With ‘Chromatica,’ Lady Gaga comes home.

Excerpt from Colleen Dulle’s review of “Chromatica” in America Magazine:

Growing up in an Italian-American Catholic family, Gaga was formed with these ideas, and they continue to appear in her art and her public persona in ways both reverent and provocative. In a 2016 Instagram post, she thanked a New York priest for his homily, from which she quoted him saying the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but the food that God gives us.” While it would be presumptuous to say Gaga consciously incorporated such themes into “Chromatica,” an incarnational imagination is evident in much of her healing from mental and physical trauma: A healing that, her lyrics and interviews show, is accomplished through a “radical acceptance” of the realities of her body and her humanity.

In “Chromatica,” that vital and healing restoration of the self to the body is accomplished through dance: a physical manifestation of one’s emotions, driven by the transcendent power of music described in her duet with Elton John, “Sine from Above.”

Entire review is HERE

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People of High Character

One of my favorite questions and answers in the article, “Bob Dylan Has a Lot on His Mind” — an interview between historian Douglas Brinkley and Bob Dylan in the New York Times.

 Why didn’t more people pay attention to Little Richard’s gospel music?

Probably because gospel music is the music of good news and in these days there just isn’t any. Good news in today’s world is like a fugitive, treated like a hoodlum and put on the run. Castigated. All we see is good-for-nothing news. And we have to thank the media industry for that. It stirs people up. Gossip and dirty laundry. Dark news that depresses and horrifies you.

On the other hand, gospel news is exemplary. It can give you courage. You can pace your life accordingly, or try to, anyway. And you can do it with honor and principles. There are theories of truth in gospel but to most people it’s unimportant. Their lives are lived out too fast. Too many bad influences. Sex and politics and murder is the way to go if you want to get people’s attention. It excites us, that’s our problem.

Little Richard was a great gospel singer. But I think he was looked at as an outsider or an interloper in the gospel world. They didn’t accept him there. And of course the rock ’n’ roll world wanted to keep him singing “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” So his gospel music wasn’t accepted in either world. I think the same thing happened to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I can’t imagine either of them being bothered too much about it. Both are what we used to call people of high character. Genuine, plenty talented and who knew themselves, weren’t swayed by anything from the outside. Little Richard, I know was like that.

But so was Robert Johnson, even more so. Robert was one of the most inventive geniuses of all time. But he probably had no audience to speak of. He was so far ahead of his time that we still haven’t caught up with him. His status today couldn’t be any higher. Yet in his day, his songs must have confused people. It just goes to show you that great people follow their own path.

To read the entire Dylan interview, click HERE

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The 40th anniversary of The Blues Brothers

Forty years ago, the Blues Brothers movie launched a whole slew of fabulous performers into my life’s soundtrack: Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Elmore James, and the unmistakable growl of John Lee Hooker. Grateful for soul & the blues.

The movie still feels relevant, says star and co-writer Dan Aykroyd: “It’s anti-Nazi. It’s anti-racist. It venerates African American culture and recognizes African American performers and artists. And we were prescient about the militarization of police.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, John Belushi visited Dan Aykroyd’s “505 Club” – an afterhours speakeasy in Toronto run by Aykroyd, years ago. Belushi overheard the song “Straight Up” from Downchild Blues Band and said, “Wow, that’s cool music.”

“Well, John, you’re from Chicago, you know it’s blues music,” said Aykroyd.

“Well, I’m into heavy metal, Grand Funk and, you know, Cream,” said Belushi.

Aykroyd responded, “Well, you know it all comes from the blues.”

The two eventually performed as the Blues Brothers on Saturday Night Live and history was made.

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Liberty’s Hero

By Steve Beard

Frederick Douglass grew up under the perverse shackles of slavery on a plantation in Maryland more than 200 years ago. He never knew the identity of his father, barely saw his mother, and witnessed unspeakable violence and bloodshed before he turned 10 years old. He was proselytized under a warped version of Christianity that had a Bible in one hand and a bullwhip in the other. It was piety unrecognizable to the Prince of Peace.

As one who escaped the bonds of slavery, Douglass (1818-1895) would become the most eloquent abolitionist orator and the most steadfast defender of liberty, equality, and justice. “Douglass spoke as a man born into bondage in America more than forty years after the Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that all men were equal and endowed by God with liberty,” historian D. H. Dilbeck reports in Frederick Douglass: American Prophet, a new spiritual autobiography.

At eight years old, Douglass was sent to live with a Methodist family in Baltimore. The wife, Sophia, was kind and devout and treated Frederick with the love that children deserve. Bible reading, hymn singing, and prayers were commonplace. One night, he heard Sophia reading the Old Testament story of Job aloud. The desolation of Job’s life was spelled out: death, poverty, and relentless calamity. Continue reading

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Juneteenth celebrates ‘a moment of indescribable joy’: Slavery’s end in Texas

This carte-de-visite shows a group of slaves meeting by torchlight in a cabin. A sign on the wall reads “1 Jan-Slaves Forever Free.” The title in chain links on the sides read “Waiting for the Hour – Watch Meeting Dec 31, 1862.” (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

By DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post

Juneteenth … is one of the oldest celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It has its roots in the long-awaited moment of emancipation in Texas, where more than 250,000 enslaved black people received news on June 19, 1865 — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — that they were free. …

In 1865, Texas slave owners had refused to acknowledge the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Black people were in such a delicate situation in Texas,” said C.R. Gibbs, a historian and author of “Black, Copper & Bright: The District of Columbia’s Black Civil War Regiment.” “You have the collapse of the Confederate government. And roving bands of men who wanted to turn the clock back. A Union officer once said, ‘Given a choice between hell and Texas, I would live in hell and rent out Texas.’ It was just that bad in Texas.”

Then, on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on Galveston Island with more than 2,000 Union troops. He stood at the Headquarters District of Texas in Galveston and read “General Order No. 3”:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Black people who heard the news erupted in what Gibbs calls “a moment of indescribable joy.”

Read the entire article HERE

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George Floyd, RIP

A group of artists honor George Floyd by painting a mural on the wall of the Cup Foods at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue south in Minneapolis.

“I would like for those officers to be charged with murder because that’s exactly what they did,” Bridgett Floyd, the sister of the victim,  said on the Today Show. “They murdered my brother. He was crying for help. I don’t need them to be suspended and able to work in another state or another county. Their license should be taken away, their jobs should be taken away, and they should be put in jail for murder.” Bridgett Floyd is hopeful that her family will receive justice in her brother’s case. “I have a lot of faith because I believe in the utmost, powerful God,” she said. “Faith is something that me and my brother always talked about because he was a God-fearing man regardless of what he done. We all have our faults, we all make mistakes, nobody’s perfect, but I believe that justice will be served. I have enough faith to stand on it.”

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The Future of Christianity is Punk

Here are a few noteworthy paragraphs behind the thesis of the provocatively titled New York Times opinion essay from Dr. Tara Isabella Burton.

* More and more young Christians, disillusioned by the political binaries, economic uncertainties and spiritual emptiness that have come to define modern America, are finding solace in a decidedly anti-modern vision of faith. As the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns throw the failures of the current social order into stark relief, old forms of religiosity offer a glimpse of the transcendent beyond the present.

Many of us call ourselves “Weird Christians,” albeit partly in jest. What we have in common is that we see a return to old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping from the crisis of modernity and the liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.

Weird Christians reject as overly accommodationist those churches, primarily Mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism, that have watered down the stranger and more supernatural elements of the faith (like miracles, say, or the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ). But they reject, too, the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement.

Weird Christianity is equal parts traditionalism and, well, punk: Christianity as transgressive alternative to contemporary secular capitalist culture. Like punk, Weird Christianity has its own, clearly defined aesthetic. Many Weird Christians across the denominational and political spectrum express fondness for older, more liturgically elaborate practices — like the Episcopal Rite I, a form of worship that draws on Elizabethan-era language, say, or the Latin Mass, or the wearing of veils to church.

* The Weird Christian movement, loose and fledgling though it is, isn’t just about its punk-traditionalist aesthetic, a valorization of a half-imagined past. It is at its most potent when it challenges the present, and reimagines the future. Its adherents are, like so many young Americans of all religious persuasions, characterized by their hunger for something more than contemporary American culture can offer, something transcendent, politically meaningful, personally challenging. Like the hipster obsession with “authenticity” that marked the mid-2010s, the rise of Weird Christianity reflects America’s unfulfilled desire for, well, something real.

Read the entire piece HERE.


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Mermaids returning to Montana tiki bar as it reopens

Addie Jardee, one of the mermaids at the Sip ‘n Dip. Photo: Rich Addicks for The New York Times

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — For patrons at a Montana tiki bar that has a back wall of a window into a motel swimming pool, it’s typical to see mermaids in the water five nights a week.

So as the owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn and the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls began preparing to reopen the bar after eights weeks of coronavirus-related restrictions, she wanted things to be as close to normal as possible — and that included the underwater entertainment. Sandra Thares said she emailed regulators for guidance on whether mermaid shows could resume.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s office said yes. The Cascade County health department said no, believing pools couldn’t reopen until the third phase of the gradual reopening of the state’s economy. After some back-and-forth in which the governor’s office noted hotel pools could reopen for registered guests with social distancing guidelines, the county OK’d the mermaid entertainment as long as only one mermaid was in the pool at a time, Thares said. There’s usually two.

“We were not trying to step on anyone’s toes, we were just trying to put people back to work,” Thares said Wednesday.

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Tenor’s Prayer: Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli in Milan Cathedral. Photo by LUCA ROSSETTI, COURTESY SUGAR SRL, DECCA RECORDS.jpg

By Steve Beard

Perhaps no singular image better captured Easter under the treacherous cruelty of the coronavirus than Andrea Bocelli performing a solitary sacred concert in the spectacularly cavernous Duomo di Milano, the cathedral in Milan, Italy.

By the time the sun had risen on Easter morning, more than 108,000 deaths had occurred around the globe because of COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins University, there were more than 1.7 million cases worldwide and the virus was detected in 177 countries. At that time, more than 400,000 people had recovered internationally. By the time you read this, all those statistics will be woefully outdated.

“Zoomed” out and stir crazy, legions of sequestered souls were craving relief – something of substance, a dash of beauty, a sliver of hope. There would be no ostentatious Easter bonnets at church this year. There would be no large family feasts – including Aunt Judy’s deviled eggs on the most sacred day of the year. There would be no neighborhood Easter egg hunts for the children. For many, the Sunday morning service included singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” in pajamas and house slippers while live-streaming and praying for the speedy and joyous return of congregational worship – even surrounded by those bellowing off-key. Continue reading

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Wendell Berry: The Poet of Place

PHOTO: GUY MENDES. Berry at home on Lanes Landing Farm in Port Royal, Kentucky.

Wendell Berry in Garden & Gun

When I was young, I picked up some expert’s advice that a writer needed to write facing a bare wall so as not to be distracted. And so I tried writing in a library carrel, in which I was constantly distracted by the suspicion that I was missing something interesting that was probably taking place elsewhere. For me, that didn’t work. To write I’ve always needed at least a big window, in warm weather a porch, on a day that is warm and dry a good sitting place in the woods. I suppose I’ve needed something of interest to look up at.

But I think my work also has benefited from distractions. There are times when my writing has had to come second to my family or my neighbors or my horses or my sheep. These reminders of things more important than writing have kept my writing firmly placed in the workaday world, where it belongs.

To read entire interview, click HERE

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