By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
When he's in the middle of a bamboo forest, Erik Sampson hears music.
Today, though, Sampson isn't in the jungle. He's standing before a clump of bamboo rooted inside a nine-foot-square planter fashioned from railroad ties, in a sunny part of the back yard of his five-bedroom, three-bath, $232,220 ranch home on an acre of land in western Davie. Usually, he hooks a trailer to the back of his Ford Bronco and travels to Fort Pierce or Homestead to harvest bamboo on acres of land where it grows so thick that it creates green shadows. Today, he is reenacting the harvest for the benefit of New Times.
Today, a clump of bamboo symbolizes the forest; the one stands in for the many.
Wearing khaki green shorts and a T-shirt hanging loose on his lean frame, the 50-year-old Sampson, his auburn hair loose and flowing around a full beard, springs toward the planter. He pantomimes ducking and jabbing his way into the thicket.
And then he says the stuff about hearing music. He's been doing this for 32 years, so long that he can look at a stalk and know what kind of musical instrument it will make. He points to a ten-foot-tall shoot in the planter that's about a quarter of an inch wide with 18-inch-long segments. "That will make an F flute," he comments. He points to another and another. "That will make a low Irish. That will make a G major. That will make a B flat."
Sampson hurried outdoors to give this minilesson on the mechanics of flute-making because he also wanted to demonstrate what he calls "The Parable of the Flute Maker." Sampson is not just a musical craftsman. He has mined his vocation for spiritual truths. He gives talks at churches, and he and his wife, Linda, have delivered spiritual messages and performed Christian dramas at churches, youth halls, boot camps, and prisons throughout the United States and Latin America.
Sampson uses "The Parable of the Flute Maker" to inspire the audience. It's a story he tells to illustrate the truth that everyone is born with different gifts. In the homily, Sampson likens himself to God and the stalks of bamboo to the rest of us. "It is the picture of the master coming to the multitudes and of his wanting to work with us so that we can be his instruments and he can play us in the marketplace of being," he says.
Once upon a time, Sampson was a Vietnam War protester/street performer/high school dropout who evolved into a New Age dabbler/Buddhist/Taoist/vegetarian/sorcerer/pagan/spiritual beggar/sometime-commune-dwelling wanderer/truth seeker. He developed the dramatic persona he uses today to sell his flutes at fairs and Renaissance festivals after he left his New York City home in 1969 to tour with a street-theater group protesting the Vietnam War. In San Francisco, the troupe took an absurdist bent, and eventually Sampson left to begin his own quest for spiritual enlightenment. He walked through Latin America wearing a white tunic and flowing pants with his hair halfway down his back, carrying a staff decorated with feathers. Whenever he played his flute in public, which he did often, crowds would gather. In that life, when some Guatemalan Indians shouted "Jesus!" upon seeing this apparition, he secretly harbored the idea that perhaps he was Christ returned as the one who sees the one in the many, or something like that. As "the teacher."
The hubris. The hubris. Through diligent meditation, he says, he saw auras around people and energy fields around plants. He believed that with enough practice, he would be able to shed the corporeal coil and travel astrally. In Hawaii, he lived in a lean-to under an avocado tree, subsisting on avocados and rainwater. When he decided material possessions had blocked enlightenment, he threw away his comb and let his hair go ratty. Back on the mainland, wandering to visit friends in Coconut Grove, he met and fell in love with a woman who called herself Ray Sun. She too lived in a lean-to, wore white garments, and aimed for a purer connection to the earth.
Their journey through New Age spiritualism, vegetarianism, Eastern religions, and biblical readings eventually led to a conversion experience in 1975 at a Pentecostal church in Woodstock, New York. During the service, both Erik and Ray Sun found themselves in the aisle. Sampson spoke in tongues. Both became born-again Christians and moved into a Christian commune in Eugene, Oregon.
Their conversion wasn't without its moments. When Ray Sun announced she would again use her given name, Linda Marie, Erik was flabbergasted. It seemed to symbolize everything he had been striving against. "When she had to go out and buy a bra, I freaked out," he recalls. "When she started eating meat, I freaked out. When she went out and bought clothes that weren't white, I freaked out. At the time, I defined spirituality as outward stuff -- how you look, how you act -- but inside there was a raging war."
The couple married in 1976. They began speaking about their spirituality on a honeymoon in Guatemala. Erik contacted a pastor there who invited Erik and Linda Marie to appear on a radio program to talk about their conversion. When crowds gathered around Erik as he played his flute, they developed a dramatic performance with a religious theme. Back in the States, they first staged the show at a church in North Miami. Soon, invitations from other churches arrived.