"The whirlwind is in the thorn tree."
While headed west in the winter of 2013, I stopped at Shakespeare Cemetery in New Mexico, in search of the local ghost town. It was hidden behind a locked gate and a PRIVATE PROPERTY/NO TRESPASSING sign riddled with bulletholes. I'm not against private property, but I didn't know ghosts could own any. The sign wasn't particularly convincing, but I decided against walking onto the set of The Hills Have Eyes, to meet Weedwolf and his gang of otherworldly thespians.
I wasn't afraid, I just wouldn't want anybody walking onto my land because my own bullet-riddled GET OUT OF MY FACE YOU CIVILIZED SCUMBAGS sign was old and rusty. It wasn't that big of a deal. I had the time, and happened to be passing through. Why not pull over and see what the Shakespeare Ghost Town is all about?
Where better to see a performance of Shakespeare, than a ghost town in the desert? Who better to perform it, than a bunch of translucent desert pirates?
I put a sticker on the Weedwolf sign on my way out of town. Weedwolf was the local nocturnal warlord, and most likely some kind of astral outlaw, engaged in weed and illicit wickedness. If you're ever in the Lordsburg, NM area and happen to run into him, perhaps working the graveyard shift at the Valero, politely decline his offer to smoke you out. His weed is laced with spirits. He is a wolf in stoner clothing. A native son of the dark, peyote'd earth. Just pay for your gas and leave. You don't want to end up as a hostage/extra in some weird Navajo performance of King Lear, tied to the mast of an abandoned Peruvian frigate like a sacrificial stage prop, as the wolves in the audience scream and howl like Fitzcarraldo, and the Natives go tripping over their lines as though the play was nothing more than a giant, poetic bag of mushrooms. You will wonder, as the smoke rises from the pile of sticks at your feet, and the insane, psychedelic actors dance on the deck of the abandoned desert pirate ship they use as a stage, watching the ravening, lupine audience licking their lips with rusty barbeque forks... You will cry that you have come to this great stage of fools, and you will wonder...
Who did Satan invent first?
The Navajo, or the Druids?
So, maybe it's just as well I didn't look too hard for the ghost town. As flies to wanton weedwolves are homeless songwriters to the "gods." They smoke us out for their sport. I've been invited into caves before. In my experience,
Accepting the invitation is a mistake.
I stumbled across this video by Gabe The Street Preacher today, and felt the need to comment. He doesn't allow his videos to be embedded, so click on the pic to watch it. In it, he's standing across the street from the concert of a band named "Switchfoot," rebuking them for being false Christians, and entreating them to repent. He says that he can smell weedsmoke wafting toward him from the audience of fake, professing Christians, and the last time he was at a Switchfoot show, people were drinking in the stands. He says the band never talks about Jesus, and has a false patina of righteousness that doesn't go any deeper than watered-down tanning lotion.
I like Gabe The Street Preacher, and admire his work. His remarks in the video linked above make me think of my own work, which isn't Christian at all, but which talks about God on a regular basis. And which, at some level, always has. I thought about how I've been sober for 9 years, delivered from alcohol by the blood and grace of Jesus Christ (no program), and how God called me away from weed about 3 years ago. I thought about how God is calling me out of the world to the degree that I feel the need to repent if I watch an ASMR video in which the girl shows too much cleavage. That's like porn to me. Nevermind obvious no-go zones like hard drugs, advanced psychedelics, and actual porn. I don't even need to be told.
I thought about Johnny Cash, who wasn't a "Christian artist," and who made every mistake in the book at least twice, and yet whose late-period output is some of the most uncompromising, hardcore Christian music ever written and recorded. And I thought about living in cars and vans for 15 years, job-hopping, scene-hopping, dodging bullets (metaphorically), counting blessings, going crazy, staring at the ceiling of my van at night, reading books from the free pile at the library by flashlight in the back of a cold (or hot) van in the middle of nowhere, wishing I had a place to stand. Meaning sit. Meaning stay.
But I never did. Not for long. So I commented on GTSP's video with 2 parts brotherly love and 1 part bitterness, which comment is pasted under the 2nd Johnny Cash song below. I'm tired of listening to Christians rebuke obvious examples of disingenuity, while preaching down their nose to all the Johnny Cash replacements sleeping at their mom's house, or in a van with expired plates in the middle of the desert. I'm not sure I can get into it in detail 10,000 more times. I did edit my comment to say that calling Switchfoot "artless swill" is too harsh, and doesn't come from a place of grace.
Of course, I didn't take the comment down. I just said I still have some work to do. But I didn't remove the harshness in the comment.
Switchfoot is getting paid. If they're as great as I assume they think they are,
They can take it.
So I watched the street preacher deliver the message to the Switchfoot fans, and thought about my own song "Tumbleweed," which shamelessly tells the listener to open the Bible and pass the bong. A song in which I declare that I have more pathos in my middle finger than the maudlin "Christian" artist who is no more a real Christian than he is a real artist has in his entire discography. I watched the video and wondered why God hasn't called me to stand on the deck of the Titanic playing "God's Gonna Cut You Down" for the people scrambling for life rafts, or at least a decent piece of songwriting, to ease their horror and pain on their way into the murky, frozen sea.
Cuz I could. And I did. But maybe it's too late. Perhaps the bats have flown away, as Revelation 18 told us they would.
Maybe the time isn't right. Perhaps it never will be. I watched the video and remembered to be grateful for my place on the life raft. I remembered that nobody has any fun on the life raft, and that the sights and sounds of the doomed testament to human achievement and pride embodied in the sinking Titanic must have been beyond horrific to behold, and that watching America cannibalize itself is a sad, heartbreaking nightmare as well,
But perhaps the days of entertaining drunken rats are over.
"I am not a Christian artist, I am an artist who is a Christian" Johnny Cash. No surprise that people who aren't real Christians aren't real artists either. A culture that enables fake people who name-drop Jesus Christ in a song lyric to bilk well-meaning Christians out of their money while preaching to their Johnny Cashes about something they don't understand (songwriting), has no future. Or, rather, has a future like this.
Good on you for standing up to them though. Someone has to stand on the deck of the Titanic and rebuke the fake, artless band. Too bad there isn't a new Johnny Cash show across the street you could just go to instead. Late-period Johnny Cash music is some of the most uncompromising, hardcore Christian material ever written and recorded, but Switchfoot still has an audience. Whoever they are. By the grace of God, I've never known. Artless swill should be obvious from orbit, like The Great Wall of China, and easy to avoid.
You can fill in the blanks on your own time. At least they won't go down without a warning. God bless you.
Anyway, "Tumbleweed," or perhaps "The Gospel of Weedwolf." Every line of which is true.
Or was, before God made parts of it obsolete. Because it isn't gospel, it isn't sacred, and it isn't a legal document.
It's a song.
That's all. And who cares if the guy on the cover has devil horns of fire. You think God can't put those burning feelings out?
Show me somebody who doesn't have devil horns of fire sprouting from their head (or didn't),
And I'll show you somebody who's on their way to hell with their shiny smile intact.
Thanks for listening.
Take my hand,
take my soul
I gave my life to Rock & Roll
I got 2 bad marriages
and 3 days clean
My bird has sailed
my ship has flown
the whole damn world needs to get stoned
every girl I know
is a beauty queen
Sitting in the dirt in the freezing cold
I know it looks fun,
but it gets old
hold me tight,
I like the way you feel
But really I'd rather just be alone
between the choice of love
and a broken bone
I say there ain't no difference
except the time to heal
Got no history,
got no plans
I'm standing tall on my own 2 hands
look ma, no feet
The sky is glue
and the glass is green
but hey, I'd rather be free than clean
the dust in my hair
don't bother me
Cuz I've got time
to get it done
and I'm in no rush to meet anyone
people are crazy,
why should I be,
When I can be free?
God in Heaven,
take me home
living on the side of this dusty road
makes me miss
what's left of my family
And yeah I know the man in church
is a very good singer,
but I've got more pathos in my middle finger
than he's got in his entire
Cuz I've had it bad
and I've had it good
just cuz I'm broke don't make me Robin Hood
I do what I can when I see the need
So pick up your Bible
and pass the bong
this ain't no Redemption Song
but I see no conflict,
and I feel no need
I'm a tumbleweed
©2014 Nathan Payne