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1967

1968


 

backstage in abilene texas is not much different than any other large municipal civic center weíve been working these past several years. the size of the peter, paul and mary audience has grown steadily and now we regularly sing for five to eight thousand at our concerts.

since it is a large multi-purpose building which sometimes hosts basketball games, tennis tournements and various expositions, there is a neutral concrete face to almost every wall. the individual dressing rooms are cramped while the larger changing areas are like underground parking garages.

itís just after intermission and, as peter begins the first of his two solo songs at the beginning of the second half, i wander away from the dressing room area. i am Ďnoodlingí; that is, trying a variety of finger placements on my twelve string guitar and at the same time making minor adjustments in the tuning in preparation for my upcoming solos.

"can i talk to you?". a blue-jeaned figure is leaning against the wall in a reception area. iím surprised. he must know somebody in the production office, i think, for backstage security is usually a little tighter than this. still, with only a few minutes left until iím introduced, i donít really have the time or the inclination to get chatty with a fan.

"uh...i donít really have the time now". i can see that heís sensitive to my circumstance but reluctant to let this chance moment pass.

"perhaps after the show...iíll look for you" i reassure him in parting. he nods in agreement and i retreat slowly back to the stage area.

while walking, my hand continues to move over the neck of the guitar absently and i think about all the folks that wander in and out of our backstage lives. folk music is such an accessible musical form. the publicity surrounding the trioís involvement in the civil rights marches and the anti-vietnam movement has seemed to encourage post concert discussions that range from questions about the efficacy of taking up residency in canada as a conscientious objector to requesting that pp&m write a note to the parents apologizing for keeping their child out so late! it is getting to the point that itís not uncommon to spend two hours backstage after the two hours onstage...

--

the concert ends about an hour later and after changing clothes and packing up the instruments, peter and mary and i back to back and elbow to elbow with over a hundred people in the reception area; signing autographs, telling anecdotes, talking about future destinations and answering questions about our musical and political history.

suddenly, i remember the fellow i had met backstage previously that night and, scanning the room, finally spot him, serious-faced, standing apart from the rest of us. finishing the current autograph, i leave the immediate group and walk over.

"hi, iím paul", i say. and then, knowing that he knows that anyway, i hold out my hand.

"steve", he says - still with no smile - giving me a quick handshake. "steve hance"

"what was it you wanted to talk to me about, steve?" i say, placing an encouraging arm upon his left shoulder.

as near as i can tell his age is late teens or early twenties. his hair is light brown almost blond and his face has a workerís tan, you know the kind with squint crinkles around his eyes because you canít do real farm work and still wear sunglasses.

his blue eyes look up quickly to catch mine. "i want to talk to you about the Lord" he says simply.

the impact of what he has said is felt immediately in my heart and by the time we have walked over to a bench where he sits down, thereís an urgent pounding in my heart and i get a kind of adrenaline rush that makes the outside of my skin feel twenty degrees cooler than the inside. but iím not dizzy...itís more like iíve just been Ďlockedí into the subject material. after all, isnít this what iíve been praying for? Ďnahí, iím thinking, it couldnít be this directly related...

meanwhile that part of the crowd that has left peterís circle begins to drift over to where iím standing.

"could you make this out to me, please?" one of them asks and nodding, i accept the record jacket (partially in relief i now that i think i wonít have to face the Ďspiritual heavinessí of what iím suspecting my new-found acquaintance is about to tell me).

the crush of people and/or their alternative agenda does not dissuade him in the least, however, and oblivious to the crowd around him, he launches into the story of how he and two of his friends met God. and heís talking about taking acid and being frightened and praying and...

now, mind you, to hear someone elseís reportage of their encounter with the Creator would be a difficult concept to absorb fully even under the most stark of circumstances. i mean perhaps after a week of solitude in some thatched hut in the himalayas of tibet i could envision being ready to approach the subject of a Supreme Being but here i am nodding politely to fans, signing autographs and answering questions about future recordings and appearances while STILL his voice spoke on and through all the distractions.

 

itís as though i was of two minds; one able to be pragmatic and practical and taking care of autograph business and another that is thirsting deeply for a knowledge of an Absolute...one that would have walked on fire to hear about God...much less operate independent of this real-world backstage chaos.

and now heís telling me about how praying the name Jesus over and over again rescued him from this horrific Ďtripí and now how he and his friends had devoured the bible looking for some kind of explanation for what had happened since the reversal of a chemical effect as strong as acid is unheard of and how this must have been deliverance and how, even though they werenít regular church goers, they made contact with a minister who had explained to them in biblical terms what must have happened and how the very same thing has continued to happen since Jesus time to many people though it was more unusual now outside of a church circumstance and now heís telling me how they all felt Ďlocked iní to God and iím suddenly aware that at least a half hour has elapsed and there are only a few people left in the reception area.

"is there some place we can go to talk more about this?" he asks.

"uh...sure...iím at a motel near the hall here" i heard myself say.

the rational part of me is thinking Ďwhat are you saying?! you canít just glibly swallow the fantastic story of this guy and give up your important personal after-concert time?!í and another part of me is thinking Ďhey, so far so good...this guy is on the straight and level and heís speaking from personal experience...i can identify with that!í as we head out toward the parking lot with his two friends i continue to have this discussion with myself about how any concept of God can be more valid than another. i mean, i reason, this twenty year old kid has had some obviously intense confrontation with what he believes is the Creator but which heíll have to eventually allow is, in all probability, just a very personal encounter and one to which i am probably not going to be able to fully relate so why am i worrying anyway and say, havenít i done some thinking about this? yeah, and like didnít dave dixon and i go down to virgina beach to the edgar cayce institute and didnít we check out some of the spiritual options and like didnít i even buy a bible there and so rearmed, as it were, with some spiritual thoughts of my own, we climb over the sides of the pickup truck and lower ourself down on a couple of the spare tire seats made up in the back.

"so, like what do you think about reincarnation?!" i ask with a confident spiritual ease.

"well" he says without missing a beat, "it may or may not be true but it seems like thereís more important things to talk about tonight. donít you agree?"

no immediate alternative springs to my mind.

 

we arrive at the front door of the motel just a few minutes later and after opening the door i do everything i can to avoid what i sense is going to be the final confrontation.

"uh, soda? room service? how about some air conditioner? wanna send out for a pizza?"

"no, thanks" one of his friends answer.

"nope" replies the other.

"uh-uh, thanks", says steve. "i just think we ought to pray" and with that he and his friends go their knees in the motel room. i join them nervously but curiously.

"Lord", begins steve, "i want to thank you for getting us into tonights concert without tickets..."

iím beginning to suspect that thereís a bigger circumstance than just the four of us in this tiny motel room.

"and i want to thank you", he continues, "for getting me backstage without a pass to speak to paul"

i definitely get a sense of the inevitability of this appointment.

"...and for placing a burden on my heart to speak to him" he pauses. "and now i think he wants to talk to you".

there is no sound in the room except for the whirring of the air conditioner and with our eyes closed in prayer there is a mutuality of humbleness that tears my heart apart.

iím aware that for real or imagined, for now or forever there is no denying that i am kneeling in front of my Creator and that every hair on my head is known, every minute of my life is common knowledge and there is nothing, no information to which He is not privy. i am transparent, revealed and in my awkwardness i realize just how long i have been Ďawayí...just how long i have been absent from this Loving Gaze; hiding in my personal worlds invented by a combination of fame and money and pride and sustained by habit and ignorance lack of responsibility and how interconnected those devices of the world i loathed and the selfish desires of my own heart were connected. there was nothing i could say in defense of my life thus far...there was no excuse for any of my actions except that i had been hiding. and an apology was obviously the only thing called for.

"iím sorry" i confessed to all that was Good and Holy and Patient and Kind and Forgiving.

"iím sorry" and the tears came. like a child who had carried the pent up guilt of so many years who rather than being discovered has sought out his parents to confess all and now finds the details of his crimes less important than simply saying

"iím sorry" and i sobbed more heavily and i could feel the weight of my life apart from God run down my shoulders.

"iím sorry" and i thought this moment is the fullest the richest moment in all my life; not because of how it might change my life but because of now. Now was here in Glory. with not a thought of the anxieties of the future and Now without any ropes to bind me to the past.

how long i wept i canít remember but it must have been for several minutes and finally when it was done i tried to speak in thanks...there were no words.

"whew..." i had begun the cleansing.

"whew..." i was weightless and guiltless and nothing like this had ever happened to me before in my life.

"whew..." i opened my eyes for a moment and saw steve and his two friends, still on their knees, their hands outraised palm up and smiling. then there was movement. steve was standing next to me and, placing his hands on my head began to speak in a sometimes singsong sometimes guttural tongue and i closed my eyes again and was content to know only that there was a dedication taking place...a sealing of agreement...an witness and acceptance of a new life.

iím not altogether sure of what happened after that...i think we might have gone over to someoneís house where a group called shiloh was singing...peter was there...itís been over thirty years now and most of the specifics of that evening have been blended into the impact of the emotional and spiritual message.

oddly enough though, i do remember the following morning, as i was leaving and about to close the door on the motel room, i glanced down at the gideon bible on the round coffee table next to the door and wondering if the experience of last night would fade away...i somehow knew that my memory would keep it alive for awhile but would i feel as changed tomorrow as i felt now. could that same intensity be an everyday part of my life? or was it like so many other experiences where for the moment it seemed ultra-important but itís relevance an ever withdrawing quality.


 

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