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CHAPTER 8


ROCK’N’ROLL REDEMPTION


“Human beings must be known to be loved; 

but Divine beings must be loved to be known.”

Blaise Pascal



Do you remember where you were at midnight on 31st December 1999? I do. I was on the beach in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I enjoyed it so much that I went back several times. I returned there for the Easter break. What happened there was to change my life forever. On the Saturday night I went to a party, sharing a taxi with a guy I’d recently met. We went past a church that was having a big parade of a long line of people with candles. I was feeling a sense of envy, that these people in the parade were connected to something they believed in, something greater than themselves. In contrast, I was there only for my own pleasure. As we arrived at our destination, I said to my friend, “It’s not too late to go back and join that church parade.” He laughed, but I was half serious.

Because I had read lots of books about spiritual matters and also practised meditation for many years, I felt I knew a lot about the subject – a fatal trap for anyone on a spiritual path. I had brought with me a book by the renowned Indian saint Ramana Maharshi. After being silent for decades, when he started speaking, people wrote down every word he spoke and published it. The format of the book was question and answer. One of his followers asked the question, “What is the significance of the crucifixion of Jesus?” Now this really intrigued me. I had been brought up in a Christian school and learned all those stories from the Bible. I had been in frequent conversation with God as a child. Around the age of twelve I had asked difficult questions about Jesus and not been satisfied by the answers. Here was a man who was clearly a spiritual master being asked the same question. He answered, “The wooden cross represents the body, which is nothing. The son of man is the ego, which must die. The son of God is the spiritual part of all of us, which comes to life when the ego dies.” This really got me thinking, trying to reconcile my traditional Christian background with all that I’d later learned. 

The hotel in Rio had a roof terrace where I used to go to read. From that terrace you can clearly see the statue of Jesus on the top of a high mountain peak. I found it hard to take my eyes off that statue. It’s so high that it constantly appears and disappears between clouds. I returned to England with a burning desire to find the answers to all of my spiritual questions. My thirst had become an obsession. I became quite hermit-like, going to work and coming home to read and meditate. I felt as though I was being led along a path. None of the things that usually interested me seemed to matter. This went on for about two weeks, during which I felt the answers were somehow coming closer. 

Two years previously, in 1998, I had been to a car boot sale, where people buy and sell all of their unwanted junk. I don’t like them but I stumbled across one when I was out with my mother, who loves them. The only things of any interest to me at these affairs are books. I bought about 20 books for a few pennies, and they sat on my shelf for those two years. I selected a book called, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. The book was not an easy read, but it made good sense. There was a chapter entitled ‘The Great Sin’. The great sin is pride, the tendency we all have to think we are better than someone else. I had always known that pride existed but wondered why it’s referred to as the great sin. That was until I realised the significance of pride as an obstacle to spiritual growth. The problem with pride is that those who have the most see it the least. C. S. Lewis said that if you have done some good works, read some spiritual books, perhaps practiced meditation or given up drinking and you take pride in that, thinking that you are more spiritual than someone else, then Satan will rub his hands with glee, because he will have caught you in a spiritual trap from which escape is very difficult. 

As I read those words I had the chilling awareness that I have been in just such a trap for twenty years. I put the book down and went to sit on the sofa. I was reeling from the realisation that I’d been in a trap for all of that time. Within minutes I was having the most extraordinary experience of my life. It’s difficult to describe but I’ll do my best. 

I felt a presence coming through me in strong waves. At that moment, everything material and concrete seemed like nothing compared to the power and majesty of this presence. Everything in my world seemed to be instantly shattered, leaving me feeling tiny, naked and exposed. At the same time I felt the most extraordinarily powerful love. This presence knew everything about me and yet still loved me. The best way for me to impart how I felt is to imagine that you have the most amazing, loving father who always gives you everything you ever need and is always looking for ways to make you even happier. One day he’s about to go out and says to you, “Do anything you want but please don’t go into the room with the red door.” To which you say, “Okay Dad.” Later, as you look at that door, wondering what could possibly be inside, you can’t stand it any longer and you open the red door. Inside is a table with a beautiful ornate cut glass vase. You pick up the vase and it slips out of your hands and smashes on the floor. At that moment your father looks inside and sees you. He doesn’t say anything; he just looks disappointed. How do you feel at that moment? That’s how you feel when your ego is exposed for what it is. When everything you’ve ever done is laid before you. 

There were many tears, but also the most profound feeling that I would always be loved until the end of time and beyond. I also realised at that moment that my life could never be the same again. There was the feeling that all of the hairs on my head were standing on end and tingling, a feeling that has stayed with me on and off ever since. I decided to set about rearranging all of my life’s priorities. The difference was that whereas before I’d always believed in a higher power, now I was in an intense personal relationship with him. When I came across the following poem, by Saint Augustine, it expressed perfectly my feelings at that time:


You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you. 

Beauty at once so ancient and so new, late have I loved thee. 

You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself.

I searched for you. 

You were within me but I was not with you.

You called me. You cried aloud to me. 

You broke the barrier of my deafness.

You shone upon me. Your radiance enveloped me. 

You put my blindness to flight.

You shed your fragrance about me. I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour.

You touched me and now I am inflamed with love of your peace


When I was nine years old I watched a film called Trapeze. It was a love triangle, with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster chasing after Gina Lollobrigida. Anyone who has ever seen Gina will understand why the two men were in hot pursuit. During the film both men kissed her very passionately. I was shocked by this and asked my mother what they were doing. She tried to explain by telling me that when two people love each other, they kiss as a way of expressing that love. “Kiss?” I said, “They’re almost eating each other!” About a year later my hormones started working and I understood perfectly. The point is that you can be told something many times and not understand, but if you experience it, you don’t need any explanation. Therein lies the problem of trying to describe spiritual experiences.

Have you ever seen another person engaged in spiritual activity such as prayer, meditation or using a rosary? To the outsider, these activities can seem very peculiar and somewhat pointless. Such an observer will be unable to see any purpose to the activity and may dismiss it as madness. I once saw a man blowing a whistle but it didn’t make any sound. I thought he was wasting his time until a dog came running up to him in response – dogs can, of course, hear higher frequencies than humans.

So if you want to find out what this feels like we have to go back to the realms of experience, not words. To look from the outside at someone else engaged in these activities would tell you nothing about what happens when these techniques work. It has to be something you do yourself. At this point you may still find yourself thinking that all these people following spiritual paths have some kind of delusional sickness, whereas you are quite healthy and don't need any of that. If this is what you think, be assured that you are not the only person to do so, let me tell you about a person who felt exactly that way.

When the writer C.S. Lewis was a student at university, he decided that there was no God and he would prove this to himself. He was studying literature and so his strategy was to make a list of all his favourite authors and then discover their religious beliefs. He looked into the beliefs of George MacDonald, Chesterton, Johnson, Spencer, Milton, Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil, Langland, Donne, Thomas Browne and George Herbert. As he went through the process, he was shocked to find that, after going through a great many of these names, he was quite unable to find one of them who did not follow a spiritual path. In the end, he managed to discover some others who were atheists, but he was distinctly unimpressed by their work. This was the beginning of the process that led to his becoming one of the greatest spiritual writers of all time.


*


In 2006, I was in Fiji, which is a wonderful place for a holiday if you should ever get the chance to visit. In one of the tourist places I visited there were some buttons on a plaque on the wall. I asked the attendant about the significance of the buttons. She told me that they belonged to the coat of the first missionary to arrive in Fiji. The natives had tortured, killed and eaten the man. This might seem a pointless waste of the man’s life. But during the whole process the missionary impressed the natives with his gentleness and fearlessness. So much so that when the next missionary arrived some years later, they decided not to eat him but find out what he had to say. This eventually led to the whole island being converted to Christianity. Those buttons are a testament that it is not the quantity of your life but the quality of your life that counts. 

Some years ago I spent a little time in a French monastery called Taizé for reflection and meditation. The founder, Brother Roger, had busied himself during World War II helping people escape from the Nazis. After the war he decided to start the monastery from scratch, gathering a few fellow monks on the way. They resolved to build a church. They thought it best to plan ahead for growth and so gave the builders plans for a church that could house about 400, even though they had nothing like that number yet. There was a mix-up in communication involving metric versus imperial measurements. When Brother Roger returned from a trip he was horrified to find the foundations had been laid for a church big enough to hold 14,000! This reminded me of the Stonehenge replica story in This is Spinal Tap. He felt he had no choice then but to finish the building. While I was staying there that same church was overflowing with 14,000 plus people. Sometimes the inner voice is full of surprises. Sadly, Brother Roger was stabbed by a mentally ill woman and died at the age of 90 while I was writing this book.

In 2002 I spent a week in Taizé doing silent meditation. The idea is that you don’t speak to anyone, which might sound peculiar but it tends to make you focus inwardly rather than outwardly. For the sake of convenience those in silence ate at the same time and place as those who were not in silence. I sat down to eat on day three and the lady sitting next to me started complaining about her neck, which was very painful. She said to her husband, “I think I’m going to have to go back home, I can’t stand much more of it. It’s too painful.” This put me into a dilemma. I had made a decision to be silent for a week but here was a person in need. I thought it was no coincidence that she happened to be sitting next to me so I decided to temporarily break the silence and explain to her that I was a chiropractor and could help her with her problem. I briefly considered the possibility that I could sneak up behind her, crack her neck then run back into silence but decided that this would not achieve the desired result. When I had finished treating her I asked her where she lived and she told me that she lived in Plymouth. I recommended she see Bruce Whittingham with whom I’d trained. He practiced in Plymouth and would finish the job. A year later I bumped into Bruce at a seminar. He told me that he had seen a very nice lady who had been treated by a chiropractor called Terry. He told her that he, of course, knew Terry very well. She told him that I had been doing a week of silent meditation in a monastery, to which he replied, “That can’t be Terry Chimes, it must be someone else!”

All state-registered health professionals have to attend a certain number of seminars each year to keep their registration. I’m all in favour of this and would still do it even if I didn’t have to. Most of the research tends to be a little dry but there is usually something interesting or amusing in each seminar. There’s also a great deal of argument every time, which inevitably spills over to the restaurants and bars in the evenings. One of the most divisive topics is the role of faith and prayer in medicine and healing. It’s well documented that people of faith live longer but, of course, the debate is focused on the reasons for that. Anybody involved in treating sick people will inevitably come across some cases where the patient just doesn’t seem to be getting better. As strange as it may seem to some, I often feel that these cases are an opportunity to use prayer to help the patient, what’s more it gives me the chance to deepen my own faith. Praying for patients has been extensively researched with remarkable results. There’s evidence that tends to show that the patients get better. The surprise, however, is that those who are doing the praying have even greater improvements to their health. Plenty of hours could be spent in the bar debating that one.

People who are in touch with their inner voice find that their lives are filled with synchronicity. These are little coincidences that happen all the time. For instance, many times I have thought about a patient I haven’t seen for a long time and they will suddenly ring up the next day, without me having done anything about it in the physical sense. 

I recently experienced a really ridiculous coincidence. I decided I wanted a gong. I’ve always loved gongs. They make magical sounds and look fantastic. I will probably end up having a large collection of them at some point. Large gongs are very expensive so I thought about where I might get a discount. I decided to ring my old friend Darren Bramley, who had been the rep for the drum company, Remo, when I was with Black Sabbath. Darren had supplied me with drums at that time and we became good friends. Darren didn’t do gongs but I felt sure he would know a man who did. I hadn’t seen Darren, however, for about eight years - when we did the drum circle at the seminar. I tried unsuccessfully to find his phone number and then I typed his name into Facebook. There were lots of Darren Bramleys and most of the pictures were of babies or dogs. After 20 minutes of searching Facebook I lost the will to live and gave up. I walked into the kitchen to cook dinner, thus missing a call on my mobile phone. I listened to the message and it was Darren. I was still in shock when I called him back - after all, it had been eight years! After our exchange of pleasantries, I told Darren I wanted a gong. A short silence followed and then he said, “How in the world do you know about that?” I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “I lost my job three months ago and I have just taken a job as a rep for a gong company!” To cut a long story short, I now have a nice gong. But even though I have experienced this type of ‘coincidence’ for many years, I still get surprised. 

Coincidences can sometimes lead you up the garden path, though. I went out for dinner with my friends Gary and Laura. We pulled up outside the restaurant in Gary’s silver E-class Mercedes and I said, “Let me quickly go in and ask if they have a table free, as they’re busy and there are no car parking spaces in view.” I ran in and was told that there were no tables available. I ran straight back out and into the car. Slamming the door I said, “They don’t have a table so let’s go somewhere else.” Then I realised I was in the wrong car. It was a silver E-class Mercedes, in exactly the same spot, but containing an Asian family. 

I said, “I’m sorry, I seem to be in the wrong car!” They all stared silently at me. The whole family seemed to be thinking the same thing, “Don’t say anything – it might make him worse.” I then said, “I’ll be on my way then, have a nice evening.” As I shut the door, the car roared off. Then Gary and Laura appeared, having parked in a side street. They laughed uproariously when they heard about my terrorising of a local family. I imagine that family keeps the car doors locked these days.

Pursuing a spiritual path comes with responsibilities. Doing the right thing is sometimes quite easy. The times when it is not easy are often those involving forgiveness. This next story illustrates the dangers of not forgiving.

A relative of mine called Ron wanted to buy an apartment within a stately home; a popular trend in England these days. He came across a man called Peter, who had recently purchased a stately home for conversion into apartments. Ron was very clear about what exactly he wanted: a large, grand apartment, with exclusive access to the main entrance. Peter readily agreed to oblige, although he naturally wanted a reasonably large sum for this and other privileges. The contracts were drawn up and the work began. Relations between the two started to deteriorate fast when it came to Ron’s attention that one of the other apartments had also been granted use of the front entrance. Ron was livid. He insisted that he had been quite clear from the start about his requirements, and had gone into the deal in good faith. Peter argued that the small print in the contract allowed for some use of the front entrance by others. A protracted battle ensued in which lawyers were instructed on both sides. Feelings ran high and the very idea of forgiveness was far from both their minds. Then, within a few days of each other, both men suffered heart attacks. Ron survived his, but Peter did not. In the face of death, none of it seemed all that important. I tell this story to illustrate just how strong the effects of anger and bitterness can be.

Virtually every musician has a list of grievances. Most have had equipment stolen, promises broken, songs ripped off or contracts not honoured. It’s easy to spend your whole life wallowing in bitterness, which many do. I prefer to think of the good things, of which there are many. The travelling, appreciative audiences, people you would never otherwise have met, the pleasure of creating all that music and sharing it, getting free clothes, haircuts, trips and instruments. On balance, musicians have a nice life. It’s an oft-repeated cliché that musicians will find themselves lying on an amazing beach with a tequila sunrise, a beautiful girl and a gorgeous sunset and turn to each other to say, “The careers teacher was definitely wrong.” I’ve heard this myself several times.

I don’t think Joe Strummer ever forgave me for quitting. Even years later he would deliver his long rant on the subject. It would always start the same way – he would say, “I woke up feeling great, the sun was shining, and I thought everything was fine.” Then the rant would ensue and it would end up with him feeling depressed. I was looking forward to sharing with him my ideas about forgiveness but he went and died on me before we got that far. I fully expected to be sitting on a park bench with Joe, in our eighties, with him carrying on his rant and me telling him, “Isn’t it about time you lightened up”. But that wasn’t to be. 

The Baker recently pointed out to me that Joe had always been the one to fire people. He fired managers, roadies and even half of the band! When you are the hatchet man you don’t reckon on being fired yourself. When you leave a band you are, in a sense, firing the band. I think that’s why Joe found it so hard to forgive me, which is a shame.

I have always tried to forgive anybody who I felt treated me unfairly. It gets easier with practice. I have long ago forgiven the man who stabbed me, even though I never met him again. This does not mean that I would not try to get him convicted. He should be tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is all quite separate from the forgiveness. This may sound strange to some readers but forgiveness happens in the mind and heart of the forgiver, not the forgiven. The person being forgiven may not know or care if they are forgiven. My mother’s father had been a drinker and a womaniser, which made life difficult for my grandmother. My mother was unable to forgive this during his lifetime but was able to manage it later on. Was there any point to this after his death? Absolutely – you can grow closer to God or you can hate someone but you can never do both:


To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.

Lewis B. Smedes,


One of my best friends from college days was a half-French, half-Belgian guy called Didier. We had been good friends for 12 years when he started to turn away from worldly concerns and follow a spiritual path. Just about the time we were looking forward to spending many hours exploring spirituality together, something very sinister happened. Didier became unwell and underwent a long series of tests, which showed nothing. Since we were both doctors, we hoped for the best but feared the worst. His muscles were getting progressively weaker. What we both dreaded was that this could turn out to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, one of the worst diseases it’s possible to have. ALS is a form of motor neuron disease, of unknown origin, which causes progressive muscle wasting. There are no conclusive tests for it and there is no treatment. Eventually, the only visible functions that the body can still perform are breathing (just), swallowing and blinking. At that stage the mind is still fully functional, but is a prisoner within the body. It is this disease that afflicts the cosmologist and writer Stephen Hawking. When it became obvious that this was what Didier was suffering from, a group of friends decided to make the most of the time we still had with him. 

We took him and his wheelchair to all sorts of places: churches, restaurants, nightclubs, bars, boats and planes. Somehow, if we were taking Didier with us, a visit to a quite ordinary place became rather special, as though we were all on some kind of mission. In later stages, when I visited him, I would hold up a card with all of the letters of the alphabet printed on it. I would draw a pointer along the letters and wait for him to blink. Using this method he was able to speak to the outside world. Amazingly, he would ask questions about what I’d been doing when we last spoke. I was so surprised that he remembered every detail about whatever I’d told him. 

During this time, Didier’s faith just kept getting stronger. To the astonishment of all who knew him, he never once complained about this most terrible of all illnesses; not one word of bitterness or anger. It’s not that he didn’t want to get better, but he felt that if it was his destiny to suffer this illness, then he had to get on with it. I found the way he dealt with it inspirational. I also felt that I had no business ever again complaining about hay fever or a headache. I never saw him without being greeted by his wonderful smile. How was he able to do this? His connection with God just kept getting stronger and stronger.

If this seems strange to you then think about it this way. All of those people in churches who are praying or meditating are trying to perceive the reality that they are so much more than just their mind. Although they’ve been told this, their mind resists the idea by distracting them back into worrying about everyday things. In Didier’s case his mind did not have that option – he couldn’t do anything except look inward and explore. That is all he could do for all his waking hours. His mind was unable to keep up the pretence (that the mind is all there is) without being able to constantly throw up distractions, the way it does with most people. The peace and serenity that Didier found was astounding to see. It still amuses me to think of all the people who, on seeing Didier in his wheelchair, whispered to each other, “What a shame.” If only they knew that he had discovered a level of happiness that they never knew existed. I know of more than a few rock musicians who could really do with spending some time looking inward rather than reading their reviews. 

After nearly two years of worsening symptoms, he asked his parents to accompany him to church, where he received Holy Communion from his favourite priest (who happened to be visiting). He then returned home and died peacefully within minutes. He is badly missed by the hundreds of friends he left behind. To me, his whole life was a huge lesson by example, something that I, and many others will benefit from in future years. Goodbye Didier, my old friend. I thank you for what you taught me and look forward to the day we meet again.

In 2003 I started to take stock of my life. I had done everything I had set out to do. I was living the life I wanted, it looked as if I was going to be one of the last men standing as far as rock musicians go and it was time to ask the question ”What next?”

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