Where Vanity Leads

Where Vanity Leads

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

When my father and I travel in the car together, we listen to one of three SiriusXM stations: 40s Junction, Bluegrass Junction, or Willie’s Roadhouse. Today, we tuned the radio dial to Willie’s Roadhouse as I made my way to a gastroenterology appointment. On the way home, Tom T. Hall’s tune, “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet),” played as we started back up the mountain towards Blairsville, Georgia. I have heard this song by “The Storyteller” before. “Faster Horses” never fails to remind me of King Solomon. 

Within Hall’s song, a poet asks a cowboy for words of inspiration. Instead, the cowboy tells the poet that the best things in life are “faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.”1 The poet balks at the idea, but the cowboy calls him a liar. The poet desires to punch the cowboy, but the cowboy draws a weapon, and the poet backs off. Eventually, the poet drops his philosophical pursuits, settling on the “wisdom” imparted to him. He supposes the “wisdom” sage enough to share with his offspring. I would venture to guess that alcohol, at least, figured prominently in Hall’s life as he also wrote the songs “I Like Beer” and “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.” Even my favorite of Tom T. Hall’s discography, “I Love,” contained the lyrics “bourbon in a glass and grass.” (As an aside, there was a radio edit that substituted those lines with “old TV shows and snow.”)  

In Ecclesiastes 2.1-3,8, Solomon admits, “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’ I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives…Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines” (all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated).  

Yes, Solomon said it was futility (vanity—KJV and ESV). Solomon tried the cowboy’s life and found it wanting. It may well be that the late Tom T. Hall found out the same thing. On August 20, 2021, Tom T. Hall took his life. He was 85 years old.2 Though I do not wish to debate the wisdom of Chilon of Sparta, who in circa 600 BC was the first recorded speaker of the aphorism, “Do not speak ill of the dead,”3 I will add that many suicides stem from a sense of hopelessness. Depression is typically the common factor among those choosing to end their life. If this was Hall’s motivation, and only God knows, we note how the vanity of “faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money” can create a downward spiral. 

Vanity is an unhealthy type of narcissism. One is preoccupied with best satiating his desires, as Solomon well documented. In Ecclesiastes 6.7, Solomon says of his pursuits, “All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.” Thus, Solomon assures us that he found his pursuits futile despite trying everything he could. So why didn’t Solomon’s dissatisfaction cause him to lose hope or become depressed? Because he still had enough wisdom to draw the proper conclusion: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). 

If we are to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2.3-8), our focus must be outward. Rather than following one’s vanity to inevitable destruction, one must look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2.4). Therefore, whether said initially by Benjamin Franklin, John Ruskin, or Henry Emerson Fosdick, we note the truth in the expression, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” Embiggen yourself by obeying the law of Christ (cf. Galatians 6.2,10). Don’t follow vanity where it leads.    

Sources Cited 

1  “Tom T. Hall – Faster Horses Lyrics.” AZLyrics.com, AZLyrics.com, www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tomthall/fasterhorses.html.  

2   Leimkuehler, Matthew, and Cole Villena. “Country Music’ Storyteller’ Tom T. Hall Died by Suicide, Medical Examiner Says.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 6 Jan. 2022, www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/music/2022/01/06/tom-t-hall-died-suicide-medical-examiner-autopsy/9120690002/

3 “De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum.” The Free Dictionary, Farlex, encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/De+Mortuis+Nil+Nisi+Bonum

Courtesy: Max pixel

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