The Road (to Canterbury) Goes on Forever: Gregg Allman the Unlikely Episcopalian

I just finished reading Gregg Allman’s really-pretty-good new memoir, My Cross to Bear, and the […]

David Zahl / 8.7.12

I just finished reading Gregg Allman’s really-pretty-good new memoir, My Cross to Bear, and the final chapter contains a revelation too unexpected not to share here. Which isn’t to say the first eighteen chapters aren’t full of remarkable twists and turns as well. There are more than enough anecdotes to support the Almost Famous-Allman Brothers connection, and let’s just say that Gregg’s legendary proclivity for female, er, attention does not go undocumented. Nor does his distaste for one Mr. Richard Betts. But as much as debauchery and dysfunction serve as touchstones, so do sorrow and tragedy–which you might expect from the man who wrote “Whipping Post.” His brother Duane’s death in 1971 is just one in an absurdly long line of tragedies that have shaped his life (beginning with his father’s murder when Gregg was 2). Then there are the addictions. You name it, he was hooked on it, the narcotic known as Cher being only one particularly well-known example. By Gregg’s count, he had been to rehab 18 times before he finally got sober in 1996, a history made all the more extraordinary when delivered in Gregg’s back-porch prose. So by the time he gets to the conversion part of the story, it’s not exactly a hard-sell. There’s simply no way this man would/could have survived to write this book without falling to his knees at some point. What’s surprising is not that he finds God, but where he finds Him:

I do believe in God, because somebody had to plan all this–stuff like this just doesn’t happen. I didn’t always feel that way, though. For a long time, I didn’t really believe in God, but I didn’t really not believe in him either. It just wasn’t one of my favorite subjects… Thankfully, by the time everything started going on with my liver [in 2007-08], I’d been thinking differently about all that for a while. About fifteen years ago I started wearing a cross, because I finally got some sort of spirituality…

A big part of my getting straight with God had to do with sobering up. I’ve had a life that’s gone all different places and directions, and I’ve missed out on a certain amount of stuff because of the drugs and alcohol. As I got sober, because I was so sick of missing out, I finally reached out and prayed. Before then I’d been praying for a long time, but I never seemed to get any kind of answer. Later on, though, it became clear to me and kinda hit me at once. It was such a revelation, man.

Basically, what I did, in one big fell swoop, was surrender, and with that came all the rest. My life went into something like the spin cycle of a washing machine, and when I came out, I didn’t want any more cigarettes, and I damn sure didn’t want any more liquor. Now, if I’m having a problem, or a friend of mine is having a problem, or something is keeping me from sleeping, I’ll just lay there and not really pray so much as just meditate. I get real still and talk to the Man, and he’ll help you if you ask… God is there all the time, and so is my guardian angel, or whatever it is that keeps me from self-destructing or keeps me out of harm’s way…

One of [my ex-wife] Stacey’s strongest influences on me was to get me thinking about God. All Stacey’s people have a certain amount of faith, more than I ever had around me. She got me going to church, even though that got a little bit hinky, because people were asking me for autographs. The preacher was dynamite, and they had a full band, with horns, a killer bass player, and a choir–I loved that part of it. I hadn’t been to church in a while, because I didn’t believe in the dog-and-pony show–who can outdo who in the collection plate, that stuff bothered me. The church was so crowded, and it became such a thing, a happening, and although I met a lot of nice people, it was too much.

At one point I was going to convert to Catholicism, but they had so many rules. I have to say that the Catholic Church is very much about who has the nicest suit, the valet parking–too much about the money. I don’t think you have to dress up or show God a bunch of gold for him to forgive you your sins, love you, and guide you. Then I went to an Episcopal church in Daytona, and it just felt right. The Episcopal Church isn’t about gimme, gimme, gimme. The Episcopalians are like enlightened Catholics. They have the faith, but they’re a little more open-minded.

Now I sit here in my house in Savannah, look out over the water at the oaks, and know that I have a reason to live. After all I’ve been through, I can’t help but feel I’ve been redeemed, over and over. (pg 366-368)

While one would certainly be curious to visit one of these Catholic churches he slags off, still, TEC needs all the soul it can get. And co-religionists simply don’t come any cooler. I just hope Gregg doesn’t, you know, get those come and go blues.


p.s. For those mentally putting together denominational bands, word has it that Jerry Garcia died an Episcopalian (!).