Gretchen: The Real Story
As King’s X took their next step on the path of redefining music, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska brought clearly into view the height of the musical mountain they were determined to climb. The first time I heard Gretchen I realized THIS is what music is supposed to be: passionate, heavy, melodic and progressive without ever losing the groove.
There was another gem in addition to the music: the story of Gretchen herself. Even years later I would occasionally pull out the liner notes and attempt to read the tale. Unfortunately, the format caused everything to blend together and proved a bit difficult to follow. Not unlike Gretchen. Who can complain? How many bands put an entire story inside their album notes, especially one about a strange girl who travels through stranger lands?
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but feel now is the proper time. Even if you have a physical copy of GGtN, or take the time to find the liner notes online, it’s still a difficult landscape to traverse. So, I went through and reformatted the story into a more conventional document. I feel Gretchen’s journey deserves to be cemented in the King’s X lexicon and hope you’ll take a minute to (re)read the story.
Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
By Jerry Gaskill
Seven years ago (not counting today), a small girl with big ideas set forth to a land, somewhere known only to her dreams. Among the tall trees and whispering breeze, in which she sees faint depictions of an inner pointillist forming detailed landscapes, fully dimensional, in various shades of grey (with hints of invading color at a distance), and her boldly hovering, as a spirit would do, above the scenery yet mysteriously also in the midst (an integral part of the picture itself), she hopped merrily along, with a suitcase of memories, a lunchbox of assorted fruits and candy and a knapsack of her writings, her music, and all that is important to her filled to the very top; with an occasional piece of importance making its way out and onto the ground.
A few steps ahead, she noticed (hiding timidly in front of an old oak tree: a grandfather oak if you will) a middle-aged lady wearing a faded purple dress with a small floral print and torn at the shoulder. Her face looked as if she’d been crying then wiped her eyes with dirty hands.
Upon the girl’s acknowledgement, the lady reached into her purse for a smile, found only one that quivered, looked up and shyly said, “Good luck.” Although knowing she’d had none herself, she wished it upon others. She still had hope.
The girl spoke kindly but with a slight tinge of disgust to the lady. “Have you traveled this road before?”
“Oh, no,” answered the lady, “I’ve never been encouraged to start. I can’t see much past myself. But I greatly admire your strength and courage to have come from somewhere else to here and still see beyond this point and have no desire to stay, but to continue on.”
“But I’m scared too. I have no idea what truly awaits me. I only have hope and I believe in that hope.”
“The key, though, is that your fear is not king. But this fear or weakness as you may see it becomes your strength, because you see into the greater and possibly even the greatest and this puts your fear to work in the factory of life to produce your good. In a sense, it becomes your slave. I would rejoice if I were you.”
Not knowing exactly how to respond to such a discreet analysis of her journey, she just graciously and simply replied, “Well, thank you.”
“Oh no no,” said the lady excitedly. “Thank you. You’re the one with the glimmer in your eye.”
So, slightly confused and very startled at the apparent reality of the situation, she slowly took two steps backwards, her eyes still gazing intently at the lady, turned cautiously to continue, then immediately found herself smack dab in the middle of a corner.
Her head involuntarily dropped to the ground with a sigh. As her eyes began to focus on the ground, she noticed a piece of paper with writing on it. It looked familiar, yet she knew it was not quite hers. She picked it up and started to read. It said:
Dear Broken One,
I have no defense at this time, only my empty words of redundant selfishness and vagary. I could struggle to the top of any mountaintop, stand tall, fling my arms wide open and shout all the mysteries of my heart known to me at the time, and still, I’d end up walking the path of the redundant vague one. The way I see things, there’s just too much to see not to be vague or redundant for that matter. I find, though, in light of all that exists, that my measly penetration into the unspeakable vastness of all there is matters very little if at all to the penetration into all that exists of those who have glued their eyes so steadily upon my reaction to this maze of clarity, pouring out from within, encircling my existence as far as my eye can see, then returning with a new plan and a reconstructed maze of the same origin, leading to the same place. Maybe I’m misunderstanding. Or maybe I’m missing the simplicity of simply not being me. Sometimes I stare because that’s where all that I see is.
So, you think you’ve ridden the clouds I have; or heard the crystal music coming from nowhere; or watched skeletons laugh while dissecting your curiosity? Maybe you have. Maybe you haven’t. You see, I’m a victim of self-imposed knowledge. I’d fallen prey to the wondrous keeper of the keys out of the garden of Eden and quite a few of his cohorts who dipped seeds of truth into vats of contaminated pride then handed them back to me with a greeting card that said ‘Good Luck.’ Although I’ve been rescued, my backyard still expands enough to have those chained offenders lurking eagerly to recompense evil for good.
Now I don’t pretend to know more than the next guy, or maybe I do pretend, but I know better. I only know what I know. And sometimes it’s hard to see past what I know. But you know, down the road a bit there’s always a major breakthrough waiting – for you know who – me. So, let’s get on with it and smile our way through the madness. Ok?
After reading this, she turned, looked up straight ahead into what was an entirely new land. Instead of the forest of towering, slightly unfamiliar redwoods for miles on end, a clear-cut path and that curious, lone “grandfather oak,” she now stood upon a vast sea of sand (that greyish white kind you’ll find on the beaches of the North Atlantic) that stretched for miles incalculable. At the sight of this, on top of what she’d just read, she fell on her knees, pounded the sand then screamed at the top of her lungs.
“DO I HAVE TO TAKE IN ALL OF THIS JUST TO GET TO NEBRASKA?”
Now at the very second she had finished this outburst, she noticed a small gentle type of bird flying smoothly overhead. As it became parallel to where she was kneeling, it let go of a very small piece of paper it had been carrying in its beak. The paper floated effortlessly as if directed by the master of all wind, landed precisely at her knees and stayed there till she was able to pick it up. When finally, she did, it simply and comfortingly read, as though it were smiling at her:
The consolation of this note, mixed with an equally brave sense of fear, brought instant tears to her eyes as she positioned herself limply on the sandy floor about her; contemplating the future in relationship with now and at what intersection does her journey have to do with anything anymore.
After thirty minutes or so another amazing thing began to happen. All around her, the sandy beach began transforming silently into a paradisiacal land of roaming green hills, crystalline lakes filled with dancing fish and an occasional curious deer or rabbit adding its innocence to the scene. Daisies and lilac bushes appeared, dotting the land with their beautiful white and yellows and purples while scenting the air with that gorgeous lilac aroma. The land stretched on perfectly smooth for miles and miles.
Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful surface for me to travel on, thought Gretchen. (By the way, Gretchen is the girl’s name and she comes from a long line of visionaries, explorers, and well, just plain pioneers of all sorts.) So immediately with a fresh burst of energy and all agog, she gathered her things and headed straightway on her journey. After five minutes or so of delightful running and skipping, the thought occurred to her: I no longer have any concrete direction, this being an entirely new land and all.
Then instantaneously, quite like the incident with the bird and the note, she spotted two or three miles ahead what appeared to be a preposterous waterfall. From where she stood (remember she was two or three miles away) it looked as if she was fast approaching the Niagara Falls itself. If ever you’ve been to Niagara Falls, you can imagine the monstrosity of this thing, especially at such a distance. Nightmarish! if not for the beauty of this land she roved. And also, what to fear? She was on dry land and no hint of the land forcing her into it.
Once again, with this thought and her next step, a trickling stream began to form beneath her (apparently from nowhere) growing deeper and more forceful with each step. Soon she was surrounded by nothing but water rising quickly to her neck. Now she was being carried by it. Nothing but water for miles and it was rapidly heading straight for that preposterous beauty of a waterfall. Nightmarish!! Fortunately, there were no rocks of any sort in that water. She was definitely being carried through. No time to think now, only to let go…!
It seemed like hours until she reached what felt to be the sure Cataract of Doom. With eyes closed and all hope of life continuing given up, over the edge she was swept. Upon opening her eyes, she found herself in no better situation than she expected. She was falling swiftly, engulfed by the bluest, white water imaginable.
How in the world did I ever get here? she thought.
Suddenly everything changed again. Rather than falling, she was now caught up in a whirlpool, guiding her where it willed. Unheard-of dialogue, superficialities, wisdom, philosophical discussions, tainted Christianity, Pantheism, Communism, this-ism, that-ism, sexual perversity, truest sexual pleasure, laughter (haunting then soothing), T.V., technology from beginning to end; connecting to what she now perceived to be herself, became the life force of this consuming vortex.
Round and round, she began to fall again; this time a centripetal force her guide, leading her where, she had no thoughts. She knew only too well that she was its slave. Faster and faster, whirling and spinning, headlong into this relentlessly wicked unknown!
With all thoughts gone and surrendered to bondage, to her surprise she stopped dead in her tracks (if we can call them hers), was poured forth as if from a tube, flipping as she flowed to feet first position, alighting into a realm of pitch blackness. With a combination of relief and confused anger, she thought, Now what?
Immediately she heard a knock upon a door. In the midst of this total darkness, her only response was a timid “Where?”
A doorknob of purest, transparent gold slowly began to protrude through the wall of blackness directly in front of her. She reached out to turn it. The mere touch of her skin to the knob caused the warmest sentience of ease, comfort and comradery to shoot through her entire being, inside and out as if to prepare her for whatever lurked beyond that wall.
The wall promptly melted, revealing a simple man clad in soiled work clothes, against a landscape of indescribable beauty and proportion. Imagine all the wonder of a land you can muster. Add your childhood thoughts of splendor. Subtract nothing. Continue that on and on and still you have only maybe touched the verist fringe of all its glory. Gretchen would have fallen dead if not for the magic (the truest magic) of that doorknob.
His eyes blasted forth wisdom. His arms spoke strength forever. His feet could have crushed the very world in which He stood. His chest revealed truth in every direction. His smile lighted the world within and throughout. He stood there grinning; he was a simple man.
After what seemed to have years of learning and unlearning, He spoke. “Where are you headed, my child?”
The words “my child” filled Gretchen with all hope. She wanted nothing more than to run and dance and leap into His arms, and yes, truly be His child forevermore. Now after what seemed to be years again, she caught hold of herself and said, “Nebraska, I think.”
“Oh, don’t think, my child,” He said. “Just be sure.”
“Well, what I meant was I think, or I know, rather, I want to stay here. I feel like I’ve arrived where I’ve always wanted to be plus so much more. When I started for Nebraska, it was the land of my dreams. It was only inside of me then. Now all that’s inside and outside and all direction everywhere is You and this paradise where you stand. Is this Nebraska?”
“To you it is Nebraska. To others it’s Narnia. To others Heaven,” He whispered. “To others Eden. To still others, Truth. And to some it just is. This is the land within, the land of your dreams. But let me explain: you were correct in saying you’ve arrived. But you haven’t quite entered.”
I must note that with each word He spoke, He was forthwith adorned with the vestments of the kingliest King of Kings, while His stature and brilliance ascended far above the highest reaching peak, till nothing was left but Him and nothing else mattered.
Gretchen hurriedly asked, “How do I enter then, please?!”
At once He transformed into an old dilapidated wooden door, with its paint peeling and barely hanging on its hinges.
“Through here,” spoke a voice that rang throughout all eternity and is ringing still for those who can hear.
Gretchen, without hesitation, rushed through the door, leaving all but Him behind. Awaiting her entrance (with all glory and comradery) stood her King, her friend, her Lord and Love of and for all time, with hand outstretched, desiring her hand in what we’d call marriage (excepting no hint of separation, ever).
“Now off we go,” said He. “There’s so much more for you to see.”
So off they flew and walked and ran and talked and skipped happily into volumes of indescribable wonder, becoming more and more familiar with each step, yet astonishingly new on each beam of direction.
Then suddenly Gretchen stopped. She gazed at her Lord as if to say, ‘you sneak, you’ and said, “You brought me here, didn’t You?”
He began to laugh, inspiring all the land to join in the celebration. Then, “Remember the outset of your journey?” He whispered (bringing attentive intermission in all the land about them).
She couldn’t recall. She only knew the now.
He continued, “You started within, with only a dream. Within has no end, only beginning. Whether it’s known or not makes no difference inside. For sight is blindness; strong is weak; power is failure if based on what’s known. Your dream was unseen. Your strength unresolved. Your power unaccounted for. So, from whence did you begin? And through what made you your entrance? Your beginning was your arrival and your entrance was through Me. So, in other words, my child, yes. Any more questions?”
They both smiled; they both laughed. The land relinquished its attentive ear, rejoined the happy jubilation; then off they went, hand in hand to connect with all others’ dreams, to see all heretofore unseen, to know all that can’t be known, to touch what’s never been touched, to taste the sweetness of taste beyond! No turning back, yet leaving nothing behind….