By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Tragically, last May, a teenage couple whose male half attended GPI "every weekend for about six months," according to C. Monkey, became a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Before 14-year-old Gary Dean shot himself and his girlfriend, 15-year-old Angela James, in his own bedroom at his parents' house, the pair left a tape-recorded message explicitly comparing themselves to Shakespeare's doomed pubescent paramours. Reports indicate that when the bodies were discovered, two songs by the Doors--"Riders on the Storm" and "The End"--were programmed to repeat in Gary's CD player.
Not only did Big Dave, Pastor Rich, and C. Monkey attend Dean's funeral at Arlington's Fielder Road Baptist Church, they held a memorial service on a Tuesday night, which about 80 kids attended. In typical GPI fashion, they let the kids say pretty much whatever they wanted, providing a mike and a podium. One kid reportedly went into a tearful, profanity-laden rant against his dead friend Dean.
"I don't count successes or failures," Big Dave says. "I think the fact that we're here ministering to the kids like this is a success. But there are some kids we just can't reach. We lost Gary.
"There's an urgency to this place," he adds, "because, in my opinion at least, the end of the world is near. Now, I'm not predicting a date or anything crazy like that. But the Bible says you won't know the day, you'll know the season. I read the Book of Revelation, and most of the prophecies have been fulfilled. I don't want to see a single one of these kids go to hell."
When Big Dave says "we lost Gary," he is clearly referring to something more than the teenager's suicide. In his mind, Dean's torment didn't end with death.
Hell, or at least a fiery end of the world, may also have been on Dean's mind when he shot himself and his girlfriend. His recorded message indicated that he didn't want to "live to see the new millennium." If GPI passes along warning of an imminent Judgment Day to the young patrons, might this have added to the confusion and despair of an already troubled young man?
Pastor Rich denies that God's Place International attempts to inculcate young people with a fear of damnation. "These kids have enough negative stuff in their lives already without us preaching hellfire and brimstone at them," he says.
Upon hearing of Dean's pre-millennium tension, Pastor Rich says, "I think Gary was misinformed. The millennium is something Christians look forward to--the millennial reign of Christ. There's a seven-year judgment period beforehand in which Jesus reforms the earth."
But can you really expect a 14-year-old to keep his eschatological terminology straight? Speakman dismisses the implication by pointing to Dean's own conversion. "At the funeral, Gary's father said that [Gary] had become a Christian," Pastor Rich says. "I don't worry that Gary's in hell. They said that he and Angela were playing two songs by the Doors. Well, Jim Morrison killed himself. It's that spirit of suicide running through his music and Kurt Cobain's that worries me."
In The Attic, where the ceiling is covered in black plastic, a beefy guy in a yellow security shirt is trying to get the kids riled up before Not For the Crowd, a ska band from Southern California, takes the stage. All of a sudden, he lets out a piercing, "are you ready to rock?" style hoot and leaps at the shiny black ceiling, one hand over his head.
The kids at this show are a considerably more mannered bunch than the reckless moshers who thrashed around at the Embodyment show. They have their own style of movement to the tight, danceable reggae beat of ska. It's called "skanking," and the gyrations are friendlier, less frenetic, more self-consciously goofy.
As a bearded guy sits at the soundboard munching on a Dairy Queen burger, Not For the Crowd position themselves before the microphone. This dapper bunch, wearing thin black ties and white shirts and jackets with padded shoulders, drove 24 hours straight to play here. They kick into their first tune, and with a horn section--two trumpets and a sax--providing fat, full color, the audience begins to loosen up and move to the bouncy music. They slow down only long enough to join the bandleader, a guy with a high-pitched voice and mutton-chop sideburns who looks barely old enough to drive, in a sing-along: "Oh great day, oh great king, how I love to worship you, I sing."
Outside, kids dawdle in packs in the parking lot or sit alongside the edge of the sidewalk with their sneakers in the gravel, confirming that GPI is as popular for its late-night hangout-ability as for its eclectic music. Here's what 13-year-old Travis Denham, a puny, jar-headed chatterer in a diaphanous Chicago Bulls T-shirt, would be doing on weekend nights if it weren't for God's Place:
"I'd be out busting stuff up. Throwing bowling balls through people's windows, pulling out mailboxes, that kind of thing. We tied somebody's mailbox to the back of a truck and pulled it out of the ground. But I got caught. The girl across the street has a camcorder, and she just has to tape everything."