HOUSE OF THE RISEN SON
It's showtime, and the crowd is restless. Already on their feet, the fans wait impatiently for the band to begin, shifting and murmuring in the tightly packed aisles.
The keyboard player belatedly steps to the microphone, squinting through the glare of the stage lights. "Are you ready to move?" he yells, more a command than a question.
Their arms thrust skyward as they reply in one united, high-pitched, frenetic plea: "Aayyyhhhheeeeeee!"
The musicians plunge into the first chords. Within seconds, the band is rolling like a freight train, pumping out a throbbing beat--driven by a bass drum so powerful it reverberates in the chest.
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Yet it soon becomes clear that this song is much more than an exercise in raw volume. Beneath the powerful rhythm there is a delicate melody, requiring intricate organ, bass and guitar interplay. Each band member seems to know exactly when to play, and how much--like impressionist painters working on a giant collective canvas, using a dab here and a stroke there, filling all the space with dazzling color but never letting any one shade overwhelm the whole.
It's a little bit blues, with a dash of jazz and a whole lot of rock n' roll. If you can't dance to this, you just can't dance.
And dance the audience does, twisting and undulating in the aisles, happily singing along with the singers onstage.
More often than not, the voice the crowd hears blaring out of the amplifiers belongs to Nancy Jackson, a woman who owns a robust set of pipes that pierce the din with clarity.
Valley music lovers wouldn't be surprised to see Jackson in such a milieu. For almost 12 years, she ran Chuy's nightclub, arguably the most popular music hot spot in Arizona history.
Chuy's, located in Tempe's Hayden Square, drew crowds from around the state to hear the kind of eclectic live performances seldom heard this side of storied music towns like Chicago or New Orleans.
Under the no-nonsense leadership of Jackson, Chuy's was packed and profitable, featuring stellar talent like the late Jaco Pastorius, Robert Cray (long before he became the darling of nouveau blues lovers) and John Lee Hooker. Such artists gave intimate performances at Chuy's--which was specially designed to showcase music--for appreciative and utterly intoxicated audiences. The club set the Valley's musical bench mark.
Accomplished players themselves, Jackson and her husband, bass player Jim Simmons, spent many an evening jamming onstage with some of the most talented musicians in Phoenix and the world.
That's why, as Jackson closes her eyes and belts out a high note, it is easy to imagine this is just another night at Chuy's.
But it isn't.
Jackson and Simmons still play with some of the best. Now, however, they do it for God.
The two former club owners are part of something called the Praise and Worship Team--an all-star band backed by a 60-plus-member choir--whose mission is to whip nearly 2,000 parishioner "fans" into a religious frenzy, so that they can better connect with the spirit of God.
Instead of the standard Chuy's fare--down-and-dirty ditties about fast cars, faster women, broken hearts and demands for one bourbon, one shot and one beer--this group sings love songs to the Lord, urging the audience to pray for a shower of His power and a dose of the Holy Ghost.
Using some of the same drive and acumen that helped make her nightclub a success, Jackson has helped assemble a group of virtuoso musicians for a holy-rolling charismatic church--Scottsdale's Eagle's Nest Christian Embassy--that is rapidly earning the same reputation for innovative musical excellence once held by talent on the dimly lighted Chuy's bandstand. It's becoming common knowledge, among atheist and believer alike, that some of the best music in Arizona is at Eagle's Nest.
It's becoming common knowledge nationally, too. The Eagle's Nest Praise and Worship Team recently taped a 13-part series of performances--complete with such rock-video trappings as smoke machines and strobe lights--set to air on a national religious cable channel next month.
So how exactly did the czarina of Valley nightclubdom--a prototypical impresaria, fond of guitars, glittery dresses showing lots of cleavage, and strong cocktails--become a high priestess of Christian pop-rock?
It started back in March 1992, when the company that owned and operated Hayden Square, which leased space to Chuy's, went bankrupt. The development went back to the bank--in this case, the loan-holding Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
Unfortunately for Jackson, Met Life didn't turn out to be anything like Snoopy, the cuddly beagle that is the corporation's trademark. Instead, the company behaved like a pit bull, sinking its teeth deep into Chuy's leg and draining the then-thriving business of its lifeblood.
Depending on who's talking, there are a number of possible explanations for why Met and its minions systematically destroyed Arizona's No. 1 nightclub--greed, corporate sloth or simple incompetence among them.
Jackson's theory, however, is unique.
Because of her riches-to-rags journey, she has found true happiness: a baby she never thought she could have, a strong new faith in God and a renewed connection to her first and most lasting love, music.
"You never get off your butt and make real changes in your life until something forces you to do it," Jackson says. "The loss of Chuy's forced us to make those changes, and we're happier now than we've ever been; happier than I ever thought I would be."
She is a woman who, by losing everything, found it all.
And that, she says, proves that Chuy's was trampled under Met's corporate jackboots for one very good reason.
It was God's will.
@body:The first thing you notice about Eagle's Nest is the chairs. There are more than 1,000 of them, in neat rows, and despite that there are four services held every week, they all look plush and new. The gray upholstery is conspicuously unmarred by the permanent depressions that are the inevitable product of hours of contact with a parade of posteriors.
That's because people don't come to Eagle's Nest to sit. They come to move--and be moved.
The church, currently based in a converted warehouse located in a north Scottsdale strip mall/industrial park, is open and airy. In the front is a large bandstand, surrounded by a maze of amplifiers and equipment, a high-tech altar to sound.
Senior Pastor Mike Maiden, who came to Arizona seven years ago from California--where he was a student of Gary Greenwald, a charismatic religion pioneer--says the church's aim is to show people that "God wants us to enjoy life, and Him, through songs."
"By getting into the music, you create an atmosphere of God's presence, where He can be tangibly felt, where He is personally approachable.
"You also create tons of fun."
Whatever else it is, for a music lover, an Eagle's Nest service is fun. The service starts off with an hour or more of supercharged gospel, a period Maiden calls "pressing in," led by the Praise and Worship Team band.
As the songs build in intensity, the faithful often close their eyes, raise their hands and move rhythmically. Some dance and flail about, weeping and crying out, others simply tap their feet. All begin "pressing in" to the song, trying to open their minds and hearts to God.
Participation is a priority. To that end, a tall, white screen stands next to the stage, where the words of songs are displayed so that worshipers may sing along, united in Holy Karaoke.
Maiden, who despite his soft-spoken demeanor bears a resemblance to the late screamin' comedian and sometime-preacher Sam Kinison, says the basic idea is to "release yourself through the music, so that God can reach you and you can reach God." The music is a barrier buster. By listening to bouncing, hard-driving songs, people get excited. And when they get excited, their inhibitions--the walls of "mature" reserve--are broken down. They become high on the music, unafraid to show their real emotions--and to receive guidance and love from Him.
"When you get to that point," Maiden says, "you experience happiness that can't be described."
Many Eagle's Nest parishioners certainly have unique experiences of some sort. For one thing, despite being in church, these people look happy, and none of them are nodding off and drooling into their prayer books.
Eagle's Nest is not for everyone. Those seeking great doctrinal discourse on the eternal questions should probably look elsewhere.
For instance, after the "pressing in" music, there may be a sermon by Maiden--mostly consisting of glittering generalities about love and the importance of "Christ's sacrifice of blood"--that invites fervent murmurs of affirmation from the parishioners. Or, if the band is particularly hot, it may play for the entire two-hour service.
In general, substance takes a back seat to sound and fury. Christianity--Eagle's Nest style--is above all a sensory religion, where spirit mixed with volume is pumped directly into the spinal chord, bypassing the frontal lobes.
And that, believers say, is precisely the point. From the sweat lodge to the steamy, tongue-speaking air of the old-time revival tent, a little raw experience, they say, has proved to be enlightening. And while the question of whether dancing and perspiring for God is a ticket to heaven is a matter open to debate, the joy at Eagle's Nest is palpable.
There are lots of families with kids, and average-looking, middle-class, 9-to-5 folks. The racial makeup reflects Arizona's, with a plurality of whites, but also a substantial number of Hispanics and blacks. The believers are impossible to pigeonhole--well-scrubbed young couples holding hands, wrinkled old men swiveling and gyrating la Elvis, button-down attorneys shaking and sweating as they stare skyward, all absorbed in divinely martial lyrics like this:
Making war in the heavenlies
Tearing down every high thing
That exalts itself against
The knowledge of God.
The reaction can be as powerful as the sentiment. On one recent night, a young, tee-shirt-clad man with a scruffy beard stands watching and listening to the music. Suddenly, he jerks violently as a spasm seems to shoot up his leg. He then begins pitching and twisting frantically--finally collapsing, weeping, into his chair.
A man nearby raises him to his feet and smiles. Scruffy beard grins back, and they begin happily bopping to and fro, singing and unabashedly proclaiming to the world: We love God. And we love to rock.
Attuned as she is to the sensibilities of what she calls "the secular," i.e., the rest of the world, Nancy Jackson cautions that at first, such behavior may seem bizarre. But she urges outsiders to put it in cultural perspective.
"People get high at football games or in bars all the time, and they get loose and unafraid to jump around, yell and scream, show their innermost feelings. But when they do it while sober for God, society calls it weird.
"It's not weird." She smiles. "Certainly, it's not any weirder than some of the things that used to go on at Chuy's."
@body:Jackson is the very picture of domestic bliss. She sits on the couch, cuddling her daughter, 10-month-old Sommer Lee--an active, smiling child with flashing eyes--and sighs contentedly.
A tall blonde with a pleasant, oval face and a razor wit, Jackson insists that her only real problem is that she is 30 pounds overweight. "This is what happens when you have a baby," she says, smiling. "Otherwise, things are roses."
It was not always so. In the spring of 1991, Jackson, then 36, was a mess--beginning to feel the strain of running a maniacal business like a nightclub.
Jackson and Simmons had opened Chuy's a decade earlier because they both loved music. "Since I was a child," she says, "I was always tinkling with the piano or singing, and I was determined to open a nightclub where others who truly loved music could come and listen."
Borrowing the seed money from her father, a millionaire Ohio businessman, the pair set out in the club business to "do it right."
"I was a perfectionist, never happy with anything," she remembers. "It was seven days a week, 14 hours a day of running the club, doing business." And business was good.
Jackson's meticulous nature brought reason to the legendarily disorganized world of the concert promoter. She ran the club like a Fortune 500 company, maintaining computerized records on every band that played, occupancy per show, the dollar amount that people drank per head and what they drank. In some cases, that info was matched up to demographic data--detailing the likes and dislikes of the music fan who walked through the door. The resulting list was then wedded to a mailing list, used for the promotion of future shows.
The atmosphere of the club was carefully designed and monitored, as well. The third Chuy's locale, in Hayden Square (there had been two other, smaller incarnations over the years), opened in 1989 as a stylishly dark, black-lighted marvel, full of polished chrome and plush seats. It was a posh place to listen and drink, aimed at a sophisticated set of patrons who had exchanged Guns N' Roses for Thelonious Monk, beer for burgundy and the Corvette for a bassinet.
"I admit it. I'm a musical snot," Jackson says. "With Chuy's, we wanted to attract a certain type of clientele, one who was ready to listen to the best of the best in a top-quality atmosphere. We didn't want a rowdy audience, screaming for more beer. It was supposed to be more elegant than that.
"And it was supposed to be the best show in town."
A bustling Chuy's became a locus of weekend nights on Mill Avenue, which by 1990 had established itself as the trendiest asphalt in the Valley; the local equivalent of Georgetown's M Street and Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.
But Jackson, at the peak of professional success, was also at the nadir of her personal life.
The stresses of running the club with such insistence on detail had left her with a drinking problem. "I had to have my champagne," she laughs, remembering the night too much of the bubbly led her to "tell off" singer Francine Reed, who was performing at Chuy's.
"I was engaging in destructive behavior, lashing out at people and just acting ridiculous at times," Jackson says. "I was living a lifestyle where my friends were killing themselves, some with heroin. I didn't want to end up that way."
Adding to the stress level was the hard realization that she would never have a child. After three surgeries aimed at making a pregnancy possible, Jackson was told that she was out of time--and that a hysterectomy seemed a certainty.
On top of it all, there was an increasing void in her life, brought on, ironically, by Chuy's success. The better the club did financially, the more attention it demanded--and the less time Jackson had to indulge her own passion for performing.
"We originally opened Chuy's because of those magical moments that take place between musicians," she says. "I mean, that's what we were doing it for, really. But I didn't seem to be getting that feeling as much anymore."
Anyone who has ever been in a band--or attended an exceptional concert--knows about "that feeling." That mystical moment when the notes practically fly off the frets and the fingertips kiss the keys with precision; all the voices, strings and skins flashing in one perfect moment of rhythmic synchronicity.
"I wanted more of that and less BS," she says. "But how, I didn't know."
In May 1991, Jackson retreated to a Tucson resort to ponder. Alone in a hotel room, she experienced an epiphany that she calls her "wake-up call."
"Suddenly, running down the list of things that were wrong with my life, I got very scared," she says. "And I began to pray. I prayed for a child, I prayed to rework my lifestyle, I prayed that I would be able to make and enjoy music again."
And like a lightning bolt from beyond, her prayers were answered.
A short time after returning from Tucson, a friend told Jackson about Eagle's Nest. Jackson was suspicious.
"I could never go to a regular church," Jackson says. "I'm not into canned messages. But they were supposed to have good music, so I drove up there one day."
Sitting quietly in the back row of the church, listening to Maiden preach, Jackson says her first impression was that "he was out of his mind." But then the music began, and "an astounding realization" hit her.
"The music, the special moments, they were right here," Jackson remembers. "These musicians were doing what Jim and I had been trying to do with Chuy's. Only they were doing it sober, and doing it without the business grief and trouble.
"This was the Chuy's of churches."
Jackson began to weep, and says she felt compelled to begin walking along the long aisle toward the stage--where she fell to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I was so happy," she says. "I had found it."
And as it turned out, just in time.
@body:There was trouble with Hayden Square from the start. When it began accepting tenants in the late 1980s, the office-and-retail development--located just south of the Salt River bridges on Mill Avenue--was touted as the centerpiece of Mill's transformation from slumscape to fashionable boulevard.
Mill grew and prospered, with shops, nightclubs and coffee houses sprouting up, making it a bustling nightlife mecca for the under-30 set. But most of the new businesses opened farther south on Mill, several blocks from Hayden Square.
Deprived of the pedestrian traffic merchants enjoyed down the street, the Square's businesses floundered. America West Airlines, itself financially troubled, and Chuy's were the largest and oldest tenants--and two of the few providing Hayden Square a consistent revenue stream. It wasn't enough. In the spring of 1992, the company that had built Hayden Square went bankrupt, and a court-appointed receiver--Mike Magolino, a Phoenix property manager--was assigned to look after the development for several months before Met Life assumed full legal control.
Magolino, a blustery New Yorker, immediately shook up Jackson by telling her that her rights to the Hayden Square Amphitheatre--a grassy, outdoor venue located in front of Chuy's proper--were being suspended.
To Jackson, that was a calamity of epic proportions. Chuy's sponsored large concerts with national acts like Edie Brickell, Squeeze and Branford Marsalis in the amphitheatre to subsidize smaller, eclectic shows inside the club. Without the cash flow from the amphitheatre, Chuy's stood to lose a goodly portion of its operating capital.
Exclusive use of the amphitheatre was a guaranteed provision in Chuy's lease. But Met, because of the bankruptcy, was no longer legally bound to honor it.
"It seemed like he wanted to drive us out of there and out of business," Jackson says. "And it was approaching the point where we wouldn't have any choice."
Other Hayden Square merchants confirm that Magolino seemed to be pushing them out, too. He reportedly stressed to several shop owners that Met didn't have to honor their leases, and could evict them at any time.
"This guy would never tell us what was going to happen," says one merchant who recently moved out of the development. "The result was that a lot of us packed up and went to other locations, where we knew we would have some stability.
"I was never able to get a straight answer from [Magolino] about whether Met wanted us to pay more, stand pat or get out. And we kept wondering, why is he trying to drive us out of here?"
Victor Goliac, Jackson's real estate broker, who was in charge of negotiating with Magolino, thinks he has an answer. Goliac insists that the court-appointed receiver was trying to drive Chuy's and other merchants away from Hayden Square to drive down the property's value--so that he could buy it himself from Met at a reduced price.
"Hell, Magolino told me he was looking to buy Hayden Square at pennies on the dollar," Goliac says. "And if there were fewer tenants in the building, it would be less profitable and Met would be willing to unload it for a bargain.
"He wasn't looking out for Met, or for tenants like [Jackson]. He was looking out for himself."
Magolino did not return numerous telephone calls from New Times. But Mike Halperin, a Los Angeles-based Met Life executive in charge of coordinating the company's Arizona real estate holdings, confirmed that Magolino did offer to buy Hayden Square in 1992, while he was serving as receiver.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stanley Goodfarb, who appointed Magolino to act as receiver--at Met's request--says that such conduct is "egregious, to say the least."
"It is totally improper for a court-appointed receiver to do anything but look after the best interests of the property, its tenants and its owners, and had I known about his effort to buy the property, I would have made sure it was stopped. It's simply unethical."
But he didn't know about it, and court records indicate that Met never told him. Met Life's Halperin declined to discuss Magolino or Hayden Square, saying the company "makes it policy not to talk about such things." At the time, Jackson was also unaware of Magolino's secret agenda. The only thing she was certain of was that his actions were threatening her investment in Chuy's.
"At this point," Jackson says, "it became apparent to me that we were in jeopardy of losing everything we had built over the years. Without the exposure and ticket sales from the amphitheatre, we were taking a serious hit."
Jackson considered selling Chuy's name and equipment, to recoup some of the cash sunk into the business. But Magolino remained schizophrenic on the subject of either honoring the old Chuy's lease or writing a new one for a buyer. And without the guarantee of four walls to call home, no buyer in his right mind would purchase the club.
Jackson and Simmons had reached a crossroads. During the year since Jackson's "wake-up call," both had become increasingly involved in Eagle's Nest, playing several times a week with the Praise and Worship Team. Spiritual things were becoming more important than profit margins--which, thanks to Met and Magolino, were disappearing, anyway.
"God has a way of leading you to doors," Simmons says. "It was time to leave the club, and that lifestyle, behind. Hayden Square going bankrupt, and Met and Magolino hassling us, was Him showing us to a door through which we could do that."
Then, perhaps, God went a step further--and opened that door. Jackson was pregnant. Her doctors were amazed.
"No one could believe it," she says. "I had everything I wanted, out of nowhere. I had what I had been praying for, and I could only conclude that God had given it to me."
With no end in sight to the debacle with Magolino--and concerned that her high-risk pregnancy wouldn't benefit from added doses of tension and aggravation--Jackson decided to close Chuy's in October 1992.
"The best show in town" would be presented exclusively at Eagle's Nest.
@body:The news that Jackson and Simmons were quitting the nightclub business to devote more time to Eagle's Nest Christian Embassy raised eyebrows among friends in the music community.
Local jazz singer extraordinaire Alice Tatum, Jackson's closest friend, admits she was suspicious and concerned.
"At first I went, 'What are you doing to yourself? You're giving away what you've spent your life building,'" Tatum remembers. "But then I heard the music at Eagle's Nest, and how good it was, and I understood completely."
One of the main reasons it is so good is Israel Houghton, a polite young man with infectious enthusiasm for his calling--which is to be the Eagle's Nest "Music Pastor." At 22, he is a bona fide musical wonderkid and the leader of the Praise and Worship Team.
Introduced to Eagle's Nest by Jackson and Simmons in 1992, Houghton plays five instruments (though he sticks mostly to keyboards in church), sings with velvet precision and could perform in any band of his choosing out in "the secular." In fact, Motown A&R men have been attempting to lure him out into the world of mainstream pop, rock and soul. But Houghton says he prefers to stay at Eagle's Nest, working on a forthcoming Praise and Worship Team album to be distributed among parishioners, and his own solo compilation of Christian songs.
"There is no greater satisfaction than what I get to do here," Houghton says. "We get to a certain place onstage, a place that goes way beyond a jam session. Sometimes we don't even know how we're playing the complex stuff we're playing. We just lean back and say to God, 'Whatever You want to do, do it through us. However You need to jam, do it through us.'"
The team (which generally hovers around a core of eight or nine players, plus six women singers and a 65-member choir) features musicians who have played live with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Glen Campbell, Colleen Callahan, Trevor Rabin, Big Pete Pearson and other notables.
Yet they've all scaled back their secular careers, because they like playing at church far more. According to Jim Simmons, that's because of the "liberty" the musicians have with the "team."
"There are no restraints on what we do up there," he says. "You have the freedom to play exactly what spirit dictates."
This band, you see, doesn't rehearse. Nor does it play any of its 200-odd songs the same way twice. It's all improvisation; remarkable considering the polished sound.
Classifying the sound is difficult. Houghton describes it as "R&B, gospel, jazz; a regular Heinz 57 mix." The band has been known to break into James Brown-style funk, reggae, rap and hard-rock renditions in a single service.
Most often the music sounds like robust pop-rock, run through a Christian filter--no sex or drugs, leaving only one branch of the rock-culture trinity, the music, left standing.
It's a mix that appeals. Church officials are to open a new 4,000-seat amphitheatre and religious-training complex in Scottsdale next year, quadrupling their space. Although Pastor Maiden is vague on how much Eagle's Nest has grown recently, he does say the church "is on the move." And he gives a large measure of the credit to band members, especially Jackson and Simmons.
"The Praise and Worship Team was doing very well before they came to us," he says. "But now, many people walk through the doors just to hear the band. There's no getting around the fact that [Jackson and Simmons] have made substantial contributions to what it has become."
What it may soon become is a nationally known act. Matt Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network head Paul Crouch--who pioneered 24-hour-a-day religious programming--became smitten with Eagle's Nest on a recent trip to the Valley. He arranged for the Praise and Worship Team to film a 13-part cable series of performances, set to air on TBN in January.
The series has a slick feel, complete with tight, fast, music-video editing and camera angles. The idea, Jackson says, is to appeal to a younger set of potential Christians; the kind of fans who used to pack Chuy's on a Saturday night.
"It's become obvious that churches need to find a new way to reach young adults," Jackson says. "And this is certainly a new way."
The series will be unlike anything else airing on TBN--a network known more for endless appeals for cash than inspiration--and if successful, could propel the Christian music careers of band members like Houghton into overdrive.
"That would be nice," Houghton smiles. "But it is important to remember--what really matters is serving God. He's the player, I'm just using the gift He's given me."
@body:Ironically, shutting down Chuy's was the best business decision Jackson could have made. As soon as Chuy's closed its doors, Jackson was deluged with offers from entrepreneurs seeking to buy the club. The outpouring seemed to awaken Met's interest, too.
"Suddenly, they seemed to realize it was hot property," Jackson says, "and worth keeping around because the club would be a good, solid-paying tenant." Magolino's term as court-appointed receiver ended on December 31, 1992, and he disappeared. Met Life official Halperin assumed control of the development, and promptly informed Jackson he would be happy to negotiate a new lease with any qualified buyer who wanted to purchase the Chuy's name and equipment.
Jackson and Simmons were ecstatic. They had sunk more than $840,000 in improvements--including high-dollar sound and lighting systems--into Chuy's, and they had a buyer willing to pay $500,000. They wouldn't get all their money out, but they would substantially cut their losses.
But their happiness was short-lived. According to Jackson--and letters she saved from Met documenting their negotiations--Halperin began waffling on providing the buyer with a lease.
At first he questioned the buyer's financial stability--only to be provided with proof that he owned more than $20 million in publicly traded stock. Then Halperin began expressing doubts that the new owners had the experience to run a nightclub the size of Chuy's. So to appease him, Jackson and Simmons offered to stay on for a few months as advisers.
But then Halperin raised a new objection--religion.
According to Goliac, who was present at a meeting in early 1993 between Jackson, Simmons and Halperin, the Met official wondered aloud how Jackson's beliefs could be squared with operating a nightclub.
"It was very offensive, I thought," Goliac says. "He was saying that because she was a Christian, she couldn't give good advice to the new owners."
Jackson was enraged.
"He seemed to think I was some kind of freak just because I believed in God," she says. "I explained to him that, yes, I credit God for making me happy and giving me my daughter, but that doesn't mean I'm some kind of lunatic, unable to function."
Desperate to close the deal, Jackson asked Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell for help. He wrote a letter on Jackson's behalf, praising her business acumen and saying that Chuy's was a vital part of the Tempe community. Halperin shrugged it off.
Halperin wouldn't comment on his negotiations with Jackson. But it seems obvious that he had no intention of reaching a serious agreement. Although he repeatedly promised that a lease would be forthcoming, he dawdled for ten months--by which time the buyer had moved on.
"We had a perfectly good deal set up," Jackson says, "one that would have benefited us, the buyer and Met--who, by the way, wasn't getting paid any rent on Chuy's space during all of 1993. But [Halperin] insisted on screwing it up."
Why? The most simple, and perhaps the most plausible, explanation is provided by Goliac. Unlike Magolino--who was motivated by his own self-interest--Halperin, Goliac says, was simply incompetent.
"He is a young kid who thought he was playing the role of the tough executive, making us jump through hoops," Goliac says. "He thought he had a gold mine in Hayden Square and could afford to wait and shop the property around to a higher bidder while keeping us on a string.
"But he found out Hayden Square is no gold mine."
The record seems to support Goliac's charge that Halperin and Met made major miscalculations about the marketability of the long-troubled development. Nearly 15 months after Chuy's locked its doors, the nightclub is still vacant.
"That little jerk has mismanaged the hell out of the property," Goliac scoffs. "And [Jackson] paid the price."
Weary of the protracted negotiations with Met, Jackson and Simmons gave up.
Last October 15, they gathered a few friends from Eagle's Nest and cleaned all their possessions out of Chuy's, stripping the place down to the bare walls.
@body:It was an emotionally wrenching night. As Jackson swept up the last bit of dust on Chuy's floor--along with the remains of her secular American dream--she was suddenly overcome.
"I just sat down in the middle of the floor and bawled like a child," Jackson says. "All around the room, I could see the special moments, the jamming, the songs, everything that made Chuy's so special."
Tears well up in her eyes, thinking of that night. She blinks once, and they come cascading down.
She quickly recovers, smiling broadly. "But then I realized that I still have access to all those special kinds of moments. I have them at Eagle's Nest.
"I know now that losing Chuy's was just God's way of helping me get rid of the old things and replace them with something better."
But as philosophic as Jackson may be about losing her nightclub--along with a small fortune--and as genuinely pleased as she seems to be with her new life, she isn't completely ready to forgive and forget. Nothing in her religion, or the vibrant music that drives it, inspires passivity. The eagle, lest we forget, is a very different bird from the dove.
"The Bible is about war, in case no one has noticed," she says, noting that the Word is filled with examples of God's people standing up--and fighting--for their rights.
To that end, Jackson and Simmons haven't ruled out a lawsuit against Met. However, it is clear that her family will not starve.
Pointing out that "God doesn't want His people to be poor," the pair plan to sell off the sound system, tables, chairs and other building blocks stripped from Chuy's--albeit for a fraction of their worth. Simmons plans to tour again with professional secular bands to make ends meet, and Jackson is recording a solo album she hopes to sell in the growing Christian-music market.
"I want to make music with other musicians more than anything," Jackson says, and that desire shows on the rough cuts she laid down earlier this year. It is moody, haunting music that would sound at home on a dark night at Chuy's, amid the smoke and clinking glasses.
Perhaps the best track on her demo tape, "Down on My Knees," was written several years ago as a conventional love song. But like everything else in Jackson's life, it was recently reworked (with the Phoenix Mass Choir performing backing vocals)--this time to spotlight God.
He showed me that He loved me,
He said, "Have life forever."
If I ever need an answer,
I take it to Him.
Down on my knees,
His love fills me with peace.
"You know," Jackson says, "music is God's greatest toy. It never breaks. Businesses do, but not music.
"And I still have my toy, for now and forever.