Robert F. Thomas Chapel at Dollywood.
By Steve Beard
Over the many months of the worldwide pandemic, our nation has weathered wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the South, “murder hornets” in the Pacific Northwest, stay-at-home orders, nationwide protests, shuttered business, postponed funerals, drive-up church services, video classrooms, mask mandates, and a deeply polarized election.
Lord, have mercy. It just seems exhausting to recount the events of the year. Even though the stock market continues to soar, the drive-up lines at food pantries have never been longer. There are a lot of conflicting messages to process.
Those in the white lab coats tell us that a vaccine is around the corner – but it is not here yet. Until it arrives, we wait. “How long, O Lord, how long?” we ask – six feet from our neighbor. These are the days we live in.
Somewhat fittingly, Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the start of Christianity’s liturgical year as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
Waiting was one of the hardest aspects of Christmas as a child. There was such an allure to the wrapped packages under the tree. You could see but not touch. So close – and yet, so far away. It seemed absolutely nerve-racking as a child. Continue reading
By Geoffrey Himen, American Songwriter
“Dave Alvin is one of our best songwriters. He wrote almost all the original material for the Blasters’ brilliant first four albums between 1981 and 1985,” writes Geoffrey Himen in American Songwriter. “He wrote ‘Long White Cadillac,’ a top-40 country hit for Dwight Yoakam and ‘Marie, Marie,’ a top-20 U.K. hit for Shakin’ Stevens. His second solo album (Blue Blvd. ) and his ninth (Ashgrove) are two of the best Americana albums of all time. And yet, for all of Alvin’s achievements as a songwriter, he continues to record songs by other writers.”
So, why does Alvin spend so much time with other people’s songs?
One of the reasons, Alvin said, was the challenge of reinventing a song: “You take the original and then tear it apart,” Alvin told Himen. “How do you do a song like ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ that’s not like Dylan, not like Johnny Winter? Dylan did it as a blues, leaning on the one chord, but I brought it what I call spooky chords, these suspended chords, to set up the refrain at the end of each verse. I wanted to sing it somewhere between Mose Allison and Ken Nordine. The Dylan version has the siren and the jokey/jiving feel, but I wanted to bring it down to the darkness. I wanted the guitars to sound like avenging angels, like you’re driving down the road late at night, and you see these apparitions flying at you until we get back to the one chord.” Continue reading
By Thomas Fuller, New York Times
It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor. Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who attended the dinner with his wife, has apologized, calling it a “bad mistake.”
But that has not assuaged his critics, who point to a cascade of other instances when Democratic leaders in California have been caught flouting the state’s coronavirus orders and guidelines. The revelations come as Mr. Newsom and other officials have asked Californians to make sacrifices to stop the spread of the virus, most recently beseeching them to stay home and avoid visiting extended family over Thanksgiving.
This week state lawmakers came under fire for their slow response in explaining how they ended up at a conference held at a resort in Maui, Hawaii, just as California issued explicit guidance on avoiding “nonessential travel to other states or countries.” The conference was organized by the Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit organization, and asked lawmakers in attendance, including 14 from California, to focus on the theme of reopening economies amid the pandemic.
Read entire article HERE
Vince Vaughn, Los Angeles Times
In his profile on Vince Vaughn’s new movie “Freaky,” Los Angeles Times reporter Josh Rottenberg also explores the swirl of controversy around the actor’s public interactions with politicians:
“In the era of social media, navigating those sorts of career vicissitudes has only become more challenging. In January, Vaughn found himself being slammed on Twitter and Facebook when a video showing him chatting and shaking hands with President Trump at a college football game in New Orleans went viral. Some on the left called for Vaughn – a self-identified libertarian who has drawn fire in the past for his comments on hot-button issues like gun rights – to be canceled.
Vaughn insists the episode was overblown. “In my career I’ve met a lot of politicians who I’ve always been cordial to; I’ve met Nancy Pelosi and was cordial to her as well,” he says, noting that at that same football game he also greeted Democratic strategist James Carville, who had a cameo in “Old School.” “It was the only time I’ve ever met him. We said hello. He was very personable.” He laughs. “I didn’t get into policies.”
“I think people are more charged than ever about these things,” he continues. “But I don’t think most people take that stuff as seriously as the small percentage that’s making noise about it. I was raised with the idea that you could have different likes and beliefs and you should respect and defend that in other people, not shout it down. The people you disagree with the most, you should stand up for their right to do that.”
While some jumped to the conclusion that he was a backer of the president, Vaughn says, “The only candidate I ever supported is [former Libertarian presidential nominee] Ron Paul. … I don’t have a party that I support and endorse. In fact, for me sometimes it’s difficult to find a candidate that you feel is philosophically consistent and not just going along with whoever is funding their particular party. That’s as much as I’ll get into it at this point.”
Whether it’s his personal politics or the state of his career, Vaughn isn’t hung up on what other people might think.
The entire article can be read HERE
Illustration by Aline Zalko
Hard to imagine Willie Nelson is 87 years old. Amanda Petrusich conducted a splendid interview with him for The New Yorker. Here are just a few of the questions and answers I found fascinating.
You describe the Abbott United Methodist Church as the site of some of your earliest musical memories. I’m curious what you recall about the hymns that you sang there, and how performing that music made you feel?
Well, the church is still there, and me and Sister Bobbie are still a huge part of it. We bought that church a few years ago. It actually launched us. The preacher up there is a real good friend. He’s doing a good job – with this pandemic and everything, it’s hard to get a crowd together, but people still love to go to that church.
For the most part, it seems that you didn’t really see your proclivity for mischief and your religious faith to be at odds. But were there ever moments where you did feel that tension acutely?
You know, it’s funny. I have mixed emotions about it. The way I’ve made my money was playing in honky-tonks. One good example is the Night Owl, in West, Texas, north of Waco about thirty miles. It’s close to Abbott, six miles from Abbott. I grew up playing music there. I picked cotton up until I was ten or twelve years old, so to be able to make some money playing music in a beer joint – I felt pretty lucky. And the funny part of it was the people that I was singing to on Saturday nights – I was also singing to a lot of them on Sunday morning, at church. Abbott has a Methodist church, across the street is a Baptist church, across the street is a Church of Christ, down the road a little bit is the Catholic church. So we have churches all over the place – it’s impossible to live in Abbott and not go to one of those churches. Continue reading
Whatever political party one supports, we can all share in Joe Biden’s love for Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney (1939-2013). When he was young, Biden memorized poetry by William Butler Yeats and Heaney in order to help him correct his stutter.
For those who watched his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Biden quoted from Heaney’s famous poem, “The Cure at Troy.” My favorite two stanzas are marvelous.
“History says / Don’t hope on this side of the grave / But then, once in a lifetime / The longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme.’”
“So hope for a great sea-change / On the far side of revenge. /Believe that further shore / Is reachable from here. / Believe in miracle / And cures and healing wells.”
Heaney wrote these verses in 1991 in the wake of Northern Ireland’s apocalyptic conflicts — the lengthy, bloody sectarian clashes. Here are the stanzas in their context: Continue reading
Family and local supporters of Mr. Biden gathered in Market Square in Ballina to celebrate his victory in the presidential election. Credit: Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
By Ed O’Loughlin, New York Times
BALLINA, Ireland — As America turned slowly blue, Ballina held its breath. Was it really possible that Joseph R. Biden Jr., considered a native son of this charming town on Ireland’s west coast — albeit five generations removed — was about to become the next American president?
It was. On Saturday, the election was called for Mr. Biden, and Ballina was ready to celebrate.
The first champagne cork was popped by Mr. Biden’s distant cousins in the town’s Market Square, watched by a few hundred delighted townspeople, two hours before CNN made the call. Someone drove up in a cherry red ’57 Buick Electra coupe with Elvis cushions in the back window. A speaker played Mr. Biden’s campaign song, Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” and the walk-on music from former President Bill Clinton’s winning campaign, “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow).”
Pride in Mr. Biden is strong in this town. His great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt was born in Ballina and emigrated to Scranton, Pa., just after the great Irish famine of 1845 to 1849, according to historians.
Now, the town can boast that it has produced not one but two presidents. Mary Robinson, the global human rights campaigner who became Ireland’s first female head of state, was born a few hundred yards from Market Square, in a house by the salmon-rich River Moy. She won election on Nov. 7, 1990 — exactly 30 years before Mr. Biden’s victory.
Read entire story HERE
Australian rocker Nick Cave interacts with his fans via his website The Red Hand Files. “In this time of illness, cynicism and cruelty, do you receive many mean or vile messages?” asked one fan. “How do you cope with that kind of negative energy?”
Cave responded: “The letters sent to The Red Hand Files are mostly beautiful, full of love and a joy to read, but I do get the odd unkind message. Generally, though, I like them and find them weirdly energising. There is nothing quite like a good death threat in the morning to get the juices flowing.
“They are a form of validation, really, as no one with a public platform and an opinion is doing his or her job effectively if they are not being attacked from time to time.” Continue reading