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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

The Fixx (and How to Get it): Part II

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Part II: A Case Study of Witness Youth

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The Fixx / JW Teen Shenanigans

“In their music, popular groups are putting across fornication and drugs as a way of life. Yes, their music conveys their life-style. ‘I wanna see what you’re like in bed’ and ‘She’s hot, she’s sexy,’ are lyrics from one recent album. One famous singer expresses his point of view right on the album cover, in saying: ‘I can’t see anything wrong with sex between consenting anybodies. . . . I don’t believe in overly moralistic philosophies.’ What possible meeting of the minds can there be between true Christians and the attitudes manifested in such lyrics and philosophy? Should Christ’s followers be identifying with this ‘alienated thinking’?”
“Modern Trends in Music—Can They Sway You?”
“Watchtower” magazine, 1/15/83

First, you have to understand that I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Witness kids have a rough time, starting with the simple fact that you don’t celebrate any of the normal holidays. You are the only person in your home room not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You are not allowed to go to school dances, or participate on any sports teams, or go on dates, or listen to hip-hop music (or grunge, or whatever other type of music is currently on the Witness radar), and when in Canada, you have to check the ingredients of pepperoni to make sure it doesn’t contain any blood products.

But all of these minor inconveniences are hardly worth mentioning in comparison to the ultimate arena for Witness youth humiliation: Being required to preach door-to-door in your own neighborhood. If you can, try to picture yourself back in high school for a moment. There’s this girl (or boy) that you’re totally crushed out on. You’re trying to get up the nerve to talk to her; just thinking about it makes your ears hot. Now imagine that, early on a Saturday morning, in your squarest clothes, with your dad at your side, you have to knock on that girl’s door and try to place a Watchtower magazine. Horrifying.

Life as a Witness teen is consumed by a search for loopholes which might allow you to behave like a “normal” teen. Of course, loopholes cannot always be found, and teenagers (in my experience) generally behave like teenagers regardless of the consequences, so you risk facing the Back Room Inquisition, sitting across a cheap folding table from three congregation Elders wielding Bibles, official Witness literature, and expressions ranging from pained disappointment to barely-concealed eager sadism. You could sit for hours back there, as they take turns drawing your attention to every remotely related scripture and Watchtower article that point up the gross sinfulness of whatever it is they think you did, even if this time you didn’t actually do anything. They will ask you questions like: “How many times a day, on average, do you self-stimulate your genitals to the point of ejaculation?” or “How do you think Jehovah feels when he looks down from heaven and sees you getting drunk and engaging in ‘heavy petting’ with your cousin? Do you think he’s pleased with you?”

Some of these questions are rhetorical.

If you’re lucky, you might get away with a “private” reprimand, although everybody saw you go into the back room, so they know something’s up. If you’re not so lucky, the Elders might decide to announce publicly at the next meeting that you have been reproved, though they (usually) won’t say why, which leads to wild speculation (“I heard that he sniffs paint thinner and appears in Japanese bukkake films…” “Well, I heard that he shot a man in Reno JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE…”). Then some of your friends might decide to “mark” (or “half-heartedly shun”) you for a while, just to hammer the lesson home. The Elders might also take away your “congregation privileges,” which basically means that you don’t get to handle the microphones during meetings at the Kingdom Hall, which isn’t so bad because that’s a boring job, except everyone notices that you are no longer handling the microphones, and wonders why… The system is complicated and unpredictable; I was once counseled at length by the Elders, and subsequently “marked” by several congregation members, for wearing red pants to school.

No, I am not making this up.

Of course, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s real interesting, Jason, but… what does any of this have to do with The Fixx, the most sophisticated new-wave art-rock band of the mid-to-late-80’s?” which is an excellent question. If you’ll just stick around after the lecture, there will be a Q-and-A session, and I encourage you to bring it up at that time. Thanks.

Pamela, one of our older friends, was house-sitting for some other Witnesses while they were serving as missionaries in Montana. One night, we all wound up at this house with Pamela, and it kinda accidentally turned into what you might call a party.

Have you ever read about those weird fires they sometimes have at lumber mills, where a pile of sawdust will smolder for months on end, then suddenly burst into flame? This party happened just like that. After a long summer spent proselytizing and studying the Bible, all of the local Witness youth found themselves at the same house on the same Saturday night, and a party spontaneously erupted. Perhaps “erupted” isn’t the right word; that makes it sound like it was wild and explosive, something like the house party in “Sixteen Candles” where they trash the nice rich guy’s house and Anthony Michael Hall gets imprisoned in a coffee table. See, this was a Witness party, and nothing like that happened. No muscle cars doing doughnuts on the lawn, no jocks shotgunning beers in the kitchen, nothing. At our party, we basically drank some warm Cragmont soda and listened to the radio.

Don’t get me wrong; if there was the slightest opportunity to sneak off into the back room and make out with just about anyone female, I would have taken it, but such an opportunity did not present itself. First of all, some people had brought their younger brothers and sisters, so there were little kids running around, which always kills a make-out mood. Second, there were a couple of goody-two-shoes Elder’s Kids in the group who would’ve ratted us out if any beer-shotgunning had taken place. The biggest roadblock to any tomfoolery, however, was the presence of at least one PIONEER in the group.

Being a Witness is all about “going out in service,” which, if you’re not a Witness, probably means nothing to you, so allow me to break it down: You know when you’ve got a throbbing hangover on Saturday morning from those crap $3 well drinks you had at the bowling alley the night before, and some idiot wakes you up by ringing your doorbell much too insistently, and you stumble to the door thinking it might be an emergency like that time your neighbor told you there was smoke coming out of your garage, but it turns out to be a couple of jackasses in J.C. Penney suits who are eager to speak with you about the “Teen Abortion Epidemic” and what the Bible has to say on the subject, and you tell them to get the hell out of your yard or you’re going to call the cops? Those guys on your doorstep are probably Witnesses, and they are “out in service.”

Now, your average Witness skates by with as little “service” time as possible, for obvious reasons. If you work full-time, you can probably put in eight hours a month, and nobody will ask any questions. (Here’s a tip: On your way to the service meeting, stop at the gas station and try to place a Watchtower with the clerk. That way, you can start counting your time a half hour earlier!) But then there are the freaks: Witnesses who feel compelled to put in much, much more than your paltry offering of eight hours per month. These Witnesses are called “Pioneers.” In Biblical times, these would have been the Israelites offering up 20 fatted calves on the altar when everyone else was bringing in a bundle of carrots. These folks sign a document agreeing to put in at least 90 hours every month (“Regular Pioneer”) or, if they’re slightly less godly, 60 hours per month (“Auxiliary Pioneer”). Most Pioneers are women (make of that what you will), and it’s an open secret among young Witness men that signing on the Pioneer dotted line is an excellent way to get with the ladies. Many years after this party, I “Auxiliary-Pioneered” for a while, in another effort to convince my wife not to divorce me. It was just as successful as playing that Teenage Fanclub song for her, e.g. we are no longer married.

As I was saying, there was at least one Pioneer Sister (Like Quakers, Witnesses call each other “Brother” and “Sister”) at this little gathering, which further ensured that no hanky-panky – or any actual “fun” – would be taking place. We sat around drinking our pop and listening to the top 40 station, and that was about it, until a TicketMaster ad came on the radio, advertising the Fixx concert that would take place the following week. Ignoring Witness Party Rule #1 (“Keep your pie-hole shut around Elder’s Kids and Pioneer Sisters”), I made the first in a series of fatal errors.

“Hey, cool, I’m going to that concert,” I observed from the couch, casually sipping my grape soda.

The Pioneer Sister turned to me, an expression of incredulous horror on her face. “You’re going to a ROCK CONCERT put on by a group calling themselves ‘THE FIX’?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“Jason,” she said with parental concern in her voice, turning her chair to confront me directly, “don’t you know that ‘the fix’ is drug talk? Why would you want to be entertained by a group promoting drug use?”

“Oh, no,” I laughed, “you misunderstood. Not ‘the fix.’ This is ‘The Fixx’ – with TWO x’s.” I felt certain that disaster had been averted.

“Well, of COURSE they added a second x to the name, to obscure its meaning! If it was spelled with one x, radio stations wouldn’t be allowed to play their music. That doesn’t change the fact that you and I know ‘the fix’ means drugs. When they announce their songs on the radio, does the DJ say, ‘that was “the Fixx” with TWO x’s’ ? Of course not. So Satan gets to sneak drug messages onto the radio 50 times a day, and by purchasing tickets to their concert, you’re supporting Satan.”

I knew I was in trouble. I had to come up with a response that would curtail further discussion of the subject, a response that would irrefutably expose the logical flaws in her allegations, leaving her speechless in the face of my superior knowledge and debate skills. I mentally evaluated my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, weighed my options for the best strategic move under the circumstances, and then spoke boldly:

“Hey, you guys! Isn’t that ‘Hercules’ movie on TV tonight? Let’s watch that!”

Scoff if you must, but it worked. Everyone gathered around to enjoy Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno retrieve Zeus’ stolen thunderbolts, and – for the rest of the night, at least – nobody pursued the question of my (alleged) love for satanic drug music.

The evening wore on and we sat watching TV, ever-mindful of the killjoys in our midst, careful not to inadvertently touch each other or say anything inappropriate, every boy/girl pair separated by (at least) the thickness of one bound volume of Watchtowers, and then the phone rang and the whole thing went straight to hell.

(Well, maybe “hell” is not the right word, since Witnesses don’t believe in hell, only Hades, the common grave of mankind, but hopefully you take my meaning; after the phone call, things went downhill quickly.)

So: Someone answered the phone, said, “Yeah, she’s here. Becky, it’s your dad!” and handed the receiver to a 13-year-old girl who was sitting on the floor. Becky’s dad made a fortune in real estate or something, and he owned the single most heinous pair of shoes I had ever seen. I was young then; I’ve seen worse since, but not often. The shoes were bright white patent leather, with little white tassels, and he apparently loved them, because he wore those damn shoes with every wide-stitched polyester suit in his closet, whether the suit was lime green or pastel puce or any other color offered in the Sears catalog. He had fleshy lips, bad skin, and his hair always appeared to be coated with some sort of oil-based wood preservative or lacquer. I disliked the man intensely.

Like an old Bob Newhart routine, I only heard half of the ensuing phone conversation, which would have made it comical if our very personal freedom had not been at stake:

“Uh… hi Dad. How did you know I was here? She did? I don’t know, Dad, a bunch of people. What? Well, me, and Jennifer, Pamela, Hugo, Jim… what? Yes, Jason is here. What? DAD! Nothing is going on!”

The TV was instantly muted, and the room fell silent. The eyes and ears of every person in the room were now intently focused on Becky and her phone conversation. I started to feel phantom pangs of guilt, even remorse, as if I had been caught in flagrante delicto in the back bedroom with the Elder’s 13-year-old daughter… even though on this particular occasion, I had done nothing! NOTHING!

It was weird that she mentioned Jim, though, because he wasn’t actually there; we had invited him, but he was working or something.

The phone conversation continued.

“WHAT?? But, DAD! I know, but – Yeah, but – Dad, that was a LONG time ago!”

This was followed by a long pause in the part of the conversation we could hear. I imagined that her father was reading something aloud from the Watchtower, probably that recent issue on “The Shameful Consequences of Un-Chaperoned Parties.” Finally, he apparently finished his lecture, and it was his daughter’s turn to offer a rebuttal.

“Okay, Dad…” she began morosely, tears welling in her eyes. “I’ll tell them. What? I know you love me. Okay.”

She listlessly hung up the phone and turned to us.

“My dad says we all have to leave the house within ten minutes. He’s calling the Elders, and anybody who’s still here is-”

I didn’t hear the rest, because I was already two blocks away, jogging briskly.

Sadly, our troubles were just beginning.

On to Part 3 >>>

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