This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of Mary Ramsey of 10,000 Maniacs, who turns 48 today. You gotta love the world of alt rock, where a classically trained viola player gets to be the star. Mary Ramsey started out playing her big fiddle and singing background for the group, but took over lead vocals when Natalie Merchant left for a solo career in 1995. She has also recorded folk rock albums with fellow Maniac John Lombardo, as well as with a group of her friends under the name Mary and the Healers. She contributed quite a bit of the songwriting for the 10,000 Maniacs, several of which speak of our theme of freedom. One of these is especially apropo for a Christmas eve night. Shining Light is a track on the 1997 Love Among the Ruins album, the first to showcase her as lead singer. It speaks of the power of love to free one from a troubled history and to shine a light toward a more joyful life.
As we reflect on the story of Christmas and the shining star that led wandering magi to a newborn babe, this song reminds us that each of us can be a shining star, bringing hope to a troubled world. As John’s gospel says of Jesus’ entry into our world, the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. And Jesus later would tell his followers, you are the light of the world. And then here comes Mary Ramsey taking John’s gospel and Jesus at his word, singing a song to a lover who was a shining light for her path. May we all celebrate the many ways large and small that we are able to free one another from desperate histories, and light up the mysteries of a profoundly hopeful life.