Archive for May, 2011

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune

Paul Simon wrote American Tune based on a melody by Johann Sebastian Bach, adapted it slightly and gave it bittersweet lyrics.  It showed up in 1973 on his album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and was probably the best song on that album, and one of the best of his career.

On this Memorial Day 2011, have a listen to his performance with Art Garfunkel at The Concert in Central Park.  The two of them reunited for this free event in 1981.  Garfunkel solos at first, and when Simon comes in it’s their legendary harmony all over again.

Then, listen to a hymn based on the same melody:  O Sacred Head Now Wounded.  Bach himself had adapted the tune from a love ballad by Hans Leo Hassler.  Really worth a listen.



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May God bless and keep you always; may your wishes all come true.  May you always do for others and let others do for you.  May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung; and may you stay forever young.” 

Bob Dylan turns 70 today.  Ouch.  So I’ve arranged a party with some of his old friends singing his own work back at him.  If you think Bob can’t sing (you’re not alone and you may be right, but not likely) we’ll let the others do it. 

Joan Baez starts with Forever Young, trying to take the sting away from 70. 

Then we’ll sweeten it up with Judy Collins singing a very bitter Dylan song a capella, one of the most important songs ever written that never gets played:  With God on Our Side.

Eric Clapton joins with Love Minus Zero/No Limit at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert in 1993.  Even if your sound is turned off it’s worth it just to watch Clapton’s fingering on the guitar. 

Johnny Cash joins with Bob himself in the studio during the recording of the Nashville Skyline album in 1969, singing One Too Many Mornings.  Listen to the clear, liquid tones of Bob’s voice during that period.  Yes, he can sing.  But he chooses not to.   





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Thanks to Kate for this one…

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Last warning


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While I was growing up The Bomb hung over our heads like the Sword of Damocles.  Or like that Pendulum in a story by Poe (it’s still hanging over us, but by now we’re used to it).  And Khrushchev said that he’d bury us, but I know he meant it affectionately.  It was a cheerful time for parents to raise little kids.   

And if those metaphors weren’t enough, we had Tom Lehrer to make up some more:

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry. 

This post, of course, is to cheer us on through The End on Saturday the 21st.  If you missed out on Tom Lehrer in the ‘Sixties, you still have a few hours left.


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Physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made great contributions to our understanding of science and has been a great example of courage in overcoming a handicap.  But, like Carl Sagan, he sometimes violates principles of good science and makes unverifiable claims. 

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Dr. Hawking has claimed the non-existence of Heaven:  “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  

He is welcome to his belief, and he knows full well that there is no easy way to prove non-existence scientifically; and so his statement comes under the realm of faith, the same as for those of us who do believe in Heaven.  We can’t prove it either, but then we’re not trying to justify it on scientific grounds.  It’s faith in what’s unseen, as the Book of Hebrews says.

Let me steer you to something written by a former professor of mine, Thomas Howard.  Here are the opening paragraphs in his book Chance or the Dance?  A Critique of Modern Secularism:

After that, ’nuff said.

There were some ages in Western history that have occasionally been called Dark. They were dark, it is said, because in them learning declined, and progress paused, and men labored under the pall of belief. A cause-effect relationship is frequently felt to exist between the pause and the belief. Men believed in things like the Last Judgment and fiery torment. They believed that demented people had devils in them, and that disease was a plague from heaven. They believed that they had souls, and that what they did in this life had some bearing on the way in which they would finally experience reality. They believed in portents and charms and talismans. And they believed that God was in heaven and Beelzebub in hell and that the Holy Ghost had impregnated the Virgin Mary and that the earth and sky were full of angelic and demonic conflict. Altogether, life was very weighty, and there was no telling what might lie behind things. The ages were, as I say, dark.

“Then the light came. It was the light that has lighted us men into a new age. Charms, angels, devils, plagues, and parthenogenesis have fled from the glare into the crannies of memory. In their place have come coal mining and E = mc2 and plastic and group dynamics and napalm and urban renewal and rapid transit. Men were freed from the fear of the Last Judgment; it was felt to be more bracing to face Nothing than to face the Tribunal. They were freed from worry about getting their souls into God’s heaven by the discovery that they had no souls and that God had no heaven. They were freed from the terror of devils and plagues by the knowledge that the thing that was making them scream and foam was not an imp but only their own inability to cope, and that the thing that was clawing out their entrails was not divine wrath but only cancer. Altogether, life became much more livable since it was clear that in fact nothing lay behind things. The age was called enlightened.

“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.”


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Save the date

You may have heard of a gentleman named Harold Camping by now.  He has calculated that the end of the world will begin this week, on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

He may be correct.  But then, if he’s correct the Mayan calendar, which some say predicts 2012, will be incorrect, and that would be a disappointment.

Perhaps it’s only a rounding error.

I remember the last time the world came to an end.  It was in October 1992, and my old buddy Tim and I were out lobstering the day afterward.  While he was filling bait bags he said, “I’m awful glad the world didn’t end yesterday.  I haven’t finished putting seaweed on my garden yet.”

I do appreciate a dry sense of humor.

For more on Harold Camping’s prediction, see this recent interview with him by CNN. 

Sooner or later, statistically, the false prophets will hit the date correctly out of sheer persistence.  But then, how will anyone know they were right? 

While Mr. Camping and others claim the Bible as their authority, why don’t we look at what the Bible itself has to say about it?  The doomsday prophets base much of their claim on Matthew 24, and I do recommend reading the whole chapter.   But as to the day and the hour, here are some pertinent words by Jesus himself, starting at verse 36:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

We’ll see who’s right, Jesus or Harold Camping, on Saturday.  And I’ll see you in church on Sunday to talk it over.   


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I love you, Mom!  Here’s a card from some of the best.

Leonardo da Vinci - Madonna with the Carnation


Giovanni Bellini - Madonna and Child


Michelangelo - Holy Family ("Doni Tondo")


Pablo Picasso - Mother and Child



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If the Birthers won’t shut up then at least I should, and I’ve been good so far.  But I save out cartoons in case they become handy, and this one just did. 

In breaking news:  Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has released his birth certificate.  Why?  To defuse any potential for distraction in the future.  Governor Jindal’s parents are from India, and his mother gave birth to him six months after they arrived in the United States.

Why would a Republican governor feel the need to pre-empt a strike against the Birther Movement?  I have absolutely no idea.  And I’m not suggesting that the Birther Movement is entirely racist, but there may be a pattern emerging. 

Here is what one cartoonist suggests:

 Cartoon credit:  Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader

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Pete Seeger turns 92 today.  A lot of people wanted him dead half a century ago but he kept on strumming his banjo. 

Besides the banjo, Pete is known as a champion for migrant workers, the labor movement in general (our governor is not likely a Pete Seeger fan), civil rights, the anti-war movement, the environment (remember the Clearwater sailing on the Hudson?) and, well, music

Pete always said that he believed music could help change the world.  “How can I keep from singing?”  he keeps asking.  And he won’t quit strumming his banjo.

He distanced himself from the Communist affiliation of his younger years but never quite renounced it, apparently believing it to be nobody’s business.  In 1955, when the House Committee on Un-American Activities (under the influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy) investigated him and many others Pete refused to invoke the Fifth Amendment or to respond in any manner other than to frustrate his interrogators, insisting on his First Amendment rights:  “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”  For that he was found in contempt of Congress, in contempt of court, and eventually was sentenced to prison, which an appeals court overturned.

And he kept on singing—through the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Gulf War(s) and today.  One of the first anti-war songs I ever learned was “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and at age 12 I wasn’t really aware what it was about, even though Viet Nam was in the news increasingly .  I simply knew that it had a great melody and that the lyrics came full circle. 

Pete has never sounded angry or beligerent with his music, no matter how angry he may feel.  And his concerts become sing-alongs, getting audiences of all ages involved with the music on whatever level they can understand.  Downright subversive. 

From the political low of his blacklisting by the McCarthyites (our government’s low, not Pete’s) he has risen to being recognized as the national resource and the patriot that he is, with his performance at the inauguration of President Obama.  The honor was more the president’s, and I think Obama would agree with that. 

Next?  How about the Nobel Peace Prize?  Come on, guys.

Here are a couple of tunes typical of Pete:  The first, “The Banks Are Made of Marble” is a workers’ rights song (again: Governor LePage not likely a fan) and it gained a lot more attention after the Bank Crash of 2008.  Simple tune, repetitive theme, easy lyrics.  Anybody can do this music, and that’s part of what Pete’s all about. 

The second is his well-known “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  Sing along with it and then look for this on YouTube by other artists as well.  It won’t go away so you may as well join in.


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Happy birthday to Judy Collins—a year older but timeless. 

A few videos of Judy:

In the first, having a chat with Pete Seeger before singing Bob Dylan’s “Bob Dylan’s Dream”.  

In the second, you’ll see her with Graham Nash and a “surprise” visit by Stephen Stills, who wrote the song in this blog’s title, in honor of her.  But here they’ll sing Ian Tyson’s Someday Soon.

And then (why not?) Crosby, Stills and Nash at Woodstock with Stephen Stills’ Suite: Judy Blue Eyes




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