American rock group Kansas are known globally for their multi-million selling singles ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ (1976) and ‘Dust in the Wind’ (1978), both written by founding member and guitarist Kerry Livgren. While the latter song spent nearly four years on the Billboard singles chart, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ is arguably the best known. Decades after release it is still one of the most requested rock singles on classic rock radio stations.
Kerry Livgren lived in Topeka, Kansas, and started playing in local rock groups while he was still a teenager. In 1973, Livgren was one of the two founding members of rock group ‘Kansas’. The following year they were signed to Kirschner records and soon emerged as one of the best rock groups in North America.
As a baby, Kerry had been confirmed into the Christian faith of the Lutheran church. His family were consistent church members and he absorbed the foundations of Christianity as he grew up. But he explains that popular faith at the time was more cultural than spiritual, and heavily mingled with US politics. This did not fulfil Kerry’s empty soul. In his autobiography ‘Seeds of Change’ he wrote,
“A Christian was either a hypocrite who went to church on Sundays as a social manoeuvre, or a wild-eyed Jesus freak who fanatically threw tracts at people on the street and told them they were going to fry in hell.”
Livgren describes his family participation in faith as “typical cultural American Christianity”. Referring to the famous quote by Billy Graham, he said that he had received just enough cultural Christian teaching to inoculate him against the real thing;
“I see many who were raised up in a church-going family as opposed to a Christian family. I’m not saying my family was not Christian. In retrospect, I am very glad I did have a church background because it gave me a structured background to come back to.”
Carry On Wayward Son
Kansas were already a popular rock act across the USA when, in 1976, Kerry wrote an all-time classic rock song that took the band on to global success. ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ was a huge worldwide hit at the time, but, moreover, it has been a rock staple ever since.
On the back of this one song alone, Livgren had become a megastar musician and songwriter almost overnight. He had all the wealth and success that a young man could want in this world, along with a good marriage. Kansas songs were soon among the most popular on all the FM Rock stations in the US and his band were considered the best rock act of the era.
A genuine, gifted artist and a family man, Kerry never took drugs and was not interested in the sleeping with ‘groupies’. He was a philosopher, a thinker and an avid reader. He spent much of his spare time reading books on history, philosophy and religion. Many of his earlier Kansas songs reveal a man who was searching for meaning and truth. He acknowledged that he was trying to tell the fans through his songs about the meaning of life when he hadn’t yet found it himself.
The Urantia Book
After spending some time looking into Eastern religions and philosophies, Kerry was sidetracked when he came across ‘The Urantia Book’— a pseudo-Christian cult work of uncertain authorship published in Chicago in the 1920’s. The book is full of weird concepts, describing itself as a revelation from superhuman beings which is designed to help followers advance from an animal state to a spirit being before finally becoming ‘gods’!
Eventually, Livgren came to consider Urantia as nonsense, but initially it did captivate him and it did at least bring the name of Jesus Christ back into his thinking. However, the Jesus of Urantia was not the Jesus of Nazareth found in the Bible. Livegren was eventually made aware of the vast differences between the Urantia Jesus Christ and the real Jesus Christ of history:
- The Bible teaches that Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity. Urantia denies the deity of Christ, calling him “the human incarnation of Michael of Nebadon.” Nobody had heard of ‘Michael of Nebadon’ before the Urantia Book appeared.
- The Bible says that Jesus was conceived supernaturally and born of the Virgin Mary. Urantia teaches that Jesus was born through natural means of conception and that there was therefore no virgin birth.
- The gospels record thirty-seven miracles of Jesus the Christ. Urantia states that Jesus did not do any miracles.
Prayer for Kerry and an encounter with LeRoux
By 1979, Kerry felt that many of his questions of life had been answered by the Urantia religion. The latest Kansas album ‘Monolith’ was a huge success and the band was touring on the back of the popularity created by that album. Little did he know that a group of Christians, who were also Kansas fans, were praying for him.
Livgren’s song lyrics had given away his search for the way, the truth, and the meaning of life. A rock band from Louisiana named LeRoux were asked to join the tour to play the warm up session for Kansas, and Kerry soon realised that the band’s singer, Jeff Pollard, was a ‘spiritual seeker’ too. In fact, Jeff Pollard was an evangelical Christian, but initially Kerry just saw his interest as an opportunity to talk about his embracing of Urantia.
Kerry started to spend more time with Jeff Pollard discussing the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t long before Kerry realised that Urantia was just another cult and that the Jesus of the Bible was the one he needed to follow. Although he had come to a knowledge of the truth, it was still difficult for him to leave the comfortable and acceptable place of ‘spiritual seeker’ to become a fully-fledged Christian. He says,
“A part of me kept saying: ‘My God, you can’t become a Christian! What would everybody think?’ The last thing in the world I wanted to be was one of those fanatical born-again Christians,”
On 23rd of July 1979, Kansas was playing in Indianapolis. While they were playing, a Christian fan in the audience felt compelled to pray for Kerry while he watched the band perform. The fan became very emotional and eventually left the concert. He was unaware that his prayers, along with Jeff Pollard’s, had brought about a breakthrough. That night was a life-changer for Livgren. He couldn’t sleep, and at 3 a.m. the next morning in his hotel room, he prayed:
“Lord, if Jesus Christ is your Son, then I want to know Him. If He really is the living God, my Redeemer and my Lord, then I want to serve Him with all my heart.”
Kerry says that when he said this prayer,
“I felt that the huge weight on my shoulders was suddenly taken away forever. I was full to overflowing, absolutely,”
A year later, at a Christian radio station, he met the fan who had prayed for him that night.
“He had carried the ticket to that Indianapolis show in his pocket all that time, not knowing that that was the night I got saved. He was in a spiritually dry place at the time, and that revelation just floored him. There were tears everywhere!”
A love for everyone
The love that transformed the life of Kerry Livgren is the same love God has for every person. Kerry realised that God loved him so much that Jesus Christ, God the Son, had died for him. He came to see that every person born is separated From God through what the Bible calls ‘sin’, which is basically selfishness and the rejection of God’s ways. God’s love for us all is so strong that it transcends time and distance. God was pursuing Kerry Livgren and he realised that only a fool would says no to Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years ago Jesus spoke to a Pharisee who came to him under cover of nighttime due to peer pressure. Jesus said to Nicodemus,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
‘Carry On Wayward Son’ lyrics
Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high
Though my eyes could see, I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think, I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I’m dreaming
I can hear them say
Carry on, my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don’t know
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune
But I hear the voices say
Carry on my wayward …
Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendour
Now your life’s no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you
Story by Ralph Burden
With grateful thanks to Billy Bruce