The Christian song, "Chain of Grace" says, "There's no better feeling when you see the tears/Fall down as evidence that He is here . . ."
It'll be a long while before I see a cherry blossom or a baby and not think of Gary Puckett or, even more, his "Manager." I recently had lunch with him in Baltimore. The view from our table was of pure yellow tulips, windblown grasses, and cherry blossom trees in riotous shades of pink. I wrote about Puckett last year but at that time, between two busy shows and with little time, I had only been able to skim what made him tick.
It was during this most interview now, however, as Puckett tried to eat a sandwich which received much less attention than his jumbled thoughts which were determined to become vocal, that I discovered a man on a high, a high based on his ever-growing faith in Jesus Christ.
Puckett laughed in joy over his amazement that God had put a Christian woman in his life, a woman he was about to marry after 14 years of bachelorhood. He marvelled over how it was possible that anyone could not believe in the miracle of Jesus when all they had to do was look at the innocence of a baby or the beauty of a cherry tree to see the proof of faith. Last year, Puckett had seemed to be more a sedate believer in Christianity; now he was a lot like a kid forever opening the best possible present. He saw his faith as a miraculous gift and, what impressed me most, he didn't care who knew about it.
In fact, he was eager to share. Puckett told me of a recent instance where he had played in a nightclub. "I don't like to do that much anymore," he said. "They're always filled with smoke and drinking and people are there for only one reason, but I went anyway, and it was God's will. There was a woman watching me, with an obvious look in her eyes. I knew what was on her mind so after the show, I told her I'd like to talk with her.
"Her face lit up when I said that and she made intentional innuendoes. I quickly told her,'You're beautiful and, in another time and if I were another person, I might take you up on your offer. But I can't now. There's someone else in my life.' She sighed and told me that 'she' was a lucky woman. I told her I wasn't talking about a woman. This caused another obvious look from this woman and I had to immediately correct her again. 'You have the wrong impression. I'm talking about Jesus Christ.'"
Puckett hesitated here as he spoke, looking out the window to gather his next words. In a few moments, he went on to say how he had sat with this woman for quite some time. She told him of how unhappy she had become in life, and she talked about Jesus, about how she had felt for so long that God wanted to say something to her but she hadn't been listening. By the time he left her that evening, he said, he felt as if maybe, just maybe, a seed had been planted in this woman. Maybe he had helped someone--a stranger--during a hard time in her life.
This isn't to say that Puckett always runs around with a giddy smile on his handsome face and a song in his happy little heart. He has had his share of pain. At first, it was difficult for him to admit this, to tell someone--me, a stranger--about some of his not-so-sunny times. He seemed to feel, somehow, that his story wasn't of much importance in the great scheme of things.
But when he did talk again, he reflected on his life during the sixties, when his records topped the charts and he could go nowhere without public adulation. He got married, "an angry, wrong match," as he called it. Yet because he had made that commitment, Puckett gave it his best shot. He felt that he had no other choice. His bride had a child from a previous marriage; therefore, he now had a wife and a family.
As time passed, the pressures of trying to mix a successful career with a crumbling and seemingly-doomed marriage overcame him. He gave in to a worldly mechanism and a spiritual one to try and ease his tensions: marijuana and Buddhism. The marijuana managed only to dull his senses so that all the unpleasantries he was going through seemed less stressful--but really they weren't. Though he never felt as if he were truly addicted, he knew the pot was an unhealthy crutch for him.
It followed through that his marriage finally died for good. When Buddhism then came into his life, it taught him, at least, that he could live marijuana-free. He had been brought up as a Christian but for a reason of which he wasn't yet sure, he was undeniably drawn to the Buddhist lifestyle. He became embroiled in the tenents, chanted mantras, studied recommended readings, and he even had a teacher, a yogi.
Yet despite telling himself he was now at peace, Puckett knew that wasn't true . He didn't feel peaceful. There still had to be something more. Something was still missing in his life. One day, all alone, he began to pray uncontrollably. Without explanation, and he found that he wasn't praying to Buddha now. He consciously and without question asked Jesus to take over his life, to grab hold of him and pull him out of his painful lifestyle.
And here he was now, telling all this to me, a stranger. He was pouring out his heart with little apparent concern that he was sharing such personal thoughts with someone he'd only met once before, and then briefly. His eyes argued between control and a threatening dampness. His hand, holding half of his sandwich, hung suspended in mid-air. But his words, once they had begun, clearly had intentions to stop only when they were good and ready. A testimony is something like that, forcing emotion out of an otherwise controlled individual.
Taking a deep, ragged breath, Puckett went on to say that he now prays daily for God to continue to guide his life so he may use his talents to bring glory to his Maker. Or, as he playfully called his Maker, though with no less sincerity, his "Manager." This came when I asked Puckett about the administration of his career, and he told me how his "Manager" always helped him make the right moves.
In some ways, I felt during this interview as Gary Puckett may have felt when he sat with that woman during the evening at the nightclub. He needed to talk. I was there to listen. In many ways, I felt as if I had received an enlightenment, even a gift of sorts.
So as that previously-mentioned song says, such words as those Gary Puckett poured out to me were to "give evidence that He is here."
Like the cherry blossom. Or the innocent child.