We arrived here from the Denver area, where we played Red Rocks Amphitheatre the night before. DeVotchKa, who are a local band, opened for us and got an enthusiastic response. The setting is legendary, amazing — and the audience was immense and on their feet, even in the chilly Rocky Mountain Foothills evening.
After a brief shower in the morning I stayed on the bus, but soon the weather cleared and Steven and I were met by Jane, a friend of my friend Ford, who was happy to give us a super brief tour. We went to the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, where during the 40s Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. carved and erected some curious sculptures in his backyard that reference both Mormonism and Masonic imagery. Jane said when she was young it was just a run-down, weird place and she’d come here to get high. There was even a moment when it was going to be torn down, but some locals formed an organization to save it. Here is Joseph Smith’s (the Mormon visionary) head on a reduced size Sphinx.
Around the corner was a man with pants made of bricks — a tribute to man the builder, and the secret Masonic knowledge that enables man to create homes and temples. The Mormon Church of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) eventually disavowed Gilgal and his works, as they wanted to distance themselves from the more “magical” aspects of Masonry.
Much of the garden refers to the Book of Daniel, specifically Daniel’s interpretations of the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler who conquered Jerusalem and later went crazy.
We then visited the relatively new LDS Conference Center in Temple Square. The assembly hall inside is massive, like something out of a science fiction movie, and, as in Star Wars, there are instant simultaneous translations in dozens of languages when the LDS faithful from around the world congregate here. There are no columns blocking the views of the podium as a massive steel girder holds the ceiling up — which gives the effect that the roof is magically floating.
Outside there are other visitors blinking in the summer sun, and a few in fundamentalist LDS garb — ladies in long skirts or modest (some would say frumpy) dresses… not quite the more extreme pseudo-prairie attire, but getting there.
The Tabernacle across the way, where the famous choir performs and rehearses, now seems underwhelming compared to this new conference center, but its visitor center next door has dioramas and Bible paintings and a wonderful stairway to the stars.
Steven asks Jane and I what exactly Mormonism is, and I say it is a religion that has added additional chapters to the Bible — chapters in which Jesus visited the New World. Jane elaborated a little — this happened, according to the visions Joseph Smith had while reading the golden tablets he reportedly dug up in upstate New York, during the three days after Jesus “died,” and before he was resurrected. Jesus visited the New World and the Indian tribes that lived here. Smith’s version of New World pre-Columbian history is, again, like a science fiction novel — complex, dramatic and convoluted. I recommend a book I read as research when I was scoring a season of the HBO show Big Love — Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air and Into The Wild). In the book, which is definitely not loved by the Mormon faithful, a murder amongst the polygamist faction of the LDS (which the official church disavows) is used by Krakauer to thread together bits of Mormon history and belief. In order to “interpret” the golden tablets that he found and that no one ever saw, Joseph Smith put “peeping stones” in a hat, then put his face in the hat and magically the words of the extra chapters of the Bible came to him.
A winding ramp leads up to the stars where a giant white Jesus gazes out towards the tabernacle.
Very cool. I asked Jane about the drinking laws in Salt Lake City and in Utah, as I’d remembered when we played here many years ago we had to smuggle some beers into our dressing rooms. I also seem to remember half the audience being on uppers, as religious laws regarding those somehow slipped though the net.
Until recently you could get only get a drink if you were a member of a “social club.” Visitors to the area could instantly become members for a fee. Things have loosened up a bit recently.
I was told one could get a drink in a restaurant, but the sight of alcohol being poured was deemed to be dangerous and offensive, so pouring and preparation went on behind a glass partition referred to (by some) as the Zion Curtain. This year the Zion Curtain came down.
Polygamy was practiced by Smith and others, but due to pressure from the rest of the country it was eventually outlawed from LDS practice. Fundamentalist LDS faithful still practice it. There are houses in downtown Salt Lake City that have special basements where the “sisterwives” can be hidden when the man comes around. I suspect that polygamy was actually a common practice in the Middle East 2000 years ago, so it might not be made up like much of the rest of Mormonism — though it sure must have met some of Joseph Smith’s “needs” at the time.
Some of us might roll our eyes at the science fiction religions of Mormonism and Scientology — their preposterous myths and stories and references to cosmic apocalyptic events. Mormons believe that when all have had a chance to hear the word of God the apocalypse will commence… hence the rush to conversion. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, wrote that 75 million years ago, the head of the Galactic Federation, made up of 76 planets, was a being named Xenu. Faced with an overpopulation problem, he brought beings to this planet, blew them up with hydrogen bombs, and packaged them. Their spirits now infest our bodies. [from Scientology Lies]
We scoff at religions clearly “made up” by men just like ourselves within the last couple of centuries. Peeping stones? Xenu? But what makes the more established religions any less preposterous? Weren’t they also mostly “made up” by men like ourselves? Yes, some have been augmented by other men — additional rules and imagery added over the millennia — but isn’t it just time that gives them more credence or respect? If we’re going to roll our eyes at only the new religions then we are, in my opinion, being very unfair.
Salt Lake City had a progressive mayor, Rocky Anderson, until recently — now he is President of High Road for Human Rights. He instituted green programs, mass transit improvements, bike friendly policies, supported gay marriage and more. When Bush visited Salt Lake City Anderson helped organize a protest! Although we might think of Utah as a red state and a bastion of religious-based conservatism, Salt Lake City went blue.