Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MILLER TIME

When Mark Heard passed away, it wasn’t really a surprise; it was just a bummer.  He had been recovering from a heart attack, and as I’ve heard it said, someone told him a joke so funny that he laughed himself out of this world and into the next.  Laughing your way out of this world full of tears doesn’t seem to be a bad way to go.

Mark was a great songwriter and artist who had recorded quite a few records during the 70s and 80s.  Toward the end of his career, he released two records which were artistic apexes.  He was only getting better.  He left this world before achieving any household word name status, but among songwriters and musicians, he remains greatly admired.

The week of Mark’s passing, I was playing a gig in LA and managed to get to his memorial service.  Most of the folks in attendance were fellow musicians, and quite a few of them performed.  Some of these folks eventually would migrate to Nashville.  Two of those would-be emigrants were Buddy and Julie Miller.  

The next day, the Millers were performing at the same venue that I was playing at, and we ended up in the green room together.  I was knocked out by their music, by Julie’s heart on her sleeve lyrics, and by both of their world weary vocals.  Julie was one of very few Christian artists whose music fully engaged me.  I was drawn to the wounded, broken lyrics and the sparse instrumentation.  Little did I how this initial meeting would alter and enrich the course of my life.

When the Millers moved to Nashville, we struck up a friendship and a work relationship.  

Meanwhile, Emmylou Harris recorded, “All My Tears”, written by Julie in the wake of Mark’s passing, and years later, when I was in her band, we occasionally performed it.  It was also a staple of Buddy’s setlist, performed nearly every time I played in his band, a none-too-fond farewell to a world that wounds its inhabitants.

For many years, whether it was a Julie record or a Buddy record, or someone else Buddy was working with, I would be called into Buddy’s studio to play accordion, Hammond organ, and occasionally other instruments like lap steel or pump organ.  This was a joyous season in a career which has given me much joy.  Julie has no rivals when it comes to writing lyrics which lay the heart bare, expose the brokenness which is common to all of us, and perhaps turn the listener’s heart into a fertile ground for redemption.

Eventually, the many recording sessions turned into concert opportunities with Buddy, and I traveled the world as a member of his band, perhaps the greatest live music experience of my life.  A reviewer once said that Buddy’s voice sounded like the ghosts of Howlin’ Wolf and Hank Williams were battling for control of it.  I can’t even begin to draw comparisons to Buddy’s guitar work, so distinct it is.  

Every time Buddy invited me to play on a record or perform somewhere, my resume would gather a few more great names.  I would find myself on stages with the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Allen Toussaint, Judy Collins, and many others.  These were golden days, heady and mind-blowing, days which I recall with a smile, and with gratitude.  If I had to single out one person who has blessed me in the music business (and there have been many), it would be Buddy Miller.  Buddy gave me opportunity after opportunity in the Americana Music scene.  It was because of those years of being a journeyman musician in his band and on his recordings that I became a member of Emmylou Harris’ band, which of course brought many opportunities as well.

While Buddy’s right up there with John Scofield and Clarence White in my Pantheon of guitar gods, it was his character and kindness which most impressed me.  Gracious to nearly everyone, from his audience to the waitress serving us breakfast in a New Jersey diner, Buddy was a polite and decent guy to be around, never thinking his talent should set him apart from anyone else.

Yet, he was set apart.  Beautiful opportunities to play and produce music came Buddy’s way, thus my way and anyone else who was in his band at the time.  

My most memorable of these many events was when Buddy assembled a rhythm section to back the legendary Al Green for a live network television event with the Nashville Symphony.  The assistant conductor had the task of bringing our little rock’n’soul combo together with the symphony.  Being primarily self-trained, the idea of being in a setting with legitimate symphonic masters was intimidating to me, but I was up for the challenge, and excited to play “Take Me To The River” and “Love And Happiness” with Al Green.

We were in the center of the crescent shaped assembly of musicians, and I was literally eye to eye with the young conductor, a Korean man whose English wasn’t very good.  (Although it was much better than my Korean.)

A few minutes into “Take Me To The River”, Al took a left turn and omitted the second bridge.  Having played in clubs for years, the rhythm section followed him without issue.  The symphony players, being in Nashville and perhaps used to pop music, seemed to roll with the punches as well.  But the conductor was confused; he was the only one left on the page.

I was standing closer to him than anyone else on the bandstand.  I realized he was hollering at me, but the music was so loud I couldn’t understand him.  “What?”, I yelled back.  Finally, I realised he was panicking, yelling “Where AH we?!”

If the chasm between myself and proper musicians was ever evident, it was in this moment.  It didn’t occur to me that I was addressing The Maestro.  I hollered, “Sixteen bars, man!” as if he were a fellow bluesman.  My message was merely to state, “Play for sixteen more bars, and end it”, but the conductor thought I was saying that we were on Bar Sixteen of the musical score, which would be near the top of the song.

“What?!”, he cried, incredulously.

“Sixteen bars, man!”, thinking, come on, dude, surely you know how to do this.

Again, the terror stricken man yelled, “What?!”

At this point, eight bars must have surely past, and I yelled, “Just end it, man!” which the conductor indeed understood, his train not wrecking, but coming into the station unscathed.

That night, I got home and watched the tape of our performance on A&E network, and found that the performance actually sounded fine.  I could even see the conductor and I communicating, but the panic that we felt in that moment didn’t show.   We looked like we were having a calm conversation while performing before millions.  

“How’s the family?”

“Let’s get a drink when we’re done here.”

The moment of panic looked nothing like it felt.

From that day forward on the road with Buddy, whenever there was a question about what direction our vehicle was heading in, someone would inevitably cry out, “Where AH we?”, knowing full well we’d get to wherever it was were going.  Laughter doesn’t hurt when you feel lost.

Sometimes all a moment gives us is a question, “Where am I?”, signaling distress and disorientation.  We know where we are going, but there doesn’t seem to be a way from Point A to Point B.  Sometimes, all one can do is say “yes” to the faint image of a beckoning hand in the shadows.  It has almost been a way of life for me, traveling down a bending road, with just enough information to get me to Point B, and then wait.  Life is full of so many transitions that recalibrations are necessary.

It isn’t lost on me that the song we nearly wrecked was “Take Me To The River”, which contains a beautifully disoriented lyric, vacillating between pleading to a lost lover, and praying to God for wholeness and spiritual baptism.  

Maybe Reverend Al was singing about everyone’s journey, bearing loss and losing bearings along the way, longing for the waters of redemption in a world that mars and breaks us.  

If we’re lucky, like Mark Heard, we get to laugh on our way out.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Methuselah Goes To The Movies

In one week, I received two invitations to attend screenings of new movies, both with biblical themes. I had to miss the first of the films, but was available on the evening of the second film’s screening.


My Southern Born Woman agreed to go with me to watch a film called “Noah”, figuring it would be fun, knowing the theater served beer, and with the knowledge that if film were really bad, at least we’d be in cahoots in our criticism of it.  Sometimes it’s fun to be quietly catty with the one you love.


The cast of “Noah” was somewhat promising, if not odd: Russell Crowe as Noah, Jennifer Connelly as Mrs Noah, and Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah.  Given how old Noah is said to have been, I think Anthony Hopkins might have been better cast in the title role, although ever since he played Hannibal Lechter, it’s hard for me to see him without wondering who he’ll take a bite out of.


The lights came down, and the theater hushed.  I’ve never seen Hollywood move so quickly to make a story “Hollywood”.  Within 5 minutes of the movie’s start, they had angels turning into odd, animated stone creatures with low voices; creatures who would eventually help Noah wage war against his foes, apparently the descendants of Cain.  We knew right away that someone with a fantastic imagination had gotten a hold of the story.  

The acting, to be fair, was great; all top-notch players, not a bad apple in the bunch.

Russell Crowe’s Noah had a very hip wardrobe, starting with skinny jeans and a parka type coat that I’d like to see Columbia Sportswear issue someday:  The Noah Parka, waterproof and stylish-  I can see it now.


He also goes through three very distinct haircuts, starting with an unkempt hippy, longhair theme, moving to a buzz cut, and finally to what looks like a razor cut / nee shag.  I’ll have to ask my barber friend / guitarist Steve Mason for the details, but leave it to Hollywood to give us several versions of Noah to get into- Noah Mach I, Noah Mach 2, and Noah Mach 3, at your Christian hairdresser now.


My very biblically minded mother might have enjoyed one element of the adaptation.  Being of Swedish descent, I think she would have found some pride in seeing what appeared to be Vikings in all the battle scenes, although she would have been disappointed that they were on the wrong side of right, and destined for drowning.  


What I truly enjoyed was how all the animals were called by Creation to fill up the ark.  Each grouping of life forms finds themselves wildly yet methodically called to fill the ark. I used to think that Noah spent about 100 years gathering them, but the film’s version felt like something C.S. Lewis would have come up with, and thus probably acceptable by Christians everywhere.  

In this narrative, Jennifer Connelly burns a combination of herbs to put all the creatures to sleep. I've always thought of the ark as noisy and chaotic, but the sleeping herb notion gave weight to the idea of Mrs Noah being in touch with creation. In fact, a viable theme of the film is that what sets Noah apart from the sinful world that drowns away is an aversion to violence against creation, something we could use a dose of all these years after the Deluge.


The family conflict runs deep, and every story needs dysfunction. We've got high drama between Noah and his son Ham. No surprise there.  Knowing how certain theologies have used the Ham narrative, I was thankful that Ham was played by an average looking white kid from suburbia.  


Noah winds up as a lunatic, trying to kill his grandchildren, and generally upsetting everyone on the ark and in the theater.  To be sure, I can see a little cabin fever wafting about the ark, but I need to remind the screenwriters that it was Abraham who tried to kill his progeny, not Noah.


The special effects are dazzling, of course, and I suppose a theological explanation of the fantastic abilities of the effects team is that before the flood, everything was better.  People lived longer, and the movies were much longer.  Or so this one seemed.  All ends well, and the last Viking is vanquished, as the boat lands in what seems to be Ireland, verdant and as Celtic in appearance as most of the actors in the film.


It’s always kind of funny to me when a simple narrative gets turned on its head to make it more interesting or controversial.  I call that kind of writing “fiction”, and have found that most fiction is a true story bent into a more interesting form.


When screenwriters get into the Bible it never ceases to amaze me how they’ll interfere with the narrative.  Reflecting on all the biblical epics Hollywood has churned out, it gets a little predictable, doesn’t it?


Some version of Charlton Heston will always show up playing the hero, as if he’d just come from the set of a Western, and between soundstage walls, got rid of the gun, the hat, the spurs, pants, vest, etc, and grabbed a bathrobe for his biblical scene.  


I have to admit liking Ben Hur, but I never read the book.  Ben Hur was one of the first movies I ever saw.  My parents were godly people who weren’t sure how they felt about going to see movies.  Like every other evangelically raised person my age, Ben Hur was my gateway drug of movies.  From “Ben Hur”, I went to “Old Yeller”, and from “Old Yeller”, I went to “Mary Poppins”, and eventually wound up in a theater watching “Silence Of The Lambs” with Methuselah / Anthony Hopkins starring as a cannibal.


Don’t even get me started on “Christian” movies, because I have too many friends involved in making them, just like “Christian” music, and I don’t know anyone in either of those worlds that is trying to produce crap.  It’s just that there’s a certain audience that needs to be pampered and pandered to, hence feeding them vanilla ice cream and wonder bread.


Speaking of white, Jesus is always an unbelievably handsome Aryan guy, with the most piercing blue eyes anyone’s ever fallen for.  He’s also usually quite sedated, even when he’s calmly beating the tar out of the moneychangers in the temple.  He calmly gets the nails pounded into his hands and feet, groaning ever so slightly.  I will interject here that Mel Gibson tried to get it right with the torture of Christ, and then took it overboard.  But his Jesus was still a stud, what can you say?  You can’t have Danny DeVito playing our Lord and Savior.


All this just goes to show you that when you open up the Bible, you’ll read it a bit differently than your neighbor.  I know no other book which has so much valuable information for the redemption of humanity, and yet that information can be twisted into the basis for many people’s abhorrent behavior.  Imagination must be balanced with reverence when it comes to reading or even re-writing our holy texts.


My Southern Born Woman’s take on the Old Testament, as Christians call it, is intriguing and creative, and worth consideration.  It’s called “Jezebel’s Got The Blues and Other Works of Imagination”.  Her version of Noah is succinct and funny, narrated by a rat, perhaps the lowest mammal form on the ark.  I don’t mind selling that book here, because it’s a lot closer to the mark than Hollywood.  It’s got more in common with Broadway; no special effects, and no beautiful stars, but funny as Hell.


What to do with these holy stories?  Scripture gives us glimpses of human beings who connect with God in unlikely ways.  I suppose just connecting with God is unlikely, when you think about it, but the models in scripture give me hope that God is trying to connect with us, whether we are screenwriters, boatbuilders, authors, warriors, midwives or even precocious children, God is always whispering to us, calling us to Mercyland.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Redemption


When the infamous, sinister minister Fred Phelps of Westboro, Kansas died, I can’t say I mourned his passing any more than I celebrated his existence.  The abusive Bible thumper was of the ilk that used obscure scriptures to preach a message of pure hate; hate for gays in particular, but hate for anyone who was one degree out of line with his preaching.


His followers were mostly family members, and if the sins of the father were ever visited upon the children, the Phelps family lived out that prophesy in spades.  


A few years ago, my Southern Born Woman got a message from Christ Church Cathedral that Fred’s people would be picketing our church, which, like most Episcopal churches, is gay friendly.  We don’t attend very often but we took the message to heart, and thought we’d stand in solidarity with our gay brethren that Sunday.  The message from the Dean of the Cathedral reminded us to avoid engaging in any hostile debate, rather to invite the Westboro folks to attend our service.


We headed downtown to the cathedral, keeping our eyes open for some sign of the usual “God hates fags” and “God hates you” signs that the Phelps group is famous for, but Broadway seemed just as quiet as it always is on Sunday mornings.  The group was nowhere to be seen.  

Later on, we heard that the group had mistakenly gone to another church in Nashville that goes by the name “Christ Church”, a Pentecostal church which, to my knowledge, isn’t LGBT affirming.  I’m sure the folks at Christ Church felt like they must be doing something right with all that protestation.  


I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around hate mongers, no matter what the stripe, but when hatred is done in the name of Jesus, I take it personally.  There are many people who like to use the Bible as their ultimate argument for any number of things, some of them being worthy ideals; pacifism, charity, and personal sacrifice are just a few ideals that are easily backed up by the Bible.  An illogical read of Scripture can be the basis for many crimes of hate, but I fervently believe that a person like Fred Phelps would have to talk himself into the crazy rational that connects hatred and Jesus.  


It just doesn’t add up.  


On the other hand, the story of Redemption is in the air, singing through the trees, whispering through nature, and daring us to believe that we are loved.  Why redemption’s song, that perfect love song, wasn’t on Fred Phelps’ lips is a sad question, but probably answerable in the pathology of his history, found on the fingerprints of whatever insane person raised or abused him.  


But I owe Fred one, I must admit.  


When I decided to make a record called “Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us”, it was Phelps and his Westboro army that influenced me more than anything, in that "Mercyland" was a reaction to the Haters, and I don't know anyone who hates as much as Fred and Co, whose idea seems to be "God is hate", which I still can't find in my Bible.

When I invited the artists who wound up on Mercyland, I merely said that I wanted to do a record based on the idea “What if God is love?”


Emmylou Harris said “yes” before anyone else did, and once she was “in”, just about everyone I asked agreed to be on the project.  I wasn’t looking for artists who identified with the Christian faith, and didn’t think of the project as a “Christian record”, but I did want to gather artists and songs to identify with the idea that humanity might have hope in Something greater than ourselves.

The idea resonated with the great artists who partook, and continues to resonate when the songs from Mercyland are performed.

I wish Fred Phelps could have heard the message of the music he unwittingly inspired, but perhaps he's listening now.


While Mercyland wasn’t a gigantic seller, it did move people, and continues to do so.  In 40 years of being a music maker, I identify Mercyland as being my most important work.  In juxtaposition to the Westboro crowd, I like holding up my sign that says, “God loves you!”.  It’s something I truly believe, no matter who a person is, and no matter what they’ve done.


Everyone’s mother has reminded them, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”, and I’ll take it a step further.  The only word worth saying or hearing is “Redemption”.


I like to think that Fred knows that to be true now.  May the Westboro army and the rest of us find it to be so.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lenten Verses



My Southern Born Woman has been distilling her Lenten meditations into a few simple sentences every day, and I have followed her lead on this.   For more information about how she inspires writers (including me), visit www.writingcircle.org.

In the midst of 40 days without half and half in my coffee and no Havarti on my burger, I can't exactly say I'm suffering.  Nonetheless, here is the fruit of the first few weeks of Lent 2014.


Lenten sacrifice… trivial gesture, a spoonful of cream, voluntarily offered
How little can I give thee, Lord Jesus?
Spirit, enlarge my heart.

Under the ocean
Waiting the resurrection
A pearl in a shell


Pulling the oars
My back to my destination
Waiting for the skid of arrival
As a swan glides overhead


The body is its own distraction. When the body is in pain, it's trying to call us away from mindfulness and compassion.

The knot in a twisted back finally rubbed out, and Lo how blessed a body is to be able to stand, sit, walk, run, turn, bend. 

Bless the unseen blessings.


There is only one word worth saying or hearing: Redemption.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Brain's Playground

Note to readers- This is a chapter from my upcoming book.  I ended up reading it at Brian Harrison's memorial service a few weeks ago.  Brian AKA "Brain" was somewhat of a Nashville legend in the studio, having worked with many of us here, as well as Shelby Lynne and others.


Brain's Playground

I was sitting in my living room when I got a message from my friend Jim.  

“Are you around?”, he asked.

“Yeah, are you okay?”

“Well, my friend Rick told me his friend Brian had passed away today, and I thought it might be your friend with the same name.”

“Lemme get back to you”, I said, dialing Bryan Owings, my friend of many years and miles.

The relief of hearing Bryan’s voice was dampened with news that we’d lost a good friend, another Brian.  

So as not to confuse Bryan Owings and Brian Harrison, friends shuffled a few letters in Mr Harrison’s name and dubbed him “Brain”.  The nickname stuck.

Brain was beloved in the music scene in Nashville, being a stellar bassist and guitarist, and a great recording engineer and producer.  Brain’s entire house was a recording studio, complete with a 24 track tape machine in his bedroom, guitar amps in his kitchen, a recording console in his living room, keyboards in his dining room, and drums in his garage.  A wry Mississippian with a dark sense of humor, he named his studio “The Rendering Plant”.  I had recorded there quite a bit and loved working in what felt like Brain’s playground, surrounded by paintings of Muddy Waters and Son House, guitars, and vintage microphones.

Brain was likeable, irreverent, and witty; he possessed a slashing sense of humor and a most gracious gift of hospitality.  He had a particular lack of affection for former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom he believed (with many others) to be a war criminal.  It was as if every reason for despair was embodied in the person of Dick Cheney.

“On the day Dick Cheney dies, don’t call me, just show up.  I’ll be throwing the greatest bash Nashville’s ever seen.”  

Now Brain was gone.

Bryan told me that Brain’s computer had been open to a Google search for the phrase “tingling arms”.  

I could hear the aching in his trembling voice.  He choked up.  

“Philly, will you say a prayer?”

“Right now?”

“Yeah, right now.”

In my short prayer, I said that I was sure Brain was in Heaven at that moment complaining that Dick Cheney had outlasted him.  

A discussion ensued about Brain, the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, unless you were Dick Cheney.  Brain’s great capacity for congeniality and generosity offset his often caustic sense of humor.  

I listened as Bryan talked about what a great person Brain was, and how he just wanted to know that Brain was alright in death.  Those of us who believe in Jesus and an afterlife probably understand this uncertainty when someone who doesn’t care about God passes on.  After all, Brain had little use for religion, while he was respectful of his friends who were trying to connect with God.

I believe faith matters in this life.  I am glad I believe in Jesus, glad to have a sense of the Spirit’s presence in my life.  Of course, that Presence often makes Itself known via good people that cross my path, Bryan Owings, for one.  Brain, for another.  It would be ironic that an Atheist can exhibit behavior that reminds me of God’s goodness, except I believe the Creator’s DNA is running through the heart and soul of every creature.

The Story of Redemption is strong medicine.  Jesus died for all sinners, we’re told.  We are also told that God is Love.  

Some of us believe in an afterlife, while others are content that this is all you get.

Most of us probably don’t probably put much thought into these ideas. except when someone we love dies.

Some believe that the behavior of a saint lands you in Heaven, while anything less keeps you out.  I don’t believe that.

I cling to the idea that God is just like any good mother or father calling to beloved children “Come home”.  

My faith causes me to believe that Brain is in God’s presence because God is good.  

I cling to this kind of mercy, the all-loving kind- the kind I need to display more of, and the kind I see repeated in the Story of Redemption.  

The mercy I cling to does not co-exist with judgment; it is illogical, and possibly maddeningly unfair.  To wit, I believe this:  I believe the day is going to come when all of Brain’s friends are going to show up at his old house and party in style, meaning a certain former Vice President will have passed away.  By the time that day comes, Brain will have been so steeped in the love and mercy of Jesus that he’ll probably be the first to welcome an undeserving Dick Cheney through Heaven’s Pearly Gates.

I can use that kind of news.

Phil Madeira

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Runt

Hey, friends.  I'm trying something a little different here... short stories. I'd love reader feedback (as always!), but specifically-

1- What emotions did the story make you feel?

2- Shall I keep going?  Of course, I'm continuing to write spiritual memoirs, but something about "true fiction" gives me the freedom to delve into emotional territory that memoir writing must sometimes skirt.

3- Thanks always for reading!  pax, pm


When it’s said of anyone, “they’re closer than brothers”, I tune out.  For one thing, I don’t know too many brothers that are all that close, and for another, I don’t approve of brotherly love.

When Gideon toppled out of my womb, it was with little effort on my part.  The way had been made three years earlier by his older brother Amos, who time would prove to be bigger, stronger, and smarter.

The pattern of Amos making the way clear for Gideon was one that my sons never grew out of.  When the runt needed the elder’s muscle in the playground, all he needed to do was whistle.  Gideon took great joy in prodding older or bigger boys into fights, and then ducking out as Amos dove in head first, fists flailing and curses spewing from his mouth.

The burden of being responsible for someone of no social intelligence is hard to shoulder, especially when the bond is blood.  Somehow, that responsibility left my hands and fell to Amos’ on the day that Gideon came complaining headfirst into the world.

Amos could sing beautifully from the time he started walking.  He paraded around the house, strumming my father’s old Gibson mandolin until the day that he hit on something like a chord.  From that day forward, Amos knew what he was supposed to do with his life.

Tiny Gideon, that simple boy, wasn’t cut out of the same cloth as Amos.  If Amos sounded like the child of Hank Williams, and I’ll take the credit on that, Gideon sounded like the love child of Phyllis Diller and Buddy Hackett- there was nothing glimmering in his voice, and nothing dirty or rusty.  His vocal chords held nothing of the poetry of music, only the notes.

Finding that his brother could squawk out a note, Amos taught him to play guitar, and taught him the harmonies that would befit his hollow sound.  Amos shouldered the burden of having an ordinary brother by helping him to appear talented.  As it happened, it only made Amos shine brighter.

Blessed be the ties that bind, says an old hymn.  But I say it’s a curse to be related to an idiot.  Don’t chide me for my lack of maternal niceties; I am too old to be less than honest.  Death is coming for me like a wise old hound dog, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk through the Pearly Gates with a lie tucked behind my lip like some old chaw.  I’m done saying that my boys were good.  They were both no good, and I may have delivered them into this world, but they delivered each other into the evil that has made them bright stars.  Some people make a deal with the Devil, but my sons, and I can hardly bear to call them mine, had each other to make a bargain with.

Amos I have loved, and Gideon I have hated, but Amos made it easier by being the nice son, the diplomat, and the hand shaker.  Gideon was fly in the ointment, a trouble maker, ne’er do well, kicking at the hornet’s nest until it would nearly explode, leaving Amos to pick it up and hurl it into oblivion before anyone else got hurt.

When they visited me in this lime lit room, I couldn’t wait for them to leave.  Neither of them meant anything nice, it occurs to me, but Amos would offer a few polite remarks, counter to Gideon’s badgering.  Gideon would repeat my every word in a mocking fashion, dumbly finding great humor in the remarks I made.  I talked of my pain, and it would bring Gideon great reason to laugh.

Before leaving, they would go to the waiting room and sing to enthused old timers. 

I don’t care if I hear a lick again.

You ask where their father is, and I’ll tell you he’s dead, too, but not before filling their heads with dreams of floodlights and adoring fans.  Fans that old rascal couldn’t begin to count.  Fans he couldn’t even dream about.  His card tricks and hatful of rabbits intrigued them when they were little, and the sexy tramp getting sawn asunder widened their eyes when they were coming of age, but an old magician with stale jokes and writing tear stained postcards from BFE couldn’t hold a candle to boys who could really sing. 

One August night, he made the mistake of unleashing them at ages 9 and 12 on an audience in Bartlesville, and those 13 people wouldn’t let the boys off stage.  Worse, the lit up Okies wouldn’t let him back on.  No trick in the book could undo the thing that he set into motion, and no soothing spirit could lead him to forgive himself for the pride that cometh before a fall. 

The boys were hooked on performing from that moment on. 

No longer did they fight me when I dragged them to the Pentecostal Church on Sundays.  The holy rollers thought it was the Spirit that prodded my boys to spontaneously start singing in the middle of the service, but I knew what was going on; I knew they had to be seen and heard, just like an addict needs to stick a needle in her vein. 

The boys would start singing, and the congregation would urge them on into glory.  “Yes, Lord”, women swooned.  “Hal Lay Lou Ya!” men shouted, and I’ll admit I basked in the glow of my stars.  “They’re touched from above, anointed!”, cried Brother Clay, tears in his eyes, pride shining from his face.  God was going to send my boys out into the world from Brother Clay’s tiny mason block tabernacle to be warriors for Christianity.

Marching as to war, they went.

When they were old enough to drive, they quit school, and took my Buick 6 on the road, playing in every Pentecostal Church in Missouri.  They would play for a “Love Offering”, at which time they would announce, “The Lord just told me someone is going to give us one hundred dollars tonight, Praise God!  Now, who is feeling that call this evening?  Who has had it laid on his or her heart?  Glory to God!  Let’s give a hand to this sweet sister over here!”

Down the highways and up the byways they traveled, sometimes singing their songs in joyous appreciation of each other, and sometimes beating the living shit out of each other.  

Despite all that made up harmonizing, those two hated each other like any right minded Siamese Twin hates the other, one being the host, the other being the parasite.

Yet, when push came to shove, loyalty sprang up like a weed and those two stuck together like glue.  They were closer to each other than they were to the women they married.  They were a team, albeit ill-fated, and they stuck together like glue.

One would never hear of any criticism of the other, no matter how constructive or innocent or even wise.  There was no talking to them.

I must have been alone in knowing that they hated each other.  I saw it from the time Gideon was crawling.  I saw it as he dutifully obeyed his brother, and screeched out the broken notes that would eventually be taken as charming and folksy.  I used to beg Amos to let Gideon to find something to do that was of his own invention, but Gideon was so pitifully stupid that I finally accepted that the Good Lord had blessed him with a watchdog and shepherd all in the person of his older brother.

After 13 years of being Gospel stars in tents all over the South, Amos pulled their station wagon to the side of the road one night, got out, said “Try life without me” to Gideon, and stepped into the path of an oncoming Greyhound.

With Amos gone, Gideon needed to find a new place for his shadow.  He moved into my house, lived on my social security, and expected me to pick up where I’d left off all those years ago. 

Nobody wants to hear a broken harmony part without the melody shoring it up, but sing to me he does every afternoon, if you can call it singing.  “I come to the garden alone” he pipes away, and that’s where I want to be- in a garden alone.


As he leaves, a nurse smiles and tells me what a wonderful boy I raised.   “He’s very talented”, I say with a smile.