Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Made Up Names

I'm writing from my hotel room in St Paul, Minnesota, the second time in as many weeks that I've been in this very non-Southern town.   St Paul is a picturesque city with a town square that's as beautiful as any other in the Midwest.  The St Paul Hotel, where I'm staying, overlooks the square, and is a stone's throw from Assumption Catholic Church; which I had assumed was St Paul's Cathedral.  The building has the stoic, stubborn look that I imagine the apostle himself had, unimaginative and hard, determined to outlast the harsh winters and winds of apostasy that howl at its thick and unwelcoming doors. 

So much for assumptions.

I came to town to play on National Public Radio's  "A Prairie Home Companion" with my boss, Emmylou Harris.  When she introduced me to Garrison Keillor, the show's host, he looked at me with that most owl-like visage and replied in a glorious baritone voice, "Phil Madeira... sounds like a made-up name."

I thought of saying, "Look who's talking- Garrison Keillor", but let it slide.

Years ago, I thought about changing my name.  I've always preferred my given name, Philip, but most people are too lazy to pronounce both syllables, so I gave in long ago to being Phil.  To complicate matters, Madeira is often misspelled by anyone who knows the "i before e" rule.  Consequently, I did go through a phase of trying to find a 'made up name', but nothing suitable was coined, and here I am, Phil Madeira.

The other thing Mr Keillor said was "You must be from the Midwest", to which I heartily answered, "No".  I am not sure what about me gave him that impression.  Perhaps it was the large Hohner accordion hanging from my neck, giving credence to a surmised background in polka music.   I think of the Midwest as pedestrian and white bread, and the accordion often bolsters that image, albeit wrongfully so.  But I will leave the accordion to defend itself.

I went to college in the Midwest, specifically to Taylor University, in Upland, Indiana.  With the exception of Iowa, I'm not sure that there's any more Midwestern place than Upland.   It's nondescript, in the middle of bloody nowhere.  There is literally nothing to do there, which is exactly why a group of stodgy Methodists built a college there in the 1800s.

In the Fall of 1970, my parents drove me from coastal New England, across a winding ribbon of highway that carved through Pennsylvania's hills, gradually settling in Ohio, on a level stretch of land that glibly announces "Welcome to the Midwest".   By the time we neared Taylor University, where I was to begin my college career, we were surrounded by fields of tall corn, ripe for the harvest.  In Indiana, we literally turned a corner, and there was my college of choice, rising from an endless sea of maize, a horrible sight for a boy raised on the craggy coast of Rhode Island, where history's ghosts had waged wars, where neighborhoods teemed with Portuguese and Italian immigrants, grilling chorico sausages with onions, sauteing clams and garlic, and where blue bloods dined on crops of lobster and bluefish harvested from Narragansett Bay.

Indiana had, well... nothing. 

As we took a right turn and saw Taylor's shallow buildings rising abruptly from the corn, we said nothing.  I think we were all hoping that it was some other college, and that we had taken a wrong turn, but alas, that was not the case. 

Had I been a more conscientious student, all would have been different.   I would have been accepted, like my siblings before me, into that grand institution of Christian higher education, Wheaton College in Illinois.  My parents had gone to Wheaton, along with their classmate and friend Billy Graham.  My siblings had gone there.  My siblings' spouses had gone there.  My siblings' spouses' parents had gone there.  There was a time when I believed that all Christians went to Wheaton College,  "For Christ and His Kingdom".

It must be a wonderful thing to have such a great college experience that you want your children to attend your alma mater.  My parents, particularly my mother, loved their Wheaton experience, and certainly thought it would be the best scenario for the education of each of their children.

I was the only person in my immediate family who did not attend Wheaton.  I had little choice, after being rejected by George Cramer, the school's registrar, and a former parishioner of my father's church.  You have to be pretty damned undesirable to get rejected by a college whose alumni roster includes your parents and your siblings.  I always knew George had it in for me.

When I was a senior in high school, I really didn't have a plan for college.  I fatalistically assumed that  I would wind up at The University of Rhode Island, although I had no idea what I would study.  I applied to Taylor, because a family friend, Jack Diamond (not a made up name) went there and did well enough to transfer to Wheaton.  Mind you, Wheaton was where I was expected to go.

One day, an admissions counselor from Taylor called and asked if she could visit with my parents and me, as she was traveling through New England.  During the meeting, my mother suggested I read some of my poetry to her.  I had written a series of poems about apathy called "Who Cares About Apathy?", which at the time seemed like a catchy and poignant idea. These poems were actually quite dreadful, but my senior English teacher, a bovine-nosed woman named Mrs Karr, had given my work an A+, so it seemed worth it to my mother to present it to the counselor.

On the basis of the creativity my paper revealed, I was invited to join the class of 1974 at Taylor University in the fall of 1970.  My student number was 70666.  I liked that.

Turning that corn field's corner and seeing my new home was a real let down.  The architecture sagged with mediocrity, and the buildings were separated by great distances on an uninteresting and very Protestant tract of land.   I would discover these distances, during miserable winters, to be impossible to traverse without getting windburned and frostbitten.

My parents both wore hopeful smiles, believing in something unseen, and blocking from their minds the fact that had I achieved something more, we would be unloading my luggage in lovely Wheaton, Illinois, where much of my spiritual heritage had been forged, and where my parents had met in the mid 1940s.  You know the type of smile I'm talking about; it's actually an exaggerated version of a smile, like a grimace, I suppose, which should be called a "grinace".  These smiles appear when one encounters grave disappointments, achingly sad truths, and news of misfortune. 

In my parents' minds, and perhaps even in mine, I would have my freshman year in a sort of Purgatory, where the better angels of my nature would ferry me across the mundane waters of required liberal arts basics, and land me where I was supposed to be, Wheaton.

Parent orientation centered around a church service, which was as interesting and as moving as the sea of corn in Taylor's back yard.  After the bow-tie clad chaplain said the benediction, we walked to the cafeteria, which was housed under a large, white, dome-shaped building, nicknamed, I would soon discover, the TU Tit.  Indeed, it had the appearance of a reclining woman's pleasantly relaxed breast.  One time, some pranksters climbed the giant mammary, placed a 55 gallon drum on top of it, and painted the drum pink along with a large circle around it, giving it a very erect nipple, and thus, a much more realistic appearance.  The newly improved TU Tit didn't last long.

While standing in line for my first glorious meal, my mother took pity on a tall, gangly, bird-like boy, and began talking with him.  Her compassionate mind was thinking "Paw thing", and she took it upon herself to brighten his day by showing interest in him.  The complication of her charity was that my father and I were conscripted into the conversation. 

"Wheruh you from?", Mom asked.   In a moment which makes me wonder if God isn't mean-spirited after all, Steve replied "Wheaton, Illinois".  "Oh, Dave and I and our two uthuh children all went to Wheaton", Mom announced. 

The next thing I knew, Steve, the bird-boy, was inviting himself to join us for lunch.

Great, I thought.  My last meal with my parents, and I have to share it with this weirdo from Wheaton.  After our meal, Steve said, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if you and I turned out to be roommates."  I sure didn't think so. 

"Yeah", I said.

A half hour later, Mom was the first to walk into my new room, and I heard her say "Oh NO!" and then recovering, "er, what a surprise".

Sure enough, the bird-boy was my room mate after all.  He had already chosen his bunk, his desk, and had hung his artwork all over the room.  His chosen medium was flesh.  Steve was an amateur taxidermist.  His work included a stuffed pigeon and a rabbit's head mounted on a piece of plywood.  I later would learn that he was a scavenger, and anything left on the roadside would wind up in our room, despite my protests.

(Steve would eventually transfer to Wheaton, where perhaps he studied taxidermy.   Years later, he surfaced in the Colorado Springs area, where he had built a home from scavenged materials.  No lie.)

My parents soon left, and I donned my freshman beanie and set about the work of embracing my new home.  I didn't realize it then, but I had just entered the epicenter of Evangelicalism- The Midwest.  If I thought for a moment that my home life had been flavored with the taste of Christendom, the spirituality I was about to experience was of a flavorless, over-cooked variety, like English pub food without the glorious architecture and beer.

At first, I fell hard, mesmerized by the thrill of being with a crowd who thinks like you think.  My first experience of the sensation of camaraderie was the childhood discovery a fellow Yankee fan in Red Sox country back in Rhode island.  Now here I was at TU, with 1400 people who all loved Jesus, and who wanted to change the world for Him.  It was an amazing thing, like being in a gigantic youth group.

Truth is, that rebel yell in my heart cannot be stifled for long, and eventually my colors will show.  My proclivity to be set apart, to be different, to be Phil Madeira, will always override my desire to belong.  My rebel yell sometimes manifests itself in the form of a grand profane moment, in which I am exposed as an odd sort of Christian, and subsequently rejected completely or tolerated generously and sweetly as someone who has yet to truly understand the change that Christ demands of his followers.

I'm a lousy joiner.  

Like the housekeeper who doesn't do windows, I don't do religion, although I can make a case for doing windows.  The case for religion is weak, and no one has made that clearer than Jesus Himself.

So, I sought out like-minded rebels, but they were hard to come by.  I didn't want to throw out the Baby Jesus, just His bath water. 

Although I felt a kinship with the rebellious crowd, I was apprehensive about becoming too emeshed, because most in that scene were frequent drug users.  Refugees from religion, there was a bitterness among this group, most of whom had been steeped in Midwestern Evangelicalism to the point of spoiling.

I wasn't interested in smoking pot, although I had many evenings breaking the Taylor Pledge by splitting a $1.50 bottle of Boone's Farm Apple Wine, or drinking Drury's, a dreary beer served at Newt's Glass Bar, so chicly named because the bar was constructed of glass bricks.  Yep, that's how they do things in the Midwest.

Eventually, I gave in to my curiosity about weed, and occasionally smoked in the confines of my off-campus room.  I remember going to a chapel service,  high as a kite, and trying to remain inconspicuous by wearing welder's glasses.

Someone told me I was having fun.

I hold no affection nor sentimentality for my short-lived pot smoking days.

That nothing-to-do-bubble in Indiana was less protective than one might imagine.  I've often thought had I gone to the University of Rhode Island, I might not have ever done anything rebellious, since partying was a way of life at big state schools.  What grain would I have gone against in such a hedonistic place? 

I gave my soul to a Taylor girl, a Christian Education major who gave me a considerably unchristian education.  Rather than celebrate my enlightenment, I mourned the loss of my ignorant innocence, as well as the loss of the girl, who didn't last long at Taylor.  She was an outsider, too, and that's what did me in.  Perhaps your average college boy would be high-fiving fraternity brothers after conquering such supple landscape, but I knew that it was me who'd been conquered, not her. 

A few months after my heart had been broken, I met guitarist Phil Keaggy who was playing a concert at nearby Marion College.   On the night we met, he told me that he thought someday we'd be in a band together.  Three years later, this assumption or prophecy or wild guess, call it what you will, came true when I made the trek to Upstate New York and joined his band and the cult which he was a member of.  But that is another story.

I had a philosophy teacher in my Junior year named Herb Nygren, and it was he who opened up the world to me, and made faith intriguing.  If there was a single thing that my college education gave me, it was the sense that spiritual exploration was not only interesting and entertaining, but necessary in order to stave off the crippling atrophy that seemed to make invalids of so many religious people, from Jesus' time to the present. 

As I pondered my own beliefs, questioning God seemed to be a Biblical expression of faith, and even worship.  Searching for God would have to include a scrutinizing of him in order for a mutual satisfaction to occur between Creator and creature.  The tale of Jacob wrestling with God in the wilderness and limping away, the victor, alluded to a picture of God Almighty wearing a "Question Authority" tee shirt, and saying "Bring it on" to honest doubters.

Evangelicals hammer away at the idea of a personal relationship with Christ, which I resonate with to this day.  Yet, they depersonalize the concept with rigid theologies, particularly Calvinism, which foists a determined, willful God on hapless Christians who have no choice in the matter of following Him or Her.  The notion of God choosing some for Heaven and some for Hell, does not sound like the gracious Shepherd I heard about in Sunday School, going to the ends of earth to find one lost sheep.

Calvinists, whom often call themselves "Reformed", love the box they have created for God; in preparing this concrete place for him, they sequester him in finiteness and smugly declare the subservience of his love, a muted affection smothered and dwarfed and beneath a gargantuan Will which God's own tears cannot erode.  Calvinism seems to be at home in the Midwest, as squared off as a road map of Indianapolis.

The red clay on my Southern soles doesn't blend with the dry dirt of the Midwest.  My blood doesn't want to freeze, and my will doesn't want to surrender.  Like Midwesterners, I'm holding my ground, but it's a different kind of soil.  This dirt tastes like it's been trod over by gospel-singing negros, woman warriors, and spirit-filled portrait painters, with names like Sister Rosetta, Flannery O'Connor, and Howard Finster.  The ground I'm holding is my faith, flexible and evolving, open and mystical, childlike and offensive.  I don't want to put a name to my beliefs, lest they feel contrived or made up.

May God Almighty recognize me apart from the labels I've acquired:

"gangstuh"  (my mother's pronunciation)
7 on the Enneagram
8 on the Enneagram
not a Christian

...and forgive me for the labels I've bequeathed.

Meanwhile, my Southern Born Woman smiles and knows my type, but is content to call me baby, which is not a made up name.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Church of St Johnny

Timing is everything.  Two weeks before Christmas 2003, I told E I was leaving.  We hobbled through the holidays with our secret weighing us down, our children unaware that all was about to change forever. 

We waited until our fir tree was less than evergreen, shedding its sticky needles onto the living room rug, and on the worst day of our lives, we told them it was over.  I will leave the details of that terrible evening in the sanctuaries of my daughters' and their parents' collective memory.  Despite their acceptance of our divorce as "the best thing", the pain which it caused my daughters is something I will regret forever.

I moved out a day or two before New Year's Eve.  My friend Steve came over and helped me strap a bed onto the roof of my old Mercedes wagon.  We brought it, along with my trusty Lowden guitar and a small TV, to the apartment.  Steve helped me set up the bed, and then left. 

I sat on the bare mattress and wept.

I wept for my children.  I wept with the same uncertainty I knew they were feeling.  What was to become of us?  What lay ahead of us?  I wept, my soul knowing more than I was conscious of, knowing that I was about to unearth feelings that I had shoved into the furthest corners of my worn down heart.  I wept, hoping God Almighty would have mercy on me, and receive my tears as a bitter, salty, early Passover offering, while wondering if he might forget me.

That evening, I went to a party at the Capitol Grille, hosted by my friends John and Natasha.  Originally, I had planned on bringing E, but now all had changed, so I brought my old friend Dennis instead.  We sat among John's coworkers, dining on Kobe steaks and drinking copious amounts of Cabernet.  Exuberantly happy, I finally went back to my little apartment and wrapped myself in the swaddling purple sheets of my single man's queen-sized bed.

I'm don't often remember my dreams, although when accompanied by a few glasses of red wine, they seem more insistent on being recognized.  Shamans, prophets, seers, and soothsayers all place stock in the nocturnal playground of the subconscious.  With all the noise that accompanies consciousness, perhaps there's something to the idea of the Spirit finding a wider berth in the vessel of our dreams.

Dehydrated, I woke at Three AM.  My thirst had interrupted a dream which was fresh and vivid.  My mind had taken me on a row boat ride with the ghost of Johnny Cash sitting in the stern and dispensing homespun wisdom to me as I rowed across a choppy sea. 

Knowing there was something in the phrase "The ghost of Johnny Cash", I immediately rose, found my laptop, and began writing a lyric.  Four verses later, I sent the pieces to my friend Chuck, a fellow songwriter, and we began sending verses back and forth until we had a finished lyric a few months later.

"The Ghost of Johnny Cash"
Chuck Cannon & Phil Madeira

woke up in a cold sweat
from a dream at 3 a.m.
driftin on the sea of shadows
the rain was whippin in the wind
i saw a man dressed all in black
reach out and take the helm
and he charted us a course
into the spirit realm

i can taste the salt
and feel the blisters on my hands
as i'm pullin at the oars
rowin on to glory land
sittin in the stern
singing hymns and talkin trash
is my broken guardian angel
the ghost of Johnny Cash

johnny's quotin from the Bible
i'm tryin to steer this leaky craft
his familiar voice reminds me
i'm a man who's cut in half
his tarnished halo slips and shines
as ragin billows crash
i'm riding out the deluge
with the ghost of Johnny Cash

you gotta stand for something
cause when you're gone you're gone
the devil lost a lot of souls
when johnny put that black suit on
he's still flippin off the pharisees
and laughin at ole Scratch
and he haunts the halls of heaven
the ghost of Johnny Cash



I was a man who was cut in half, broken but believing, and somehow newly set free, although being set adrift was the true feeling of what looked to some like freedom.  In my marriage, I felt no embrace clinging to me in love, and now I felt none either, but I hoped that the arms of God  Almighty were wrapping around me as I descended into the abyss.

I needed that vision of Johnny on that old January night. 

Johnny was someone I could relate to, a broken screw-up who had no pretensions.  There were no skeletons in his closet; they were out in the open, lounging about his Tennessee home like old rivals and lovers at a reunion, awkwardness be damned.  Of all the ghosts I could've dreamt of, thank God it was Johnny.

Johnny sat in the low end of my little boat, where the water splashes easily over the sides and into the hull, and where the bilge settles if you don't bail.  My hands were raw, and my feet were getting cold and wet, but with Johnny singing hymns and cursing the wind, I knew I wasn't alone on my perilous journey.

Sometimes, I find myself in ancient places of worship, with statues of saints staring through me as if I'm not there.  Stained glass windows hold images of the holy in heavy solder borders, immovable and motionless, unreachable, although many people whisper prayers to them.  Some of these saints lived their lives in near perfect holiness, sacrificially carving out the Name of an Incarnate God into the heart of the church.  Yet, I've never been inclined to whisper a petition to one of these images, no matter how beautiful and perfect it might be.   I'm too busy trying to carve my name into the heart of God.

If I were to build a cathedral to the glory of God Almighty, the saints in residence would be like The Man in Black.  The sun would shine through cracked glass images that I could brush my fingers against with a sense recognition, as if looking at photographs of my ancestors.   Statues wouldn't stand in holy poses, but would bend under the weight of burdens and failures, looking parishioners dead in the eye, smiling a crooked grin.

In my heart's cathedral, there is a floating stained glass window, where St Johnny sits in the stern of a rowboat as the sea rages around him.  He's ailing and wild-eyed like John the Baptist in the Old West.  His halo tilts like a ragged pork pie hat, and his feet are covered with salt water.  He knows where he's been, does he ever, and his eyes are on the horizon.

Johnny is all the saint I need to get to where I'm going.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water Lilies

Easter is the Big One when it comes to holy days.

I like Christmas better than Easter, because I’m sentimental.  I like watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story”, and between those two films, I have a substantial hook to hang my stocking capful of sentimentality on.

Not to mention Jesus being born so humbly and quietly in the back slums of Bethlehem, under a lone star, never mind his miraculous conception or his sweet young parents. 

And then there’s the music, both sacred and secular, from “Joy To The World” to “The Christmas Song”; I can sit down and play just about any secular Christmas standard for memory, and ad nauseum.

Christmas gives us memories that are carried forward for years.  Heart-warming or blood-chilling, Christmas leaves a mark.

Yet Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is what really matters most to Christianity.   There’s nothing sentimental about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.   It’s not warm and fuzzy like the cotton cloth you want to wrap the baby Jesus in.  Holy Week is more of a spiritual emotional journey- Hope welcomed and celebrated, Hope betrayed, Hope put to death, and Hope coming back to life in victory.  Nothing sappy about that.

Easter is a holy day, not a holiday.  No one fondly recalls a particular childhood Easter, but more likely will lump the egg hunts and Easter baskets of the past into one collective Easter memory.

I can’t remember any Easters before Easter 2008.  I remember ‘08 because it wasn’t all that long ago, and because the newness of love was in my life.  I picked up my Southern Born woman in the early-ish hours and went to Christ Cathedral.  I don’t remember anything of the service, nor about the lunch I’m certain we shared afterwards.  Neither of us was in a particularly resurrected mood, and the weather was grey, but I remember that I was with her, and glad of it.

Easter 2009 was a good one.  My dearest companion went with one of her daughters to an early sunrise service, put on for the homeless; they were eager to hear Del Rio, a homeless preacher who’d spoken in years past.  They liked the sound of his name, and they repeated it soulfully, as if the name “Del Rio” tasted like barbecue in Memphis, rolling around in their mouths.

Much to their disappointment, Del Rio didn’t show.  A seminary student spoke, lofty and intelligent, perhaps condescending, and certainly without the soul of Del Rio, thus disappointing the two Southern Born Women.   Following the sunrise service,  they met me at the Cathedral, where, trust me, nothing tastes like Memphis. 

The sanctuary was packed with Belle Meade socialites dressed to the nines, a few homeless folks, regulars, and irregulars.  The Bishop delivered a fine sermon, and the choir was accompanied by a brass section, and my memory was vaguely stirred with the singing of “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today”,  Easter’s most popular hymn.

After receiving the Eucharist, we skipped out, and took the younger SBW to her father’s church, which sits piously above a buzzing Nashville neighborhood called Green Hills.  Ninety minutes later, we had read the New York Times and shared a pot of Lady Grey tea, and headed back up the hill to retrieve said daughter, upon which we encountered her father and his new girlfriend, as if to highlight the new season that Easter represents.

Finally, we got to the only thing that mattered any more on this fine Easter Sunday- the restaurant where we had made brunch reservations.  My daughters arrived, along with their cousin Dave and his wife Liz, and my brother David and his wife Lynda, who were visiting from Washington State.

Sitting there with David, I realized that although we don’t look much alike, we share traits which our father passed on to us.  For example, we both get misty-eyed when we speak of sentimental or holy things.  My brother relayed the theme of a sermon he’d recently heard, one in which the blues were exalted, along with gospel music, and the idea that a life well-lived can’t have one without the other.   It was an idea that resonated with all of us, and as he told it, I thought, he’s got tears in his eyes, runs in the family.  

This wasn’t a new discovery to me, but a recoginition that he’s always done this, and so have I, but when did Always begin?  Were we this way before divorce and failure made more merciful men out of us?  The more I think about this, the more I come to believe that it’s a mere function of genetics than anything else, because Dad was the same way, and he hadn’t been broken by divorce or failure; he’d lived a wonderfully successful life when it comes to marriage and family, and just plain living.  

I was a child when I first took note of Dad’s easy tears.  We were at the movies, watching the end of Old Yeller, when I realized that even grown men could cry.

I wish my eyes didn’t tear up when I’m moved.  I find this trait to be an inconvenience, a distraction, and a betrayal of sentimentality. 

I wonder if Dad, too, was annoyed by his propensity to moistened eyes when he felt the weightlessness of being loved. 

Since my father apparently bequeathed his misty eyes to me, I accept the gift as something which must be intrinsically wonderful, because he certainly was.

I grasp onto anything which might put me in Dad’s league.  So much of my behavior pulls me away from the kind of man he was, a pure, unvulgar, beautiful human being with an amazing capacity for tolerance and understanding.   I know he loved Mom like no one else, and he loved his children in such a way that we each thought we were his favorite child.  And, despite my broken, vulgar, unsubtle ways, I do know how to love.  And I got that from him.

When Dad died in 2006, I choked up, but didn’t weep.  His Alzheimer’s had taken him from us long before his heart had stopped beating, and I felt that I had already grieved for him in those preceding years of loss.  I thought that it was fitting for him to depart so close to Thanksgiving, as I was truly thankful that his suffering was done with.

There was a month long gap between his death and his funeral, giving me plenty of time to collect myself before eulogizing him. 

On Christmas Day, my daughters and I, along with their mother, boarded a plane and flew to Providence for the service.  E and the girls stayed with her step-mother, while I bunked in at the Providence Radison with Rob Grant, a close friend of most of my life. 

My brother David and I each had written eulogies, which we had kept to ourselves.  We knew we would far exceed the three minutes we were each alotted to give tribute, but neither of us was going to send Dad off without fully celebrating him

I was fully confident that I would ascend the steps to the pulpit and deliver my remembrance of Dad with a dry eye.  Within the first ten seconds, my voice was quivering, and I knew I was in for a difficult ride.  However, as The Funny Guy, I was able to laugh through my tears, and tell the packed house about the lovely human being we now celebrated.

Once, I said, I had visited Dad and Mom at their assisted living facility near Hartford, and Dad looked at me with an expression of familiarity.  At first I thought, he knows me.  Then I realized he probably thinks he’s looking in the mirror.   Those who remembered him saw the uncanny resemblance.

I spoke of Dad’s love of the New York Yankees, a brave position to take in the heart of Red Sox country;  I reflected on Dad buying David and me Yankee jackets and hats.  In a quiet gesture, Dad had marked his sons as distinctly his. 

As I spoke, my eyes weren’t misty; they were flooded.  I wept under the weight of loss, with the recognition that no matter how much I believe in the Resurrection, one day without Dad in this world may as well be eternity.  I wept for a world bereft of this vessel of goodness and decency, and wondered how Heaven could possibly need Dad any more than this old world needed him.

I wept as a man who looks every bit his father's son, but knows how fully his heart must be resurrected in order for the imitation to become real.

I am mindful of the notion that God Almighty keeps a bottle in which nothing evaporates; in which precious ointment, perfume, or oil may as well be treasured.

Lo, it’s filled with salty tears from misty eyes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Crescent Park

What is it about the human condition that makes us crane our necks and try to get an eyeful of the seedy little town next to Paradise?

If you walk about a half a mile north from Salisbury Road, the street I grew up on in idyllic Barrington, Rhode Island, everything changes.  In Riverside, the kids are meaner, the potholes are deeper, the homes are smaller, and the next time you cross the border, you’d better bring your big brother. 

There isn’t much allure left to Riverside now, except for the “package store”, as Rhode Islanders call liquor stores, and The Carousel.

Barrington citizens live in a dry community, and thus drive across the town line to buy liquor from package stores in neighboring towns who have poor zoning along with plenty of booze. 

Riverside is a village that sits on the northeast banks of Narragansett Bay, and had moderate fame in the early 1900s as the home of Crescent Park, New England’s Coney Island.  The only remnant of this amusement park is the beautiful Looff Carousel, built in the late 1800s by a German woodcarver, Charles I. D. Looff.

When I was a boy in the sixth grade, nothing seemed more appealing to me than walking down Promenade Road, across the town line, past the marshes and inlets, to Bullocks Point, which must have been glorious before the Depression.  Surrounded by water, the Point was dotted with vacation homes which had been winterized and sold by people who could no longer afford two homes.  By the 1960s, the affordable homes were jammed together tightly, so that you could barely see the Bay from the little streets that crisscrossed the Point.

Once a community of fishermen and clam diggers, it was Rhode Island’s version of a redneck neighborhood, but instead of rusted out Buicks and DeSotos sitting on cinderblocks, there were large, tubby boats of all kinds in every other yard, dwarfing the homes their skippers lived in.  These old boats sat there rotting under canvas tarpaulins, while tempting their owners to keep dreaming about next summer.

I’d walk past the tiniest homes, intrigued by the thought of living in a matchbox.  Crossing the railroad tracks, I was conscious of the demarcation and of my alien status as a person from wealthy, uppity Barrington.  I was with a neighbor boy whose name was Richard; we weren’t close friends, but he was the only person who dared go with me. 

Richard and his mother were English, and his proper way of speaking seemed odd and sissy-like to the boys on Salisbury Road.  Richard’s father had been a soldier in the German army during World War Two, so we were quite inquisitive about him.  That poor kid was always having to explain that his father wasn’t a Nazi, and all these years later, I wish I’d been nicer to him.  We taunted him after every episode of “Hogan’s Heroes”, assuming his father was like Colonel Klink.   I now appreciate this boy’s willingness to stand up for his dad, and it saddens me that I was a part of his misery.

I didn’t have anyone else who was brave enough to steal away with me into the early June afternoon out of Eden’s gate and over the tracks to Crescent Park and its rabble of Philistines.  So, I chose Richard, Nazi or not.

Understandably, my parents had no affection for the Park.  My father would drive us to Rocky Point Amusement Park, across the bay in Warwick, or to Lincoln Park in Massachusetts before he’d bring us to Crescent Park, a mile away from home.   I’m not really sure what the difference was, a carny being a carny, but that was the way it was.  My folks warned me about perverts and weirdoes working the midway and rarely was I allowed to make my way to that forbidden world of dizziness and nausea, so appealing to me as a boy.

The “Comet”, a roller coaster, had long ago been retired after someone had been killed in a grotesque accident of urban myth proportions.  It stood rotting like the neighborhood boats, and I would gaze at its whitewashed timbers and dream of next summer.  Like those crumbling, landlocked cabin cruisers and cat boats sitting nearby, the Comet wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, the draw was strong.

The harshness of the place made it scary and exhilarating.  Tough, muscle-bound greasers stood with cigarettes that seemed to be glued to the lower lip, never falling from the mouth, bouncing gingerly as the smoker talked unceasingly.   It was hard to believe I was only a few steps away from Barrington, because in Riverside people spoke with a completely different accent, soft on the letter R, (“cah” for car), hard on the letter D (pronounced T a la Davit instead of David), with the strange pairing of a V sound when a word started with the letter R, as in Vronald Vreagan.

Crescent Park was pronounced Cvezent Pahk.

Even at 12 years old, hearing an attractive girl speak with that accent was a deal breaker, not that there were any deals to be made, but I just couldn’t bring myself to have a crush on anyone who spoke this way. 

Except for one-  Sue Sharp. 

That was her real name, and I hope she doesn’t sue me for saying so.  I thought she was a doll.  She was forced to attend my father’s church, which is how I knew her.  Sue was as cute as they come, and even with that abominable accent, she had a sweet spark, which unfortunately ignited her junior high cigarettes.  She was tough and pretty, and probably heading down the wrong road.  But when I was twelve years old, Sue Sharp was the sexiest thing I could think of.

I probably assumed that if I hung around at Crescent park long enough, I’d surely run into Sue.  But I never did, and if I had, what would have happened, what would I have wanted?  At 12 years old, I didn’t know, but I’m quite sure her presence wouldn’t have calmed the madness the thought of her had created in my stomach. 

From the Tilt-A-Whirl to the Flying Fish, Richard and I ran, making the most of every minute.  I remember riding with him in some sort of swing-like contraption that was suspended high above the ground, going round and round, and feeling conflicted or perhaps convicted that I was not a good friend to this lonely boy, nor did I know how to be.  Why I even remember him is strange because I think they moved away after a year or so of living in our neighborhood. 

Who could blame them?

I just wanted an accomplice in my adventure.  I couldn’t find Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, those sons of the Mississippi, so Richard the son of a German soldier was going to have to suffice.  He’d have been of little use to me if the thugs of Riverside had descended upon us.  We’d have been no match against the sons of clam diggers, their biceps bulging from raking clams through the Narragansett muck.  And God Almighty knows I would have been of little use to Richard either.

Yet, there is something comforting about going into the enemy camp with an ally, no matter how little you feel towards each other.  Richard and I said little, if anything, to each other, as if fate had thrown us together in an adventure which would yield no treasure and no fraternal bond.

I don’t particularly remember our time in the Park as being fun.  Perhaps knowing I’d disobeyed my parents’ rule not to go to Crescent Park had given me a sense of foreboding.  The quick rides stole our dimes quickly, and the time passed more slowly than we’d anticipated.  We ate funnel cakes, deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar, wildly appetizing yet, once eaten, mortally wounding. 

Finally, we trudged back to Salisbury Road, penniless, yet unsated like prodigal sons, hoping our parents wouldn’t be waiting at the top of the street.

My mother asked where I’d been all afternoon, and I can’t remember the lie, but I suspect I told her that I had been playing in the woods near our home.  I am a terrible liar in adulthood, so much so, that I generally try to be truthful, so I imagine that I wasn’t a very good liar as a child.  Nonetheless, Mom didn’t press me further, and that was that.

Or so it seemed.

A few hours after I’d gone to bed, awakened by my good angel, I got up and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door.  I went in and told them that I had lied about where I’d been, and that I had gone to Crescent Park, and now felt very guilty about having disobeyed them.

These were the moments in which my parents shined.  On several occasions, I brought my confessions to them, and they never flinched.  Once, I made the  confession that I had stolen 50 cents from a neighbor child’s room.  Another admission was that I had hidden her bicycle into the woods near her house.  Of course, I had to face he and her folks and make things right, but my parents’ love and forgiveness gave me the grace and courage to stand up and admit my wrongdoing. 

About 10 years later, I found myself working a summer job operating the Flying Fish ride at Crescent Park, wondering whatever happened to Richard the soldier’s son, and Sue the clam digger’s daughter.  I hoped that Richard had found  good friends, and I hoped that Sue’s teeth hadn’t completely turned yellow after years of smoking Winstons.  

After that summer, I returned to Taylor University in Indiana for the Fall term.  When I came back to Rhode Island for Christmas, the Park had been razed.  Old enough to see it for the dump it really was, I felt no sentimentality or loss as I drove past on my way to the package store to by a six-pack of Narragansett Lager.  But I did remember the childhood spell I would fall under when summer winds blew southeast, carrying calliope music over the treetops and grey rooftops, and into my bedroom at 22 Salisbury Road.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Letter Box

Consider the interplay between heart, mind, and history.

The remembrance of a moment, or even of a lifetime, is at once solid, fluid, and vaporous.   Forgotten,  then suddenly recalled; a waiting ember suddenly bursting into flame, stoked by a random scent of lemon, a sudden gust, cyan blue on a book’s dust jacket, a sequence of notes, or the sound of a syllable falling from a moist mouth.

My thoughts turn to my ex-wife.   E and I have never compared how our history looks through the dingy windows of individual recollection, but I’m quite sure we both have different stories, both right and both wrong.  The lens of remembrance has many functions- distortion, diffusion, outright denial, focus, accuracy, acceptance.  So much of how we remember a story is wrapped up in what we need the story to give us at the moment of it’s telling.

The story of our failed marriage was important to me, especially in the context of having to explain it to the religious people in my life.  While I told no lies to these people- my priest, my mother, church friends, and others- my religion made me feel the pressure to disclose the details which would justify ending the marriage under guidelines defined by the Bible.   Yet, had the authorities found no such justification, I would have nonetheless carried on with the dismantling of our life as we knew it.

Christians, at least those of the Evangelical bent, like to be intimate with the details of failure.  It is human nature to desire inappropriate intimacy, hence the shady viewing of what our eyes can do without, the leaning into the hot and hushed whisper of gossip, and the lingering aftertaste of delicious poison. 

In retrospect, I wish I had hidden the story deep within the well of tears it had created.  Some who heard me out eventually agreed that my departure was justified.   What pains me now is that their opinions mattered at all, but I understand from whence I’ve come, and I, too, have sat in the judgment seat, and pondered the wisdom and validity of others who took this radical course before I did.

In the light of approval, I suppose my defensive id felt affirmed, but my weary bluesman’s heart felt that the carcass of our marriage was being picked over and examined in some sort of holy roller autopsy with my priest, my mother, my friends and ex-friends all in attendance.

What seemed true to me was that I was an unloved man.  Indeed, I was, and that had been the state of things for so long that I came to believe that it had always been so. 


Not long ago, I decided to clean out my garage.  This is a lofty, unachievable goal which I annually attempt.  I have a two-car garage, but it’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve been able to fit a car into it.  My garage is full of outdated recording gear, drums, guitar amplifiers, and barely used gardening tools, all of which make me feel like I’m parking in a pawn shop.

On this particular day of cleaning, I was sidetracked by a large box.  The box held several smaller boxes, and one of them was filled with letters from Dad, Mom, my siblings, my grandmother, and old friends I’d forgotten about or lost track of.  I scanned a few of my dad’s letters, and set them aside to read another day.   Most of my mother’s letters were carbon copies, sent to my siblings and me, full of news and few personal remarks.  I threw these and everything else into the trash.

There was a lone shoe box left in the large box; it was decorated with a serene camping scene, implying that the sporty moccasins within would lead my feet into something more inviting than the wilderness they eventually walked into. 

I removed the lid, and saw the unmistakable handwriting of my ex-wife.  Her pen hand was steady and consistent, always producing perfectly printed letters, minute and artful.  They revealed the care and thoughtfulness with which she wrote her words, ponderous and deliberate, exact and delicate.

Most were dated from the Seventies, when our relationship began.  There were others from the Eighties, and less and less, perhaps none from the Nineties.

She was a woman of few words, perhaps acutely aware of their power, perhaps even more aware of the power of silence.  She said little without weighing and analyzing, risking or committing.  She was endowed with great restraint when it came to words, rarely speaking out of turn, never gossiping, and never revealing her hand, perhaps out of both wisdom and fear.

As a child, she’d been an extrovert until her mother’s suicide replaced passion with self-consciousness, and akimbo carefree strides with the determined, stiff pace of her father.    If one’s strength, stamina and will are measured by the ability to keep silence, then E is the strongest person I have ever met. 

And so it was that I found myself in a moment of recognition, a moment which was solitary moments removed from the happy and loving words that this careful, non-risking woman had written in moments closer to her childhood than to the present.  Affectionate and sweet, positive and loving, her words presented evidence that something indeed had existed between us, a force that had made us believers in love, something that had given us the hope to bring children into the world, believing that being together would be a lifelong possibility. 

I knew that I had felt similar emotions for her, before we started living our separate lives under the same roof.   Now, my heart was disquieted and made uneasy, akin to nauseous, when I read these sweet words, realizing that at one time she found me to be lovable and lovely.  It had been so long since the nectar of affection had dripped from her pen or her tongue, that I had ceased to believe that I had ever tasted it.  

I’d walked down this riverbed many times in the last 5 years since our parting; it had hardened many years before, nothing grew, nothing remained, and it was hard to imagine that the flimsy vessel called “Us” had ever scraped its keel along the shallow waterway to nowhere. 

Now I had stubbed my toe on a fossil.

At some unremembered moment, that box of letters had been put away, buried and forgotten, and no more letters came, no more syrup flowed up from the cold New England ground, no longer circled round the rings of a sturdy maple, and no longer gushed into a wooden bucket with my name on it.  Back then, whenever, I wondered what was wrong with me, accepting that I was unattractive to her, but not fully knowing why.

Now, nearly five years  divorced, I wondered these things again.  Had we both changed, or had we both revealed our true selves?  I couldn’t say.  Perhaps a combination of the two.  My one certainty was that her garage held an even larger box, with many, many more pledges of my once undying love.

I started skimming then tossing her letters into the large trash bin outside the open garage door.  A feeling overcame me.  I felt as if I were involved in some unsavory endeavor, betrayal, theft, murder, cover-up or other crime.  I read her words, loving and happy, endearing in their innocence and faith in love.

I finally arrested myself, and pulled every last letter out of the trash bin.  I thought of calling E and asking if she wanted the letters, but didn’t know if it would seem like an insult to say that I was ridding myself of these words.  So, I called my daughters and asked them if they wanted them.  Yes was the resounding answer, and so I wrapped them with a rubber band and gave them to the girls the next time they came over.

Finding those letters was odd and sad, disturbing and yet reassuring.  On the one hand, it was nice to know that at some time in our romance and marriage, E declared love for me, but on the other, that magnified the fact that at some point she, I, or we had lost something.  What was it?  What had changed about either or both of us? 

I am thinking about love.  I am wondering about the man I am in this moment, a man reborn who loves a woman, a man discovering something in my heart that I have never given to anyone until now, because it was either not there to give, or because I had no idea how to give it.

Yes, that giant box that sits in E’s garage is full of pledges and puppy love, but I was a selfish, religious, righteous boy who didn’t have a clue about carrying out the task of love.   I just knew how to spell.

I am reaching, reaching, stretching far back, trying to glimpse my father, the most loving person I can remember.  I want to watch him keeping the flame of love stoked and burning, and as he comes into focus, I see not the tokens of romance, the words and music of well-orchestrated gestures, lavish gifts, and not even the muscle-straining work of bread-winning. 

No, his fire is contained and steady.  His arms around my mother calm her and give her confidence.  He wields not a gavel nor a scepter, but a mop, and he bids her to rest a while as he washes the kitchen floor, rendering the footprints of their dance visible only to their private remembrance.

And so I imitate him, and summon his spirit to find that place in my soul which is ready to love like a grown up, and in doing so, I ask my Southern Born woman where she keeps her bucket and mop.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love Inn

Sometimes I wonder if my cross to bear is believing in Christ while running from his people.  I’m always trying to figure out why He’d want to socialize with them in the first place.  The Gospel story doesn’t have Jesus enjoying a drink with the Scribes and Pharisees: more often than not, he’s enjoying the company of shysters, hookers, and a multitude of people whose lives have gone flat wrong.  One rarely reads of him enjoying Judea’s religious right.

I can’t picture Jesus enjoying the company of any of the preachers I see on TV, can you?  Pandering know-it-all's who’ve figured Him out- why would he want to bother?  Lord knows, it wouldn’t be for the pasteurized grape juice.  The men He called to be disciples were fishermen, thick-skinned tough guys, and politically incorrect zealots who probably didn’t enjoy the company of lawyers and priests anymore than Jesus did.

I realize that my inference is that, of course, I would be the Christian Jesus would want to share a bottle with.  I can dream, can't I?

In my line of work, just the word “Christian” evokes negative feelings and fear; assumptions are easily made.  I was producing a singer who told me that I was one of two decent Christians he knew; the rest petrified him.  He was an Atheist, Left Wing, and Jewish, and I can’t say as I blame him.  I took issue with his set of prejudices, and he confessed that I was on to something, yet remained unmoved in his opinions, at times being downright insensitive and rude.  "It's these f***in' Christians", he'd say, when agitated about politics or just about anything.    Apart from his immense talent and his charm, he's really no different than your average Fundamentalist spouting off about who controls the media, or who's a communist, but he didn't see the point.

His rational for not believing in god was that he believed there was "something bigger behind it all", to which I said, "Yeah, that's God."   All of this was truly in good fun.  We made two great records together, despite the chasm between our philosophies of life.   Like me, he had run up against a few of God Almighty's worst sales reps; I didn't hold God responsible, and he did.

I’ve experienced just about every kind of Christian denomination one could dream up.  I’ve always noticed that the church name always emphasizes the very quality that is found lacking at that particular oasis.  Want to find a good place for fellowship?  It won’t be at a placed called Springfield Community Church.  In need of mercy?  Avoid a place called Grace Church.   

I'm somewhat of a bedridden Episcopalian most Sunday mornings, but the cup I occasionally drink from is served downtown at Christ Cathedral, and I am quite sure many of my evangelical brethren would have difficulty finding God Almighty there.  I’ve learned to recognize Spirit in the poetry, music, readings, and silence.

Standing in this beautiful building, I like the sound of my Dearest Companion's voice quietly singing the sanctus, and reciting the Creed with a whispered certainty.  Sometimes, I lean a little closer so that I can hear her voice over mine,  close enough to feel her inhaling and exhaling the breath of God.

Strange as it may sound from an extravert, but one thing I like about going to the Cathedral is that few people know me.  There I have no notoriety, no voice, no activity, and no responsibilities.  I recite the prayers, cross myself, receive the Eucharist from a priest who didn't know my name until recently, and quietly leave without giving my soul to anyone but God Almighty.

It’s taken me a long time to finally figure out that being known is a liability in most religious circles.  I like being a stranger in the strange land of Christendom, particularly when I consider some of the bizarre congregations I’ve exposed my bluesman’s heart to.

The best of the worst was a church called Love Inn, far up in the frozen North of New York State.   You’d think the name alone would have sent me running, but I had good reason to wind up there. 

I had a followed a friend there to play music.  Phil Keaggy is one of the most amazing guitarists on the planet.  We had become friends while I was a student in Indiana, and on the day we met he said, "One day we are going to be in a band together."

We corresponded for about 2 years, during which time Phil and his new bride Bernadette moved to Ithaca, New York to join the counter culture Christian church called Love Inn.

I visited them in the summer of 1975.  While I was there, Phil said that I needed to have an interview with one of his "shepherds" at the church.  While it struck me as odd that this was a necessity, I wanted to be a good guest, and I was also intrigued with the idea of communal Christian living.

I was interviewed by a young man named Peter, probably 5 years older than my 23 years.  He was both giddy and stern for the Lord.  He asked why I had come to Love Inn, and I replied that I was there to visit my friend Phil.

Wrong answer.

I scrambled for the right answer, which was something like "I want to grow closer to God".  Poor God Almighty must get sick of having his or her name dragged into awkward situations like this.

I told him about my girlfriend E, who was not a Christian.  "Brother", he said, "If you were a member of our church, you would not be allowed to be unequally yoked".  I replied that E didn't have a problem with Jesus, but that she didn't yet understand that she didn't have to change in order to follow Him.   I suggested that her process of finding God wouldn't be via an instantaneous conversion, but more likely be akin to an orphan girl being wooed by a handsome king.  It would take time for her to believe in love.

At this point, Peter said, "I don't believe you know Jesus at all", which was stunning news to me.

As if to confirm his suspicions I responded eloquently,  "Shit".

Keaggy came to my aid, earnestly proclaiming that I was indeed a believer.   But the damage was done.   There would be no convincing Peter that I was among the Chosen.

A few days later, I drove back to Rhode Island, pondering both the loveliness of Phil and Bernadette, and the ass-holiness of Peter.

In 1976, Phil invited me to come to Love Inn to play keyboards for him.  The band which we formed was an outreach of the church, traveling the country, encouraging believers, and playing innovative music.  When I look back on our style, we certainly weren’t intending to sound like the Grateful Dead, but that’s the closest thing I can compare to our jam band sound to.

Love Inn’s belief system was based upon the premise that God would speak to individuals through elders we called “shepherds”, and that His will for lowly sheep like me was to “submit” to them.  It's no wonder that the church was an old barn, with all these sheep running about.

It seems so foolish now, but my willingness to explore this brand of Christianity was aligned with my genuine quest for intimacy with God.

Instead, what I encountered was a group of "elders", all in their late twenties and thirties, who wanted to know every detail of my life, no matter how private.   These were not trained ministers, nor were they theologically astute, but like most cult leaders, their ability to be Yes Men had led them to the top of their profession.

My earnest quest for spiritual intimacy led me to allow for the daily discomfort of spiritual cavity searches from the God squad from Hell.

The lessons I’d learned from my overly involved mother and grandmother should have been enough to send me running from this crowd, but the sound of Phil’s Les Paul guitar coming through a Fender DeLuxe amplifier drowned out the screaming angel on my shoulder.

As a member of this weird little church, being on the road was the best place I could be, away from the day to day grind of our very insulated body of fanatics.  I was with friends, playing music, enjoying the road, and sharing a few glasses every night, just like the Willie Nelson song talks about. 

Of course, the powers that be had sent Peter out on the road with us, a spy posing as a sound man, cracking the whip and trying to somehow snuff out the flame of joy that we were able to maintain.

As in my family of origin, in my new family of choice, I was The Funny Guy.  

A man with cube-shaped skull, Peter was incapable of finding humor in any situation, which naturally made his delegated position of Baby-sitter To The Band a difficult one for him and us.  Inevitably, he discovered in me a project, someone he needed to change for the glory of God Almighty.  Like the matriarchs who found in me a similar challenge, Peter was, well, a real mother.

I wasn’t holy enough or serious enough, and to make matters worse, I was smitten with E,  who wasn’t a member of Love Inn.  When E became engaged to me, no one at Love Inn exhibited the usual delight upon seeing the simple ring I’d bought her.  Their glazed Stepford eyes stared blankly, and plastic smiles turned up with effort, and I reluctantly knew I was seeing a red flag.

Instead of congratulatory remarks for our engagement, we were told “It will be good to talk about”.  I sensed that this was euphemistic for “We have other plans for you, and there’s nothing you can do about it”, but said nothing to my fiancee about my feelings of dread.   (Years later, I would realize that saying nothing to her about my feelings wasn’t a good idea.)

In my heart, I knew the end would come; these translucent remarks were tell tale signs and omens, black clouds, with the theme from Jaws quietly playing underneath it all.  Soothed by our band’s music, I endured the oddness, and continued playing keyboards on the Titanic, partaking as little of this peculiar Eucharist as was possible.

Meanwhile, Peter’s giant eye seemed to follow me wherever I went.  His chubby hand would try and brush aside any joyous declaration of love I would make, making my engagement something of a trial instead of a sweet season of transition.  His paradigm of the way things should be would not allow for variation, and it was clear that it was either his way or the highway.

Peter forever ruined the word “brother” for me, because it always preceded a harshly placed word, meant to push my tiller in a direction that my small boat didn’t wish to go in.  His cruel and uncaring manner were a part of the process; it was a boot camp for the Lord, and he was my drill sergeant.  I wanted to go over his head in this oddly organized hierarchy of men, but when I would assess the situation, I knew it was best to keep silence.

Thirty-odd years later, I have three remaining friends from those days of touring, Keaggy, Ben Pearson, and Lynn Nichols, all of whom reside and work in the Nashville music community.  We were brought together in that crucible of craziness, and have remained bonded by its white hot fire.  Occasionally, over a good bottle of red, we’ll remind each other about our days of keeping one eye open for our elder Peter.  Now, we laugh and shake our heads, and probably wish we’d beaten the hell out of him when he was within reach. 

It amazes us that the hierarchy was such that a group of grown men would cower before such a spoiled sport as Peter H, but some moments are hard to explain, and some battles don’t get fought, even if they might be worth it. 

Once, we were playing in a place called Philippi, West Virginia, high on a mountain, in a beautiful venue which looked out into the hills.  We were having a particularly good evening of music, and I took a moment to publicly acknowledge our crew.  I pointed to Ben, who came out from behind a stack of speakers, and told the crowd that he was the hardest working roadie in the business.  Then I pointed to Peter who stood behind the sound board in the audience.  I said, “Please give our soundman Peter a hand”.

After the concert, we all partook in the back-breaking task of loading our equipment onto the truck.  Peter, with his ever-present snorkel-hood shielding his great square head, approached me angrily and yelled, “Brother, don’t you EVER call me the soundman again!  I’m the f***ing producer!”.

Ah, thank you, Jesus.  May I have another?

Another time, we were in Ypsilanti, Michigan, surrounded by walls of snow, as we filled the tanks of our two vehicles.  No one knew where the key to the truck’s gas cap was, and we obviously needed fuel.  Peter’s trademark impatience gave way, and he pried it off with a crowbar, disgusted with whoever of us had been so careless as to lose the key, yet himself being so careless as to ruin the gas cap and ripping the filler neck.

Later, in our hotel room, Ben put his hands in his pocket and said “Oh no”, as he pulled the key from his trousers.  I told him to flush it down the toilet, but he dutifully went to Peter and confessed his guilt. 

Peter’s only glimmer of joy seemed to be in the proclamation of this strange concoction of bad theology and spiritual architecture, whose advocates literally referred to what they practiced as “the Government of God”.  (Good Lord, as I write these words, I’m astounded that I put up with it; the music must have been damned good.)  Of course he’d be ecstatic about it; he had some of the power and, out on the road, he answered to no one.

We played our music and sang our songs, but Peter was the one who was entrusted with the enlightened message, a new improved version of Christianity.   He honestly meant it, I'll give him that, but I wonder if he ever thinks of the scripture verse that warns teachers against being manipulative and untruthful.

If anyone ever signed up at Love Inn or something like it because of me, let me apologize right now.  I'm sorry.

Peter was yet another representative of God Almighty that didn’t make sense to me, that made me want to flee from the people of God.  I think the only thing that kept me from doing so was the Image of God Almighty that my father’s life had so beautifully manifested.   Dad was the polar opposite of God’s unholy scourge, Peter.

Love Inn’s psychology of pretending to be God’s Voice in my life never took full root, yet when I went against it, I felt a sense of foreboding and fear that I had never experienced before.  I didn’t want to make God or Peter or Love Inn mad. 

When E and I announced our wedding date to our friend Phil Keaggy, his knee jerk advice was "Don't tell Peter!"  He knew what the cost of discipleship would be.

Word of our pending nuptials eventually reached the elders who called an emergency meeting.  A wedding date?  This was indeed serious business.  Something had to be done.

I was told by the elders that they wanted to choose the date for me, and possibly even the woman.  My finding love and acting upon it without the involvement of God’s Government was an insult to the entire process of submission and discipleship, the two most intoned mantras of Love Inn. 

Something had to give, apparently me.

And so, in a long, drawn-out torturous fashion, I was asked to choose between love and Love Inn.  The choice was easy, but the consequences were not.  Leaving the band and the friendships therein was a heartbreak, but I had to trust my own heart, and all else be damned.  Luckily,  the friendships I had made within that small circle survived and continue to this day.

Going against the grain simply was not done at Love Inn, and I was excommunicated from the fellowship.  I knew I’d done the right thing for myself, and that I was running towards God, but psychologically, I felt as if I were running from him.  The transition from cult member back to The World was one of the few times in my life where I’ve experienced depression and true loneliness.

When my new wife and I had our first fight, the first thought in my head was “The elders were right”.  And many years later, when our marriage crumbled like a stale communion wafer, I pictured Peter, our man of God, nodding “I told you so”.

In 2005, I was playing with Keaggy in Rochester, New York.  Imagine my shock when, in our dressing room, a friendly, square-headed, young man approached me with a grin and a handshake, and enthusiastically introduced himself as the son of Peter.  Thankfully, I was polite, but so lasting was the impact of his father in my life that I took note of my double-take and with the depth and length of aversion I had at the mention of his name.  My reaction reminded me that the work of forgiveness is much easier when an apology has been issued.

The poison in some communion cups is strong indeed.


Charlie Baker

Eighth grade, West Barrington Junior High School, and I can’t concentrate.  The Turtles’ “You Baby” is in my head, and I love the beat that drummer Johnny Barbatos is playing.   It’s the first week of school, and the weather is intoxicating; I’m looking out the window onto a green meadow. 

But I’d better wake up and start listening, because my English teacher, Charlie Baker doesn’t tolerate a daydreamer.  Mr Baker wants all the attention for himself, and damn it, he will have it.  His bulbous eyes stare threateningly and steadily as I hear him say “Madeira?”, the tone lifting so as to present a question, far worse than a scolding, which asks nothing, demands only silence and attention.

I have no idea what Charlie is asking of me.  I’ve gotten off the page for a moment.  He moves on to someone else, but I am ashamed and agitated.  This won’t happen again.   Charlie, as we call him behind his back, suffers no fools, and for the first time in my life, I’ve walked into a situation in which there is no loafing, no floating, no easy way of making the grade. 

The announcement that we will be graded on how well we keep notes is shocking.  Isn’t it bad enough that we have to sit there and learn all this meaningless stuff, and be tested on things we can’t imagine using?  As if any of us will one day grow up and write a book?  The nerve of Charlie Baker to grade us on our notebooks!


I was following in the footsteps of two high achievers, my siblings Annie and Dave.  Being the baby of the family had its advantages in some ways.  I escaped many responsibilities which Annie, the oldest child, was laden with, and which, to some degree, Dave, the oldest son shared.  But the other side of that shiny penny was about to get flattened on the railway track of junior high school, and Mr Baker was my first encounter with a teacher who wasn’t about to let anyone escape success.

The First Day of School for at least the first 7 years of my life contained a familiar welcome by each new teacher:  “Are you Ann-Elise Madeira’s brother?”  Or, “Are you David Madeira’s brother?”  Following my nod, he or she would say, “I’m going to enjoy having you in my class.”  

Alas, this prediction rarely came true, unless of course, they had a good sense of humor.  In that case, they might have enjoyed the 9 month task of ferrying me across the wide expanse of whatever grade I was in.  I was witty and sharp and essentially turned in my work, but without much dedication to truly learning what was being taught, unless I were interested in the subject. 

I had a unique vision, and  as far back as third and fourth grade, I wanted to design my own way.  This of course, didn’t work well in grade school.  Take, for example, the spinster Putnam’s fourth grade class, in which we were given the assignment to make Christmas cards, however, without any reference to the iconic Santa.  (Ironically, there was no moratorium on the figures of Mary, Joesph and Jesus; how the times have changed.)

Perhaps it was the fact that Santa didn’t exist in my family’s celebration of Christmas, or perhaps it was the mere suggestion of censorship, but I took the challenge and made a card which pictured a fireplace, with bricks coming loose, and dust falling to the floor, with the caption, “Don’t worry, he’ll get through”.  

Being The Funny Guy was my job, both in my family, as the last born, and in school as, well, The Funny Guy.  Humor served as a great defense, a lively distraction, something to keep mundane things interesting.  If I had the entrance, believe me, I would take it, and I must have exasperated any of my teachers who allowed for a split second of anarchy.  Somehow, I never made the connection that a quick wit might have to a sound mind, and I learned to see myself as an average achiever, with little interest in producing a body of excellence.

That all changed with Charlie Baker.  Charlie wasn’t interested in coming down to our level, in being liked, in being relevant.  His insistence was far more lofty in scope; Charlie demanded his students to rise to his level.  So emphasized was our need to remember every word he uttered that my notebook included the most banal of facts, having nothing to do with literature.  

Again, the Santa connection (and how strange and telling that I remember all things related to the Saint banned from my childhood home).

Right before Christmas, Charlie Baker was lecturing, about what I can’t recall.  He tossed out a remark having to do with the color of Santa Claus’ mittens.  I dutifully wrote this down.  You never know, I reasoned.

I’m not sure about the exact literature we covered in Mr Baker’s 8th grade English class, although a few works come to mind, one being the devastaing “Ethan Frome”, a dark and cold novelette of New England.  But so steely was Mr Baker’s stare, that it was easier to become a scholar than to default to my natural habitat of being The Funny Guy and shoulder the iron beam his gaze would encumber a fool with.

Somewhere in that eighth grade year, I realized something.  I liked  Mr Baker.  He became my favorite teacher, and remains thus to this day.  The fact was, Mr Baker respected each and every person in his class enough to demand greatness from them.   Born out of that respect, I became excited about pleasing my teacher, and wanted to reward his respect with something I hadn’t experienced as a student before- self-respect.

And so, Charlie Baker remains a hero to me.  But there’s another hero in the story.  My mother.  Mom was the one who smelled the fear that I brought home in those first few weeks of Eighth grade, Mom whose encouragement was needed, and for once, not aggravating. 

At the end of the year, we were told that we would be turning our notebooks in for a large part of our final grade.  I had taken many notes, but my style was messy and haphazard, perhaps worth a C+.  Late on the evening before the notebook was due, my mother and I sat together as she typed the entire notebook out.  When Mr Baker returned it with an A+ and the word “Beautifull!!”, it was Mom who deserved the praise.  I kept it for many years, one of the few pieces of evidence that there was more going on in my mind than the groovy drumbeat of “You Baby”.

On the last week of 8th grade, I sweated through my English Final Exam and when I reached the end, the bonus question was “What color are Santa Claus’ mittens?” 

After all these years, despite my certainty that they are quite red, I will always give the answer Mr Baker was looking for:  Green.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ever Enough

She means well.  She fears that should she disengage from the problems of those she loves, they will crash and burn on the jagged rocks of The World.  So it has always been with my mother.

This good woman has a stalwart belief in all things Evangelical; it saddens her that I bristle in discomfort at the thought of being lumped in with the group I've fled from.  She reminds me that my dead father "would be mighty disappointed" with my flight away from that particular nest, although I'm not sure she's right.

Dad always seemed contented to know that his children carried the light, although none of our lanterns looked exactly alike.

For my mother, my being a Christian is not enough these days.  It's not enough that I believe the Creeds, that I believe in the Atonement of Christ for my sins; not enough that I embrace a Trinitarian God, and a bodily resurrection, not to mention a miraculous virgin birth. 

I have to see things her way.

My mother, to be fair, has been an exemplary woman for my entire life.  She stood against racism in our all-white community of Barrington, Rhode Island, she was the first woman to preach a sermon at our Conservative Baptist church, and while she'd never label herself a Feminist, it was she who asked the right questions which caused her church to recognize women as leaders in the church.  This was the stuff of scandal 35 years ago, and in some circles, it still is.  

She and I don't see eye to eye, but I admire many of her traits and accomplishments.  I am acutely aware that we share some gifts and talents, the love of music and words being chief among them.  Her great gift to me was the nurturing of these gifts.

My mother's love of Mahalia Jackson's music is probably the raison d'ĂȘtre for my musical quest.  I can still see Mom dancing with her young children in our living room as Mahalia belted out "Didn't It Rain?" while the needle in our old RCA Victor scraped and skipped across the ribbed furrows of an oft-used record.

As a teenage paperboy, I took my Christmas tips and bought a used set of drums.  They were cheap, Japanese drums with badges that said "Norma" tacked to their blue sparkle shells.  Dad and I drove through the snowy streets of our town to collect them from the smokey den of a local family whose son had tired of his brush with rock'n'roll.

I carried the bass drum towards the parsonage as Mom came out to greet us.  She recalls saying to God Almighty, "Lawd, have you given him this gift only to have him wind up in strip bahs?"  I guess a drummer's options were slim at the time.

I've always appreciated that her prayer was a question, especially given the fact that she, more often than not, has answers.  I'm thankful that she didn't put her foot down and refuse entrance to my drums; had she seen the coming onslaught of continual throbbing and pounding, she may have barred them from our basement.  I'm grateful that she was able to believe that the Giver of talent could also be a Navigator for it.

The drums were my life until I was halfway through college, when the songwriting bug led me to guitar and piano.  The drums brought me a little bit of glory, some high school notoriety, and a place in a band which traveled to Scandinavia.  But eventually, I realized that to be a drummer is to depend on the fact that a band has to need you, whereas a guitarist or pianist can play solo, without ever looking back.

Mom followed my career enthusiastically as it led from one Christian band to another, and took great pride in my using my talents "for the Lawd".  As I matured, however, I realized that singing to the choir was not enough for me.  I'd been writing songs for years now, and not all of them fit neatly into the Christian Music world.  My faith became a bit more private and personal as I grew, although you might not think so by reading these pages.  I was less inclined to immediately jump into a spiritual discussion, and felt less pressure to evangelize than I had felt as a young man.

Methodically, as Christian music and I had less and less use for each other, God Almighty opened new doors, and the opportunities to play great music became more and more frequent. 

My mother seems conflicted about what I’ve done with the gift she passed my way.  She has often expressed to me her grave disappointment that I am not “using my gifts for the Lawd”.   When we speak of career choices, she steers the conversation toward The Day of Judgment, and how God Almighty will have a word with me about the misuse of the gifts he entrusted to me.  She bristles when I tell her I’ve written a song for a group called “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band”, thinking, no doubt, that a band with such a name must play strip bars. 

She worries about the cost of my disappointing God.  Not that I’ll burn in Hell, but that, because I’ve not limited my lyrical content to singing His praises, my entrance to the gates of Gloryland will include a moment of humilty in which our Lord will apparently roll his fiery eyes, sigh, and remind me that I could have done so much more for Him, but, well... sigh, I didn't, but well, there's been a place prepared for me, so I may as well come in.   Perhaps, he'll slap my wrist while he's at it.

Ironically, it is my upbringing which gave me my belief in The Atonement, and in the notion that Jesus spilled enough of his own blood to cover a multitude of sins.  In light of that, I’ve fruitlessly argued that I envision no 8mm film clips of my most embarrassing and private moments, which is what the Final Judgment has always sounded like to me.  Eternity will seem aptly named if Mom is right about the Judgment; it will feel like forever.

These are the conversations which I've taken great pains to learn how not to have.  Sadly, I no longer share my successes with my mother, and I've learned to withhold the details of my life, not that I'm doing anything unseemly.  Simply put, whatever I share will be processed through the filter of her approval mechanism, and a tired conversation will ensue. 

The Kyrie and the hymn I've been fortunate enough to have published aren't enough to make her realize that I'm trying to be holistic about my gifts.  With her, it's all or nothing.  My playing on the stages of the world with great artists doesn't mean much to her, but if I were a penniless hymn writer, she would be ecstatic about my career choice.

Once, after Mom had gone on and on about my negligent use of my gifts for "the Lawd", I said, "Mom, I won't have this conversation with you.  I love you, but if you keep going, I'll be hanging up".  "Yes, I know, but..."

"Love you, Mom."


I’ve gone from being the dutiful son to the negligent one.  I no longer pick up the phone to call and see how life is in her assisted living community.  Instead, I respond to her mass emails with a brief, cheerful detail-free email.  I tell her that my daughters and I are well.  I don't tell her how beautiful Maddy's blue hair is or about Kate's lizard-themed illustration project.  And I don't answer her question regarding the devotional book she gave me for Christmas 2008, because the answer is, "No, I'm not reading it".

My daughters and I visit her once a year in Connecticut for several hours.  On one trip, we found an IKEA in New Haven, and loaded up on lingonberries, potatoes, Swedish meatballs, and korv, the Swedish sausage that I make at Christmas.  When we got to Hartford, the girls and their grandmother busied themselves with a game of Scrabble™ while I cooked a Swedish meal for my mother, whose ancestors hailed from Gothenberg.

She was delighted that I cooked for her, and it was a wonderful way to avoid a conversation with her while showing her the respect and kindness that a mother deserves.  In a small, charitable act I am able to make her journey on the Long Road Home a bit more comfortable. 

I never imagined having to use strategies and negotiations in this most fundamental of relationships, and even as I write these words, I hope to balance them with an appreciation for the good things that Mom has brought to my life.

I think about the biblical notion of sheep being separated from goats, and wonder which group I'll be in.  I'm not prepared to choose between the secular and the sacred; I don't see them as separate, and I'm not sure that one can't be mistaken for the other.

Upon considering my pending judgment, I wonder, is the Atonement not enough?  Is it really possible that the faithful will stroll through Heaven's gate only to have their wrists slapped by God Almighty's holy yardstick?  Did He really hang up on that Cross for the sins of humanity only to find that He wasn't enough for Himself?  

Meanwhile, I treasure the good memories of my mother, while acknowledging sadly that we just don't agree anymore.  She worries about her son, who seems to have been co-opted by The World, and perhaps it's only a matter of time before I wind up playing drums in a strip bar. 

Boom chick-a boom.


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Long Ride Home

They strolled down the midway, bored, it seemed to me.  Their fists wrapped around stalks of cotton candy and enormous cups of Pepsi, as they took in as much excess as an amusement park could offer.  Sooner or later, their buckling legs and aching feet brought them to the bandstand where a Christian music concert was happening.  This was a nearly captive audience, sleeveless, sunburned, and red-necked.  Weary of thrill seeking, they were ours for a song or two, and then they’d leave to see if the line for the rollercoaster had gotten any shorter.

This was sometime around 1991.   I was in Nowhere, Kentucky, playing Hammond organ, backing a gospel singer, and trying to look engaged with the vapid music.   I was filling in for the regular keyboardist, and while I played the right notes, I was aware that I was more of an onlooker than a participant in what felt like a carnival side show.

In the performance arts, there are times when you know that something real is happening, and other times when you wonder if it’s just an act.   The singer waved a handkerchief, fanning some imaginary flame, as if to imply that something extraordinary was occurring on the heels of his golden voice.   The music seemed secondary to the snake oil antics, which were hell-bent on whipping the crowd into a frenzy.   I have never been able to go whole hog for anything like Pentecostalism, yet here I was, cranking away on a Hammond organ, spinning the Leslie speaker as if it were a dizzying ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

A few die-hard fans in the audience were enrapt, as if  God Almighty was a mischievous puppeteer, stirring them to shouting and lifting their hands in the air, their bodies jerking out of time with the music.  I wondered if the Holy Ghost were impersonating Ralph Kramden.  Bang!  Zoom!  The band was all smiles, and to the crowd, it probably looked like the joy of the Lord on their faces, but to me it looked like they were all in on the same joke.   I considered the possibility that everyone in the band was experiencing an epiphany except for me.  Wouldn’t have been the first time.  Maybe that was the joke I wasn’t connecting with.

Back in the green room, I had run into a singer we were sharing the bill with, Kathy Troccoli. She and I were old friends, and in the process of catching up, she told me that her mother had recently died.  She said that her mother’s passing was beautiful, and that she had been at her bedside when her time had come. 

After the show was over, we disembarked for Nashville.  As soon as we left the park, our tour bus died.  We wound up renting a car and heading back to Nashville.  No one spoke as we wound our way South, each of us caught up in private silence.

I pictured Kathy by her mother's deathbed, an image which soon morphed into a series of pictures of whoever came to mind.  My thoughts found themselves in California at the bedside of a friend who was in the hospital, having had a heart attack.  I didn’t know that he was soon to have a second, fatal attack, and yet my thoughts of him sank in the fathomless reality that life is short. 

My musings turned to my father, who hadn’t yet been overcome with Alzheimer’s, and was to be with us for another 15 years.  I tried to imagine the feeling of being with him as he passed into Gloryland.   Why I became transfixed on this idea, I can’t say, but in the silence of  a conversationless car, I wrapped myself in a comforter of melancholy and thought about this man I feared losing.

Morbid thoughts cascaded into a snowdrift of poetry, and I began playing a memory game with myself, silently repeating new lines and the ones that preceded them.  By the time I got to Nashville, I had a sad, yet hopeful song called “Goodbye For the Last Time”.  

The song was the first of many I would write about grieving, loss, dying, and crossing over.  I went to one of the Christian record companies and proposed a concept record about loss and grieving, an idea which was well received.  After all, if anyone would be open to a discussion about death and dying, I assumed it would be Christians, for whom the Resurrection says “O Death, where is thy sting?”.

Meetings ensued in which executives and I brainstormed over sushi, reviewing songs and dreaming about the big name artists who would perform these pieces.   Somewhere along the journey, my idea was confiscated and turned into something a little less taboo, a little less dark, and I found myself with a hat full of tunes that might never find a home.

In the meantime, Dad’s Alzheimer’s became more pronounced and instead of fearing his death, I began  hoping for it.

Years after his memory had departed, my father passed on, and had I been there to hold his hand, he wouldn’t have known it until, perhaps, a millisecond between this world and the next.  

This is how I found out that Dad was gone:  

I woke up early on November 29, 2006 to take my daughters to school.  My virtual stack of emails included one from my mother to just about everyone in the world, which announced the death of my father.   A few minutes later, my phone rang, and I heard Annie’s shaking voice calling from Ireland to tell me what cyberspace had already broadcast.   I said, “I already know.  I just got an email from Mom to about a thousand people.”  My idea of how to escort Dad out of this world had been whittled down to a toothpick, and now I had to share it with my mother’s email list. 

I had spent my childhood sharing my father with his parishioners, and now I was no more important than any of them in the hierarchy of finding out about his death .   My mother made funeral arrangements which seemed to have more consideration of his old flock than his own children.   We buried him a month after he died, to ensure that all of his former congregants would be able to make plans to attend.  

I made mental notes about what not to do when I died.

In the ensuing months, a friend of many years became my dearest companion.  Among the things we shared was the gift of composing, and we began writing songs together.   I told her about my “grief project”, and together we wrote two songs which seemed to fit.  My old passion for the project returned to me through this collaboration, and I decided to research markets which might have a need for songs of comfort.

Coincidentally, I was working on the Ralston Bowles CD, and because of his illness, it seemed timely to consider my “music to grieve by”.   One day, my phone rang, and it was someone calling from Michigan, who wanted to help with Ralston’s project.  He was a doctor who had cared for Ralston’s father-in-law, who’d spent his final days at a Grand Rapids hospice.

Through this contact, I met with Pam Brown at Alive Hospice in Nashville, to discuss the possibilities of making my project in conjunction with her organization.   We met one Friday morning at the Alive Hospice campus, a bright and cheerful set of buildings near Music Row.

After talking for a while, Pam offered me the “nickel tour” of the facility, and I accepted.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed I would encounter somber sights, sounds, and smells similar to the nursing home Mormor, my maternal grandmother, had lived her final days in.

Such was not the case.

Every effort had been made to make the live-in facility as un-clinic like as possible.  Pam showed me a vacant dorm room, which had little furniture in it, explaining that patients often like to have a favorite chair or dresser brought from home.  Similarly, the walls are bare because many people like to hang their favorite pictures around their room.  

The social workers who work at Alive Hospice encourage patients to be honest about their needs, and try to  see that even that the wildest of wishes might be fulfilled for a patient in his or her last days.  One patient, a camping enthusiast, wanted to spend a night camping with her best friend.  A tent was set up in the courtyard area, and  her wish was fulfilled.

Walking down a corridor filled with original art, Pam explained that one of the residential patients was an artist who wanted to show her work.  The staff hung her paintings and invited her friends and family to her art show, and gave her a true sense of having meaning and something to live for right to the end.

When I had seen all there was to see, Pam and I shook hands and said goodbye.  As I left, I began thinking about this journey we’re all on.  A journey that I believe leads to Somewhere and Someone.

I thought about how well my mother took care of Dad during his long bout with Alzheimer’s, and how she enjoyed being with him even when it was unclear as to whether or not he understood who she was.  

I thought about the friends I’ve lost over the last decade to illness or accidents- Tom, Jackie, Janice, and Mark.   And I thought of friends who’d survived calamity and illness- Ralston, Marlei, Dave,  and John Arthur. 

I thought of my dearest companion, my Southern Born Woman.

And it occurred to me, driving away from Alive Hospice, that life affords everyone the ironic opportunity to accompany those we love on the long ride to Somewhere.   We don’t often think this way unless something catestrophic happens, but in truth, loving someone is all about making them comfortable en route to the next life.

What if today were her last day in this life?  How would I be any different?  Maybe I would speak a little softer, listen a little harder, smile a little wider, and pull her a little closer.   

I can play all the right notes, but what does it matter if I’m not engaged in the music of living?   I’m thinking of that day in the amusement park, when a friend’s story of bereavement gave me a song, and when the gospel group entertained whoever had ears to hear.  Maybe I was wrong about them.  Maybe they were caught up in the joy of knowing exactly what they were doing, and perhaps the joke they were in on was that they were serenading people who were getting ready for the long ride home.