Michael Murphy sometimes hears music when others speak, like the soundtrack to a good film.
The Omaha folk musician finds his best work in the spoken words of those he knows.
He said he especially hears music when he listens to his friend Frank LaMere.
“Frank is so amazingly brilliant, and he sees things and hears things nobody else does,” Murphy said of the Winnebago activist.
Two years ago, LaMere shared a story he'd written with Murphy -- and the seeds of a new song were planted.
LaMere has spent more than a decade trying to convince Nebraska state leaders to shut down four beer stores in the town of Whiteclay, population about 10. The stores sell more than 4 million cans of beer a year, mostly to residents of the nearby dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
About five years ago, LaMere wrote a story about Jesus visiting the small Nebraska village and providing comfort and warmth to the men and women who drink on the streets every day.
“His father bid him go to Whiteclay and be with them as they await brothers and sisters who will care for them,” LaMere wrote. “Jesus went to Whiteclay and found all there to be freezing, beaten, dying and forsaken. Jesus cried and through his tears saw it to be the holiest of places.
“He remains there, walking among the lonely and sleeping outside as he slept on the night he was born.”
In the song, “Christmas in Whiteclay,” Murphy plays a flute as LaMere reads the words to his story. The song “Silent Night” plays in the background.
LaMere said he hopes the song will elevate discussion about Whiteclay and incite action to improve conditions there.
“I hope that in this Christmas season people will do what they can for Whiteclay,” he said.
Murphy said it took him a couple of years to convince LaMere to record the song with him.
It ends with a fervent request to those listening to pray for the men and women on the streets of Whiteclay and to pray for those who’ve allowed them to continue dying there.
Then he asks for one last thing.
“Pray for me.”
Murphy said that final request was born of LaMere’s own feeling of inadequacy at being unable to make lasting changes in the town at the center of controversy.
“He just felt like he was unworthy,” Murphy said. “If he’s unworthy, who’s worthy?”