Preacher & the Band

In San Francisco, street preachers were common in the slum neighborhood where I lived. Each preacher had his regular corner and was usually standing there, telling passers-by that God sent his son to die on a cross for their sins (as if nobody'd heard the story before).

The assumption, see, is that everyone living in a poor neighborhood is a lost soul who desperately needs to have the Gospel tossed at 'em like a life preserver.

Only in poor neighborhoods, though. There's never a street preacher in the Marina, Ocean Beach, Nob Hill, or North Beach. Preach to people who have money, and they'll have you arrested. In the ghettos of the Mission, though, we had preachers and Jesus from sometimes three directions at once.

Maybe that's a San Francisco thing. In other cities where I've lived, street preachers have been only an occasional nuisance.

Here in Seattle, there are usually several sorta-missionaries offering Jesus tracts at the bus station, but they only try to talk to people about Jesus, one-to-one. They don't blast Jesus at everyone, all at once.

And despite being in a kinda run-down neighborhood, there have rarely been street preachers outside Mrs Rigby's Diner, until a few months ago. I guess God tapped a chubby guy in a powder-blue suit on the shoulder, and commanded him to go forth and rescue heathens in front of the diner.

Now he's there, along with some sidekicks, every time I'm at the diner and presumably when I'm not — two, sometimes three or four men wearing clean, oddly colorful suits, and standing together, in front of microphones.

The star of the show is that tubby guy. He preaches and preaches and also preaches, and then he sings, always in Spanish and always off-key. His backup band consists of a guitar guy, bass player, and drummer, but some weeks it's only the guitar guy.

While you're eating inside the diner, you can't hear them, thank Christ. Soon as you step out after breakfast, though, Hey-Seuss Christie, there's either bad singing or angry ranting in Spanish.

The sermons are all outraged and exasperated, hellfire & brimstone in Spanish, pumped through microphones and amplifiers to triple the annoyance.

Between the sermons come the songs, and the band isn't bad, but the plump preacher is the lead singer, and he couldn't carry a tune in a rolling suitcase. It's a reverse miracle — how can someone have no sense of music, yet not know it? When he hits the right note, it's a rare coincidence.

Sometimes, Preacher & the Band set up right next to my bus stop, and with their amplifiers it's extremely unpleasant. I openly mock them, mirroring the preacher/lead singer's physical gestures, and make myself hoarse screaming "Praise the Lord" at them.

More often lately (because of my mockery, I like to think) they set up in a parking lot across the street, where they're still too loud, but the sound doesn't explode directly in my auditory canal.

When they're across the street, I generally don't make fun of them. Thank you for your distance, is my message, as I let them get away with their noise.

This morning they were across the street after breakfast, and I watched as the chubby guy in an almost-neon suit preached. He was so angry, every line sounded like he was trying to start a fight.

This is the power of his God — the power to make believers so very, very angry all the time?

The best (and only bearable) part of all this is that I've never seen anyone stop to listen or interact with the preacher or the music, never at all. No souls are saved. Unanimously, everyone on the block is only annoyed, like me.

This morning, after he'd finished an enraged sermon, the chubby guy sang a hymn I hadn't heard before, which I'm guessing is titled "Gracias Christo." That was the recurring lyric — thank you Jesus for this (in Spanish so I couldn't understand) and thank you Jesus for this, and for this, and for that… and behold and hosanna, nobody gave a damn, and every note was flat or off-key, but again the band was pretty good.

Even though they were across the street, I taunted them once, shouting, "Gracias sweet Christo, it's over!" when the song ended.

Immediately, though, they began a hymn I do know but never need to hear — "The Old Rugged Cross," or "En el monte Calvario." Hearing it was a little like being crucified, but when my bus came, it came with a laugh.

I climbed aboard, and it's another hot day here, so some of the bus's windows were open. The noise came in, and all the passengers were wincing. Two teenage punks rolled their eyes, covered their ears from 90 decibels of Jesus, and one of them said to the other, "Worst album ever by an adult in a baby blue suit."



  1. Now the street preacher looked so baffled
    When I asked him why he dressed
    With twenty pounds of headlines
    Stapled to his chest

    But he cursed me when I proved it to him
    Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide
    You see, you’re just like me
    I hope you’re satisfied”

    Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
    To be stuck inside of Mobile
    With the Memphis blues again

    Oh, the ragman draws circles
    Up and down the block
    I’d ask him what the matter was
    But I know that he don’t talk

    And the ladies treat me kindly
    And they furnish me with tape
    But deep inside my heart
    I know I can’t escape

    Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
    To be stuck inside of Mobile
    With the Memphis blues again

    Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
    With his pointed shoes and his bell
    Speaking to some French girl
    Who says she knows me well

    And I would send a message
    To find out if she’s talked
    But the post office has been stolen
    And the mailbox is locked

    Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
    To be stuck inside of Mobile
    With the Memphis blues again

    Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music
    by Bob Dylan, from the album Blonde on Blonde, 1966

    1. For several lines I didn't recognize the lyrics, and thought you'd written us a poem inspired by my blue preacher... a rather lovely poem... damn, that basketman is good... oh, wait...

    2. The world continues to search for the next Bob Dylan, just like it did in the'70s. It ain't me, babe. I best stop while I'm only this far behind.


  2. That's only three of the nine verses, but I might get a word or two wrong in the other six. Maybe not. I just saw "Preacher & the Band" and that's where my brain jumped. Except for Blood on the Tracks, this is Dylan's last great album. I vaguely remember it as the first double rock album, but I could be wrong about that.

    I think your entry today sounded a little Dylanesque. That's how I got to where I got.


    1. "A little Dylanesque." Yikes, that's one of the nicest compliments I've never deserved.

    2. The difference between "God tapped a chubby guy on the shoulder" and "God tapped a chubby guy in a powder-blue suit on the shoulder" is the difference between nice prose and Dylanesque, and also "No souls are saved.", a four word sentence that echoes Dylan. Other examples abound.


    3. I'm serious about my Dylan compliments. I do not take Dylan's name in vane (or artery). Don't think twice, it's all right.


    4. Knowing you're serious makes me blush under my beard.


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