Friday, September 28, 2007

“Variety is the spice of life.” So goes the expression, and perhaps the inspiration behind all this "diversity" talk. Philippe Legrain is an author and economist from the UK. Recently he wrote a book entitled Immigrants: Your Country needs Them, where he makes the case for carte-blanche immigration. But there's a down side. Robert Putnam is the author of Bowling Alone. According to a report on his findings in TCS Daily, "...a variety of research from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe shows that ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust, lower 'investment in public goods,' less reciprocity, and less willingness to contribute to the community. In workplace situations diversity is associated with 'lower group cohesion, lower satisfaction and higher turnover.'"

On that cheery note, this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy portrays a worst-case scenario, in a clip entitled "One Semester of Spanish."

Not a pretty sight, is it?

“Grow Up Already” Part Deux

We now have the rest of Michelle Malkin's interview with Diana West about the latter's book, The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. The first part was featured at mwbh last Monday. I'm quite impressed that Malkin is expanding her focus into the culture wars, at a time when she was starting to sound like every other Sassy Republican Babe on the news channels.

Especially Fox News. (Hey, maybe that's why they call it "Fox.")

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The News From God’s Country

We visited Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and points north, earlier this month. This included a visit to the little town of Patton, in northern Cambria County, and the good people of Queen of Peace Church, under the pastoral care of Father Ananias Buccione, OSB. For those in western central Pennsylvania who wouldn't mind going for a Sunday drive, Queen of Peace is celebrating Mass according to the classical use of the Roman Rite, every Sunday in the coming weeks. This would be a Low Mass on the Sundays of September 30 and October 7 at 5:00 PM. There will also be a Sung Mass on October 14 at 1:00 PM.

It should be emphasized that these are "private" Masses, as defined by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. This would interpret "private" in the broadest possible terms. So, I'm inviting several hundred of my close personal friends to drop in unannounced on the good folks of Patton for the next few Sundays. Queen of Peace can be found at 907 Sixth Avenue, its spire on the hill in the center of town. To get a map, click here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My “Dear Starbucks” Response

Dear David,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

At Starbucks, we are proud to offer customers a diverse range of music for their enjoyment. Music has always been a part of the coffeehouse culture and is an essential part of the Starbucks heritage and in-store experience.

We understand that our customers have diverse tastes and perspectives. In selecting music, we strive to represent the work of a variety of talented artists who reflect many creative viewpoints. Starbucks is an avid supporter of free speech and the creative process. When considering new projects, our primary goal is always to help our customers discover and acquire quality music.

We value input from our customers and respect their opinions. Starbucks and Hear Music believe our music selections continue our commitment to offering customers a variety of music from a vast array of genres.

Thanks again for contacting Starbucks.


Minh L
Starbucks Coffee Company

[As expected, the response is obviously a formula. They might very well be gauging the responses one way or the other. It would be poor market research to do any less. I don't believe these people actually realize they're offending anyone, so much as allowing an artist to speak freely about what some would perceive as a faceless institution, not a body of individuals, and indirectly at that. Their position is naive at best, disingenuous at worst. But in light of the above, it does not surprise me. -- DLA]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Summer of Love: Bob Dylan

It's hard to write about Bob Dylan. After all, it's all been said already. But in looking at the "summer of love" phenomenon, he cannot be ignored.

In some respects, he's been overrated, at least as a singer. In the years leading up to 1967, he would have been the first to admit to bewilderment at the fuss being made over him. As this interview with TIME magazine shows (in the clip below, which gets tiresome after a couple of minutes), he was rather cynical about it. Obviously he found a way to make a living doing what he liked best, which was songwriting. And if the above clip is any indication, it almost made up for the singing.

But people didn't seem to mind. Some people did mind, though, when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Still, they got over it. (The Grateful Dead didn't; the incident was their inspiration for going electric at the offset, but that's another story.)

Dylan was the subject of a 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary "No Direction Home," which in turn was the subject of a post at mmwbh in September of 2005. For just over a year now, Dylan has hosted the Theme Time Radio Hour on XM Satellite Radio. It's quite good, actually.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My “Dear Starbucks” Letter

Dear Sir/Madam:

It has come to my attention that your company has signed on with recording artist Joni Mitchell, to release her new album called "Shine" in all of your stores. According to a report from Fox News, the album's title song is an attack of various beliefs and institutions which Ms Mitchell finds objectionable, including the "Catholic Church and all the prisons that it owns." I am writing to express my concern about this decision of yours.

But not for the reason you think. Well, not entirely.

It has probably missed the attention of those responsible for your market research, that approximately 21 percent of the population in the USA identifies itself as "Roman Catholic." Inasmuch as you are reaching out to international markets, the same would apply to roughly one-sixth of the world population. I should think that this would constitute a significant market share. Now, granted, it is possible that many of your Catholic patrons would enjoy your product enough to ignore the promotion of an artist who would offend their way of life. But how sure can you be?

And is it worth it to risk offending an audience this significant, even potentially, to promote the work of an artist whose contribution to popular music is such, that her career would likely continue to do very well without your help?

No offense. I look forward to hearing from you.

David L Alexander
Arlington, Virginia, USA
manwithblackhat at yahoo dot com

Why We Won't “Grow Up Already”

Here we have part one of columnist Michelle Malkin's interview with author Diana West about her book, The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. The Divine Mrs M discusses with the author, the blurring of adolescence and adulthood in America, and what it all means.

Thank God I don't have this problem.

My Luddite Weekend

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone." -- Joni Mitchell

My plans to travel to Columbus this past weekend were shot, so I thought I'd do what I should have done two years ago when I moved into the house, which was unpack numerous boxes of books and shelve them by category. While this was in progress, the router to my high-speed internet access went out, and I was offline. The cable provider said they didn't have anyone available on Saturday (which I don't believe, as I've had people come before on late Saturday afternoon). So I'm stuck waiting until today, when someone will be at the house to receive the cable guy. It will probably involve a five-minute switcheroo, of an old router for a new one.

Meanwhile, I have come to realize what a slave I am to that thing, always checking my usual blogroll stops and other sites several times a day, just so I don't miss any action from people who sit on their duffs just like I do when I checking on the action. I fell behind in my writing, but I sure got a lot of books shelved. I tend to keep the titles of general interest in the living room, along with some general religious titles and a shelf of select works on spirituality. Nothing to arcane, at least not for me. Then on either side of the digital keyboard (in lieu of an upright piano), I have sacred music on one side, and all the other music on the other. Upstairs it where I keep my vast collection of prayerbooks. (Need an old St Joseph's Missal? I can probably spare one.) Also liturgy titles, graphic design and multimedia (including any books from school), the "lifestyle" section (mostly books on architecture and urban planning), plus the scouting library. Finally, a couple of rows of just periodicals. Can't seem to part with certain ones. Good thing I have "web only" subscriptions for some of them now. My computer will be relocated from its temporary place on top of a three-drawer dresser (with the top shelf pulling out for the keyboard), to the armoire in the bedroom opposite the bed.

I also have a "den." Now, what the floor plans call a den usually lacks a window and a closet. This one has both, but it's less than seventy square feet. No wonder Paul wanted to move out. But for now, it's a "holding area," for stuff that needs to be out of the way while I'm doing something else.

It's amazing just how many books I have. Right now I'm missing about one shelf worth of Catholic liturgy titles. It's like I've got the catalog in my head. It might surprise people to know I've actually read, or am reading, most of them. As a child, I was a voracious reader, a trait I've passed on to my son. As a senior in high school, Paul read Plato's Republic, and it wasn't even required. After reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, he decided he was a "christian anarchist." So I introduced him to the Catholic Worker movmement and Dorothy Day. Plus, I got him the DVD to her bio movie starring Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen, Entertaining Angels. Now if he'd just stop bitching and start a revolution...

They say that the print media will become obsolete with the growing acceptance of personal computers. But for people who really love reading, this won't happen. Although I admit, I did have the Palm Pilot to thank for getting through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes while riding the subway. It was easier than carrying the book.

I imagine myself five years from now. I'll have an industrial-strength laptop for my constant companion. When I'm not connected by wireless card to the world, it will be plugged into a docking port with one large monitor and two smaller ones on either side. The latter would hold all the tool boxes that multimedia people need. Or maybe one on the side will just be tuned into a movie. I could see myself working into the night, talking to a guy in the Philippines about when he's gonna deliver whatever, and another guy in the UK who's five hours ahead of me and waiting for ME to deliver whatever. Then at four in the morning, I'll take a break and go to IHOP. One huge breakfast and another pot of coffee, and I'm good for several more hours.

Hopefully, being over fifty won't get in the way. But for now, at least I can survive without the computer.

Obviously I'd prefer not to.

Friday, September 21, 2007

For this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, we watch magicians Penn and Teller get some latter-day hippies to sign a petition that bans dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). But why stop there, when you can get the tee-shirt? Something to think about as an election year approaches. [CONTENT WARNING: One use of an expletive halfway through clip which, while not usually seen on this page, is a valid assessment.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Summer of Love: The Lost Segment

Well, not so much lost as it is delayed.

It's been a very busy week, with some pressing household matters, and some travel plans that had to be put on hold. That's life; it happens. Next week there will be two more segments, and that will be the end of the series. Summer is over, after all. But there will be a continuation of unique and favorite artists on a regular (knock of wood!) basis. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 17, 2007

“I read the news today, oh boy...”

In this special edition of one of the regular features of mwbh, we provide a profile of readers of America's major newspapers, courtesy of Icarus Fallen's own Alberto Hurdato. Occasionally I'm preoccupied with the day's work, and just break down and steal material. Oh, the shame of it...

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country — if they could find the time — and if they didn’t have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a poor job of it , thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who’s running the country and don’t really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who’s running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure there is a country or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy, provided of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

12. The Oregonian is read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something in which to wrap it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Urgent Appeal

Nothing like this has ever appeared on mwbh, and such as the following may never be seen here again, but there's a first time for everything. If all my readers sent just a "widow's mite," it might make a difference in the lives of a family who deserves the collective generosity of strangers. -- DLA

+ + +

Dear Family and Friends,

It is with much humility we write to you all. As many of you know, the past 20 months have been wrought with pain, grief and suffering for our family. We have been out of work since the month after dear Oliver died. Bill was fired from Wells Fargo for abandoning his job, he took too much time off after Oliver’s death. We have since started a home based business, utilizing all of Bill’s strength. Bill is doing Home Health care. He cares for the elderly and dying. Starting your own business has its own troubles, mainly getting advertised and building a clientele. He is currently doing well, he has two clients and receiving very positive feedback. Please visit to see exactly what he is doing.

We were able to purchase this small farm in Toronto in May of 2006, with the assistance of Molly’s brother’s sub-prime finance company. We received a loan for 53,000.00 on a year balloon payment. The loan has expired, we were unable to acquire a conventional loan due to the lack of employment. We are current on payments, the company has failed and they are no longer able to carry us. The business is having all of their loans called in, it is beyond our control. This is not caused by our failure to pay. We have tried every way we know to refinance to no avail. We have sought advice from business men and economist and we are still without a way of financing. We are without any resources. As of October 1, 2007 the trustees of the finance company (Barralyn Financial) will assume our home and property. We will be left with nothing.

After much prayer and counsel we turn to you and ask you to search your hearts to see if you would be able to make a donation to help us raise the loan money. We believe if we can get this out to as many people as possible we can make the deadline. We know that together we can do great things through Christ who strengthens us. Today (September 15) is the feast of the Sorrowful Mother, we unite this humiliation with hers and beg you all to do the same.

If we can ask you all to spread this need to anyone you think who can give even 10.00, we can through Our Lady’s hands raise the money. We have a paypal account you can make a donation to, or if you are more comfortable writing a check you can send it to us directly.

We thank you for your generosity and prayers.

Bill and Molly McGovern
1339 County Road 42
Toronto, OH 43964

Friday, September 14, 2007

Personally, I wouldn't try this in DC after 9-11.


Today, the Christian Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This year, it is also the day in the Western church, when the papal decree Summorum Pontificum becomes effective, permitting the unrestricted use of the classical Roman Missal, as first compiled by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the sixty century, as codified by Pope Saint Pius V in 1570, and last revised by Pope Blessed John XXIII in 1962. It takes its place alongside the reformed Roman Missal, made available under the authority of Pope Paul VI in 1970.

But why today? Why this particular feast day? And on a weekday, no less!

In the second century, the pagan emperors of Rome clearly saw Christianity as a threat to the status quo, and proceeded to eradicate the holy places where Christ suffered, died, and rose again. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138) ordered the ground of Calvary and the Tomb to be covered, and shrines to honor Jupiter and Venus to be erected in their place. Three centuries passed, during much of which time sacrifices to the false gods were offered at the site of the One Sacrifice. Eventually, if only by the grace of God, the sacred remains of Christendom were discovered, and in a new era of tolerance, were open to Christian veneration again. The emperor Constantine, under whose rule this was possible, sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem. She ordered the pagan temples destroyed, and oversaw the excavation of the ground beneath. There she found the three crosses upon which Our Lord and two thieves were executed. The one upon which Christ was hung was determined when a dead man was laid on each one, only to come to life on what could only have been the True Cross. With this discovery, the Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem led those who held the Cross aloft for all true believers to see. It is this show of victory that is depicted on the icon which honors this occasion.

There have been other victories associated with this venerable relic, but they are too numerous to mention here. Indeed, for many Catholics who would defend their great heritage, their sacred tradition, only one victory preoccupies them today. The discovery of a treasure long suppressed and now liberated is remembered today.

In his sermon honoring the occasion, Saint Andrew of Crete declared: "The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast."

With this sign, thou shalt conquer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Summer of Love: The Grateful Dead

As this series draws to a close later this month, we would be remiss not to mention a band that not only exemplified the cultural phenomenon out of which it rose, but broke new ground in other ways as well.

The Grateful Dead made their name in the heart of San Francisco's Haight-Asbury district, the alleged focal point for that whole "peace, love, dope" thing. Theirs was a response, albeit as misguided as the rest of their compatriots, to a nation that had prospered by unbridled capitalism and cultural Calvinism. The band was formed in 1965, and emerged on the "new rock" scene with an unprecedented eclecticism of folk, bluegrass, blues, country, jazz, psychedelic, gospel -- accented by the ground-breaking (and sometimes tiresome when done by others) "long jam." They raised the meaning of a "cult following" to a whole new level, their devotees becoming known as "Deadheads." This set the standards for other cult followings. (Fans of the Toronto-based Moxy Fruvous were known as "Fruheads," while followers of Virginia-based Eddie from Ohio are known as "Edheads," supporters of Senator Fred Thompson's bid for the Presidency have become known as... you get the idea.)

Jerry Garcia, guitarist-singer of the band, was thought to be the leader by most, a distinction he would deny. But it was clear that he was the folal point of the band. He died in August 1995, most likely the result in part of years of chemical abuse. It was then that "The Dead" disbanded. They left behind a fan base who would bring their children, and even their grandchildren, to concerts.

Such is one way to ensure a legacy.

September Eleven

Suddenly and without warning
On a clear September morning,
America's face forever changed
And priorities painfully rearranged.

How can hate be so strong
Against so many who've done no wrong?
Towering infernos, it seemed surreal,
Then crashing down, concrete, glass and steel.

Thousands died and millions cry.
Heroes live and heroes die,
As smoke and ash would fill the sky.

Even now our hearts still grieve,
For captive sights which never leave.
The world it seems has always been
A place where evil seems to win.

But those who wait throughout the night
Must know that dawn will bring the light,
And we who trust in God above,
Must never cease to show His love.

-- ©2002 Paul W Smith

Monday, September 10, 2007

Icarus Rising

Some might remember when man with black hat went on hiatus about four years ago. It was for exactly forty days, the right amount of time for what was then a type of "desert experience." There are over a thousand weblogs identified as "Catholic" in their orientation according to the "Catholic Blog Directory." There may be many more of them. Dozens of writers-by-avocation may face circumstances in their lives -- family emergencies, personal crises, job changes, and so on -- which force them to shut down for an interim, if not permanently.

Fellow Virginian Mattias Caro has not disclosed the reasons for taking a rest from authoring Icarus Fallen, but he's back now, filling a space "where nothing is so practical as a good philosophy." Also undisclosed, is the motivation behind his nom de plume, "Alberto Hurtado." Huh?

Meanwhile, up the coast, author and commentator Stephen Hand, formerly of the long-running Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports, returns to the blogosphere with The Bride and the Dragon. This was originally intended as a low-budget print journal, in a principled attempt to eschew the nefarious influence of certain excesses of the internet. In the end, it fell victim to the realities of the rising costs of print journalism. Between paper, printing, and especially rising mailing costs, smaller print journals are falling by the wayside, or going to the web.

He's hardly alone. Both New Oxford Review and The Wanderer are offering "web only" subscription options. Earlier this summer, this writer learned that the magazine Crisis was disclosing plans for "web only" as its only option. Currently, they offer a webzine known as, in addition to the online version of Crisis.

I realize some people think of the internet -- to say nothing of television -- as a potential "occasion of sin." I could say that about the average bookstore or newsstand. Such influences have always been with us, they're just more "in your face" now than before. Personally, I don't bother to look in that direction, and I'm just as well off. We are called to be "in the world, but not of it."

When it comes down to it, the challenge of attaining virtue despite everything, is nothing new.

Friday, September 07, 2007

"I'm too sexy for this plane, too sexy for this plane, this airline's in-s-a-a-a-a-a-ne...!"

For this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy (admittedly running a bit into the evening), let us consider the dilemma of this poor woman. After all, she could hardly find a thing to wear on the way to a doctor's appointment, and to add insult to injury, she had to fly coach. Pay attention to the newswoman near the end of the clip, who tries to introduce a little common sense into the fray, before being drowned out by the experts in the peanut gallery. Meow!!!

Craig's Lisp

Everyone's been talking about Senator Craig lately, after his supposedly soliciting for gay sex in a Minneapolis public restroom by tapping his foot while in the stall (something I'll be careful not to attempt when I'm on the road from now on), only to be caught in the act by an undercover police officer. Like I said, I was going to write about it, but...

Now, I firmly believe sodomy to be an abomination, an act against nature. If you consider the clinical description of the act, you don't have to ask how I reach such a politically incorrect conclusion. "Actor and commentator Ben Stein strongly defended Larry Craig on Friday's 'Your World with Neil Cavuto'..." which saves me the trouble. Especially since I haven't decided whether I want to.

But I have decided that there is a larger picture here, and as Jerry Bowyer of TCS Daily writes, both Jesus Christ and William Shakespeare manage to back me up on this. For once, I'm in good company:

Renaissance era Vienna was a moral cesspool. Brothels were everywhere, marriage was disappearing and the resultant army of unfathered children created a crime wave... This story is told to us by William Shakespeare... It's title Measure for Measure is taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount... The point is simple: you will be judged by the standards you apply to others. This verse is as frequently misunderstood by liberal as by conservative commentators... Shakespeare got what so many commentators missed: Jesus as pundit, wisely (and it turns out accurately) predicting the implosion of the two great political parties of His day. The same holds true for us.

So, is Larry Craig gay? Did he solicit for a good time in a men's room? I don't know. And after watching the usual bunch of talking heads yammering about it in the past week, I don't care. What I care about, is that the biggest difference between him, and his confreres who would hand him over, is that he got caught. Our own need for redemption, and for appeal to the Divine Mercy with our dying breath, implies a similar reminder.

The same holds true for us.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

One Less Tenor

"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to." - Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

There wasn't much opera in the house where I grew up. And although I developed a tasted for classical music in college, the opera was just a bit out of reach. It was in a language I didn't understand, and it seemed to be only for those who "got it."

A handful of people in recent years changed that perception for me.

I met Sister Deb, a Carmelite novice from New Jersey, while moonlighting for a Marian periodical. We became pals from the beginning. She spoke of the night she met Luciano Pavarotti, how he sang briefly for her, and how it brought tears to her Italian eyes. Matt Archibold of Creative Minority Report reflects on his life as well:

I remember one of my friends was in the middle of a humorous story when Pavarotti began singing Schubert's Ave Maria. And it was like thousands of people all heard their name whispered to them. Everyone, for the the first time that night, became silent and looked up. The fat man was very far away from where we were sitting on our blanket. But we looked up and stared at this well dressed dot hundreds of yards away who was making this angelic noise.

When he sang Ave Maria that night I felt an emotion that I wasn't partial to at that time in my life. Reverence. His voice was clear and beautiful. Nobody spoke. Any word would've sounded harsh, like a curse word. We all felt something together. Everyone in Central Park that night recognized something sacred.

And for that I am thankful. Since then I have often listened to Pavarotti late at night when I'm working. I've listened to a lot of music I would've scoffed at then...

Some artists have the power to move others in that way, even those not predisposed to their genre. These days, I have recordings of Andrea Bocelli and Sara Brightman, two artists whom purists would quickly label as "crossovers," but they have expanded my horizons. And at the core of that trend which is catching on to a new generation, is the voice behind the above rendition of Schubert's Ave Maria. No good Catholic boy over the age of fifty can listen to it with a dry eye.

At a time when Catholics are rediscovering their forsaken heritage, the power of reverence is in the spotlight. But the man who brought it to so many of us has moved on.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Summer of Love: Melanie

I saw her on television at least once, but I don't remember when or where.

Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk, known professionally only by her first name, Melanie, was the model for every young girl with long dark hair and a nylon-string guitar, or at least that's how it was at MY high school. Her first hit in the USA was (probably) "Beautiful People" in 1969, when she suggested that kindred spirits wear identical buttons, presumedly to find each other in a crowd. She had performed at Woodstock, and wrote "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" in 1970 to commemorate three days of camping out in mud and rain, eating bad food, and having bad drug trips. Someone's idea of a dawning civilization, I suppose. But while for some it was a mere benchmark for the popular culture, she appeared to take its purported message to heart. In the clip above, she performs the song with The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Melanie had gained quite a cult following by the early 1970s. Her lyrics could be quite clever, as in the 1972 "Brand New Key," which was banned from some radio stations for alleged sexual innuendo ("I got a brand new pair of roller skates / You got a brand new key / I think that we should get together / And try them out you see..."). It wasn't banned in Cincinnati, though, so it couldn't have been that bad. She also wrote "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" in 1972. It was the kind of ditty that would adapt as easily to a Broadway show tunes environment as to her own. Maybe that's why Quaker Oats used a version of it for a commercial in the 1980s. Then again, maybe it was a response to her label, Buddah Records. When they tried to turn her into a hit factory, she bolted and started her own label. In the years that followed, she was a fundraiser for UNICEF, and took time out to raise a family like normal people do. Her three children are all musicians, and her son Beau-Jarred currently performs with her. A petition is now circulating to have her inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And she still looks like beautiful people, eh?

Meanwhile, look what they've done to her song...

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Road to Johnstown

The City and the Celebration

On a rainy night in May of 1889, the waters of a lake belonging to a private hunt club in western Pennsylvania burst through a weakening dam, sending their onslaught down the valley, and into the sleepy city of Johnstown. After thousands of dead, and many more left orphaned or homeless, the city would rebuilt, but would never be the same. One hundred years later, the city remembered that fateful event with a year-long celebration. It was Labor Day weekend of that year, when an ethnic festival was held in the Cambria City neighborhood, a cluster of houses, taverns, and churches, in the shadow of an old ironworks factory.

On that same weekend, for the next three years, the National Folk Festival was held in the same location. When it left in 1994, the Johnstown Folk Festival was on its own.

The tensions between the neighborhood and the festival organizers were there from the start. Nearly a dozen churches within blocks of one another, most of them Catholic, and most of them serving particular ethnic groups that had long moved to the suburbs, saw in this event a major fundraising opportunity. The Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA), organizers of the annual event, saw a responsibility to ensure its future. Food items on the street had to be bought with notes known as "scrip." For three or four scrips, you could get a gyro sandwich, and the means of exchange provided JAHA with a percentage for entertainment and other overhead costs. But in the parish basements, you could use cash, and the festival itself got nothing. Eventually that same sandwich would cost more. Eventually more of the acts were from outside the region, and fewer of them could be described as being of an "ethnic" character. There were the occasional security problems with thieves stealing the proceeds and disappearing into the neighborhood. The organizers thought the neighborhood wasn't cooperating. The neighborhood thought the organizers were getting "too big for their britches."

Eventually the matter was settled. With the increasing role of local corporate sponsorship, and increased competition for tourists from other events on a holiday weekend, what became known officially as the AmeriServ Johnstown FolkFest moved in 2004, to a permanent and secure (as in, only two ways in or out) location close to downtown at Point Park, where two rivers converged. Admission was still free, but the food cost more than twice what it used to, and the unique local character was lost. Meanwhile, less than a mile to the west, the old neighborhood of Cambria City was undaunted, continuing the Cambria City Ethnic Fest, a modest undertaking with local entertainment and ethnic foods that were reasonably priced. Beginning this year, thanks to the sponsorship of AmeriServ Financial, and the reconciling efforts of Mr Ron Conavali of JAHA, and Msgr Raymond Balta of St Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church -- both of whom get the Tip of the Black Hat for the past week, retroactive -- a shuttle bus was set up to connect the two events. Two events are now joined, separated by less than a mile, and more than a passing view of how a city's heritage should be celebrated.

I Am A Pilgrim

At first glance, I should have no sentimental attachments to the area. My late ex-mother-in-law was born and raised just north of the city, and Paul still has relatives from his mother's side in the locale. On the other hand, just up the road is the town of Ebensburg, where my mother's mother's family (Evans) first settled from Wales. They were originally Methodists. My theory is that the ones who became Catholic had to exile themselves to Ohio, and the rest of the story led up to me. So maybe there's this cosmic connection thing going on. Or maybe it's the friendliness of the people here, where I can go to little towns and hamlets and yak it up with the natives, as if I had lived there my whole life.

I've been making a pilgrimage to Johnstown, since back when the whole thing began. Over the years, sometimes I would take Paul, sometimes I go alone. Lately I have taken this chance to give Sal a taste of the real America. I find that if I can ignore, 1) that a "folk festival" is named after a bank, 2) that the food costs twice what it's worth and that I should save my appetite for that "other festival" down the street, 3) that only about half the musical acts can be considered vaguely ethnic, and 4) that many of those acts are from outside the area -- I manage to have a great time.

One of the perennial favorites of the FolkFest has been Bill Kirchen, former guitarist of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, and the artist behind the hit "Hot Rod Lincoln." Not only is he arguably the quintessential rockabilly guitarist of the post-Woodstock era (the pre-Woodstock title going to either Duane Eddy or Luther Perkins, did I leave anyone out?), Kirchen is a consummate performer. One time I saw him do his big hit, the climax of which was impersonating a series of guitarists by imitating their signature licks, one after the other. Now that's entertainment. And the best news is, he's moved back to the DC area. Maybe he'll go back to being the house band at that biker bar in Annandale. But I doubt it.

Another act I was looking forward to seeing, was an alt-country band entitled Scott Miller and the Commonwealth. Miller is originally from the Blue Ridge in Virginia, but now lives in Knoxville. He does these great songs about life on the road, life in the South, and is inspired by things like letters from a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, not to mention the "original" Civil War, according to his telling of it, which would have been the Whisky Rebellion, one that happened in that part of the state. He performed what started out as an acoustic version of "My Daddy Raised A Boy (And Not A Man):" "My old man could be your dad's old man. / He lied about his age to fight Japan. / It wasn't long before he came back home. / He had some help from the atom bomb." Now that is just righteous! It ended with the band joining in on the final chorus. (His music can be heard by clicking here.) I've already had two of his albums, but I got a third, the all-acoustic one. He and I had a chance to talk afterwards, stuff like the Whiskey Rebellion and why more people don't know about stuff like that. He was a refreshing departure from the politically-correct twerps I run into a lot. He obviously reads too much for his own good. A man after my own heart.

Later in the day, they had zydeco. In particular, they had Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. Now, most zydeco bands come in two varieties. There are the "show bands," which play more rhythm and blues or Motown or funk than they do nouveau zydeco, let alone the old stuff. Such bands are the ones that white people in New Orleans and Baton Rouge trot out for tourists who drink too much and jump around a lot. But THEN, there are the "dance bands," which play the real deal. The last real dance band to play zydeco at Johnstown was Nathan Williams, and that was about ten years ago. Not that the others aren't bad; you just can't dance to them. Fortunately, the son of "Rockin' Dopsie" was closer to a dance band than a show band, and that was good. Some of these guys just don't get it. I don't get that they don't get it.

But there was also dancing to be done at one of Sal's favorite spots, at that "other festival." One of the churches in Cambria City has a pavilion where the food is good and inexpensive, and Lou Stein and All That Jazz keep the party going. Sal and I wowed the audience with the cha-cha. She did take some persuading, but in the end she's a class act. What can I tell you?

Last year, we even danced at the hotel lounge, where there were these two guys, a duo on piano and stand-up bass. The duo was back this year, and we had a chance to get caught up with the guys, and ask about some new developments in the local economy. Over where the old Lutheran church once stood near the hospital in town, a major defense contractor is building a new facility for its medical services division. This same subsidiary provides contract nurses for the Public Health Service at clinics stationed in Federal government buildings. I asked the band about this. They owed it to their congressman, Jack Murtha, the retired Marine who has been very critical of the war in Iraq. But the people in Johnstown, who generally are fiercely patriotic, really don't care what he says inside the Beltway; they care what he does for them at home. And landing this facility means bringing jobs.

Sunday in God's Country

We left Johnstown on Sunday morning. Normally we go to Mass downtown, at the Pro-Cathedral of St John Gaulbert. For several years, I have had to endure some aging hippie wannabe as the celebrant, who is all too aware that the Mass is being televised, and loves to show off. It's embarrassing to watch a grown man make a damn fool of himself on television without Jerry Springer to help him along. So we headed north, to a little town called Patton, where there was a parish called Queen of Peace. Like other parishes in the northern part of Cambria County, this one is staffed by Benedictine Fathers attached to the Saint Vincent Archabbey in nearby Latrobe. My mom has a cousin there among the Brothers. Sal was grateful there was breakfast at the parish hall, something I didn't factor into the itinerary. The church was beautiful and well-maintained, the Mass was reverently celebrated, and the priest was a devout and personable fellow named Father Ananias. We spoke for a bit afterwards, and talked of his plans to institute the Old Latin Mass there when the papal decree becomes effective. He's been getting calls from all over that part of the state about it. I let him know his parish was mentioned in a discussion on the internet. Sometimes good news travels fast.

That afternoon, we took the scenic route home. We stopped by a roadside stand for fresh corn. To anyone traveling through Pennsylvania, I recommend US Highway 30, "The Lincoln Highway," one of the country's great scenic routes. We stopped in a little town called Schellsburg, where there was a little country supermarket where we got more produce. There was also a festival sponsored by the Shawnee Valley Volunteer Fire Department ("Bustin' Ours, Savin' Yours"). They featured a sound stage with southern gospel music. We ate haluski and listened to the soulful sounds of The Gospel Rays. This sort of thing is rather popular in these parts.

It's always good to get back home, no matter where you go. I miss God's country, and wish I could get lost on its roads more often. Sometimes, when the weather is just right, and the people you meet along the way are the salt of the earth, it's like being a little closer to heaven.

Just a little, mind you.


Today, the reformed Roman calendar commemorates Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who lived in the sixth century. He is one of only two popes to have received the title of "Great," and in addition to being a great reformer of the Church (and known among the Orthodox as "Gregory the Theologian"), but is responsible for the early reform of the liturgy in the Western church. The venerable tradition of the Roman Rite can properly be traced to him. I didn't have time to throw anything together, so you might head on over to Vultus Christi: "Pope Saint Gregory was deeply concerned with the dignity and beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. In this he was a worthy son of Saint Benedict. He encouraged the study of liturgical chant and the formation of singers for the glory of God. This is yet another reason for us to seek his intercession at this time when Pope Benedict XVI is taking measures to restore beauty, reverence and dignity to the celebration of the Holy Mysteries..."