Bela, Victor – Call Me “Al”

I was driving north on I 93 heading home from Boston. It was late and a local radio station was playing the entire “Graceland” album. I was hearing it for the first time and had a hard time staying on the road – especially when they got to “Call Me Al” – my feet were moving and my body was swaying, and then …

There was this lick on the bass guitar that almost stopped my heart. You can hear it live in South Africa at the 3:40 mark on this link. Listen to the crowd roar in approval and delight! I love to listen to Bela Fleck, to Victor Wooten – to those musicians who lay the groundwork with a kind of pulsating energy and then, out of the blue comes this frantic, controlled musical burn that takes your breath away. You know that they can’t play at that pace forever; but for that moment fingers fly and strings vibrate with an unsustainable velocity and force that humbles the hobby musician and stops the pros in their tracks. For that instant everything is a blur and you gasp for oxygen. And I realize … this is just like life for so many of us.

There is an energy, a pulsating – whether it’s the crickets in the reeds out in the country or the hum of the transformer on the city street pole; whether it’s the steady drone of students coming and going from class in a kind of relentless day-to-day routine, the getting up-going to work doing-the-dishes preparing-the-bulletin grind that provides some kind of boundary – and then, all hell breaks lose. For an instant you feel overwhelmed, either because of some dramatic sunset or because a report is due that you forgot about. The steady grind of life gives way to a lick that you know you can’t sustain, but that takes you to the edge of despair or the brink of heaven’s borders.

You cry out in adoration and praise or curse with that sense that things are spinning out of control and either way, “JESUS”! I don’t know if I can take this much longer – too much beauty; too much pain! Bring me back to the pulsating verse, the everyday energy, the beat of the drum that I can hear and manage to march to. You no sooner regain your equilibrium but that life serves up another Victor Wooten-like spasm on the bass guitar or Bela Fleck winding his way through a Bach Partita on the banjo, life pulsates, meanders, erupts. Sometimes we are the strings vibrating, hoping we don’t snap. Sometimes we are the hands tasked with trying to make music out of what can seem like a mess.

Every once in a while, we are ourselves the melody; and in that moment we are awestruck by the notion that someone can play our lives, even if for just that moment, such that untold beauty, fantasmic energy, seemingly disparate pieces and frayed edges come together. Breathless, exhausted, we fall into the arms of a Love that knows our name in real life – Bela, Victor – or identifies us with some fictional pilgrim – “Betty” or “Al” – and everything manages to come back together again.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” writes Paul in Romans. And maybe it is also true: “Everyone who hears the Lord call their name …” – they are numbered among the “saved” as well.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.