Saturday, March 22, 2014

Remembering Gene Eugene

When I got married 32 years ago, I wrote my own wedding vows and I wrote my own wedding song, which was performed in gritty, acoustic, blue-collar Springsteen fashion (really) by my friend Mark Sullivan. I’m sure the wealthy bluebloods on Kate’s side of the family were dazzled. Great. She’s marrying someone who aspires to be a musical factory worker. It was called “When the Veil is Packed Away” and, true to its title, it downplayed the hoopla of the marriage day and the marriage ceremony and played up the gritty dance of the long haul. And, as I made clear in the lyrics, I was in it for the long haul, baby. Tramps like us, we were born to run, and then jog, and then slow it down to a manageable saunter, but we would keep it moving, and we would be at it decades in the future.

And so we are. But I’m here to tell you that I didn’t have a clue. It was easy to say the words. Perhaps it was even easy for my friend Mark to sing them. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and neither did Kate, and every ensuing month and year has been a process of discovery, and recalibration, and readjustment, and recommitment. I meant the words of that song, and those marriage vows, as much as I’ve ever meant anything in my life. But I didn’t know myself. I had no idea how shockingly easily my marriage – and I – could fall apart.

And I’m reminded that some people – many people, alas – don’t make it. This is an occasion for sorrow every time, but it’s especially an occasion for sorrow when I see it happening to friends who are Christians. Nobody sets out to get divorced when they get married. Everybody goes into it assuming that it’s going to work. But there’s a particular weight of authority about Christian marriage, and perhaps a particular stigma about divorce. In any event, it’s a tragedy. It’s a matter for tears.

Here is a song by a Christian man who called himself Gene Eugene. He was the lead singer and songwriter for a band called Adam Again, a band that created and sold music within the narrow confines of the Christian music industry. It was very good music, and I don’t say that too often about songs associated with that particular industry, which tend to be simple, upbeat, and formulaic.

This song is none of those things. It’s a song about a Christian man going through a divorce. It’s a terrible song; terrible in the pain it elicits, terrible in its beauty. How does one communicate about something that is supposed to be life giving, life affirming, and that is instead a source of sorrow? How does one communicate that incongruity? All you can do is grope through sad, fantastic, inconceivable history; pull out strange but perfect metaphors, like the Cuyahoga River on fire. And then let the song slowly fall to pieces.

Gene Eugene died of a brain aneurism at the ripe old age of 39, six years after his divorce. He passed away fourteen years ago today. I miss him.

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