Seeing In A Straight Line

At age 16, guitarist Robbe Robertson had the opportunity to join Ronnie Hawkins’ Rockabilly band, and made the long journey from the cold of Canada to Arkansas and the steamy south. It was THE turning point in his life, and from this decision would emerge one of the seminal bands of the late 60’s early 70’s – The Band.

Hearing this story reminded me of an encounter I had on Victoria train station in the late summer of 1973.
Just a few weeks before this encounter, I had finished my first year studying engineering at university, and failed two important exams. It could have meant the end of my student life, but there was a possibility of a reprieve. I could retake the two papers at the end of the long summer holiday. My friend Mark had failed the same papers, so he came to stay that summer, and together we went through every single past exam paper we could get our hands on.

By the end of a couple of weeks, we had done as much as we could, and we duly turned up at the university to do our retakes. They put us in a small room, with just enough room for two desks, one behind the other. The retake papers were placed on the desks, and nervously we turned the first page. The first reaction as I read through the questions was one of surprise, closely followed by joy! I had done the questions all before. They had simply lifted questions from past papers! My relief must have been audible, and I could also hear Mark’s reaction – not quite the same as mine. He also recognised the questions, but in his panic he couldn’t remember how to answer them. There was no-one else in the room, and no CCTV, (!) so I whispered to ask if I could help him. He declined the offer, whether through fear of being found out or a degree of self belief, I’m not sure. Anyway, after a while, his state of fear subsided, and we both got on with answering the questions.

We both heard a short while later that we had done well enough to continue with the course in the autumn. As it turned out, I had done very well on the retakes, and my tutor was pleasantly surprised, even shocked!

The encounter outside Smiths newsagents on Victoria station, which is the real point of this post, came between doing the retakes and getting the results. After our stressful couple of hours in that small room, where our memories of electronics and structures were tested, we had a few more weeks of holiday before the new term, so we both went home.

On the way home, I had caught a train into King’s Cross station, and then across London by tube to Victoria. As I was waiting I was browsing the record stand outside W.H.Smiths. I was aware of someone else also looking through the records. After a minute or so, we struck up a conversation, both of us clearly interested in the same sort of music. He introduced himself, and as we were talking, I explained that I had failed my exams, but hope to pass my retakes and go into the second year etc etc.

At some point I started talking about my love of music. In those days, I had a 4 track reel to reel tape recorder, taping from the radio, playing around with using echo and such. It turned out that he worked for Decca records, and as the conversation went on, the possibility of starting in the music industry with a view to being a recording engineer became exciting. He left me with his card, saying that if I changed my mind about continuing at university to give him a call.

On the train journey back home I was already envisioning a future in the music business. The bubble burst when I got back home and relayed the conversation with the Decca man to my parents. I was from a family where education was important, and to leave at this point would be a risk. I would be throwing away a secure future for something that may or may not work.

I was persuaded. Actually I don’t think I put up much of a fight. I’m maybe a safety first person at heart ?

The title of this post is ‘seeing in a straight line.’ That phrase came up in a conversation between T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin (see my last post). Seeing in a straight line is what we do most of the time. There maybe some special times when we are able to see around corners, but most of the time we don’t.

Back in 1974, I wasn’t able to see around the corner. I maybe had some stuff in my peripheral vision, but not enough to divert me from the easily visible path ahead.

I think since then, I have been able to see around the corner a couple of times, and allow myself to be taken to a new place in my life.

Thinking back to that conversation on Victoria station, I have no regrets. We probably all have some regrets, but for me, that’s not one of them.

And finally – listening to Robbie Robertson got me asking the question ‘If you could choose to have been present at the recording of one record, which would it be ?’

For me, it would be when Robbie Robertson and the Band recorded their second album, called simply ‘The Band.’ (Or ‘The Brown Album’). Here’s a link to a live recording of one of the songs on that album The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
(3 million views and counting).


An Owen Meany Moment Perhaps ?

Owen Meany is a character in a novel by John Irving. It’s not until the end of the novel that we realise that everything in Owen’s life has been leading up to this moment. he has a destiny, and the novel is all about how that destiny is fulfilled.

As I look back over my life, I’m wondering if there are events and experiences that all come together at particular moments, giving me opportunities to fulfil my destiny.

As you think about your life, are there stories that you could tell when things just seem to have come together to create something special. ?

Do let me know, I’d love to hear stories like that.

Bible · faith · LIterature

A Prayer For Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I can’t remember how I first started reading John Irving, but for a few years I devoured everything he wrote. Some of his novels have been made into films, some of which are good – I enjoyed The Hotel New Hampshire as far as I remember. Probably my favourite of his books is A Prayer For Owen Meany, which was adapted for film under the name ‘Simon Birch’ – which was pretty awful. It’s a shame when such a volcanic book doesn’t translate to the screen.

Anyway, VERY briefly, A Prayer For Owen Meany is about destiny. Or even predestination if you can handle that. Owen Meany has a destiny that he is somehow aware of, but without knowing what that destiny is precisely.

As well as being a profound book, it also has (in common with all of John Irving’s Novels) some hilarious laugh out loud passages. In Owen Meany there is a wonderful description of a Christmas Pageant in which Owen plays the baby Jesus. (Just so you kow, Owen is very short, which makes it possible for him to fit into a manger)

This is how the book begins: ‘I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice — not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.’

Anyway … what brought Owen Meany to mind this morning was reading John 1:29-34

29 The next day John (the Baptiser) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

What stuck out for me was the repeated phrase ‘I myself did not know him.’ This is an ‘Owen Meany’ story. (Or Owen Meany is a John the Baptiser story) John, like Owen Meany, had a destiny, but he didn’t know exactly what it was. He had known that his call was to preach and baptise, but he didn’t really know the bigger reason why. His destiny was to be the one who would baptise Jesus. And Jesus had to be baptised. That was central to the revealing of Jesus as God’s Anointed One, God’s Son. Jesus had to be baptised because it is as he is baptised that he is revealed.

The Spirit descends on him and the Voice from heaven announces ““This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3 verse 17

This is awesome. If you love Owen Meany, as I do, you’ll know what I mean. There is something that is at the same time remarkable, mysterious, and beautiful about those moments when everything comes together, and you begin to grasp (or be grasped by) some sense of a pattern, or a reason for the way things are.

As Jesus approaches, John suddenly knows … this is why I was called to preach and baptise. This is THE moment that my whole life has been leading up to.


Grace and Peace.