Monday, June 9, 2008

Blues, Bar-B-Q, and the Bible

After four hours in two doctors’ offices, Judy and I did not want to fight the five o’clock Dallas traffic, so we targeted the nearest restaurant to redeem our time and wait for the automotive tide to ebb. Memphis-style bar-b-q, even at a more upscale joint such as Red, Hot, and Blue, is not usually the kind of fare to which I would treat Judy, not because she doesn’t like bar-b-q, but because of the predictable clientele and ambiance (?) at such an establishment. What were the odds that the maitre de would seat us within earshot of a testosterone-charged tableful of young bucks whose conversation would be spicier than the bar-b-q? Pretty high, so my modus operandi now is always to find a table as far away from groups of males as possible; if I hear it, I won’t let it pass; depending on my mood, I’ll rebuke it or move; I sometimes make Judy nervous (she thinks it’s dangerous) by my perennial hostility to a culture that is rotten to the core with vulgarity but, hey, I’m not a passive guy; besides, it vexes my righteous soul. As we walked to the table, I cut my green eyes around every corner to be sure that Bubba and Baby were not too close and, to my delight, our early show at 5:00 p.m. meant that we had beaten the crowd, albeit only figuratively and chronologically, of course.

The auditory atmosphere was supercharged with the blues, something I know too much about. In my prodigal days I could sit for hours alone in my room, harmonica in mouth and slide in hand, and belt out a respectable white-boy’s version of Jimmy Reed or Robert Johnson, but once I realized I was just eatin’ with hogs, I went home to my father’s house and have sat at His table ever since. But I had made the choice—Memphis-style bar-b-q—, which I couldn’t get, at least in this place, without the blues.

To my disappointment, whoever laid the tracks made some bad selections—Eric Burdon after his glory days for one—but Clapton’s version of “Roll and Tumble” warranted respect even from the dark and dead muses that inspired him. So good, in fact, was Clapton, that I had to check my old passions at my new heart’s door and remind myself that what Eric sang about, in fact how he sang and played, was not just incompatible with Christianity but in fact antithetical to it; after all, rock and roll is a visible and audible metaphor for illicit promiscuity, right? Only the na├»ve and rebellious will deny it. That’s when I noticed the Bible.

There it was, under a little girl’s arm. A big, black Bible, right smack dab in the middle of bar-b-q and the blues. “Salt and light,” I thought to myself, “’Look at the sky burnin’ hellfire red, somebody’s house is burnin’ burnin’, down, down, down, down . . .’ Yeah, that’s why God hasn’t burned this house down—salt and light.”

She walked behind her Dad and little brother, in that order, they first, she last, with the big, black Bible. I remarked to Judy, “Do you see that?” She did.

Almost in disbelief, we watched them, dry-rub bar-b-q on our lips and raggedy blues in our ears; she wasn’t just carrying this Bible; she opened it; and even more to our amazement the father commenced a Bible quiz with his two pre-adolescents. He was an unusually handsome man, movie star looks with an athletic physique. “A pastor?” I asked myself. Probably, and I could also pick out the denomination by the attire and demeanor. But I was blessed, and then suddenly burdened, burdened almost to tears. I thought of my own father, at that very moment lying in a hospital bed in the twilight of life, and how from a child he had taught me the Holy Scripture. For a few moments I thought I would get up from my seat and ask the dad, “May I speak to your children?” and then tell them, “Remember this. Burn it in your memory—your father teaching you the word of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Remember this, for one day he will pass through the portals of death and you must remember what he has given you, what he has done for you, teaching you the word of God in this Babylon of bar-b-q and blues.” But I retreated from this emotional crescendo and decided only to continue to watch.

That’s when I witnessed the rape.

George Thorogood raped the little girl with the big, black Bible.

He did it like this, auditorily.

"Bad to the bone, Bad to the bone, B-B-B-B-Bad to the bone.
B-B-B-B-Bad, B-B-B-B-Bad, Bad to the bone."

Any red-blooded son of Adam knows the raw sexual force of Thorogood’s music and lyrics. With her Bible open and in the midst of the Bible quiz, the little girl’s head began to rock back and forth with the vulgar virility of Thorogood’s licks,

"Buh-Buh-Buh-Bad" . . . her head rocks right . . .

"Buh-Buh-Buh-Bad" . . . her head rocks left . . .

Right, left, right, left, right, left . . . head rocks this way, head rocks that way . . .

"Bub-Bub-Buh-Bad, Bad to the Bone."

There it was—the culture war right before my eyes, and in my ears—the little girl with the big, black Bible in her hand, bar-b-q in her mouth, and the blues in her rocking head; and the father, the handsome father, the strong father, the good father, the well-intentioned father, what was he to do? Was he handsome enough, strong enough, good enough to withstand Thorogood, to withstand the power of culture gone mad, the power of paganism democratized? The dreaded answer came too quickly—the dad laughed and chimed in on the chorus—“Buh-buh-buh-buh-bad to the Bone.” “Should I pray, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,’ or is the dad just seizing the moment to dull the blunt force of the blues by a humorous miming of the music for his daughter’s sake, seizing the moment that he might talk to her about it later, yes, later, and then explain why and why not?” I wondered, I doubted, and I also feared; I feared that the father, the son, the little girl, and the big, black Bible were being drowned, swallowed up by a torrential tide they had neither the boat nor the sails to stem.

After all, Thorogood (what an ironic name!) doesn’t call his band “The Destroyers” for nothing, or does he?

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