“Friends In Low Places” by Garth Brooks
40 Days Of Country – Song #22 – Lent 2016
Born Troyal Brooks, “Garth Brooks,” as he is better known, is one of the most recognizable and successful country recording artists of all time. In fact, to date, with over 160 million records sold, he is one of the the best-selling artists of all time, period. He currently sits second on that list, ahead of Elvis, himself, and only behind the Beatles. Known for his uncanny showmanship and presentational live performances, Brooks fluid blend of country, pop, and rock and roll has made him somewhat of an icon in the music world.
Perhaps Garth Brooks’ best known song is his 1990 hit, “Friends in Low Places,” which spent four weeks in the #1 spot and earned Garth awards from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Awards. The song, inspired by a song-writing duo’s experience at local diner in 1989 who ran out of money to pay their bill but happened to know the chef, was eventually originally written down on several napkins. Upon hearing the song for the first time, Garth Brooks was so captivated that he set out recording his own version immediately.
In the song, the narrator, reflecting on quite the experience, tells a time of when he “showed up in boots,” at his ex-partners “black tie affair,” (perhaps her wedding), much to her surprise. Rather than complain, however, he raises a toast in celebration of the freedom he has experienced since freeing himself from the social demands of her “high society,” life, after all, as he says, “I’ve got friends in low places.” The song then launches into a sing-along refrain chanting the joys of revelry, to which Garth Brooks once explained to a reporter, “We’ve had a lot of fun with that song, but it’s nothing to base your values on.”
Alas, while escaping to a life of debauchery is no message to be applauded, the song itself tackles a theme that is actually quite central to the Gospel message. Jesus explains to his disciples in Matthew 11: 16-20, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, 17 ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.” 16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, 17 ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.”
It turns out, Jesus had plenty of “friends in low places,” but as he explained to a pharisee two chapters earlier who challenged him on this behavior in Matthew 9:13, “I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” While it should be obvious, Christians, especially those who are quick to judge and condemn the choices and lifestyles of others, can learn a lot from these words and actions of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it’s good to have some friends in low places, after all, it isn’t by “social graces” that we are saved, but by the grace of Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners like us, and through that grace, our hope is that one day, all of us, saints and sinners alike, will be able to “slip on [up] to the Ooooooasis,” an eternity spent in heaven.
God of sinners and saints alike, while we do not celebrate our sinful nature, and we praise your willingness to meet each and every one of us where we are. Pull us out of whatever pit we may find ourselves in, and give us the courage to reach down and pull others up as well. May the friends we keep in low places be a witness to the ultimate friendship we have in the highest place. Amen.
(PS: Garth Brooks has strict policies regarding the public availability of his music…as a result, enjoy this performance from a couple years ago where Justin Timberlake surprised his Nashville audience with an appearance by the country music legend.)