. I think what made it happen was the fact that I was singing it. When Norman (Miller) and my wife heard me singing that song it really meant something to them. I don't know whether they would have gotten it had somebody else been singing it. Who knows, but there is a great story behind it. And there is a great story behind several of them.
Let's talk about a couple of them. Tell me about "Full Circle".
Written by Ronnie Freed, this was a great song for me. What greater lyrics than that first verse:
I heard someone say the other day they had seen true love displayed blessed by something I had done for them,
No sooner did they speak those words I found myself somehow disturbed, uneasy as I took their compliment.
That is ultimate writing to me. The truth remains that the only thing good in me is Jesus. I am evidence of that from my past.
How about "Right Where You Are"?
That song was written by Matthew West as was "Feels Like Redemption". I have not met this character yet but I look forward to meeting him because he has written some great songs for me. When it came down to selecting songs for this record we all felt like this song needed to be on this record (it had earlier appeared on his "Greatest Hits" collection) because it is too great of a song. So, at the last minute we all said what we felt. One person said they really felt this needed to be on the record and then everyone else said they felt the same way but didn't realize everyone else felt like that too. It is just one of those great songs that fit perfectly with what I was trying to say.
I want to talk for a moment about people who stood in there with you from thick and thin, specifically your wife. You have been quoted as saying, 'My wife has saved my life.' Why do you say that?
English: When I say that I know that God sent her, so ultimately I know that God saved me. It is hard to explain how my wife is. She is a strong human being in many ways. She teaches kick boxing but she is strong for me. She helps me so much. She does so much for me. She does things she doesn't have to do. She is just one of those wives that you just know that she loves you. She does stuff like packs my clothes for the road. She doesn't have to do that but she says she enjoys doing it. She says, 'Michael, I know you are gone from home and I want you to think of me every time you open that suit case.' It seems like a simple thing but it makes me love her even more. We have been married for six years and while not every marriage is perfect I feel like we could write a book together on marriage. I think that because of how great our relationship is and has been. We really want to make it work so we will not fight with each other about a problem because it is not worth it. It is not worth getting angry and saying things you don't mean. There are so many reasons why I believe my wife saved me. She gave me a reason to want to straighten my life up. I know God sent her my way.
Michael is out on tour this Christmas season as part of the Casting Crowns Christmas Celebration tour. Beginning on November 28th, the tour will hit 14 different cities.
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