Mormon Punk: From LSD to LDS
Mormon Punk: From LSD to LDS
A memoir about how I fell away from Mormonism, got into the psychedelic-punk scene, met the devil, and did a 180 back into Mormonism.
A memoir about how I fell away from Mormonism, got into the psychedelic-punk scene, met the devil, and did a 180 back into Mormonism. Read more
About this project
Scroll down for a synopsis and two sample chapters from this proposed memoir. I'm basically pre-selling copies as a way of motivating and obligating myself to get it published. If' backed, I'll set aside other paying work as needed to get this book out by June 2014. A substantial portion of these funds will pay for professionally producing the book and printing and shipping paperback copies to backers. I'm the author of seven previous books on Mormonism.
As a sixth-generation Mormon and the oldest of ten siblings, I was ordained to the priesthood at age twelve. By then, however, I was utterly bored with the LDS religion—my true inner religion had become Dungeons & Dragons and the rock group Rush. As soon as I left home at age seventeen, I escaped into Salt Lake City’s mid-1980s underground punk and New Wave scene, my generation's version of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Rather than finding a workable new life, however, I ended up—possibly as a result of taking hallucinogenic drugs—encountering the devil in a harrowing midnight ordeal. My encounter was not unlike the demonic experiences of some early Mormons, including Joseph Smith and my own ancestor, the polygamous apostle Heber C. Kimball. Wanting to protect myself against such malevolent forces, I did a 180 and dove back into the religion of my youth.
As I started seeking my spiritual fortune in Mormonism, I confronted an epic decision: Should I go through the mysterious Mormon temple and embark on the faith's rite of passage, a two-year proselytizing mission? And if I made it through that test, how would I then fashion an endurable lifelong Mormon reality for myself?
"All people who have led hazardous and forbidden lives are, in a certain sense, imaginative; and if their imaginations are not filled with good things, they will choke them, for themselves, with bad ones."
—Charles Dickens1. Burger Joint
“I don’t want the priesthood,” I said to my dad.
His hand stopped, holding an onion ring in midair. A complicated look passed over his face—surprise, disappointment, perhaps fear.
“For real?” he asked, squinting at me.
I shrugged. Was this really a surprise to him? I still looked pretty normal—I hadn’t yet spiked my hair, pierced my ear, or started wearing ripped-up, tie-dyed, psychedelic-punk clothes. But I’d assumed he would see a different look in my eye, smell the cigarette smoke on me, sense a disturbance in the Force.
“Why not?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
“I just don’t want it,” I said. “I haven’t even been going to church.”
Just a few weeks earlier, in May 1984, I’d graduated with honors in our mountainside Mormon suburb of Bountiful, just north of Salt Lake City. Although I wasn’t quite eighteen yet, I was now sharing a studio apartment in Salt Lake between two frat houses, right across the street from the University of Utah, where I was registered to attend that fall. Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood—the full adult priesthood—was the next step in my Mormon progression.
His bacon burger forgotten, my dad rubbed his forehead. “This is going to floor your mother—I mean, knock her right over.”
My stomach fluttered.
“And your brothers and sisters.”
I was the oldest of nine kids, with a tenth still to come. Growing up, I could never go a week without hearing how important my example was. I knew my dad must be panicking now, with his guinea pig going wrong like this.
“The kids don’t have to know,” I said. But I knew it was already too late for my next-oldest sibling, Drew. Somehow he’d heard about a party at my place, probably through Todd, my corrupter-of-youth friend who was still attending Bountiful High School. Lisa had made jungle juice with Everclear, letting it mellow overnight in a hollowed-out watermelon so it went down smooth. My memory of the evening was hazy, but I suspected I’d made an ass of myself to one of the girls in Drew’s group.
My dad took a long, slow sip of his Coke, his eyes focusing on nothing. “I gotta admit, I didn’t see this coming,” he finally said. He let out a perplexed chuckle. “I thought you were on the right track.”
It was true that I’d been—outwardly, at least—a compliant Mormon boy all through junior high and high school. Each week, I’d attended over four hours of religious meetings. I’d earned my Eagle Scout award, which was somehow part of the Mormon gospel. I’d helped push a handcart through the mountains on a pioneer reenactment trek. I’d accompanied my family on a pilgrimage to Joseph Smith’s city of Nauvoo, Illinois, which my grandfather on the Kimball side was restoring for the church. At age sixteen, I’d become a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood—the junior, preparatory priesthood—and baptized my eight-year-old brother. An elderly patriarch had laid his hands on my head, declared my lineage in Israel’s tribe of Ephraim, and prophesied that I would serve a proselytizing mission in a foreign land, which had piqued my curiosity somewhat.
What my parents and church leaders didn’t understand, though, was that I’d simply been going through the motions and biding my time. On one level, I liked the stories about Book of Mormon warriors, antichrists, and robbers, the accounts of Joseph Smith and my two great-great-great-grandfathers who’d hung out with him, Heber C. Kimball and Nahum Bigelow. But otherwise, Mormonism pretty much sucked—it was about as interesting as overcooked oatmeal.
By the time I became a teen, my real religion was the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the rock band Rush—my prophets were Geddy Lee and Gary Gygax. When we thought we could get away with it, my Mormon friends and I looked at porn, dabbled in vandalism and shoplifting, sampled people’s castoff beer cans and cigarette butts, went streaking, and conducted occasional sexual experiments on each other, no girls being available to us for that purpose.
In my annual one-on-one worthiness interviews with our bishop, I never came close to confessing these sins, even when the bishop asked pointed questions. I found it natural and easy to simply deny everything. Once, when another boy—not one of my buddies—started crying outside the bishop’s office as we awaited our turns, I felt genuinely puzzled. Did he actually take this church stuff seriously?
As my dad locked eyes with me across the table, his jaw muscles pulsed in a familiar, unnerving way. But when he spoke, his voice was calm. “So, what you’re really indicating is that you don’t want to serve your mission.”
“I guess you could say that.”
Due to the Vietnam War, my dad hadn’t served a mission, and World War II had prevented my grandfather from going. They were both expecting me, as the oldest child and grandchild, to fulfill my duty. But I couldn’t imagine anything worse than living like a monk and bugging people about religion for two years.
When our meal was finished, my dad put his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know what you’re involved in, and I don’t particularly want to know. But if I ever become aware of any law breaking, I’ll have to take steps. Especially if any minors are involved.”
His eyes softened, and a hitch entered his voice. “But whatever you do, please don’t stop coming over to the house.”
Here's a different opening chapter that will now likely be adapted into the middle of the book:
1: Acid Test
I was standing with my back against the brick wall of an old warehouse, outside a new punk club called the Speedway Café. Moonlight glowed inches thick on everything, oozing and dripping like quicksilver frosting. Rising nearby, a freeway overpass seemed to wobble on its massive concrete shafts—I’d taken a relatively weak dose of acid, weak enough that I should be able to function out in public. On the other side of the overpass lay Pioneer Park, named for the city’s Mormon founders but now the territory of homeless people and drug dealers.
A punk group from Los Angeles was playing that night, one of the bands that occasionally crossed the desert in a beat-up van to sonically assault the Mormon Mecca, bands with names like Circle Jerks, True Sounds of Liberty, Saccharine Trust, Meat Puppets, and Black Flag. A local band would be playing too, perhaps Massacre Guys, Avon Calling, Victims Willing, Maimed for Life, or LDS. Some people said that LDS stood for Local Death Squad, but the band’s motto was “It doesn’t mean a thing,” obviously a slam on the LDS religion.
A few feet away, wanna-be punkers and New Wavers swarmed outside a set of double doors, waiting to get into the Speedway. Occasional laughs or shrieks punctuated their insectoid buzz of conversation. As I watched, people’s faces danced with psychedelic colors and textures. Whenever they lifted cigarettes to their mouths, orange-neon tracers wriggled through the air like worms. Moonlight played across black leather, spiked hair, chrome studs. The occasional patch of white clothing glowed phosphorescently. Red accessories pulsed like seeping arterial blood. I assumed most of them were rebellious suburban Mormons like me.
It was 1985, and I was eighteen. With nearly a year of street cred to my name, I was a scene pioneer compared with most of these kids. But sometimes I still felt like a wanna-be myself, caught between yin and yang, with one foot in macho punk rebellion and the other foot in femmy New Wave. I was forever wanting to be more punk but feeling stuck in New Wave. Punk felt like a discipline, New Wave like an indulgence—punks felt like monks, New Wavers like clowns. I didn’t fully understand why the two subgroups stayed in such close orbit—maybe it was simply because punk males liked New Wave girls better than butch female punks.
As I stood smoking my Dunhill cigarettes and watching the other people, I thought I was keeping my shit together pretty well. I felt reasonably calm inside, not jittery or nauseated or paranoid or confused, as sometimes happened.
Then something changed. As I stared at the crowd, it began to feel like they were staring back at me. One by one, they each seemed to fall silent and look my way, as if expecting me to give a speech.
I didn’t look like much, compared to most of them. I was wearing an old beige T-shirt, faded black jeans, black pointed-toe shoes that some banker probably wore in the 1960s, and a rumpled black sport coat. My thick blond hair was moussed in a way that reminded people of Billy Idol. Hanging from my ear, a tiny metal man sprawled upside-down, his hands thrown wide as if to catch himself, his ankle imbedded in my earlobe.
Watching me in a way that seemed almost hungry, the people were starting to seriously creep me out. I didn’t feel so much threatened as pressured. What did they want from me? Throwing down my cigarette, I stood up straight but didn’t know what to do next.
Why had Charlie and Lisa left me alone for so long when I was frying on acid? They’d gone to park the car, and now Lisa was probably ministering to some homeless guy on the street, shoving dollar bills and clove cigarettes into his coat pocket, perhaps also a few of the thin, tight joints she took pride in rolling with her little Zig Zag machine. Her secret was to thoroughly grind up the herb.
Without warning, an impression rose up in my mind. It did not voice itself in actual words, but the idea was suddenly clear: These kids need someone to show them the way.
I cocked my head, feeling a strange thrill as the impression resonated through my head. It was entering my head from some outside source, a signal from an unseen transmitter. My skull felt good, like I was receiving an electric brain massage.
A second wave of the impression sizzled into my consciousness: If I can figure out a way to connect with them, I can get them to do anything I want.
I wasn’t moving my feet, and the kids weren’t moving their feet, but they seemed somehow nearer to me now, their vivid, color-shifting faces beseeching me. In some strange way, it felt like they were being presented to me, offered up as mine for the taking. If I wanted to, I could reach out and pick them like spiky flowers of black, white, and red.
Part of me wanted to take off before this got any weirder, but I was entranced. In Salt Lake’s underground scene, I had always been a follower. Now it could be my turn to be a leader. But what exactly would I tell these younger punks to do? And how would I deliver my message?
When the moment finally passed, I felt relieved that no one was paying attention to me. I assumed the whole thing had been a hallucination. But the thoughts weren’t like acid’s usual random bizarreness, which sometimes reminded me of the brain’s gobbledygook right before falling asleep. These thoughts felt like purposeful communications.
Why did the impressions make me feel so intrigued and yet also so uneasy?
I didn’t consciously realize it then, but deep down I was suspicious of a trap.
Risks and challenges
Since this is a writing and publishing project, the only risks are if I lose my ability to transmit the story to the page. Publication is no problem, as I already own my own small press that has published 19 titles to date by numerous other authors, with more than 5,000 total copies sold so far.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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