Who are these children?
“Mom, you have to hear this.” I lean closer to my son’s phone as he turns the volume up on a song. He and I like similar music only his is about forty years more cool. Luckily he shares. “What does that sound like?” It sounds familiar but I can’t place it. He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head. No idea. “The chorus sounds just like ‘Who are these children coming down . . .’ that Saturday’s Warrior song.” It totally does. “Is it a sample?” He often plays music that combines parts of other songs. But no, it is simply one of those cosmic moments when an indie band reaches out into the universe for inspiration and channels Lex de Azevedo.
Flashback to 1974. I was eleven or twelve when my family moved to San Jose, California from the Midwest. We were recent converts, in our first real Ward, and the members lovingly adopted and shepherded us through the newness of being Mormon, Californian and Suburban. As part of this tutelage, we were swept up in a church field trip to see the original traveling production of Saturday’s Warrior. I had never been to a live musical before and the stage and orchestra alone were transporting. Then the play started. In the two years since being baptized, I had listened to every missionary lesson, read every church book I could find and steeped in the grand scope of the Plan of Salvation. Yet, watching it depicted in story and song was like having a vision. A personal glimpse into heaven. Nothing had prepared me for this complete and perfect version of tween theology. My parents bought me the record album and my sisters and I reenacted every scene, sang every song, for hours and days and years. It shaped my view of the world and like many of my peers, I showed up at BYU humming “I take some paper in my hand . . .” and scanning the crowd for my Tod.
Fast forward to a family road trip. My own boys were middle school age. We were wandering around a used book store when I found a CD of Saturday’s Warrior, the original California cast. Over my husband’s incredulity (at eleven years old, he had been transported by the symphony), I announced that “we must buy this.” We were not active at this point and the boys’ Primary education had been spotty. I had to explain everything from the preexistence to zero population. This quasi-religious framework was punctuated by starry-eyed descriptions of Mack and his “bad kids gang” and wise Pam in her wheelchair. They stared at me as I sang every song with eerie exactness, knowing when to breath in time with the actors. They deemed it all quite ridiculous and demanded that we play it nonstop for hours and days and miles. With irony, of course.
Last fall I officiated my sister’s wedding. The whole magical event could not have been more of a departure from our Mormon upbringing. Set in a public space, against the backdrop of the Mount Rainier forest preserve, two brides dressed in deep jewel-tone colors, with a few witnesses and bouquets of orange wild flowers. As we shared our opening thoughts, a reference to Saturday’s Warrior showed up yet again. I reminded them that in spite of their disdain for sentimental nonsense, they had somehow found each other – across three countries, multiple languages, a national conflict, nearly a foot in height and span of age. Coincidence? Destiny? For a split second, we were back on the makeshift stage in our parent’s dining room, at that dreamy moment when we consider what might have happened if Julie’s missionary had been sent to another place or another park.
Adult understanding has barely dimmed my love for the soaring music and goofy story. I apparently fell under the spell too young and at too formative of time in my life. Intellectually, I realize the absurdity and even danger of expecting precognition in how we navigate our lives. Why do some of these songs still resonate, after so much time and space and general disbelief? Then there is that shrug of memory and I feel that same strange empowerment, the perhaps immature but no less motivating sense of purpose, and without thinking I look behind me, half hoping to see glory trailing from my feet.