Back then there weren’t so many places to go, not so many places that felt right. The earth was shifting under us, vibrations working their way to the surface. Boys were graduating high school, could be in Pawtucket today and Saigon tomorrow. Everyone had a guitar and some could even play. We would hang out at the Mouthpiece, mostly. When someone had a car a bunch of us would go to sit at industrial spool tables to drink coffee and hear Ken Lyon play the blues.
Maybe if we had a clue why we were at war we would have composed martial anthems, but there it was. The youth were leading and the elders eventually followed, or at least grew their hair a little longer. Churches opened their basements for music and cast their nets. He who has ears, let him hear.
It was open mike night at The Remnant, and there were a couple of guys with guitars. Milo Stranger was going to bring his tin whistle but that man was no more reliable than a cat. Just as well, because the open mike didn’t happen either. Instead we got Reverend Bill, all the way from Illinois, to save us from the fiery pit of hell.
Reverend Bill was a tall, slim, good-looking man with tousled hair and regular clothes. He grabbed a folding chair and sat on it backwards, legs wide apart.
“You are weakened by the very music you sing to praise the Lord!” he declared, in a resonant voice that carried through the low-ceilinged room. “Christian music is prostituting herself to the world. The rock music you love so much is built on the demonic rhythms of Africa! These are the drum beats of the obscene pagan rituals of the Dark Continent! Primitive, arousing rhythms. The Devil rejoices when the so-called Christian Rock invades our sanctuary!”
The Reverend paced the tiny stage, wiped sweat and loosened another button on his shirt. When he said the word ‘prostitute’, we knew it was supposed to be something bad, but his voice caressed the word as if Jezebel herself were trying his virtue with all her forbidden charms.
And he was just warming up.
“This is your Lord!” he shouted, waving a crucifix. “Stripped naked by Roman soldiers, He is tied to a post. The Centurion raises the whip, again and again! Soon the flesh gives way and the whip cuts down to bare bone! Jesus’ back is a bloody pulp. The soldiers cut him free and he faints in a puddle of his own blood. But they pull him to his feet and begin to strike him on the face, mocking him all the while as King of the Jews!”
Reverend Bill spared us nothing. For the next hour he led us through every kind of torture imposed in a Roman crucifixion– all the way to Jesus’ slow death by suffocation as he hung by his hands at the mercy of a vicious mob. The Reverend had loosened 4 shirt buttons by the time he got to his point– the altar call.
“And so, young people, after all He has suffered for you– do you dare to reject His saving grace?”
Perhaps the Reverend made a good haul in his net that night, but we were out the door. It was a violation of a kind. The Son of God reduced to starring in a snuff film, the nice people in the Black church swaying to the demonic rhythms of Africa. We had not encountered Reverend Bill’s kind of religion before, and as wrong as it felt, did not yet have the words to refute it. But even then, voices long silenced were making themselves heard, with preaching, and poetry and singing.
Image from Labor South blogspot.
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