Forebears: Wanda Jackson, The Queen Of Rockabilly

Wanda Jackson is known as the Queen of Rockabilly. Autumn de Wilde /Courtesy of the artist

By Maria Sherman, NPR

When Wanda Jackson was six years old her father asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She shouted back: “A girl singer.” A barber by trade and country performer by night, Jackson’s father was a supportive figure who urged Wanda to be herself and to pursue endeavors that made her happiest. He bought her an old Martin D18 guitar soon afterwards and watched as her ineffable rasp and relentless determination crafted a career that would quickly eclipse his — long before she reached drinking age — in turn challenging the traditional path of popular music.


Known as both the Queen and First Lady of Rockabilly, Jackson’s prolific career protested patriarchal standards of music new and old. She did the unacceptable and refused to compromise. As Elvis Costello says in the 2008 Wanda Jackson documentary, Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice, “You can hear lots of rocking girl singers who owe an unconscious debt to a woman like Wanda. She was standing up on stage with a guitar in her hand while other gals were still asking, ‘How much is that doggy in the window?'” Because of Jackson, we’ll never have to again.

Read full NPR article HERE.

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Jason Isbell on post-Christian America

Rolling Stone: What has surprised you most about Trump?

Jason Isbell: The Trump presidency has convinced me that we are living in a post-Christian America. I could see how a lot of conservative right-wing Christian Americans would vote for someone like Mitt Romney, who seems like a stand-up guy. But Trump is obviously not a good Christian person. I think the fact that so many people voted for him means that there aren’t that many good Christian people left in rural America. God is gone from those people.

Read full interview HERE.

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‘Shout Sister Shout!’: Theater Review

Courtesy of Jim Cox Photography

Hollywood Reporter:

Gospel and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Rosetta Tharpe gets her due in a lively new musical from the creator of ‘A Night With Janis Joplin.’

In 2008, the State of Pennsylvania declared Jan. 11 Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day and held a concert to raise funds for a marker for her grave. The fact that the final resting place of this gospel and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer had been neglected may have caused a backlash, spawning biographies and documentaries, as well as a 2014 off-Broadway play, Marie and Rosetta. From director Randy Johnson (A Night With Janis Joplin), Shout Sister Shout! offers spirit-raising gospel, proto-rock and rhythm and blues courtesy of a rousing cast. Tracy Nicole Chapman, whose Broadway credits include The Lion King and Caroline, or Change, headlines an irrepressible evening of song, her acrobatic vocalizations fusing bravura with tenderness.


In her time, Tharpe was lauded for guitar work equal to that of any man. In fact, she could outplay most of them. It’s no surprise she was a victim of sexism and racism, and her final resting place nearly forgotten. While Shout Sister Shout! serves as a necessary theatrical testament to an American treasure, it’s also a rollicking celebration of her joyous spirit.

To read entire review, click HERE.

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Getting Andy Warhol’s religion

C-Monster on Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, at the Brooklyn Museum in 2010.

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni was the last employee that Andy Warhol ever hired. She worked at the Warhol Studio and has written After Andy, a notable memoir capturing Warhol’s final days.

“After Andy demonstrates her storytelling chops as the book masterfully winds through anecdotes, scenes and interviews with scores of Warhol’s associates, acquaintances and admirers,” writes Rolling Stone. “It is breezy without ever feeling light, channeling Warhol’s enigmatic presence.”

From Nick Ripatrazone in Rolling Stone: “And it is the puzzle at the center of that enigma which Fraser-Cavassoni captures: Warhol’s Catholicism. At the memorial service, art historian John Richardson eulogized that Warhol ‘fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, and glamor and that he was cool to the point of callousness.’ As a fellow Catholic (like her mother, she attended St. Mary’s Ascot convent school in Berkshire), Fraser-Cavassoni gets Warhol’s religion.

“Almost everyone who remained relevant in Andy’s life was Catholic,” she explains, “whether it was Paul Morrissey, Fred Hughes, Bob Colacello, the photographer Christopher Makos and Vincent Fremont.” She continues: “Being brought up Catholic gives a sense of hierarchical order, discipline and faith. Faith, when embraced, anchors the creative … I think it would also be fair to say that the romantically rich and multi-layered religion that forgives all – lest we forget! – allows unconventional traditionalists.”


After Andy captures the artist’s almost otherworldly staying power. “Warhol’s primordial influence was a religious one,” she asserts. “His genius was changing the face of art by mixing it with contemporary flare and timeless technique. Look at the Marilyns, Jackies and other Sixties portraits – the ones termed by Andy as his ‘rainy day paintings’ – the suggestion of sainthood and or martyrdom gives an eternal quality to each subject. Meanwhile, the best of his self-portraits are Christ-like and imply that Catholicism plagued him.” After Andy is an entertaining ride about work, play and the weirdness in-between that creates great art.

To read entire article, click HERE.

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Alice Cooper talks Paranormal

Tipping his top hat and waving his walking stick, 69-year-old Alice Cooper is still cranking out great music. This week, the king of macabre-greased, tongue-in-cheek rock-n-roll, released his latest album Paranormal – with the help of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Larry Mullen of U2 as well as original band mates. As fans have come to expect, there are plenty of hard-driving songs with plenty of creepiness thrown in: “My shadow has a life of its own / Watching you while you sleep all alone.” Or “When the night is all cool, skin and bones / And you lie wrapped in sheets on your own.”

“That’s kind of what people want or a certain amount of that out of Alice Cooper. They want a certain amount of Edgar Allan Poe out of me, and I love writing those types of songs,” Cooper recently told Paste.

Of the many things that have changed within American culture, the shock factor of rock ‘n’ roll has to push ultra-extreme limits in order to compete with the nightly news.

“I mean, nothing’s scarier than CNN. They cut my head off on stage, right? And that was really shocking in 1970,” Cooper said. “Now it’s traditional, and people really wanna see that bit in the show, but it doesn’t shock them. They really wanna see it, because they saw the Alice Cooper Guillotine thing or the straightjacket or the snake or whatever it is. All that stuff was shocking in 1970. In 2017, you turn on CNN, and there’s a guy really getting his head cut off by ISIS. And that is shocking. To me, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and myself cannot outdo reality when it comes to what’s shocking anymore. So, all of us understand that shock value is great within the show, but nobody’s really being shocked by it. They just like the spectacle of it.”

Cooper continues: “If you really strip away the Alice image and the Alice character and the show, we’re a very straight-up, guitar-driven rock and roll band. I mean, every single album I ever made, I surround myself with great guitar players, and I surround myself with really good hard rock players. And really, that’s what we are. That’s what Aerosmith is. That’s what Alice is. That’s what Guns N’ Roses is. We’re hard rock bands. That’s the one music that has never gone away. Grunge went away. Punk went away. Disco went away. But what stayed? Guitar-driven rock and roll. So that’s always what I’ve done. If anything, I’m probably closer to Detroit-type of rock and roll than anything else. I just put my twist on it.”



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Jean Vanier’s world of love and kindness

By Mary Wakefield, The Spectator

Some of the time, most of the time, it’s tricky to believe in God. There’s just too much that’s sad — and behind it all, the ceaseless chomping of predators. Then sometimes the mist lifts and just for a moment you can see why the saints insist that everything’s OK. There’s a documentary out now, Summer in the Forest, that for a while cleared the mist for me and made sense of faith.

It tells the stories of a group of men and women with learning disabilities who live alongside volunteers without disabilities in Trosly-Breuil, a small French village north of Paris. The community is called L’Arche — The Ark — and it was founded 53 years ago by a French-Canadian former naval officer, Jean Vanier. In his mid-thirties, Vanier visited an institution for ‘idiots’ and was struck by the great loneliness there. Where most of us would scuttle away guiltily, Jean Vanier made a decision in the autumn of 1964 that sent his life’s trajectory off at an odd angle.


According to the philosophy of L’Arche, men and women with learning disabilities — loving and guileless — teach us how to live. But, says Vanier, they have another lesson for us too — they also teach us the mystery of living with loss. This I find unnerving. What is the mystery of loss?

‘We all live with loss,’ said Vanier. ‘It’s inevitable. We begin, most of us, by being loved totally when we’re born — then we enter into a world of loss, a mystery of loss. Every time you lose a job, or something precious, or there’s death, there’s loss. We cannot live without this movement of loss and gain. But some people are so frightened of loss, they are just scared stiff of loss.’

He laughed. I didn’t. I thought of a life spent acquiring and keeping safe: a husband, the baby, a house, the great stream of packages from Amazon. The possibilities for loss give me vertigo.

‘You can’t escape it,’ said Jean Vanier, gently. ‘In the end, you even lose what you feel is yourself. We all do. There’s a beauty in that. There’s a beauty even in something like Alzheimer’s, because it is a cry. It’s not a disaster, it’s a cry for a one-to-one.’

But how can that be beautiful? Isn’t it just catastrophically sad?

‘We have to learn to cry,’ said Jean Vanier, ‘because we’ve created an identity of power and not an identity of relationships, and that’s what the whole film is about — an identity of relationships.’

To read Mary Wakefield’s entire essay in The Spectator, click HERE

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Self-Righteousness at Home in the Twenty-First Century

By Sarah Condon

Yet another harrowing indictment of modern family life recently came across my newsfeed. “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” chronicles the ways in which American family life is falling in on itself. Apparently things are worse than we thought. We are surrounded by our belongings, our children are staring at screens, and no one is going outside. Also, it turns out everyone is eating chicken nuggets. Dammit, America, haven’t we talked about this already?

Mostly, all of the neurotic-as-I-am mothers are posting articles about this book and wondering what we are doing to screw our kids up. We see ourselves somewhere in the book’s sad evidence: if it’s not the hours of Disney Jr., it is the backyard swingset that no one is using.

The thing that I find most jarring about these scary assessments is not the information they hold but the clarion call for self-righteousness that they herald. Some people read this stuff and feel the weight of their sin, and some people read this stuff and feel very shiny in their righteousness…. Continue reading

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Unquenchable Spirit: Irina Ratushinskaya RIP

Photograph: Jane Bown for the Observer

Russian dissident poet and novelist Irina Ratushinskaya, known for writing poems in her bars of soap and then memorizing them while she was in a Soviet prison camp, died in Moscow on July 5, 2017, at the age of 63. There are many fine obituaries of this courageous woman, but what follows is one of the best profiles of her indomitable spirit. 

By Kathy Keay (Third Way, November 1990)

Irina Ratushinskaya was sent to a Soviet hard-labor camp in April 1983. She was beaten, force-fed, put in solitary confinement in brutal, freezing conditions, and became so gravely ill that many feared she would not survive. Her “crime” – writing poetry. For this, she was branded “a dangerous state criminal” and was sentenced a second time to seven years hard labor and five years internal exile – the maximum possible punishment for this offense and the hardest on any woman since the Stalin era.

Irina was the youngest woman in the Small Zone – a special unit for women political prisoners at Barashevo in Mordovia. She repeatedly protested against camp practices which flouted Soviet as well as international law. In May 1986 her first book of poems, No I am Not Afraid, was published in the UK. Her plight, by now a matter for world public concern, finally led to her release on October 9. Two months later she was allowed to come to Britain. Continue reading

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My Joshua Tree

By Steve Beard

Thirty years ago, I drove 500 miles with college buddies to see U2’s “Joshua Tree” tour stop in Houston. “I can’t change the world / But I can change the world in me,” Bono had sung on a previous album. Young and idealistic, I believed it then. Strangely, I still believe it today. I’ve never forgotten that night – nor the long drive back to get to class the next day. U2 was recently back in Houston to mark the anniversary of the album that arguably handed them the keys to the kingdom of global rock stardom – #1 album in 23 countries. I’ve written extensively about these Irishmen over the last 20 years, but this full-circle “Joshua Tree” tour still triggered moments of emotional daggers-through-the-heart, tribal fist pumps, and Pentecostal hanky waving – transcendence.

The album concept was titled after a prickly and ungainly desert tree named Joshua by settlers because it resembled the Old Testament prophet’s out-stretched arms toward the heavens and deep roots – strangely symbolic for an Irish band from a country divided with sectarian barbwire and religio-political quagmires. Raised by a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, Bono lived the brutal divide. With the loss of his mother at age 14, he grew up under the weight and anguish of tragedy. Then there was the whirlwind of a charismatic revival among some of the bandmates and the stirring of a struggle between rock ‘n’ roll’s narcissism and an unseen kingdom where the first shall be last and the backstage passes are given to those who honor humility as a prime virtue.

Through all this, Bono remains rock ‘n’ roll’s most effective spiritual provocateur. He sees every stage as a pulpit and every coliseum as a cathedral. He talks breezily about the theological superiority of grace over karma to jaundiced rock journalists, launched the humanitarian One Campaign (, and recently wrote the forward to the Bible paraphrase The Message. “My religion could not be fiction but it had to transcend facts,” Bono wrote in a forward to the Psalms in 1999. “It could be mystical, but not mythical and definitely not ritual.”

U2 has sold more than 170 million albums, collecting 22 Grammys along the way. This world tour features a stunning visual spectacle with a 200 x 45 foot high-def LED screen choreographing imagery with the music. For me, three vitally essential images stood out.

First, a Salvation Army brass band accompanied U2 during the haunting “Red Hill Mining Town.” Never before played live, the song is about the devastation and helplessness of an unemployed miner. “Love, slowly stripped away/ Love, has seen its better day.” The Salvation Army is the most reliable global Christian symbol for faith in action – soup, soap, salvation, and loud music. Under the 150 year old banner of “Blood and Fire,” this ministry – operating in nearly 130 countries – has extended the hand of grace to the down and outers, prostitutes, alcoholics, morphine addicts, unwed mothers, and victims of human trafficking. The original plan was for a brass band to play at every stop on the tour, but the film of them playing in the Santa Clarita Valley of California provides a keen juxtaposition about U2 identifying with the historic message of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth that help is only a drumbeat away (

“This was a privilege to be a part of and so much fun to film,” Jacqui Larsson, a member of the ethnically diverse Salvation Army band from Southern California, told me. “It was great to represent The Salvation Army to such a wide audience. We have already heard a few stories of how this video has had a huge impact on people’s lives in a way we had never expected.”

In a long list of poignant moments, the second occurred when we were introduced to Omaima Thaer Hoshan, a 15-year-old Syrian girl in a refugee camp in Jordan. In the midst of the chaos of her circumstances, she voiced her aspirations and hopes for a better tomorrow. A gargantuan banner with her face is passed hand-to-hand throughout the stadium. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that there is a hellhole on the other side of the globe. At bare minimum, pray for her safety and be grateful you are not where she is.

Lastly, during a visual montage of notable female politicians and musicians (Sojourner Truth, Patti Smith, Angela Merkel, etc.), one stood out as a sister-in-arms with U2’s sonic art. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), a personal heroine, was the undisputed queen of rock and gospel music, shredding an electric guitar and boldly taking her sanctified skills and songs outside the four walls of the church – taking church to the people. Keep the faith, she would say to U2, and rock on. Bono has called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” an anthem of both doubt and faith. Whichever side of the coin you’re on, it continues to reverberate in the souls of saints and sinners alike. In the midst of uncertainty, it is anchored in redemption: “You broke the bonds / You loosed the chains / You carried the cross / And my shame / And my shame / You know I believe it.”

Bono sometimes mentions music producer Quincy Jones’ observation about waiting for God to walk in the room while making music, letting him fill in the blanks. It’s true. Sometimes. On occasion, divine intervention occurs with albums and concerts. Thirty years ago, I sensed the raucous epiphany during “Joshua Tree.” It was sweet relief, most recently, to experience it all over again.

Steve Beard is a religion and pop culture writer. He is the creator of Thunderstruck Media Syndicate. 

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Unreasonable Faith

To help Dr. Tom Catena, go to Photo:

Dr. Tom Caneta has spent the last nine years sequestered in the Nuba Mountains of the African nation of Sudan. Around the clock, he heals the sick, bandages the broken, and takes cover from bombs dropping overhead. Caneta is the last doctor left in this civil war-torn region marked by starvation, disease, and death. He treats up to 500 patients per day.

In June, Caneta was named winner of the Aurora humanitarian prize – $100,000 to Caneta and $1 million split between three charities of his choosing. Accepting the award, Catena said: “When the bombs are raining down, I think that any job must be better than this – even being an accountant. But when one little kid unexpectedly pulls through – it’s all worth it.”

The war-zone Mother of Mercy hospital is a long way from his previous life. Originally from Amsterdam, New York, Catena played football at Brown University and earned his medical degree from Duke University through a Navy scholarship. Catena visited Kenya while in medical school and returned as a medical missionary following his residency in Indiana.

“My decision to stay here was a simple one,” Catena told Catholic News Service (CNS). “As the only doctor at the only major hospital in the Nuba Mountains, I could not leave in good conscience. Also, as a lay missionary, I felt it was important to show the presence of the church in this time of need – to show that the church does not abandon her people when a crisis arises.” Continue reading

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