Anyway, I didn’t think much of it until we rolled into Idaho the next morning. Wesley drove through the night, bless that boy, while Rex and I tried get some sleep in the back of the RV, bumped up against boxes of t-shirts and CDs. Rex has never complained once; he says it’s like the old days when Sporn were just starting out.
We stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner not far from Boise. I plugged in my phone at the table and while I waited for it to come to life I watched Rex and Wesley, side by side, tucking into their pancakes in contented silence. Wesley never talks much. Actually neither does Rex when he’s not performing. They look like a couple of guys you would cross the street to avoid. Rex is a giant bear of a man, and Wesley is only half his size, but so covered in tattoos and piercings, with a scar across his face and missing a few teeth, you would have him down as a criminal in no time. But they have hearts of gold, both of them, and Wesley is like the son we never had.
When my phone finally came back to life there were, like, seven messages from Lacey.
Call me back! What is happening?! Your channel is blowing up!
And so on… I went straight to our Youtube channel, and at first I thought they must have got our video mixed up with somebody else’s.
‘Baby, you need to take a look at this. You are… trending.. I think that’s what they say. Twenty-three thousand views!’ I held out the screen to show him and he looked mildly pleased, but he was more interested in breakfast. Neither of us have ever been that bothered about success – but maybe that’s just because we never expected it. Not since he left Sporn. But now, I gotta tell you, my mind was racing. I couldn’t help imagining all kinds of things.
And the numbers just kept going up. By the time we had finished breakfast there were over twenty-five thousand views. Anyway we carried on towards the festival; it was my turn to drive but every stop sign I couldn’t help taking a look at the numbers, which just kept going up. By the time we arrived at Moshfest I knew something was different. Moshfest is one of the biggest gigs for us – with twenty thousand metal fans it’s one of the biggest on the US circuit. We get a graveyard slot, of course – early afternoon on an outlying stage. The fact we get a gig at all is a kindness, a nostalgia thing, I know, but Rex doesn’t seem to mind. As long as he gets to spread the word of God, and all that.
As I parked up the RV I could see a team of festival organisers, all polo-shirted and clipboarded and headsetted up, waiting for something. I figured it must be a welcoming committee for one of the big bands – after all we were parked next to a line of shiny tour buses with blacked-out windows. But no, when we clambered out, stretching ourselves and squinting into the new environment, they were coming right towards us. Then I thought well maybe they need us to soundcheck straight away, since our stage time is so early. But no, it wasn’t that either. When I saw their expressions I knew something was different. I could just tell.
‘If it’s ok with you, we have moved Pastor Rex To the main stage, and he’s gonna be on a little later, like 6pm. Is that gonna work?
‘Honestly we have had so many requests for tickets today – the festival is completely sold out. Turns out everyone wants to see Pastor Rex!’
I squeezed Rex’s arm. ‘Well that’s great honey? What do you think?’
He had a far-off look in his eye. I knew he was remembering bigger times.
‘Why? Is it something to do with the video?’
I looked on my phone. Over half a million views. I decided not to tell Rex yet.
And then I had a far-off look in my eye too. Because here was the first problem. We were planning to do exactly the same sermon as the day before. I told you Rex is a performer, but… he does what he does. He can’t improvise, especially not nowadays, not after all those years of drinking taking their toll. He doesn’t go off script. And I already had the sense that people were expecting a little more today. We couldn’t do exactly the same sermon that everyone had already watched.
‘Honey, I think we need to change the words a little. People will want to hear about this hashtag… this You Will Be Judged Thing. I think that’s what all this is about somehow. People want to know what to do.’
‘Well how do I know what they’re supposed to do?’
And here was the second problem. God doesn’t actually speak to Rex I mean, he spoke to him, but he doesn’t speak to him. It’s me who writes the sermons. I know, I know, I’m fully aware of the irony. Is it irony? I never really knew how to use that word properly. Anyway, the irony of an atheist writing these sermons. That’s right, Rex doesn’t write these things. He’s real dyslexic. I write the words, and he interprets them. It’s not like I ever finished high school neither, but I don’t know, I just don’t seem to find it hard to come up with this stuff. Between the Bible, and all the Oprah shows I been watching my whole life, you can come up with this Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul type stuff that just speaks to people. It’s not rocket science but, I don’t know, I think I enjoy it. I was never much good at anything before. And Rex just knows how to say it so that it hits people in the right spot. We’re a good team.
The rest of Sporn wouldn’t agree. They blame everything on me. They would say everything was fine before I came along. But I’m telling you, it wasn’t fine. I saved him, I swear. Ok, God saved him. But I made it happen. It’s everyone’s dream, to be a superstar, right? To be on a stage looking out at tens of thousands of people, all chanting your name, some crying, some having saved their wages, travelled across the country, stood in the rain for hours, just to see you sing? Rex probably thought that too, when he was a teenage dirtbag listening to Iron Maiden in his bedroom. But be careful what you wish for, that’s what I always say.
Because imagine doing that when you’re a shy, when you have an introverted personality or whatever, when you’re too shy to even talk to a girl in a bar, never mind perform for thousands of people. The pressure is too much.
And then think about this. Metal is a sort of parallel universe within a universe. To metal fans, it’s everything, it’s life, and its heroes are gods to be worshipped. But outside, they’re nobodies. They don’t make any money at all. When they finish up a tour, they go back to blue collar work or then unemployment lines. I mean, within the universe of metal, Rex was like Madonna.. But had you ever heard of him, of Sporn, before this all happened? So imagine you have to work up the adrenaline to go out and turn yourself into a monster in front of an arena crowd, and then somehow calm yourself down enough to get some sleep, on a bus, before doing it all again the next night. And then imagine after three months straight of that, you get to go home to small-town Kentucky and work in the Seven-Eleven. You think you wouldn’t turn to drink and drugs? The hell you would. You can’t judge these people too much. Rex was dying before my eyes on that last tour. He was unconscious so many times, I honestly think he has brain damage. So when the tour finished we sent him to rehab. When I went to collect him I fully expected to bring him back to Sporn, I swear. I didn’t know he was gonna find God in that desert.
Well at least we had a few extra hours now. While Rex rested in the RV and Wesley set up the merch table – and we were given a prime position this time I have to say…. I ventured out from the performer’s area to wander around the festival grounds, taking my notebook, taking in the atmosphere. Every festival has a slightly different mood, but the smells, the sounds, the mini-experiences; it’s an assault on your senses, and don’t get me wrong it’s not always pleasant. But it’s home to me.
The first bands of the day had started playing on outlying stages, so the thump of different musics clashed as white noise. Hoards of people wandered about, mostly still sober, some still drunk from the night before. Black t-shirts, baggy shorts, tattoos, beards, a sense of purpose and belonging. It is the same all over the world. It is a religion, right? Each t-shirt slogan declaiming your own particular sub-belief, your own creed. Mutual respect and purpose.
Every scrap of shade was taken in this baking heat, so I perched in the dust and allowed myself to bathe in the white noise, the mingled stenches of stale sweat, smoke, beer, urine, cigarettes and hot dogs to waft around me.
I wrote down the word #youwillbejudged
What did it mean? And what did people want to hear? Well, Rex’s audiences wanted it to be from God, so what is God asking them to do? To be honest I felt it was a little harsh. A little… judgey, for want of a better word. That’s not really how we roll, funnily enough – sure Rex uses all the fire and brimstone and the Revelation and the screaming and roaring – but ultimately his message is is one of love and kindness. He always has people up to be saved, he ends with joyful gang shouts. It’s funny – metal is like that. It’s all about positivity. When you take away the satanism… you know. So I tried to focus on the positive. How would you show God that you were a good person? I typed ‘Bible’ and ‘judgement’ into my phone’s search engine and a bunch of quotations came up. I found one from Matthew that seemed to fit. Now I wish I’d have thought about it a little more. Gone deeper, you know.
Matthew 12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I didn’t write too much – Rex can’t handle a lot of changes – just a line here and there, to give people something to go on. Honestly, I was pretty pleased with myself.
‘This is great, honey’ Rex agreed. ‘Where d’you get this?’
‘Book of Matthew, I guess. Now I’ll be right in your ear baby, in case you forget. Now let’s practice how you’re gonna say it.’
Six pm and we were in the wings, looking out on that huge expectant crowd, and Rex was nervous. Hell, I was nervous… the organisers had put our Pastor Rex logo on huge screens – we’d never had that before. I have to tell you, it was in the back of my mind that this was all some big trick, and they were gonna make fun of us more than they ever had before. Because why in the hell would they be so interested?
It was his best performance ever. I don’t know what he was channelling – the Holy Spirit itself, I guess – I mean, he almost had me convinced. But there was an energy the likes of which I hadn’t felt since the old days of Sporn. And it felt like for the first time ever we weren’t a joke act out there.. and Rex was back where he belonged. I was where I belonged.
That night we treated ourselves to a motel. Rex slept like a baby, calm as anything, but I couldn’t sleep. I just kept looking from one channel to another, as the numbers went up and up and up. The funny thing was, there was hardly any negativity at all. No jokes, no diatribes about how he abandoned Sporn… everything was so positive, everything was about analyzing our message. Hell, my message, I wrote it. I didn’t realise at the time – people were scared.