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Rattlesnakes, Friends, and Stand by Me

On Tuesday night we did a show in Malibu, and I’ve enjoyed doing a bit of hiking up on the Santa Monica mountains while here. Last time we were here with the family over spring break, one of the boys just stopped himself as he stuck his hand in a hand hold where lay a young rattlesnake. I’d recently heard tale of two friends who had been hiking in such environs but many decades ago; one had been bitten right in the midst of his right butt cheek, and problematic symptoms began to manifest quickly. His friend said he would run into the village and get the doctor, while he should sit still and not move about much. Thus the friend ran quickly, found the doctor, who was unfortunately indisposed—due to the fact that one of the women in the village was in the midst of childbirth—and he could not leave. He gave directions though: go back quickly to your friend, take your pocket knife, cut an X-shaped incision over the bite, and suck out the venom, and tend to your friend until I can get there.

The friend hurried back, finding his snake-bitten friend now in rather dire straits, who asked immediately, “What did the doctor say?” Out of breath, he replied hesitantly, “The doctor said, he said that you are going to die.”

It is an immense gift to have those who will in fact stand by us when we are snake-bitten, and we were reminded this week of the artistic power of such fidelity, with the passing of Ben E. King, who famously sang the pop song “Stand By Me.” Less known is the beautiful old hymn by the same title by the pastor Charles Tindley, famed African-American Methodist pastor and hymn-writer. Tindley’s “Stand By Me” served as the fore-runner to the pop song. We performed the old hymn on our most recent show in Nashville. So, in honor of good friends, and in honor of the passing of Ben E. King, we share with you that performance here.

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