Monday, December 12, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Ten: Damascus Road)

My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -


Damascus Road

I finally had gotten my big break in 2010, although not in the way I'd imagined in my younger days. My first book was set to arrive in stores that spring and I found myself surrounded by family, friends, and writing colleagues, all slapping me on the back, congratulating me on my accomplishment. However, I still felt oddly unfulfilled and empty inside. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. And given the warning I’d received recently from Poison’s henchman that my life soon was to be “destroyed,” I also felt like a complete failure. Oh sure, my dream seemingly had come true, and when it did — IT SUCKED! My once action-packed “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll” world was now becoming a very dark place (demons and all). But like they say, it’s always darkest just before the dawn.

News Flash
I’ve approached much of this book from such a lighthearted, Everyman perspective that at this point it’s probably fair to ask what kind of “demons” did I really have to deal with? I’d now been sober since 2004 and my limited (illegal) drug experience was also a distant memory. Well, here’s a news flash — you don’t have to be a junkie with a needle dangling from your arm or an alcoholic, passed out, face-down in a puddle of vomit, to have demons.

I turned 48 in 2010 and aside from a Dead Serios reunion show and a few occasional gigs playing drums in the local golden oldies band, Burnt Toast, my rock and roll aspirations now had become a thing of the past. I'd become a published author, traveling throughout the year on a national book tour, while continuing to earn my living working full-time as a nightclub DJ. But despite my happy-go-lucky public persona, my personal life was in a tailspin.


I stated jokingly in my introduction to A Shot of Poison that I had gambled my entire life on rock and roll and all I got to show for it was a lousy book. In 2010 I began to realize just how accurate that statement really was. My lifelong quest for fame and fortune ultimately had cost me my marriage and my home. As a result, I missed out on half of my son’s life. I also sacrificed my education and financial security. And while my mother was dying of cancer in 1999, I was out running around, playing rock star in various beer joints for a whopping $25 a night. Although I was grateful for my newfound writing opportunity, I was now questioning whether the success was worth the price.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the  results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NLT)

In February, my 26-year-old nephew Dustin passed away following a lifetime of various health issues. I was forced to witness first-hand my sister’s indescribable agony of losing her only son. In March, my close friend and longtime business colleague, Shawn, died from pneumonia. A few weeks later, one of my first random book fans who reached out to me online shortly after the release of A Shot of Poison also passed away under tragic circumstances. In fact, I watched so many friends, family members and colleagues die during this period that I seemingly was spending more time attending funerals than making personal appearances. In short, I felt surrounded and overwhelmed by death in early 2010.


I’d invested a fortune in the careers of young aspiring musical performers who I had recently managed, and I was feeling the subsequent financial noose tightening around my neck. In fact, Poison’s henchman was right — I was broke. By 2010 I had frittered away well over $100,000 as a result of years of bad life choices, bad career decisions and bad investments. I was also coming to grips with the fact that my 16-year-old son, Jesse, was becoming his own man — driving, dating and growing away from me. And he now was also playing drums in his own rock band. Given his straight ‘A’ Honor Roll status, I grew concerned that Jesse would become consumed by the same “beast” that had consumed me 30 years earlier and throw away his otherwise promising future. I felt like I was losing the one thing that I truly cherished in life — my relationship with my son. And the feeling was unbearable.

My and my kid.
MY Way!
We all know the song, "My Way" — the much-loved standard from the late '60s written by Paul Anka and made famous by the legendary Frank Sinatra. You may have noticed that whenever this iconic anthem is played at birthday celebrations, graduation parties or retirement events, it ALWAYS elicits a HUGE response — usually prompting the guest of honor to leap to their feet and beat their chest with pride as the well-known lyrics blast from the DJ's sound system.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all
and I stood tall. And did it MY way.
From "My Way" / Written by Paul Anka

Well, here's another news flash — although the words may seem innocent, the truth is, the braggadocios message contradicts the Word of God completely. And when embraced, even a smidge, the results can be toxic — every bit as harmful (if not more so) than "obvious" content created by those acknowledged "dangerous" artists because you can't actually taste the poison as it glides down your throat. I had to learn that the hard way


Yep, I’d been doing things my way — rockin’ and rollin’ through life with one foot in, and one foot out of God’s circle for almost 40 years. But the way I saw it, since I owned a stack of Stryper records, attended church occasionally and knew John 3:16, I was actually leading a godly life — always doing pretty much whatever, whenever, wherever and with whomever I wanted. It was all somehow okay because I was “saved.” However, I was about to discover that one foot is too many feet to have outside of God’s circle.

Such people claim they know God, but they deny
him by the way they live. They are detestable and
disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.
Titus 1:16 (NLT)

It’s Raining Men
In addition to my longtime role as resident DJ at Siggy’s, I also was acting as the club’s entertainment director. With the economy in a tailspin, the once thriving establishment now was experiencing lean times. There was substantially less customer interest in the local live band scene and the karaoke craze had also run its course. In an attempt to drum up business, I recently had experimented with various promotions, from Jam Nights to Battle of the Bands competitions, but with only marginal success. In 2010, the club owner insisted that I book a Male Revue — a typically X-rated show involving semi-nude men, dancing provocatively for enthusiastic women (both single and married). BTW, whether it’s geared toward men or women, I always found strip clubs and strip shows to be personally unappealing. And I was somewhat ambivalent about being involved with such a promotion.


On the night of the event, I was approached by the leader and host of the Male Revue, a guy named Johnny. I immediately recognized that at just 7PM, Johnny already was impaired and he quickly articulated a concern for how and when his crew would be paid for their performance. In fact, getting his hands on a check and having it cashed ASAP seemed to be his only concern. I handed Johnny a company check and informed him that Devon, the club manager, would cash it for him gladly at the end of the night.

The show began at approximately 8PM with Johnny taking the stage and delivering a vulgar, opening monologue to Siggy’s all-female audience. He also began to quickly select random women from the crowd to participate in various sexually explicit onstage skits. My first impression was that Johnny’s graphic routines were far from entertaining. Personally, I found what I saw happening onstage to be quite disturbing. And to me, most of the women in attendance also appeared to be equally unimpressed, laughing at Johnny rather than being enticed by him. I also thought to myself, what if one of the women onstage was my niece or aunt, or even worse, my daughter — being groped publicly, and in my opinion, violated by this guy.

One by one, various male “entertainers” made their way from Siggy’s dressing room to the stage to perform their routines. Bass-heavy, techno and hip-hop sounds blasted over the club’s P.A. system while Johnny instructed the dancers to “take it off” over the microphone, while encouraging female patrons to provide them with generous tips. Despite the fact that all participants were willing and of legal age, I still couldn’t help but feel dirty just being there, and ashamed to have had my name attached to such a spectacle.


Wait, it gets worse. Unbeknownst to me, a couple of the routines that night were to involve fire, and the club’s stage recently had been rebuilt and re-carpeted. Simply put, semi-naked, drunken, drug-crazed dancing men + kerosene + Zippos = an out-of-control fire and a severely damaged stage.

Toward the end of the performance, Johnny surmised in his now undeniably impaired state, that the check I had issued to him earlier in the evening had been stolen from the dressing room. This was clearly a ridiculous notion considering that with the exception of his cohorts, no one else had gone in or out of the room all night. It was obvious to any rational person that Johnny merely had misplaced the check. I assured him no one had stolen anything and suggested he return to the dressing room and search again.

But Johnny now was too far out of his mind (from whatever) to accept or even comprehend any logical explanation. And instead of following my advice, he returned to the dressing room only to inform the members of his group that the club had ripped them off. And immediately, I became the target of their misguided concerns.

There I was, an aging five-foot-six rocker dude (who didn’t even want to be there), standing on a nightclub dance floor, surrounded by half a dozen, angry, greased-down, doped-up dancing men wearing T-backs and buttless chaps. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so pathetic. The show now was over and male patrons once again were allowed to access to the club’s main room. Noticing the dance floor commotion, club staff members and a few male regulars came to my aide. Devon finally had lost all patience regarding the evening’s shenanigans, and given the property damage caused by the show-related fire, he notified Johnny that when the check was found, the dancers would be held financially responsible for repairs. Oops!


Within seconds, physical violence erupted as the (now) irate dancers engaged in hand-to-hand combat behind the bar with staff members and patrons. Fortunately, based on an anonymous call, the police already had been dispatched to Siggy’s and soon were stormtrooping the club with nightsticks and Tasers in-hand just as cash registers were being knocked over and bottles were sent flying and crashing in the ensuing brawl. The police gained control of the situation quickly, and in the end, one dancer named Tommy was arrested, placed in a squad car and taken downtown while Devon was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital — having had his thumb nearly bitten off by Tommy during the battle. All the while, Johnny stood in the parking lot, yelling obscenities at club patrons and employees.

I received a call the next morning from Johnny. Guess what he found in his pocket when he got home that night? But the club owner already had put a “stop payment” on the check before Johnny could cash it. In summation, Johnny’s crew didn’t get paid, the club lost money, one guy went to jail and another required emergency medical treatment. And I walked away feeling sick and disgusted, realizing what my life now had come to.

I’d had many chances throughout my life to offer a testimony for God. I made a half-hearted effort in 1984, but allowed myself to become discouraged too easily by my own “teammates.” Through my experiences with Dead Serios, a door was opened for me to deliver a powerful message to a large audience. However, I chose to spend my time in the spotlight running around onstage swinging toy lawnmowers, performing songs about boogers and chasing skirts. Years later, I went on tour working for a world-famous band. But rather than focusing on Jesus, I focused on pimping out groupies to rock stars. Then, I got my first book deal. But instead of harnessing a golden opportunity to “shine,” my debut memoir was laced with F-bombs and glorified accounts of pig-like behavior. I now recognize in 2010, somebody was losing patience with me and finally was demanding my undivided attention. The Male Revue experience served as a mighty attention-getter!


Voices Carry
By the spring of 2010, I was becoming paralyzed with anxieties. I found eating to be a challenge, and consequently I experienced a drastic weight loss. From close friends and family members to casual acquaintances, people began inquiring if I had cancer or had developed a cocaine habit. Due to (now) frequent traumatic nightmares, I also was afraid to fall asleep and I began to rely on such prescription drugs as Ambien and Xanax in order to catch occasional catnaps or to simply maintain. In fact, I even acquired my own local dealer who I would visit late at night to access my much-needed meds without the fear of getting caught up in doctor shopping. And when I did fall asleep, I usually remained fully-clothed, with my shoes on, so I’d be prepared to split quickly in the middle of the night should I need to escape the evil spirits that I perceived to have taken up residence in my home. I also began keeping my drapes closed at all times and I found it difficult even to leave my house. Yes, that is as crazy as it sounds. I was too tormented to fall asleep, but too freaked out to stay awake — too tortured to be in my house, but too freaked out to leave. I felt as if I was losing my mind. I’d often stumble through my daily tasks, muttering to myself just to silence the voices in my head that were haunting me constantly. Emotionally and spiritually, I had reached rock bottom, and because my life was supposedly going to be soon “destroyed” anyway, I reasoned that there was no point in hanging around for tomorrow.

The “Weirdo" Club
One night I found myself alone, sitting in my kitchen, talking to myself. My house was clean, my affairs were in order and I had a knife lying on the table. My head was swimming as the overwhelming voices egged me on to, “Do it! Do it!” I wanted to kill myself so badly at that moment, I practically could taste the steel blade slicing through my veins. But just as I was at the height of THE darkest moment of my life, the phone rang. An angel was on the line.


I’d known my cousin Dorothy her entire life. She only lived an hour away from me, yet, we'd never been extremely close. I always had known her to be one of those overzealous Christian weirdo-types and I'd always been a good-time rock and roller. Hence, I never felt I had much in common with my (then) 39-year-old cousin. In recent years we occasionally would exchange Facebook messages, but neither of us ever had gone so far as to reach out personally to the other.

“God told me to call you,” Dorothy confessed immediately upon me answering the phone. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Uh, not really,” I replied desperately. In no time, Dorothy began talking me off the ledge, so to speak. We soon started discussing my current laundry list of burdens and she offered me much-needed guidance and advice from a spiritual perspective. She further encouraged me to begin seeking God seriously through His Word.

I once shared this experience with a close friend who indicated that he thought it was an amazing story. However, although he didn’t doubt my sincerity, he found my account to be a bit too “hocus pocus” to be completely believable. Well, guess what? God operates in the supernatural realm and He specializes in “hocus pocus.” His ways are not our ways. From the burning bush in Exodus 3 and the the Red Sea maneuver in Exodus 14 to a talking donkey in Numbers 22, the Old Testament recounts numerous examples of God’s “hocus pocus"-like power. Heck, Abraham and Sarah were in their 90s when God fulfilled His promise to give them a child. Wow, birthin’ babies, in their 90s — now that's wacky! And I thought Rod Stewart was too old to be still having kids! From feeding thousands with only five loaves and two fish in Matthew 14 and turning water into wine in John 2 to numerous acts of healings, the New Testament is loaded with accounts of Jesus performing miracles while He was on earth. Hence, given the supernatural power of God, to me, the timing of Dorothy’s call and her subsequent message are quite believable.


“My thoughts are nothing like your
thoughts,” says the Lord. "And my ways
are far beyond anything you could imagine.”
Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)

It’s funny, over the years I’d managed to memorize each word to every song on Bob Seger’s Live Bullet album (including the intros, outros, uh-huhs, yeah-yeahs, and in-between-song banter), yet I knew relatively little of the very book in which I based my eternity. Sure, I’d grown up in church as a kid and spent much of my adult life sucking up to Christian rockers, but I didn’t truly know God’s Word. So I immediately began looking for answers to my questions in the one place where I should have been looking all along. I located and dusted off my Bible and began reading. To my chagrin I found NO answers to any of my questions! What? No “hocus pocus?” Aw, c’mon! The next day I read some more. Still no answers. However, day by day, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, I finally found myself being guided gradually from the darkness and directed into the light.

As a result, you can show others the
goodness of God, for he called you out
of the darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NLT)

I began my personal study in the New Testament because even I knew what the red ink indicated. And I wanted to read for myself the exact words from Jesus. I soon discovered that the Word of God is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. In fact, everything I was reading in the New Testament could be applied to what I was dealing with. Ever since I was a young church boy, I’ve believed that all have come short of the glory of God, yet all can be forgiven — made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ. But as I was approaching 50, the Word of God seemed fresh. It was speaking directly to me, and I now was (finally) listening.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever
does not have God’s Son does not have life.
1 John  5:12 (NLT)


Quickly, I found such inner peace through the Word and became so “on fire” for God that I was transformed in short order into one of those weird people who sits outside of Starbucks, reading the Bible every morning. Dorothy and I would joke that we were members of God’s secret “weirdo" club, and she and I were the only members. I would be referred to as “#1” and she was “#2.”

My cousin Dorothy is an
angel sent to me by God.
Dorothy and her family attended my Orlando book signing in April 2010. I’d mentioned to her previously that I often had difficulty connecting with the language used in my current King James version of the Bible. At the end of the book signing, she handed me a colorful gift bag with fancy tissue paper sticking out of the top, containing a new Bible — an NLT (New Living Translation). The NLT is so “street” that it stops just short of using terms like “dude” and “bro” — even a drooling Nugent nut like me can understand it.

The NLT was exactly what I needed, and in no time, the once beautiful, leather-bound book became filled with ink markings from my notations, as well as coffee stains and cake crumbs from my morning Starbucks study time. I believe it’s actually more beautiful now.  Dorothy has since become my best friend and quasi-spiritual sponsor. And hardly a day goes by now when we miss making our morning phone calls to each other to discuss various faith-related matters, personal prayer needs and to brag about our awesome kids!


Jibber Jabber
So what does all of this jibber jabber about “darkness,” “light” and “transformation” really mean? Well, for starters, I no longer was interested in hanging out with rock stars and millionaires. My comfort now came from hanging out with Jesus and his disciples, as well as my new “bestie,” Apostle Paul, through my daily Bible study. I didn’t think or act the way I used to either. It was as if I’d become a new person.

For whatever is in your heart
determines what you say.
Matthew 12:34 (NLT)

While some people have the numbers of their doctors, lawyers and mechanics programmed into their cell phones, I have the numbers of my hair stylist, makeup artist and nail tech programmed into mine. Alright, I know what you’re thinking, and believe me, I’ve been called those names for a very long time. Anyway, I bonded quickly with Melody, my newly-acquired personal nail tech, upon discovering that she too was a Christian. Melody soon began sharing with me her own spot-on spiritual perspectives and revealed to me how we are defined and affected by the very language we use. As a result of Melody’s inspiration, I now guard my every word — careful to always present a proper testimony and not give life to any darkness.

So put to death the sinful earthly things lurking within you… Get rid of anger, rage, malicious
behavior, slander, and dirty language… Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)

I had not become “religious.” Christianity is not about “religion,” it’s about “relationship.” In fact, it was the religious leaders at that time who crucified Jesus. What I was experiencing was a newfound personal relationship with my Lord and Savior.


In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked which is the most important commandment. He replied that we must love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind. He added that we must also love our neighbor. I’d finally received the “love the Lord" memo and through my growing love relationship with Him, I now was able to extend love to others. I no longer was consumed by my own selfish endeavors nor was I a slave to anger, malicious behavior or slander (i.e. “darkness”). I was becoming filled with a genuine love for people (i.e. “light”) — showing kindness, compassion, patience and forgiveness to all — even to that guy who cut me off as I was pulling into the Starbucks parking lot and then had the nerve to get out of his car and scream at me. Put all of this together and it equals transformation.

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul,
and all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment.
A second is equally important:“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT)

Blinded by the Light
I likened my personal "transformation" to that of Apostle Paul’s revelation as chronicled by Luke in Acts 9.

Known originally as Saul, Paul was a Jew — a religious kingpin in his early days, with a notorious reputation for persecuting and even murdering Christians. As he was traveling one day from Jerusalem with his cronies on a mission to arrest believers in Damascus, he was struck blind by a light from heaven. At that point he heard the voice of Jesus, calling him out. “Why are you persecuting me?” Now blinded, Paul was led to Damascus by his motley crew, where he remained — blind for three days. To cut to the chase, when his sight finally was restored by a fellow named Ananias, Paul experienced one of, if not THE most, amazing spiritual transformations ever recorded.


I wasn’t a murderer or a rapist. But I was a total dirtbag — a self-centered, foul-mouthed, sex-crazed loser in dire need of a Paul-like revelation. I too was “blinded,” but thanks to Dorothy, my “Ananias,” if you will, my “sight” was restored to perfect 20/20 vision.

In my view, few have ever lived for Christ the way Paul did following his Damascus Road experience. He went on to author two thirds of the New Testament and to me, he’s the second-most compelling figure throughout the Bible.

That’s What Friends Are For
God puts people in our lives to offer us guidance and encouragement, often when we need it most. And in 2010, there were several amazing people who helped me get through a very tough time.

Willie Nelson once said, “There’s no such thing as an ex-wife.” And I’m inclined to agree with him. Despite our past problems, my ex-wife Trish and her current husband Travis actually proved to be two of my closest and most supportive friends. Known collectively as "T-n-T," they became so alarmed over my drastic weight loss that they would invite me over to their place frequently and force me to eat. Mmm, home cookin’! And when I would sit, zombie-like, mumbling to myself on their back porch, they offered me considerable words of encouragement. I can’t adequately express what that meant to me.

My old pal, Chris Dillon, would call nightly to offer me pep talks as well as frequent relevant Bible scriptures via email. Chris also introduced me to an exciting Christian author by sending me a copy of Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What — a book which proved to be particularly inspirational.


It was also in the spring of 2010 when I was contacted by a childhood friend, Melanie Dunmire-Halsey. Melanie was a cheerleader at my Orlando junior high school during the mid ‘70s. She was quite a character in those days and I remember her being one of the (very) few hot chicks who actually was willing to talk to me back then. I also remember that she often wore tight corduroy Levi's that whistled when she walked into class. Melanie and I had reconnected on Facebook a couple of years earlier and we now enjoyed keeping in touch on a fairly regular basis. Another wonderful thing about Melanie is that she always has been a very godly person — not as “weird” as my cousin Dorothy, but pretty darn godly nonetheless. During a phone conversation in April, Melanie was the first one to sum up my situation accurately. “You don’t get it,” she informed me boldly. “You’re living out your next book.” She further suggested that I use my story to offer a personal testimony. This was particularly surreal because Melanie was my teenage dream girl and now, almost 35 years later, she was offering me spiritual guidance — she even prayed with me. Okay, maybe she is a little weird!

The “Metal Horns,” Dude!
I was so excited about what was happening in my life that after years, I reached out to my old friend Paul Peters, the former AWOL frontman, to tell him all about it.  It was great to reconnect with Paul and he seemed genuinely happy about my spiritual arrival. He also was eager to inform me that he was currently handling audio production for East Coast Christian Center. Located in Merritt Island, Florida, ECCC was about 30 minutes north of where I was living in Satellite Beach. Paul began telling me of the unique and bold ministry being presented at ECCC and how Senior Pastor Dan Stallbaum actually had used Beatles music as part of a recent series on relationships. Beatles music? At church? Where do I sign up? We met for coffee at a local Starbucks a few days later and Paul invited me to attend a service at ECCC the following Sunday — I accepted his invitation happily.


With its state-of-the-art video and audio production, huge concert-type stage and 500-plus capacity main worship hall, ECCC more closely resembles The House of Blues than a traditional church. I noticed during my first ECCC experience that despite my long hair, piercings and tattoos, I appeared to be one of the more conservative-looking people in that morning’s congregation. In fact, there were throngs of folks in attendance wearing T-shirts and jeans, sporting an array of fabulous tattoos and piercings. And as I spotted a line of Harleys parked out front, I wasn’t sure if I was at church or a Doobie Brothers concert!

I also discovered an earplug dispenser attached to the back wall of the main worship hall. Earplugs? At church? I asked Paul’s wife, Kim, about this oddity and she explained that the church recently had been faced with an ultimatum — either turn down the volume of the Praise and Worship service or provide earplugs. “And there was NO way we were turning down the music!” Kim informed me passionately.

The proverbial icing on the cake was when I passed an innocent-looking five or six-year-old, holding her mother’s hand, walking out of the service. As I made eye contact with the adorable little blond girl, wearing a flowered print dress and bobby socks with saddle oxfords, she flashed me the “metal horns.” The metal horns? At church? No one had ever flashed me the universally acknowledged hand symbol for heavy metal at church — not before, not during, and not after any worship service! After 30-plus years of feeling like a leper at other churches, I fit right in at ECCC.

The "Metal Horns," dude!


Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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