I recently found this interview with Howard Finster on Youtube, which reminded me of the time I talked to Howard Finster.
When I was a kid I bought the No Alternative AIDS benefit album because it had an unlisted Nirvana song on it. I didn’t listen to much of the rest of the album, but I liked this song by Pavement called “The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” because it was about my favorite band: R.E.M.
A good chunk of that Pavement song is just Stephen Malkmus listing the titles of songs from Reckoning, R.E.M.’s second album. The cover of that album was painted by The Reverend Howard Finster, who also did the cover of Talking Heads’ Little Creatures.
Howard Finster lived on a plot of Georgian land he’d dubbed “Paradise Gardens” and turned into a wonderland of religious art made of broken glass, concrete, bicycle wheels, and more. Years before, Reverend Finster had a vision from God, and after that he started junked materials for building a chapel. Over the decades, he constructed a masterpiece.
The members of R.E.M., being drawn as they were to Southern eccentricities, went to Paradise Gardens a lot in their early years and filmed the video for “Radio Free Europe” there.
I, of course, was drawn to anything and everything that was related to R.E.M. So, when my church’s youth group had a field trip to Paradise Gardens, I went. It was the first church field trip I ever went on, and in order to go I had to promise I’d become active in the youth group.
We got to tour the garden and meet Rev. Finster, who was sitting on the porch with his banjo looking exactly like he does in the above video. He talked to me about R.E.M. and about Elvis, and he gave me a quaint and totally ineffective 2-minute banjo lesson. It was an enriching afternoon with an ancient man who was simply effervescent, and I still have a picture of the two of us together. I found it recently, but I didn’t scan it for some reason and now it’s in a box somewhere.
I did not live up to my promise to become active in the church youth group.