Friday, July 25, 2014

There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth Than Are Dreamt of in Your Philosophy

The internecine battle among Yes fans over the rotational roster of lead vocalists has all the spite of Yankee fans arguing over the pitching rotation. Occasionally it becomes a hockey fight; all bluster and bravado born of frustration.

Cards on table: Jon Anderson is irreplaceable. Yes should have learned that by now. He is so much more than a lead vocalist with a tenor-alto range. If that were the case, either Benoit David or Jon Davison or even Tevor Horn would have done the job adequately. (Suggestion: Benoit David and David Benoit should do an album together. But I digress).

Jon Anderson was not only the lead vocalist and lyricist for Yes, he was the spiritual center of the band. He was also, as his nickname of Napoleon suggests, it's diminutive leader. Hand-in-waistcoat, Jon would be the one pushing the band to do more, to risk more. Now another Jon is mise en place to be the lead vocalist and, for Heaven and Earth, main lyricist. He is also, at 43, the youngest member of Yes with the rest in their 60s. This is your grandfather's Yes! Don't expect it sound like Yes of the 1970s. This is Yes of 2014.

"Believe Again" is the opening invitation to Heaven and Earth. Like any well-behaved opening track, it tells you what you need to know about what's to follow. After Steve Howe's volume-swelled intro, we hear Jon Davison sing a melody and lyrics that are very much in the Yes style, going quickly if briefly into his upper range. Chris Squire's harmony vocals are as good as ever, even if he's missing Jon Anderson's melodic phrasing to blend in and around. Howe's solo section, while not as fast as in the past, still has a lovely tone. While the lyrics are about a lover desiring to find the ability to believe in love again, the song is clearly meant to invite fans to believe again in this incarnation of Yes.

Next on deck, "The Game" sports a similar intro to "Believe Again", this time on keyboards.  While it works as a love song, it could also be about the game of the music business. "Step Beyond" could have stepped off the CD and not have been missed. Geoff Downes' toy synthesizer sound reminds me of something Will Farrell's Marty Culp would play, or an ice cream truck as it rolls through you neighborhood, or the Buggles. Fortunately, "To Ascend" puts us back in Yes territory with a slow ballad. (They may regret the line "as freed bird flies from the hand" when they play live, however). Many have put down "In a World of Our Own", but it has a jaunty rhythm and some funny lines--rather Beatle-ish. The moody and atmospheric "Light of the Ages" follows, written by a solo Jon Davison, who co-wrote all the others songs except for the Steve Howe penned "It Was All We Knew", a sort of English pastoral tune with the very catchy "sweet were the fruits/long were the summer days" melody.

Heaven and Earth closes with "Subway Walls." When I first saw the title, I expected it to be an odd-ball track. But it is one of the best on the album, certainly the most progressive, sounding reminiscent of "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" or "Shoot High, Aim Low." Given that Jon Anderson and Chris Squire were both big fans of Paul Simon, it seems apropos that this track, written by Davison and Downes, has some lyrical debt to "Sounds of Silence."

Heaven and Earth rewards the listener who is the owner of an open heart. No, it doesn't sound like classic Yes. It does sound like Yes, albeit a mid-temp mellower version. They lyrics don't rise to Mr. Anderson's (if I can get a bit New York Times-y) level of genius (Yes, I said genius!) , but they are well within the prog-rock template. The lyrics and melodies from Jon Davison are good but not quite surrounded by what Yes is capable of. From what I've read it seems that the recording time in between tours was too brief, the music isn't fully matured. For older fans who hold on to Yes of the 70's, let it go and, as Warren Zevon said, learn to enjoy every sandwich. And for the Heaven and Earth's new line-up, "as a stranger, give it welcome."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Barkeep, I Need Some Wine....

I woke up one night in my hospital bed to see my friend Father Vincent Druding preparing to say Mass. I was groggy from sleep, so I took me awhile to realize what was happening. Fr. Vince told me he would like to say Mass, would that be OK? While I was very tired, how could I refuse this great grace?

I followed the liturgy as best as I could, drifting in an out of sleep--so just like a regular Mass! I didn't realize it at the time, but it was between 1am and 2am on July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Much of what I remember comes from hearing the story of that night from Fr. Vince weeks, maybe months later. He was able to find some hosts in a Chapel, I think, but no wine. So he and someone from the hospital went out around midnight to try to find some wine for the Mass!

As I understand it, there were no regular liquor stores open and nearby convenience stores had only beer. So Fr. Vince ended up in a bar asking for some wine to use for a Mass! I'm not sure how much the bartender understood about why a priest was looking for wine after midnight, but Fr. Vince left with enough to say Mass.

Since then, I try to remember that night when Fr. Vince  after tracking down some wine in a bar, came to the foot of my hospital bed so he could say Mass for me on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Beatae Mariae de Monte Carmelo, ora pro nobis!

Friday, August 23, 2013

PZ Myers On the Good Life

The Washington Post published this little hairball by PZ Myers, "An Atheists Guide to the Good Life."

He admits:

A curious thing happened to my thoughts on the way to composing this essay.  

It was supposed to be about how to be an atheist, but I realized that that wasn’t right. Atheism is the default position. You don’t have to do anything to be an atheist, but you have to work awfully hard to not be one — atheism strips away a lot of superfluous nonsense, rather than piling on remarkable requirements and strange creeds and bizarre pointless rituals that you need to obey. So instead, I thought I’d address the believers and tell you what baggage you can throw off ol’ Conestoga Wagon of life, the stuff that we know is completely unnecessary because atheists have traveled the trail without it, and come out just fine.
It's hardly curious that an essay on how to live the good life as an atheist turned into a screed against religion, Prof. Myers. That's kinda your thing. I guess the 'steemed professor couldn't think of anything connecting atheists to the Good Life, so he went to his true "default position", attacking Christianity. (I'm not saying you can't connect atheism to the Good Life, just that Dr. Myers couldn't.)

Ditch the Sunday church services first thing. Hanging out with friends and neighbors is great, we atheists do it all the time, but guess what? We do it without a boring dude in a dog collar droning away at us, without sitting in those uncomfortable pews, without snoozing through the same old homilies.
Instead, let's ditch class with Prof. Myers. Who needs a boring old dude in a professors tweed jacket ( or Hawaiian shirt) droning away at us while sitting in those uncomfortable classroom chairs, snoozing through the same old lectures.



Telling us we’re going to be set on fire by a malicious god if we don’t behave isn’t just unbelievable, it’s insulting — we don’t need extortion or offers of imaginary paradise cookies to do the right thing. Why do you?
We don't, Doc. Have you been getting your theology from South Park again? I don't believe what you think we believe either! But those paradise cookies sound delicious!




Dr. Myers on prayer:

Atheists have the simplest answer: no one is listening. It fits just as well, even better, than all the convoluted explanations you might come up with. And it means you can stop the futile babbling, hang up and do something productive.
If  "no one is listening", maybe it's not God. We've already stopped the futile babbling because Jesus told us to!  Hey, Doc! You and Jesus agree on prayer. Boy, that Jesus must be smart as a university professor!

On love:

Most importantly, you never have to feel bad about reciprocating love with another person, because medieval rules to govern relationships have all lost their divine foundation.
Medieval rules? They're way older than that!  Just because you don't believe in a building doesn't mean it has no foundation.




 On society:
Speaking of medieval rules, throw away the hierarchical view of society. Rulers aren’t better than those they rule, priests are not above the congregation...
 Woo hoo! No more university professors!



On death and dying:

Have you ever lost someone you love? You know what churchy people will tell you: They’re in a happier place, God needed another angel, they’re having strawberries and waffles with Jesus right now. Atheists won’t do that: they’ll tell you that it’s OK to grieve.
Yes, it is OK to grieve. I've been told that all my life by "churchy" people. We don't become angels, although having strawberries and waffles with Jesus sounds awesome! And it gives me an excuse to show one of my favorite clips:



 If you want to read the whole article, here.


 Dr. PZ Myers....


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Big Mac Attacks!

"Big Mac tastes like the smell of success." Yeah. So *that's* what I smell at McDonald's. I thought I tasted the smell (WTH?) of corporate and caloric excess. But my little paper McDonald's hat (remember those?) is off to all those employees working hard to make something of themselves. I just hope it's not a Big Mac.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Why I Am Catholic--My Mother's Prayers


My answer to Patheos.com's question:

When I left the Catholic Church after graduating college to join a Baptist Church (that long story here), my parents were quite concerned. My dad’s response was to have me meet with a priest, a professor of moral theology. My mom got out her rosary.

My parents found some comfort that I remained a Christian, though not a Catholic. Over the years I graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. My father died while I was there; mom kept praying.

After I moved back to NY, I attended other Baptist churches. Eventually, I left one intending to find another church, but never did. One day my mom asked me to think of going back to the Catholic Church since I wasn’t attending any church. I told her no, I wasn’t interested. She went back to her rosary.

As you might guess, I wasn’t long before I decided to give my old parish Church a try. I never had a chance! My mom was praying to the Blessed Mother for me. After a few weeks of research and talking with Fr. George, I made my confession in Advent of 2004.

Never underestimate the power of a Mother’s prayers.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Spiritual Friendship


Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

Today's feast of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen is a reminder of the power of spiritual friendship. Both men were bishops, but were nearly opposite in personality. St. Basil was a pastor and preacher, and a excellent bishop (of Caesarea in 370). He is the father of Eastern Monasticism. St. Gregory was more of an introvert and contemplative. Their friendship developed while they were students in Athens. They are both Doctors of the Church. You can read more here.

Below is the text of a sermon By St. Gregory Nazianzen from today's Office of Readings.






Two bodies, but a single spirit

Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
  I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
  What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honour than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
  Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognised that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
  The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
  We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
  Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
  Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

Monday, December 31, 2012

A Prog-rock Christmas: Day 4

Day 4 brings us back to Chris Squire--with a twist. The video is miguelbass of YouTube playing his bass to a track of Personet Hodie from Chris Squire's Swiss Choirs.


Hewing the Hobbit

Finished reading "The Hobbit": good!  Then I saw the movie. To Paraphrase GK Chesterton: “A good movie  tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad movie tells us the truth about its director.”

Don't worry! You can trust me!


The truth the movie tells us about Peter Jackson is that he has become a Gollum. He thinks "The Hobbit" is his to do with as he likes. Where he hews to the story the movie is fine. When he hews "The Hobbit", cutting from and adding to as he wills, it's a mess.

Spoiler alert!

To be fair, some of the additions work quite well. The council at Rivendell with Galadriel and Saruman gave a sense of import and danger to the journey. I also liked the prologue with the Ian Holmes' Bilbo and Frodo.

However, having Azog, "The Pale Orc", survive an earlier battle to be the enemy of Thorin  Oakenshield brings several changes to the story, and not for the better. As other have said, it is no longer simply "The Hobbit". It is now a prequel to Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies. It is his precioussss, not ours.