About five years ago, this short guy with a goatee started coming up to me every Sunday after church. I would be on stage packing up my instrument and he wanted to talk about acoustic guitars and country music. And he knew a lot about both. He knew a lot about talking too, and my sweet wife would usually be ready for some lunch by the time we got through. “James Taylor plays Olsen guitars. They are the greatest acoustics ever. Have you heard that Steve Earle is making a record with Del McCoury and his band? Steve usually plays Gibson acoustics, but I bet he plays a Martin like a good bluegrasser on this record. I have a Taylor with koa sides and back. I play guitar too, and sing. I used to lead worship at my old church.”
I told him that I hoped he would get to play with us soon on a Sunday morning and I meant it. I love playing music with new people, especially people I liked and I was sure that I liked this guy a lot right from the beginning. (That is saying something too, for I am an antisocial creature.)
Finally one Sunday morning I showed up for rehearsal and Mark Currey, the guy that liked to talk about music, was already there, guitar case and a gig bag in hand. Pastor Tim said, “Why don’t you teach the guys your tune to start with.” Mark passed out chord charts to the band. The song looked simple enough. God’s key of G. One verse, then the Chorus repeats one line four times, “We bow down to the Lord our God.”
We played the song down and got to the end, but Mark kept going, leading us on without a plan. He repeated the line from the chorus over and over. And he meant what he was singing. He was worshipping the Lord, and we had to follow him. He was seriously worshipping and church was still an hour and a half away. We bow down to the Lord our God. We bow down to the Lord our God . . . Mark continued and threw in vocal ad-libs in between and during the line; each pass was more intense. Finally with a quick sideways glance he told us to end it.
Pastor Tim cornered me after church and asked what I thought about the new guy and his song. I said I loved it, that it was exactly what I was looking for in worship music, and that Mark had a great voice and a great song. “That guy really knows how to flip out!” That stuck. Mark became Capt. Flip Out from that moment forward. Mr. Bush could not come up with a more appropriate nickname.
The next fall Celebration decided to have a Harvest Party on Halloween night. Someone asked Mark and me to play some hillbilly tunes. We tore through a passel of favorites, finishing up with Carrie Brown. Carrie Brown is an up tempo bluegrass knee-slapper sung in cornpone two-part harmony about a guy murdering another man over a girl he had just met in line at the grocery store. A killin’song. In church. On Halloween. It is a treasured memory for all who attended.
When Pastor Tim was asked to do the music for the first Sharefest worship service in Alltel Arena, everyone who went to our church and played an instrument got to be in the band. Mark was the only one to be recognized in public later that week. The lady in the car behind him in the Burger King drive-through flagged him down as if he were a rock star – and this was before he had rock star hair.
Besides playing at church, Mark, Dan, Roach and I have played a handful of gigs as The Mark Currey Band. Two of the gigs were in Hot Springs, one of which was our most spiritual experience ever. (Upstairs in a dark loft with thirty high school kids who were ready for the flip out.) Besides that, the most memorable was a concert in Hampton, Arkansas in a huge metal barn. The walls were lined with the taxidermied shoulder-mounts of dozens of wild boar – real Arkansas Razorbacks. The place smelled like the killing floor of a pork slaughterhouse. The audience was a couple of old black ladies, who told us we were too loud and were correct about that. On the long ride back to Little Rock we rescued a poor family who had ran out of gas in a particularly remote stretch of highway. Upon reflection, they were probably the whole reason that God sent us that direction that evening.
Mark took me to Eureka Springs once. We performed at the annual folk festival billed as “Ferndale Cutoff.” Our set list was all classic country gold and Steve Earle. We performed in the park while Miss J and Miss Kim chased our kids back and forth in front of the stage. Mark introduced another great killing song by querying the crowd to find out if anyone present had ever murdered anyone, been to prison, or murdered anyone in prison. Never has such a clever joke bombed so hard. The silence was deafening. Crickets were the only sound.
The first time that Ms. J and I went to Mark and Kim’s house for dinner was memorable for several reasons. First of all, earlier that day I had cut my index finger on my left hand very severely and it was stitched up and in a brace. Second was Miss Kim’s wonderful beef stew. Third was my first encounter with Rocky the Yapping Rat Terrier. Oh how Mark despised that animal!
Not long after that Miss J and I decided to host a church small group (Home Team) in our house. Neither of us wanted to lead it, and Mark had some experience in that, so he and his family joined up. We became fast friends that fall over Big K sodas and cheese dip. The meetings usually went like this: Everyone would eat snacks, Mark would play some tunes on his guitar, Mark would introduce a topic or a scripture and we would discuss all around it for far too long. Then we would pray for what seemed like hours. Sometimes we would all pray together, sometimes we would separate and the men would go to the back room. Mark prays beautifully. He never runs out of things to say, but he never says anything extra. This is a rare gift in the semi-charismatic, non-denominational, small group prayer world.
The most special part of Home Team was getting to know the Currey family and watching those beautiful kids grow up. I think everyone in that group felt like they were part of that family. Not the Home Group family, but Mark and Kim’s family. With a dozen adults and a handful of kids in a 900 square foot house, things were rarely boring. During one of our intense prayer times little Caroline – who was about two at the time and potty training – came waddling down the hall with her pants around her ankles exclaiming, “I did it! I pooped in the potty!” Prayer time was over. Everyone cheered for Caroline and laughed together. Miss Kim went after the reward chocolates.
Soon after we met, Mark and I started trading emails almost daily, and our after church chats have only gotten longer over the years. About a year ago I talked Mark into installing MSN Messenger on his computer at work. Since then we have chatted at length almost every day. This past summer when I went to Alaska for a week, I took my laptop so that we could keep in touch. How cool it was to be sitting in downtown Juneau, Alaska, and chat with Mark like we were only 4 miles apart instead of 4000. It made the trip more special to me to be able to describe what I was seeing to my buddy back home.
And really, I have become addicted to these instant message conversations. I can’t imagine how I ever got through a workday without having him around. Sometimes our personalities compliment each other, other times we feed off of each other, but never once have we run out of things to talk about: work, church, family, friends, and especially music. Mark has become a mentor to me.
Mark may be forty, but he is a young forty. Just look at his hip young hairstyle. Like Martin guitars and homemade dill pickles, he just gets better as he gets older. His voice sounds better than ever, he is playing guitar better than ever, and he keeps turning out better and better worship tunes. But more importantly he is still becoming a better father, husband, and friend. Mark’s disposition has changed recently. These days he has the confidence of a man who knows that he is right were he needs to be. Maybe that comes to everyone with age, but I think Mark has worked hard and started to be refined into an insightful Christian gentleman. I love him and hope that he keeps popping up on my computer screen with pithy comments for as long as I am around.