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Van Halen Cassette tapes, Kindergarten Underpants, Atari 2600, and the Awesome Hippie Babysitter

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Atari2600wood4

Atari2600wood4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rock and roll was the background music to my life from a very early age.  I initiated this obsessed love with two cassette tapes.

The first was “Purple Rain” by Prince.  I had that when I was about 4 years old.  My Dad bought it because he thought it was a killer album.  My Dad always had an ear out for what the best music on the scene was, a practice that I tried to pick up on.

The second was “1984″ by Van Halen.  I had that when I was about 5 years old.  I loved the song “Jump“, and also loved “Panama”.  I memorized the lyrics to “Jump” and used to sing them to my classmates in Kindergarten.  They looked at me like some sort of space alien.

My Dad was really into music.  When I was in my Mother’s womb my Dad’s drummer, Rodney Psyka nicknamed me “BB” (pronounced “Bee, Bee”), which is why my parents named me “Benjamin Bradford White” a little bit of a reference to BB King, but a never ending reminder that my identity was carved out in the middle of a bar gig.

I had no idea when I was a little man that my Dad had been heavily into the 60′s and 70′s drug scene. Nor did I have any idea that the members of Van Halen had probably indulged in their fair share of booze and drugs (especially old Diamond David Lee Roth!).  I just knew that I loved the sound of music pumping in my ear-drums.  Something about it felt familiar to me.

When I was a kid, my Dad smoked Barclay 100′s cigarettes.  I remember being 4 and 5 years old, and my Dad would be blowing that mellow blue smoke into the air.  I would be wafting it away from my face, trying not to breathe it in.  I always yelled at him saying, “Dad!  Smoking is so gross!  I hate it!” My Dad would just laugh and light up another, at times apologizing for smoking.  My mom would give my Father the dirty look that she often gave him.

I didn’t grow up under any sort of religious instruction.  The basic religion that my parents seemed to feed me was love, tolerance and compassion, coupled with BeatlesJoni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records.  As a child I looked to musicians as being a certain breed of sage or prophet. I felt that their chords and melodies contained some sort of mystic power.  I was drawn to it.  It was the most spiritual experience that I encountered in my formative years.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I did pretty well.  They had me in a couple of advanced classes and I was basically a geek.  I was a different kind of geek though, because I had a variety of friends.  I was somewhat of a “socially adjusted geek”.

I had an appetite for trouble as well!  Once in Kindergarden I pulled my pants down in front of the class when my teacher had left for a short time, trusting that we the students would behave ourselves. We found after that she had left to join a small group of people that were observing their class behind glass with a one-sided mirror.  It was a behavioral experiment done by the Montessori School we were part of at the time.  They wanted to see if kindergarten kids could behave themselves in a large group without adult supervision.  I led the kids into a mini riot when I dropped my drawers and thwarted their experiment…

My parents later thought it would be a good idea to put me in public school, to give me more structure and rules.  It ended up working well.  I became a good student, and more well behaved.

In the meantime my Dad worked for John Hancock, an insurance company that was doing well in the 80′s.  He was at work often but he was also a good Father.  In many senses he was more of a friend to me than a disciplinary force.  I could always talk him out of punishments.  For example, after the pant-less fiasco my Dad tried to take away my Atari 2600 for a month…  and I talked him down to 2 weeks of Atari-absence.

Then there was the first time I witnessed my Dad get drunk.  He didn’t do it often, especially in front of me, and he definitely wasn’t an angry drunk, more of a slap-happy drunk.  We were at a wedding once when I was 10 years old and he had a little too much whiskey.  He had a lot of wild conversations with random people, basically being the life of the party in an extreme sort of way. While I, on the other hand, didn’t get it.  I cried and cried on the way home telling him how wrong it was.  After all, I was taught in school that these exploits were wrong.  Something in my young conscience felt horrible about it.

My Dad reassured me that he wouldn’t do it again.  He was generally good to his word throughout the rest of my pre-adolescent years.  He wasn’t an alcoholic, just a social partier.  He communicated to me that his position as a Father was more important than his party life.  He did a good job of keeping those two worlds separate before my eyes for quite a time. 

I had a babysitter named Laina who talked often of going outside to “get a fresh of breath air”.  I had found out that she smoked Camel cigarettes, and thought that maybe she was going outside to toke. I thought that was true because she used to come back from the “breath of fresh air” in an erratic mood and feed me some wild snacks, like Tato Skin potato chips, marshmallows and Coca-Cola Classic.  Then I hit the age of 13 and found that all hormones of either gender make one erratic. Nonetheless, it was safe to say I began to get a little chubby and crazy on this munchie food towards the end of my Elementary School days.

During this time I also got a guitar for Christmas.  My Dad had the guitar amp wrapped up and under the tree, and I had opened up all of my presents including the amp, but no guitar was to be found.  Then my Dad pulled a kamikaze move and grabbed the guitar out of his closet.  I was thrilled.  It was a black Fender Squier Stratocaster with white inlays.

Laina, my babysitter, was really proud of me for chasing after rock and roll.  She got me into the DoorsAerosmith and Led Zeppelin.  I listened to Zeppelin II for the first time, and it blew my world apart.  Jimmy Page’s riffs made me want to learn how to tear it up just like him.  Laina even helped me write a song, and we called it “Death Theater”.  She was really bummed when I made the lyrics a naive version of an anti-drug rant.

But Laina and I became pretty good buds.  She took me downtown in Hudson, Ohio during the annual shaving cream fight that all the middle schoolers and high schoolers used to go to.  It made me feel pretty cool to say the least, especially for a 4th grader!  Laina helped me figure out a little bit more of who I thought I was, and turned me on to rock and roll that turned my world upside down.

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Middle School Drinking and Its Aftermath

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Dead Drunk

Dead Drunk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Edan and I somehow got caught up in the quest for cool rebellion.  It was an electric summer for the music scene in 1993.  Riding the coattails of gritty, raw bands like The Cult, the Pixies and Guns n’ RosesNirvana‘s Nevermind had already wrecked the glam rock of the late eighties, and other bands were coming out of the wood work that rode Kurt Cobain‘s trail of mayhem, including Pearl JamSoul AsylumAlice in ChainsBlind Melon and Soundgarden.

Edan and I were listening to all of this new music, and coming of age as well.  Puberty was figuratively smacking us in the face.  Girls were becoming more and more of an irresistible enigma, and we were starting to develop heroes apart from our parents and the basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Our heroes were found in the ringing loudness of cassette tapes, and a new invention that was starting become common in home sound systems- Compact Discs.  Kurt Cobain sang of a world we deeply wanted to understand.  We began to be fascinated with the idea of being intoxicated, because we knew all of these guys constantly were.  And since I played music I somehow believed that intoxication would enhance my music, and in many ways that’s what I cared about the most- playing and writing good music.

We started by rolling up green oak leaves and stealing my Dad’s lighter.  We’d go out into in my backyard and sit in an oak tree (where else???) and smoke oak leaves!  We definitely didn’t inhale, but we got the adrenaline rush that came with doing something we knew our parents would think was wrong (or maybe really, just stupid and weird!)

From there it moved on to smoking cinnamon sticks, which weren’t very good at all.  It was amazing how silly we were doing these things.

Then we got the hunger to begin trying something truly illegal, smoking cigarettes while we were still only 12 years old.  We used to wait by the entrance of a grocery store in town.  People would walk in and put their cigarettes in the ash tray outside, some of them still mostly full.  We would take the cigarettes and smoke them!  Man, looking back I’m glad we didn’t get some sort of Hepatitis!

Edan’s 13th birthday was coming up.  It was the end of summer, the beginning of our 7th grade year in school.  Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just hit the CD racks in music stores, and we bought it up immediately.  With this music as our background soundtrack, we decided to steal a bunch of booze from Edan’s Dad.  We stole a couple of beers, we took little plastic bottles and filled them with whiskey, then rum, and then vodka.  I paid a 7th Grader about 3 bucks for a pack of cigarettes that was half empty (that would be a cheap price now, but then it was a rip-off!).  So we had gathered up what we saw as the most trouble we could get ourselves into to prepare for Eric’s 13th birthday bash.

Edan invited a number of his and my friends to the party.  After an evening of walking around on the dirt of an undeveloped area of his neighborhood and smoking cigarettes in the cool Fall evening, we headed back to his house.

When his parents were asleep, we broke out all of the alcohol.  I treaded carefully and drank little sips, pretending to be more and more intoxicated, when I was really faking it.  One of our friends, Nathan, refused to participate in the drinking.  He actually became the prophet of morality for the night.  We made fun of him for standing out.  I look back and realize it took a lot of courage to do.  As a thirty-two-year old man who has been sober for thirteen years, I know that I would be the one to stand out now.  Of course, I’d do it without condemning the people that are partying.  But then, I was much different, and much more easily persuaded to follow my id.

The night went on, and everyone seemed to be faking it like they were drunk.  We all winded down and Edan seemed to get crazier.  I suppose he drank a whole lot more than most of us, because a lot of us were just scared to do it.  Edan started getting violent and cynical.  He came after a few of us physically.  I remembered Nathan wrestling him and throwing him to the ground one time.  I think the alcohol just got a hold of Edan in a way he couldn’t handle (I mean, what 12 year old kid could?).  The night ended with Edan hugging the toilet and vomiting for quite awhile.

We woke up the next morning and I was too naive to understand what had happened.  I was seriously mad at Edan for acting that way and didn’t realize how much the alcohol had taken hold of him.  Regretfully I shunned Edan after that.  It was another step in my quest for popularity, and I was willing to mow anyone down to get there.  I turned other people against him and spread vicious rumors about him.  And it wasn’t until my eleventh grade year of High School that I came to tell him how sorry I was for that.

Junior High School is a cold, Darwinian arena where “survival of the fittest”, or maybe “coolest” or “meanest” can be the only rule.  Those who create the rumor mill and oppress the honest and vulnerable come to prominence.  Those who forthrightly navigate their way through the wilderness of confusion get left behind in a trail of smoke.  Some of these realities come alive in adulthood, where consumers subversively gnaw and tear at each other’s souls, and bosses subversively undercut and demoralize their employees.  Hopefully, we learn from these errors and seek to love our friends, neighbors and enemies, fueled by unconditional love from above.  Yet it is the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7)  Our very nature is to spread calamity, but rising above it is possible through surrender.

I didn’t realize these things at the naive age of twelve.  I would have many years of infamy before being driven towards true assertion.

True Childhood Friends

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three young friends on the beach

three young friends on the beach (Photo credit: deflam)

While riding the high of the Middle School Talent show, Percy and I began to plan our big push for adolescent fame.  We played a couple of parties at our friends houses, and I even sang a bad rendition of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  I didn’t know how to sing and I remember everyone looking at me funny, as I turned purple trying to sing it.  I didn’t know how to breathe correctly when singing back then.

The summer of 1994 was filled with careless freedom.  Groups of friends would get together and watch horror movies all night.  We’d sneak into the local parks at dusk and smoke cigarettes.

I even remember being with a huge group of friends at what was then called “Geauga Lake”- a little amusement park that smelled like urine and had cheesy roller coasters.  Even at the age of 12, I had never ridden a roller coaster in my life.  I made up a tough image to make all my friends think I just thought roller coasters were stupid.  Percy made me aware during this trip that Alicia, who was one of the hottest girls in our grade, actually liked me.  At one point a big group of people went to ride “The Raging Wolf Bobs”, which was the biggest roller coaster there.  Percy convinced Alicia to stay behind and hang out with me.  I just sat sheepishly on that amusement park bench with her as the others rode the coaster.  She asked me; “Why aren’t you riding with everyone?”  And I replied with an air of toughness; “Roller coasters are just stupid”.

And as Middle School crushes go, Alicia fell in love with someone else about a week later.  I kicked myself for not making the move with her earlier, but the whole world of girls was new to me.

One time, Percy and I were invited to a pool party with all of the popular kids in our grade.  This was a truly self-conscious experience for me because no matter how much I rollerbladed I couldn’t shed the large quantities of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper off of my miniature man breasts and oblique side flappers.  I again came up with a great ploy to hide my chunkiness.  I decided to jump into the pool with all of my clothes on, Chuck Taylor shoes included.  Percy had a way of sympathizing with me and jumped in with all of his clothes on too.  We even dragged another buddy, Drake, into the mayhem.  We all had chuck taylor shoes on and were jumping in the pool with all of our clothes, until the kid’s parents who owned the pool warned us to stop.  That was Percy’s way of looking out for me.  He knew I felt like a fat kid and wanted to back me up.  Either that, or he just liked the idea of causing a ruckus at the pool party.  It was probably a combination of both!

At one point I remember Percy being over at my house, and the cops showed up at my door!  I’ll never forget when they were there and they grabbed a hold of him and took him away as he cried out to my Mom; “Don’t let them take me away, Mrs. White!”  We found out that he had gotten into someone’s house with some other vandals and lit their drapes on fire.  Obviously, I could have been incarcerated for many such antics…

Once when I was hanging with some friends and lighting off little rolled up balls of gun powder, I had the brilliant idea to lean down with a cigarette in my mouth and suck on it to light some black powder off that had spilled on a ledge.  I was blown backwards like Yosemite Sam in a Warner Brothers cartoon.  It had blown a huge chunk of my hair off, singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes, and scarred me with second degree burns.  Fortunately I didn’t have third degree burns.  I remember when my Mom saw me, she cried out of relief that I wasn’t scarred for life.

Later that summer a dark cloud seemed to be cast over the little town of Hudson, Ohio as I heard some rough news.  Percy was going to move to Connecticut.  His Dad had gotten some job as a dean at a prep school, and they were going to send Percy to boarding school.

In the Middle of Percy and I’s quest for Middle School rock stardom my G.P.A. for 7th grade year had fallen to a 1.9 average, which was a D+.  Percy’s had fallen to about a 0.5, which was an F.  Only in talking with him later did I realize that his parents thought that rock and roll was ruining his life.  He once was one of the best football and lacrosse players in our grade, and he’d dropped out of sports, let his grades sink and gotten into a lot of trouble since we had started the band.  I guess they thought that shipping him to boarding school would do him right, though I’m not sure what it really did for him.

I had no religious obligations as a kid.  Sunday was a day where we slept in and ate a late breakfast.  I never understood why Percy would have to leave so early in the mornings when he slept over on Saturday nights.  His parents would make him go to the Catholic Church in town every Sunday.  I think he began to hate it.  He was caught in a rock in a hard place, a rebel personality and really intelligent, but bored.  He felt that all the constructs put on him were stifling him, and I think he was dying to have his own version of creative expression.  Within the highly religious world of the Catholic Church and the pressure of being expected to play sports and be a good student, Percy fell through the cracks.

Percy wouldn’t get to have his creative expression yet.  He was leaving town.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Though I made sure to have him over to spend the night about 3 times a week as the time for him to leave drew near.  He was my best friend, my band-mate, and as John Lennon would say “my song brother”.

And then came the day when he was leaving.  It was a mild and sunny summer day.  I rolled my butt out of bed and on my bike that morning earlier than I ever would have on a summer day, at about 9am.  I rode the 5 miles to his house and knocked on the door.  His family was putting together the last of their stuff, and the moving van was outside.  I still remember him coming outside and yelling, “Benjamin!” and giving me a hug.  I didn’t know what to say except that I would miss him, and I hoped that maybe we’d keep in touch.  Maybe I could even visit him out there sometime.  We said our goodbyes.  He had to get going anyways.

As I rode my bike home I do remember feeling the wind in my face on that mild sunny day.  I thought of all the good memories Percy and I had, and mourned the thought of keeping the band going without him.  Tears began to stream down my face.  I had said goodbye to him in person, and on my own I was saying goodbye to him in my heart as well.

There is something about the naïve and innocent love that a young kid can have for a dear friend that understands him. Within it may even lurk a divine whisper of the unconditional.

When Percy left town, somehow the gap had to be filled for a new lead singer of our band “Joker’s Wild”.  I had enough experience writing songs with the help of my Dad from age 10 until 13, and nobody else in our group sang often, except our bass player, Jaden.  Since I was the one who sang the most and I was the most assertive about it they let me be the new lead singer.

This is when the creative process really began for me.  All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be the front man for the band, so I began to write songs like I never had before.  My first songs were as cheesy as you could imagine.  We had a Casio keyboard and I would play the pre-packaged drum beats into my Fostex 4-Track Cassette recorder on track one, and then track 2 would have the guitar, track 3 would have the bass, and track 4 would have my vocals.

Songs began to dump out of me like sweat out of my pores.  I wrote songs about my experiences travelling with my parents to various cities, I wrote songs about girls I was digging at the time, and I wrote songs about my juvenile philosophies of life.

I also wrote songs criticizing my peers.  I had a big mouth and couldn’t keep it shut about what the true meaning of them was, so I began to become a bit of a social misfit.  Some kind of anger continued to brew in me, and I didn’t understand it.  All I knew is that my parents were fighting more than usual in the midst of their busy work lives, and I always felt put in the middle of their fights.  I continued to get chubbier and meaner during my 8th grade year from 1994 to 1995.

I’ll never forget the moment when I marginalized myself early on in 8th grade.  Jokers Wild was playing at a party, and all the popular kids were there.  We played a set of tunes and people were into it, but during our break a bunch of people started to mess around with our equipment.  I got all ticked off and told them off, yelling loudly in the microphone for everyone to hear.  That was the beginning of a downfall away from popularity for me.

A period of self-examination followed where I realized that people can be hollow and flighty, but there are true friends that never seem to leave you behind.  One friend like that to me was Kaden.  He was one of the few people that didn’t seem to care what the majority of people thought about my controversial reputation in Middle School.

But with this self exploration came a more inwardly focused life.  I wrote music often, and isolated myself from what appeared to be the mainstream of people around me more and more.  During this period of time I really moved away from habits I had developed before like smoking cigarettes and drinking.  Though I would occasionally partake of things like that.  My hunger for partying during this time was sparse.  If the company I was with were smoking or drinking I would join them, but I didn’t have any deep personal aspirations to develop any addictions.

Listening to Early Pink Floyd, Smoking Dope and Talking Wild Philosophy

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Cover of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn&...

Cover of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

 

In the later Spring of 1997 the glow of gritty, punk-infested grunge rock paired with experimental art rock began to fade into a glimmer.  A new type of “pop-alternative” began to invade the charts.  Bands like The Verve Pipe with their hit “The Freshmen” and Third Eye Blind with their hit “Semi-Charmed Life” (a song about snorting meth-amphetamines…  a metaphor veiled by upbeat pop riffs) began to take things over.  Alternative music had reached its pinnacle of commercialism.

Mitchell, Duane and I still called ourselves Mulberry Tree.  We were getting into Pink Floyd’s early records with Syd Barrett, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967) and “Saucerful of Secrets” (1968).  The LSD infused songs would prove to be foreshadowing of things to come…

We were also into Primus and other strange art rock.  Most of the music we did was either highly philosophical or a deep cynical mockery-melody.  I know it’s a lot to say for 15 and 16 year-old sophomores in high school, but we were awfully pretentious for our age.

I decided go after Harmony’s friend Laila, to see if she would go out with me.  “Going out” was a statement we used to say that we were going to feign exclusivity with each other, as if we were pseudo-adults.  Laila reciprocated interest in me and we began to “go out”.  She was certainly cute and I dug her.  I would often go and meet her at her house.  We’d go for long walks and smoke cigarettes.  We’d occasionally stop to make out.  I began to fall for her.

I just wasn’t the kind of kid that would go on with something like this half way.  It was easy for me to substitute my feelings for Harmony with feelings for Laila.  I mean, after all, Harmony was going out with my good friend and bass player Mitchell, and they were hitting it off!  I might as well move on.

Of course I went to extremes.  I wrote poems for Laila.  I even wrote a 10 minute opus called “Stir” for her- a song of my naïve love.  She seemed to dig it and all was well.  Our relationship continued to move forward.  Every chance I got, I would tout that fact in Harmony’s face.  Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Prov. 27:4)

Marijuana was still a normal part of life, as was booze.  They almost seemed to be a peripheral addition to our little soap opera version of Rock n’ Roll High School.  I got high whenever I felt like it.  Mitchell, Duane, Laila, Harmony and I, and others who made up our little group of dissidents would often acquire liquor or beer for the weekends, and mix it with dope, cigarettes and caffeine.  Some of us would end up making out at the end of the night, and then we’d figure out lies to tell our parents about where we were.

In reality we existed in the cornucopian underground of our little microcosm of society.  We partied with Juniors and Seniors in High School.  We were beginning to make acquaintances with people in college.  It seemed as our tolerance for inebriation grew, we began to be accepted into some sort of secret bohemian society.  We would end up in various dark basements, smoking bud and talking wild philosophy.  We’d jam with various musicians.  We’d speculate on whether or not the earth was some sort of vortex into the next dimension, or upper plane of existence beyond us.  Or if we were living in a nihilistic wasteland that had no eternity beyond, trudging around aimlessly like lumps of scientific goo towards no destination.

This all led into the next years’ Rock Fest.  Just like the year before, Rock Fest was a collection of the bands in our High School.  It was a chance for us to express our music live.  In traditional fashion, me and the boys in our band Mulberry Tree went up to the upstairs bathroom and preceded our performance with a shared cigarette in a dark bathroom after school hours.  We had a wild show planned.  It was full of deeply aggressive music.  I was sure to blow my voice out.  It was also filled with sentimental songs.  I hoped that my cigarette and dope blown vocal cords would hold out.

We did the show in aggressive fashion, sweating our brains out, bashing our heads into cymbals, jumping into the air and putting on a spectacle.  As expected, my voice blew out, so I just yelled most of the lyrics for the songs into the microphone, imitating one of my musical hero frontmen- Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.

We played a number which was co-written by my cool Wiccan hippie girl friend Elysia.  It was one of our personal favorites and the crowd really dug it.  Laila was jealous though.  I assured her that I only had feelings for her but she didn’t believe me.  We got in a fight about it in the parking lot and she was really spooked.  Maybe it was the fact that she was so serious about me and we were so young.  I was serious about her too.  I hoped things would work out.

After us, a band of some friends of ours went on to play who called themselves “Discordant”.  Their name described their communal habit of drinking an excessive amount of beer at a religious rate.  Of course, they played all the latest hits on the radio including “The Freshmen” by the Verve Pipe.  We had only played covers that no one knew, like “Corporal Clegg” by Pink Floyd, which amused us, but not many others.  Discordant was a hit.  They had become a household name at the High School, replacing us in our perceived pop stardom.  Of course in our callow High School minds we despised them thoroughly.  All the more reason to slip deeper into addiction and “stick it to the man”.

Rock Fest had gone well, and the party after is a blur in my memory.

A week later I got the news from Harmony on the phone.  Laila had cheated on me with Jimmy Snarks.  She had done something far heavier than we had ever done physically with him in the woods at Colony Park in Hudson, Ohio.  I was crushed to the core.  I wrote songs about it.  I resolved never to be messed around with again like that.  My ego started to inflate.  It was nearing the summer of 1997, and my G.P.A. cumulative was about a 2.13, a C minus average.  I was on a quest to get over on Laila.  I wanted to shed off the status of virginity, which my classmates saw as a handicap to man-hood.  I was ready to party harder than ever, abandon my scruples more than ever, and slip into a focused destruction more than ever.

Looking back I see the downward spiral so clearly.  If I knew then what I know now I may have caught myself ahead of time.  Yet most nights, I was left to myself.  It was as if alluring eidolons were encircling me, inspiring me to write dismal poetry and spurring me on to the next level of neurosis.  I buried my feelings for Harmony even more deeply inside of me.

Harmony and Mitchell began to tire of each other.  She was a hippie girl and Mitchell was an athlete.  They just didn’t have enough in common.  When they broke up I forced myself to be intentionally disinterested.  I wasn’t going to risk my heart to her.  The lyrics of late Nirvana member Dave Grohl described what I felt toward Harmony, as well as my own wrecking, in his song “Monkey Wrench”:

What have we done with innocence?

It disappeared with time

It never made much sense.

Adolescent resident

Wasting another night on planning my revenge.

Flushing Dad’s Dope Down the Toilet and Being Found by Jesus

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Toilet

Toilet (Photo credit: http://www.homespothq.com)

So the deepest era of drug horrors was over, and I was about to venture into a new period of my life, one that was moving upward into sanity and clarity.  It was a rocky path, and not one that appeared picture perfect.  But God was doing something that I wasn’t aware of at the time.  Little did I know that He would use music to capture my attention, and the very thing that had once provided the soundtrack to my existential despair and addiction would play a crucial part in my redemption.

In the summer of 1999 I officially graduated high school, making it out by the skin of my teeth.  And then after my last bad trip, I embarked upon a summer full of beer, pot, adderall and cigarettes.  My girlfriend Jamie and I were back together, for she had left her boarding school in Pennsylvania to come home permanently.  I chose not to work at a job all that summer, and we partied our brains out.  Her parents became more accepting of our juvenile love affair, and actually began letting me stay overnight at their house!  Me, an eighteen year-old, with their sixteen year-old daughter.  It’s hard for me to believe.  I have a baby daughter that is one year old, and couldn’t even imagine this.  But I suppose they thought that I was good for Jamie.  I suppose in a way we were good for each other, because we were beginning to get out of the drug scene and support each other.  But looking back it’s weird to realize that we were permitted to live in monogamous promiscuity.

At the end of that summer, Jamie’s wealthy parents agreed to take me with their family on a trip to the British Virgin Islands.  This was literally one of the most amazing vacations I had ever been on.  We snorkeled in beautiful blue, deep ocean landscapes colored with coral and fish I had never seen.  I stayed in a room on a cot with Jaime and her sisters who were sleeping in beds!  Again, looking back it seems so weird and creepy!  I was eighteen, which was a legal drinking age on these islands.  So I pretty much behaved as an alcoholic the entire time- drinking from the morning until the night and getting sloppy and crazy.  I talked to many locals and got turned on to old school Caribbean dub step music.  Some old alcoholic Islander hooked me up with a cassette tape.

Not long after that trip to the Virgin Islands, Jamie convinced me to come and join her at the Lutheran Church her parents attended.  Something in me was actually interested in going.  I was likely coming off of a hangover, but I do remember sitting in the pews, and a deep rush overcame me.  It reminded me of the feeling I had during having a brush with death during my worst bad trip on mushrooms and crying out to God.  The mushrooms hadn’t induced the feeling, but more so my fear of dying had sobered me for one moment and given me a small glimpse of hope.  This feeling of numbness and joy came over me that was greater than any high I had ever had.  I started to uncontrollably weep, right in the middle of this service!  From then on, I wanted to keep going to this Lutheran church, just to experience the liturgy, Gregorian chant-style worship, and overwhelming presence of this mysterious God that was beginning to reveal Himself to me.

I was even baptized at this church, which was contrary to their infant baptism doctrine.  The pastor and congregation really embraced me though, a long-haired, burnt out, beer drinking maniac.  The morning that they baptized me, I had drank about twelve beers the night before.  I was incredibly hung over.  I later realized that most of the congregation at the church was likely in the same state of mind.  Like a newborn baby, they sprinkled me with water, and initiated me into the fold of the Lutherans.

After this, many of my friends chastised me and told me; “Watch out for those people!  They’re just trying to brainwash you and take you away from having freedom to do what you want.”  But I was committed.  I wanted to begin to change my ways.  I told Jamie that I wanted to quit smoking pot and cigarettes.  She agreed to join me in the venture of leaving dope behind, though she wasn’t quite ready to quit smoking cigarettes.

It was September of 1999, and the future was looking brighter than it had for me since I was in sixth grade.  I was enrolled to go to college at Akron University.  I had a new job at Arabica coffee house in Hudson, Ohio.  Jamie and I’s relationship was better than ever.  I had decided to quit pot, and even accomplished quitting cigarettes amidst shots of espresso and frustrated madness.  I had even become a “religious” person.  I was going to church every Sunday.  I definitely drank myself into oblivion on Friday and Saturday night.  But I was starting to feel like a functional American hypocrite.

All of this wouldn’t last long though.  By November of 1999, I was smoking pot daily again, and Jamie was doing it with me.  I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel like doing the work.  I stopped showing up at church on Sundays.  Jamie and I plunged further into sex, dope and beer.  Heck, my Dad would give me pot whenever I wanted it, so I started letting him supply me again for free.

By the winter of 2000, I was back in a gutter.  I even remember when the ball in Times Square dropped on midnight of January 1, 2000.  This was the era of the Y2K craze.  Everyone thought that all the computers in the world were going to shut down when we entered the millennium.  Some thought that we would all burn up in the apocalypse.  As that ball dropped, I was sitting in a basement, stoned and drunk out of my mind, watching MTV with a bunch of other wasted people.  I thought to myself in a moment of fear, “O God, please don’t let the world end right now!  I wouldn’t be ready to die and meet you!  I’m a waste of life!”  The ball dropped, and the relief on the faces of MTV Video Jockeys paralleled my relief, but didn’t quench my inner despair and worthlessness.

One good thing happened for me in the winter of 2000.  I was promoted to being a manager at Arabica coffee house.  Even though I was a college drop out and a total pot-head, they somehow trusted me to manage the store!  I was infamous for taking new employees into the freezer in the basement and “smoking them out” with my glass pipe filled with dope.  I would tell them it was their initiation into working there.  Arabica went out of business by the summer of 2000, and I had certainly played a huge part in its’ demise.

I worked with a person during my time at Arabica who was different than everyone else.  Her name was Liz.  Liz would never have smoked pot with me in the basement freezer!  She was from South Africa, and had a wonderful accent.  She was beautiful and confident.  She was wonderful with people and a diligent, hard worker.  I had tremendous respect for her.  She began to tell me about her personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how Jesus had changed her life.  I asked her a lot of questions about this.  I often freaked her out, telling her of my wild drug experiences and basically sinful life.  She didn’t ever judge or condemn me, but rather seemed genuinely concerned for me.  All I knew of Jesus was that he was the center of Christian religion.  The Lutheran church I had attended talked about Him, but made Him seem like a great religious teacher, or a really nice hippie who wore white robes, but not necessarily the all powerful Son of God who was ruling the universe and living in the hearts of His people.  Liz talked of Jesus as if He was her personal friend and counselor.  She convinced me to visit her church, which was called Parkside.  It was a humongous mega-plex in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.  I showed up there with a huge hangover.  My long hair was in a ponytail that hung down to the middle of my back.  I came alone in my schwag wagon- the 1988 Buick LeSabre with a duct-taped window, cranking Led Zeppelin as I pulled in to the massive parking lot.

Most of the people at this mega-church viewed me with great suspicion as I walked through the halls, shamelessly smiling at people with a half-drunken smile and trying to be friendly.  I met up with Liz and her husband, Rusty.  They introduced me to their friend, Chip.

Chip immediately befriended me and wanted me to join his band to play bass with him.  Chip had been an ex-extreme skier who used to throw himself off of cliffs for a living.  He actually was likely on the verge of making it to the Olympics.  But his real, hidden life was filled with cocaine, one-night stands, hard liquor, and marijuana.  He got to the point where he was almost put in jail for possession of drugs.  This led him to the verge of suicide.  Then he gave his life over to Jesus and everything changed.

I began playing bass in Chip’s band.  We played original songs he had written about his spiritual journey, and many were overtly about Jesus.  Chip quickly became a friend that I would call often for advice.  At the time, he was about thirty years old.  I looked at him as a mentor.  He took me in as a friend.  There were even times that I would be in the middle of a party, stoned out of my mind, and I’d pick up the phone to tell him that I was high and ashamed.  He would never judge me or talk down to me, but would just assure me that there were better things for me out there than that scene.

During this time in the midst of this redemptive friendship, I became very convinced that the life I was leading basically sucked.  One night, I had taken some of my Dad’s mid-grade weed out of his cigar box stash (with his permission from him of course).  My friends and I had spent the day roaming railroad tracks, eating hot wings, and smoking my Dad’s dope out of a little glass one-hitter all day.

Later on, it was nightfall and a storm was rolling into the sky.  I wasn’t that high.  I had smoked a very small amount of pot, and drank two beers.  But as the storm rolled in, I began to have what many would psychologically term an LSD flashback.  But I’m aware now that it was a demonic attack that came on as my conscience reeled within me about the desire to quit drugs.  The dark, grey clouds in the sky looked like skeletons slipping in and out of existence, and gnawing at each other with a faint scream in the distance.  All of a sudden, I was cut to the heart.  I had the thought in my head to go and confess to my Mom that I had a large bag of Dad’s weed in my pocket.  The thought was so intense, I told my buddies as we sat on the front porch abruptly; “Hey guys, I gotta split man.  Feel free to hang out more out here, but I’m done for the night.”  Without any hesitation, I stormed inside to confront what was eating at me.

“Mom.”  I announced abruptly.  “Dad has been giving me weed.”  I took out the bag of green from my pocket.  “This is his pot.  I don’t want to get high anymore.  I don’t want him to get high anymore.”

My Mom, with a shockingly calm response, as if she wasn’t surprised, but still big-eyed to some extent, said; “Well flush it down the toilet then!”

I flushed it down the toilet.

My Dad came downstairs and acted like this was the end of a long, drawn out ploy of reverse psychology, a typical stoner move.

“Hey Ben, you did it!  You finally did what I had been hoping all along!  I didn’t know what else to do to get you to quit drugs, so I started smoking pot again and put that pot in my closet on purpose, hoping that the idea of smoking pot with me would finally make you wanna quit!”

“So Dad, you’re going to quit too?”  I responded aghast, believing every word he said.

“Yeah man, I couldn’t wait until this happened!  I knew it would!  I’m so proud of you buddy!”

Of course, my Dad was lying…  later I would bust him 3 more times with a bag of dope, a glass one-hitter (that he had confiscated on the day I flushed his pot down the latrine), and a roach (or mostly smoked joint).  But he finally quit when Jesus grabbed ahold of him in 2005, as this post describes:  http://benjaminbradfordwhite.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/how-my-dad-became-a-jesus-freak/

But in the year 2000, everything in my life was rapidly changing.  I had stopped smoking pot and popping pills.  I drastically cut back on my beer intake.  I started exercising and eating healthy.  I began to be afraid that having pre-marital sex with my girlfriend Jamie was clouding our ability to see if we were really friends.  I asked if we could stop having sex for awhile and see if our friendship was real.  During this “break” time, friends of mine told me that she was cheating on me.  I began to believe it was true, even though Jamie would deny it over and over again.  We broke up.  I was in utter and complete depression over it.  Ten days after our break-up, I showed up at her house to beg her to leave the drug scene.  I found her in bed with another guy, and after having flashes in my mind of committing the criminal act of violent assault on this guy, I stormed out of her house, slamming the door hard enough to practically break the stained glass within it.

It was then the spring of the year 2000.  In all of this sadness, sitting at home alone, I pulled out an album that someone had given me as a gift when I was baptized as a Lutheran.  It was an album called “the Jesus Record” by Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band.  I had avoided listening to it for months, thinking it was just a bunch of ridiculous corny Christian music laden with electric 80’s piano and cheesy cliché lyrics.  I put on the first track, which was called “My Deliverer”, and was immediately drawn in to the beautiful natural piano and orchestra laden, haunting melody.  The lyrics wooed me in with heartful emotion and truth as they told a story.  It didn’t sound like a pretty Sunday school story.  It was a story of suffering and oppression, with deliverance in the midst of it.  The lyrics sang these words;

Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa

To escape the rage of a deadly king…

There along the banks of the Nile,

Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing
They were singing…

My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by

Through a dry and thirsty land, water from the Kenyon heights
Pours itself out of Lake Sangra’s broken heart
There in the Sahara winds Jesus heard the whole world cry
For the healing that would flow from His own scars
The world was singing,

My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by

He will never break His promise – He has written it upon the sky

I will never doubt His promise though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes.

He will never break His promise, though the stars should break faith with the sky…

I was crying like a child throughout the entire song.  I would later find out that the song was not even sung by Rich Mullins, but by his friend and band-mate, Rick Elias.  Rich had died in a car accident at the age of forty in 1997.  Before his accident, he had compiled acoustic recordings of all the songs for “The Jesus Record” in a little church by himself.  His band-mates had made the album with the help of many people in the Christian music scene, as a tribute to Rich and his life.  Rich had been put on a pedestal as a Christian music star, and wouldn’t sell himself out no matter what temptations were thrown at him.  He ended up living a life of celibacy, having the leaders at his church receive all of his money, which likely could have made him wealthy, and at Rich’s request, gave him a yearly salary of about $20,000 a year, while funneling the rest into missions work, orphanages, and relief for the poor.  In the last days of his life he was living in a trailer on a Navajo Indian reservation, and pouring his life into the Navajo community, while still touring with his ragamuffin band and radicalizing the church with his heartfelt songs that described a true life of devotion to Jesus.  A movie about him will be released soon, watch the trailer here: http://ragamuffinthemovie.com/.

I wanted what Rich and his bandmates had.  I wanted what Chip and Liz had.  I wanted to know this Jesus that Rich Mullins wrote about, who “heard the whole world cry”, and “healed people through His scars”.  Chip had once dared me to pray a prayer when I was all alone and wondering about my existence.  He told me to simply look up to God in heaven and ask Him if Jesus was really His Son…

One night, not many days after I had cried myriad tears over the sweet music of Rich Mullins, I uttered this prayer.  I was sitting all alone in my room past midnight, and having what I then understood to be an LSD flashback.  I was looking at the ground, and seeing demonic figures gnawing at each other and convulsing in the carpet below.  I cried out in desperation, “God, is Jesus your Son?  Then show me!  Help me to see who He is!”  I saw white sparkles come down from the ceiling and strike the demons in the carpet, and they were sucked back down into the earth.  I was filled with that peace I felt during my worst mushroom trip ever, after having a near death experience, and then crying out to God or whoever was out there.  I was filled with that peace I had felt in the Lutheran church when I attended there for the first time.  The peace was beginning to become a part of my life.  Little did I know then of the amazing changes that would happen to me as time moved forward.