Welcome to a guest list from Kenny Sipes, one of the brightest lights that we know. If you’ve ever wanted to get your hands on a cassette mix that Kenny listened to in his 1983 Mercury Cougar at 22, this is a good place to start.
More importantly, Kenny shares about losing himself to substances. But while he was driftless, toeing the dark corners of his own depths, he bumped into something that launched him into sobriety at age 17, and with it, the joy of discovering meaning. It’s an inspired tale of finding oneself.
Etched into this playlist is a death and rebirth. The funny thing is, I feel like I’ve lived this life too, just under different circumstances. Funnier still, Kenny was my guide throughout my own rebirth.
In addition to being a mentor to me since I was 11, Kenny Sipes is the founder of The Roosevelt Coffeehouse, a nonprofit shop in Columbus. Bask in this intro, and maybe in your own regeneration.
By Kenny Sipes:
There was a time I was left to my own devices to conjure up hope and inspiration. As a result I was my own worst enemy. I didn’t really know who God was and I was a teenage drunk. At the age of seventeen I was arrested and institutionalized for forty days in a drug rehab. I met God there. I found sobriety there. The last time I was under the influence was before most of your lifetimes at 17 by way of LSD that was snuck into the drug rehab. Not really part of the treatment plan. But that incident radically woke me up and catapulted me to a sober adult life.
In that first decade of sobriety I became super involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and was asked to speak quite often. Those speaking gigs were sometimes on the other side of town or across the state. On the way to those speaking engagements I would listen to a cassette tape I had made of the songs that stirred my soul. They were meant to remind me where I had been and what God had delivered me from.
The playlist begins with songs that deal with the angst of the beginning of sobriety. “Trouble in Mind” is a moody track of hopelessness that leads into an incredible song by Roger Daltrey that is rumored to have been written by Pete Townsend to confront Daltrey’s drinking problem. ("I've gotta stop drinking, I've gotta stop thinking, I've gotta stop smoking.") U2's "Bad" starts the journey into surrender: "desperation, dislocation, separation, condemnation, revelation, in temptation, isolation, desolation, let it go" are lyrics that spoke every word of moving out of alcoholism into a sober life.
The first song addressing life change begins with “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, which alludes to the story of the prodigal son. Where ultimately the man surrenders and tells wherever he came from to "keep my things / They've come to take me home.”
Phil Collins’ "Take Me Home" continues the story with powerful phrases like "take, take me home, oh Lord, because I've been a prisoner all my life”. The track I was looking for from Glory (“A Call To Arms”) is out of print. But this compiled track that I’ve included here captures the total surrender and pain it takes to go the extra mile. Much like the final battle scene in the movie.
"Spanish Steps" is the song that’s most personal to me, for its beauty signifies the beginning of hope in my life. It reminds me of the many nights I spent at a place in Columbus called the Olentangy Inn talking life with people who I loved and mentored me into a meaningful life.
The next four songs tell the story through contemplation. The acoustic piano of "Stars;” the Fly Away Home theme song "10,000 Miles;" the direction the Lord challenges the listener with in "Through Your Hands;" and ultimately the emotional victory of standing with Captain, My Captain in "Keating's Triumph."
The rest of the album is built on the passion of victory over something that owned you for so long. "Back In The High Life Again” is self-explanatory. The new high life that is. A few years into this faith and sober journey I began managing a record store, which began a commitment to work where I loved. With that commitment I found joy, and this track from 10,000 Maniacs came out around the same time.
“These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break.
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face.
And when you do you'll know how it was meant to be.
See the signs and know their meaning.
It's true, you'll know how it was meant to be.
Hear the signs and know they're speaking to you, to you.”
Then it’s time to liven it all up. I bet you didn’t know the Violent Femmes wrote a kick ass song about God. “F-A-I-T-H” is the singalong track of the list.
This leads us to the call of The Call to “Let The Day Begin”:
“Here's to the babies in a brand new world
Here's to the beauty of the stars
Here's to the travelers on the open road
Here's to the dreamers in the bars
Here's to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here's to the workers in the fields
Here's to the preachers of the sacred words
Here's to the drivers at the wheel
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin, let the day begin”
The playlist concludes with Mr. Holland’s Opus. The victory song. The ‘we did it’ song. The ‘all is well in the end’ song.
This is my playlist, “Sobriety: The Great Life."
NOTE: The one song that was not available on Apple Music or Spotify was this fiddle instrumental beauty by Lisa Germano from John Mellencamp’s Falling From Grace soundtrack. Here’s the YouTube link: https://youtu.be/DtXdZVHxAIM
- Trouble in Mine (The Return) - Marianne Faithfull
- After the Fire - Roger Daltrey
- Bad - U2
- Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
- Take Me Home - Phil Collins
- Glory (The End Titles) - The City of Prague Philharmonic (Original track here)
- Spanish Steps - Van Morrison
- Stars - George Wintson
- 10,000 Miles - Mary Chapin Carpenter
- Through Your Hands - John Hiatt
- Keating’s Triumph - Maurice Jarre & Peter Weir
- Back In The High Life Again - Steve Winwood
- These Are Days - 10,000 Maniacs
- Faith - Violent Femmes
- Let the Day Begin - The Call
- Mr. Holland Begins - Michael Kamen