Friday, February 10, 2006

12. That's Not Happening

Fit to govern? No, not to live.

Today’s chapter of my travelogue opens on the morning of Friday, August 20. After breakfast and a brief meeting with Q. and E., Loudmouth Worshippers ventured into the sanctuary of Athens Christian Center for our first practice session in Greece. Three problems (at least from my point of view) kept it from being a good practice:
  1. I’ve mentioned my Rane preamps, which I had mounted in a rack with a Rane mixer. I had brought plug adapters for them, and I plugged them into a power strip on the platform while I was setting up. Well, I shouldn’t have done that. Electric current in Greece runs at 220 volts; my gear was designed for U.S. current, which is 110 volts. In a matter of seconds, the power supplies for all three of my rack components were fried. At the time I thought the components themselves might be harmed; I didn't know that the power supply is designed to prevent that from happening. So fortunately, my preamps and mixer weren't damaged, only rendered unusable. When I got back to the States it cost about $80 to replace the damaged power supplies. Meanwhile, though, my instruments had suddenly become a lot less pluggable.

    Fortunately I also had an old Fishman G series preamp and a direct box, both of which run on 9-volt batteries, as well as an A/B box I could use to switch between two instruments. Running my rig this way required extra cables, and I had to borrow one from the church for a few days until I got a chance to buy one from a music store. It cost about 10 euros, and I also picked up a Y-adapter for 7 euros — which enabled me to run all three instruments into the Fishman without having to unplug anything in the middle of a set. That I had brought the Fishman at all was either dumb luck or divine providence — take your pick.

    Q. had observed (or, at least, had seen) me bringing rack gear to three rehearsals and a gig before we came to Greece. Heck, he'd seen me carrying the rack all the way from the Athens airport to the church. In an ideal world, Q., as the one setting up the concerts, would take responsibility to provide voltage transformers if band members needed them. (That’s the way Continentals did it.) But, of course, this isn't an ideal world. A promoter who neglects to provide guitar amps for a hard-rock band isn't likely to bother about getting a transformer for a fiddle player. On the other hand, I could have investigated the voltage question before plugging in, and I didn’t do it — so I can’t assign Q. all the blame. I’d be happy to split it with him, 50-50.

  2. Christian, thrust into the position of sound tech, was trying to figure out a sound board labeled in Greek, and he wasn’t very successful at that first rehearsal. We never did get a good mix. At the time I thought it was all his fault, but as I learned more about the circumstances I became more sympathetic.

  3. I can't pinpoint the exact instant I lost all respect for Q. In fact, it wasn't an instant but more of a gradual process over the first few days in Greece. However, a good deal of respect evaporated at the moment, not long after we started rehearsing, when Q. strode into the sanctuary, pointed at Ben Paris, the bass player, and said, "That’s not happening." He insisted that Ben unplug his bass. I think Ben did rehearse with us that day, albeit unplugged. But Q. forced him to sit out our first few gigs. I never got a satisfactory explanation about why. Ben didn’t want to talk about it, but he had evidently done something that offended Q. In a few days’ time I would learn just what one had to do to offend Q. so greatly that he would suspend one from a band. (Here’s a hint: It’s not hard. You could probably do it too, with tools you have around the house.)

    There might well be a need for some kind of discipline on a missionary/outreach trip such as ours. Suspending Ben, however, was a rotten way to discipline him, because it punished not only Ben but the whole band. Our rehearsal suffered because we didn’t sound right, and our gigs suffered because our rehearsal had been inadequate. My trust in B. was undermined because B. obviously knew what was going on, but wouldn't talk about it except to defend Q. And the band’s confidence in Q. took a nosedive, because Q. was behaving like an unreasonable, autocratic despot, not to mention a jerk. As if suspending Ben weren’t enough, he found other ways to disrupt our rehearsal, yanking out individual band members for private conversations whenever he felt like it. Most musicians would agree that rehearsals go better when they're not riddled with interruptions, but that seems to be a difficult concept for some non-musicians to grasp.

So between technical problems and vanishing personnel, we didn't accomplish a whole lot. Before we knew it, we had to cut off our rehearsal and get ready for the evening's multilingual worship service. Which, I must admit, was pretty neat. The French and German King's Kids were there, along with the Youth in Action team, Cory and the Russians, plus Elias and some of his associates. We all sang together in four or five different languages, and whatever Elias and Q. said was translated into French and German as well as Greek or English. Elias passed out the T-shirts he'd made for everyone (and collected 5 euros a pop for them), and got us all sufficiently fired up about supporting his outreach efforts.

The day had also seen the arrival of Q.'s outreach CDs. He's produced several of these for previous Olympics and other events. The CD was a "various artists" compilation including songs from Jessica Simpson and Moby (both of whom, Q. claimed, had waived their royalties and allowed him to use the songs for free) along with one song each from Loudmouth and U4ic, as well as songs by several other CCM artists, including Switchblade and Bags of Dirt. The U4ic song was the calypso version of "Sweet By and By" with my tenor guitar tracks on it, so it's accurate to say I was on the same CD as Jessica Simpson and Moby. Yippee. As far as I know I didn't have any tracks on "Come Thou Fount," the Loudmouth song. (Both songs are public-domain hymns; thus the question of songwriter royalties was deftly avoided.) Dates, times, and locations for five of our concerts were printed on the CD — namely, four nights in Vathis Square and one night at Cosmovision Center in Koropi. More later about that. Also on the CD was a freeware version of the Bible software that Q.'s company distributes. The idea, apparently, was for our team members to pass out these CDs while the bands were playing, and let the songs and software do the work of getting people to convert to evangelical Christianity.

So after the worship service, off to Thissio Square we went — at Q.'s behest — to try out this concept. I am fairly certain we had no permit or authorization to perform there that night; this was guerrilla/busker-style street evangelism. We had no sound system, and I was still playing several songs off charts because I hadn't memorized them. We sat on a wall and plowed uncertainly through a few songs with acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddle, and a djembe while Sarah and some other team members handed out CDs to people walking by. This got the attention of security guards in the square, who told them to stop. Sarah and Q. disagreed over what to do next. Q. and E. wanted the team to distribute CDs anyway, but Sarah refused, saying she'd gladly talk to passersby about her faith, but didn't wish to create problems with the security guards. To which E. replied, "It's a free country."

I've mentioned the Greek anti-proselytization law. Here's a little background about recent enforcement of said law. In 1997, at the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) track and field competition in Athens, Greek police harassed and roughed up volunteers operating a booth for More than Gold, an organization that sponsors outreach at international sporting events. (More than Gold was, of course, also involved at the Olympics, in an outreach called Flame 2004. More later about that.) Also at the IAAF meet, the police shut down a performance by Scarlet Journey, another American Christian band from Seattle. Translation: It's not a free country, and direct defiance of the security guards could well have derailed our whole trip before it really got started.

Fortunately, Q. wised up and moved us a few blocks away to Monastiraki Square, where we set the band up in front of McDonald's, played till our fingers were stiff, and sang ourselves hoarse while CD distribution continued. (Either there were no guards at Monastiraki or they didn't care.) B. in particular started losing his voice, and the more we played the worse we sounded. At one point someone asked me and Sarah whether our band was on the CD she'd just given him. When we said yes, he gave it back.

At this point most of us still were fairly disoriented and probably couldn't have found our way back to Athens Christian Center on our own, so we were at the mercy of Q.'s decisions about where to go and when to leave. I think we quit playing around 11 p.m., long after we'd ceased to sound like anything worth listening to, and dragged ourselves back to the church. There, instead of going to bed like sensible people, we stayed up. I remember having a Coca-Cola craving at midnight and wandering around the neighborhood in search of one. The only place open was a hookah bar, but by golly, they had Coke. Back at the church, most of us shot hoops, or sat around and talked, until 1:30 a.m. or so.

Here now are some observations based on that night's experience. I can't say I realized all of these things on that night, because I'm a slow learner:

  1. Just because my gear is right under a promoter's nose doesn't mean he'll automatically take responsibility for it. I'd have been much better off looking after my own needs rather than assuming that Q. would do it.

  2. Despite all his pretensions about artistic quality, Q. either couldn't tell a bad performance from a good one, didn't care, or was too far away to hear the band.

  3. It was more important to Q. that Sarah hand out CDs than that she talk to people and share her experience as a Christian with them.

  4. If Q. really did promise Holly five days of practice before we played a gig, he either had forgotten or had lied to her. Or maybe both.

  5. Not once, never, before we came to Greece or while we were there, did Q. mention anything to me about the anti-proselytization law. I didn't know for sure that it existed until after I got home. I find it difficult to imagine that no one in Greece told him about it, but that leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that he deliberately chose not to tell us. Now, since I think laws limiting religious freedom are unjust, I might well choose to break them as an act of civil disobedience. But that should be my choice. If I were going to risk harassment, assault, arrest, and/or expulsion from the country, I'd want to know about it before I decided to go.

  6. Q.'s initial pigheaded response to the guards in Thissio Square is merely a further indication of a cavalier disrespect for local authority. Fortunately, we never got in serious trouble in Greece — but if we had, we might have left Elias up a creek without a band. And let's look ahead to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, shall we? I'm betting the cops in the People's Republic of China will be a lot quicker to act than the Greek cops were. Thumb your nose at them, and kiss the rest of your trip goodbye.
It's time now to introduce a feature I'll call "Today's Pearl of Wisdom," for lack of a more accurate term I can use in polite company. Pearls of Wisdom are things I remember Q. saying, but I don't remember exactly when he said them. The phrase "Today's Pearl of Wisdom" doesn't mean I am claiming that I heard Q. say this on Friday, Aug. 20 — only that I did hear him say it sometime, and I'm reporting it today. So...

Today's Pearl of Wisdom: During one of his speeches to us, Q. confessed that he didn't think he possessed leadership skills (a rare example of honest self-evaluation on his part), but his acquaintances kept telling him that he was a leader, and their encouragement was what got him started traveling overseas with his outreach groups (instead of, for example, sending other people with actual, proven leadership skills). I have only one comment, and it's directed toward Q.'s encouraging acquaintances:

Are you smoking crack?


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