Stage (f)Right Part 4
Ritchie Jean and the boys just finished the recording. It was time for the tour and the "push" was on. Day after day, another town welcomed Ritchie Jean Baker, but only as a means to see the star attraction, Midnight Darkness.
After the boys were done, they'd slip into the crowd to watch, listen, and learn everything they could from the real pros. Every night the boys were coming one step closer to becoming the main event. That was now the goal. That was now the dream. The applause was there, but as with any drug, there needed to be more to get the same high. By mid-tour, the boys had accomplished their goal.
Record sales had reached an all-time high and the concerts were setting record numbers for attendance. Songs were moving rapidly up the charts and the popularity of the band was growing by leaps and bounds. Along with the new attention given to the band, there was also a growing pressure to keep up. There was always another band ready to move up and take the number one spot.
The boys worked hard to keep their position even though someone was always right behind them. That added pressure was secretly beginning to take its toll on Kevin. Long nights of performing and mornings filled with sound checks and promotional interviews, and of course, the traveling, added much tension that the boys weren't familiar with from the first tour.
As Kevin looked at his life, he saw no reason for anything. Long days and long nights ran together, but ran nowhere. The physical strain was now having its effect as well, which in turn put more strain on the emotional turbulence Kevin was feeling. That dull look in his eyes was appearing more frequently and with more intensity.
Detroit was great! The boys had a particularly good show and decided to go out and celebrate. Detroit had been good to them and they had some time before they had to catch their flight to Chicago. They pulled into a downtown bar minus their body guards. Just once, just once, they wanted to remember how it used to be not to have everyone around them. Dressed incognito, they entered and ordered a few drinks. That was the extent of Ritchie Jean's drug abuse, but it was there that Kevin dropped two blue pills from his pocket. The only one that noticed was Allison.
As Ritchie Jean pulled on his jacket, he felt a crumpled piece of paper in his pocket. He pulled it out and read it. For a moment he thought of Andrea when he saw the religious content of the paper. He wasn't sure how it got there, but as he read the part of the sacrificial death of Jesus and His shed blood, it almost felt as if Andrea was looking over his shoulder. Not mentioning anything to anyone else, he put the paper back into his pocket as they began to ready themselves for the airport.
Once on board and seated, Ritchie Jean looked over at Kevin. Kevin was nearly asleep and Ritchie Jean could tell he wasn't in the mood to talk. Questions kept coming up in Ritchie Jean's mind concerning the love of God, his eternal destiny, and his place in life. Things he hadn't thought about in years were being brought to light again as he remembered all that he had learned about Christ as a teen-ager. He wanted to talk to Kevin about it, but guessed it would have to wait. Kevin was out cold with big "Do Not Disturb" signs on his eyelids. Ritchie Jean decided to get some sleep, too.
Morning had finally arrived in Chicago and it was time to get ready to do a radio interview downtown. Ritchie Jean felt at ease with Kevin and the mutual respect made it easy for Ritchie Jean to share the biggest question of his life with him. As they readied themselves, Ritchie Jean yelled to his roommate over the noise of the hair dryer, "Kevin, what happens when you die?"
"Your heart stops! And I think your brain's stopped. What in the world are you talking about? What happens when you die?"
"No, really Kevin, think about it. Yeah, your heart stops, but then what? If there's a God, then there must be a Heaven and if there's a Heaven, then there must be a Hell. I found this in my jacket last night. Read it. Tell me what you think."
Taking the crumpled tract and looking at it for a split second, Kevin threw it down. "Ritchie Jean, burn it! I'm not reading that stuff. Why in the world are you? When you're dead, you're dead. That's it! Finished! Nothing left! That religion junk will ruin you. I thought you were smarter than that, but Ritchie Jean, if there is a Hell, we'll both be there together. Now, just drop the conversation and get ready."
In Ritchie Jean's heart, he felt that Kevin was afraid of something, but didn't know what. Maybe Kevin really did believe in a Hell. Maybe the light was too bright.
The secret life of Kevin Henry was something that couldn't remain secret forever--and Ritchie Jean was getting too close.
Kevin appeared to be on edge the rest of the day and into their night performance. He didn't play especially well, and his interacting on stage with Ritchie Jean just didn't have the sparkle it usually had. It probably went unnoticed by the crowd, but the rest of the band knew something was wrong. The night couldn't end too soon for any of them.
Jumping out of the limo, Kevin went straight to the hotel with Ritchie Jean following close behind. The door slammed as both went inside room 623.
"What's wrong with you, man? You played like a pile of trash tonight!
It's this thing about Hell, isn't it? You've got a problem about that, but you just can't sweep it under the rug that easy. Let's talk about it!"
"Ritchie Jean, I told you. When you're dead, you're dead! There's nothing more to say. Drop it! Drop it!."
Kevin excused himself and headed for the shower, and those little blue pills.
An upset Ritchie Jean sprawled out on his bed. In his mind he couldn't shake the idea of personal responsibility before a holy God, but then sleep finally came.
It was morning and Ritchie Jean wasn't answering his wake up call. Kevin took the call and proceeded to nudge Ritchie Jean into the real world.
"Wake up, man! They're gonna be coming for us soon. Ritchie Jean, I'm sorry about last night. If we can just not talk about it for the next two weeks--after the tour is over I want to take you some place and tell you some things. It is important to me that you know. Now, get ready. We'll be late."
Ritchie Jean struggled to focus, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He got up, showered quickly, and changed. Another day had begun--one just like yesterday, one that in all probability would be just like tomorrow. The limo was there to take them to the concert hall. Another sound check and they'd be ready for their second performance in Chicago. After that, it would be on to another town and another town and on and on until the tour was over.
The band had built a solid reputation for itself after two tours. The second tour, especially, had helped to strengthen their position as one of the hottest acts in America. The boys were looking forward to some time off before the next recording. Kevin and Ritchie Jean were planning to spend some time together as Kevin had promised.
Ritchie Jean and Kevin spent the first half of their time off in Cherry Hill. Kevin grew up there and it was there that he met Allison. He knew the area well, and it provided a relaxing atmosphere for him to pour his heart out to Ritchie Jean.
Unlike Ritchie Jean, Kevin had a live-in father. His dad wasn't perfect, but he was the only dad Kevin knew. He was generally interested in his son's music career and often would cross the river to see his son play in the Philadelphia clubs.
His mother was supportive, as well. Both parents took their responsibility seriously and wanted the best for their son. Recognizing his natural talent as a musician, they did whatever it took to help him meet his goals. In so many ways, their love and support helped to sustain Kevin--and Kevin knew it.
One thing that none of them had counted on was the rock-n-roll lifestyle of drugs. If a rock-n-roll musician isn't involved with drugs before he first picks up his instrument, he no doubt will be by the time he last puts it down. Kevin was no exception.
Ritchie Jean was. Ritchie Jean's constant drive was for the perfection of the music and the attainment of worldwide fame; and although he wasn't hooked on drugs, he was addicted to his obsession for success. Still, it was hard for him to identify with the drug crowd. To be sure, he was around it every day. He knew what it was about, but he felt it was too much of a threat to his personal and addictive goals to have anything to do with the drug culture. So far, Ritchie Jean had kept himself clean of drugs--definitely one of a kind in the rock-n-roll world.
Ritchie Jean and Kevin had developed a brother-like relationship. A tremendous amount of respect passed between the two boys. Robbie and Craig could always be counted on and there was mutual respect and admiration between them, too, but it was different with Kevin and Ritchie Jean. They could read each other like a book. There were, however, secrets that Kevin was keeping--serects that went much deeper than even Kevin himself knew.
It was good to get away to Cherry Hill. There was time to reflect on the past tour and time to gaze ahead to the next one. There was time for Kevin to pour out his heart to Ritchie Jean. There was time. . .
A chill in the night wind kept their steps alive as the two boys walked down the street to Kevin's home. Kevin never believed in the material things of life. His life was lived as normally as possible under the glass house of a professional rock-n-roller. He used no body guards, didn't live in some secluded mansion, and was just another dude while he was away from the band.
Kevin unlocked the door and Ritchie Jean slouched down on the couch. Kevin went to get them an iced tea, and himself one of those little blue pills.
While Ritchie Jean was waiting, he noticed something on the floor over by the door. He went to pick it up and when he reached for it, he saw that it was another one of those religious papers. He wanted to read it before Kevin got back, so he quickly sat down on the couch and began to read.
"Religion teaches us what we must do to reach God. Only Christianity teaches us what God has done to reach us. All the hundreds of religions, sects and cults teach us that in some way we must earn favor with God. Christianity teaches us that we can not earn favor with God outside of accepting the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to obtain salvation. It is everything that Christ did that gives give us salvation."
"Kevin, this was over by the door. You said we could talk about this Hell thing when we were off tour. Let's talk."
"Not tonight. I'm too tired. I'm going to bed. We'll talk about it in the morning--promise!"
Kevin staggered off to bed and to his world of little blue pills.
Morning came and Ritchie Jean already had breakfast going when Kevin came to the kitchen. Although Kevin was still a little groggy, he knew it wouldn't be long until he was on an uphill swing again. Drugs could do anything he wanted them to do.
"Want some coffee, Kev?"
"Yeah. You know, If there was a Hell, I sure wouldn't want to go there. I'm glad it doesn't exist." It was strange that Kevin was bringing up the topic.
"Kevin, there has to be more to life than this life. What makes you so sure there isn't a Hell? Another one of those papers was under the door last night. Maybe God's trying to tell us something."
"You wanna know why I know there's no Hell? I'll tell ya! I was playing over at the Cosmos Lounge. My dad came around quite a bit to listen to us. I didn't know anything had happened until after the second set. They came and got me. A couple of guys beat my dad senseless with a baseball bat. I don't know why.
"I have never missed a gig before that and I haven't since then, but I left after the second set to go to the hospital to be with my dad. I was there when he died.
"My dad was one of the best men that ever lived. He wouldn't hurt anyone. He did everything he could for Mom and me and my brother. If there was a Hell, he didn't belong there.
"He was in a coma when I got to the hospital. I sat there and cried and cried, tried to talk to him, tried to get some response. There was nothing. Toward the end I noticed he kept licking his lips. All the moisture seemed to be gone from him, and then with a sudden jerk, he sat up and began to scream, `The fire, it's got me! It's got me!'
"I don't know what that was about, but I do know this. If there is a God at all, he wouldn't be any kind of God to send my dad to Hell--not my dad!"
"Yeah, but Kev, that's exactly the point. If there's a God, then he has to be perfect--or else he wouldn't be God. If He was just like us, he couldn't be God. If there's a God, He's holy. That's what makes him God.
"According to that paper that was under the door, all religions teach us how we must come to God, how we must earn his approval, how we must pay. So which religion is right? Chistianity teaches that there's nothing we can do to earn favor with God. It's all what Christ did for us by sacrificing His perfect body and blood for our sinful bodies and blood. There's nothing we can do because we've all sinned, and Kev, I hate to say it, but that includes your dad, too. Kevin, as good as your dad was, if Christianity is real, then it's possible that you dad was experiencing the fire.
"And Kev, just one more thing. I don't know if this spiritual stuff is real or not, but if it is, if there is a Hell and if there's a way to escape it, don't you really want to know?"
"No! I'm through with this stuff. There isn't a Hell. I'm not going there. I'm not worried about it. We're done talking about it. Okay . . . Ritchie Jean, let's head up to your place tomorrow. I need to get away for awhile."
Central Pennsylvania was beautiful, as usual, and it offered some diversity for the boys' time away from the band. It was a long trip, but they finally arrived for the last few days of their free time. Not much was said on the way to State College, but Ritchie Jean knew something was bothering Kevin. He just wasn't sure how to dig to get the information out of Kevin.
Spending a restless night at Ritchie Jean's, Kevin awoke in the morning with an empty feeling that he had felt many times before. He was tired of playing the ups and downs of the drug game. The high seemed to be great while it lasted, but coming down, more often than not, was close to unbearable.
Day after day Kevin looked at his life as useless. Any sense of purpose he might have had, gave way under the weight of drug addiction. The drugs robbed him of his self-respect and self-worth. Realizing Kevin wasn't in the best of moods Ritchie Jean looked for a way to lift his drowning spirit.
"Let's go over to the ball field, Kev. I'll hit you some fly balls. We'll both feel better."
The ball field was a place where Ritchie Jean and Kevin relaxed often. Surrounded on all sides by embankments, the field was completely protected from wind currents at the top--an outfielder's dream. The boys headed down Woodsdale Drive and turned right at the three way stop. Woodsdale ran perpendicular to Parksight Boulevard which ran parallel to the third base side of the diamond. From there, it was another left, descending one hundred feet down a dusty road to the parking area and the field.
From leftfield Kevin could see the cars driving down the Boulevard. He could see the red Corvette turning down the old, dusty road. Kevin wasn't in the mood for competition. He just wanted to relax and catch a few flies without interruption, especially from Larry Gross.
Kevin knew the Corvette. So did Ritchie Jean. It was Larry Gross, one of Ritchie Jean's old drummers. Larry always seemed to tag along with Ritchie Jean whenever he could. Every time Ritchie Jean would come home on his breaks from the band, it seemed Larry always found out and would be right where he wasn't wanted. Still Ritchie Jean and Kevin tried to be polite. Another fifteen minutes or so of catching fly balls and the boys were ready to climb to the top of the dusty road, hit the Boulevard, and head for home.
It was about seven-thirty that night when Ritchie Jean picked up the ringing phone.
"Hey Ritchie Jean, it's me, Larry. Look, I have something really important to show you and Kevin. That's all I can say now. Can you meet me at the ball field tomorrow at 4:15 sharp?"
"Larry, what's this about? I need more information than that. There's a dozen things I have to take care of tomorrow and if you want us to come over, we need to know why. Is that too much to ask?"
"Probably not, but I can't tell you. Just meet me at the ball field tomorrow at 4:15. You'll understand everything then, Okay?"
"Yeah, Larry . . . We'll be there."