Lisa Marie memorialized at Graceland

“This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Elvis Presley told reporters on the set of his film “Raceway” in 1967. His wife Priscilla had told him that they were going to have a baby. As he handed out cigars to the cast and crew, he said, “I was so shocked I didn’t think I could move for a while.”

I recalled Elvis’ reaction while watching the livestreamed memorial service today for Lisa Marie Presley at Graceland. Although she knew of her dad’s undying love for her, she was not aware of his exact comments until decades later when she saw them highlighted at a Graceland exhibit. “I had never seen [the quote] before,” she said in a 2018 video interview, “last night was the first time I saw it, so that was really cool.”

“I knew there was a great love there,” she added. “There was a really strong connection there since the minute I can remember. It kind of reinstates what I felt was the truth, which is that I felt like I was the most important thing to him.”

When Elvis saw Lisa Marie for the first time at the hospital, “he was already in love with her,” Priscilla wrote in her memoir Elvis and Me. “He watched me holding her and his eyes misted with happiness.”

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Bob Dylan on music, creativity, faith and entertainment

Bob Dylan – Azkena Rock Festival. Creative Commons.

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma — a genius cloaked in many shades of mystery. His recent interview with the Wall Street Journal is regarding his recent book “The Philosophy of Modern Song.” The discussion can be found HERE.

Dylan fires missiles like this: “You need a solar X-ray detector just to find somebody’s heart, see if they still have one. What’s the gold standard for a song these days? What song will walk off with the trophy? ‘Paint it Black’ is black as black can be, black as a crow’s head, a galvanizing song. ‘Paperback Writer’ sounds good, too. The biographer, the ghost writer, doing it long hand. I can visualize that song; see it in my mind’s eye. ‘Strangers in the Night,’ that, too. A couple of people who don’t know each other on the dark side of things. I don’t know which one I’d vote for. I have sympathies for them all.”

Dylan on entertainment and faith: “I’ve binge watched Coronation Street, Father Brown, and some early Twilight Zones. I know they’re old-fashioned shows, but they make me feel at home. I’m not a fan of packaged programs, or news shows, so I don’t watch them. I never watch anything foul smelling or evil. Nothing disgusting … I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it.” Continue reading

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Bono: “I took Jesus with me everywhere and I still do.”

Surrender is a beautifully etched scrawl in the sidewalk of rock ‘n’ roll history – right about the time I was coming of age. Bono was four steps ahead (I just turned 58) trying to juggle anger, loss, love, and a unbearable urge to be center stage. Oh, and there was Jesus. And Ali – his wife of now 40 years. There are enough judiciously placed f-bombs to make sure that this is not written off as a modern day religious tract or Pilgrim’s Progress. There are 545 pages for the haters to hate and the lovers to love. Mock him all you want. He’s heard it all before. But in the midst of the chatter of negotiating with politicians, vacationing with billionaires, and saving the world, Bono still seems to be the flush-face Irishman with both oars in the water, paddling like a madman, still trying to save his soul.

“I’d always be first up when there was an altar call, the ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I still am. If I was in a cafe right now and someone said, ‘Stand up if you’re ready to give your life to Jesus,’ I’d be the first to my feet. I took Jesus with me everywhere and I still do. I’ve never left Jesus out of the most banal or profane actions of my life.”

–Bono, Surrender

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Nick Cave and the search for the Divine

Faith, Hope, and Carnage is a fascinating conversation between singer Nick Cave and journalist Sean O’Hagan. Among numerous subjects, it deals most compellingly with grief, song writing, and faith.

Sean O’Hagan: So, back in your younger, wilder days, when you drew on biblical imagery as a source for your songwriting, was that also a reflection of a deeper interest in the divine?

Nick Cave: Well, I was surrounded by people who displayed zero interest in spiritual or religious matters, or if they did, it was because they were fiercely anti-religious. I was operating in a Godless world, to say the least, so there was no real nurturing of these ideas. But I was always struggling with the notion of God and simultaneously feeling a need to believe in something. Continue reading

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The amazing eye of Peter Mitchell

Mr & Mrs Hudson. Wednesday 14 August 1974. Seacroft Green, Leeds © Peter Mitchell

I have grown to simply love the photography of Peter Mitchell, a veteran lensman with a keen eye. His work in Leeds, England, tells tremendous stories. You can read a wonderful portrait of him here. Early on, he had a difficult time selling his work to galleries. “‘Our arty stuff is black and white. How will we sell your stuff? It doesn’t come under nudes, it doesn’t come under landscape, it’s not pure documentary. It’s not totally aesthetic,’” he was told. “I wasn’t a part of one of those small groups,” he told the Financial Times. “I was always quite solitary but that suited me anyway. And I still feel like that.” You can check out his books here.

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ARCHIVES: The Royal Faith of Queen Elizabeth

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth greets employees on her walk from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center mission control to a reception in the center’s main auditorium in Greenbelt, Maryland, 2007. Photo: NASA.

By Steve Beard

There is an intriguing scene in Season 2 of the wildly successful historical drama, The Crown, on Netflix. For the uninitiated, the award-winning series revolves around the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the now 91-year-old sovereign of the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of episode six, Elizabeth (played by Clare Foy) is studiously watching Billy Graham preach on television in 1955 while sitting with her mother in Buckingham Palace. The Queen Mother (played by Victoria Hamilton) finds Graham to be more than an acquired taste for the upper class British religious sensibilities. She appears perturbed that the public is captivated by a man who learned his trade “selling brushes door-to-door in North Carolina” and that British subjects turned “out in droves for an American zealot.”

“He is not a zealot,” Elizabeth responds.

“He’s shouting, darling,” her mother replies. “Only zealots shout.” Continue reading

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ARCHIVES: A Princess and a Saint

Stamp of Albania

By Steve Beard, 1997

Even weeks after the fact, people are still talking about it. After all, within five days the world lost its two most beloved women. Mother Teresa died at age 87 of a heart ailment. Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. She was 36.

The comparisons were inevitable. Of course, they could not have appeared more different in appearance or lifestyle. Princess Diana lived in a London palace and was a jet-setter among the richest of the rich. Mother Teresa’s vow of poverty took her to the poorest of the poor in a Calcutta slum. Nevertheless, the two shared a common care for the less fortunate, although they used drastically different approaches.

As perhaps the most photographed woman in the history of the world, Princess Diana successfully used her dynamic charm and beauty to campaign for righteous causes such as extending compassion to AIDS patients, banning land mines, and comforting the poor. Continue reading

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The tenacity of William Wilberforce

By Steve Beard

Published in 2006

If you’ve seen the movie Crash, there is a scene in which Anthony, a car thief, discovers a van with the keys dangling in the driver’s door. Since no one is around, he hops in and drives to a chop shop to sell off the parts. When they open up the back of the van, Anthony and the shop owner are startled to find a dozen Asian men, women, and children. In stunning immediacy, the shop owner offers Anthony $500 for each one without a tinge of reluctance—haggling for humans like used auto parts.

As the 2006 Academy Award-winning morality tale, Crash is loaded with gut-wrenching scenes meant to prick our racial prejudices and stereotypes. The chop shop scene came to mind while viewing Amazing Grace, a film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The movie’s release was timed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. At that time, the British Empire was heavily dependent upon the slave trade and Wilberforce dedicated his entire life to fighting the gross social injustice. Continue reading

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Iconic brushstrokes from Ukraine

Kateryna Shadrina. “Madonna with Child.” Click to enlarge.

By Steve Beard

As I watched the evening news during the haunting first few weeks of the scorched-earth invasion of Ukraine, I could not help but see Kateryna Shadrina’s vibrant image of the Madonna and Child superimposed over the video footage on television of mothers carrying their young children in a panicked evacuation of their homeland.

Although I have half-a-dozen depictions of the Mother and Child in my office, the liquid blues and electric yellows and oranges give Shadrina’s a different dynamic. The 27-year-old artist is an iconographer from Lviv, Ukraine.

Her image wreaked havoc on me.

Visual arts animate the imagination in ways that words alone cannot. To see Michelangelo’s Pietà – the sculpture of the lifeless body of Jesus being cradled by Mary after the crucifixion – is to engage a part of the mind and soul that mere nouns and verbs do not touch. Through painting, Van Gogh helped us visualize the story of the Good Samaritan, while Rembrandt illuminated the story of the Prodigal Son. El Greco told biblical stories in Spanish Renaissance fine art, Howard Finster preached the gospel through American folk art, and Marc Chagall challenged us to see the crucifixion from a different vantage point.

Let me be clear, I am not an art critic. I like what I like. But I also understand there is much to learn through the vision of an artist. “The first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender,” observed C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. “Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” Continue reading

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Lenten Underground

“We are together” by Kateryna Shadrina in Lviv, Ukraine. Used by permission of the artist.

By Steve Beard

It was standing-room-only for the noon Ash Wednesday service at my local church. Ushers were pulling folding chairs out of a closet and people were sitting in the hallway outside the sanctuary. Parishioners were literally standing against the back and side walls. It was probably a fire hazard. 

We were all squeezed in to be reminded of our mortality. “Remember that you are dust,” the pastor said as the sign of the cross was smudged on my forehead, “and to dust you shall return.” Stark and sobering.

Six thousand miles away, there were believers in Ukrainian bomb shelters. At the time, the brutal invasion had only been a week old. “We survived yet another horrible night,” reported the archbishop of the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv on the first Sunday of Lent – the introspective season of denial leading up to Easter. 

“But after night, there comes day, there is morning,” he said. “After darkness, there comes light, just as after death there comes resurrection, which we all today radiantly celebrate!” Continue reading

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