I first heard about Andrew Osenga from a friend and fellow writer in Kentucky. After spending a week in the wet blanket summer of eastern Kentucky with 30 or so teenagers in desperate need of a shower, she handed me a fistful of CDs to check out. As is usually the case, I was skeptical of her enthusiasm toward this Osenga character and his fictional counterpart Leonard the Lonely Astronaut. I don't tend to trust other's opinions of my taste, particularly when it comes to all things spiritual, especially when it comes to music of the Christian variety. While most of the lesser recommendations didn't hit home, I listened to the Osenga album 5 times on the 6 hour drive home, then three more times that week.
Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a concept album about the fictional Leonard, whose wife dies in the process of their divorce. In a bout of frustration and pain, he accepts a job as an astronaut. His mission is to travel to the opposite end of the universe at the speed of light, which means, according to the laws of relativity, that by the time he returns he will have barely aged, while anyone with any memory of his failed marriage, or himself, will be long dead and gone. On his space ship, he records the album. To help set the mood for the album, Osenga and some friends went so far as to sew up a space suit for Osenga to wear, as well as construct a spaceship like room in Nashville to record in.
You might be surprised to hear that this album about loss and failure could be so inspirational, but its words quickly became a catalyst driving me to hold my own wife just a little closer at night. As Osenga described the fictional breakup of Leonard's once vibrant matrimony, I see my own failures, the simultaneous intimacy and mileage between a couple. As Osenga asks through Leonard, "Why do lovers fall apart. When they want so badly to be one heart." There has been more than one instance where the brutal honesty of Leonards confession gave me the courage to reach a hundred miles across our bed and over an argument to pull us back together.
Osenga speaks about the loneliness of marriage, the frustration when our ideals die, even the pain and ongoing love after a marriage ends. While I can't attest to the latter, on Wednesday you'll be hearing from a friend who listened to this album three years after his own marriage ended. By his estimation, Osenga knows what he's talking about; if Osenga hasn't gone through a failed marriage himself, he is close with people who have.
While I found the musical approach of the album to be bold and diverse child of an adept guitarist (he has played at various times for Derek Webb, Jars of Clay, and others), the strength of the album is it's lyrical content. My favorite line would have to be from the song "First Born Son" where Leonard bemoans his training of self reliance:
"We prayed each night to the risen God For our loved ones health and safety Then we locked the doors and windows shut So there was no danger, and we were not free"
The chorus shouts a line damning to our North American sentiments with the twist of an idiom: "God help the man, who helps himself; he needs no other devil." It becomes obvious that Osenga used no idle words. I've gone through this album with my cliche radar and a fine tooth come. It's not often that you can say that nearly every word in an album would be sorely missed if removed. Props Andrew.
I've heard a lot of marriage sermons in my lifetime, mostly warnings against pornography and infidelity, none of which I can bring to mind though I'm sure I can recreate their premise. But Osenga's sermon will stick with me for a lifetime in the way that only music can. It gives me both a drive to be a better husband and a greater compassion for those who mourn that they can't be one anymore. Whereas most 'Christian' songs regarding some sort of one off anthem about a singular and severely limited aspect of marriage, Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a lonely exploration that shines light on some very dark places, letting us know that we aren't alone in our dysfunction.