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"I was into Black Flag and the Butthole Surfers and Jane's Addiction when I was a teenager," he says. "I'd take roadtrips from Abilene into Dallas and Austin and hit all the clubs. I've since become a jazzer. I took jazz flute for six years, stopped playing, but now I've started up again."
C. Monkey looks a bit like Michael Stipe with his shaved head, angelic eyes, and lean, narrow-waisted frame. He clearly loves music, correcting me when I confuse rap with hip-hop and inaccurately compare one Christian band's style with Marilyn Manson's. Based on a previous interview with someone else, I'd said that a band called Spy Glass Blue was a Christian version of Marilyn Manson, but their real model, C. Monkey insists, "is David Bowie. They play what we call 'fag rock,' which is a joke, you know, on what people expect out of the whole androgynous thing." He's open-minded enough to admit, "I like Marilyn Manson stylistically. I just think the bro needs to be saved."
He grew up in Abilene and relocated to Dallas three years ago "flipping tacos" with the Taco Bueno corporation. He calls Abilene "an economic chug-hole: You make enough money to survive, but not to escape." His enthusiasm for serving the kids who attend God's Place International originates from his own secular club days--and also from his disgust with underage Abilene kids' hanging-out options.
"I saw the youth that wasn't being ministered to. They flocked around a gay club in Abilene called 'Just Friends.' You should see what was going on there."
He charges ahead, without detailing precisely "what was going on there." "The deal was, there was no place else to go; churches weren't spending the time to find out what appealed to these kids."
C. Monkey won't apologize for the ragged, occasionally dirty-mouthed hipness of GPI. "You have to change your message with the culture. A lot of kids think going to nightclubs, to live music places, is cool, so we need Christian nightclubs. But in order for it to look legit, you gotta do your homework."
Fine, but what if a young patron--say, a Jewish kid--asks for direction, but says can you hold the God stuff, please?
"We say we're not the ringleader here--God is. I know I'm not smart enough to have an answer to problems like drug addiction or teen pregnancy. But I know someone who does, and I'm happy to introduce them to him."
Big Dave Cates, who describes himself as "over 30 but under 50," is a couple of inches taller than 6 feet 3 and as big around as a major Sears appliance (washer, dryer, etc.). He breathes heavily throughout a sit-down interview in his office, where he fields calls from local bands who want to submit tapes to GPI, the first step toward an audition to play there.
With his shoulder-length, graying brown hair and rectangular specs, Big Dave looks like a biker sage. But he bristles at being identified as a "biker," which he claims applies to a lawless subculture of motorcycle riders that includes the self-proclaimed "one-percenters," or those who've spent time in prison.
When you park your car in the lots behind the main sanctuary at GPI, you can see that most of the individuals who patrol here are friends of Big Dave's--men and women with long hair, bandannas rolled up and worn across the foreheads, reflective sunglasses, leather vests, chains hanging off their belt loops. They are a constant, stern-faced presence outside, and Pastor Rich sings their praises this way: "Occasionally, we have gang members show up here, because of the neighborhood. Gang bangers don't care about police, but they're sure afraid of bikers."
Big Dave himself patrols the concert rooms, looking for signs of trouble. And just how much trouble brews at God's Place International on a typical Saturday night?
Arlington police Sergeant James Hawthorne, who was recently a patrol supervisor in East Arlington, says that phone calls to the police from or concerning GPI have been rare. "Over a 10-month period, I'd say we got maybe two calls," he says. "And as well as I remember, one of them was from parents who thought their runaway might be at the entertainment they provide. God's Place International isn't a trouble spot for us."
Says Big Dave: "We have a strict policy--no drugs or alcohol allowed on the premises. But sometimes kids show up drunk or stoned. If they get rowdy, I drag 'em in here and make them call their parents, or sometimes we deal with it before the parents find out. I don't kick people off the property unless I have to, because I don't like to send a young person out into the night messed up. I also won't say we've never had guns here, but if I see it, it's mine."
Big Dave insists that most of the problems are standard hormonal soap-opera fare--boyfriend-girlfriend spats or rivalries between the new sweethearts of exes.