Well, things happened fast after that, I can’t even tell you. By the time we arrived in California for our round of gigs and festivals there, there was no more RV, no more trying to find a place to sleep amongst the boxes of merchandise. Now we had a proper tour bus, all black, like we were important – even the windows were black. I started to imagine how we could get our logo painted on the side… I started to imagine all sorts of things. Now we were sleeping behind a curtain in our own bunks, sleeping in hotels some nights. We got ourselves a full-time driver, so Wesley was promoted to merchandise manager and video director.
And it’s just as well, because I was full-time tour manager now, and my phone did not stop ringing. We were getting bumped higher and higher up the billings on our tour, plus we were being offered more gigs – gigs abroad too – and interviews with websites, magazines, radio. It was starting to feel like the old days, or the new days, and I guess I got swept up in it all.
Rex never did talk much. Off stage, I mean. But as we drove through the Mojave Desert that day there was a tension in that window seat next to me. I knew he was fixing to say something. And he’s never been a man to waste words. The scrub and sand raced past us and his eyes flickered as he fiddled with his rings and bracelets, I could feel the anxiety coming out of his pores.
This was not far from where he did his rehab. That was when they started sending up those balloons. Everyone remembers where they were that day – the day the first balloon went up. I was back home in Arkansas, counting the days until I could go and collect Rex from rehab. It was so hot, I thought to myself, well this giant sunshade of theirs could not be coming a moment too soon.
I remember the sky was bright, deep blue – one of the last times we would see a sky that colour. But we didn’t know that then. A lot of people were having parties – it was a thing, you know – and we had one of our own in the neighbourhood. Barbecue, beers were flowing, and when we crowded around the TV to watch that first white balloon loosed and start floating up to the sky, we all cheered and clinked our beer bottles.
But the main thing I remember was the expression on that man’s face. The one they call the Veilmaker. Sure he was smiling and hugging and shaking hands, but I know fear when I see it.
Anyway the next day I set off driving half way across the country to pick up Rex from this fancy rehab place. He was waiting for me on the steps of the reception – shaved, hair combed and tied back – they sure as hell would never have got him to cut it – regulation pyjamas.. and an expression so calm I thought they had gone and done a full lobotomy on him. I thought maybe this was the wrong type of hospital.
He told me what happened… as best he could… you know, about how he found God. And the weird thing is it must have been just around the time that first balloon went up. His epiphany, or whatever you call it. Another one of those freaky coincidences, or moments of synchronicity, right?
Anyway, back on the bus, we had just passed crossed into California when he finally said the words he’d been struggling to find.
‘Why don’t I feel good about this?’
And my heart sank a little, I have to admit. I wanted him to feel good about this, because it was changing our lives.
‘Maybe you’re just nervous, baby? These are bigger crowds than we’ve been used to in a while.’
‘I’ve been nervous before every performance of my life, it’s not that.’
‘You’re feeling guilty because we’re making a profit. Oh honey I know you never wanted to make money out of this. I know that’s not why we’re doing it. But this is a good thing – after the tour we can go home and build that church you’ve been dreaming about – a youth centre, concert space – it’s exciting, right?’
He was looking out of the window determinedly, fiddling with his jewellery. So I kept talking. I don’t know why I was panicking. I guess I desperately didn’t want this, this whole ride, to be over.
‘Think about how many more people get to hear your message now, your… ministry.’ I hate that word but I picked up all this preaching lingo. ‘There’s millions of people now, all ….taking heed of your message.’
‘But that’s just it… the message. It’s not right. Telling people that ‘by your words you will be justified.’
‘It’s in the Bible, I got it from Matthew.’
‘I know, but the Bible also says you should kill homosexuals and buy slaves. The Bible says a lot of crazy shit. We got people listening to us. We got them showing off on social media about how they gave money to charity or hugged their next door neighbour. It’s bullshit… and we told them to do it. We need to go deeper. If I’m gonna be the spokesman for this, then I need to get it right.’
I knew he was right, I guess I’d known it all along. I mean, I wrote that sermon on the back of an envelope. And I hadn’t heard him curse in a long time. It was one of the things he had quietly cut out since his rehab.
‘Ok baby. I’ll change it.’ We held hands and carried on watching the desert flash past for a while. Then I went and sat at the back of the bus with my notebook, the Bible, and my trusty copy of Chicken Soup.
And I changed the sermon. We told people some of the other things that Jesus said about doing good. That you should do good when people are not watching. That’s the way to get to heaven. I found some verses in the Bible to back me up. But I made them kinder. I’ve always figured it’s better to inspire people than to terrify them, right?
I found a bunch of good stuff:
Ecclesiastes: ‘For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.’
Corinthians: ‘He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.’
Matthew: ‘But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken.’
Romans: ‘God will judge the secret of men.’
So by that evening, the crowd at DesertFest just outside Los Angeles, plus our two million followers across the world and anyone else they chose to share it with, were about to get a sermon on how to be a good person without shouting about it.
As we looked out from the wings, Rex was not really in a much better place than he had been on the bus. He was almost hyperventilating, whispering to himself. I tried to spur him on with, ‘You gotta touch their hearts, resurrect their soul..’
But it didn’t sound right, coming from me, and I could tell he wasn’t convinced when he gave me a last look before marching on to the stage.
Rex walked out in front of ten thousand people, accompanied by the artillery fire of double-kick drumming and power chords. Oh, I didn’t tell you we have a band now? I had dreamed of Rex taking up a solo career and so I’d had these session musicians on speed dial. It felt like the right time to, you know, up our game. He’s not allowed to sing any Sporn songs of course, even though the audience often chant for them. But they play interludes and I’m hoping that soon we can get some of Rex’s sermons to music. The sky’s the limit now, I reckon.
It was a triumph. He always pulls something out of the bag.
‘God is…. Great!’
‘God is… Great!’
Everybody say ‘Hail’
‘People are gonna be healed and people are gonna be set free tonight’
‘Does anybody want to receive Christ?’
There were so many crowdsurfers that night, I didn’t know if there’d be enough crowd left on the ground to hold them up.
And they were my words he was saying. My words. If I can come up with that, in a couple of hours on the back of a bus, who knows what else I can do?