since it is a large multi-purpose building
which sometimes hosts basketball games, tennis tournements
and various expositions, there is a neutral concrete
face to almost every wall. the individual dressing rooms
are cramped while the larger changing areas are like
underground parking garages.
itís just after intermission and, as peter
begins the first of his two solo songs at the beginning
of the second half, i wander away from the dressing room
area. i am Ďnoodlingí; that is, trying a variety of finger
placements on my twelve string guitar and at the same
time making minor adjustments in the tuning in preparation
for my upcoming solos.
"can i talk to you?". a blue-jeaned
figure is leaning against the wall in a reception area.
iím surprised. he must know somebody in the production
office, i think, for backstage security is usually a
little tighter than this. still, with only a few minutes
left until iím introduced, i donít really have the time
or the inclination to get chatty with a fan.
"uh...i donít really have the time
now". i can see that heís sensitive to my circumstance
but reluctant to let this chance moment pass.
"perhaps after the show...iíll look
for you" i reassure him in parting. he nods in agreement
and i retreat slowly back to the stage area.
while walking, my hand continues to move
over the neck of the guitar absently and i think about
all the folks that wander in and out of our backstage
lives. folk music is such an accessible musical form.
the publicity surrounding the trioís involvement in the
civil rights marches and the anti-vietnam movement has
seemed to encourage post concert discussions that range
from questions about the efficacy of taking up residency
in canada as a conscientious objector to requesting that
pp&m write a note to the parents apologizing for
keeping their child out so late! it is getting to the
point that itís not uncommon to spend two hours backstage
after the two hours onstage...
the concert ends about an hour later and
after changing clothes and packing up the instruments,
peter and mary and i back to back and elbow to elbow
with over a hundred people in the reception area; signing
autographs, telling anecdotes, talking about future destinations
and answering questions about our musical and political
suddenly, i remember the fellow i had met
backstage previously that night and, scanning the room,
finally spot him, serious-faced, standing apart from
the rest of us. finishing the current autograph, i leave
the immediate group and walk over.
"hi, iím paul", i say. and then,
knowing that he knows that anyway, i hold out my hand.
"steve", he says - still with
no smile - giving me a quick handshake. "steve hance"
"what was it you wanted to talk to
me about, steve?" i say, placing an encouraging
arm upon his left shoulder.
as near as i can tell his age is late teens
or early twenties. his hair is light brown almost blond
and his face has a workerís tan, you know the kind with
squint crinkles around his eyes because you canít do
real farm work and still wear sunglasses.
his blue eyes look up quickly to catch
mine. "i want to talk to you about the Lord" he
the impact of what he has said is felt
immediately in my heart and by the time we have walked
over to a bench where he sits down, thereís an urgent
pounding in my heart and i get a kind of adrenaline rush
that makes the outside of my skin feel twenty degrees
cooler than the inside. but iím not dizzy...itís more
like iíve just been Ďlockedí into the subject material.
after all, isnít this what iíve been praying for? Ďnahí,
iím thinking, it couldnít be this directly related...
meanwhile that part of the crowd that has
left peterís circle begins to drift over to where iím
"could you make this out to me, please?" one
of them asks and nodding, i accept the record jacket
(partially in relief i now that i think i wonít have
to face the Ďspiritual heavinessí of what iím suspecting
my new-found acquaintance is about to tell me).
the crush of people and/or their alternative
agenda does not dissuade him in the least, however, and
oblivious to the crowd around him, he launches into the
story of how he and two of his friends met God. and heís
talking about taking acid and being frightened and praying
now, mind you, to hear someone elseís reportage
of their encounter with the Creator would be a difficult
concept to absorb fully even under the most stark of
circumstances. i mean perhaps after a week of solitude
in some thatched hut in the himalayas of tibet i could
envision being ready to approach the subject of a Supreme
Being but here i am nodding politely to fans, signing
autographs and answering questions about future recordings
and appearances while STILL his voice spoke on and through
all the distractions.
itís as though i was of two minds; one
able to be pragmatic and practical and taking care of
autograph business and another that is thirsting deeply
for a knowledge of an Absolute...one that would have
walked on fire to hear about God...much less operate
independent of this real-world backstage chaos.
and now heís telling me about how praying
the name Jesus over and over again rescued him from this
horrific Ďtripí and now how he and his friends had devoured
the bible looking for some kind of explanation for what
had happened since the reversal of a chemical effect
as strong as acid is unheard of and how this must have
been deliverance and how, even though they werenít regular
church goers, they made contact with a minister who had
explained to them in biblical terms what must have happened
and how the very same thing has continued to happen since
Jesus time to many people though it was more unusual
now outside of a church circumstance and now heís telling
me how they all felt Ďlocked iní to God and iím suddenly
aware that at least a half hour has elapsed and there
are only a few people left in the reception area.
"is there some place we can go to
talk more about this?" he asks.
"uh...sure...iím at a motel near the
hall here" i heard myself say.
the rational part of me is thinking Ďwhat
are you saying?! you canít just glibly swallow the fantastic
story of this guy and give up your important personal
after-concert time?!í and another part of me is thinking Ďhey,
so far so good...this guy is on the straight and level
and heís speaking from personal experience...i can identify
with that!í as we head out toward the parking lot with
his two friends i continue to have this discussion with
myself about how any concept of God can be more valid
than another. i mean, i reason, this twenty year old
kid has had some obviously intense confrontation with
what he believes is the Creator but which heíll have
to eventually allow is, in all probability, just a very
personal encounter and one to which i am probably not
going to be able to fully relate so why am i worrying
anyway and say, havenít i done some thinking about this?
yeah, and like didnít dave dixon and i go down to virgina
beach to the edgar cayce institute and didnít we check
out some of the spiritual options and like didnít i even
buy a bible there and so rearmed, as it were, with some
spiritual thoughts of my own, we climb over the sides
of the pickup truck and lower ourself down on a couple
of the spare tire seats made up in the back.
"so, like what do you think about
reincarnation?!" i ask with a confident spiritual
"well" he says without missing
a beat, "it may or may not be true but it seems
like thereís more important things to talk about tonight.
donít you agree?"
no immediate alternative springs to my
we arrive at the front door of the motel
just a few minutes later and after opening the door i
do everything i can to avoid what i sense is going to
be the final confrontation.
"uh, soda? room service? how about
some air conditioner? wanna send out for a pizza?"
"no, thanks" one of his friends
"nope" replies the other.
"uh-uh, thanks", says steve. "i
just think we ought to pray" and with that he and
his friends go their knees in the motel room. i join
them nervously but curiously.
"Lord", begins steve, "i
want to thank you for getting us into tonights concert
iím beginning to suspect that thereís a
bigger circumstance than just the four of us in this
tiny motel room.
"and i want to thank you", he
continues, "for getting me backstage without a pass
to speak to paul"
i definitely get a sense of the inevitability
of this appointment.
"...and for placing a burden on my
heart to speak to him" he pauses. "and now
i think he wants to talk to you".
there is no sound in the room except for
the whirring of the air conditioner and with our eyes
closed in prayer there is a mutuality of humbleness that
tears my heart apart.
iím aware that for real or imagined, for
now or forever there is no denying that i am kneeling
in front of my Creator and that every hair on my head
is known, every minute of my life is common knowledge
and there is nothing, no information to which He is not
privy. i am transparent, revealed and in my awkwardness
i realize just how long i have been Ďawayí...just how
long i have been absent from this Loving Gaze; hiding
in my personal worlds invented by a combination of fame
and money and pride and sustained by habit and ignorance
lack of responsibility and how interconnected those devices
of the world i loathed and the selfish desires of my
own heart were connected. there was nothing i could say
in defense of my life thus far...there was no excuse
for any of my actions except that i had been hiding.
and an apology was obviously the only thing called for.
"iím sorry" i confessed to all
that was Good and Holy and Patient and Kind and Forgiving.
"iím sorry" and the tears came.
like a child who had carried the pent up guilt of so
many years who rather than being discovered has sought
out his parents to confess all and now finds the details
of his crimes less important than simply saying
"iím sorry" and i sobbed more
heavily and i could feel the weight of my life apart
from God run down my shoulders.
"iím sorry" and i thought this
moment is the fullest the richest moment in all my life;
not because of how it might change my life but because
of now. Now was here in Glory. with not a thought of
the anxieties of the future and Now without any ropes
to bind me to the past.
how long i wept i canít remember but it
must have been for several minutes and finally when it
was done i tried to speak in thanks...there were no words.
"whew..." i had begun the cleansing.
"whew..." i was weightless and
guiltless and nothing like this had ever happened to
me before in my life.
"whew..." i opened my eyes for
a moment and saw steve and his two friends, still on
their knees, their hands outraised palm up and smiling.
then there was movement. steve was standing next to me
and, placing his hands on my head began to speak in a
sometimes singsong sometimes guttural tongue and i closed
my eyes again and was content to know only that there
was a dedication taking place...a sealing of agreement...an
witness and acceptance of a new life.
iím not altogether sure of what happened
after that...i think we might have gone over to someoneís
house where a group called shiloh was singing...peter
was there...itís been over thirty years now and most
of the specifics of that evening have been blended into
the impact of the emotional and spiritual message.
oddly enough though, i do remember the
following morning, as i was leaving and about to close
the door on the motel room, i glanced down at the gideon
bible on the round coffee table next to the door and
wondering if the experience of last night would fade
away...i somehow knew that my memory would keep it alive
for awhile but would i feel as changed tomorrow as i
felt now. could that same intensity be an everyday part
of my life? or was it like so many other experiences
where for the moment it seemed ultra-important but itís
relevance an ever withdrawing quality.