Mitch McVicker Interview
Like it or not, it seems that singer/songwriter Mitch McVicker gained his notoriety in a most unfortunate way. On September 19, 1997, Mitch and pal Rich Mullins were travelling from Illinois to Kansas for a benefit concert when their jeep spun out of control and overturned. Both were ejected, and while Mullins was struck and killed, McVicker survived--but not without serious injury. The day of the accident, Mullins and McVicker had complete the vocals on Mitch's self-titled independent release (which was produced by Mullins and Ragamuffin Mark Robertson). It's an album that has drawn several comparisons to Mullins' music, but has stood valiantly on its own merit. In addition, pre-production on Mullins' next album, The Jesus Record was just one week away when the tragic accident took his life, but the songs lived on through his musical collaborators, The Ragamuffins. Incidentally, McVicker co-wrote three of the songs on the phenomenally successful album.
Recovery has been difficult for McVicker, though he is back singing and playing and is looking to return to the studio later this year to record a new album. He is currently talking with several different record labels, and has spent a great deal of 1999 travelling the country with percussionist/dulcimer player Michael Aukofer and cellist Eric Hauck. I spent some time with him recently, talking about his past, the accident, his friend (Mullins) and his future. I found him to be refreshingly honest and remarkably childlike both in his expression and his faith. I hope you will enjoy this glimpse into his extraordinary life as much as I did.
LH: Tell me about your musical roots.
Mitch McVicker: My musical roots go all the way back to when my mom made me enter talent shows and perform at church when I was a little kid [laughing].
LH: You didn't want to sing and perform?
MM: I wasn't really into doing it--I was more into sports when I was a kid. I played basketball in high school and through college at Friends University in Kansas. I played guitar in my bedroom and listened to top 40 radio throughout my early years, but I really had no intention or reason to take music seriously until I met Rich Mullins in one of my college classes. It was just a hobby--a way to relax and have some fun. Basketball workouts took up about five hours per day of my life for a good ten years.
LH: So music was on the back burner. How did it make its way to the front row of your life?
MM: Rich and I were friends for about a year before he knew I was a musician. I was up in a friend's dorm room playing some songs and Rich stopped by. Shortly after that we both graduated, and he invited me to come work with him at an Indian reservation in New Mexico--so we both moved out there. We started playing music and writing songs together. One of the first things we worked on was a musical [about the life of St. Francis of Assisi] entitled The Canticle of the Plains. After we finished the music we began working on a script. That was about four years ago. It was performed only a couple of times before Rich's death.
LH: How did the Kid Brothers of St. Frank fit into that?
MM: Actually, the Kid Brothers started before The Canticle of the Plains. Rich and his friend Beaker started the Kid Brothers. It's not some sort of well-defined order or anything; they were just trying to uphold the ideals of St. Francis and his interpretation of Christianity. The idea was to live a simplistic life, and the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are the pedestals to that way of thinking. When I started working with Rich I became a member of the Kid Brothers by default--I didn't know what it was, and in some ways I still don't [laughing]. The only two tangible things were the devotions we'd have in the mornings and the concerts. A month before the wreck that killed Rich and left me badly injured, we sat down and made up an outline of what the Kid Brothers was and what we were trying to do with it. I think it was on the verge of becoming more than an ideal. But then the accident happened and everybody's life was altered, so it has remained undeveloped and ill defined up to now.
LH: I heard that the day the accident happened, you and Rich had put the finishing touches on the vocals for your independent release, Mitch McVicker. What do you remember about that day?
MM: I don't remember anything from the day of the wreck to two weeks after that. Even the couple of weeks before the accident are very sketchy to me. I was telling a friend that I don't remember recording much of the album. I don't remember much about being in the hospital or even the therapy process. People want me to talk about the accident, but I really can't remember much.
LH: How were you affected physically by the accident?
MM: I was in the hospital for a month and in therapy for months after that. I had broken bones, both my lungs were collapsed, and I was in a coma for five days. To this day--18 months later--I still see with double vision. It's been a long slow process for my singing voice to return. It could have been my collapsed lungs that adversely affected my voice; it could have been the tubes that were jammed down my throat; it could've been some nerve in my brain that connects to my voice mechanism. But 15 months ago I was afraid that I would never be able to sing again. I look back now and can see that I am further along than I was a year ago, but it is such a gradual progression that I can't see much of a difference day to day. In a sense, I feel like my voice has had to mature all over again.
LH: I'm sure you have gone through a lot of emotional turmoil as a result of the accident as well. Your life was pretty intertwined with Rich's, wasn't it?
MM: Yes, it was. I think for a long time--and maybe still--I went through this denial thing. I didn't want to admit that my life was drastically altered. I did deal with the whole emotional thing, but maybe not as much as other people. For one, I think I got a late start on it. I didn't even find out [Rich had died] until about two or three weeks after the wreck. I wasn't conscious for a long time, but when I was, I was in this drug-induced 'la-la' land. My dreams were much more real to me than what was going on around me. I still remember the dreams I had. So I didn't get this big shock wave, because in a weird way it made sense to me. I thought, 'I could see how Rich could have been killed, because look at me!' I've talked to different doctors and such who say that when you're involved in something this closely, you don't go through the same grieving process that others do. I have the suspicion that when I'm whole again--when my healing is complete--that maybe that's when the whole grief thing will hit me. It's been frustrating to wait on the process of healing, both physically and emotionally, because it seems to be moving so slowly. On my good days I'm thankful. On my bad days I'm frustrated. I'm trying to get to the place where I have more good days than bad. Just because you've had a major tragedy in your life, doesn't mean that your life is over. It just means that your life is different than you thought it would be.
LH: After the accident, you decided to stick with music as a career?
MM: About 19 months ago I started playing again. I didn't think I'd start playing again until my voice got back to normal, but I decided to go ahead with it. It wasn't that great, but I thought I would just do what I could at that time. My approach was, 'This is the present, and I am thankful for what I have in the present.' It's been a process of growing up in front of people--growing up to where I'd like to be. I wouldn't be doing music without having had Rich's influence and support. I love doing concerts and making records, and I hope that it will work out in the long run. But if it doesn't--oh well. I am a Christian first and foremost--my identity is not in Mitch McVicker 'The Artist.' It's so easy when you're doing concerts and up in front of people to let that define you. But it's not you; it's simply an outpouring of your life. My life needs to be full and whole, which is then poured out through the music--not the other way around.
LH: You and Rich Mullins co-wrote 'My Deliverer,' which was a huge hit single from The Jesus Record. Someone asked me to ask you how you felt about the lyrics of that song being changed for use on The Prince of Egypt soundtrack. In your opinion does the song still convey the same message?
MM: No. If you listen closely to The Prince of Egypt version, the verses are about Moses, and the chorus is about Jesus. It doesn't make sense.
LH: Who changed it?
MM: I don't know. No one ever even talked to me about it. I love the dc Talk guys (who sang it), but it would have been a nice gesture if someone had said, 'We're going to record this song, what do you think about these changes?' I loved what they did with the song, but when I heard the lyrics it bothered me.
LH: You were one of Rich's closest friends, and you were with him when he died. I guess I wonder if you feel pressure to somehow carry on Rich's life. Do you think people somehow want you to fill something that you can't?
MM: Yes, I do. I don't want to carry on 'Rich Mullins' legacy, but I do want to carry on in the manner that he did. I would love to approach songwriting as he did; I would love to relate to people like he did; I want to stand up for the kingdom of God like he did. It was an amazing blessing to be a part of Rich's life, and to be a sponge and soak all that up. In the same manner, I want to be myself. I don't want to be Rich Mullins, and I don't want to be Rich Mullins sidekick. I don't want to be the guy to fill the hole that is in many people's lives. That hole is there because Rich is gone. No one could ever fill Rich's shoes, so I'm not trying to do that. I'm trying to do what I was doing before any of this happened.
LH: I would think that you'd never want to put away that chapter of your life, but you do want to move on.
MM: I agree. I know that people will always
make that association, and I have no problem with that. Hopefully some
day people will by and large begin to notice me because of me, not just
because of my friendship with Rich.
note: Someone sent me the text of this interview.. I don't know who LH is and the date the interview was done.
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