Lift to Experience
The Call of the Texas RockThere is something about the flat, desolate wastelands south of Dallas along the I-35 strip through the heart of Texas that beckons a man to think upon the end of days, the apocalypse. And either that man is inspired to take up religion or he slips off that edge every single one of us is so close to yet so few are actually aware of.
by Ramus Dahl
I grew up in that seminal state of mind where the lines between religious faith, patriotism, and your own personal identity seem to bleed into the western horizon, where the setting sun casts its dying light over miles of red and black silhouettes of crooked barbed-wire fences, mesquite trees, and the slow, rhythmic sway of the oil rig. While the great state of Texas has a long, haunted history of religious oddities and abnormalities, never was the time so ripe for such phenomenon as the anxiety-ridden months leading up to turn of the twentieth century.
I first heard of Lift to Experience from a friend of mine who worked at CD Warehouse in a Grand Prairie strip mall where I spent the majority of the daylight hours between 1997 and 1998. I remember him mentioning something about "this band out of Denton that was supposedly started by some ranch hand outta the wilderness playing songs about Jesus coming back to Texas... how the USA was the center of Jerusalem... some crazy Christian cult idea with distortion."
Of course, we wanted to dismiss the notion as ridiculous (a knee-jerk reaction of most suspicious minds who remember what happened in Waco in '93) but the thought still had an appeal and was too crazy to just ignore. Our curiosity was baited. In no short time, Lift to Experience and their traumatic live shows started to gain notoriety, and the legends and lore surrounding frontman Josh Pearson all but stirred up a mythology in the collective consciousness of the Texas music scene throughout Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton. The stories I remember hearing--of a religious father gone awry with a west Texas cult, years of isolation on a ranch in the northern plains, angelic visitations, the torments and exorcisms of demons, blood, fire, and the red, white, and blue, the arrival of the New Jerusalem--swelled and bloated to biblical proportions. There was no way, I soon decided, that Lift to Experience could live up to the reputation that had begun to surround them.
Nearly a year went by. The days and months blew past. Connections were lost. And, while the band built their faithfully devoted following in the areas in and around Denton and Dallas/Fort Worth, I headed north to Nebraska for a summer and fell "out of the loop" more or less.
Then, in the fall of 1999, that same friend from CD Warehouse called me out of nowhere to go to a show. I accepted the invitation and found myself standing in a smoky bar in south Dallas (the name of which I can't even recall) with maybe twelve to fifteen other people, at the most. We were supposed to see some act called International Skyline (if I remember right), two guys with a drum machine and a swarm of effects pedals. "Jesus and Mary Chain kind of stuff, you know, sort of … along the lines of a more electric My Bloody Valentine," he told me. Sounded good to me.
I remembering seeing this tall, lanky fella standing in the corner with a few girls, Lone Star bottle in hand, cigarette glowing out from against the shadow of a torn and tattered cowboy hat and the grizzliest pair of muttonchops I'd ever seen. He wore a wool-collared Marlboro Man jacket, worn-out Levis, and boots – with spurs.
I thought, "Who the hell is this guy?" A man of his stature can't go unnoticed anywhere. But when you dress like he was in the state of Texas, you're either living in tragic disillusionment or you've earned the right with your own blood, sweat, and tears to brandish such attire.
The lights eventually went down, and in the darkness three shadows sauntered up on the stage. Through the smoke and the hazy bar light, I saw a Texas flag being draped behind the drum kit, a cow skull carefully set upon the Marshall stack amid the ashtrays and Lone Star beer bottles. The distant, nebulous hum of the bar, the murmurs of drunken chatter from the back tables, chimes of glass bottles, the occasional, muffled nicotine cough were silenced suddenly by a harrowing call:
"This is the story of three Texas boys busy mindin' their own businessWhat ensued was the loudest, most overwhelming musical experience I had up to that point (maybe have ever) seen or heard. The venue exploded into a swarm of echoing electric guitar drones sustained by pounding bass lines and a driving collision of snares and cymbals. I went numb. Standing in the middle of that barroom floor, I had no faculties to handle or cope with the steam-engine force of the music, much less the eschatological message being delivered.
when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying:
‘When the Winston Churchill's start firin' their Winston rifles in the sky from the Lone Star State,
drinkin' their Lone Star beer and smoking their Winston cigarettes,
You know the time is drawin' nigh when the sun shall be lifted on high.'
We told them that didn't sound very Sunday-go-ta-meetin'.
‘What do you expect?' they said
‘When God calls the crippled, deaf, and blind to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land.'
‘The children of Israel?' we asked
‘Don't you boys know nothin'? - The USA's the center of Jerusalem.'
I hear the train a-comin'!"
The tall stranger in the cowboy hat was in fact the same mythical figure I'd heard of only in the legends and rumors after shows or during after-hours hanging out at the record stores. This tall-tale of a band, Josh Pearson at the lead, Josh "The Bear" Browning on bass, and Andy "The Boy" Young on drums, were now standing in this dank little dive calling down all the angels in heaven to lead us back to the Promised Land "with gun in hand" where "the sheep shall flock to the call of the mighty Texas rock." Pearson's voice sang with the same blood-sweat urgency of a Pentecostal preacher calling a congregation of damned sinners to repentance. He delivered the words with a double-edged authority that pierced through the alcoholic fog and barroom dross. I tried to maintain some angle of objectivity toward the band. But, whether from the apocalyptic content of their lyrics or the deafening volume of the show, I couldn't help but ask myself: "Is this real?!"
From my perspective, the power of a Lift to Experience show was that you would find yourself driving home afterwards entertaining the questions, "What if it's true? What if the plains of Texas really are the battlegrounds of Armageddon? The site of the Second Coming? The New Jerusalem?" (Despite the better sense of your reluctance and healthy fear of religious fanaticism.)
I'd be a liar if I said I haven't been susceptible once or twice to a so-called religious experience, but the extent of my skepticism toward such religiosity far exceeds my willingness to accept its authenticity. But as testament to how great Lift to Experience was (their only album, the two-disc Texas/Jerusalem Crossroads [released on Bella Union Records], I'd argue, ranks among the best concept albums,) the true power of their legacy can be measured only by the depth of their conviction in the message and the art of their live performance.
Lift to Experience broke up in 2003 after tragedy and perhaps the unbearable weight of their aspirations became far too much for the band to carry any further. Over the years, I've heard and read about many theories regarding the band's demise. One tale I heard two or three years ago claimed Pearson had retreated back to the desert again "to wrestle with the demons." A friend of mine who was involved in the Saddle Creek music scene out in Omaha recounted how the drummer, Andy Young, allegedly received a box in the mail with no return address. Inside the box was a boot and note that read simply, "You got the boot. You're outta the band."
Most recently, however, according to Bella Union's website, Josh Pearson has reemerged in the United Kingdom and has been performing solo acts throughout western Europe. His only release (to my knowledge) has been a haunting acoustic cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," was featured on an EP split with Dirty Three.
I've been told that Browning resides somewhere in the Dallas area, and I have heard nothing about the whereabouts of Andy Young.
Lift to Experience is in many ways just another band on the list of rock and roll tragedies that perhaps are better left to the mystery of what was and could have been. To those of us who were fortunate enough to experience them live, the legacy of Lift to Experience is better left to the myth that surrounded them, as reality and "true" facts tend to diminish or even discredit many great artists and their work.
Only shadows and scattered bones of the Dallas that I remember growing up in are left hidden in between and under the housing developments, strip malls, thruways, and condos that have all but swallowed the old haunts and hangouts of my youth. And yet, against the dark prospects of the times, I can still aim my headlights south down I-35 from Dallas and drive on in the confidence that:
"Under the X in Texas is where you'll find me, it's where I'll be,
Singing out the songs, warnin' the world of the perils to come.
With a cloud by day and a cloud by night.
Forced out of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.'
And one by one the states will know as they crumble like Jericho, from Canada to
Mexico, that Texas is the rock to lift you up when the words collide,
With the angels to guard and the angels to guide, upon this truth you can rely.
So take two steps toward Texas tonight."
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