One-Handed Than Most Guitar Players Put Together"
When Page Stephens isn't debunking, he's plunking. On the guitar, that is.
His interest goes back to his Wabash days, when he helped found the Wabash Folksong Club, which brought to campus some of the leading folk and guitar acts of the 1960s, including the powerful Delta blues man Son House and folk music legend Doc Watson.
But his real guitar hero is his fellow Wabash alumnus, Amos Garrett '64. Garrett attended the College for two years before diving into the music world full-time, playing with Ian and Sylvia Tyson's The Great Speckled Bird, one of the first country rock groups that changed the direction of pop music.
"Amos and I were both Kappa Sigs, and the first time I heard him play his guitar -- an old Goya flat top which he probably has forgotten he ever owned -- I learned that there was much more to playing the guitar than I ever realized," Stephens says.
If you were anywhere near a radio in the '70s, you probably remember Garrett for the famous guitar break on Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis," and he's since recorded with more than 150 other artists, including Jesse Winchester, Stevie Wonder, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt.
Garrett now makes his home in Turner Valley, Alberta, and tours with his band in the U.S. and the U.K. and has a large and loyal following in Canada.
"The reason that Garrett's name floats along the periphery of pop music instead of the front lines is because Garrett eschewed mainstream rock to make consistently interesting music," a writer for Scene Magazine wrote earlier this year. Guitar Player calls Garrett "one of the most lyrical and original guitarists playing today."
Page suggests you check out Garrett's web site.
A Skeptical View
of the Skeptic
Think devils in the door and psychic prophecies are anything other than
coincidence? Page Stephens 65and a million dollarssay
By Erik W. Dafforn
like a scene from William Peter Blattys The Exorcist...almost. A
house with a young girl. An evil presence terrorizing her. An exhausted,
desperate family soliciting experts to rid the house of wickedness and
restore order and sanity to their lives.
Here, though, is where the similarities end. The young girls soul
had not been the target of the possession. Instead, she said, evil had
taken aim at her new bedroom door. The devil, or at least his image, lay
in the wood grain itself, and it was giving her the creeps.
In this less-than-chilling adaptation of the tale, the would-be exorcist
was not a young clericfar from it. Page Stephens 65, one of
the men called in to deal with the devil in the door, would look more
at home on stage with ZZ Top than in the priesthood. The girls parents,
trying to assuage their daughters fears, called Stephens, along
with his friend Rick Rickards. Even over the phone, Page had a pretty
good idea what he would find when he arrived, and he was right. The door
was a split veneer type: Hewn of a thick plank of wood sliced
along the plane, the doors left and right sides were mirror images.
This random configuration created a symmetric design on the door that
the girl mistook for the image of Satan.
Not that it wasnt an interesting coincidence.
It was a gorgeous devil, believe me, Page recalls. Horns,
a gaping mouth, he trails off, then charges back with an unapologetic
summary: In his experience, the truth behind most paranormal events is
Page Stephens, a dyed-in-the-wool, part-time debunker of the paranormal,
full-time adversary of absurdity, and would-be blues guitar sensation,
graduated from Wabash with a history degree and entered the Ph.D. program
in anthropology at the University of Illinois. I decided,
he reflects, that history did not give me enough insight into the
nature of human thought. He then took his doctorate to Cleveland
State University to teach in its anthropology department.
Gaining his doctorate and even teaching anthropology for years didnt
seem to quench Pages thirst for the elusive nature of human
thought. Beyond his anthropological studies, nearly two decades
ago he co-founded Clevelands South Shore Skeptics, an organization
dedicated to science education and the investigation of paranormal
and pseudoscientific claims. Health concerns forced his departure
from administrative duties a few years ago, but hes better now,
and he still maintains close contact with the group.
Opinions vary on the origin of Pages skeptical roots, Professor
Joe ORourke, however, offers some perspective, describing events
from when Page was a student at Wabash almost 40 years ago: I recall
during a snowfall, he backed [his car] into the middle of street and killed
the engine. Skeptical of his ability to start the car, he simply abandoned
it and set off on foot for class. The car sat there most of the day as
I recall, creating a permanent detour.
In addition to his own South Shore Skeptics, Page deals regularly with
the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), a non-profit group that
attempts to promote critical thinking by disseminating reliable
information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our
society. Like Page, the JREF doesnt mind claimsonly
claims without proof. As a result, the organization has an ongoing challenge
to the public, offering a cool one million dollars to anyone who
can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal,
supernatural, or occult power or event. Setting a good example for
other promising skeptics, Page is responsible for $2000 of that million
in the event of anyone winning the challenge.
Budding spoonbenders and alchemists, however, should take special note
about the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. At the
bottom of the application rests an understated warning: Please be
advised that several claimants have suffered great personal embarrassment
after failing these tests.
A 1999 article in Cleveland Scene supports that advice. In the article,
Jacqueline Marino tells the tale of Mr. Blau, a curiously
pseudonymous, self-diagnosed telepath in his late fifties who claims to
have been on the sending end of psychic messages since he was a teenager.
The JREF works with local skeptics groups to run preliminary tests and
works as a filter for the million dollar challenge, and Mr. Blau appeared
before Page Stephens and the rest of the South Shore Skeptics to prove
his talent and take a step toward claiming the prize. Unfortunately for
Mr. Blau, it didnt work out quite the way he hoped.
The test was set up so that Mr. Blau would be able to implant a thought
into a receiveran eager and hopeful volunteer from the
South Shore Skeptics. Coin tosses, seen only by Mr. Blau and the testers,
would determine whether Mr. Blau would mentally touch the
receiver on his left or right shoulder, after whichif the receiver
actually perceived the message, he would raise that hand. Out of 100 coin
tosses, Mr. Blau needed to correctly convey 66 to his receiver to pass
the test and be sent on for further testing by Randi and others at the
He got 48. Essentially, Page says, it came out slightly
Were Mr. Blau and his receiver happy with that score? Well, they
accepted it, Page recalls, as if they had a choice.
Debunker is a contentious term with which many skeptics find
themselves labeled. Were looking for any outcome we get,
Page says, noting that their only agenda is uncovering the truth, whatever
it is. Theyre not out to prove, specifically, that anything doesnt
exist; they just want its existence proven scientifically. According to
Page, numbers arent as conclusive as people would like to think,
so third-party evaluations, like those carried out by the South Shore
Skeptics, are necessary. I could make up a test that would give
me whatever result I want. We do it honestly.
Still, within his group he uses the term debunker with a sort
of defiant pride. They dont like it, but I tend to use it
anyway. After all, he asserts simply, if theres bunk
out there, what do you do? You de-bunk it.
Page doesnt limit his debunking to official South Shore Skeptic
meetings, or even to normal waking hours. One night, his wife, Penny,
had an asthma attack and needed Page to take her to the emergency room.
Fortunately, the ER had been empty nearly all that night, and the doctor
saw her quickly. As she received her treatment, Page found himself with
some idle time and decided to discuss with the staff a matter of socio-medicinal
lore that had plagued him for some time.
Is it really true, he asked, that when the moon is full,
the emergency room is packed full of wild cases?
Oh, yes, they all agreed, adding clichés about full
moons and their ability to bring out weirdoes en masse. When Page was
satisfied that they had achieved consensus, he asked, Have any of
you looked outside lately?
Apparently none of them had, because they would have noticed that on that
particular night the moon was full, yet the emergency room, except for
Page and his wife, was totally vacant.
With the exception of impromptu occasions like the emergency room, Page
rarely challenges others beliefs on their own turf. You wont
see him, for example, interrupting a church sermon or pulling the beard
from a department store Santa Claus. I dont pay much attention
to religion, oddly enough. Im just not religious. I dont dislike
people who are religious. He steps in only when he believes that
peopleeither individually or collectivelycould be hurt by
believing something he feels is dangerous.
He does get a bit defensive, however, when backed into a corner. When
learning of his skeptical nature, people routinely and sternly ask him
whether hes an atheist, with surprising results. No,
Im not an atheist, I tell them, Im not an a-Santa
Clausist, not an a-Easter Bunnyist either.
Quoting his pal Rick Rickards, Page believes that you can never
define yourself in terms of things you dont believe in. There are
billions of things out there that I dont believe in; it would take
me forever to say Im an a-this, and Im and a-that.
So why do people insist on believing things when objective testingor
even a little informal observationwould prove them false? Why does
so much of society have a strange and devoted attachment to believing
things belied by logic?
Dont ask me, Page laughs. I havent figured
that out yet. I quit trying.
Its probably frustrating to guys like Page that astrology is more
popular than ever. Psychics have tremendous mass-market appeal, regularly
appearing on talk shows such as Larry King Live and The
Montel Williams Show. Opportunistic fortune-tellers, despite occasional
wranglings with attorneys general and disclaimers decrying for entertainment
use only, continue to thrive on late-night television and the Internet.
Despite the efforts of Stephens, the South Shore Skeptics, the JREF, and
other like-minded individuals and organizations, its not clear that
reason is winning the battle.
But its not about winning, at least to Page. He learned long ago
that even when presented with facts that refute certain concepts, many
people just dont care. Regarding the ability of skeptics to convince
people or at least get them to think, he seems resigned.
I dont know what our conversion rate is, he laments.
Id hate to guess.
On its surface, his answer is benignly humorous; at its depths, it offers
a glimpse into how deeply his philosophy has infiltrated his personality.
He really would hate to guess, because his guess might not stand up to
the analysis that he would demand of a concrete answer. When asked what
his mentors at Wabashicons such as Eric Dean, Norman Moore, Paul
McKinney, and Joe ORourkemight think of his pursuits, he replies
with a dogged youd have to ask them.
Page often meets simple questions head-on with replies that begin I
have no idea... or Theres no way to know...questions
that beg only the mildest form of speculation or guesswork. True, this
seems unlikely coming from a man whose novella-length rants on the Wally-L
email list have caused more than one alumnus to concede his point rather
than admit he hasnt read Pages whole argument.
So whats next for Page? How long will he keep up the challenge?
How far must the next dogma peddler run to escape his wrath?
Wed hate to guess.
are your thoughts?
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