Doctor Jesus Freak

I just finished Michael Hicks’ new memoir Wineskin: Freakin’ Jesus in the 60s and 70s (published by Signature). It was a terrific read. The only person who might be able to write as interesting a BYU prof memoir is Steve Peck, and he wrote the foreward to this volume. There were bits and pieces I already knew about: growing up in California, his (stunningly gorgeous) artist mother and the string of men in her life, his Jesus freak phase and the Wineskin coffee house, bailing on his mission to Germany three months in (tying his garments together to fashion a rope for the escape!) I knew about his youthful excommunication, but I didn’t have a good handle on the Anne cult.Trust me, you want to read this book.

The story ends as Michael graduates and begins grad school at the University of Illinois. I would first meet him about two years later.

I grew up in Illinois, so I always had the idea of going to grad school there in the back of my mind. (Undergrad was of course BYU to find a wife.) One of my sisters went there to study science, and she later attended Rush for her MD and worked as a doctor in Minnesota (she is now retired). My friends and I would sometimes drive the three hours south to ply pickup basketball or attend a Mormon youth dance.

I definitely wanted to do grad school at Illinois. For about a year that was going to be a doctorate in classics. But it was a horrible recession, and I now had a baby girl, so I had to get practical and like so many others I opted for law school.

We went to Urbana right after graduation and moved into married student housing. I immediately tried to get a job, but the recession was fierce. When I walked into McDonalds to ask about a job they just laughed at me. I tried and tried, but nothing worked out.

About three days in to this horror show, there was a knock on our door. It was Michael and his wife Pam. Michael was the EQP and was there to welcome us to the ward. I had no idea how they even knew we were there. But they were angels from heaven. We had so much in common, and we talked for a really long time. And when they left, I knew everything would be alright. And indeed, it was.

The student ward was awesome, and Michael was a big part of the reason for that. To name just one example he put on An Evening at the Polysophical Society, where elders could sign up to make presentations on whatever they felt like. My contribution was scripture readings in Hebrew and Greek so folks could hear what they sounded like in the original languages.

That next summer, Michael and I got jobs working on the research farm. I had done farm work as a boy, so this was perfect for me. Our assignments were such that we were by ourselves away from the real farmers, so we just had a wonderful running conversation that entire summer. (While the real farmers played cards over the lunch break, Michael and I sat off to the side and read. That summer I was reading Xenophon’s Anabasis in Greek. Imagine having free flowing conversations with Michael for a whole summer!

Eventually we both graduated, and we went our separate ways, me to the Chicago area to practice law and him to the Provo campus as a music prof. But my mother and several siblings lived in Utah, so we would often go there for vacations, and of courlse we would always visit Michael and Pam at there home in Orem. Because we had so much shared history together, the conversations were easy and natural. (I even got to see Spencer Kimball’s record collection in the garage before Michael wrote the book!

The main point of this nostalgia is to encourage you to read the memoir. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.


  1. I visited a ward in Provo (many year ago) and when I entered the chapel I heard those most wonderful little arrangements of hymns being played on the organ. Sure enough it was Michael Hicks playing the prelude music–hymns *improvised* after the manner of J. S. Bach. It was a real treat.

  2. Kevin, I’ve missed your posts! Michael was my wife’s favorite professor at College. Looks like I have a good birthday gift for her coming up.

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