Random thoughts based on a magazine article. I was browsing through the new issue of “Mojo” at the Barnes and Noble. The cover story concerns Syd Barrett, who helped found Pink Floyd (and named the group), became its songwriter and driving creative force, then became increasingly erratic, drug-dependent, and uncooperative until the band fired him. He released two solo albums, produced by Floyd members, then he left the music scene entirely--still in his mid-20s.
Barrett has long been a legendary, mysterious figure. His impact and influence was tremendous, not just upon the Floyd but other musicians as well. But was he schizophrenic? Autistic? Was he permanently brain damaged from his drug taking? Pink Floyd members and associates have long felt they did not do enough to help him, but from the accounts, he didn’t seem to want help and, apparently, lived most of his life in contented semi-anonymity in Cambridge. He died at the age of 60 in 2006.
The genius who makes a tremendous impact but drops out of sight is certainly a fascinating “trope.” J.D. Salinger, who died recently, is another example. What had he been doing since 1965, the year of his last publication? Did he leave publishable works behind? I enjoyed the movie “Finding Forrester” which, although it had its contrived and predictable aspects, was obviously inspired by Salinger (and also Harper Lee, who published one amazing book and then, believing she couldn’t top it, published no more novels).
Then there is the intriguing figure of Blind Blake, the influential blues artist whose guitar-playing style was widely admired and whose records sold well. But no one knows what happened to him after his last recording sessions in 1932. Theories about where and when he may have died, but nothing has been verified. At the time, he might have become a wonderfully mysterious case like Barrett. (Another interesting trope--the artist who not only withdraws but fakes his own death, dramatized in the movie Eddie and the Cruisers--comes to mind, although that trope probably doesn’t apply to Blake.)
I couldn’t resist thinking about Jesus within this whole context, because Jesus inverts the trope: his tantalizingly mysterious, missing years were before his public life rather than afterward. Was he studying Torah while working at the carpenter shop? Did he travel to the east to meet with the great sages, or south to Jerusalem to the Temple scholars, or still farther south to the Dead Sea and the Essene community? What was his thought process as he embarked on his ministry?
Non-canonical accounts of Jesus’ early years do exist, but I wonder if the paucity of information about Jesus’ early years has a theological, if not historical explanation: all that we have been given to know (canonically) about Jesus is directed toward our salvation.
Now, of course, Jesus is withdrawn from us physically (to allude to an essay by the theologian Eberhard Juengel, “The Effectiveness of Christ Withdrawn”). But that is a wonderful thing, not a disappointment! Absent physically, he is closer to us than ever. In fact, as he promises in John’s gospel, he has to leave his disciples physically in order that they may receive the Holy Spirit and thus know him more intimately and reliably than ever before.
Jesus may certainly seem missing to us during times of trouble or faith-struggle, but he is nevertheless very close by. His eventual second coming will complete that which has already accomplished: an amazing salvation.