I’m not into pop culture. My son is frequently embarrassed at the sad state of my non-hip attire and my archaic music preferences. And since I seldom watch broadcast television, I don’t always know about the latest trends and fads. But I knew about Ted Williams. Everyone did. Homeless for two decades, he rose to international acclaim through YouTube when he demonstrated his “golden voice” for a reporter. In his new book, A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation, Williams gives a biographical outline of the man behind the resonate voice and the scraggly hair.
The book documents what you probably already know about him: the story of a man brought down by drugs, but miraculously returned to favor through the God-given gift of his voice. The majority of the book’s content deals with the dark side of his history: the drugs. Page after depressing page, Williams provides shocking details on how far he was willing to go to maintain his crack cocaine habit. It’s a sad tale of betrayal, rejection, addiction, abuse, and nearly every other form of debasement short of murder. Of course, the story has a happy ending. But with perhaps ninety percent of the content dedicated to his downfall, you close the book with a decidedly negative outlook on the state of mankind.
I was impressed with Williams’ candor concerning how he treated God with the same disrespect that he had for his family, local businesses from which he stole, and the world at large. He speaks repeatedly of thanking God for the drugs he was about to consume, knowing all the time that his actions turned that same thankfulness into something profane. Williams is not unique in his pretend acceptance of the role of God in his life, and I found myself reflecting on my own lip service when it comes to spirituality and the deeper life.
The book reminded me of The Vicar of Wakefield from the Well-Read Man project. They are both stories of degradation and humiliation, bookended by more idyllic times. There are differences, to be sure, but in each book I was reminded that we have so little control over our own lives. While Williams chose to take that first hit of cocaine, there was something involuntary in the addiction that came with it, not to mention the details of his ultimate rescue that came in part from streaming video technologies that he didn’t even know existed, much less controlled.
Despite the uplifting message at the end, I didn’t fully enjoy Williams’ autobiography. I wanted to read more about how his life was transformed by the sudden fame that so many seek in this YouTube-enabled century. But the author downplays his current life, instead using the details of his sufferings to communicate the key to his salvation: that God never gave up on him or his golden voice.