LDSL: How did you put yourself in the position of the characters?
MM: The big idea was “Who was part of the Christmas story that’s just like me, but we don’t think about very often?” when I made the connection: “Wait a second, the reason I’m writing a song about an innkeeper turning away Joseph and Mary is because I’m that guy. I am exactly that guy. I’m not a bad guy, I’m just too busy. I will miss great moments because I’m just trying to pay the light bill and keep the inn full and you know… I’m not trying to hurt anybody, I’m just too busy. I’m like that guy. Well, who else am I like?
What if there was a shepherd that fell asleep—Oh my gosh, what if a shepherd lived during the time, and everyone woke him and said, the most incredible thing—you just missed it; let me tell you about it. Oh my gosh! I’m the shepherd! I didn’t get to see it firsthand. I have to take that story secondhand and decide if I’ll believe it. And can I believe it even though I wasn’t there? Will I say, “Somehow I did believe it, though I’d not seen a thing, I did not go to Bethlehem or hear the angels sing, but if you feel the spirit in the air, you know if you felt the magic in the air, you’ll know that He was here.” And that’s what began the thought process that led to the characters
What if I’m struggling to be a father—what did he feel like as the dad of Jesus? How do you criticize your kid? What if he had a bad day and he shouted at Jesus? I mean, you know who your kid is, and you’re a creepy dad that day. How did you mess that up? What does that feel like? And then the song went forth from that.
And I’ve been writing songs for a long time—the beginning of my career I wrote a song every day for a year. So I had had the skills or the craft of songwriting happen a lot, so once my mind started thinking, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we met Handel, and what if Handel was like me? What if he couldn’t sing?” And Handel could sing, but what if in his dream he couldn’t sing, and he wanted to be in the choir to welcome Jesus, and the guy says, “You’ve got a different role to play. You’re not going to be the lead singer of the angels welcoming Jesus. But you’re gonna write this thing in the 1700s and it’s going to be heard by millions and millions and millions of people for hundreds of years because it came from your heart.”
That’s the evolutionary process of the creativeness. It isn’t like it just pops into my head and it comes written and done. It comes as a spark that requires that every skill I’ve worked all my life to develop gets to become operable.