Wednesday, February 26, 2020

One Step Closer - Utah's Bigamy Amendment Goes Through House Committee

Yesterday, Utah's Bigamy Amendment - S.B. 102 - went before and passed through a House Committee on Monday.  This is the bill that will reduce Utah's anti-polygamy statute from a felony to a minor infraction.  You can listen to the hearing right here.

Even though I wasn't there, I had many good friends there, including my good friend and fellow burner, Gary Taylor, who once worked directly for the Safety Net.

I did get a chance, however, to listen in on the proceedings via the link provided above.  There was first an opening statement given by the bill's sponsor, Senator Deidre Henderson.  Then a variety of speakers were allowed to testify from both sides of the argument, both pro and con.

I don't really want to focus very much on the opposition.  There were a couple of representatives from law firms speaking against the bill.  There were a coupe of teenagers who didn't clarify why they were there, perhaps hoping to become the Greta Thunbergs of anti-polygamy.  There were mostly former victims of polygamy who now work with/ for the state's various anti-polygamy hate groups.  My opinion - biased as it may be - is that the opposition was mainly using emotionality and projection as their tool.  "These horrible things happened to me in polygamy, so it must remain illegal."  The general argument was that the bill will not reduce crimes committed within polygamy, but that it will give polygamists the green light to increase their rampant efforts to practice it without fear of recrimination.  Fear was also expressed that Utah would become a safe haven for people across the world who want to live polygamy.  Like Muslims.  It wasn't voiced directly in the hearing, but it has been stated in other forums.  Anti-polygamists are afraid of Muslims coming to Utah to live polygamy.  Can you think of anything more racist?

As far as those arguing in favor of the bill - I want to emphasize that none of those who argued in favor of the bill defended it from the standpoint of being pro-polygamy.  In fact, some of them were very against polygamy.  But they recognized that generations of Prohibition cannot and will not end the practice, only nestle it in a place to be taken advantage by perpetrators of evil.  In fact, some like Dr. Cristina Rosetti, a scholar who studies Mormon fundamentalism, pointed out that the bill keeps polygamy a felony in instances of other crimes like abuse, rape, or fraud.  (Her speech was erudite and very well-expressed, by the way.  She's a freaking rockstar.)  There were other speakers like Loretta Barlow, from the FLDS in Hildale, Utah, who spoke about the affect the 1953 Polygamy Raid had on her father, upon her and her other siblings.  Donia Jessop, the mayor of Hildale, along with Shirley Draper, the trustee of the UEP Trust, also spoke.  Alina Darger - one of those Dargers - also spoke on how she was afraid to speak about a very private incident for fear of bringing negative attention to her plural family.  Then Christine Marie Katas from Voices From Dignity spoke.  Some of you who follow my blog might remember when Christine and I clashed.  She has since become one of my favorite people on the planet.  She has done so much to help the disenfranchised and displaced in Short Creek whether offering emotional support or helping people find homes.  Christine is the perfect example of someone who came into this with preconceived notions about polygamists only to find that things are not always as they seem.

The next step is for this bill to be placed before the entire House of Representatives.  I will keep you informed!  This is an exciting time for me!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

To Plyg Or Not To Plyg: Utah Challenges Anti-Polygamy Laws

Hello, everyone!  Yes, it had been a while since all y'all have heard from me.  I'm still around.  There is so much going on in the world of polygamy that I felt like I was dropping the proverbial ball if I didn't comment on it.

So here it goes...

Utah currently has a bill before its legislature that would essentially "decriminalize" polygamy.  I use quotation marks, because the bill doesn't literally decriminalize the practice - it reduces it from a felony to a misdemeanor.  It would be a punishable offense.  But hey - a victory is a victory.  The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.  Read about it here.  It still must pass through Utah's House of Representatives where its fate will be determined - will this be a victory for polygamists?  Or a smackdown?  It remains to be seen.

Some may remember back in January, 2013 when Kody Brown and wives of "Sister Wives" fame challenged the anti-polygamy laws in federal court, and a judge ruled that those laws were unconstitutional.  That was a great day.  I was up late that night, celebrating with other polygamists on social media late into the night, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth with the "antis".  That victory was short-lived.  The ruling was struck down, because there needs to be an active prosecution in respect to the law in order to challenge it.  In other words, there was no polygamy charge levied against Kody Brown.  Utah has not prosecuted polygamy in decades.

I have been asked by friends, "Why do you care if Utah has anti-polygamy laws?  They don't enforce them.  It doesn't affect you."  No, it doesn't affect me.  Yes, I live in Arizona.  But the reason I don't live in Utah is its laws.  The threat is always there.  Nobody wants to live under that intimidation.  "We're not going to arrest you... but we could if we wanted!"

So, how did this bill pass the Senate in very mainstream LDS Utah?  Unanimously??  They provided a rationale that I have used for almost two decades.  The abuses that stereotypically exist in plural marriage - sexual abuse, domestic violence, underage marriage, welfare fraud, etc. - are caused by the culture of secrecy that has sprouted up due to strict anti-polygamy laws.  Much in the same fashion that Prohibition created a bootleg culture, along with theft, murder, and other crimes, making polygamy illegal has pushed it into the shadows, allowing the evil designs of men like Warren Jeffs to flourish.  Because they were not accountable to anyone.  Because everyone was quiet.  You don't talk about your beliefs to the world.  You don't take your brother to the law.  And if you're a plural wife enduring abuse, you don't take your issues to the authorities, because you yourself may be arrested for living polygamy.  It's a mess.

These are the very things that I said to Mike Watkiss, formerly of Arizona Channel 3, in a letter back in 2008.  (I can no longer find the letter online.)  These are the things I spoke about in my TV interviews, and I ruined my credibility in the polygamous communities because of it.  Why?  Because you DON'T GO TO THE MEDIA!!  Why?  The culture of secrecy.  You're not supposed to speak out, rather remain hidden, and go unnoticed.  And if you speak, you're not just risking yourself, but everyone else.  One man in a polygamous community called me a "wicked, wicked man" for going to the media.

This culture of secrecy has to end.  Only when everything is transparent will the abuses end.  Only when things are out in the open will there be accountability when men try to take advantage of this system.  Luckily, this is the argument that went before Utah Senate.  And cooler heads prevailed.

They realized that for well over a hundred years, the polygamy "problem" did not go away.  You are not going to get rid of polygamy.  Ever.  Not upon threat of jail.  Not upon the threat of death.  Nothing short of ethnic cleansing will get rid of this lifestyle.  So another solution must be presented.  Hence, the new bill.

It made my heart proud to see the response of overwhelming support from the Mormon fundamentalist community.  They gathered on the steps of the capitol to show solidarity.  There has also been an overwhelming response from the naysayers and anti-polygamist hate groups.

First of all, I must say that I am a lot less vitriolic towards them than I was wont to be in days past.  I still don't like them.  But at least I understand them a little.  These women are mostly victims of this culture of secrecy that I have been speaking of.  They suffered real hurts and pain at the hands of men abusing the Principle.  Who am I to judge them?  However, who are they to judge us?

Granted, I have not been a polygamist for many, many years now.  Maybe that accounts for my softening.  But I still remember the nights when I would lay awake, worried that someone would come to take my kids away, that someone would lie and make up shit to obtain that objective.  Even with the presence of this bill, there has been quite a clamor from the antis.

There was a demonstration where the antis slapped stickers that read "Slave" on the chests of women, equating slavery and polygamy.  They had the ill fortune of placing one on Rep. Sandra Hollins, an African-American woman.  The thoughtlessness is astounding.  However, this has always been the method of the antis - lying, overdramatization, false rhetoric, ignoring decency, and, in this case, outright racism.

Fortunately, there have been advocates like historian, Cristina Rosetti (check out her Twitter) and Lindsay Hansen Park, who did my Year of Polygamy interview.  I need to clarify that neither of these great women are pro-polygamy.  Cristina isn't even Mormon.  They just recognize that, for things to change positively in the world of plural marriage, that the change must start within the walls of the capitol building.  Check out Linday's excellent article about the racist narratives used in this argument right here.  These women may not want my gratitude for their defense.  But they have it.

In closing, my message is:  Utah - you made this problem.  You need to fix it.  You're doing a great job so far.  Keep it up.  Don't let us down!

PS  Relax, Utah Mormons.  The Church is not going to bring back polygamy anytime soon.

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.