Click here to view the slideshow.

With its pressed tin roof, scuffed wood floor, and the sort of chairs that make you glad the lights are dim, Cincinnati's Northside Tavern looks an unlikely spot to see the world's 65th-greatest living songwriter. It's two hours past the posted showtime, and Mallonee sits on a chair near the door and tunes a duct-taped guitar as the sun falls behind the scruffy mix of vegan restaurants, Somali groceries, and Buddhist centers outside.

"Are you here to see Bill?" I ask the only woman who appears to be waiting for the music.

She looks toward the bay window that serves as a stage, a mirror ball dangling improbably overhead.

"Who's Bill?" she replies.

In June 2006, Paste magazine ranked the hundred finest living songwriters and put Mallonee at 65th place—ahead of Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and Michael Jackson. Mallonee gained some prominence in the 1990s as the lead writer and singer for Vigilantes of Love, but these days the brutal economics of the road have stripped him of a backing band; the entire tour operation now consists of Mallonee, his wife, and their black Scion.

At the Cincinnati bar, only a handful of patrons pay attention to the music. But Mallonee sings in signature style anyway, eyes closed and throat shaking out the words as though each syllable must first be wrested from the bone. Veins bulge on his neck, tendons pop on his arms.

He performs an abbreviated set interspersed with stage patter, playing the room as though an invisible audience fills the bar and benches. In reality, the clientele bellies up to the bar, talks, and drinks. A few applaud after songs, then go back to their beers.

Mallonee's songs about mental illness, marriage, Vietnam vets, loneliness, and the whole "cloth ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
See No Evil Subscriber Access Only
International religious freedom has been too low a priority.
Current IssueJen Pollock Michel: God Is a Homemaker Who Does ‘Women’s Work’
Jen Pollock Michel: God Is a Homemaker Who Does ‘Women’s Work’ Subscriber Access Only
And other thoughts on the biblical and theological significance of home.
Current IssueWhy Don’t the Gospel Writers Tell the Same Story?
Why Don’t the Gospel Writers Tell the Same Story? Subscriber Access Only
New Testament scholar and apologist Michael Licona’s new book argues that ancient literary devices are the answer—and that’s a good thing for Christians.
RecommendedThe Secret Religion of the Slaves
The Secret Religion of the Slaves
They often risked floggings to worship God.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickWhat to Make of Donald Trump’s Soul
What to Make of Donald Trump’s Soul
And how that might shape our response to his presidency.
Christianity Today
Loving Where it Hurts the Most
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.