The Best Home Teaching Story I've Ever Heard

| 19 Comments
He went out and drank a quart of peppermint schnapps.... He ripped all my clothes off, he started to beat me with the cat furniture.... And I left him. And that's when he jumped out the kitchen window.

I just heard those lines of dialogue in a movie--and not just any movie, but a documentary about a Mormon temple worker. One of the reasons I so love nonfiction is that you just can't make shit that weird up.... OK, you can, but credibility is strained. A Mormon temple worker once drank a quart of peppermint schnapps, ripped his wife's clothes off, beat her with the cat furniture (my favorite detail by far), then tried and failed to commit suicide by jumping out the kitchen window!? (The ellipses in the dialogue, I should mention, represent not anything I have deleted but editing cuts in the film itself.) To paraphrase Aristotle, the only reason something that weird can be believed is because it really happened.

The even weirder thing is, the Mormon temple worker was once a rock star, Arthur "Killer" Kane, a founding member of the New York Dolls. In 1989, as he lay recuperating in the hospital after his failed suicide attempted, Kane called a 1-800 number and requested a copy of the Book of Mormon. Two sister missionaries later showed up at his door and taught him the discussions.

Greg Whiteley, director of New York Doll, met Arthur Kane when he became his home teacher (meaning he was supposed to visit Kane once a month and make sure he was doing OK) in LA a few years ago. He started interviewing and filming Kane, but probably nothing would have come of it if Morrissey hadn't arranged a NY Dolls reunion at Morrissey's Meltdown in London 2004. This reunion was the fulfillment of a dream Kane had cherished for 30 years.

I had to stop this film right after the interview with Kane's estranged wife Barbara (be sure to click on that link for a truly bizarre coda to the whole story) because it shifted to a bunch of Mormon priesthood holders explaining what it's like to receive a witness of the Book of Mormon. I thought about not finishing the film--I was afraid there would be too much Mormon content--but curiosity got the better of me and I watched the rest.

I really liked it. It was a sweet movie, with interesting interviews from Morrissey, Bob Geldof, all kinds of people, and it was touching to see Kane's reunion with David Johansen (a.k.a. Buster Poindexter) and fascinating to watch Kane explain the Word of Wisdom.

The kicker (and this is sort of a spoiler, except that if you've read any reviews or heard anything about the movie in the news, this detail is usually mentioned) is that Kane died of leukemia a mere 22 days after returning from the festival in London--not only that, but he died two hours after he was diagnosed.

And that moved me and I thought, "Oh, how lovely that he saw the completion of this goal before his death; how tragic that he had so little time to enjoy it."

And the credit rolled and the mailman dropped my mail through the door slot and I sort of watched the credits and sorted my mail.

And then the pop song that had accompanied the credits ended and there was David Johansen singing A Poor, Wayfaring Man of Grief (Joseph Smith's favorite hymn) accompanied only by an acoustic guitar in tribute to Arthur and I simply burst into tears and sobbed until I couldn't breathe.

I never cared for that hymn--too slow and too long and too didactic in an earnest, Victorian way--but for some reason Johansen's performance of it was terribly moving, not only because it was a loving tribute to a friend but because... because it reminded me of my own loss, the loss of the church? I don't know. I'll try to figure it out. It's partly the amazing generosity of human beings...? Kane loved both the Church AND his band. And Johansen didn't seem to be judging that hymn; he let himself be moved by it as Kane would have been.

And after about half an hour I calmed down.... And then I went through the bonus material and heard Brian Koonin (I don't know who he is, I just noticed his name on the screen) playing Come, Come Ye Saints, which has always been one of my favorite hymns, and then Johansen sang the final verse, which goes

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the saints their rest obtain,
O how we’ll make this chorus swell,
All is well! All is well!

The hymn is about the trek to Utah, which so many of my ancestors undertook.... I couldn't even sit up at that point. I lay on the floor and cried as if my heart had just broken. I'm still crying, to be honest.

If you've seen the movie, I'd like to know what you thought. And if you haven't seen it, watch it and let me know how you react. There will be a presentation on it at Sunstone this year; I'm really looking forward to it. I think this is a movie I need to own.

19 Comments

For some reason I thought you might like New York Dolls, Holly. I never did see the "Poor Wayfaring Man" part; I guess I gotta rent it or buy it, because so many people have talked about that.

One thing I get a kick out of is the implication that the Lord blessed Kane with the reunion show. In other words, the Lord saw the New York Dolls as something worthwhile; or maybe it was just that he knew Arthur thought it was worthwhile, and he honored that. Or maybe it's not correct to read so much into it; but didn't it portray the reunion show as an answer to prayer, a last blessing to Kane from on high before he died? Or am I misremembering?

Hi Chris--

One thing I get a kick out of is the implication that the Lord blessed Kane with the reunion show. In other words, the Lord saw the New York Dolls as something worthwhile; or maybe it was just that he knew Arthur thought it was worthwhile, and he honored that. Or maybe it's not correct to read so much into it; but didn't it portray the reunion show as an answer to prayer, a last blessing to Kane from on high before he died?

That's pretty much the interpretation I got, and it's easy to accept in part because pretty secular people seem to accept that the reunion might well have been in answer to prayer. Also, in an extended interview in the bonus material, Morrissey discusses how Johansen had never been willing even to consider a Dolls reunion, but for some reason, when Morrissey asked him, he said, "OK."

Part of the surprising part for me is what you say at the beginning of the paragraph, the implication that the Lord saw the New York Dolls as something worthwhile. Having lived through the 70s when the church was busy asserting that most if not all pop music was satanic, but ESPECIALLY pop music made by guys in lipstick and tights, I really find it remarkable and heartening to see Kane's church leaders support him in this, instead of saying, "Oh, the excesses of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll are by definition evil; you should skip this."

Nietzche said he could only believe in a dancing god; I can only believe in a god who loves pop music as much as hymns. I'm glad Kane was able to believe in a god who loved both as well.

I've been avoiding this movie specifically because I thought it would be a weird endorsement of Mormonism. The zeal of converts and all.

But your post almost made *me* want to lay down on the floor and cry. The pain of hearing a hymn you used to love (or in your case, maybe didn't love so much), and the way it cues this HUGE, aching sense of loss, but of what you're not sure, I totally get it. I was free-associating while taking a bath the other day and mentioned Saturday's Warrior and my girlfriend was all "YOU ARE KIDDING ME. There's a Mormon rock musical?????" And when I sang the first few lines of plagarized Wordsworth, I started to cry. Hell, my girlfriend started to cry, but maybe she was just sad that I have to walk around with all that in my head all the time.

I don't believe in any of it, not a single bit, and I'm happy about what I do believe. But I miss the hymns (the real hymns, not the Lex DeAzevedo or Janice Kapp Perry stuff) so much I could die sometimes.

Hey Holly,
I don't know if you remember me, we had lunch or dinner together once at Sunstone with a bunch of Sugarbeeters. I had the same reaction as you to the end of the movie. For some reason that song was so moving. Chris had seen it earlier when he was in New York so I went to see it by myself in the theater and there were only about 6 people who stayed long enough for the bawl fest even though the theater had been full. A good friend of mine is the aunt of the director and she told me to stay to the bitter end. When I came home I told Chris he had missed the best part.

I really enjoyed the movie and thought it was a particularly interesting slice of life that fell all over the spectrum. It made me wonder about the people from Kane's past life and how positively they seemed to react to his "born again" lifestyle. In general it really made me reflect on a lot of stuff. I was surprised how much I liked it. I'm interested in the Sunstone presentation. What's the take?

Hi Margo--I'm glad you understand the grief, and I think you should watch this movie. The hymns really are beautiful and it's worth seeing the rest just to hear them. And the movie as a whole isn't a commercial for the church; it's a really interesting intersection of really different worlds.

Ann, I absolutely remember who you are--as soon as I saw your name attached to the comment in my inbox, I thought, "That's Chris's wife." Anyway, I agree with you about being a bit surprised--but pleasantly so--at how generous and positive people generally were about Kane's life in the church (though I guess the director could have edited out less favorable comments--still, there were enough kind things said). As for the Sunstone thing--on Thursday, there will be a screening of the film with the director, followed by a discussion. I can't wait!

Holly:
I loved _New York Dolls_, too! There's something about this film that is so much more important than any didactic Church History film. The message isn't that the church is the best thing ever. The message is that every person we meet is amazing. That old homeless guy on the bus might be Arthur Kane and the old ladies in the Family History center might be the oddest Dolls groupies ever.

The PWMOG song at the end didn't affect me as deeply as it has other people. But the reason probably is that when I first saw it I was chairing the plenary session of SunstoneWest and I'd just been told that Greg Whitely (the speaker following the movie) would be more than an hour late. I was hoping that the song would go on for a long, LONG time so I could figure out what the hell we were going to talk about while we waited for Whitely to arrive....

the old ladies in the Family History center might be the oddest Dolls groupies ever

They were pretty unlikely groupies....

and yes, it was indeed an extremely generous, sweet movie. I find it hard to imagine anyone not liking it.

Cats have furniture?

With no personal history as a member of a church of any kind, I feel a little bit like an interloper in this discussion. But only a little. There was an important movement within punk rock, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that called itself “straight edge.” Kids would draw black Xs on the backs of their hands – some would even tattoo them – to mimic a mark given in bars that would let underage kids come to shows but would not sell them alcohol. Straight edge bands could be quite militant in their rejection of drugs, alcohol, and even recreational sex. Minor Threat and later Fugazi were prominent straight edge bands.

You wrote that David Johansen’s singing of the hymn moved you not only as a tribute to a friend, but also perhaps because it reminds you of your own loss. Even though I have never “lost” the church, I think I get that – because of punk rock. From what you have taught me about Mormonism, it is not too much of a stretch to think about its origins in terms of counter-culture. I think the utopian moment in counter-cultures comes not only from a rejection of the dominant culture but also from an affirmation of a different community. We often think of our culture today as being individualistic, with individual self-realization depending upon freeing oneself from the constraints imposed by community, sometimes embracing self-indulgence in the “sex and drugs and rock and roll” sense. But this is only half the story of our culture, because the self-subjection to sometimes quite rigid institutions is at least as important as self-indulgence in our culture. The problem is that we’ve come to rely on notions of individuality and community that are radically opposed to each other.

Utopianism in counter-cultures tries – and often fails but that’s hegemony for you – to find another way to live in community, to build communities in which the condition for the community is strong individuals and the community is itself a resource for individual self-realization. I think a feminist might argue that no community could be considered moral and no individual free when that morality or that freedom depend on the subjugation of women – and we could add a lot of other subjugations as well. We (at least the fortunate among us) can leave such communities but it is still a loss, a deep loss and a high price to pay for the chance at being a free and moral person. Not too high, mind you, but that’s another thing you’ve taught me: not to ignore the costs.

So I was never in a church but I was a punk (not straight edge: I like beer too much) and while I don’t think that I have felt the loss of that community as deeply as you felt your loss when you saw David Johansen sing a hymn, I do feel at sea sometimes. Thank god for Oscar Wilde who said that he couldn’t bear to glance at a map that does not include Utopia, since it’s the one country at which humanity is always landing.

Oh, by the way, I'm not religious but there is a hymn (at least I would say it's a hymn) that can move me to tears. And it's ludicrous here in England because it's hard to think of a more hackneyed cliche for England than Blake's "Jerusalem." Unless Billy Bragg sings it, and then, whoa. It ceases to be the imperial self-congratulation of a nation that considers itself blessed by the divine; Blake poses the question: "And was Jerusalem builded here/Among these dark Satanic mills?" (emphasis added.) And the hymn becomes the utopian demand for the promised land: "I will not cease from mental fight/nor shall my sword sleep in my hand..."

Cats have furniture?

my reaction exactly.

I'm thinking scratching posts, perhaps. Or cushions, but that doesn't sound very threatening.

"One of the reasons I so love nonfiction is that you just can't make shit that weird up...."

So true. Publishers would shake their heads over it. Too unbelievable.

I'll have to try to catch this movie.

I'm thinking scratching posts, perhaps. Or cushions, but that doesn't sound very threatening.

Better than beating someone with doll furniture, I suppose.

Isn't is funny that Morrissey would be the instrument used to answer reunion prayers? What will it take to get the Smiths back together?

Thankyou for posting that bit, sometimes true, sad stories can make the best fertilizer for jokes. Talk about a cat fight! I have heard of your blog and thought I would check you out for myself and I find that what I have read is true - you are quiet smart and talented at writing.

But this is only half the story of our culture, because the self-subjection to sometimes quite rigid institutions is at least as important as self-indulgence in our culture. The problem is that we’ve come to rely on notions of individuality and community that are radically opposed to each other.

I've never thought if it quite that way, but this seems accurate both for the culture at large and my life in particular.

I saw New York Doll at Sunstone West and it haunting. It's rare for a film to stay with me long after seeing it. And the song at the end--mesmerizing. I'd love to hear David Johansen cover my favorite hymns.

The discussion afterward was lively. It was worth staying until the director showed up, but I also enjoyed hearing people's reactions to the film, the music.

Dennis Potter observed that everyone in the film was respectful of the others' beliefs--and that he first saw the film in Provo and the audience was decidedly disrespectful during some parts of the film.

Bandmates past and present didn't treat Arthur like a freak because he'd become a Mormon and he was likewise respectful of the directions the others had taken (though Arthur was envious of David's post-Dolls success).

It was a moving, tender film. And talking about it now has me all stirred up and a little teary. I'll never hear that Morrissey song without thinking of Arthur getting what he wanted.

Hi Mary Ellen--

I'd love to hear David Johansen cover my favorite hymns.

I've been thinking about this myself--I feel the same way. I like covers to begin with, and he really knows how to cover a hymn. If they'd just played a motab version of APWMOG I just don't think it would have been as moving--and I do still like the Motabs.

Dennis Potter observed that everyone in the film was respectful of the others' beliefs--and that he first saw the film in Provo and the audience was decidedly disrespectful during some parts of the film.

I'm sorry and surprised to hear this. What's to disrespect?

Bandmates past and present didn't treat Arthur like a freak because he'd become a Mormon and he was likewise respectful of the directions the others had taken (though Arthur was envious of David's post-Dolls success).

I've been thinking about this too. Arthur also didn't treat himself like a freak for having these two parts to his life most people consider somewhat incompatible. He didn't renounce his early life; he didn't see it as anything he needed to be ashamed of; in fact, he felt quite proud. But he also felt the church enriched his life and wasn't the least bit ashamed of it either. I liked that about the film, and about Arthur.

I'll never hear that Morrissey song without thinking of Arthur getting what he wanted.

That was the perfect song to end with, wasn't it. Morrissey has had a lot more success than Arthur, but Morrissey was willing to help Arthur get what he wanted. It was so wonderful to see such a sweet, lovely man get what he wanted and get it while his friends supported him lovingly, respectfully, generously. It's a movie about how people can use both art and religion to become better, happier, kinder people.

I must have heard APWMoG over 100 times and never felt moved by it until I heard it performed by David Johansen. Suddenly, I found myself sitting there with tears inexplicably rolling down my cheeks. At first I felt surprised at my reaction, then more curious. I mean, here’s this guy (David), who represents perhaps the antithesis of LDS doctrine, singing the most moving rendition of a hymn in homage to his departed friend. When I found that more people felt moved by the clip as I did – I felt compelled to post.

As a long-time member of the church (Return Missionary, even) and a former Goth/Industrial/Punk musician, New York Doll resonated with me as well. I, myself, have often felt at odds with the 2 dimensions of my psyche – the creative and the spiritual. As most musicians do, I always felt a certain inspiration creating music with my fellow bandmates. The genres of Punk, Goth, and Industrial especially gave me an appreciation for the dark corners of my soul. We all have them: The places deep inside ourselves we fear to look at for fear of being disgusted with what we see. Creating and performing music in these genres provided a well from which to emote deeply and appreciate the balance that exists within my very being. As a result, I’ve never been afraid of those “dark places” within – An accomplishment I owe to expression through music.

Today, I’m in my Forties, married w/ 2 kids, and work for a Fortune 500 company in Southern California (how Yuppie can you get?!) I’m a bit more active in church these days. Gone are the days of jet-black hair streaming down my back. Gone are the earrings and the eyeliner. The tattoos and Doc Martin’s, however, remain - as do the memories of the inspiration I experienced as a drummer for several local bands. I still get bigger chills hearing Sid Vicious singing “My Way” that from hearing the Tabernacle Choir perform. I suppose, to some extent, I’m sure I’ll always feel challenged to balance this life I've forged. But at least I now I know that I’m not quite alone in that challenge.

Thanks for sharing and enabling a washed-up-Punker/would-be-Latter-Day-Saint to “share a moment”.

Thanks, Darin, for sharing your own comments here.

And by the way, Ann Bigelow sent me a link to a really interesting interview with the director you might want to check out.

Leave a comment

Pages

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.12

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Holly published on May 31, 2006 5:04 PM.

Not a Single Argument about Who Was the Better Bond was the previous entry in this blog.

Two Stories from the West is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.