Friday, February 26, 2016

A Great Night

My Good Wife and I have attended a lot of concerts over the almost four decades of our marriage.

We got off to a rough start, though. In early 1979, about half-way through our first year of marriage, the band Boston was scheduled to play at the Macon Coliseum. We scrounged up enough money to buy tickets. But my mother-in-law suffered a serious stroke a day or two before the concert was to take place, so we had to go to Tallahassee to see about her. We didn’t get to see Boston.

While living in Louisville, Kentucky during the early 1980s, we saw Kenny Rogers (the Oak Ridge Boys were the opening act and they stole the show), Linda Ronstadt, and Anne Murray. We purchased tickets to see Gordon Lightfoot, but, much to our disappointment, the show was cancelled. We finally got to see him thirty years later at Macon’s City Auditorium. It was the only concert for which we’ve ever had front row seats.

We’ve been able during the last few years to see some of our all-time favorites. They’re late in their careers, but they still put on impressive shows. We’ve recently seen James Taylor, Carole King, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, and Neil Diamond. We have tickets to see Van Morrison in a couple of months.

A few years ago, a friend invited me to see Bruce Springsteen with him. That was the best concert I’ve ever witnessed. It became my mission to share that experience with my Good Wife. So I was sitting in front of my computer with my credit card ready when tickets went on sale for his February 18 Atlanta show. And I got two good seats.

The Boss and his E Street Band put on their usual spectacular marathon show. They played for three and a half hours with no intermission. This tour commemorates the album “The River,” which was released thirty-five years ago, so Bruce and the band played the album in order. The highlight for me was their performance of “Out in the Street,” which I’ve always wanted to hear live so I could join the audience in singing the “Oh-oh-oh-oh” response to “When I’m out in the street.” It was a blast.

Then they played several favorites such as “Prove It All Night,” “Badlands,” and “Thunder Road.” Finally, they blazed through an encore set that included “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Bobby Jean,” and the closing number, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”

When the show was over, my Good Wife said, “That was the greatest experience I’ve ever had at a live music event.”

“I knew it would be,” I replied.

And I felt mighty fine, because sharing something great with someone you love is even better than experiencing it yourself, and making someone else happy is better than being happy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rejoicing in Heaven?

I had a really neat—and that’s not a term I use very often— experience a few Sundays ago.

I’ve been the fill-in preacher at The Rock Baptist Church in The Rock, Georgia for a few months. Prior to my engagement there, my only connection to the town of The Rock (let me add, for my young readers, that the town is not named for former world champion professional wrestler and future Academy Award-winning actor Dwayne Johnson) had been the carpet that my parents bought there, back when I was a kid and The Rock had a carpet store. They purchased it to, for reasons I’ll never understand, cover up the beautiful hardwood floors in our little house on Memorial Drive in Barnesville. My mother described the carpet’s texture as “semi-shag” and its pattern as “mingledy.” It was lovely.

Anyway, one Sunday a man I used to know came to worship with us at The Rock. He and I hadn’t seen each other in forty years. I was a teenager when I started preaching and, sometime during my adolescent attempts at proclaiming the word of God, he heard me preach. He was a grown man at the time, and he started preaching right about then, too. I heard him preach a time or two.

So there he was, on February 7, 2016, listening to me preach for the first time since around 1975.

In our brief conversation before the service, he told me a couple of things I didn’t know. For one thing, he worked side-by-side with my mother in the cutting room at Carter’s Mill. He said he remembered when she quit to stay home with me. That would have been in 1958. For another thing, he said that my father helped him find some places to preach when he was just starting out. His stories warmed my heart. My folks have been gone a long time, and I like to hear people who knew them talk about them. I love learning new things about them.

When I shared a brief version of this story on Facebook, a friend asked me if he said whether my preaching had improved since the last time he heard me. I said I was afraid to ask. As a matter of fact, though, as he exited the sanctuary, he said, “I know your Mama and Daddy are rejoicing in heaven this morning.”

And I thought, “I sure hope so.”

I mean, how am I supposed to know? Mama’s been gone forty-one years, Daddy thirty-seven. I was sixteen and hadn’t started college yet when Mama died. I was twenty and hadn’t gone to seminary when Daddy died. I graduated from Mercer and earned two seminary degrees. My experiences have been so much different than theirs. Mama pretty much never left Barnesville. Daddy left Yatesville to join the Navy at the beginning of World War II and spent most of the war in the Pacific. Except for those years, he stayed pretty close to home, too. So far as I know, Mama attended one church her entire life. Daddy attended the same one from the time they married until we held his funeral in it. I’ve served several churches as pastor, have taught in a university, and now work as an editor for a publishing company. My life has been broad, my education solid, and my reading extensive.

My faith has developed, evolved, deepened, and changed.

Sometimes I wonder if my parents and I would be able to talk about religion. Then, when I really think about it, I think I know about how such conversations would go if they were here to have conversations with me. I’d suggest something I thought was a little beyond their boundaries. Mama would say, “Why do you think about things like that?” and that would be that, as far as she was concerned. And Daddy would say, probably out of earshot of Mama, “You know, I’ve wondered about that myself.”

Still, I’m not sure they’d think my sermons really constitute “preaching.” Maybe they’d at least think I give a nice talk.

A couple of years before Daddy died, while I was a student at Mercer, I told him that I thought I might be becoming a liberal. He gave me a sideways look, then asked me what I meant. I told him that I was asking a lot of questions about things and I wasn’t sure where they were going to take me.

“Let me ask you this,” he said. “Do you still believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

“Yes,” I replied. Honestly, I might add.

“Well,” he said, “just hold on to that. Everything else will work itself out.”

I was the educated one. He was the wise one.

I still believe that, by the way. I try to give expression to it the best way I know how.

Maybe that’s reason enough for them to rejoice in heaven.

I sure hope so …

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More of the Monkees

More of the Monkees was the first album I ever bought.

The album was recorded in 1966 and released in January 1967, so we’re coming up on its fiftieth anniversary. I was eight or nine years old when I bought it. There’s no telling how many weeks I saved my allowance and refrained from buying baseball cards so I could purchase the record. I don’t know why I didn’t buy their first album. My guess is that I started saving for it and, by the time I had enough coins, the second one had been released, so I bought it instead.

I wanted it because I was a fan of The Monkees television show. I knew nothing of the show’s fascinating backstory. I didn’t know the Monkees were a “made for television” band. (I wasn’t always so gullible. I had a strong suspicion that neither The Archies, The Banana Splits, nor Lance Link’s Evolution Revolution were real bands.) I didn’t know that the boys did almost no playing on either of their first two albums. Most of that was done by studio musicians, including members of the now legendary Wrecking Crew. The members of the Monkees did sing the songs.

I didn’t know that, at the time of its release, the Monkees hated just about everything about More of the Monkees. I didn’t know they were on tour and had no idea their second album was coming out until it did. I didn’t know that Michael Nesmith thought it was “probably the worst album in the history of the world,” as he later said. I didn’t know the album cover photo was taken from shots done for ads for a J.C. Penney Monkees collection. I didn’t know there was a J.C. Penney Monkees collection. If I had, I’d have been asking for some of those tight britches and high-collared shirts for Christmas. I didn’t know the band, led by Nesmith, was entering into a fight for creative control of their music—a fight they would win.

I played that record so much I’m surprised I didn’t wear the grooves out.

More of the Monkees introduced me to some great songs and songwriters. Neil Diamond wrote “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and the now classic “I’m a Believer.” Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart penned “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “She.” Neil Sedaka and Carol Bayer Sager wrote “When Loves Come Knockin’ (At Your Door),” and Gerry Coffin and Carole King penned the gorgeous “Sometime in the Morning.” I had never heard of any of those composers before I read the album’s liner notes. Mike Nesmith, of whom I had heard (because he was a Monkee), wrote “Mary, Mary” and co-wrote “The Kind of Girl I Could Love.”

My Good Wife and I have never seen the Monkees in concert. (A friend of mine saw them in Jacksonville in 1967 with Jimi Hendrix as the opening act. Can you imagine what all those teenyboppers must have thought of him?) We have, though seen both Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz individually. We’ve also seen a couple of those composers who went on to do all right as performers as well as songwriters: Neil Diamond and Carole King.

We’re about to get even more of the Monkees. The television show debuted in 1966, so Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork are going on tour to mark the fiftieth anniversary. The band is also releasing a new album. Who’d have thought we’d still be talking about and listening to the Monkees in 2016? I’m sure they didn’t.

The Mike who was in the Monkees said More of the Monkees was “probably the worst album in the history of the world.”

This Mike, who still has his copy, says it’s one of his favorite albums.

After all, it was my introduction to rock and roll and to some of its most brightly shining lights.

How can I be anything but grateful?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lighten Up?

The Super Bowl contest is over and we know the winner.

It’s the Hyundai ad featuring Kevin Hart as an over-protective father. That’s the consensus pick for the best commercial aired during the Super Bowl.

Let me offer a summary, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Hart meets his teenaged daughter’s date at the door. According to the title of the commercial, it’s their “First Date.” Dad invites the young man to take his car, a new Hyundai. The aim of the ad is to promote Hyundai’s “find car” technology, which Hart activates. The rest of the commercial shows Hart spying on the two young people, which culminates with him hanging from a helicopter to head off any shenanigans that might take place while they’re parked in an isolated spot. You might say he took “helicopter parenting” to a new level. You might not.

(As an aside, we might pose the question of why the young man, having seen the girl’s father spying on them everywhere they’ve been, tries to take her parking. The young can be foolish, I guess. I'm not sure. It was so long ago ...)

It’s a funny ad.

These days, everything gets instantly analyzed, and people post their instant analyses on social media. So while many folks just thought the ad was funny, others stated their opinion that it promoted sexism and advocated stalking. Why was it sexist? Because it implied that a young woman couldn’t take of herself. Why did it advocate stalking? Because the father followed his daughter and her date around, that's why.

Another ad that sits near the top of most people’s Best Super Bowl 50 commercials list is one hawking Doritos. The ad has the admittedly ridiculous premise that an expectant father is eating Doritos in the examining room while the mother of his child is having an ultrasound.

(As an aside, let me say that I can understand how, having started, the man can’t stop. I don’t like Doritos, but if I eat one, I want many more. I’m suspicious of the spicy powder they put on them.)

Anyway, the father realizes that the baby’s image on the ultrasound monitor moves toward the Dorito he’s eating. So, being a man (wait—isn’t that sexist?), he naturally starts manipulating the baby’s movements by moving a chip around. Finally, the mother, having had enough, snatches the chip from the father’s hand and flings it past her feet. The baby on the monitor heads off, rocket-like, in that direction, as does the baby in fact.

This silly ad has been attacked by at least one silly pro-choice group for implying that a fetus might be alive.

I’m a liberal, progressive, and sensitive guy. I can see the points raised by the watchdogs.

Sometimes, though, I just want to laugh. I don’t want to laugh at someone else’s expense; I’m not in middle school, for Pete’s sake (I know, I just stereotyped middle schoolers as mean and heartless. They all aren’t. I myself have known a couple who weren’t). But I do like to laugh. And these ads were funny. The Doritos one was funnier, but that’s just me.

Besides, there’s a lesson to be learned here.

Keep tabs on your kids, or they might end up in an ultrasound room watching their baby trying to grab some Doritos.

Oh, and if they do— please love ‘em anyway …