By Marvin Payne
A good time to create graffiti backstage is before the gig. Some Artists would disagree, saying that the moments before the curtain rises are sacred “shifting into character” times. I know all about that stuff ? Some Artists are some of my best friends. But if you’re not shifting from plain old Marvin to the King of Siam or J. Golden Kimball, but actually remaining pretty much plain old Marvin because the gig is playing banjo to accompany your daughter’s second grade concert and the King of Siam wouldn’t know one end of a banjo from the other and J. Golden Kimball would break out in hives upon hearing one, being suddenly reminded of what it was like to be “hounded, hunted, whipped and shot at” as a missionary in the South by mobs of whiskeyed-up men waving pitchforks, rifles, and banjos, then even Some Artists would agree that backstage before the gig is, to create graffiti, a good time.
(Being literary, as a substitute for having marketable skills, it just seemed to me like a good idea to start this column with a paragraph exemplifying “chiasmus,” which is a literary device the primary value of which is to prove that a particular text is true and spiritual and of good report and/or praiseworthy. So just put that particular worry right the heck to rest.)
This opportunity (um, the “backstage before the gig” time) is a blessing that last night I just flat missed, because I was almost late to said gig on account of bringing a baby into the world. Well, actually the baby was already born, in Korea actually, and I was just sort of bringing her home from the hospital, as it were. I mean, as she were. No, actually “it,” because it’s a baby guitar. “Baby” in the sense of being brand-new, not in the sense of being small. Because it’s not. It’s big and voluptuous and gorgeous and curvaceous and arch-topped and glistening and has a Florentine cutaway and a single gold humbucker and vintage sunburst finish. And the name by which it shall be known on the records of Meridian is “Epiphone Zephyr Regent.”
I’m a dad. It’s great being a dad! It’s sleeping, as I write. In a blonde tweed case. I better stop now with the rhapsodizing. (Wouldn’t it be great, though, if “rap” were really “rhap”? Wouldn’t the world be better? Think about it. I could be a rhapper. Dude! I already am one!)
I have to admit it’s more of an adoption, though, than a begetting. That’s okay. As long as I get the baby, it still totally counts. Listen to this story about last week ? this is really good. On Tuesday, I could count up five grandkids, with no imminent prospect of more. On Wednesday, I was suddenly grandfather of six. And it wasn’t because anybody had oh, oh, kisses sweeter than wine. It was because my son Sam and his wife Kris had oh, oh, charity sweeter than any known forbidden substance, wine included. They had been on an LDS Social Services list of parents competing to adopt some unnamed person not born yet. But instead, on Tuesday night, the adoption sheriffs called them and said, “Come to Cedar City tomorrow and bring a truck.” There waiting for them was this terrific six-week old boy who needed a mom and dad. (It wasn’t a particularly large boy ? the truck was because he already had a crib and stuff.) The funny part is that when they got back to Santa Clara, neighbors came to see the baby (I haven’t seen it yet!) and out of sheer force of habit they would whisper at the door, “We didn’t call first, is Kris resting?” No. She’s out feeding the chickens and bouncing on the tramp with the big brothers. Funny, huh?
It’s easier to tell funny stories in connection with adoptions than it is with giving birth, because with adoption, you get a baby without hurting so much. Physically, I mean.
Our son Sam, though, the adopting dad, we had to *totally beget ourselves. Painfully. Physically, I mean. (*When using the word “totally” in the fashion that it’s used by the young people, such usage overrides the “don’t split infinitives” rule. FYI.) Sam was my first child, certainly the first I’d ever seen born, and I had some feelings in the delivery room that were a complete surprise to me. I’d prepared a lot for this event, assiduously, even (this was in the days when dads were not allowed to witness birth until after they’d attended six weeks of classes, agreed (in writing) that they’d leave the delivery room early if asked, acquired a license from each of several government agencies, repented of all their sins, and switched to the Republican party). In my exhaustive training I’d learned, mainly, how to help the expectant mother breathe. This, I suppose, was because it was thought that she would be so distracted by all her other functions that she would forget. There was an actual technique, involving certain unusual syllables, which were something like “Hee, hee, hoo” or “Hah, hah, hey” or something like that (they no longer teach these things).
As labor got underway in earnest (well, actually in my wife) I thrust myself into usefulness, leaning close to her ear and urgently whispering “Hee, hee, hoo.” (Or something.) After a few “hoo, hoo, hoo”-ey contractions, it became abundantly apparent to me that, being a particularly bright woman, she was going to breathe anyway. Thus, my only reason for being in attendance having been “from [my] womb untimely rip’t,” so to speak, I cast about frantically for something meaningful to do. (I think I feared that if I couldn’t demonstrate my usefulness I would be asked to leave.)
The possible help-function that sprang to mind was the thing that surprised me. Here she was, hurting like Billy-oh (this is a figure used by C. S. Lewis, who was literary but, unlike myself, somehow parlayed it into a marketable skill), and I found myself wanting with all my heart to take some of that hurt on myself. I wanted to say, “Hey, I’m bigger and stronger, just scoot over and let me do some of that hurting, there.” But, well, I couldn’t. I mean I just way couldn’t. That’s not how it works. She had to do it. It was her job. Calling, if you will. I might have invented for myself some way to hurt a lot at the same time she was hurting, but it wouldn’t actually have any real affect whatever, pursuant to the begetting process. I just had to watch. And it wasn’t easy.
I was reminded, in a way I might never otherwise have been reminded, of another Father, another birth, and another loved one whose job it was to feel all the pain, though the Father may have wanted with all his heart to take it away. I wrote a song about it shortly thereafter, three-and-a-half decades ago when little Sammy came into the world.
When I was a young man
before I took a wife,
they told me of my mother’s pain
when I came into this life.
Now I am a grown man ?
I found a wife so dear,
and a little son came crying
in the springtime of the year.
And I saw the fires of spring in my lady.
And I heard her season fill with pain.
And I wanted oh, so bad to take that hurt on me,
when my baby boy was born that day.
Mary had a baby,
Jesus was his name.
Far below the angel sound
was a mother drowned in pain.
The baby fell like autumn
into the gates of hell.
He looked up into the mountain’s face,
and he knew the place so well.
And I saw the fires of spring on the hillside.
And I heard those trees fill up with pain.
And the Father turned his head, though his heart remained.
And a baby world was born that day.
I recorded it with a couple of pianos, an organ, a couple of guitars, drums, a soaring bass line by the excellent Bill Cushenberry, a battery of girl singers, and, if I remember right, some fake strings. About a year ago, I resurrected it and kind of like singing it on my front porch with just one little guitar, thinking it’s best that way. That’s the way I played it last, for my Sunday School class of 14-year-olds. It was the lesson on Abraham and Isaac on the mountain.
Y’know, there’s a lot to be learned about godliness through our initiative in the creation of things. But there’s also a lot to be learned about godliness when we have the unspeakable honor of watching the creation of things. Sort of makes me wish I could have watched those wonderful Korean woodcrafters give birth to my miraculous new Epiphone Zephyr Regent. But I’ll be perfectly satisfied merely to be grateful to them as I hear this baby sing.
Tonight I’ll settle for that. I have bigger stuff on my mind. Fact is, I have to leave this particular baby column now to fend for itself (be kind to it, please) because the night is waning, and early in the morning my wife and I are having a baby. A real one. A girl.