Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 91) transports me to Winter Haven, FL, 1961, the year of my birth. It was then and there that three high school boys came together to form a band called “The Legends,” a forgettable undertaking were it not for the solo careers which followed. Each of the three provided early 70s popular songs that I butchered while trying to master the basic G, C, and D on my Conn guitar. Kent Lavoie, aka Lobo, provided the bubble-gum hit Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, which I just had to learn after hearing it covered by the Brady Bunch (who butchered it about as badly as I did). Gram Parsons provided the country folk hit, Hickory Wind (the only one of the three songs I still like to play). And the third Legend, Jim Stafford, provided the novelty song Spiders and Snakes. I have a feeling this last “hit” bears some blame for driving Gram Parsons to his untimely death; after all, the song was released in the late summer of ’73, just a few days before Parsons overdosed. My very unsubstantiated theory is that the song offended his poetic sensibilities beyond redemption, galling him to realize he had been in the same band with someone who beat him to the top of the charts by singing about asinine activities that passed for juvenile romance. For Stafford, this involved responding to sexual overtures by scouring the water hole for another amphibian to grab and scare his beloved Mary Lou. I didn’t have Gram Parsons sensibilities at 11 years of age; I was in Jim Stafford’s marketing wheelhouse, and I mastered the big 3 guitar chords through days of repeated efforts at playing the silly song.
The Psalmist in today’s passage, probably David, undoubtedly would have appreciated Gram Parsons’ more sophisticated poetry, and resonated with the Hickory Wind lines: I started out younger at most everything. . . It’s a hard way to find out that trouble is real. Admittedly, songwriter David did delve into the animal kingdom for some of his own lyrical imagery, but not in the manner of Jim Stafford. He pictured God granting the authority for the faithful to trample on wild animals, the lion and the snake. What is it about these creatures that merited contempt, that made them metaphors for the type of power that needed trampling down? I suspect that the aforementioned animals represented some juvenile boy energy at work, as the covenant community was becoming aware of the tendency for humans, especially the male humans, especially male humans in privileged positions, to get emotionally atrophied at an adolescence stage of fascination with alpha dog power. The lion and cobra represent that big energy obsessed with control and intimidation. God is pictured here reacting to this under-developed sense of what covenant love is all about. Acting out the hormonal drive toward power and intimidation is no more the essence of covenant love than a boy slipping a frog down a girl’s dress is the essence of romance. The Psalmist David had found out the hard way, early on, younger than most, that attraction to such power brings on real trouble. That ain’t what it takes to love God, or to love neighbor. So he envisions a day when all that adolescent energy is trampled, giving way to a more mature faith, a more mature understanding of God and covenant love.
Speaking of covenant love, and some bizarre juvenile boy energy: After Gram Parsons overdosed in that hotel near California’s Joshua Tree National Monument, two of his friends, Phil Kauffman and Michael Martin, stole his body from the airport as it was about to be flown to Louisiana, where his stepfather wanted him buried. The beloved friends had made a covenant that whoever died first, the others would burn the body somewhere in the Joshua Tree National Park. A very drunk Kauffman and Martin made good on the covenant. They were somehow able to commandeer a hearse and impersonate funeral home employees, and they managed to talk the airport personnel into releasing the body into their custody. The hearse indeed made it to Joshua Tree, and when the covenant friends heard sirens in the distance, they quickly doused the body with gasoline, set it ablaze, and high-tailed it. The hickory winds finally would call the songwriter home, though, as Parson’s stepfather eventually had the charred remains brought back to New Orleans and buried. Parsons now lies in a grave marked by a stone that simply reads, God’s Own Singer. I hope the Psalmist David appreciates the irony.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.