Friday, February 10, 2006

1. My Band Went to the Olympics and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

But who did bid thee join with us?

This is a tale that must be told.

It's old news by now, but still instructive, possibly even entertaining. I had hoped to tell this story to parties who might actually take measures to correct what happened, but I don't know how to contact those parties.

The story you are about to read is true. Some of the names have been changed, to protect my hide if anyone gets upset. Aspiring Christian musicians are free to use this information to help them decide how they should or shouldn't behave on tour, and what they will or won't tolerate from the people they choose to work with. They're also free to completely ignore this information and learn their lessons in the school of hard knocks.

It all began in the summer of 2003 with an e-mail from an individual I'll call B. He's a former worship pastor for one of those Gen-X, postmodern "emergent churches," and a few years ago he put out a highly respected worship CD. I played as a guest musician with his band exactly one time, in 1999 or so. It was a lot of fun, but that was all it took for me to realize that I don't relate to emergent churches. Nothing against them, but they're not my cup of tea. Chronologically I'm Gen-X, but in terms of culture, philosophy, and values I'm quite different from most people my age. But I digress.

B. remembered my one-time guest shot with his worship band. In the four years since then, he'd left that particular church to help plant another one, moved around a bit, and gotten involved with another music project that was taking him to fun locations like the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and several places in Honolulu (one of those, the X Factory, is a youth center in a former kim-chi plant where I once played a set with Ric Blair. But I digress.) This new band was called Loudmouth Worshippers. They'd be going to Athens to play at the 2004 Summer Olympics, and they needed a musician like me to give their sound a more ethnic flavor (I play fiddle, mandolin, and several variations thereof, if you hadn't gathered that already).

Was I interested?

Well, wouldn't you be?

Part 2

2. How Can I Make Repressed Memory Syndrome Work for Me?

There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.
——Julius Caesar,

I remember a mass of things, but nothing distinctly.

Do you ever look back on moments in your life and wish you’d been taking notes?

What I'm getting at is this. In every life there are a few times when one says to oneself, “I am going to remember this as long as I live.” The death of a pet, or, God forbid, a family member. Getting your driver’s license. Graduation. Your first job. Getting married. The birth of your first child. Et cetera. And that's nice, but chances are that those aren't the moments you'll actually need to remember. No, those moments, more often than not, seem trivial and mundane when they're happening. At the time, of course, you have no awareness of their future importance. Then, days or months or years later, you're left scratching your head and asking yourself, "Now what exactly did so-and-so say to me?" I remember my anniversary, but quite often in my marriage, that fact has been less important than whether I remembered to pick up margarine at the grocery store.

Which more or less brings me to my point: There are things I'm going to relate in this tale that I wish I could remember better. For example, I'm not entirely sure about everything that happened the first time I met Q.

Q. was the manager/executive producer for the band, Loudmouth Worshippers, that B. had invited me to join. (I hope this anonymity thing doesn't make my story too confusing. I've racked my brain for a nickname for this guy, and Q. is as good as anything else. It reminds me of the meddlesome, omnipotent being portrayed by John De Lancie on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The Q. in my story wasn't suave or brilliant like that character, but he was meddlesome, and seemed to think himself omnipotent.) After I had declared my interest and exchanged a couple of phone calls with Q., I was invited to a recording session.

You know, I'm not going to tell you Q.'s name,* but I'll tell you a little bit about him. He runs a Bible software company, but at present I'm not sure how active it is. Its Web site has been little more than a placeholder since March 2005. He also has an independent record label, but so far the only projects he's officially released are compilation CDs. Several artists and bands have been "signed" to his label at one time or another, but as far as I know, he has yet to release a full-length CD by any of them. He also purports to run a film production company, and I guess we'll just have to wait and see whether the film he's working on ever gets finished.

To earn his daily bread, Q. runs a small company that purchases and resells secondhand office equipment. I'm sorry I can't be more forthcoming about his identity, but we've all seen what happens to people who leak too much information. However, if you're a young worship musician who's recruited to play at the Olympics with the next hot band in Christian music by someone who seems to fit my description of Q., here's my advice: read every word of every post on this blog. Then and only then will you have the information you need to make your decision. And if you don't decide to run screaming for the hills, at least you can't say later that I didn't warn you. But I digress.

Now where was I? The recording session was to be in a studio on the campus of a church in North Seattle. I remember wandering about the grounds carrying four or five instruments and talking to Q. on a cell phone until I figured out which building it was. Q., his wife, E. (OK, that's enough initials), and B. were there, and there might have been one or two more band members. I am pretty sure that things seemed disorganized, because that's how all the recording sessions were: charts missing or in the wrong key or not having all the chords; working on songs that weren't on the list I was given before the session; being told, "Oh, we're going to redo some of those rhythm tracks you're playing with" or "We're going to add a cello to this" (in which case it was impossible to know how my own tracks would fit in with the final project); and lacking a sense of what the arrangement was or what the style should be for each song.

In the first session and the several that followed, I was often playing on songs or arrangements I had never heard before — which can be OK if the charts are accurate and the arrangement and style are understood, and a big waste of time if they're not. Pro session players quite often record stuff they don't know, and many of them are good enough to nail it on the first take. I wish I were that caliber of player, but I'm not.

(In all fairness, I must say I've played on worse sessions. The worst was probably the first one I ever did, for a singer-songwriter in L.A. [this one, if you're wondering]. Our time slot at the studio began at midnight, because it was cheaper then. She was a completely self-taught musician and fairly talented, but she had no musical vocabulary and neither did her engineer. I don't even remember whether her charts had any chords on them. Not a problem if you've got a great ear, but I don't — I have a so-so ear. Anyway, she didn't like what I was playing, but she lacked the capacity to tell me what she wanted me to change. I think I tried for about three hours before I gave up and went home, and in that period we might have gotten 30 seconds of tape that ended up on the CD. But I digress.)

Q. himself was nearly as deficient in musical vocabulary as that singer-songwriter was, but his engineers seemed to know their stuff, and B. was often around to show me things on the guitar if I had questions. Did I mention that B. had written most of the band's songs and that I've always respected his songwriting? Well, more later about that. And more later on what I couldn't have known at the first session: that no matter how much I and the other band members worked on recording the songs, many of them would never sound finished, because Q. was forever pulling out tracks and replacing them with others as we went along.

In later sessions it became clear that Q. was not fond of Celtic-style ornamentation on fiddle solos, which is a shame because they're part of how I play. I had to very conscientiously avoid such ornamentation, which was difficult for me. I played a viola solo on "Be Thou My Vision" and the engineer kept reminding me to leave the Irish stuff out. I wanted to say, in my best Hibernian brogue, "Are you bollocks? It's an Irish hymn, for the love of God," but I didn't. Also, at the second session, I met some of the other band members (at least I think they were members when I met them — but more later about that). I broke into a bit of a hornpipe on the mandolin (not while the tape was rolling), and one of the people I'd just met made a wisecrack about dancing leprechauns.

What I don't remember about these sessions is at which one of them Q. told me about Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers. And I don't remember exactly what he said, which is unfortunate, because it turned out to be one of those moments when I should have been taking notes.

For the uninitiated, Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers** is a Christian band from Nashville formed during the recent "swing revival" craze. If you called them the CCM counterpart of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, you wouldn't be far off. But while most swing revival bands have gone the way of Sinatra, the Pullet Pluckers are still going strong, which says something either about their talent and perseverance or about the CCM market's failure to recognize when trends are over. (Please don't get the wrong idea — I would rather listen to swing music than just about anything on modern pop or rock radio.)

But I digress. I had heard of the Pullet Pluckers, although I didn't know their music, so I was impressed when Q. told me they were "one of our bands." That's the only phrase I recall well enough to put in quotes. I remember getting the distinct impression that Q. was claiming to be their manager and/or the one responsible for starting the band. I would later learn that this impression was false. (You can check the band's Web site to see who their manager and founding members are. No mention of Q. there.) But, you will recall, I wasn't taking notes.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that Q. stated an outright falsehood. The incident was probably an early manifestation of two of Q.'s particular gifts: 1) exaggeration; 2) making vague statements that could be interpreted a number of different ways, but were nonetheless calculated to reflect positively on him and increase his legitimacy in the mind of the listener.

Now if I hadn't been such a gullible chap, I could have gone to the Pullet Pluckers' Web site while his remarks were still fresh in my mind, there corrected my impression, and perhaps even cleared up the misunderstanding. But I did none of those things. It would be at least a year before I discovered the precise nature of Q.'s relationship with Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers. More later about that. In the meantime I was determined to be part of this band and go with them to the Olympics — snide remarks about leprechauns notwithstanding.

So what's today's lesson, kids? One of two things: either (a) carry a notepad with you at all times and write down what people say to you, because you might need to recall it later on; or (b) if someone tells you something about himself that sounds both impressive and verifiable, by all means do try to verify it — especially if you will be placing significant trust in this individual in the future. If you succeed in verifying the claim, the individual will look all the more impressive because of his truthfulness. If you succeed in disproving the claim, then you will know you should either ask for clarification or put your trust elsewhere.

*For some reason Q. himself uses a pseudonym in letters to the editor as well as in press releases on his own Web site.

**To protect the innocent, I'll do what I can to ensure that the names of actual, existing, legitimate music ministries are not dragged unnecessarily into the story.

3. Crossing the Continental Divide

Now, by the gods, I pity his misfortune,
And will awake him from his melancholy.

I wanna begin this post by telling you a little about me, just so's you'll know where I'm comin' from. I am thirty-five years old, I am thrice divorced, and I live in a van down by the ...

Wait a sec.

Well, I did turn 35 a few months after going to Athens, but forget the rest of that. I just figured that since my Hellenic debacle was not my first experience with touring music ministry, it might do some good to talk about one of my other such experiences, for the sake of comparison. Just so's you'll know where I'm comin' from.

One fine spring day in 1989 I sat down on my bed in my college dorm room and narrowed my summer options down to two alternatives:
(a) commit suicide or (b) audition for Continental Singers. I then chose (b), figuring that if it didn't work out, I would still have (a) to fall back on. I guess that means (a) was my Plan B.

The most succinct way to describe the Continental Singers is "the Christian Up With People." They send groups around the world performing CCM songs in a "show choir" format, with video, lights, bright costumes, and choreography. I grew up attending Continentals concerts at my church, and had always harbored a desire to join them. The music is undeniably bland by a critic's standards — but you must understand that Continentals perform mostly in churches, many of which are rather conservative, and they have to choose material that won't give too much offense. By age 19 I wasn't exactly a big fan of the music they perform, but I still wanted to go on one of their tours. This may explain why I chose to audition as an instrumentalist rather than a singer.

To truncate a tome (a phrase which here means "to make a long story short"), I was accepted as the third-chair violist in the Continental Orchestra (the only one of their groups with string players) and spent the summer playing around the United States and Europe. It saved my life.

Surely you haven't forgotten (a) from an earlier paragraph — I was suicidal, and suicidal people tend not to have positive or cooperative attitudes. I have no doubt that I was a complete pain in the rear for my tour director during rehearsal camp and the first leg of the tour. But our bus that summer was a microcosm of Christian community, and the support I received from my leaders and tourmates pulled me out of my depression and gave me a renewed sense of self-worth that I've never lost since then — although I've been in plenty of situations that brought it under attack (more later about that). So I don't care what you think of Continentals' music; what they did for me is far more important than a matter of taste.

At the beginning I didn't have such a high opinion of our leaders (but, you will remember, I had problems of my own). I even met once or twice early in the tour with a group of six or eight disgruntled musicians who wanted to propose some changes in the way things were run. I'm pretty sure that our director listened fairly to our proposals and rejected most of them, if not all. But I've forgotten what they were. Over the course of the tour, the director proved himself, by his behavior, to be a person of unimpeachable integrity. And because of this, our objections ceased to matter (to me, at least) long before the summer was over.

Here are a few things the Continentals did right:
  • We attended a week-long rehearsal camp before we hit the road, which gave everyone time to learn the music and choreography and start to form relationships.
  • Our light tech and sound tech were part of the team. They trained along with us at rehearsal camp, and planned in advance for our equipment needs.
  • The leaders made an effort to personally engage every group member, one on one, and get to know what made them tick. I am sure this was not easy for them in my case.
  • If the leaders felt any self-doubt about their leadership ability, they didn't tell the group about such doubts. If they made mistakes, they did it with confidence. If their decisions bore an explanation, they gave one, within reason.
  • The leaders sacrificed their personal comfort and convenience for the benefit of the group. They set examples for us by being on time for every call, keeping their cool in tight situations, and treating us fairly and graciously while nonetheless maintaining strict boundaries. There were times my tour director was brusque with me, but it's not as though I didn't give him cause. Eventually we earned each other's respect.
  • The leaders themselves were musicians. Our director was a trumpet player; his wife was a vocalist; and our three assistant directors were a vocalist, a French horn player, and a violinist.
  • Expectations were clear. There were rules for what you wore, what you did with your free time and your time on the bus, what you did during setup, performance, and tear-down, and how you behaved around your host families. Every day had a schedule and it was given to everyone first thing in the morning. The tour itself also had a schedule, and it was given to everyone before we hit the road. You knew where you'd be playing every night.
  • Each day was structured to include some down time, even if it meant just taking a nap on the bus. Some days included free time or activity time, schedule permitting, even if it meant just stopping at a shopping mall for a few hours. But you knew in advance when you were going to have free time, when it would begin, and when it would end.
  • Every day included at least 90 minutes of sound check/rehearsal/warmup before the gig.
  • Spiritual disciplines (group prayer and Bible reading) were practiced consistently, with gusto. We sang together in private as well as on stage.
  • We were fed.
So there are just a few characteristics of a successful touring ministry. You might want to keep them in mind later on, when the Big Fat Greek Vacation actually reaches Greece. At some point we'll ponder whether it's fair of me to judge my experience on the Continent by my experience with the Continentals.

Until then, happy surfing.

4. If the Casket Falls Out Before You Reach the Cemetery, You Just Put It Back In, and That's a ...

Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
——Richard II,

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
——The Merchant of Venice, V.i

The foul practice
Hath turn'd itself on me.
——Hamlet, V.ii 

Having devoted the previous post to background information, I'll now resume my thrilling narrative. I've talked a bit about recording sessions, which of course are different from rehearsals because the musicians play one at a time instead of all together. Now I'll try to give you an idea of what our rehearsals were like.

In college I had an acquaintance named Alecia. After she graduated, she married a guy named Joe, had a couple of kids, and moved to a house in South Seattle. Our first band rehearsal, on July 19, 2003, turned out to be in her garage, although she wasn't playing in the band. Besides Alecia, there were some other familiar faces: B. was there, along with a percussionist and lead guitarist I'd met at the second recording session. Q. had come along, naturally. There were also some new faces: a bassist and drummer I hadn't met, and a guitarist/vocalist named Holly.

Holly, a few months pregnant at the time I met her, is a worship leader at another of those emergent churches — hers is in West Seattle. She and B. were to be the tandem lead vocalists of Loudmouth Worshippers. (I think there might have been a third guitarist/vocalist at that rehearsal, but if so, he or she disappeared thereafter. More later about that.) Through all that ensued, my wife and I ended up getting to know Holly better than we knew anyone else in the band.

About the rehearsal. We slammed through 10 or 12 charts. B. had written most of the music, and it was good stuff: catchy melodies, chord progressions not too predictable. B. has a talent for taking classic texts (Prayer of St. Francis, the Nicene Creed, the old hymn "Breathe on Me") and finding new melodies for them. And there was a fair amount of intrigue and poetry in his original lyrics. We were doing one classic hymn, "Come Thou Fount," with the original melody. But, as I said, we were slamming through everything. No attention was given to dynamics or arrangements; we didn't go back to rework problem spots; everybody just played as loud as possible, and I tried to find some sonic space for my instruments somewhere. I have mentioned that this band had already played live gigs in Hawaii and Salt Lake City, but at this rehearsal they didn't sound like a band that was used to playing together. Or maybe, I thought, it was just me.

I guess you could point to Robby Steinhardt (Kansas) or John Cale (Velvet Underground) as the first musicians to play amplified violin-family instruments in a rock band. (Of course, people like Bob Wills and Stuff Smith had been using them in jazz and swing for years.) Charles O'Connor of the Horslips also comes to mind. I don't know for sure about the others, but Robby and Kansas figured out two things: you have to have a good pickup and a preamp, or you'll never be heard above electric instruments; and you to have to arrange the music so that the violin sounds like it belongs there. Well, I had one of the best pickup/preamp configurations in the business on both my mandolin and my fiddle: a Fishman bridge pickup, paired with a Crown microphone, run through a Rane AP13 preamp. (Both my AP13s were mounted in a portable rack case, along with a mixer, and I brought them to the three rehearsals and the gig I participated in before we went overseas. More later about that.) But, at least at that rehearsal, we took no time to consider arrangements. I could barely hear myself, and it's hard to arrange what you can't hear.

Of course, there's really no point in working too much on your arrangements for live shows until you have your personnel nailed down. Keep that in mind.

Several weeks later, on August 23, 2003, we held a second rehearsal in Joe and Alecia's garage. In between the two rehearsals I went to Ireland, so in my memory they seem farther apart than they actually were. I remember I was really late for this second one, but I eventually got there. Not much had changed except some of the personnel. We had a new bassist; I don't think the lead guitarist or the phantom third guitarist/vocalist were there; and if I'm not mistaken, we were, like Henry David Thoreau, following a different drummer. Actually, we were following the percussionist, who was filling in on the trap set because the drummer was even later than I was. But if I was expecting that we would work on arrangements this time, I was disappointed — it was just more slamming.

Actually, in retrospect, slamming seemed to be the favored approach for a lot of things in this group — and I'm not just talking about music. I'm talking about the most memorable part of that rehearsal: a spectacular argument between B. and Q., which, if I recall correctly (and again, I should have been taking notes) had something to do with how the band was expected to sound. Q. always said he wanted us to sound like Coldplay — which was a bit of a puzzler for me, because I have never heard Coldplay* and know absolutely nothing about them except that their lead singer is the father of Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter, who is named Apple. I can hear the playground taunts already. Some therapist is going to buy a luxury yacht with the money he gets for having that kid on his couch. But I digress. Frankly, I'm a conflict avoider, I didn't want to listen to the argument, and the rehearsal was pretty much over when it started, so I excused myself from the garage and went home. But before I left I did hear Q. pull rank as the manager/producer/financier/Svengali for the band, and threaten to get rid of B. and everyone else if he didn't get his way.

In other words, it didn't matter that B. had written these songs and performed them hundreds of times in his own church worship bands. It didn't matter that this band had already been out playing gigs. It didn't matter that the person trying to assume the role of musical director (Q.) didn't know a whole note from a hole in the head. It didn't matter that this was a slam-through rehearsal conducted at least partly for the purpose of bringing me up to speed, and therefore it was hardly fair to judge whether the band sounded like Coldplay (at the time it didn't sound like much of anything). It was Q.'s way or the highway, and he could be volatile if he didn't get what he wanted.

So the evidence was there for me to see — but doggone it, I wanted to go to Greece.

Not that I felt personally threatened by Q., or had any arguments with him myself (up to this point). He was always complimentary toward me and my playing. In fact, because I tried to be flexible in recording sessions and give him what he wanted, he took to calling me a "professional studio musician." I didn't endeavor to correct the misconception, because I was flattered by it. It gave me some incentive to behave like a professional, a phrase which here means "Keep your head down, don't make waves, give 'em what they want, and concentrate on playing your best." I've often thought about attempting to be a professional, and have considered joining the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians. After I got back from Greece, I called the AFM and asked what professional studio musicians charge for their services. I was told the AFM doesn't send anyone out for less than $50 an hour, and there is, I think, a three-hour minimum.**

Wanna guess how much I got paid for my studio time? Zilcho. And I was OK with that. This was ministry, after all, and I was getting a free trip to the Olympics. There is, nonetheless, a certain amount of irony in calling someone a "professional studio musician" when you're not willing to treat him like one.

*Funny, these coincidences — I stopped in Rubato Records tonight to look around, and heard Coldplay for the first time on the in-store sound system. My quick impression: Start with U2 circa October or Boy. Then give Bono a frontal lobotomy so that he can't emote. Next, throw in a piano. You might need to throw it directly at Bono in case the lobotomy doesn't slow him down enough. Voila — you've got Coldplay. I didn't hear any strings, so I don't know how I was supposed to fit into Q.'s concept of our band's sound.

**I think I did six sessions for Q., for a total of about 10 hours of recording time. So my work was worth at least $500 by professional standards — $900 if you apply the three-hour minimum.

5. I'm Gonna Take a Trip on That Good Ol' Gospel Ship

Most heavenly music!
It nips me unto listening.

I'm often asked...

Sometimes asked...

Somebody once asked me...

about my experience with worship music. Why would I want to join a band called Loudmouth Worshippers?

Well, gee ... maybe it's because I had been playing worship music in churches for 13 years (mostly in this one and a couple of years in this one), because I think that's one of the ways God wants me to serve him. And from time to time I'm nagged by the desire to expand my involvement in music that expresses my faith.

(I didn't say "Christian music" because I'm not particularly anxious to be part of the CCM market, or to play the syrupy, repetitive pap with self-centered lyrics and outrageously affected vocals that passes for "worship music" in said market. Furthermore, this doesn't rule out my playing other types of music — I'm not going to give up my chair in Thalia Symphony just because we might play a piece by a composer who wasn't a Christian. Nonetheless, one function of music — although not the only function — is self-expression, and for me, that function is going to include my faith. But I digress.)

I think I've received exactly one negative comment about my playing in worship bands — someone thought I was trying to be a rock star because I move around a lot when I play. That person obviously had a lot of confidence in her ability to determine people's intentions by their actions. (I move around a lot no matter what kind of music I'm playing — I'm easy to spot in the orchestra because I'm the violist who can't sit still.) On the other hand, I've received a lot of praise, the best of which is when people say my playing helps them focus their attention on God. Which is, after all, my goal when I play worship music. I try to play my best, but my intent is to glorify God, not myself. My worship-band playing is improvisational, and it's informed by knowledge of chord progressions, scales, arpeggios, harmony, countermelody, complementary vs. contrary motion, and the mood of the song. In other words, it's just good solid musicianship. No smoke, no mirrors, and nothing up my sleeve. I don't claim any "anointing" or divine inspiration. If other people want to attribute those properties to me, that's fine, but I can't afford to get a swollen head. I refuse to entertain the notion that being a musician makes me more "spiritual" than any other Christian.*

Anyway, I had actually been praying and thinking about whether there was a way for me to get further involved in artistic expression of faith — and then that e-mail from B. arrived. It looked like a good thing at the time — maybe even an answer to prayer. Which, perhaps, is another reason I overlooked Q.'s not-so-commendable attributes and stuck with the project.

Speaking of Q., he never asked for my personal philosophy of worship music, but in an e-mail before the first recording session, he did ask me to provide a letter of reference from my pastor. He wanted the members of Loudmouth Worshippers to be seriously involved with music in their own local churches. And, he said, he was going to visit my church and check out what I was doing there.

It was no problem for me to obtain two letters of reference — one from my pastor in Seattle and another from my former pastor in L.A. And I told Q. he was welcome to drop by my church any Sunday, although he should check with me first, as I play there only every other week.

He never showed up.

In retrospect, I suppose the thing to do would have been to ask Q. for a letter of reference from his pastor. That'd be fair, don't you think? He claimed to attend the church pastored by Casey Treat, which was a bit of an eyebrow-lifter, as I disagree with much of Casey's theology and wonder whether Casey himself isn't a little off the beam. I was determined, however, to be on my best ecumenical behavior, a phrase which here means "cooperate with Q. in the spirit of Christian unity, and don't judge him by the church he attends."

Later I was surprised to learn that (a) Casey was suffering from hepatitis B; and (b) Q. didn't know about it. (I'm sure that Casey's illness must be a bit of an embarrassment to him, since he's known for teaching the "word of faith" doctrine, which claims that illness and poverty are the result of insufficient faith. I do hope that Casey both recovers and rethinks his theology. But I digress.) I'll just say this: I attend church frequently enough to say with some certainty that if my pastor went public with the fact that he had a life-threatening illness, I would know about it.

Anyway, the next time someone says he's going to check up on me, I'll try to do an equal amount of checking up on him.

*If you don't like my thinking on this subject, maybe this guy will be more up your alley. He professes not to have all the answers, but writes as though he does.

6. Broken Promises

I, that am honest; I, that hold it sin
To break the vow I am engaged in;
I am betray'd, by keeping company
With men like men of inconstancy.
——Love's Labour's Lost,

That is a piecrust promise: easily made, easily broken.
——Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins

I can sense your frustration, gentle reader. You feel betrayed. You think an essay whose title includes the words "Greek vacation" should actually contain some description of a Greek vacation. After all, what is a title but an implicit promise about content? And if a person breaks an implicit promise, isn't he not only a liar but a weasel, since he raised your hopes without actually stating the promise? And isn't a manipulative liar worse than a bald-faced one?

Dear reader, I shall try to be neither sort of liar. Everything in this essay is and shall be, to the best of my knowledge, completely factual. When it becomes necessary to disclose facts that do not reflect well on me, I intend to do so. Let me reassure you, I did in fact go to Greece and will attempt to get us there soon. Bear in mind, the preparation took more than a year; the trip itself lasted only two and a half weeks.

But speaking of broken promises, perhaps now would be a good time to tell you what promises were made to me before I stepped on the plane. Or at least what I expected, since in some cases, whether the promises were explicit or implicit depends on other contingencies, such as the meaning of the word "we," for example. So, implicitly or explicitly, Q. and his wife, E. — via conversation, e-mail, and text on their Web site — had fostered within me the following expectations:
  • That we'd be playing "at the Olympics" in front of "thousands of people" and staying someplace "in the shadow of the Acropolis." Meals, a place to stay, and transportation would be covered. Virgin Megastore would be a corporate sponsor for commercial concert venues.
  • That Q.'s company and record label would also sponsor performances in Athens by some better-known Christian bands: Switchblade, Feveri$h, Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers, and Mob Barley. Loudmouth, we were told, was booked to play a concert with the latter two bands. I was impressed. Switchblade and Feveri$h in particular are fairly high-level bands, and they don't work with just anybody. Q., it seemed, had the connections to make an event like this fly.*
  • That Q. and E. would spring for some Olympic event tickets. Here we must note the difference between an expectation and a promise:

    E. sent everyone a link to the Olympic event schedule for Aug. 24–25, comprising some 50 events, and asked us to name the ones we'd most like to see. She wrote, "Even though Q. and I were so busy during the last Olympics in Salt Lake City, we committed to everyone that we would go to an event or two during the next Oly’s in Athens."

    1. I guess that since she asked us to choose an event, I assumed she'd do something with the information we gave her — namely, buy tickets.
    2. She used the phrase "committed to everyone that we would go." Well, how do you "commit" to go to a ticketed event? Buy tickets.
    3. She didn't ask us for money — so logically, who was left to buy the tickets? Q. and E.
    4. I assumed most events would sell out well in advance, so it would be smart to buy tickets ahead of time, especially for a large group like ours. (In fact, the Athens Games were rather a disappointment in terms of ticket sales, but no one could have known that beforehand.)

    Well, my assumptions might have been logical, but they weren't accurate. E.'s e-mail never said who'd pay for the tickets. And she and Q. did take some band members to an Olympic event, although those who went had to pay for their own tickets. So this counts as a shattered expectation but not as a broken promise.

  • That Q. had assembled another band called U4ic,** who would be flying over with us. He said I might play with that band as well, and in fact he called me in to record some rhythm tracks and a lead break on tenor guitar for a U4ic song. It was a calypso version of the hymn "Sweet By and By." (Those tracks are probably my only contribution to one of Q.'s musical projects that actually appeared on a release of any kind. But more later about that.***)
  • That a cellist would join Loudmouth, and she and I would each be expected to prepare a classical solo piece. I gave Q. a copy of my solo CD and sent an e-mail suggesting a couple of pieces I could play and asking which one he liked.****
  • That the Loudmouth CD would be completed and for sale at the concerts we played — and the band would get some of the money.
  • That there were some 150 ministries supporting Loudmouth.
  • That band members would be doing TV and radio interviews. When I asked whether my wife, Sarah, could come along for the trip, Q. suggested that she could be an on-camera coach for the interviews. Later he offered to pay for her transportation as well as mine, as long as I confirmed her availability with him right away. If memory serves, this offer was made toward the end of the week of July 18–24, on Thursday or Friday. I confirmed by e-mail on Saturday, July 24, and by voice mail the following Monday.

I could go on. But now that I think about it, I had reason to believe, even before I went to Greece, that broken promises were something of a behavior pattern with Q. and E. I've already mentioned Q.'s failure to show up at my church. In addition, they repeatedly talked about recording at some cushy studio (this one) with living quarters, hot tubs, and a 9-hole golf course. Since I thought they were just trying to impress me, and I don't particularly care where I record (I made most of my solo CD in the producer's laundry room), the fact that this never happened didn't bother me. Maybe it should have. Q. also waxed rhapsodic to my wife about plans to have our volunteer roadies do a Stomp-style performance at our concerts (as though that wouldn't require talent, training, choreography and a ton of rehearsal). This latter scheme even made its way into a press release, along with many other non-events. Various other teasing tidbits about things "in the works" would crop up in e-mails from E. — working with a Grammy-winning guest producer; gigs in Idaho and New Zealand as well as on Crete and the Greek island of Patmos; staying at Kalamos Youth Center; playing at a Worship Together seminar — and then dissipate into the ether, never to be mentioned again. In fact, this last suggestion seemed to be the occasion of a dramatic flip-flop in Q. and E.'s promotion strategy. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail E. sent on 7/2/2003:

We had several invitations to music fests, events, etc. The one reason we have said "No" is because we want to have CDs for you guys to be able to be compensated for your time.
And here's what she said on 10/7/2003 when she mentioned playing at Worship Together:
I know it may seem weird to you because most independent groups finish their CD project first and then go out there and promote and do concerts and stuff, well not us. We have chosen to get you guys out there promoting in all different avenues with cool opportunities, i.e. radio servicing, radio interviews, TV, concerts, etc. for several months before the release of the CD like the big names do it. By the time your CD hits the street everyone is familiar with who you are.
Did you catch that? The two statements are completely contradictory. It's a 180-degree change in the space of three months! How bizarre is that? Given that we never played at Worship Together or any other such event, the first statement was probably closer to the truth. On the other hand, given that the CD was never released, the second statement was probably closer to the truth. In the end, we got the worst of both worlds: no CD and very little exposure.

So if I've learned anything, I guess it's that people who make false promises about extravagant things (such as studios with golf courses) may be just as likely to make false promises about basic things (such as room and board, performance venues, and whose transportation is covered). And perhaps, having seen that certain promises weren't kept before I went to Greece, I was foolish to expect that other promises would be kept when I got there. However, I can't impute to Q. any sinister motive. He may well have attempted to effect all the things he promised — but if so, many of his attempts failed. He tended to represent deals as done when they really weren't, and to take credit for the work of others.

A very illuminating quote appears on an old version of the Web site for Q.'s record label:

We support and work with a lot of credible, worldwide renowned ministries. We feel in order to keep a ongoing trustworthy relationship with these ministries and future ministries, it is important when looking at adding more people to the team, we keep the high standard of growing a business and ministry where we are all "living a life above reproach" as the Apostle Paul commanded Timothy to all Christians.
Of course, it isn't up to me to judge whether Q.'s behavior meets this standard or not. I'm only here to recite the facts.

*Speaking of connections, Q. not only licensed songs by Jessica Simpson and Moby for a compilation CD, he claimed to know the artists. He also claimed that well-known Christian singers Stinky Cheeseman and Picante Chilipepa were supporting our Greece trip — but I am not sure whether said support was supposed to be financial or emotional. The impression that Q. was working with several bands besides ours seemed to explain why he was sometimes hard to reach, and why his work on the Loudmouth CD was going so slowly. After all, he had many other irons in the fire!

**People like myself who pay attention to words and their meanings will note that "euphoric" usually refers to an artificially induced sense of well-being, such as you might get from drugs. So perhaps it wasn't the best name for a band professing Christianity.

***Here's a chronology of changes to the music section of Q.'s Web site, which rather tends to support the notion that chaos and instability reign at what passes for his record label:

Early March 2005: Loudmouth Worshippers renamed U4ic; U4ic renamed Playpin Junkyard. Makes you wonder who's reading this blog.

April 2005: Q. deletes the music page from his Web site, renames his record label, and launches a new site for it. Playpin Junkyard disappears entirely; U4ic is still listed, with no release date or other information. A new project called Knee Fight is scheduled for September 2005. (Knee Fight — what the ...? As if Playpin Junkyard weren't a stupid enough name...)

Autumn 2005: Release date for Knee Fight comes and goes. Project deleted from site. Link added to the Web site for "Six Steps to Heaven," a Hawaii-based band. U4ic still listed, with new graphic but no information. "Six Steps to Heaven" may have the best shot at actually finishing a project and getting it released, because (a) they're a pre-existing band not manufactured or managed by Q.; (b) they're in Hawaii, so he can't interfere with their operations on a daily basis. We shall see.

October 2005: Q. and B. recycle the name "Watercloset," a band B. used to front about 13 years ago. B. is the only original member in the new lineup, but he does obtain the blessing of other original members to use the name. New band photo includes two of the guys who went to Greece with Loudmouth, along with B., and two others I don't recognize. The forthcoming project is to be titled "The Best of Watercloset" — kind of an odd title for a band that did one CD in the early '90s and has been inactive since then. And, as we shall see, every water closet gets flushed before long.

February 2006: Q. assembles another outreach team for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Details are never made public: no announcements about which bands are going to Italy with which other bands, etc. Perhaps Q. has learned something about making extravagant promises.

March 2006: U4ic link disappears from record-label homepage. So both bands Q. assembled for Athens are history. The "Watercloset" project is reconfigured as a solo project for B. Considering that these changes happened just after the Winter Olympics, it's really tempting to infer that another meltdown occurred in Italy, similar to the one that unfolds in this blog, and that existing material is being repackaged as a B. solo project because Q. can't keep a band together long enough to do anything else. However, you'll never catch me making such inferences. That would amount to idle speculation, which is not my purpose here.

****Do you think I ever heard back from him about this?

7. Are You in This Band Too?

I'll show you how to observe a strange event.
Your lord sends now for money.
——Timon of Athens,

In speech, dear reader, I am not verbose. Articulate, yes, but I'm usually a man of few words.

Print, however, appears to be another story. I'm endeavoring to make this essay fun to read, which is challenging because it's basically one long complaint. I rewrite bits of it to add more punch to the language. I'm endeavoring to make it as accurate as possible; I've changed descriptions and added or deleted things as I rediscover facts I had forgotten. I'm endeavoring to filter out picayune details and unnecessary tangents (well, most of them) in order to focus on the important events — the "bones" of the story, you might say.

And yet this tale is coming out longer than I expected. Perhaps my story is a fish: it has many small bones, all pointing in the same direction.

For eating purposes, I like fish in general, although I like some kinds more than others. One thing about fish, though: You would never take a few bites of catfish and then expect the remaining bites to taste like salmon. But as I review the events that led up to my Greece trip, hindsight tells me that's exactly what I was doing. Q. and E. were serving catfish, even if they claimed it was salmon, and the joke was on me if I really expected it to taste different once I got on the plane.

Speaking of which, the purpose of this chapter is to bring you a few steps closer to that event. Ready? Then let's get on with it.

There were, as I have suggested, a few more recording sessions, mostly at a studio in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood run by a talented engineer named Scott. At one of these sessions I first met Logan, the infant son of Holly, our lead singer (you'll recall that she was pregnant when I met her). More later about him. These sessions were all fairly uneventful (well, OK, I was rear-ended by a pickup on the way to one of them, but fortunately I was driving a rental car and had purchased an insurance waiver). As the months went by I received a lot of CDs from Q. that were meant to represent the progress being made on the Loudmouth record. Frankly, I didn't listen to most of them, but when I did, only a few songs ever sounded as though they'd gotten beyond the rough-mix stage. The others seemed to be subject to a lot of addition and subtraction of tracks, without getting closer to sounding finished.

I chalked this up to the fact that we'd rehearsed only twice in a year. If we'd taken time to establish our arrangements, then we'd have known what tracks needed to be on the CD. But instead we were arranging them as we went, one player at a time, while the studio clock was ticking. Really talented producers can make great music this way, provided that they know what they want and how to get it out of their musicians. But in place of a talented producer we had Q., whose lack of musical acumen I have already complained about, and whose concept of our sound seemed to be a moving target. On 3/18/2004, E. wrote:
Since we are not going to be using three finished tracks that have been done up (because [Q.] is wanting to re-do them), distributors have OK’d a pre-promo mini CD, limited run (meaning not many free copies) with some of these songs.
Ah, so that's why the songs never sounded finished — the ones that were finished had to be redone for some reason. Meanwhile, we had a bunch of musicians from all over Washington state who needed some time to get comfortable playing with each other, especially if we were going to play at the Olympics in front of thousands of people (let alone record a CD). I didn't mind being in a manufactured band as long as we had time to become a band. It doesn't happen overnight.

I thought that since I was the new kid in the band, perhaps only I felt this way. Later I learned otherwise: Holly had expressed the same concern to Q., who allegedly told her that our first five days in Athens would be exclusively devoted to practice. More later about that.

In early July 2004, just six weeks before our trip, some good things began to happen, but so did some weird things. The weirdest was an e-mail from E., claiming that there was some kind of quota on non–European Union performers in Athens, so we'd have to trim the size of the group in order to play at the commercial venues sponsored by Virgin Megastore. The e-mail was being sent to a "select few" band members, and those of us who wanted to "opt out" would be first in line for future outreaches in Hawaii and New Zealand.

Well, if you start "opting out" people, pretty soon you no longer have a band. Sure, they could perform without me and my "color instruments" — and in fact, the band had played a gig in California over the Valentine's Day 2004 weekend, which I wasn't able to make because I had a wedding gig booked. But apart from me, wasn't everyone else pretty essential? A band isn't a modular unit that can be reconfigured any which way, is it?

Well, is it?

More later about that. I'll tell you now, though, that when I got to Greece and asked some of the other band members about that e-mail, none of them remembered getting it. So just how few was a "select few"?

Anyway, the implication seemed to be that I might be able to go to Greece, but I might not be able to bring my wife, Sarah, to do her on-camera coaching. So here's part of an e-mail I sent to E. in response:
Look, I certainly don't want to cause you guys any trouble. I would be disappointed not to go to Greece, but mostly for selfish reasons. If you have room for me and not Sarah, she and I will see what we can do about finding a ticket for her on our own. She can go as a tourist and stay with a missionary friend of hers in Athens. In the end, though, you should do whatever's in the best interest of your goals for outreach & ministry.
I meant it, too. It's a funny thing, though: A couple of weeks after sending that e-mail, I got a voice mail back from E., saying that Sarah and I could both go. But she also asked us to pay for our airfare! Wait a minute, I replied, I thought our airfare was covered. She came back with this:
whoops, I made a mistake and I apologize, your ticket is totally covered. I guess you didn't get back to us in time whether Sarah could help with video production stuff over there.
So now I'd have to give her a money order for $1,352 to cover Sarah's airfare. (That's a dollar for every guitar picker in Nashville.)

You'll recall that I had confirmed Sarah's availability just a few days after Q. originally offered to cover her airfare. Now I was suddenly being told this wasn't soon enough, and I was being asked to cough up some serious cash or leave behind my wife — who had already scheduled the summer classes she teaches around this Greece trip, and whose expectations were just as high as mine. I asked E. whether I could sell my solo CD at our concerts, to help defray the unexpected cost. She said I could, except at churches and a particular gig being organized by Logos Music, which was to be the band's distributor in Greece. So I went to the bank and got the money order, paying for it with some of the revenue from those summer classes.

Now, if I were a cynic I would make a comment about the timing of E.'s sudden demand for $1,352, coming as it did a few days after my offer to find a way for Sarah to travel separately if it would help the band beat the quota system. If I were a cynic I would say it was awfully interesting that although the quota was no longer a problem, suddenly the money was — just after I'd sent an e-mail suggesting that I might have the means and the will to get my wife to Athens on my own. But I am trying hard not to be a cynic.

Still, dear reader, money is money. You might want to keep a running total of my expenses as you read. Just don't tell me what it is — I don't want to get depressed!

Speaking of not being depressed, I did mention that some good things had begun to happen. Namely, another rehearsal was finally scheduled, and we were to play a gig at Seattle's City Church before going to Athens. The rehearsal—our third, and almost exactly a year after our first one — took place at Holly's church in West Seattle. And it was a good one — we actually, finally, started to talk about arrangements. Even though this just consisted of deciding which instrument should be "on top" (i.e., playing fills and lead breaks) for each song, at least we were making those decisions.

One challenge at this rehearsal: The only people in the room I recognized were B., Holly, and Q. The rest of the band was new to me. As follows:
  • A new bass player, Ben Paris.
  • The cellist (I don't recall her name).
  • A keyboardist named Justin, who had played with the band before, but whom I hadn't met.
  • A new third rhythm guitarist/vocalist named Brian.
  • A new percussionist.
  • And last but not least, the drummer. I can't tell you for sure whether this was the same guy from the other rehearsals. There might have been a different drummer every time we rehearsed, for all I know — a real-life Spinal Tap situation.
So we were now a 9-member band. So much for quotas! At the end of the rehearsal I still didn't feel quite ready for our gig (for example, many of us were still playing from chord charts, some of which were still in the wrong key), but I was looking forward to it nonetheless. It felt as though we were finally starting to cook that fish. Or at least reel it in.

8. Come Blow Your Nose

O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain,
That shall distil from these two ancient urns,
Than youthful April shall with all his showers:
In summer's drought I'll drop upon thee still;
In winter with warm tears I'll melt the snow
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face.
——Titus Andronicus,

You can tell a lot about a church by where they put the tissue boxes.

The Seattle congregation of City Church meets in a former union hall in the Belltown district. I was the first band member to arrive for our evening concert, because I had three instruments to set up and it always takes me longer than anyone else. Not even Q. was there yet. As I was bringing in my gear I observed the church's ushers, all young men dressed identically in khakis and blue polo shirts with the church's logo, preparing for the service. They polished the handrails on the steps leading into the lobby, cleaned the windows, set up displays—and put a tissue box under the first chair in every other row on either side of the center aisle.

I must say that God often moves me to tears and I'm not ashamed of that. However, when I see the tissue boxes coming out, I know I'm going to be expected to weep during the service. And to me there's a difference between being emotionally available to God, on one hand, and being emotionally manipulated by people, on the other. It smacks of Tammy Faye Bakker and Jan Crouch and every other smarmy televangelist you can name. But if that's your thing, I won't try to talk you out of it.

It was on this night that Sarah and I met Ken and Barbie, the final two individuals in this tale who'll need pseudonyms. They're a married couple, and when Q. introduced them to me, I got the impression that Ken was on staff at City Church—which apparently wasn't true. In my never-ending quest to give Q. the benefit of the doubt, I'll say I'm not sure whom to blame for the misunderstanding. Research reveals that Ken formerly led a cell group at City Church for young professional creative artists, but it's not a staff position. The rest of the band showed up, including a drummer (I have no idea if it was the same guy from the previous rehearsal), and we played our gig. Frankly, it was pretty sloppy and tentative, as you might expect of a band that's rehearsed just once in eleven months. Sarah, who isn't one to mince words, later said that we sucked.

But if so, she was the only one outside the band who seemed to notice. Everyone else said it was great. I should mention that the concert was bookended by a couple of loud, interminable "charismatic" prayer sessions featuring lots of glossolalia, and at some point Q. delivered a tearful, rambling monologue in which he sounded a lot less confident and prepared than you might expect of someone who's about to lead a touring band overseas for two and a half weeks. I suppose he was glad for the tissue boxes. I personally didn't need one; I was bemused but not moved. Everything and everybody was prayed for, not just the band and the people we'd be "ministering" to in Athens. I remember a woman praying for someone's patella to be healed, although it was obvious from her prayer that she didn't know what a patella was.

There's something to be said for diversity of worship styles within the church. I don't pretend the style of worship at my church is for everybody, and I would hope that other Christians can extend me the same courtesy regarding their worship styles. I was uncomfortable at City Church, but that alone doesn't mean there's anything wrong with City Church. Nor does it mean there's anything wrong with me. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy on such matters.

So I'm not about to suggest that overtly emotional worship and prayer can't be authentic. But some situations call for prayer and others call for action, and in the latter situations prayer is not an appropriate substitute. More later about that.

At dinner after the concert, we learned that Barbie had been a nanny for the children of TV actor John Schneider of "The Dukes of Hazzard," and that Q. greatly admired her and Ken for the purported effectiveness of their prayers as well as for their good looks (he actually called them Ken and Barbie, which he apparently meant as a compliment). More importantly, we learned that they were to accompany us to Athens as co-leaders of the group, although they weren't in the band.

Though it was kind of a strange evening, and I had misgivings afterward about what I was getting into (were Sarah and I going to be the only non-charismatics on the trip?), the concert was useful in helping me make some final decisions about the gear I was going to take to Greece.

When I first got involved with Loudmouth Worshippers, I thought we were going to be an all-out rock band and I'd probably need to use my electric violin and mandolin in order to be heard. The violin needed some repair, so I sent it back to the builder for a $350 pickup upgrade. I paid another $100 for a wireless in-ear monitor so I'd be able to hear myself playing it. (There's no "under-the-ear" sound with a solidbody electric violin, which is hard to get used to if you've played acoustic all your life.) A carbon-fiber bow designed for electric playing set me back another $300. Later it became apparent that we were more of an acoustic pop band, and furthermore, we might be playing some gigs where it wasn't convenient to plug in. So I settled on three acoustic instruments: mandolin, violin, and resophonic tenor guitar, all of which I played at the City Church concert. However, my tenor guitar couldn't be heard at that concert, despite being a loud instrument on a very hot microphone. So afterward I had a pickup custom-made for it, which cost $130, and then paid another $70 to have it installed. In November and December 2003 I spent $59.38 on new instrument cables, and just before we flew out I ordered a pair of Ritter gig bags for $55.75, since (a) my mandolin case has no carrying strap and (b) my tenor guitar case is much too big to carry on a plane. If you're keeping track, that's $1,065.13 in instrument upgrades as a direct result of joining the band.

Naturally I still get the full benefit of those upgrades, and might have spent some of that money even if I had never joined. On the other hand, I might not have. I am not seeking pity, just reporting the facts. And I don't need a tissue box.

9. We Don't Need No Stinking Badges

I do not without danger walk these streets.
——Twelfth Night, III.iii

Thanks, dear reader, for sticking with me thus far. We'll board the plane after I ponder a couple of e-mails from E.

In the first, she asked for digital photos of me and Sarah for security badges. I cheerfully obliged. I like badges and backstage passes, and I think I still have the last one I was issued—from a gig at a coffeehouse in Walker, Minnesota, where the pass was fun to have but definitely not necessary.

At the Olympics, however, I figured a badge would be essential equipment. Everyone was concerned about security. E. had also asked us for next-of-kin contact information, in case anything went wrong. News media were speculating about a repeat of the 1972 terrorist incident in Munich. Already in 2004, a Greek terrorist group had detonated a bomb in front of an Athens police station 100 days before the opening ceremonies (although these terrorists politely notified local newspapers first). Despite the promise of tight security, several friends warned me to stay home. Athens, they said, would be too dangerous.

But I was determined not to let fear rule my decisions. I figured, out of millions of people in the city, why would terrorists come after me? I sent up a few prayers to God for protection, and took comfort in the promise of security badges.

No doubt some eminent psychologist has written a dissertation on people who fear improbable, remote dangers while overlooking the clear and present dangers that lie right in their path. If not, it'd be a good idea. A title like The Triskaidekaphobic Snowboarder might sell a million copies. Or try something simpler: The Athens Syndrome.

My fears about terrorism, you see, proved groundless. The kindest person I met in Athens was an Iraqi. The real danger came not from terrorists but from some of the people I traveled with. And no security badge was going to protect me from them.

Still, a badge might have come in handy if there had been anything like real, bona fide security at our performances. But there wasn't. Hence no need for the badges. Which might explain why we never got them.

E.'s next e-mail was mostly travel advice, some of it rather naive-sounding—especially the claim that any guitar case up to 45 inches long could be treated as carry-on baggage. From experience, I knew this wasn't true unless the CEO of Northwest Airlines had personally intervened. I didn't worry, though, because I had already ordered my gig bags. I've never had trouble carrying my instruments on a plane, but they're a lot shorter than 45 inches. I figured the guitarists in the band would know that E. was blowing smoke—so they'd bring some kind of flight case and leave any unnecessary guitars at home, right?


We met at SeaTac airport Wednesday morning, August 18, 2004, at 6 a.m. It was three days after one of the biggest holidays in Greece: the Feast of the Dormition, known to Roman Catholics as the Feast of the Assumption. Before the trip was over I would have to feast on a lot of assumptions, both mine and other people's. But I digress.

Loudmouth's three vocalists had brought guitars. So had Desiree, one of the vocalists from U4ic, and so, for some unfathomable reason, had Ken, who wasn't even traveling as a musician. We had five guitars and a bass—all in ordinary cases, and all with owners expecting to carry them on. The gentleman at the ticket counter insisted that all instruments be gathered in one spot to be tagged and checked as baggage. And he turned rather surly when E. yelled at him.

The guitars (except Ken's, which someone took home) were checked, and survived the trip, although some of the cases got pretty well chewed up. The surly gentleman agreed that my gig bags wouldn't protect my instruments in the cargo hold. He grudgingly let me carry them on. If he hadn't, I'd have gone home, and I wouldn't be writing this.

I mentioned Desiree, one of the U4ic vocalists. She was 18. The second vocalist was Hannah, 14, and Barbie was the third vocalist. Sarah and I talked to them and learned that
  • Hannah and Desiree had not recorded for U4ic, and they had never met before coming to the airport.
  • U4ic had no other members. They would perform in Athens with members of Loudmouth backing them up.
So I had recorded tracks for a band that didn't exist except as a studio project. And not only had Loudmouth not sufficiently rehearsed its own material, we'd now have to learn another set to back up U4ic on whatever they were singing. (As I've mentioned, U4ic was later renamed "Playpin Junkyard" and then apparently abandoned altogether; Loudmouth was renamed U4ic and then disappeared from Q.'s Web site immediately following the 2006 Winter Olympics. Of course, when a band doesn't really exist, you can call it whatever you want.)

I also learned that Holly was bringing along Logan, her 7-month-old son. Apparently Q. had offered to provide childcare and a crib for him. And no one would break a promise to a mother and her baby, would he?

I don't want to shock you, gentle reader, but once again we had a new drummer. I hadn't seen him at the gig or any of the rehearsals. His name was Ben Dally, he had a graduate degree in psychology, and he was moving from Chicago to Tacoma. I barely had time to digest this news before we left for our gate to board the plane. Our new drummer was on a later flight. The cellist and percussionist were not traveling with us; Justin, the keyboardist, would arrive in Athens after a week or so. For the moment we were down to six members.

E. gave everyone a booklet which contained names and descriptions of our Greek sponsors, lyrics and chords for several worship songs, and the closest thing to a concert itinerary we would receive for the trip. It wasn't much of an itinerary—the dates were in one part of the booklet; the venues were in another part; there were no times or addresses. And, E. told us, we should disregard the concert information in the booklet, because all of it was subject to change. I suppose that if I hadn't been so preoccupied with protecting my instruments and meeting new people, I might have taken the time to be shocked at the revelation that our itinerary wasn't nailed down. But at the time, the booklet went into my backpack and E.'s words went over my head.

Of our flight itself, little need be said. We flew to Athens by way of Detroit and Amsterdam, met Q. at the airport, and traveled by bus to the Ethniki Amyna station, by Metro train to Thissio Square, and on foot to our headquarters, Athens Christian Center. It was now early evening on Thursday, August 19.

Here endeth the preamble to my tale. Up to this point I'd kept any misgivings to myself and done nothing to oppose Q., nor anything I could possibly be ashamed of. From here on out, things get a little more complicated.

10. Me and My Shadow

He is as disproportion'd in his manners
As in his shape.
——The Tempest,

The Acropolis is the most famous hill in Athens, though not the highest (that'd be Lykavittos) or the one with the best view (that'd be the Areopagos, in my opinion). Home to renowned works of classical architecture such as the Parthenon, the Erechthion, and the temple of Athena Nike, the Acropolis has come to symbolize its home city.

And very early in the morning, as the eastern sun starts to peep over the horizon, the Acropolis casts a long shadow westward across Athens. And perhaps during certain hours of the day in certain months of the year, when the earth is angled toward the sun just so, that shadow might travel about a mile north-northwest and land on the small, unassuming building at 59 Leonidou St. that houses Athens Christian Center.

So I can't say for sure that we weren't staying "in the shadow of the Acropolis." But I don't think you'd be happy if you booked a hotel that was described to you in those terms and then found out it was a mile away. You sure as heck can't see the Acropolis from Leonidou Street.

Nevertheless, it's an easy walk. (This map shows the driving directions, but the walk is much shorter.) We walked and/or took buses or the newly expanded Metro system to and from almost all of our gigs in Athens. And we enjoyed the exercise — it's a very walkable city. This was one area where Q. and E. didn't mislead us: they had instructed everyone to bring comfortable walking shoes. And considering the way people drive in Athens, we were probably a lot safer on foot.

Furthermore, apart from its purported proximity to the Acropolis, we weren't misled about Athens Christian Center. It actually made an ideal base of operations: close enough to central Athens for our purposes, but out-of-the-way enough to be relatively quiet and more or less secure. Q. had warned me that our accommodations would be modest, and this also proved true: it was a simple cinderblock building with a large cement courtyard. Inside were a sanctuary, a couple of offices, a few classrooms, toilets, showers (Q. had paid to have the showers built), and an upstairs recreational room. We slept on air mattresses anywhere there was enough flat space to put them down, indoors or out.

We arrived in Athens minus four suitcases (mine, Sarah's, Hannah's, and Desiree's). Somewhere along a line of communication from the airline to the courier to Haris (the youth pastor at Athens Christian Center) to Q., the impression was formed that because of the Olympics, trucks weren't allowed on Athens' streets after 5 a.m. — so we should expect the courier to arrive with the suitcases in the middle of the night. I volunteered to sleep by the courtyard gate that first night and let the courier in. It was quite warm outside but too noisy to sleep, and naturally the courier didn't show up until 8 a.m. or so — no restrictions on truck traffic being in evidence. It's tempting to blame the whole misunderstanding on Q., but that would be assuming things I don't know for certain. It would, however, be congruent with the other examples I intend to offer.

Prior to my attempt to sleep in the courtyard, Q. invited me to accompany him on a midnight stroll to the Internet café he'd been using. He'd been staying in Athens several days and already knew his way around quite well. This would be the first and last time Q. and I went anywhere together in Athens by ourselves.

If Q. reminds me of anyone, it's documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. They have roughly the same build and fashion sense, and similar speech patterns. They have the same thin veneer of ingratiating, boyish charm masking a deep layer of aggression that can erupt into hostility in a second. They both have an extraordinary talent for mixing a few facts along with a lot of half-truths and insinuations into a potent stew that can seem very persuasive until you examine it carefully. On politics, however, they probably differ significantly — although I can't say I know exactly what Q.'s politics are, other than that he professed not to have any.

On the way to the Internet café, we passed through Omonoia Square, which is on a major traffic hub at the north end of central Athens. A huge stage, one of many official Olympic venues in the city, dominated the square. "We had Feveri$h here the other night," said Q., "and the whole place was packed."

So Feveri$h — one of the groups I thought Loudmouth would be sharing venues with, hanging out with, or at least getting to see — had played its gig before we even got there, and then moved on. (The same, I later learned, was true of Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers.) But at least the venue was there, and it looked like a great place to play. And if Q. could get Feveri$h booked in that venue — which is what I thought he meant by "We had Feveri$h here the other night" — he could book us there, right?

It depends on what your definition of the word "we" is. More later about that.

At the time it didn't occur to me to be disappointed. We soon reached the Internet café, and I have to hand it to Q. — that really was the best Internet café in town, at least of the ones I tried. There we happened to meet an interesting character: Marc Price, better known to just about everyone as Skippy on the NBC show "Family Ties." Marc was in Athens with an NBC camera crew doing feature stories from the Olympics. Q. introduced me to him as a talented American bouzouki player, and Marc seemed intrigued. NBC might want to do a segment about me, he said. Q. gave him a phone number.

Slight problem there: I had told Q. and E. which instruments I was bringing to Athens, and my bouzouki was not among them. I did not wish to embarrass Q. by pointing this out in front of Marc, so I just kept my mouth shut. I knew he was trying to hype my abilities as much as possible in hopes of getting NBC to cover our band, and I have to admit it was flattering to hear him sing my praises. But I knew he had no idea what he was talking about.

What I didn't yet realize was just how often Q. used this kind of hype and half-truth to make things seem bigger and more impressive than they actually were. But I was about to find out.

11. Cast of Characters

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
——As You Like It,

At this point in my journey I met a lot of new people who will figure in my story. So I'll just introduce them all at once instead of doing it as I go along.

Youth in Action
The other tenants at Athens Christian Center were Youth in Action, a group of high school kids from San Diego, along with their adult sponsors, who had come to Athens to do street-mime ministry. Sponsored by an organization called Action Ministry, they had no connection with our bands other than staying at the same place. Reportedly these kids got a lot of grief from the Greeks: the police and security guards often shut down their performances, and audiences threw cigarette butts and beer cans at them.

I've already mentioned Haris, the youth minister at Athens Christian Center. He was in charge of the place, because Stavros, the senior pastor, was on vacation. But when he was around, he was in the office taking care of church business. He had no time to look after us. So Q. apparently decided that he would supervise everyone staying there, including Youth in Action. Which, I guess, didn't sit too well with their adult leaders.

A (now-defunct) female Christian hard-rock trio from Michigan: Rebekah, Rhonda, and Tracy (and Tracy's husband, Jon, who was serving as their road manager). Tracy had a connection with Greeks for Christ International, a U.S.-based evangelical ministry that was also supporting Q.'s Olympic outreach. Through this connection Qedem had gotten hooked up with Q., who had offered to book them some concerts. They didn't stay regularly at Athens Christian Center, but they played a lot of events with us.

Qedem got shafted even more egregiously than Loudmouth did:
  1. When rock bands travel by plane—unless they have a tremendous equipment budget—they routinely rely on the promoter to provide "backline": guitar amps, drums, and other equipment too cumbersome or sensitive to check in an airplane's luggage hold. Seems no one thought to obtain any backline for Qedem, so they arrived in Greece with no amps. Ergo, they had no way to produce the distorted electric guitar sounds that are the backbone of their music. Rhonda eventually bought a distortion pedal to put between her guitar and the sound board, but not before the girls got stuck playing a few acoustic sets. They did so cheerfully, but their music wasn't well served that way. (More later about backline.) Qedem wrote a relentlessly positive online journal about their Athens experience, but even so, they couldn't help including this line:
    There have been complications with what "we have all you need for your shows" really means.
    There's understatement for you.

  2. Sarah talked to the Qedem girls more than I did. They told her they'd ended up paying about $9,000 out of their own pockets for their travel expenses (at $2,250 per person, that's a good chunk more than the $1,352 I paid for Sarah), because Q. and E. allegedly* changed their itinerary after booking their tickets, and then required them to pay the airline's fees for the change.
One of our volunteer roadies recruited through Q.'s Web site. Christian is a free-spirited world traveler, and coming to Greece was not the least bit of a stretch for him. (I think he was already in Europe anyway—he went to Italy and then to Poland after the Olympics.) He was, however, a bit surprised to find himself serving as our sound tech, which allegedly happened because he was the only volunteer with experience running a board. He did an admirable job, especially given that it was a responsibility he never expected to have.

There's always the possibility that I misunderstood Christian, but the way he explained the process made me wonder: Had Q. really left it up to chance that he would get a volunteer with sound-tech skills? If so, then what if there had been no such volunteer?


Our other volunteer roadie. What a guy. Gilbert was from L.A. He had been in a bad car accident and had a disability that made it hard for him to walk. Despite which, he never complained, and merely wanted to be treated like everyone else.

Which is why my blood still boils at something he told me: Before the bands arrived, Q. sent Gilbert and Christian around Athens to the various Olympic concert venues to try to obtain bookings. (Mind you, these were the venues Q. had professed to already have booked.) Naturally, all the venues were full. The Olympics had already started. But Q. instructed Gilbert and Christian to offer our bands as last-minute replacements if anyone canceled. And he allegedly told Gilbert to do "whatever it takes" to get bookings—including trying to use his disability to engender sympathy.

In his book Surgery Speaks to China, medical missionary Paul Adolph describes a mendicant Chinese boy whom he was treating for an ulcer on the leg. (This would have been in the 1940s or thereabouts.) It seems that the ulcer was the boy's meal ticket, so once it started to heal, he left the clinic. Adolph later saw him back on the street, "proudly displaying his ulcer and asking for alms." If you've been to Asia or Europe, you've probably seen people doing that with one disability or another. (Heck, you may have seen it in the United States—I can think of some disabled panhandlers in Seattle—but some of the ones in Europe tend to be more aggressive about it.) So, dear reader, you will understand that according to Gilbert, Q. had essentially instructed him to behave like a beggar—asking for concert bookings instead of money. Gilbert refused.**

As far as I've been able to determine, Q.'s request doesn't actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's just monumentally insensitive. I wasn't there to witness this, but I'll tell you what I did witness. Gilbert's other job was gatekeeper: he hung out in the courtyard at Athens Christian Center and let people in and out of the locked gate all day. (Haris had given Q. two keys; Q. kept one and gave the other to Gilbert.) This meant Gilbert slept in the courtyard every night. One night, well after midnight, with my own eyes, I saw Q. enter the courtyard and wake a sleeping Gilbert by yelling at him and kicking his air mattress. He didn't seem to have anything urgent to tell Gilbert—just felt like waking him up, I guess.

Cory and the Russians
These folks were part of our team, but I think they were also with another organization, although I'm not sure which one. They were an impressive bunch. Cory, the leader, was a South African man in his late 30s. The other 4 or 5 team members were teenagers from former Soviet countries: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan—and one was from Germany. They did a lot of heavy-duty evangelical street witnessing and counseling, helped out as roadies, and did chores no one else seemed inclined to do, like cleaning the toilets and scrubbing the floors at Athens Christian Center.

The King's Kids
There were two King's Kids teams in Athens: one from France and another from Germany. They didn't stay with us, but often performed with us. Some of these kids were as young as 12; they were doing mime and interpretive dance, similar to what Youth in Action did (but without the greasepaint). I have to say that in terms of being well rehearsed and having compelling material, both King's Kids and Youth in Action kicked Loudmouth's butt. I don't know if you've ever been shown up by a bunch of French preteens, but it's kind of a humbling experience.

Elias, Philemon, and Eva
Elias is a Greek evangelist. Out of a basement ministry center in downtown Athens, he runs Passage to Life, an outreach to prostitutes, drug addicts, and anyone who needs the Gospel. Elias doesn't speak a whole lot of English, so much of our contact with him was through his son, Philemon. His daughter, Eva, also interpreted for him. Elias turned out to be our major concert sponsor in Athens; most of the events we played were outreaches at which he preached.

There's a law against proselytization (Law No. 1363/38, Section 4, to be exact) in Greece, where the Orthodox Church enjoys a near-monopoly on religious expression. The law violates Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, but nonetheless it's still on the books, as far as I know. Another law requires all Greek houses of worship—of any stripe—to be licensed by the local Orthodox bishop.***

I don't know exactly how Elias worked around these laws. Perhaps, knowing the world's eyes were on them, the Greeks eased up on enforcement
during the Olympics (except, apparently, where Youth in Action was concerned). At any rate, Elias made the most of the opportunity, with at least seven outreach events at various venues in a little more than a week. And he got exciting results, with lots of New Testaments being handed out and dozens of people making decisions for Christ.

Elias devoted significant resources to these events: he rented or provided equipment, got the event permits, and even made T-shirts for everyone. Q. enthusiastically supported Elias and put all of our bands—Loudmouth, U4ic, and Qedem—at his disposal. Which wasn't a problem, except when it was a problem.

Michalis is the director of Logos Music, which as far as I know is Greece's only distributor of CCM recordings. (It's part of Tennessee-based AMG International.) He's also a worship leader at an evangelical church in the north end of Athens. Michalis was our other major Greek sponsor, and set up four concerts for us. The booklets E. gave us at the airport described Michalis as having a "genuine heart towards ministry." By the end of our trip Q. was talking about Michalis in very different terms. More later about that.

Pandora has had an interesting life, and she'll be glad to tell you about it. I think she said she dated Carlos Santana's manager in the 1970s, but later converted to Christianity and has spent much of her time since then serving in various capacities with missionary and evangelistic organizations. Q. had hired her as a cook to prepare the meals that were supposed to be part of our accommodations. Slight problem there: Athens Christian Center had no kitchen facilities other than an electric hot-water pot, a coffee maker, and a single family-size refrigerator. Including the Youth in Action team, there were at least 30 people staying there. Ever tried feeding 30 people when you don't have a kitchen? More later about that.

Russ and Sandy Rosen
Russ and Sandy are based in Fort Langley, British Columbia, and work for Youth with a Mission. Russ has a blues/pop/rock band (the Russ Rosen Band, naturally), and Sandy leads a dance team called Raw Motion (the best evangelistic dance team we saw in Athens). They're nice folks, and we ran into them at several different concert venues.

Other assorted people came and went. A volunteer named Jeff flew over from Korea and stayed a few days. A guy from Spain showed up with his Greek buddy. I wasn't always clear on who people were or how they found us, because I wasn't tapped into the grapevine connecting all the mission groups in Athens. Pandora was, and Q. was to an extent (although he perhaps should have been more tapped in—more later about that).

Anyhow, I think I've introduced the major characters.

*Sorry, gotta use the world "allegedly" for anything I don't have direct knowledge about. I am not making my sources out to be liars, just covering my rear end.

**Here's an relevant excerpt from chapter 22 of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. In this case the ulcer's fake but the alms are real:
The morning after that combat, Hugo got up with a heart filled with vengeful purposes against the king. He had two plans in particular. One was to inflict upon the lad what would be, to his proud spirit and 'imagined' royalty, a peculiar humiliation; and if he failed to accomplish this, his other plan was to put a crime of some kind upon the king and then betray him into the implacable clutches of the law.

In pursuance of the first plan, he proposed to put a 'clime' upon the king's leg, rightly judging that that would mortify him to the last and perfect degree; and as soon as the clime should operate, he meant to get Canty's help, and force the king to expose his leg in the highway and beg for alms. 'Clime' was the cant term for a sore, artificially created. To make a clime, the operator made a paste or poultice of unslaked lime, soap, and the rust of old iron, and spread it upon a piece of leather, which was then bound tightly upon the leg. This would presently fret off the skin, and make the flesh raw and angry-looking; blood was then rubbed upon the limb, which, being fully dried, took on a dark and repulsive color. Then a bandage of soiled rags was put on in a cleverly careless way which would allow the hideous ulcer to be seen and move the compassion of the passer-by.
***Do you think Q. told us about these laws?

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?