Gregg and Phil have a lot in common. Both men had difficult childhoods. They both found success at an early age. And they both hit rock bottom. Hard. It’s there, splattered all over that rock, where we see the differences between Gregg and Phil.
Phil Robertson grew up poor. But he was the kind of kid that didn’t know that he was poor because his family was so good at living off of the land. Those skills would eventually bring Phil a lot of success. But first Phil would enjoy a different kind of success as the quarterback for Louisiana Tech University. The gridiron left Phil unsatisfied, mainly because it got in the way of his hunting. So he walked away from the game.
When you walk away from something, you’re walking towards something else. In Phil’s case, he wasn’t just walking towards a duck blind. He was running towards a party. And he wasn’t just walking away from the glories that come with being a college quarterback with the potential to make it in the NFL. Phil was also running away from his wife, Kay, and their three kids. In a drunken rage, Phil once told Kay, “I want you to get out and take the three boys with you. I want y’all to leave.”
And so they did.
That’s when Phil hit that rock I was speaking about earlier. Hitting that rock brought Phil face to face with his sin and this time there was nowhere to run. So instead of running, Phil repented of his sins and put his faith in Jesus Christ.
Gregg Allman grew up without a dad. His most significant male influence was his brother Duane. The two fought, like all brothers do, but they were always together. They were together when their mother sent them off to a military boarding school. They were together when they were introduced to music for the first time. And they were together when they formed one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, the Allman Brothers Band.
But they wouldn’t stay together forever. On October 29, 1971, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident. For all practical purposes, Gregg died that day too. Gregg carried on with the Allman Brothers Band but he was lost without his older brother. That was the beginning of Gregg’s long journey towards rock bottom.
Gregg never really knew what it meant to have a family. He tried to find it in his band but that could only go so far. So Gregg looked for it among his legions of female fans.
“I was married and divorced three times by age thirty, and looking back, I think I was trying to find a friend, even if I had to marry one. And that’s how I spent a lot of the early ’70s: chasing that feeling of friendship into marriage… I liked the variety, and they say it’s the spice of life, but after a while that got old… The thing is, you can’t go out there and look for the right one, because all you’ll find is the wrong thing, and it will do nothing but hurt you. I learned that the hard way – a few times.”
With each failed relationship, Gregg grew more and more dependent on the bottle. Or some new drug. His low was when his band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he was too drunk to give any kind of meaningful acceptance speech.
Phil Robertson’s book is called Happy, Happy, Happy. That seems to give a pretty good summary of Phil’s life. Since he put his faith in Christ, things haven’t always been perfect but Phil hasn’t been shaken. When he hit rock bottom, he put his faith in Christ the Solid Rock and built his life there. Building your life on the rock doesn’t protect you from hard times. It just guarantees that the hard times don’t get the final say over you.
“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:25 (ESV)
Gregg Allman’s book is called My Cross to Bear. I finished reading it last week while I was on vacation. It rained almost the entire week. At the end of the week the rain stopped long enough for my family and I to walk down to the beach. At the end of our street, right where the asphalt ends and the sand begins there is a beautiful, three-story house. I’ve walked by that house and admired it for nearly ten years. But this time something was different.
The rain had washed out the road right next to that house. The driveway looked to be next and the rain was showing no signs of stopping. Things weren’t looking too good for that house. As I walked by it, I thought of Gregg Allman. And Jesus.
“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:26-27 (ESV)
Gregg Allman is finally clean. But he still doesn’t know Jesus. His life, despite all of his accomplishments, is built on sinking sand. Some of the most disturbing words I’ve ever read were at the end of Gregg Allman’s book.
“Music is my life’s blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, ‘Nice work, little brother – you did all right.'”
Like the rest of us, Gregg is an approval junkie. He grew up without a father’s affirmation so he sought it from his brother and from scores of women. Now his brother is gone and so are the women.
But the Solid Rock hasn’t given up on him yet.
Gregg Allman and Phil Robertson started their lives in similar ways. I hope, before it’s too late, that they will finish the same way – each as a flawed and scarred man who were rescued by Christ, the Solid Rock. Two men who have the Father’s approval, not because of their success and accomplishments but because of who they are in Christ, the Solid Rock.
“When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”