Wikipedia says it like this: In broadcasting a sporting event, there are typically two commentators. One is the main announcer, who describes the action on the field or court, and the other is the color commentator.’ The color commentator provides expert analysis and background information, such as statistics, strategy and injury reports on the players and teams, and occasionally anecdotes or light humor. When commenting on LDS General Conference, it is typical for the color commentator to omit everything but occasional anecdotes or light humor.

Wikipedia doesn’t say exactly all that today, but by tomorrow it will, because I went in and changed it. That’s how Wikipedia works. You too can change things! [citation needed]

I remember when I was a little boy and conference came on TV. In California it was only the Sunday morning session and all the General Authorities and even the choir had to dress all in black and white. (Obviously, there was no color commentary of conference on Meridian Magazine. There was also no Meridian Magazine. It was only a gleam in the eye of Brother and Sister Proctor. That’s Brother and Sister Proctor, Sr., because Brother and Sister Proctor, Jr., who invented this magazine, were also at that time only gleams.)

My mother always had a notebook of some kind, and a pen or pencil, and took notes. I never saw these notes afterward, but I imagine that she did. They contained her impressions of what was said by David O. McKay, LeGrand Richards, Hugh B. Brown, and that handsome, young, almost-apostle Boyd K. Packer.

The Holy Ghost is sent to bring all things to our remembrance, but my mother wanted to help him out. (Do you remember Elder Craig C. Christensen telling us on Saturday morning that the Holy Ghost loves us? We don’t regard the Holy Ghost as a person as consistently as we should. I’m willing to imagine that you’ve heard him referred to as “it” over the pulpit sometime in the last three weeks. Nephi walked and talked with the Holy Ghost in a dream and described him as a man. This commentary is not light humor, but an occasional anecdote.) So now I take notes, too. Like my mother. The following observations were scattered among my notes.

The Tabernacle Choir sang “How Firm a Foundation” and ended with the lyric-

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose

I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;

That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Goosebumps upon goosebumps. The best verse ever. (Because I have a “dumb” phone, I erase all texts I receive right after I’ve responded to them. All but two, that is. One of them is from my wife and simply says “I love you.” I’m not erasing that one. The other is from Holly Doman, our bishop’s wife. She quotes those last hymn words as having stuck with her all week after I conducted them in church. She says thanks. That stays, too.)

The choir is pretty fun to watch, those young bounders. Our dear neighbor Reta is fun to watch (I’m not including last names, because I don’t want the whole choir clamoring to be included in Backstage Graffiti columns-although they’d probably clamor quite harmoniously and with really elegant phrasing). Reta’s new, and having a blast. There’s Amanda, who was my daughter-in-law in “Shenandoah.” (My actual daughter in “Shenandoah,” whose name is Natalie Hill, can’t sing in the choir because she has to sing every night on Broadway-you have to choose sometimes. ((It’s okay to use Natalie’s last name, because I’m not afraid of an onslaught of Broadway actors demanding to be mentioned in Meridian Magazine.)) )

I’ve never seen Gladys Knight embedded in the actual choir, but I think I saw Oprah Winfrey. Among other people of color (this is a color commentary), there’s my new friend, Alex. There’s my pasty white old friend, Rob (who, in his day gig, once recorded me pronouncing one-fourth of the words in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary-this would be about forty thousand words, and I couldn’t skip over the hard ones, like “rapprochement” and “succinct”). I do back-up vocals with Rob in recording studios. Ryan Murphy, who taught me my songs in “Funny Girl” at Sundance. (I can use Ryan’s last name, too, because there are only two directors of the Tabernacle Choir and Mack Wilberg has already been mentioned in Backstage Graffiti-four years ago when he was my presidential pick for the 2008 general election.)

My pen for this note-taking began with black ink. It ran dry right after Elder Cook’s talk. So I put in a blue cartridge. But the writing still looks black. I have to write for about four pages before the ink appears as certifiably blue. However, when I go from blue to black, the change is almost immediate. Considering these color dynamics, I wish to comment that there is a gospel parallel, here. I am reminded of the eight virgins. You know, the ones who all ran out of black ink at the same time. The four wise virgins put in blue cartridges and wrote like mad in their general conference notebooks all the morning. The four foolish virgins put in blue cartridges and expected their pens to write blue when the certificates of conference attendance were passed out and all were to step forward and sign them on the line that had printed beneath it the words “Sign in blue ink.” If you ask me the meaning of this parable, I will tell you. If I remember.

Beyond (and including) what the speakers intend, I am inspired by conference to do things. Elder Cook inspired me to show “Chariots of Fire” to my kids. Ann Dibb inspired me to buy them t-shirts that say, “I’m not from here, but I know who you can call to get some really cool T-shirts.”

I am spiritually softened by conference-made more sensitive and discerning. At a certain point, I found myself turning over our copy of “The Selfish Giant,” which I was using as a lap desk, because the giant on the front had an expression of pride, even disdain. I remembered in that moment that books are media, and you have to watch out for media. (This part of the commentary is not an occasional anecdote, but light humor.)

We all sang, “We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet,” and I was reminded of the story Carol Lynn Pearson’s husband, Gerald, told me about how in their ward the very pregnant music leader’s given name was “Hope” and how mirth rippled through the chapel when they got to “There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliv’rance is nigh.”

I was moved by Elder Nelson’s repetition of the exhortation, “Ask the missionaries-they can help you.” Question after question: “Ask the missionaries-they can help you.” Gaps in your understanding? “Ask the missionaries-they can help you.” That sounded pretty comprehensive. Trouble getting the full value and meaning from Backstage Graffiti? Ask the missionaries. Maybe they can help you, maybe not-but hey, you’ll be with missionaries!

Of course, one of the joys of watching conference is that there are no commercials (unless your remote is out of batteries and you don’t get to the off button exactly during Lloyd Newell’s closing warnings against trying to make a buck off what you’ve just seen.


Then you are solicited to purchase whatever Christmas container has been published this year). But commercialization of holy things is a real and imminent threat. Take BYU football. We already have “This extra point brought to you by Bob’s House of Extra Points and Carpet.” I mean, instead of “This extra point brought to you by the BYU kicker’s toe.” (Or not.) I just don’t know how far we might be from “This congregational hymn brought to you by the Pearl Awards-If it ain’t pearlish, it’s churlish!”

Or we could choose to watch conference only on public television stations, where the commercials are more succinct. (I’m sure Big Bird will survive the Romney cuts, because advertisers will wake up to the symphonically resounding truth that consumers will love, honor, and gratefully support whomever respects both their minds and their time. ((This is neither an occasional anecdote nor light humor, but an indulgent rant, which is also the frequent prerogative of color commentators.)) )

Our family wasn’t quite ready for the Saturday afternoon session. Many years of the statistical report and the report from the church auditing department lulled us into thinking we could finish lunch by 2:15 and not miss anything. What happened was that I wound up sustaining a number of general officers by the raise of the right hamburger, and voted my thanks to a few by mayonnaising with the usual sign. (I couldn’t not sustain and thank people!) It was a great comfort when immediately afterward Elder Perry forcefully exhorted us to eat together as a family.

Then a very odd and wonderful thing happened. Right about here in the proceedings I somehow forgot about Backstage Graffiti and got utterly and delightfully distracted by the word of the Lord. The distraction persisted through a galvanizing Priesthood session with my oldest son (next conference I finally get to take my youngest son-thirty years younger!). It lasted through Sunday afternoon, a fascinating cascade of heart-stirring images, like pollinating the world with the pure love of Christ, Pawnees on a trail of tears not yet knowing the redemption in store for them, a king trading all he loved for a whisper from God, a perfect mosaic for only Heaven to see, an impatient angel “slipping the surly bonds of earth,” eagles and sunrises carved into the boards of boys’ lives, a gesture from the prophet embracing all the priesthood within his sight saying with wordless eloquence “We’re it-we’re what the Lord has to work with,” apostles called from their boats for a second and final time, missionaries in white standing in baptismal fonts with their arms to the square (an image to bring them home), a final blessing for Zella Thompson as she waves farewell to the earth, two hard biscuits becoming a child-saving miracle under the lid of a Dutch oven in the snow, fighting the freezing wind in Mexican orchards and then sheltering in the House of the Lord, eighteen and nineteen-year-old young men and women in the congregation with astounded expressions of joy shining in their faces.

It was a rich conference.

And it’s a good thing that the Holy Ghost will so faithfully bring all things to your remembrance, dear column-reader, because my color commentary won’t. Reading here, you might not even know who won.

 

.