Doug Seegers left New York for Nashville in search of every songwriter’s dream. When he didn’t find success, he fell into a state of loneliness that fed an addiction he had battled since adolescence. Soon, he was homeless, playing his guitar on the street with a cardboard sign asking for money. But then he cried out to God in repentance and need, and God graciously met him. Doug then found sobriety, regained some footing, and in a miraculous moment was discovered outside a food pantry by a Swedish musician and documentarian who put his story on the air in Stockholm. Within days of the documentary airingeven though he still walked to the public library every day and acquired most of his belongings from nearby DumpstersDoug had the number-one selling song in Sweden.
Going Down to the River is Doug’s inspirational story of faith, forgiveness, and the power of prayer and belief. It is also the never-give-up tale of a man who played music for 55 years without success only to become a chart-topping artist at the age of 62.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Steve Eubanks is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning columnist who has cowritten autobiographies with Arnold Palmer, Lou Holtz, and Jeff Gordon, among others.
Read an Excerpt
WHERE MIRACLES LIVE
Near as I can tell, when you look at the world and everybody in it, being homeless just in itself ain't a failing, moral or otherwise. I ought to know. Whether lying under a bridge in Tennessee, doing my best to stay warm and get a little shut-eye before the dawn parade of eighteenwheelers rattles the highway overhead like tiny earthquakes, or on days like today when I'm ordering room service in one of the best hotels in Stockholm, I try to look at every day as a test. A few years ago, my test was to trust God as I was looking for a hot meal and some cardboard or a blanket to block the wind.
I can't say I was unhappy being homeless. In fact, it's the opposite. I didn't have any bills; didn't have anybody telling me what to do, where to go, what to wear, or how to speak; didn't have any responsibilities (or so I figured at the time); didn't have the weight of the world loading me down. I was out in nature, living each day free and easy. But I did have accountability. I was answerable to the Maker of all those trees I was sleeping under; responsible to the Creator of that water in the creek where I bathed and filled a cup to drink; accountable to the Giver of life, the Father of the ground I slept on more nights than not. I had a responsibility to live a life pleasing to him. Now my test is to keep him out front as I'm playing sold-out shows, selling records, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.
Because of where I've been, I know that it don't matter if you live in a palace or a box: Your standing with the Almighty doesn't change just because you get dinner out of a dumpster instead of having it delivered with a white napkin and a bunch of forks. Homelessness ain't noble, but it's not the worst of a man, either. What matters ain't where you live, it's how you live. How I lived was rougher than the ground I slept on. The sinning I've done would make a hard man blush, just as the praying I've done — the begging to the Lord for strength and forgiveness — would cause that same man to cry like a little child. But on both sides of my life, being homeless never made me ashamed. I guess it's because poverty had been with me for as long as I'd had memory. Whether it was me and my brother rummaging through dumpsters looking for bicycle parts, or me throwing a thumb in the air and hitchhiking across the country, wherever I needed to go, I'd always lived in the corners. It's where I was comfortable — where I knew how to get along. Sometimes I had a place, an apartment or a house, especially when my kids were young. Other times I made do with a cot at a shelter, a tent in the woods, a jail cell and a jumpsuit, or a bedroll under the moon. Finding a place to bunk and a bite to eat every night was part of life's adventure, the tests I figured were all part of God's plan.
That kind of living's rough for people to look at. Folks sure had a hard time looking at me. Most of the time I didn't have much trouble getting by. I could always find a meal, either at a shelter or in a dumpster. Food's around if you know where to look. But when my fellow man avoided eye contact — when people stared out the windshield without so much as a blink, and me standing right next to 'em flying a cardboard flag that said, "Hungry, Any Little Bit Helps" — well, that'll put a hard, heavy weight on you. Make you think about life and what's really valued in a person. Ignoring ain't easy; it's just familiar. There's a rawness about a fella trotting to the other side of the road to avoid you, running away, and hoping it don't look too obvious. It'd be a shame to hear a man say, "Good morning" or "God bless" if there was any chance he might hit you up for some spare change or a dollar or two to get through the day.
Funny how the look of a man means so little, and yet so much. My clothes are better now, I guess, although the pantries and shelters always had fine things. Wearing a flannel shirt and jeans in Nashville is a sign that you're either homeless or a millionaire country music star with a mansion and a tour bus. You could be a rancher, a lawyer, a bootlegger — no telling. I've never been sure how people could spot a homeless person, at least from far enough away to avoid you. Yeah, I'd lost some teeth by the end of it, and I ate a lot of my meals from places most folks wouldn't even touch. I drank water from my hands out of a creek, and sometimes my dinner plate was a tin pot on the ground. Showering wasn't always a daily thing, but my hair looked all right and I always had shoes. I wore my T-shirts right side out most of the time, and I didn't shuffle or yell at voices nobody else could hear like some of the poor souls down there. I guess it's just a feeling that drives folks away. As I've spent more time in the Bible, I think a lot about John the Baptist, long-haired, wearing camel hide, eating bugs and honey, hollering at crowds to repent. You reckon he'd go over in Nashville or New York today?
At least I had my guitar. There were a lot of times when that made all the difference. With a six-string in front of me, I wasn't looked at like a hobo, or a vagrant, or whatever down-and-dirty word you'd use to push your fellow man a notch or two below you. I was an attraction, a street artist. I was "bohemian," I heard more than once. A couple of chords into a song, and heads always turned. People would slow their walks or stop altogether and listen. Most would smile, maybe tap their toes. Some would eventually throw a few bucks into the case I had open with an "Out of Work" sign propped up inside it.
One time I was sitting on a bench near the bus stop, playing on the street, when a bunch of teenage girls came out of a restaurant at the corner. They were all talking at once and giggling the way girls do. Then they heard my song and just broke out dancing. It was a big, happy group. There wasn't a boy among them, so I changed it up and played something slow to see what they'd do. Well, they paired up and swayed to the beat without missing a step. Couple of them put together a little waltz, which was funny since I wasn't playing anything near that kind of music. When one of the moms came out, I told her how beautiful that scene was. The happiness of those girls, the innocence of them, it was hard not to see it without smiling. I told that mom how she should enjoy this time.
She smiled and nodded, assuming nothing bad out of me. Nothing at all. Without my guitar, that wouldn't have been the case. Put that thing away and I was worse than invisible; I was contagious. When it was just me with my hands in my pockets, people steered clear.
A buddy of mine named John from the streets in East Nashville puts old road maps in the windows of his Ford pickup so he can get some sleep during the day. John's rich in the homeless world because he has a vehicle and can get to a job so long as there's gas. He still eats out of dumpsters some, and he struggles with addiction and with losing time, and has trouble with memory, like so many of us. But he doesn't play or sing, so he doesn't have a draw, nothing to connect him with people. Music did that for me.
It's doing it still.
I think about those days on the streets with my guitar when people cheer at my shows, when they buy my records in a country I couldn't have found on a map just a few years ago. Who would have thought that a fella who'd been writing and singing country and Americana music for fifty years; a boy who grew up in Queens, New York, listening to bluegrass; a man who rambled in and out of homelessness in Nashville without selling a single record — who coulda believed that somebody like that would be one of the bestselling acts in Sweden in his midsixties? I never would have considered it. Yet, here we are.
The word miracle gets a lot of work nowadays. Too much, I think. A tree limb falls a few inches from your car and that's a miracle. A storm blows north, failing to upset your picnic, and you proclaim it a miracle. Your favorite sports team wins a game: miracle. You get a promotion: miracle. Your son or daughter gets accepted into a fancy school: a surefire, by-God-Almighty miracle if there ever was one. But a man in his darkest time puts down a needle, prays for strength, and gets his-own-self together: somehow that doesn't count. A prostitute finds God, turns her life around, and gets a job at a local coffee shop: most people won't use the word miracle for that, and they won't say angel for the woman who hires her.
I've seen miracles because I know that man who used to carry a ragged tourniquet and dirty needle in his pocket. I know the young woman who used to work the streets, that girl who found forgiveness and the treasures of a new life. And I know the people who helped 'em. Not in the way you say you know somebody just because you've got a story that lines up with theirs — I know 'em by name. They were friends in my old life, and we're still friends in our new ones. I know a miracle when I see it, too, because I am one: a straight-up miracle of almighty God. He saved me to tell this story.
I still have some of the same clothes I had when I was sleeping and eating wherever I could. I wear the same T-shirts, some with the names of restaurants or car dealerships or radio stations printed on the front. They were giveaways, afterthoughts, which is sort of what people think of folks like me. My hats are nicer now. I've had a good many of my teeth fixed, but that can't be all of it. People stop and speak now. They ask me how things are going. They want to know when the new record's coming out, or when I'm heading back to Europe. People who knew me before — the people who never trotted to the other side of the road and who went out of the way to help me — they've told all their friends my story. There's a group of them, not groupies, at least not in America, but supporters and fans.
In Sweden, the crowds are unbelievable. The reception I get would go to most men's heads. If you look at the lives of many young people who find early success in music, you see just how bad it can be for you. Fame's a powerful drug. Too many musicians get wrapped up in the party. They end up flat broke or worse. I did it backward. I hit rock bottom before I got famous. For a long time, my success seemed overwhelming, and I cried almost every day when I thought about where I'd been and what was happening to me. 'Course, if I'd been a younger man and hadn't been where I've been, hadn't seen what I've seen, and done what I've done, it probably would have gotten to me too. All that cheering and people calling my name, the musicians who want to play with me, who want to sing my songs. It's still a high that I fight. Thankfully, success came late enough for me to know what it means, to know where the glory lies.
I've got a couple of suits I wear for shows sometimes, made for me by a fan, a sweet Swedish lady who wanted me to look my best. One's white with blue embroidery, trimmed out like what Hank Williams wore at the Opry. The other's reversed — blue with white embroidery. I still love Hank's words and how they touch people sixty years later. I also think about where and how he lived.
Hank always had a place: his mama's boardinghouse in Georgiana, Alabama, in the early days, and a home in Montgomery later. He was twenty-four when he wrote "I Saw the Light" in the back of a car coming home from a show.
By age twenty-nine Hank was dead.
I was sixty-three and living under a bridge when I saw the light and found God's way.
I know I won't ever turn 'em out like Hank, or have the Cadillacs or the houses. But I do know a couple of things: Our caskets will be the same size, and we'll both be held to account for how we used the gifts laid out in front of us. Tests will be graded for all. They surely will.
My story's not easy, or pretty, or quick. I look back on that younger man with thick, black hair, a bandana around his neck and a sparkle in his eyes. I want to drag him offa that street, kick him outta that crack house. I want to warn him never to take that first hit, never to taste that first drink, never to listen to that first little voice telling him, "Walk away — you don't owe them nothing" or "Go lay down awhile with that woman. It'll be good." I want to plead with him to never let the Devil into his mind, his heart, and his life. I want to read God's Word to him, out loud, as an older man should to a younger one. I want to let him know that without a seed there can be no harvest. That ain't just a message for prosperity in this life; it's one of redemption for the next. It's one I wish I'd paid attention to a lot sooner. I want to get up behind that younger version of my-own-self, and push that boy onto the right and righteous path. But that wasn't the plan. All that hardness, all the hurt, it was for these last years — these successful days when I can show others what a real miracle looks like. It was so I could tell others that it's not too late. No matter how low you've gone, no matter what you've done, it's not too late.
It never is.
My healing ain't just spiritual. There's a physical healing that comes with walking the right road, although I'm still not the man I was before. When I was on the street, the drugs buggered up a good chunk of my brain. I forget a lot, and still have trouble piecing things together from my past. I was, to use a term from the seventies and eighties, a "burnout." I not only get confused about events from my time as a homeless person, but I sometimes have false memories. I recall certain things as plain as day. Problem is, they didn't happen. For many people, that kind of self-inflicted damage is permanent. Even after you've put down the crack pipe and cleaned up your life, certain damage doesn't heal. Part of my miracle is how God restored a good helping of my mind — not all of it, but a fair bit — as well as my body.
I do wish my memory were better. There are gaps. Big ones. Don't let anybody tell you that drugs don't cause permanent damage. They surely do. Things that I believe happened in a matter of days took place weeks and sometimes months and years apart. There's also some stuff I don't remember at all: terrible things — things I guess I blocked to keep from facing 'em. As I've pieced my story together, I've had to rely a good bit on other folks to fill in some holes. Parts have been painful. We spin things to puff ourselves up, all of us — sometimes for other people, but most of the time to convince ourownselves that we ain't as failed as the facts indicate. Mind-altering drugs don't help. They're as dangerous and deadly as a bad man with a gun. I oughta know. But it's important that I give it to you without flinching, or at least as much as I recollect, even with the help of others.
For the better part of a year after my last shot of whiskey or my final taste of an illegal drug, I couldn't remember the names of people I saw almost every day. I couldn't recall events that should've been branded into my memory. Some people can't conceive of being homeless, because their minds work different than the person on the street. I've been both places, and, as far as my thinking goes, I still hover somewhere between the two.
The power of prayer cannot be denied. Jesus healed the blind, the deaf, the crippled. He healed people so eaten up with leprosy that their skin was falling away like leaves from a dying tree. He healed those folks that others wouldn't touch, wouldn't look at. He ran to the ones everyone else pretended didn't exist. He's doing it still.
When I think about the men who wrote the Gospels, men who followed Jesus and who talked to folks who were there with him every day, I always smile and shake my head at what they said about their own selves. Not a one of 'em told the story like they were the big shot. Nobody said, "Yeah, those others didn't believe he'd come back from the dead, but I surely did." Not a single one among 'em said, "The rest of 'em was terrified when he appeared in front of us, but I wasn't scared." Nobody who was there said, "Yeah, everybody else slid back in the crowd, but I tried to stand up for him against the Romans." They all, every one of 'em, told it like it happened: the dark story of weak men saved by a grace not a one of 'em deserved.
Live my story with me. Marvel at the grace I didn't deserve. Don't look away. Don't run to the other side of the road or pretend you don't see me. Open your eyes. Open your heart.
Witness a miracle.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Going Down to the River"
Copyright © 2018 Doug Seegers.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Where Miracles Live 1
Chapter 2 Seeds 13
Chapter 3 A Torch in My Soul 39
Chapter 4 Piece of Heaven Headed Straight to Hell 63
Chapter 5 "Settin' the Woods on Fire" 89
Chapter 6 The One with His Eye on Faith 107
Chapter 7 Restoration Soon 135
Chapter 8 Cinderella Man 169
Chapter 9 "En av våra egna" 187
Chapter 10 Beautiful Boy 209
Chapter 11 A New Language 225
About the Author 231