Friday, January 19, 2007

96 Tears 96 Times

My wife Debra and I once spent a long night in Rocky Face, Georgia. Now Rocky Face is a nice enough place. The problem was with the motel. We were traveling from Louisville, Kentucky, where I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to my hometown of Barnesville, Georgia, where I was to preside over the marriage ceremony of my first cousin Rhonda (she and her big sister Denise were the closest thing to siblings that I ever had) and her groom, my old Little League baseball battery mate Freddy (I was the pitcher, he was the catcher). We left Louisville late in the day on Friday and stopped to spend the night in Rocky Face. We checked into our room. All seemed well. Then we began to hear “music” from the lounge downstairs. We knew the old rock and roll song that we were hearing.

Too many teardrops for one heart to be cryin’
Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on
You're gonna cry ninety-six tears
You're gonna cry ninety-six tears
You're gonna cry, cry cry cry now
You're gonna cry, cry, cry, cry
Ninety-six tears
C'mon and lemme hear you cry, now
Ninety-six tears, I wanna hear you cry
Night and day, yeah, all night long
Uh-ninety-six tears, cry cry cry
C'mon baby, let me hear you cry now, all night long
Uh ninety-six tears, yeah c'mon now
Uh-ninety-six tears

Great poetry it’s not, but it was a pretty good song. The song wasn’t the problem. Nor was the fact that we could hear the band well enough in our room that I could actually discern the lyrics. What was really bad was that 96 Tears was apparently the only song that the band knew well enough to play with any confidence. There would be an occasional lull when we could just barely hear the music; I guess at those times they were playing songs on which they were unsure of themselves so they held back. But then, in just a few minutes, they would belt out another stirring rendition of 96 Tears. “Cry cry cry now.” We wanted to. If they played 96 Tears once they played it 96 times.

It reminded me of the time that Mrs. Branch, my 5th grade teacher, wanted to host a dance for our class. Mrs. Branch was a young teacher who left us half way through the school year to move back home when her husband was killed in Vietnam. Before that happened, though, she rented the Rec, which is what young folks called the Barnesville Recreation Center, and held the dance. One day at school she was musing about how she would like to have a live band. A guy in our class—we were 5th graders, remember—said, “Mrs. Branch, I’m in a band.” “Really!” she exclaimed. “How would your band like to play at our dance?” “That’d be great!” he said.

That was one of the many times in my life when I should have intervened and didn’t. That “band” held their “rehearsals” in the back yard of one of the “band” members in my neighborhood. They belonged in the same category as a “band” in the same way that a broken rubber band belongs in the same category as a high performance racing tire or that the participants in a three-legged race belong in an Olympic relay event. But she didn’t know; she hadn’t had to listen to them while trying to peacefully shoot some baskets in the back yard like I had. She hired them. And they came to the dance and they tried. They played the Steppenwolf song Born to Be Wild and, to be fair, it wasn’t bad. But everything else they tried to play was bad. In fact, they couldn’t even finish most of the other songs that they started. So, they’d go back to playing Born to Be Wild. 96 times. Mrs. Branch came over to some of us (translation: the nerds like me who weren’t dancing) and said, “I’m sorry about the band.” “It’s ok,” I said. “They play a mean Born to Be Wild.” I’ll bet that if they had tried they could have handled 96 Tears. 96 times.

I thought about our long night in the motel in Rocky Face listening to 96 Tears 96 times when I heard the news that ?’s house in the Flint, Michigan area had burned down. ? (pronounced “Question Mark”) was the leader of the band ? and the Mysterians who were, of course, the artists who gave us the original recording of 96 Tears. ? lost forty years of tapes and memorabilia in the fire. According to news reports, though, he was most troubled by the loss of four Yorkies and a cockatoo, which is understandable, but I still think it’s sad that he lost all the mementos of his career. It is heartening, though, to hear reports that people in ?’s community are making efforts to help him. There is talk of a concert featuring ? and the Mysterians and perhaps a benefit with other musicians with ties to Flint like Mark Farner, the guitarist and lead singer for my personal favorite late-60s band, Grand Funk Railroad. That is the way it should be. Neighbors should help neighbors, friends should help friends, and people in the same line of work should help one another.

And a Christian should be a neighbor to anybody anytime and to everybody all the time. In a world full of hurt, the very least that we can do is to try to help heal those hurts. In a world full of loss, the very least that we can do is to try to help people in their grief. In a world full of sin, the very least that we can do is to try to point people toward the Savior.

I’m sorry for ?’s loss. I’m glad that there are people willing to help. I hope that we’re looking for ways to help those around us who need it. I hope that we understand that the real test of our Christianity is in the way that we practice it in relation to other people. I hope that we know that, when you get right down to it, the only way we can show that we love God is to love people and the only way that we can serve God is to serve other people.

And I hope that I don’t have to say it 96 times to convince you.

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