Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tales From the Crypt

As many of you know, I'm up to my elbows in a book project. I'm pretty excited about this one, and have gotten props and offers of help from a number of surprising corners (like the online conversation I had the other night with a pseudonymous facebook friend who turned out to be none other than Ira Robbins himself: still shaking my head over that one).

Most of the research so far has involved paging through old magazines--both dead tree and online--and clippings that I've been keeping for 30 years. It is a little sobering when you realize that you are, to a great extent, your own archive. But I've also got lots and lots of interviews, and promises of interviews, and I think this is going to be pretty cool all around.

Nevertheless, last night I found myself watching a pentacostalist history of John Alexander Dowie. For those of you unfamiliar with Dowie (and I'll bet that's almost everybody) he was a faith healer and evangelical leader of Scots derivation who believed that all illness was the work of Satan. Once you were saved, illnesses would simply disappear. Beginning in Australia, he then moved to California and then to Chicago, where he was denied church status at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. No matter: he tossed up a building across the street and started preaching there, eventually ministering to the relatives of the rich and famous.

Harassed by the Chicago authorities--primarily on postal and medical grounds--Dowie decided to establish his own city north of Chicago. The town he founded, Zion, IL, looms large in pop music history, for obvious reasons.

The odd thing about this particular documentary was its slant: Dowie's story is told my a minister who believes wholeheartedly in the process of Diving Healing, attributing Dowie's later meltdown to "doctrinal error." Somehow, I thought I was getting a PBS-style thing, but no, this film exhorts and expects faith from its viewers while it tells the story of this disappointed visionary.



Cousin Kevin said...

Facebook is starting to scare me...

Gummo said...

The only true prophet in American history is P.T. Barnum, the man who said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

On a tangential note, there's a fascinating book out now in paperback called "Charlatan," about the quack doctor of the 1920s and 30s who claimed he could make men young and vigorous again by implanting goat glands in their testicle sacs. He made millions and was famous around the world before he was finally exposed and brought down.

There's nothing people won't believe if they're desperate enough.

(On a humorous note: not knowing the details, I bought this book to read when I was recovering from an operation performed on my Down There -- ouch, Irony, you bitch!)