Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Greece Again, But Still No Ouzo

Mom and Chip and Sharyn had Kaffee and Kuchen in the back yard at Herbert and Sabine Lufts’ before we left Germany to go to Greece together and then I would be heading back to Malibu. I wrote:
“July 26, 1973, and just a couple of hours to say goodbye to Heidelberg. I walked down to town in Ellen’s old coat (in July!), by myself, the sky gray with a little rain. Mrs. Stowe and Budgie and Rufus drove by and stopped to talk. (Danny and I had babysat at the Stowes a couple of times; Mr. Stowe was the John Deere representative for Germany, and they lived not too far from Moore Haus.) There was a whole new Gustav Klimt section in the Kunst store and new Dürers too. Then Mikhael met me on the Hauptstrasse, “Come and drink a Bier with me.” So kind, great gemütlichkeit
[i], shyness and talk. Went to Kaufhof for a new Rotring Rapidograph. Walking together up the hill, I remembered that it’s easier with a beer in you. Ach…”

Mom and Chip and Sharyn and I left the next day for a trip to Greece together. First impression of Athens…a lot like Long Beach or any beach town, dusty, bright colors but drab anyway, slightly to medium depressing. Terrific California night air. Out to dinner at a joint in the Night Life District on the steps below the Acropolis, all lit up at night. (Reflecting on Lucanus in Dear and Glorious Physician makes the experience richer.) The house band is so bad…How many crummy groups are there in the world with the equipment I’m itching to use?

To church the next day with Phil and Lois Wall and their three kids, Phyllis, Andy and Benjy. Nice Pentacostal style praying (“Yes, Lord! Amen!”), singing “I Surrender All” in Greek. Lunch was moussaka, lamb, okra. Making peach ice cream for dessert, swimming afterward. Another nice unintelligible church service in the evening, featuring Isaiah 47 and 48.

Next day, onto the cruise ship and into the lap of American decadent luxury. I had the upper berth. The feeling of being with my family reminded me of that old embarrassed-to-be-embarrassed thing I did when Momma and Daddy and I showed up on Catalina that summer of 1967 and were the only fully clothed, white-skinned people anywhere to be seen all that week.

That first night on board, we were introduced to seven-course dining complete with a highly serious waiter. We stopped at Hydra…harbor smells, and a million tourist shops. I bought a blue cotton hooded robe.

Next day, Santorini was white hot. The bright blue sea looked far below. Horses were straining hard to carry us up hundreds of steps. I kept patting the neck of mine, full of guilt and compassion. (There’s a picture of that.) The shopkeepers seemed equally saddled. There was a sense of human prostitution.


Mykonos…The streets and houses had been whitewashed for so many years that there were no ninety-degree angles to be seen…the walls and the street met in a curve of white, so that the streets looked like rounded tunnels between the buildings. We walked into several art shops and I loved everything I saw. I longed to spend more time, but we were only stopping for an evening. Later on, I heard that it was a hippie colony. Oh God, I have longed to go back there so much, see more of the art, feel more of the atmosphere, but they tell me all these years later it’s become a gay paradise.

Corinth…It’s my birthday again, and Chip went to a corner restaurant to find a quasi-birthday cake for me – an odd chocolate pudding in a cup for my breakfast. Sweet of him! My present from Momma couldn’t have been better…an I.O.U. for a guitar when I find the right one.

Zurich…where Momma and Daddy and two-year-old Chip spent their first six months in Europe, so old memories rushed in for her. We breakfasted in the hotel dining room on croissants, Ovaltine, sweet butter. Zwingli’s church has Marc Chagall windows in it now. Z. would be so offended, so outraged, he might hurt somebody! I flew alone from there to Oakland, and Oakland to L.A. All together, awake for 52 straight hours. Naomi picked me up in the communal VW.

Danny appeared mere hours later at my mother’s condo, with his birthday present to me…all of Joni Mitchell, her entire record collection. (He knew my originals were scratched from much use.) I had a strange, shaky new conviction amidst growing feelings. The answer was no.

So Danny accepted my decision with absolutely no discussion, and left. We were both sad, but I’m sure there was some relief in both our hearts. We had unhappy for so long. Really, ever since the first weeks in Heidelberg a year before, it had been painful between us.

Even though we were officially broken up, Janice Hahn asked us to sing in her wedding. She was getting married to a guy from Texas, Gary Baucum, and the wedding would be in the outdoor amphitheater at Pepperdine. Janice threatened to have a fountain of milk manned by Pat Boone to go with the chocolate cake she was serving, but sadly, in the end it didn’t happen. A bunch of Texas guys came to be in the wedding party, and we had an incredible evening of worship with them. Their hearts were so open and vulnerable, we had never seen men like them before. We learned the song “I’ll Fly Away” that night.

Two of those guys would prove to be significant in my future, but who could have foretold? Brown Bannister and Danny and I sang as a trio (there’s a picture somewhere to prove it) and Mike Blanton was one of the groomsmen. Mike Blanton later co-managed Amy Grant (along with her brother-in-law, Dan Harrell), Brown later produced many of her albums, and I sang on her first album and had a song on her third. Also, Blanton was the one to offer us a record contract from Word, Inc. when two guys and I sang together in Nashville in 1976, as a group called Fireworks. I wrote something (of course) about that amazing summer wedding that brought us together.

“Father, may my words of remembering be as much a glory to You as these past days have been.

On that island of sacred time
we spoke to You together
and You were here with us
Higher than kites we were
when we saw what a glory
to Your Name that night would be
My brothers shouted and sang
in anticipation of eternal
oneness with You
and life was a delight
and our hearts were vulnerable
and we were so thankful for the past
and earnest about the future
and we were most of all
Your beloved children.

The time came to cross the threshold
back into a life more separate
and when You brought our family together again
we had all been down some roads alone with You
We touched one another, and You, once more
but the touch was more earth-bound this time

Still we praised You for the miracle
of close communal joy before You
around a table, and by the sea,
and I began too soon to wonder
if joy would leave when Your children left me

In the middle of one blessed night
I glimpsed what was to come
I turned and saw my brother
most precious because he is so rare
and knew that You would let me be with him
How rich a oneness, how sweet to share,
I couldn’t know or pray for, Father.

So now Danny and I had our senior year of college ahead of us. We saw each other in classes four days a week, and there were other situations where we would see each other. But since I was writing to Mike Johnston, and since I was living at home in Malibu in my mother’s condo, and since I had decided to buckle down and do my best to study with no distractions, it was not a year that I sought out any new relationships. I did start talking again. I felt I was released from a cocoon, or just emerged from a cave. Jimmy Hahn said to me (I can’t imagine why), “So the dancing bear has come out of hibernation now?”

Mike Wade was a preaching student in my religion classes who talked to me some. I had some conversations with Kenny Waters. Reid Rutherford and I shared an evening in his dorm room listening to Lazarus’ second album. He sang the words as if his heart was breaking, “When will the home of me begin, of wood and stone to keep out the storm and wind?”

Reid and I worked on a committee to help with the Missions Workshop that year. This was an annual event that was intended to stimulate interest and excitement in the college kids about overseas missions work, and give missionaries a place to speak and promote their work. About 2000 people attended that year. That meant a lot of people would be traveling to Pepperdine and need places to stay, and I was working to find willing hosts. I was so discouraged when the majority of people I called said no. My heart was full of a desire to be hospitable and find comfortable places for all these visitors, and it was hard to imagine that all these faculty and staff people I was calling didn’t feel the same way. Someone later talked with me about it, and explained that many of our faculty and staff had come from the South, where social obligations had been many and heavy, and that they had imagined they were escaping all that when they came to California.

I was driving through the Malibu Canyon Road one afternoon, a gorgeous sunny day, when my heart was touched with a powerful experience. Looking at all the beauty around me, the thought came, “All of nature works together, giving and receiving, offering and yielding, in this great unified open, living organism, and we should all be that way too. But these people are resisting, saying no, blockages in the flow, closed, not trusting, not open. How sad!” Maybe I was influenced by the hippie spirits in the Canyon. For sure it sounds like the Zeitgeist
[ii], the same spirit that the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon was preaching so beautifully. In telling the story of Francis of Assisi, Franco Zefferelli captured the spirit of the Summer of Love as well.

I did go out on one “sort of” date that year. A guy from one of my religion classes wanted to take me to hear Leo Kottke. What an incredible time we had watching him work that twelve-string guitar of his. But he was only the opening act for Boz Scaggs, and I begged the guy to let us leave when Mr. Scaggs started up. I was such a Topanga Canyon, hippie-dippie singer/songwriter type, I had no interest in such artists. My romantic focus was on Mike Johnston and our letter-writing, and I wrote him a poem (which I did not send him) that fall.

Today pine smoke was in the air
(I don’t know the smell of you)
Leaves are turning in the canyon
(How does sunlight change your hair?)
The sea outside my window’s roaring
(but I haven’t heard you sigh)
There’s a fire before me glowing
(Did my face light up your eyes?)

When your friend and I make music,
do you know, you’re there
and late at night by books can help me
remember that you care
Between the lines you’ve told me
that it’s fine I have a mind
You seem to see what’s best in me
You seem to be so kind

You make me want to sit you down
and ask you how you feel
and what you’ve learned about the sea
and if your love is real
and whether, maybe, someday, when
you’ve been long enough alone,
you’d let me come to stay with you
and make your room a home

Or if that’s too confining
maybe just cook you up your meals
and see your boots are shining
and not run down at the heels;
type your papers, heal your wounds
and love without your knowing
all the ways God works through you
and how He keeps you growing

Oh, I’d like to love you—
Father, if it’s in the Plans
keep me close enough to him that
he can know we’re in Your hands
And Jesus, if You come tomorrow
thank You now for the sweet knowing
there’s no reason for more sorrow
Love in You will go on, growing

Clearly, I had been heavily influenced by a song from Neil Young’s album, Harvest. Neil’s song “A Man Needs a Maid” was probably written as a kind of joke, tongue in cheek, but I was so deeply admiring of Mike Johnston, and so low in self-esteem, that I would have been willing to serve him as a secretary or housekeeper, hoping always that one day he would wake up and suddenly recognize me as his True Love.

I wrote to Mike that fall: “Last Friday I got this very distinct unavoidable For Sure feeling you were going to be around, that I was about to run into you one way or another, and that afternoon you did appear – but in the mailbox. I think it’s pretty sneaky of the postman to put U.S. Postal Service instead of New Haven, CT – who knows where you really are? But it was a delight to 'get with you' again. (I think that’s one of the nicer Texas phrases.) Are you camping out, or what? I hope wherever you decide to lay your head for the winter ain’t too depressing. Old Naomi and I discovered when she came to Heidelberg that what we might have though terrifically ancient and romantic can turn a bit morbid and unhealthy when you live there. We visited your beach at Point Dume yesterday.

“Old Søren K. is pretty cute. Once I gave my mother his parables about Abraham and Isaac to read for a bedtime story, and they put her right to sleep.

“Yep, I’ve thought about Children’s Books for Jesus. The problem is, C.S. Lewis and a couple dozen others have already done that So Well. It’s almost like Joni, or van Gogh, or Janice Hahn getting married. They all make me feel like it’s already been thoroughly taken care of and I don’t need to worry about doing it myself. I only dabble a little for my own pleasure. But I think the point I’m missing is that I have to do whatever God gives me to do and if He wants to bless it and use it that’s His business, not mine.

“The Janice Hahn getting married business I stuck in there because I was so impressed with the occasion. I got to sing (Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song”) so I was around some and it was a blessing that’s hard to describe. The life and death emotions that seem to surface for such occasions were amazing, more so than usual. There was a lot of tenderness and gratitude running rampant. But most of all it was the praise to the Lord that was phenomenal. A bunch of ACC people were here and they were so close to each other and open to us and the Lord. I wish you could have shared it. It was a definite grounded-on-the-Rock high.

“I’m there when you talk about People (abundance of) and Confidence (need for). It felt better to me too, you just writing it. Malibu particularly affects me that way. Maybe the quality of love I feel the lack of most is “does not seek to impress”. Boy howdy. It’s tough with intellects and beauties wandering around everywhere, not to be self-conscious. I really want to grow that way, soon.

“Hey hey, we are blessed.

“Father, Mike’s taken another step on his path. I ask you to give him peace. Be with him Lord. Use his mind for your service, adding wisdom to knowledge. Use his hands and his words as your own, to bless.

“Dearest Father, here is our friend Harry.
Receive him kindly, be good to him. -Ezra Pound”
0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0
I should say a few words about Jerry Gaston. He was a good friend of Mike Johnston’s. I have no idea how he and I first met, but I wrote in a journal from 1980 that we had known each other ten years. (Since he was from Wenatchee, knew Sam and George Miller and Steve Hazen and those guys, maybe I met him first through them.) He was a quiet, laid back, guitar playing, in-love-with-Jesus guy, and for some reason I felt very comfortable pursuing a friendship with him.

My senior year of college, he moved to L.A. to live at the Light and Power House in Westwood, near UCLA, which was a kind of Christian commune connected with Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth. That book was a wildly popular best-seller which predicted the soon return of Jesus and influenced a whole generation. I don’t blame Hal, but the book was a major reason I didn’t save anything for retirement for so long. I simply didn’t think I would need retirement income. History would be ended before I got that old.

I would go to Westwood to visit Gaston (as most people referred to him) and play guitars and sing, and sometimes we would go out to eat. When we talked, I made it clear that I was interested in Mike romantically, so Gaston would know that he and I were “just friends.” Here are Mike Johnston (on left) and Jerry Gaston (in hat) playing guitars in some barn somewhere. I wouldn’t have dreamed that Jerry would move to Nashville in 1979 and add another chapter to our history. Even Gaston has his own poem, and I feel compelled to make it available to you. I wrote this on October 20, 1973.

“I found him back bent, making music
He smiled and it was good I’d come
We sat and talked and sang and were
Amazed at what the Lord had done
We spoke of changes, friends and pain
We sang of love, and loss, and gain
And I confessed my need of him
And he of me, and we were one
In You, and yet again we asked
That our hearts’ desire be honored
We claim it is, but still we need
Your hand upon our daily walk, Lord.
You have blessed me with my brother
I will never get enough of
Loving him in You, and You with him.
Make us ready for Your coming
Give us songs and help us sing them
Let us play our lives to You.
0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0
I went shopping for that guitar that Momma had promised she would buy for my birthday. I found a store called McCabe’s in Santa Monica, and with fear and trembling I committed to a Takamine, with a golden face and dark brown body. I asked Jerry for his opinion, and was so relieved and delighted when he said, “I hitchhiked all the way to San Francisco for a Takamine. It’s a great guitar.” Patterned after a Martin, it had a sweet sound. I loved to get my picks at McCabe’s because they had free brown ones stamped with “Purloined from McCabe’s” on them. Jerry took me to McCabe’s “Back Room” that year to see real flat-picking for the first time in my life. Doc and Merle Watson were already playing unbelievably fast when Doc grinned and said, “Merle, let’s take it up a notch,” and they started pickin’ double time.

I had been so into Joni Mitchell for so long that of course the first thing I wanted to do with my new guitar was learn to play some of her incredibly frustrating songs. I bought a songbook and learned that she had been generous enough to share some of her weird tunings with the world. Finally I learned her trick. She had simply re-tuned her guitar to suit the chords she heard in her head, and if I could learn her tunings, I could come a lot closer to duplicating her sound. I got so excited about it one day, I actually went into the Pepperdine Admissions office with my guitar strapped on, to show somebody who worked there how I had learned to play “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” and “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio.”

My mom and I had a tradition of watching The Waltons on TV together, but most of my time at home I spent upstairs at my desk, reading and writing. The happy result of the “nose to the grindstone” approach was the only year I achieved straight A’s in my academic career. And even then, there was a sense of loss, because I thought, “Look at what I could have done academically if I hadn’t spent so much time focused on relationships!” And thus began my awareness of the constant frustrations of finitude. Here’s my desk where the straight A’s were partly achieved. Note the ubiquitous institutional desk chair! The poster in the center was really two pieces of poster stuck together which I ripped from a Heidelberg wall. Jesus is called “The Liberator” and below that, the name of the street we lived on in Moore Haus, Graimbergweg.

Life was pretty calm at Momma’s house, because we spent most of the time apart. When she would come home upset, I would attempt to deflect any personal attack she might make at me to release her anger by trying to talk her down, asking her what had happened that day. It often seemed to help.

At one point I decided to do the Atkins Diet. Coming back from Europe and missing all that up and down hill walking in my daily life was taking its toll on my weight, so I cooked for Momma and we both did the diet. I only did it for a month, but I can still taste that Atkins cheesecake. I had become such a salad addict in Malibu that I hated having so little fresh food in my diet and couldn’t tolerate all that protein. I learned at that point how easy it is for me to lose twenty pounds, and how hard it is to push past that plateau.

I loved one amazing thing about that year. I took horseback riding as part of Pepperdine’s physical education program. Yes, I got an “A” in that too! It was scary but incredibly beautiful to ride up into the Malibu hills. The riding paths were steep, but the horses were steady of foot and used to it. In spring there were wild flowers. Some mornings it was still misty, which made the whole scene even more romantic and beautiful, and when we got above the mist we could see out all across the Los Angeles basin to the other arm of the coast at Palos Verdes.
0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0
The Pat Boone family had always been around in the background of our lives. The whole family (Shirley and four girls, along with Pat) had entertained at some kind of event in Walter King’s back yard when the girls were still young, and Sara and Marilyn and I had envied them their poise and cuteness. They had attended the Inglewood Church of Christ where Janice and Jimmy went to church with their parents, Kenny and Ramona Hahn. Then there had been a big controversy in the Churches of Christ when Pat wrote a book about his being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. We had used the Boones’ swimming pool for baptisms in the Campus Evangelism days. Now the Boone family were members at a church in the San Fernando Valley called Church on the Way. It was a charismatic church led by a dynamic pastor, Jack Hayford. Sara and Marilyn, Caren and Janice and I all visited there from time to time.

Senior year, the second daughter of the four, Lindy Boone, was in my religion classes. One class in particular was on the book of Revelation, to which author Hal Lindsey’s speculations had brought national attention. This particular professor decided to heavily underline his point that the book of Revelation should not be taken literally. One day he brought to class a series of artistically shoddy Sunday School-type renderings of various scenes from Revelation, which anyone would have to agree were ludicrous.

I sat there steaming, silently dying to expose his ignorance, but restraining myself. “Have you ever seen the Sistene Chapel?” I wanted to shout. “Have you ever seen Michelangelo’s other paintings or his sculptures? Do you know anything at all about art history? Have you been to a museum in your life and witnessed the grandeur and majesty true artistic talent can portray? Are you kidding me?” Anyhow, we students allowed him his “art” show and his point. Why argue with such a person?

Lindy did something that year that literally changed the direction of my life. She invited a Christian music group to give a concert on the Pepperdine campus. We already had their album, and it had been a musical experience unlike any we had before. Here were two sisters and a brother with rock ‘n roll voices, an excellent band, heartbreaking lyrics and a passionate love for God and honesty about their own struggles. Lindy knew, because she had grown up in Churches of Christ, that the campus could not yet handle the full-on band with electric guitars and drums, so she asked if the Second Chapter of Acts (their oddball name) would be willing to do a concert with just one piano and their voices, and they agreed to it.

So Annie Herring and Nellie and Matthew Ward showed up at Pepperdine to give a concert one evening. Not only was their music and their blend stunning, but something else was going on that I had never before witnessed. They were worshiping Jesus and we were being drawn in with them. Their worship was creating a changed atmosphere in the room, and people’s hearts were being touched, and God was moving among us by His Spirit. I knew that night that this kind of thing was what I wanted to do. This is what I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe this was the reason I had loved music in the first place, so that someday I could be useful to God in this way. We would have to wait and see, but a corner had been turned.

[i] An untranslatable German word that contains elements of comfort, familiarity, delight, pleasure, and cozyness.
[ii] “the spirit of the time”

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