Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Arizona Sunstone Symposium 2017

Me presenting at the Arizona Sunstone Symposium
On Saturday, March 11, my wife, Martha, and I got up quite early and made the drive down to Phoenix before the sun rose.  We made it to the Community of Christ building where the 2017 Arizona Sunstone Symposium would be held and where I had asked to present.  My speech would be entitled "From Punk Rock To Polygamy: The Story of a Mormon Fundamentalist".

I was nervous.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  Upon entering the building and registering, we  met Lindsay Hansen Park, the director, and the host of the podcast "Year of Polygamy".  She had interviewed me for the podcast via Skype back in January, but this was the first time we were meeting in person.

All through the day, there were concurrent sessions, so it was hard to pick which ones to go to.  Martha and I attended the first session given by Dr. Sujey Vega from ASU - a fascinating presentation on the history of Mormon latinos in Mesa, Arizona.  Next, we attended a session given by sex therapists, Natasha Helfer Parker and Kristin Bennion on sex addiction.  Mainly, that our view towards sex, pornography, and addiction cause damage - something that I happen to agree with.  Then we had an amazing lunch, provided by a Cuban restaurant called Republica Empanada - Cuban empanadas.  They were to die for.  While we ate, we were given a hilarious slide presentation by Jerilyn Pool called "Mormon Food Studies in Trump's America".  It was wickedly funny and left me in stitches.
Me with Lindsay Hansen Park

After lunch, Martha and I split up.  She attended a class on how to broach the subject of pornography with your children while I went to a panel of former Mormons called Infants on Thrones about Echo Chambers, or surrounding yourself with people who agree with you and how dangerous that is.

Next came time for me to do my presentation.  I did alright.  You be the judge.  I am posting the presentation below in three videos, including the Q&A session.  I really enjoyed it, and people seemed genuinely interested and polite.  There were a couple of people who told me that they drove all the way from El Paso just to see me speak.

Next, I attended a break-out session - a discussion on having difficult conversations with Mormons who disagree with you.  It was very enlightening.  Then Micah Nickolaisen of A Thoughtful Faith podcast led a fascinating discussion on psychedelics and Mormonism, speculating on how these might have influenced Joseph Smith.  As someone who has experimented with psychedelics, I found the entire notion interesting.  The keynote speaker was Thomas Murphy, a history professor from Washington.  He is a nice man, and we had an interesting private discussion about the Third Convention, Margarito Bautista, and Ozumba - topics that should interest any Mormon fundamentalist.  He gave a presentation on repatriating artifacts that Mormons have stolen and co-opted back to the native tribes.  Then the conference ended.

It was a very refreshing and educational experience for me.  First of all, it was invigorating to be accepted - and not maligned - for who I am by a group of Mormons.  Then, it was a highly liberal conference.  Generally, most fundamentalist Mormons are conservative, and I am not conservative.  The change of dialogue was refreshing to me.  Next, I have learned that I need to expand my scope of Mormons further.  In recent years, not only have I had discussions with mainstream Mormons and people of different fundamentalist sects, but I have learned to include people of other Restoration movements, like the Community of Christ.  Now, I realize that I must include former Mormons - people who have left the LDS faith for whatever reason.  There were gay ex-Mormons, the parents of gay ex-Mormons, people who have left the Church over personal or doctrinal issues.  And yet these people were here, at a conference, discussing Mormon doctrine and history.  They are still Latter-day Saints, in my book, even if only culturally.  We need to create a broader scope of who our brothers and sisters are.  We need to learn t bring discussions to the table, even when we are disagreement with people.  And yes, I heard many things I disagreed with.  But at the end of the day, there was not one person there that I would not embrace as a brother or a sister.  And I hope they felt the same,

When we left, Martha and I went out to get our sushi fix before driving home.

My presentation is found below in three videos:












Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bringing Hope To Short Creek: Southwest Recovery Mission's Labor of Love

Colorado City, Arizona
In the 1930s, an isolated piece of real estate came into the possession of the Priesthood Group, a loosely organized body of renegade hold-outs of polygamy, recently cut off from the LDS Church.  It seemed perfect, isolated, remote, only accessible (then) by dirt road, nestled against the Vermillion Cliffs on the Arizona Strip, hugging the Utah-Arizona border, originally called Short Creek.  It seemed the perfect place to practice their religion, which included plural marriage and a variation of a Mormon communal system of United Order that they later branded the United Effort Plan (UEP).

There were built-in issues from the beginning.  I spoke to a man who lived there in the early days, in the 1940s, and he told me, tongue-in-cheek, that the only "freedom" he had while living there was to decide whether or not to get his wife pregnant.  (That even changed with Warren Jeff's prison edict that no man could have sexual relations with his wife without his express permission.)  This same man told me of a story - he went with the other men to fell lumber on the Kaibab, and, while he was gone, the "Priesthood" came into his house, and, while his helpless wife looked on, they emptied his pantry of all food to redistribute to other members, leaving him only two jars of peaches.

Since those days, the community has grown, being incorporated into two cities - Colorado City on the Arizona side, and Hildale in Utah.  And over the years, so has the abuse of ecclesiastical leadership increased - arranged and forced marriages, underage unions, and a plethora of other abuses,  I have a theory about this - if a community and its lifestyle becomes, in and of itself, illegal and is forced into isolation, it becomes a fertile breeding ground for tyranny and oppression for the people under a despotic leader.  This is what happened to the FLDS community under megalomaniac Warren Jeffs, who maintains his control from prison.

In recent months, there have been arrests and warrants issued for many of the leaders involved in a Food Stamp (SNAP) fraud case.  As a former Arizona welfare caseworker myself, I was aware of welfare and benefit fraud as a prevalent problem in this community.  In essence, what the leadership was doing was collecting EBT cards from the people in the community and using it to redistribute food to other people.  But the way this worked was that the elite were eating lobster for dinner, and those maligned were lucky if they got anything.  So basically, the "Priesthood" was controlling all the food as a way to control the people.  If your behavior was acceptable, you were awarded food.  If it was not, you were denied food and literally starved, along with your wives and your children.  I can think of nothing more insidious than the deliberate starving of children!

Luckily, there have been people and organizations that have worked against the odds.  From the Safety Net initiative, an interstate government cooperative organization whose primary focus in the FLDS in this region to some people organizing a music festival, many have felt called or driven to help the less fortunate in the Short Creek area.

Southwest Recovery Mission Ministries is one such organization.  They are a non-profit whose mission is to bring food to the deprived children and families of Colorado City and Hildale.  They accept food donations from various donors and churches in primarily Utah and Nevada and make sure that these donations get to families in need among the FLDS, those who have fallen victim to the evil machinations of the leadership.  They make sure that these families have enough food to provide their children.  With the donations they receive, they are also provide clothing for those in need.  The leadership has also made sure that utilities are so expensive that they provide a burden on the people, and Southwest Recover Mission makes sure that people do not have their water and electricity because they cannot pay exorbitant bills.

I recently spoke to Alan Curtis, one of the organizers and volunteers at Southwest Recovery Mission.  He talks about driving into Colorado City for the first time and remembers having seen it in a dream.  It was almost as if he was called to help these people.  Soon, he met Phil Jessop, a local who had been cut off from the FLDS twenty years earlier and had been working to bring about positive change for years.  Al tells me the early days were adventurous, complete with threats from the Goon Squad, or local enforcers.  Many of the families that accepted help were often punished by the leadership.  But the ministry has brought positive influence, and the work that they are doing is mostly accepted by the community.

Al is refreshingly self-effacing about his role in the mission and stated that he did not want to draw attention to the organizers but to the mission itself, and he gives credit for their success to the women of the former FLDS who used their networks to spread the word and encouraged many families who were suffering to come forward and receive help.  He says that many of the families who have been on the receiving end of assistance, once they get on their feet, turn around and help other families.

The main opposition that the ministry faces is getting funding.  Often, they resort to paying for food shipments out of their own pockets.  Whereas many local churches have donated funds and food, Al says that the greatest challenge is getting other Christian churches to want to help a people with such social stigma as polygamy placed on them.

I would strongly encourage you to donate to this cause.  You can make a donation on their website or on their Facebook page.

For those among the FLDS, emergency food boxes are provided usually on Thursdays at"

2012 Bubbling Well Lane
Apple Valley, Utah 84737

Contact:  Donna McGinnis
(224) 217-2405

This is a good organization, and they are bringing hope and sustenance to a people who have long needed it.  Please consider donating.  It's a worthy cause, whether you are for polygamy, or against it.





Thursday, February 23, 2017

From Punk To Polygamy, Part 4: Conclusion

The Baron and me, Sedona, 1995 - cracking up at the g's sticking out of my shirt
As I mentioned in my previous post, when I joined the AUB, a large Mormon polygamous congregation in Utah, I went all ascetic and gave up the music I loved, thinking that it made me holier-than-thou.  This was in the early '90s.  As a result, I missed the whole grunge thing.  Which is really ironic.  Here I was on the crest of the whole alternative movement in the '80s, and I practically missed the whole Lollapalooza explosion of the scene in the '90s.  All because I was trying to be a good Mormon fundie young man.  I was trying to improve myself.

Then, I found myself out of favor in the AUB.  It's a whole other story that I won't go into now, maybe some other time.  I did talk about it a bit in my Year of Polygamy podcast interview.  It got me questioning things and re-evaluating my membership in the AUB.  But, thankfully, it got me to be a bit of my old self.  For instance, this post from my journal in May, 1994 (names omitted):

"____ wanted us to work on one of his jobs in Herriman, so we went out there. We ran into ______, and he was asking us if we were going to tomorrow's work project. I said no, so he gave us this nauseating parable about people who couldn't feed themselves, but they could feed each other. ______  is such a hypocrite.
"I'm sorry to say (or am I?) that I've found again my old friend – cynicism. I lost it when I first came into the Group, but I've found it again.
"After work, Sean and I went to the MLA building to help ________ move things to the new archives by the endowment house. _____ and _____ were there. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. Not necessarily respectively. Nor respectfully. _____  asked us if we brought the food, and I responded, 'No, I fed it to Sean, and he fed it to me.'
"They're building another building behind the RCA building.
"I told Sean, 'Watch me touch a nerve.'
"Then I asked _____ and ______, 'Which one of you brethren is going to get credit for doing the construction on the new building?'
"______ spoke up quickly, 'I am!'

"They're so predictable! They want to do good works to increase their good names. I'm so disgusted by them."


I was starting to get that punk attitude again.  And I gradually started to get into music again.  I guess you could say that The Cranberries saved my life.  They were the first new band that I had gotten into for a long, long time.  I had heard their song "Linger" on the radio and didn't think much of it.  But then I saw the play live on late night TV, and I was hooked.  Martha and I were newlyweds, sharing a house with a couple of other married couples, and we spent our time in our basement apartment, jamming to the Cranberries with our baby daughter, Sophie.
The Cranberries

Then, I got the news of a lifetime.  My all-time favorite band, Cocteau Twins, was playing a live show at Saltair, a venue on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.  This was literally a dream come true to me.  I had loved them all through the '80s when they were obscure and no one really knew who they were.  And I was going to see them live!  I bought two tickets - one for me and one for my brother.  On a chilly winter night, we drove to Saltair and ran into one of our friends from the AUB there who had actually met the band earlier that day.  We hung out for the show with this guy.  The shoegaze band, Luna, opened up for them, and then I had the delicious experience of seeing my favorite band play live, something that I will never forget.  It was my first concert in years, and Cocteau Twins would break up three years later.

On the way from the show, my old '77 Dodge threw a rod at midnight just outside of Saltair on I-80.  My brother and I started hitchhiking.  No one picked us up.  I imagine Cocteau Twins themselves passed us, but no such luck. It was the day before cell phones, so we walked the entire seven miles to Salt Lake Airport where we called for a ride from the lobby of a hotel.  I was wearing dress shoes that night, and my feet were covered with blisters the next morning.
Cocteau Twins

It wasn't long until I was excommunicated from the AUB, and my wife and I packed up our little Mercury Topaz with our baby and all of the belongings we could fit into the car and drove through the night to Mesa, Arizona.  (We saw a UFO that night, but that's another story.)  I was back by my old-stomping grounds, although my wilder days were over as I now had a family.  But I rekindled my old friendships, like with the Baron, who played in a post-grunge band with other guys I knew in high school.  I went to their shows in local venues several times.  Now that I was out of the AUB, music was no longer forbidden to me, and I started to listen to rock again.  I didn't realize how out of touch I was with music until I went to a wedding reception in the Verde Valley, and a friend of a friend asked me, "I hear you're into music.  Can you suggest any good new bands for me?"

I went hot in the face.  "It's been a long time since I have been into any new music," I told him with shame.

Gradually, I started discovering new artists like Sky Cries Mary, early emo band, Sunny Day Real Estate, Live (still a guilty pleasure), and the revival of punk bands like Bad Religion.  My older brother from Utah gave me several used CDs that included Catherine Wheel and Sarah McLachlan.  One night in '94, I went with the Baron to Mill Avenue in Tempe.  We were eating spaghetti at a patio restaurant, watching people walk by like we always did.  All of a sudden, the Baron started choking on his noodles.  Right past our table walked Chris and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, Mike Watt, Eddie Veder, and Dave Grohl.  The Foo Fighters - still without an album - played one of their first live shows, opening for Mike Watt, just feet away from where we were scarfing spaghetti.

And yet, it was strange for me coming back to Arizona, after having spent all of that time with the polygamists.  I never really felt like I fit in with the polygamists.  And yet, back in Arizona, I did not feel like I really fit in with the music crowd.  I had changed.
Me in 2007 - I had Kody Brown hair before Kody did

Shortly after coming back to Arizona, I went on another self-imposed exile.  My family all went in on a 40-acre ranchette near Concho, a small town in eastern Arizona.  It was an undeveloped piece of land down five miles of bumpy dirt road.  I moved out in December, 1995 into a rickety singlewide trailer.  The intention was to live United Order, a form of Mormon collectivism, which we did for several years.  We had no running water, no plumbing (we pooped in buckets and then buried it), no electricity, no TV, no music.

We gradually made improvements,  A well and tank, a septic system for toilets.  But I want to talk about the no TV thing for a minute.  A council member in the AUB that my dad respected very much once offhandedly told my dad that TV had ruined more United Orders than anything else.  My dad then told him, "Well, I like the documentaries."  And the council member said, "Well, I do, too."

Well, my dad was well-intentioned, but this story grew in the telling.  And after the passing of my dad, people kept telling this story, and it kept growing bigger and bigger.  This apostle prophesied with quivering rage that is we ever brought TV to the property, it would be the end of our United Order.  LOL.  People forget - I was there for this all.  I saw how the story "grew".
Me on the banks of the Congaree, South Carolina, 2009

Nevertheless, my dad drafted an agreement that we wouldn't bring TV onto our property, and I signed it.  I didn't want to, I didn't agree with it, but I signed it anyway.  Mostly because I wanted to please my dad.  Years later, other people tried to include computers in this agreement, and, by then, I had grown a pair and put my foot down.  The way I look at it now - I will never agree again to have any MAN control what I can or what I cannot have in my house.  Years later, after the United Order had dissolved, I bought a 7" DVD player.  It was like bringing fire to the natives.  My kids huddled around that thing like it might disappear.  Then a few years after that, I broke the agreement and bought a TV.  I guess I have always been a rebel at heart.  When I feel oppressed, I always have a tendency to do things out of the norm - like growing my hair long.  Maybe that's why I have this bushy beard right now.

Back in the early days of the United Order, all I had was a boombox.  Without TV, we listened to a lot of books-on-tape, radio broadcasts, and I listened to my music - at least as long as the D batteries lasted.  There was no internet, so it was hard to keep up with new music.  My older brother would send me mix tapes from Utah - Toad the Wet Sprocket, Heather Nova.  Once, on a trip to Phoenix, I got a free sampler from a CD shop.  I took that home and started listening to it over and over again.  I would up eventually buying everything on that sampler - The Badlees, Blue Rodeo, Jan Arden.
Me and my daughter Sara at the Puscifer store, Jerome, AZ

Around this time, I started practicing plural marriage, my attempt lasting thirteen years.  For years, as a punk, I was used to endure people looking at me oddly.  That was part of being a punk.  As a polygamist, I got a lot of strange looks as well.  Perhaps I have thrived on this.

During my time as a Mormon fundamentalist, even now, I have a lot of people telling me that I shouldn't listen to rock music, to "music of the world", or that I shouldn't go to movies.  I think that is ridiculous.  These people should adhere to the Mormon motto which is: "Mind your own business."  They should not concern themselves what I watch or what I listen to.  I have come to terms with my own spirituality and who I am.  I have learned to embrace the part of myself that loves punk music.  It's part of who I am.  And I would not be a Mormon fundamentalist if I had not first embraced punk.  My "splurge" is that I allow myself to download four albums a month.  It is mostly stuff that is obscure and that you have not likely heard of.  But that's who I am.  To keep discipline in really listening to the stuff I download, I started a music blog called Moroni's Music where I review my downloads.  I love keeping current with music and new artists.  Check my blog out if you can.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, my kids follow after me and love obscure music as much as I do.  My kids are always getting me into new music.  But make no mistake - I get them into new music just as much as they do.  It's great to have that kind of relationship with my kids.

When I am an old man, I will likely still be rocking out, much to the chagrin of the polygamous communities!  Ha!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From Punk To Polygamy, Part 3: Moving To Utah

Me around 1997
On a chilly September morning in 1990, at age 20, we loaded my parents' cramped car and headed to Utah, my parents taking me and my younger brother to Utah to start college and move in with my polygamist relative, Uncle Jim.  It was my turn to drive that night, and a fog poured over the rolling highway in rural Utah, my first time in my birth state in many years.  We arrived at my Uncle Jim's house in Salt Lake City, and we were met with open arms.  That afternoon, a group of polygamist men stood around a large tree in the sunlight of the afternoon sun and talked gospel.  Even though I was a novice, I joined in.  Later, one of the women told me that she admired me for having the nerve to discuss with older men who knew more than me.  I didn't know that I had committed some faux pas.

The next day, my parents dropped me off at the campus of the local community college for registration, and then they drove off to Arizona, leaving me alone.  Apart from my summer in Belgium, this was my first time being away from home.  I puked in the bathroom, I was so nervous.  It didn't take long for me to make friends, mainly with the international students.  I joined their organization and was involved in organizing their social events.  For one Halloween party, I was asked to deejay.  Of course, I spun house music, and then someone requested Aerosmith.  Some French girl approached me and sneered, "Now, this is real music!"
Me in Sedona, 1990, with my personal go-go dancer

I found that Salt Lake City, at the time, was roughly yet consistently about three years behind the times.  Stuff I had listened to three years earlier, like The Smiths or The Cure, were popular on their popular alternative radio station.  I auditioned as a deejay at a local modern club, DV8 and played house music.  I was told firmly that this was not the kind of music their patrons listened to.  A year later, I saw a live show - British acid house outfit, 808 State, and, before the show, the deejay was spinning house.  I just shook my head.  I applied a year too early.  That is not to say that there was not a good music scene.  Fans were enthusiastic about the live shows.  While I lived there, Throwing Muses did a free show on the lawn at University of Utah, and Frank Black (of Pixies fame) did an acoustic set in a record store while on a road trip across the States.

However, I really missed Arizona, even if I did like living in Utah.  Thirty years ago, there was not as much of a latino presence in Utah as there is now.  I missed my people. I missed my food in a place where sweet salsa and Taco Time were people's idea of Mexican food.  I started listening to Mexican music, Cuban music, Puerto Rican music - anything with a latin beat.  One night, I went to an open mic poetry night at Bandaloops, and I was pining about how much I missed Arizona.  Some hipster girl rolled her eyes at me and told me that Arizona wasn't exactly "the cultural mecca of the Southwest".  Later, that girl asked me if I wanted to go to a party with her.  I think she was baffled why I coldly turned her down.  I found friendship and companionship with many of the single kids from the polygamist families my age and started attending the dances put on by Joe Darger's family in Murray Park.  Following the tastes among the polygamists, I started, for the first time in my young adult life. to listen to country music - something that shocked some of my siblings.  To this day, I still listen to it, although I can get sick of it pretty quickly.  I also reunited with Chad, a friend from high school, who lived in Salt Lake City at the time.  Since we didn't really have many other friends, we used to hang out and go to movies.  There was an art house downtown - I don't remember the name - that used to show obscure art films, and it was so cold they used to serve hot cider to help warm you up.
Me in 1990

At the end of 1991, I, along with all of my family, joined the AUB, which is one of the largest polygamous churches in Utah.  The AUB are not as physically distinguishable as the FLDS.  Most do not wear the prairie dresses (although some of the old-timers do).  Being in the AUB was like being in the LDS Church, except they practice plural marriage.  When I joined, I ran into a couple of women that had attended college with, although I had no idea at the time that they were plural wives.  One of them told me, "I wondered if you were a fundamentalist because if your last name, but when you walked into class, you were wearing a bandanna on your head, a biker jacket, cutoff shorts, and combat boots.  I had no clue that you were a Mormon fundamentalist!  You looked pretty wild!"

In the AUB, I quickly learned that I was the odd man out when it came to my musical tastes.  Rock music, in general, was eschewed as evil and generally avoided.  One evening, I was invited with other young people to BYU to attend a concert of Mormon fluff rock act, Afterglow.  There are no words to describe how much I hated this music.  It was wimpy, effeminate, and passionless, all in the attempt to engender an uplifting, spiritual version of Mormon easy listening music.  With a sour taste in my mouth, I left the concert, and Martha - who would become my wife one day - was on a date with another young man.  They were gushing about how good the concert was, and I felt nauseous.  (Okay, I was a little jealous.)  I had to tell them how much I didn't like it.
AUB leader, the late Owen Allred and me, 1994

As Martha and I started to court, I tried to share some of the music I liked with her, and I was shocked that she didn't like any of it.  I placed her Dead Can Dance.  She shook her head and said that it was too dark.  I played her the most innocent, innocuous record I could think of - "In My Tribe" by 10,000 Maniacs,  "You have to ask yourself - is this uplifting?" she asked me.

I have since come to the conclusion - why does art always have to be uplifting?  Is life always uplifting?  Can life not be dark sometimes?  Or is it always sugar and fluff?  Art should reflect life, which is sometime uplifting, yet sometimes heavy and burdensome.  It's easy for me to say that now, but I did something to myself that was unconscionable.  I tried to rewrite myself in order to fit in with the AUB.  No one forced me.  No one made me do it.  I did it on my own.  I wanted to fit in.  I wore the button-up shirts that polygamist men wear.  I ceased being controversial and was completely mild-mannered.  But mostly, I stopped listening to the music I loved, because I viewed it as evil and not conducive to an uplifting spirit.  Shortly before I got married, I took a trip to Arizona to hang out with the Baron and Matt.  I took my crate of records and cassettes and sold ALL of them at Zia Record Exchange in Tempe.  Those that I could not sell, I gave away to my friends.  I purged that out of my life.

When I come back with Part 4, I will tell you how music saved me.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

From Punk To Polygamy, Part 2: The Rave Years

Me at the Domes, 1988
The summer after high school graduation, in 1988, I went on a school-sponsored summer exchange program to Belgium.  Previously, I had taken four years of high school French.  When I got to Belgium, I realized that I really didn't speak French.  After a summer over there, I came back almost fluent, speaking French almost better than my high school teacher.  My time in Belgium changed my life.

First of all, it gave me a world view, breaking out of my colloquial bubble, experiencing culture, language, and food from an entirely new perspective.  I found that everyone knew I was Mormon because of my unique name, and everyone would offer me wine.  For the first half of the trip, I set a good example, being a good Mormon boy, and politely declined any offer of alcohol.  By the end of my stay, I was doing as in Rome and trying to see how many mugs of Jupiler it took before my ability to speak French was impaired.  Many raised their eyebrows when they found out that I came from a large family.  I was depressed my first week there.  Everyone was condescending and mildly sarcastic towards me.  After a week, I started throwing the sarcasm back at them, and people warmed up.  Some were impressed by my familiarity with Marx.  One guy had blown smoke in my face when I first got there and said, "You know, I really hate your country."  A week later, he was telling me, "You are the first nice American I have ever met!"
Me in Belgium, wearing a Meat Puppets shirt, 1988

Pierre, the father of the host family I stayed with took me aside one evening.  He told me in mixed French and broken English to be more proud of who I was when people asked me.  He pointed at himself, "I, Freemason."  He pointed at me, "You, Mormon."  Then the finger darted between us.  "Freemason respect Mormon."  Of course, I was 18 and dumb.  I had no clue what the significance was in that.  But to this day, I deeply respect Freemasons, thanks to Pierre.

While there, I would attend dance clubs.  The music at these clubs was dominated by pounding electronic beats as the acid house craze was sweeping through Europe.  The Belgians had their own version of this music called New Beat.  I fell in love with this music from Belgium, much as my dad had fallen in love with Mexican music and took some home with me - Front 242, Euroshima, Lords of Acid, Jade 4U, 101, S-Express, Bomb the Bass.  Once home, I bought a lot of this music, although, in the days before internet, it was tough, involving heavy catalogs at the record stores, special orders, and a lot of patience.  And everything was on vinyl!  I ordered a lot of Chicago house, Detroit techno, and everything in between with a hard beat.  I made everyone mix tapes and got pretty good at dubbing with the equipment I had.  I deejayed parties, much to the chagrin of my friends who didn't care for house music.  I remember going to an old cotton warehouse with some of my deejay friends, setting up equipment in the empty building, and spinning music as loud as we could, although I was sad that we left the recording levels down.  No one really listened to this music or knew what it was.
Me & James in Yuma, 1989 - making the duck face before it was "cool"

By 1989, all of the clubs were playing acid house - all of them.  If you went to an alternative club, "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult or "Blue Monday" by New Order were no longer the longtime fixtures they once were - it was all house music, which I always described as tripped-out disco.  The clubs were mostly playing Belgian New Beat - which was a shock to all of my friends who came to visit Belgium in the summer of '89.  There were about six of them.  Imagine their surprise walking into Six Feet Under in Tempe -  which made the summer edition of Rolling Stone magazine that year - and the deejay was playing nothing but Belgian music that year.  Not only did we attend clubs, but we attended raves, or what we called back then simply "warehouse parties" - illegal deejay parties that sprung up in empty warehouses or buildings in downtown Phoenix, infamous for serving alcohol to minors and being busted by cops.

At the end of 1989, me and my good friend, The Baron, made a trip to Austin, Texas to see my friend Matt.  The first mishap - we were running late getting to the airport.  After checking our luggage, we were literally running through the airport to get to our plane.  Now, this is in the days before TSA, but we still had to go through the metal detector.  I had so many metal bracelets on both wrists that they kept setting the detectors off.  I was trying to take them off one by one to be able to get through the detectors, but it wasn't happening.  The plane was going to take off.  I pulled off all the bracelets off all together in one tug.  Skin came with the bracelets, and there was blood.  But we made the plane on time.  On the plane, I spent my entire ride staring at these business people - a man and a woman - engaged in conversation.  I really remember staring at them, realizing that I would never be like them.
Me in 1988

Once in Austin, we went to the famed 6th Street by the university with its bars and clubs.  We found this dance club.  The interior was pretty cool - three stories with a movie projector playing "The Blob" on the top story.  The club played acid house and Belgian New Beat, but the club's patrons were not sure what to do with it.  They were snobby, trendy kids with blond hair, expensive black clothes, and shiny,black shoes.  They stood on the dance floor and shuffled aimlessly to the music, not really into dancing, but there for some sort of fashion show.  Then there was the Baron and me - right out of the Phoenix rave scene, and we looked the part.  Smiley face t-shirts and buttons, leather biker jackets, the numerous bracelets were back on my wrist, hair hanging in our faces, getting into the music and really dancing.  The patrons stared at us in bewilderment, not knowing what to make of us.  It was, back then, one of the proudest moments of my life.  The evening finished out when a punk I knew by the name of John took me to party in the back of the club in an alleyway with some other punks, and I wound up on the hood of an Austin Police cruiser.  Frisked and let off with a warning.
Ghost Division, a punk band I sang for briefly

I guess I should say that, for a short time, I started experimenting with drugs.  It was part of rave culture.  I'm not really proud of it, but neither am I ashamed of it.  It was just something that happened and a learning experience.  I'm going to neither discuss it further nor glorify it.  But at this point, I was kind of in trouble spiritually.  At this time, my dad's long career in the LDS Church was coming to an end.  He was facing excommunication for belief in plural marriage.  I was the age to to go off on my mission, and I think my dad knew that I was struggling.  He started to push me in a direction to embrace my religion.  I already had had a few spiritual experiences, but nothing that I felt really defined me spiritually.  Not until one night when I was watching Martin Scorcese's "The Last Temptation of Christ", which was being boycotted by religious groups at the time because it depicted scenes where Jesus (Willem Dafoe) was married.  I had no problem with that.  As a Mormon, I already believed that Jesus was married - probably polygamously.  During the movie, the devil in the guise of an angel, portrayed by a child, tempts Jesus to come off of the cross and live his life the way he wants.  So he does and marries Mary Magdalene.  Decades later, on his death bed, his apostles come and scold him.  They gave their lives for him, and, in return, he was supposed to die for them.  He regrets his choice and wishes that he was back on the cross, and he wakes up, still nailed to the cross.  It was all a fantasy, a temptation.
Me after a rave, 1990

I drove home and thought about this movie.  Some at church had suggested that Jesus had no agency to act for himself, that he had to fulfill his calling.  God had declared the beginning to the end and had prophesied that Jesus would succeed.  So it was impossible for Jesus to fail.  He had no choice.  He had no free agency.  This made no sense to me.  How could he not have a choice?  The fact that he made a decision to go to his death made his sacrifice all that more meaningful.  So,after midnight, sitting in my car, I prayed for the first time ever, asking God to now if the sacrifice of Jesus was real, and the Spirit poured on me like sweet honey, tears flooding my eyes.  The punk, the raver knew for the first time that there was a God in heaven, and that his son was Jesus Christ.  From that moment on, I started studying every book on Mormonism that I could find.  Specifically, books on Mormon fundamentalism since that was the direction that my family was moving.

Around this time, the Baron called me up and drove me to downtown Casa Grande to look at an abandoned warehouse.  It was an old car parts warehouse, long out of use.  The Baron wanted to show it to me as an idea for opening a club in Casa Grande, which had none, yet was possibly big enough to have one.  There were catwalks all over the facility, including a cage that would be perfect for a deejay booth.  We started talking logistics about opening the club.  We were very excited over the prospect.
Me, a friend, and The Baron, Cornville, 1989

The the same time, I was approached by my parents who were very concerned about my spirituality.  They offered to pay for my schooling if I moved to Utah with my polygamist uncle and lived among the polygamists.  So, I had a choice - open a dance club, or move to Utah and become a Mormon fundamentalist.  Of course, I picked the latter.

The week before I was supposed to leave, I was mowing the lawn.  Fall was approaching in Arizona, but it was still hot.  With my younger brother, we drove to the LDS chapel for an appointment.  The building was empty except for the bishop.  He let us in and took us to his office for a very brief interview.  The first question he asked was, "Do you believe that plural marriage should be practiced in this day and age?"

My answer was, "Yes."

Next question:  "Do you believe that Ezra Taft Benson is a prophet, seer, and revelator, and the only man on the earth that holds the keys?"

My answer:  "No."

That was it, I was dismissed.

A few days later, we were loading up the car to go to Utah.  In the back of the car was a crate with all of my vinyl and cassettes.  In the hallway, as we prepared to leave, my dad stopped me.  He put both his hands on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and smiled.

"I don't think Utah is ready for you, son," he said.

A couple of weeks later, in Utah, I got two letters from the LDS Church.  One was an invitation to my priesthood court, saying that I had been excommunicated for apostasy.  The second was the result of my trial - excommunication.  So, it was official.  I was cut off from the LDS Church for BELIEF in plural marriage.  I was officially a Mormon fundamentalist.

In the next part, I will discuss being a Mormon fundamentalist, how music affected me, and what it is like being a former punk in this culture.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

From Punk To Polygamy, Part 1

Me in 1988, age 18
In my recent interview on the "Year of Polygamy" podcast, Lindsay Hansen Park asked me briefly my history as a teen in the punk movement, as she thought it was an interesting aside about me.  She asked me if I thought that this interest in counter-culture movements might have contributed in any way to my embracing such an unconventional lifestyle like Mormon fundamentalism.  I mentioned that it indeed has.  There was a time when I tried to re-write myself, but, the older I get, the more I realize that punk - and other movements - helped to shape me and have made me who I am today.  I am grateful for that and have learned to embrace that part of me.  She has asked me to give a presentation at the Arizona Sunstone Symposium this March called "From Punk To Polygamy: The Story of a Mormon Fundamentalist".  I am sure that she will want me to focus more on the "Mormon fundamentalist" part than the "punk", but I thought I would write a little about that part of my life.

I grew up in Southern Utah in the late '70s.  Back then, the only thing that they played on the radio was country music.  In the home, my dad had a huge record collection he had amassed on his mission in Mexico, so we listened to rancheras and mariachi music.  Around 1979, at the age of 9, I started listening every Sunday to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" on a portable radio.  It changed my world.  The first time I heard "Back in Black" by AC/DC, I sat transfixed, staring at the radio,  I had never heard anything like it.  It seemed almost forbidden.  From then on, I was listening to everything I could from that era - The Police, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Styx.  This was the stuff that I listened to.

In 1982, our family moved from Utah to Casa Grande, Arizona, a small town on the outskirts of Phoenix.  For a kid from rural Utah, this was a huge change.  It was '82, and I was the only kid in school still wearing bell bottoms.  I had older brothers in high school, and they made friends in the local LDS ward.  I remember, after Mutual, going to my parents' shop after hours with my older brothers and their friends to listen to heavy metal music on a record player - Rush, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.  And so I became a metalhead.
Me in the center with friends from Texas, 1986

My older brother, like my dad, had a huge record collection.  His tastes became diverse, and he ranged from the conventional into more obscure bands - Motorhead, Testament, Voivod, Venom, Slayer, and Metallica.  We were listening to "Kill 'Em All" before anyone really even knew who Metallica was.  I remember some conflict between my dad and brother over the record collection and my dad throwing out some of the records that he perceived to be satanic.

And because these bands were influenced by hardcore punk, we started exploring that music - or rather, my brother started exploring, and I listened to whatever he listened to - Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, JFA, Junior Acheivment, Reagan Youth, Fear, Crass.  My brother moved on with metal, but I stuck to punk.  I was in junior high at the time, and the only other kid in the school who listened to punk was a kid named Matt who had just moved from Chicago.  I started going to his house, and we developed a love for horror films and art, fantasy fiction like H.P. Lovecraft, obscure metal and punk.  He introduced me to music like 45 Grave, Christian Death, The Effigies, and SNFU - pretty heavy stuff for some junior high kids.

The summer before I started high school, my oldest brother came home from college with a bag full of cassettes that I raided when he wasn't around.  That bag of cassettes - filled with what was then called "college music" also changed my life - XTC, INXS, R.E.M., The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order.  I started adding this music to my repertoire.
The Baron, me, & Matt in Round Rock, Texas, 1986

Once I got to high school, I learned that the people who listened to this kind of music were a minority.  Yes, we were close to metropolitan Phoenix, but this was still Arizona.  We were in a town dominated by cowboys and ranchers.  Anything underground was foreign and weird to them.  They made fun of us and our music.  In reaction, we changed our appearance and looked more garish - shaved our heads, used lots of hairspray, wore lipstick and eyeliner, tore our jeans, wore tees that reflected our musical tastes, wore combat boots, wore black.  One of the things that marked my generation that still persists today - we hate anything mainstream, and we embrace anything artistic, obscure, or indie.  We couldn't even drink Bud or smoke Marlboros like our cowboy counterparts - it had to be foreign beers and clove cigarettes.  Not only was our taste in music off the mainstream, but our choice in movies - "Eraserhead", "Blue Velvet", "A Clockwork Orange". This clique in Casa Grande, Arizona became very close and tight knit.  The cowboys called us "mods", albeit incorrectly.  Many of us to this day still maintain close contact through social media.  We have that shared experience of living in a small cow town, but bonding over our love of underground music.
Me & Melissa before a rave, 1990

For instance, there was Melisa, someone who made a great impact on me.  She was so cosmopolitan and "with it" that she was ahead of the times before anyone else.  For instance, she liked Madonna before anyone had even heard of her.  My youngest brother nicknamed her the "Black Widow" because of her affinity for wearing black.  We met because, at the beginning of my sophomore year, I was wearing a DIY, homemade Exploited shirt, and it drew her attention.  We started talking about music, and her knowledge was considerable.  She turned me on to Arizona's first alternative radio program coming out of Tucson on Sunday nights in 1985.  She introduced me to the music of The Smiths, The Jam, Style Council, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.  My friend from junior high, Matt, had moved outside of Austin, Texas, and continued to be instrumental in introducing new music to me, mostly gothic stuff, like Cocteau Twins, who remains to this day my all-time favorite band, as well as Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Bauhaus, and Clan of Xymox, stuff that I am still very much into.

The Domes
So, what did we do for fun?  These usually included forays into Phoenix where there was a readily available nightlife.  My older brother played in thrash metal band called Pedifile that was fairly well known locally.  While attending his shows, I got to see and meet members of the underground metal scene like members of Metallica, King Diamond, Fates Warning, and Sacred Reich, as well as honing my skills in the mosh pit (chipped my tooth).  There were a few alternative clubs that we would attend in Phoenix and Tempe - Prisms, Out of Water, Six Feet Under.  But mostly, we hung around town, throwing parties at homes or in the desert, blasting our music into the desert sky,  One of our favorite locations were a set of abandoned domes in the middle of the desert.  We simply called them "The Domes", and they were an eerie set of buildings with concrete floors, our laughter echoing off the walls.  They are heavily tagged now, but I was one of the first people to spray-paint graffiti on the walls - poetry about vampires.  The Domes are still in the desert and occasionally make online lists about haunted places in the U.S., although one has collapsed in recent weeks.

By the end of the '80s, people like us had banded into a cohesive movement.  120 Minutes was the show we all watched on MTV every Sunday night to watch videos from Husker Du or Peter Murphy to keep up on the latest music.  Arizona had its own alternative station with its smooth-voiced host, Jonathan L, who organized Q-Fest, the first alternative festival in the nation, before Lollapalooza.  (I attended the second Q-Fest). I feel lucky to have been part of this scene before it got big.
Me & my Valentine, Andi in 1987

So how did  my parents view all of this?  With remarkable tolerance.  My parents always knew that I marched to the beat of my own proverbial drum, and they did little to suppress my creative side.  The most "oppression" that I got was my dad making me cut my hair a couple of times.  Remember: all of this time, I was an active LDS kid, passing sacrament every Sunday.  In fact, some of the kids in my ward were in my "clique".  I was very careful about not getting too out of hand.  I was good at wiping off the eyeliner or lipstick or eyeliner before I got home from school, or taming my hair.  I was kind of a wild kid, and I am lucky I didn't get thrown into jail.  I remember being called a "punk kid" by a Chandler police officer and thrown down onto the hood of a car, being threatened with arrest.  The officer didn't arrest me, but let me go, and I went home shaken, my parents not even aware of the details.  By all accounts, I should either be in jail, rehab, or dead by now.  I can't account for having turned out okay.

So, why did I do it?  I moved from Southern Utah to a town with a lot of money, a lot of rich ranchers.  My family was never well-off.  We wore clothes from K-Mart.  We didn't have name brands - Polo, Reebok, Izod.  Everything in the '80s was about the brand.  If you couldn't afford to wear the brand, if you wore the imitation, you were made fun of.  I tried really hard to fit in my freshman year.  They never accepted me, and so I rebelled.  I started wearing combat boots and ripped jeans.  I would save my lunch money and buy the ugliest shirts from the '60s that I could find  from the thrift stores.  Then something surprising happened - in purposefully trying not to fit in, I became somewhat popular.  People knew me for having a unique style, and I guess it resonated with some.

I also started learning to think for myself at this time.  I became very interested in Marxist philosophy and read "The Communist Manifesto".  I became interested in the punk DIY ethic and anarchy.  I read underground, poltical 'zines, and even published one issue for our school, which was a lot of work before word processors.  I spoke like a revolutionary.  My girlfriend Andi and I got nominated for king and queen of the Christmas Ball.  I refused to participate, because I rejected popularity contests only to find Andi kind of mad at me.  I didn't take into account what she wanted.

So, all of this prepared me for life as a Mormon polygamist.  During this time, my dad was making an active effort to teach us more about the old Mormon doctrines of plural marriage and United Order.  I will continue the story tomorrow about my journey into Mormon fundamentalism and how music was a part of this.



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bringing Music to Short Creek: My Review of Tom Bennett's New EP

When most people think of Mormon fundamentalists, they think of the members of the FLDS Church, with the practice of multiple wives and prairie dresses.  That is the way that the media portrays them, at any rate.  However, as a Mormon fundamentalist myself, that world is as alien to me as it is to you.  Nestled in the red rocks of Short Creek, in the small communities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, these people have kept themselves sequestered from the rest of society, enshrouded in mystery.

However, in recent years, as their megalomaniac leader Warren Jeffs tries to maintain his grip from his life imprisonment and the demands on the people become more outlandish and ascetic, more and more people are slipping from that tight control, and the community is imploding.

From personal experience, I know that the one of the first things that authoritative figures try to take away from the people is entertainment - movies, TV, computers, music, etc.  These things become verboten in an insulated society.  And one of the first things that people do when they break free is to embrace these things as they find liberty again.  I plan to blog soon about my personal experiences, but my story is certainly not unique.  As the community begins to unravel and the prophet begins to lose control, the FLDS people are beginning to take in arms things that once were denied to them.  For instance, social media is literally being flooded by people who were probably denied even the simple use of computers.  And now, music is coming to Colorado City.

Tom Bennett, a traveling one-man blues band with roots in the Deep South of Georgia, brought music to the community not long ago by strumming his guitar and playing his harmonica.  The sounds drew a crowd of curious children, and soon he was playing gigs in the local bakery.  This inspired Tom to organize The Colorado City Music Festival this upcoming April 22nd right in the heart of the FLDS.  Tom will be playing, and he has recruited a crew of other musicians to help bring music to this place that has, for so long, been empty of sounds other than the desert wind.  (Please consider donating to make this free festival possible by donating to this link.)

 Now, about Tom's music - since I have been following him on social media for the last year, I can say that Tom is somewhat ubiquitous.  He is one of the busiest musicians I know, traveling far and wide.  There is scarcely a day that goes by during the week that he is not playing some venue, some bar, some coffee shop somewhere in the United States,  So, it is appropriate that his new EP is entitled "I Am Everywhere".  This three-song gem is a perfect introduction to Tom's music.  This is straight-up blues Muddy WatersJohn Lee Hooker blues.  It captures the essence of of Tom's one-man act.  The primary single is "Show Me the Exit Sign", which extols the virtue of being on the road, a common theme in Tom's music.  The guitar is driven and insistent, and Tom's voice is rich and throaty, perfect for singing the blues.  The harmonica and background vocalists give ambiance to the song, and I envision driving on a highway through the bayou.  "The Conductor", with its hip-shaking percussion and implacable guitar riffs plunge forward like a locomotive while Tom wails, "I can't get you off of my mind."  "Where Do You Keep Your Love?" rounds out the collection with a subdued pace and Tm's keening wail, carried by his harmonica.  This one if probably my favorite of these songs.

Tom's music is the perfect music to bring to the people of the FLDS communities.  Without needing to explain, some hip hop outfit was not going to make the same headway.  These are simple people, close to the earth, living their lives in the colorful canyons where John Ford shot his Westerns.  These people needed something down to earth, something rooted in the back roads of our country, something relatable to them, and Tom's music has struck a proverbial chord, has resonated with this people.  And it will to you, too.

Please consider attending The Colorado City Music Festival on April 22nd of this year.  I have also booked Tom for my Feast of Tabernacles celebration in St. Johns, Arizona this October.