By Charles Perry • firstname.lastname@example.org
The chorus came first.
That was Alan Parks’ style, the same way he’d written dozens of Christian songs that he’d performed for audiences around the world.
But this time, the mood was different. It was Christmas Day 2005 — the first Christmas he’d spent without his wife, Carol, and his father.
That year, Parks had lost his best male and female friends exactly 24 days apart. His father died suddenly, unexpectedly. Carol Parks had slowly succumbed to cancer.
Parks spent that Christmas at a lakefront timeshare home in Orlando, Fla.
When he awoke in the morning, his first thought was about them, those he had lost, the ones who weren’t there to celebrate with him.
“I just started sobbing,” he said. “It was depression so bad that it was almost like someone had poured concrete over me in the bed and it had hardened overnight. I couldn’t even move. It was awful. It lasted for about an hour.”
When he finally got up, he picked up his Takamine guitar and started plucking the strings.
“It’s almost like my fingers played the melody themselves,” he said. “It was surreal.”
He wrote the chorus in eight minutes. Within an hour, the verses were done.
That song, “Some Things,” appeared on Parks’ 2006 album “I Dream of Heaven.”
“Of all of the songs through all of the years, I think it’s my favorite one,” he said.
This is a story about that song, those who inspired it and the reason Parks plans to play it again.
Alan Parks grew up in a house with no television.
Music was his mother’s love — she could play the piano and sing — and she shared that passion with both of her sons.
Parks’ older brother, Lindsay, became an accomplished pianist. Alan Parks, however, stopped taking piano lessons after six months. He wanted to play his own music, not the stuff written in his lesson book. His parents finally realized the expense wasn’t worth the return.
Although he couldn’t — and still can’t — read music, Parks did learn to play the piano. And when he received a Harmony acoustic guitar at age 12, he taught himself to play.
He can’t really explain how he figured out how to play so many instruments. But by some combination of raw ability and trial and error, he’s played 17 of them on recording sessions.
“[I] just fiddle around until something sounds good, then try to remember what it was,” he said. “There a lot of musicians that are like that. It’s a talent, I guess, that God gives and there’s no other real explanation for it.”
At age 15, Parks performed his first concert with his brother.
There was a Christian radio station near his family’s Pennsylvania home and the station owner often brought in big Nashville artists to play summer concerts. Local acts typically got the opening slots, and Parks’ mother called the station to recommend her sons.
She told the station owner that her boys could sing better than some of the folks he was bringing in, so he asked her to send in a demo tape.
That four-song tape got them a gig at Waldheim Park in Allentown, Pa. on Aug. 15, 1968.
The Parks brothers sang in front of 1,500 people. They made $50 and earned three other bookings.
Having a hit
As they grew older, the Parks brothers began pursuing different career paths.
Lindsay Parks married and went to medical school. He still sang with his brother, and they formed a trio with Lindsay’s wife. But with Lindsay’s school schedule and his two young children, he just didn’t have the time to devote to music.
So Alan Parks transitioned into solo work. As he made the switch, his father pressed him to record an album of old worship hymns.
“I kept telling my Dad, ‘Old hymns were written for old people by old people,’” he said. “That’s honestly what I told him. And one night, we were sitting in a den sharing a newspaper and he started on me again. He said, ‘I have a question for you: “Who has the funds to buy albums? Your friends or mine? And I didn’t really have an answer for him.”
Parks’ father stressed that there was a need for a young person to sing the Christian songs the older generation had listened to.
“Then he spoke the magic language that all teenagers love to hear,” Parks said. “He said, ‘If I pay for project, will you record it?’ And I did.”
The album was called “Hymns I grew up with,” and one song on it, “My Redeemer,” launched Alan Parks’ career.
The tune was a hit with Christian music fans, and it soared to No. 1 on the Singing News chart, Southern gospel’s version of Billboard 100.
“If you’re really, really lucky,” he said, “that’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of song.”
The success of the song led to a tour with half-dozen musicians, a bus and a driver.
The year after the album was released, Parks spent 305 days on the road singing.
Peaks and valleys
In many ways, Parks lived a dream life.
He married and had three children. And other than a five-year stint as a financial consultant, he made his living playing music.
He traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. He developed a following in the U.K.
To date, he has performed in 58 countries and recorded 16 albums. He has a handful of international Christian hits and his albums have been sold in 191 countries.
In 1989, he started speaking at churches in addition to performing. After so many years of exclusively playing music, he embraced his new role as a Bible teacher.
He moved his family to the Surfside Beach area in 1997. Carol Parks, an interior decorator, put her signature on their Prestwick home. He had his own music room there.
The first tragedy struck in 2004. That’s when Parks’ mother died. A week after her death, he visited his father in a Pittsburgh area nursing home.
His Dad said he needed to see him, needed to ask him some things. From a reclining chair, Alan Parks’ father spent four and a half hours asking questions his son couldn’t answer.
What does Mom look like now?
Will she ever think of me again?
The Bible doesn’t explain these things. Parks gave the best answers he could.
“Right now, do you understand that she’s 100 percent focused on Jesus?” he asked.
The following year, Parks found himself asking the same questions in an Orlando timeshare property. That’s when he put them to music for “Some Things.”
What are they doing now?
I wish I could know, somehow.
What do they see, and what do they talk about?
Do they ever see our tears?
Or, do they even know we’re here?
Later that Christmas Day, when the rest of his family had arrived, Parks played the song for his daughter, Shannon.
“Just watching her reaction,” he said, “I knew someday I had to record it.”
A second chapter
The cover and title of “I Dream of Heaven” is deceptive. On the cover is Parks, smiling with his guitar. The songs are about hope, assurance.
But Parks admits he was in a dark place after his wife died. He didn’t perform for 17 months. He preferred holing up at his Surfside home, a place where people didn’t come up to hug him and share their condolences.
Knowing that he couldn’t be a recluse forever, he joined a website that offered a way for Christians who had lost a spouse to connect with others who had suffered through similar circumstances.
His early experiences weren’t great, so gave up on the site until a single friend asked him to check out three guys who had profiles there. He didn’t want to revisit the site, but he told his friend he’d help her.
Because his account was no longer valid, Parks had to pay $19.95 again and fill out another questionnaire about his interests, personal history, etc. After he signed up that night, he admits he went to bed without evaluating the profiles his friend had asked him to review.
He figured he would get to them in the morning. But the following day, he was surprised to find the site had suggested three profiles for Parks to review. One of them was a woman named Dawna.
Parks was stunned by her profile. A Texas native, she ran her own real estate business in Houston. She’d lost her husband of 25 years to a heart attack.
She’d also suffered through other tragedies. Her brother had been brutally murdered while she was in high school.
Parks admits he laughed and cried while reading her story.
“She was so upbeat and bright,” he said. “I said, ‘I need to know her secret. I have to talk to this person.’ Because I was in a black hole.”
At first, the two were just friends. He wasn’t leaving the beach and she wasn’t leaving Texas. There was no chance for a relationship.
But they quickly became close confidants. They helped each other cope with loss. They sought advice on navigating a dating world in which they were now strangers.
“We kind of helped each other deal with grief,” Dawna said.
After a few months of online conversations, Parks sent Dawna his cell phone and email information. The next morning, she replied.
“My Momma never raised me to contact boys first,” she told him. “Here’s my number. If you want to talk, you pick up the phone.”
Parks read it and laughed.
For Parks, the turning point in their relationship came during a European tour.
Since he’d started traveling again, the journeys hadn’t been kind. When he was overseas, he was on a different schedule from his children, making staying in touch difficult. The loneliness was powerful.
Before his second trip to the U.K., Dawna told him not to go through the same struggles. She told him to call her, regardless of the time.
When he woke her up that first night, he was surprised how kind she was.
“I thought, I can’t live without this girl. I cannot live without this girl in my life.’”
Dawna also knew she needed him. She booked a trip to Myrtle Beach while he was in Europe.
“I had already told my Mom before I ever met him,” she said. “‘Mom, I’m going to marry this man.’ I knew it.”
When she emailed Parks about her planned trip to the beach, he was nervous.
“That email scared the daylights out of him,” she said.
Parks read the message in the Philadelphia airport. He worried that something would go wrong in person.
What if he didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like him?
They met in August 2007. They were married in Galveston, Texas, on May 25, 2008.
Revisiting a song
Alan and Dawna Parks moved to a 100-year-old cottage near Loris in March.
They have 18 acres, three dogs and a barn. There’s a spring-fed lake and talk of a chicken coop.
Alan has sold most of his sound equipment. Instead of a tour bus, he drives a Volkswagen to shows, most of which are in the Southeast.
“After 6 million miles of travel, half in the air and half on the ground, this is the place I hate leaving,” he said. “We’re just staying closer to home now. I’ll be 60 in the spring.”
Since Alan and Dawna have been together, he hasn’t performed “Some Things” in a concert.
“The Lord has brought wonderful, incredible happiness into my life,” he said. “That song, when that CD came out and went around, it hit a lot of nerves of people who had lost loved ones. And that song became known as my sad song of wonderment about Carol, my first wife, and my Dad. And I’ve never sung it in concert because I don’t want Dawna to feel badly.”
That will change this spring. Not because Alan Parks wants to hurt his wife, but because the song is important to her, too.
Shortly after they married, she lost her father. Her mother died in July. She’s grappled with the same things he did when he penned that song.
“I should sing that song in concert,” he said. “There could be 30 or 50 people there in an audience who need those words because they’ve been thinking the same things. … We’re sort of past the reason why I didn’t sing it.”
When “I Dream of Heaven” was first released, Alan received letters from people who were comforted by his words.
One couple was from Massachusetts. Their son, a Marine, had been killed by an IED in Iraq. He’d come home in pieces. They wondered what he looked like in heaven.
“I just shook and cried when I read that letter,” Alan said.
The most difficult part for Parks to explain is why his questions weren’t answered. Why couldn’t he know what his loved ones were experiencing?
“I realized that God doesn’t owe me the answers,” he said. “What I owed him was to trust and obey. … It took the weight off my shoulders when it got to that point.”
Alan admits that, even with heaven’s hope, loss isn’t easy. There’s always pain, as there should be, because forgetting loved ones isn’t an option.
But Christians, he said, can move forward. The Bible says faith is the foundation, the evidence of things unseen.
Alan Parks has a chorus. Eventually, the verses will come.
Perry is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. He can be reached at 488-7258 or email@example.com.
Check out more of Alan Parks' music and purchase his album “I Dream of Heaven” at alanparks-music.com