Barry McGuire arrived at University. In the 1960s he was a prominent protest singer, friends of Janis Joplin and the Pray-for-Rosemarys-Baby crowd. Wrote this song called the Eve of Destruction that received the best publicity anyone could ever hope for. It got banned from public radio in the United States. Hence he was famous. Then he became a Christian. And in the early 70s he decided he would live in New Zealand.
I didn’t know that New Zealand was politically correct decades before the term was invented. I just lived there. I didn’t appreciate it was actually a funky little alternative nation, a drop out place that hip Americans, or fading stars, or surfers, or yachties, or people escaping the rat race, might run to. And neither did the radical university students. They just wrote articles asking whether Barry McGuire’s brain had been cooked by acid.
So he sang songs to the students. Crowded the place out he did. I remember two things. Firstly he broke a lot of strings, but he must have always done that because he could change them real fast on stage, even on a twelve string, and tell stories while he did it. Hey, don’t underestimate this skill. Twelve string guitars are hard to tune. A crowd’s attention span is low.
And secondly there were antagonistic people in the audience. Young intelligent men who were anti-christian, or atheists. Sincere, serious people. Heckling Barry McGuire. Our hero. Our symbol of someone who was once one of them, but had now seen the light and emerged from, from,…whatever there was to emerge from.
He is talking now. As he changes a guitar string. ‘So Mike was like a super depressed guy, man, him and me would sit there in the basement going through all these blues numbers together. Some dude man, we are trying to get it together, he’s down there depressing us all. I’m telling the dude, hey Mike, we’re all trying to move up the stairs fella, you know there might be some sunshine up there, why are we playing all this heavy stuff? And he would say, “well, that’s just the way I feel.”‘
The heckler bursts in. ‘Bet he’s happy now that he’s rich.’
I’m thinking, if you are going to heckle, surely get smarter than that. This guy is asking for it. McGuire comes back, not even looking up from the strings, still turning the tuning knobs, multitasking in an enticing off hand manner up there in front of the crowds.
‘Would’ve been if the taxman hadn’t got him.’
The crowd erupts, mostly Christians who can’t wait to see a protagonist humiliated. We have all taken so much of it ourselves over the years. To see it dished back out feels so good. We are proud of our hero.
Our heckler is not perturbed. He is determined to make his stand against all the oppression of Christianity throughout the ages, the landholdings of the medieval church, the cruelty of the inquisition, the massacres during the Crusades. They are all summed up in this modern threat to freedom and love, this Christianized long haired rock star changing the strings on his beloved Martin guitar. McGuire tells of the death of one of his friends. The guy OD’d.
The heckler makes mock sorrow noises. He is feeling isolated in his awful task, out there alone among the enemy, the Christians. He is trying his best to provoke reasoned ridicule. But of course, nobody gains support mocking any dying person story, so the Christians all listen sympathetically to Barry McGuire, and shake their heads at this interjector.
Later I talk with him. The heckler that is. He can’t wait. Here is someone to de-convert. He launches in and starts telling me how all these Christians, what a bunch of phonies they are.’Do you know how long the average American couple takes to make love?’ he asks in a surprise tangential statement. I take a few seconds to grasp where he is coming from. Then it dawns. He is about to inform me that Americans, i.e. Christians, are very functional about sex, and hopeless at the sensual part of it, and that this is all part of the oppression of their personalities due to institutionalized religion.
‘Two minutes forty seconds,’ he tells me as I pause.
I can clearly see now why Christianity is bad for the world if this sort of thing goes on. But I don’t get a chance in this conversation.
‘Now me, I take at least twenty minutes. I see a woman sometimes, we have an understanding between us, and I visit her, and we spend about twenty minutes in the act.’
Now I have never had a discussion like this, and am certainly inexperienced in sexual matters compared to this far seeing young man of rebellion against global evils. So I remain silent.
He continues. ‘So why are you coming along here to listen to this clown anyway? Don’t tell me you’re a Christian as well.’
Stumbling into my lines, impressed by this one who no doubt has read Kierkegaard backwards, I know I must confess. The Bible says I must. ‘Sure.’
He laughs, a knowing, cynical laugh. It causes me to cringe, knowing that my suffering has barely started. My inner self tells me he will cause pain, but I am too young to let the thought flow up into my consciousness. ‘Come on,’ he goes on, ‘don’t tell me you believe all this crap that the church spills out. Look at what Christians have done over the centuries, all the carnage and raping.’
He says it with such authority that I don’t even question it. I don’t know for sure the historical circumstances during which these wrongs may have been committed, but I supposed they probably were, so I let it slide.
‘Are you telling me you don’t believe in God?’ I manage to snap something back. Good grief, I was better than this at school, but the university buildings, and the huge library, and the serious men in beards, and the sincere girls wearing beads have all been too much for me. They look so together, as though they understand things beyond my comprehension.
He looks incredulously at me, as if the statement is a folly. He laughs again, it is actually the laugh of relief that the Barry McGuire event is over, that he doesn’t have to sit out on the floor alone, and that he now has this urchin to eat for lunch. But it is only my inner self telling me that, and like I said before, that part is still under wraps.
‘Of course I don’t believe in God, you idiot. God is just an invention of the powers that be to keep us in line. Don’t you understand Marx?’
I have never read Karl Marx, and assume that he of course has memorised every word Marx wrote. So I smile and wait for him to continue.
‘Last century Marx predicted this sort of historical battle would emerge, that Capitalism and its henchman, the church, would eventually conflict with the rising awareness of the people. The people will overthrow these shackles and be free. Don’t you want to be free man?’
Now I have been taught for years that Christ will make us free, not Karl Marx. Furthermore I have been passsionately taught this, with many proofs. In the microseconds that our brain takes to sort out its answer to questions such as this opponent has thrown me, I don’t for a second consider that he too, like me, might need causes, and a group to cling to. He too desires acceptance somewhere, justification, the righteous indignation that youth want to feel as they claim their place in the sun. Instead I only hear his intellectual arguments and assume that he too, like me, has been taught passionately somewhere by wise men who wish to guide the world to a higher realm. I wish I could meet these all knowing, behind-the-scenes, men who understand who really pulls the strings in the world, and are fighting for justice.
In my indecision, and attempts to simply be nice, this guy climbs into me. Destroys me. He drags over one of his mates, pulling him into the debate. ‘Billy, hey Billy, man, good to see you, listen to this dickhead here man, another bloody Christian.’
Billy looks vaguely at me, then away. Like he is meant to be somewhere, but can’t remember where. ‘Yeah, okay man, okay, heavy shit in there today.’
I am too naïve to assess just how high this Billy is, I don’t even know that he is on something. He just sounds cool. Connected into something, or some inner group. I say nothing. He wanders off after a while. My heckler is in full flight dismantling me by this stage. I try and interject but his voice rises, and I think, why is he angry, but then one part of my brain answers he is wild because of all the injustices that Christianity has committed over the years. I know that, I tell myself, but you need to be able to get past all that to see the real thing. So my strategy is to try and outwait him, until there is a moment where we can talk clearly with each other, and I can share what I think.
Because I don’t care what he says, you see, I know I am right. I know a lot about Gods plans. I am convinced of that. This guy just needs to be open to the truth. Then he would see.
He is now getting near the end of his wisdom, the afternoon has turned into evening, and people are wandering off. A couple of his friends come by, and after firing more rounds of buckshot at me loaded with Marx and Freud, he can see the crowd is thinning, and he better get out of there while it is time for cool people, protestors like him, busy workers for justice, to get out of there with their friends and not be the last people to leave.
And I am left standing on the steps of the lecture hall where all this happened.
I look upwards, and realise it is time to go home. Down past the university buildings I walk. Somehow, incredibly, and I have absolutely no idea why, I actually feel great. I feel marvelous. The closer I get to home, the better I feel. I feel like God has looked out a window, seen me in the ring with this devastator, and given me a fix.