A lot of folks know about Tony Alamo because of his activities down in Alma, but I first noticed him when he and his wife Susan had their oddball television series, in which she would rail at the Roman Catholic Church at every opportunity.
If ever a series deserved to be collected on DVD and studied, this is a prime example.
In the late 1970s, I had some personal experience with a group long viewed as a cult, the Word Over the World folks, when the local folks targeted me me for “conversion.” Though it didn’t take, I still got an article out of out of it, and as all know, it’s a poor experience we can’t get an article out of.
Originally printed in Grapevine in 1991, this is also collected in my book, Ozark Mosaic, which makes a damn fine Christmas present for anyone on your list, in in my opinion . . .
Of Tony and Susan Alamo, and my later adventures with the folks from the Word Over the World cult
Jonathan Swift once remarked that “Reason is a light rider,” since it is thrown off so easily. Watching Tony and Susan Alamo’s antics on television some years ago could only reaffirm one’s faith in his opinion.
Tony and Susan were Arkansas’ tag team of religion, back in the 1970s, when I first arrived in Fayetteville. Susan, with bleached blonde hair and many layers of makeup, would fulminate against those trying to corrupt and seduce our youth into the ways of sin.
One of the chief villains in the 20th Century, according to Susan, was the Roman Catholic Church. They secretly owned the “media,” and even many members of the government. They had a secret agenda, one of the goals being to turn America over to the communists. Several years ago, we here in Fayetteville were treated to seeing garbage dumpsters and abandoned store fronts festooned with large posters detailing these charges. It turned out later that some of the Alamo followers may have done this.
Of course, we all know how well the Catholic Church has been treated in Marxist countries. Ah, well, logic never was one of Susan’s strong points.
Screaming over the airwaves though, was. She would conclude each weekly broadcast with a tirade over one thing and another, while Tony, her husband, would come up behind her and sing. Tony, a singer rescued from obscurity by Susan’s love (and their chain of highly successful western clothing stores) would sing very loudly, and poorly, evidently Susan’s cue that the show should end.
Perhaps she would get so carried away that she would lose all track of time.
Eventually, of course, Susan did lose track of time, and was called home by the Lord, which threw the Alamo Foundation, located in Alma, into disarray.
A distraught Tony refused to bury his wife, putting her coffin instead in their living room, where, one day, she would rise from the dead. I think I’ve seen this movie before. Susan returns from the dead, a carnivorous zombie, lurching towards the nearest Catholic Church.
Susan never did return from heaven, however, and soon Tony's thoughts turned to love, with a young woman several decades his junior. He received a message to the effect that maybe it was time to put the old corpsicle in the ground, and to do . . . whatever. Perhaps the message went like this:
“Tony, I ain't agoin’ in your house no more if you can’t get that carcass outta there. Kinky is kinky, but sick is sick.”
So Susan was buried. Now, of course, Tony is on the lam, and apparently has taken Susan's body with him. What do you do with a corpse, and won't it stink up the U-Haul? If Susan does come lurching back to life, won't she have a bone to pick with Tony and his saucy young wife, before she gets around to the Pope?
Of course, Fayetteville has its share of cultists, all the way from Moonies to Frat rats, but my only personal experience came with a group called The Way, aka Word over the World.
I met them through a “friend,” and the group decided that my life would be much more interesting if I would join their little entourage. I could be happily down the road to enlightenment for a mere hundred dollars, which, when you think about how much EST costs, is really pretty cheap.
But there was something not quite right about the group, starting with their rather peculiar views of religion and history. One member told me that one year in the 1960s, when “The Teacher” (their pet name for Victor Paul Wierwille, who founded the group) really started going big, Satan was so mad, that he started the war in Vietnam, and caused massive race riots.
A poor marksman, ol’ Nick. Managed to get everybody else but the ones he was after.
I was going through a rough period in my life, though, and some of what they said actually sounded plausible, until the fateful evening when I was introduced to the concept of . . . speaking in tongues.
Now, being raised an Episcopalian, I am very liberal. An old joke is that you hardly have to believe in God, to be an Episcopalian, but I do. As a group we support many causes which others may not agree with, and are very tolerant of others' beliefs and practices. I have been in churches where speaking in tongues takes place. I don’t understand it, but I know it occurs.
But on this night, we were all gathered around a living room, and suddenly, one man began speaking in some language, only God knows what. And when he was finished, he did something I’ve never seen before - he provided a direct translation of what he had just said.
The next person began, and also provided a translation. I thought, why not just say it in English, if you're just going to do this? By the time the third person began, I realized they were going in a circle, and soon it might be my turn.
Oh, boy, I thought. This doesn’t look good. I waited for my turn at bat, but before I could start in with, “I’ve never seen a purple cow, I never hope to see one . . .” the person on my left took up the refrain. Just as well, I suppose.
But I grew disenchanted with the group that night. They, in turn, grew disenchanted with me when I didn't fork over a hundred dollars. Each of us had let down the other in a vital way. Such is life.
But I have often wondered what happened to them. I like to think they became a rap group. It’s somehow fitting.
Grapevine - March 22, 1991