Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Babylon Revisited

Until today, if you looked over at the sidebar, there would have been a video clip identified as a reflection on Psalm 137 (or Psalm 136 in the Latin Vulgate numerology, a story unto itself which can be explained by clicking here). This psalm expresses the longing of the Jewish people in exile, following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. There is also a post-apocalyptic short story entitled "By The Waters Of Babylon," composed in 1937 by Stephen Vincent Benét for The Saturday Evening Post, under its original title "The Place of the Gods." I had read this story in grade school. It was in one of those leaflet periodicals they used to pass around to us for extra reading. I was fascinated by the story, and its dark vision of the future, in contrast to the rose-colored vision at the New York World's Fair. It is safe to say that Benét did not envision videophones in his account of the days to come.

Today, the Western church begins the major penitential season of the liturgical year known as Lent. That which is identified as a "Catholic blog" would be expected to do some tribute to this feast, possibly not much different than whatever other Catholic blogs are doing. But we here at mwbh decided to do something different anyway. Our first video clip is one that has usually appeared in the sidebar. It features the 1978 recording of "Rivers of Babylon" (a reference to the Euphrates River, its tributaries, and the Chebar River), by a German disco-pop vocal group named Boney M. Do not be deceived by their Jamaican appearance and surroundings; they are German. I don't get it either.

There is another version of this song, one that is different enough to make you wonder if it isn't just another song altogether. In 1971, singer-songwriter Don McLean recorded an arrangement he -- uh, co-arranged, with Lee Hays of The Weavers, entitled "Babylon," on the same album as his signature hit "American Pie," on the album of the same name as the latter. As there is no "official" music video of that song, someone named "ButtCrackMcCracken" went to the trouble of making one. The last four seconds are a real ice-breaker, which is why it is the version to be featured during the Advent season. It is not the one to be featured in Lent. The next one is.

And... here's the next one. A quick glance will show that it appears in the sidebar today, to recognize this as a penitential season. In this scene from the AMC early-1960s period drama "Mad Men," advertising executive Don Draper finds himself somewhat out of his element in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. As one with a mysterious past who plays his cards close to his vest, Draper cannot hide from the senselessness of his life, as other scenes in the lives of his colleagues juxtapose with his own. He has disdain for rebellious people who in turn have disdain for his material success, even as he is intrigued by them. There is a message in there for us somewhere.

Finally, there is a version of this song that is to be featured at mwbh during the seasons of Christmastide and Paschaltide. If you recognize this as the "German" vocal group Boney M, in a televised performance of their 1978 hit "Rivers of Babylon," you would be correct. They appear to be dressed for a Carnival, maybe for New Year's Eve, we have no idea. But whatever the time of year, if we know what is good for us, we are all longing for Zion.

That's the idea.

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