My family moved to Tennessee when I entered my teen years, and it was there that I met my first true love. She was a southern girl whose father was a fire-and-brimstone minister. I was 16 at the time, and to prove my devotion to her I agreed to attend one of her father’s church services.
I was completely unprepared for what I saw. The service started simply enough, but once the sermon was underway, the reverend began speaking in tongues. You couldn’t actually understand what he was saying, but a lady in the congregation was kind enough to translate his babbling into English. And to make this scene even more surreal, I should add that she had inexplicably shaved off her eyebrows and painted in ones that looked like Spock’s. I kid you not.
A few months later I attended another of his services, and it turned out that the church pianist was sick. I kinda-sorta knew how to play, so my girlfriend volunteered me as a replacement.
After my eyeballs returned to their normal size, I tried to explain that I only knew a couple of rock songs – but they were desperate for a piano player, and I was a desperate young teen, so I agreed to do it. But to repay my girlfriend for volunteering me, I said that I’d do it only if she would sing.
A short while later I found myself seated at a piano in front of a hushed church audience that was expecting something inspiring.
So I gave them what they wanted. I played “Closer to the Heart” by Rush.
To my girlfriend’s credit, she found a way to sing it like a hymn. And to my credit, I skipped my piano version of the guitar solo (it would’ve rocked, btw).
I sheepishly left the service, feeling a mixture of elation and guilt for having pulled it off. But I felt better when the reverend came up and shook my hand, congratulating me for the “inspirational music.”
PS: It’s a good thing they didn’t ask me to play again, because the only other song I knew was Iron Man, and that never sounded quite right on piano.