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June 2017

52 Albums, Week 26: Distintegration (The Cure)

Week 26-TheCure

Like most people who grew up when what is now called “classic rock” was new, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing some very incongruous music in public places. I think it was back in the ‘70s when I first heard an easy-listening instrumental version of a Dylan song in the background music of a dentist’s office or a shopping mall. It’s still a bit amusing to hear something that was rebellious and subversive in its day so domesticated, like hearing a Black Sabbath riff from a high school band at a football game (very common). But it’s not usually a shock anymore.

One night in the grocery store back in 2006, though, I was shocked. I realized I was hearing “Pictures of You,” from The Cure’s Disintegration, a sad song from an album which would surely be among the candidates for saddest pop album ever made. If I were the only voter in that poll, Disintegration wouldn’t win—it would come in behind the Julee Cruise/David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti collaboration Floating Into the Night, which is the saddest pop music I’ve ever heard, too sad for me to listen to very often. But Disintegration would definitely be in the top ten or so.

So I stood there in front of the dog food, half-hypnotized by “Pictures of You,” then began to smile when I thought about what the CEO of Food World might think about a store providing these lyrics as an accompaniment to the grocery shopping experience:

Remembering you
fallen into my arms
crying for the death of your heart
You were stone-white, so delicate,
lost in the cold,
you were always so lost in the dark

On the album, "Pictures of You" is 7 1/2 minutes long.  A single, two minutes shorter, was fairly successful. This is the single version. If I remember correctly, the biggest difference is in the length of the instrumental intro, which I think is very effective in establishing an atmosphere before the vocal begins. But the single version is good enough to give you a feel for it: 

Disintegration was released in 1989. As with Jane Siberry's The Walking, my acquaintance with Disintegration came by way of a younger co-worker at the time, who made me a mixtape of then-contemporary music in the generally goth-industrial sort of vein. If I remember correctly, the track "Plainsong" from Disintegration was the first thing on the tape, as it is on the album, and it very effectively sets the mood: a long dirge-like thing, mostly instrumental with some half-mumbled words of which "so cold" are the most distinct. 

There was a lot of good stuff on that tape, including at least one group who will appear later in this series. And I think it also included "Fascination Street," a darkly catchy picture of the night-club party life as a sort of dance of death: "Let's move to the beat like we know that it's over."

I find it amusing that the ghoulish-looking singer, who is also the main writer, is named Robert Smith.

A couple of years later my old friend Robert (not Smith), with whom I'd always shared a definite leaning toward the melancholy, sent me a tape of the whole album, and I found that I liked it a great deal, and moreover that it's one of those pop albums that carries a definite sense of unity. It's a unity of gloom, very effectively portrayed, and insistently melodic. It manages to sustain a basically similar style and sound through its hour-plus length without becoming monotonous. As I tend to find  CDs (that is, albums originally produced for CD) too long, this is a relatively unusual thing for me to say. (I did eventually buy the CD.)

Toward the end, the 8-minute-plus title song gives us a picture of "stains on the carpet and stains on the memory." Enjoy!

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog. This is a somewhat expanded version of a post from 2006.

Sunday Night Journal, June 25, 2017

I sometimes feel that I'm a bit of an impostor in the former-Anglican culture of the Ordinariate, in which people often refer to "our Anglican [or Episcopalian] heritage," "the hymns and prayers we grew up with," and so forth. But I didn't grow up in Anglicanism, although a certain amount of it had been carried over into the Methodism in which I did grow up. My time as an Episcopalian was really a fairly brief stop (four years or so) on my way from unbelief to the Catholic Church. So there's a fair amount of Anglican lore and terminology that I don't recognize.

One such, for a while, was reference to "the Coverdale psalms." The first time I heard that I had no idea what it meant. I hadn't known that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer had for centuries used a 1535 translation of the Psalms which had been part of a Bible translation by Miles Coverdale. I did, however, know that I very much liked the psalms in the BCP.

For a couple of months now, since sometime in Lent, I've been trying to pray at least one or the other, and preferably both, of the morning and evening prayer sets in Magnificat. These generally include a psalm, and I often read the Coverdale translations instead of the Grail versions which are printed in the magazine. I'm fairly sure that the Coverdale is inaccurate sometimes, and occasionally it uses words that have shifted in connotation enough to make them sound odd or even silly to modern ears: "naughty," for instance, in Psalm 86, where current translations have  "ruthless." But in general the Coverdale translations are much richer, more vivid and more powerful. Here, for instance, is the beginning of Psalm 38 in the Grail translation:

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger; reprove me not in your rage. For your arrows have sunk deep in me; your hand has come down upon me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your anger: there is no health in my limbs because of my sin. My guilt towers higher than my head; it is a weight too heavy to bear. My wounds are foul and festering, the result of my own folly. I am bowed and brought to my knees. I go mourning all the day long. All my frame is burning with fever; there is no soundness in my flesh. I am spent and utterly crushed, I cry aloud in anguish of heart.

Now Coverdale:

Put me not to rebuke, O Lord, in thine anger; neither chasten me in thy heavy displeasure, for thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure; neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin. For my wickednesses are gone over my head, and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear. My wounds stink, and are corrupt, through my foolishness. I am brought into so great trouble and misery, that I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a sore disease, and there is no whole part in my body. I am feeble and sore smitten; I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.

There's nothing wrong with the first one. If I didn' t have the second for comparison, I'd think it was fine. But when juxtaposed this way it seems like Bud Lite followed by Guinness Stout. "Roared" may seem too much for us, but it might be quite accurate for men of less restrained times. 

There is a very nice PDF of the Coverdale Psalms at an Orthodox site called Synaxis. (According to another page at Synaxis, the PDF was prepared by/for a web site called Lutherans Online, but the link to it doesn't work.)


The discussion last week of postmodernism left me leaning more strongly toward something I've long suspected: that postmodernism is not something fundamentally different and separate from modernism, but is rather a late, decadent, and perhaps terminal phase of modernism. The terms are fluid and imprecise and refer to somewhat amorphous developments, and I won't deny that the word "postmodern" entails some useful distinctions. But still, both seem to me to be aspects of the great cultural dissolution that's been in progress for a couple of centuries now.

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born....
--Matthew Arnold, "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse"

One characteristic of modernity in both its broad and limited senses (that is, the couple of centuries just mentioned as well as the contemporary) is a predilection for dividing history into distinct periods (eras, epochs) with distinct names. Calling our own time "modern" was therefore a failure in planning, and the term "postmodern" is evidence of that. Something has to come next, but the classifiers have boxed themselves in, since everything that comes after "modern" is by definition "postmodern," nor will "modern" make much sense once the era so named is past. Perhaps modernism will not truly have ended until the practice of dividing history into named periods has ended, and we have been for a while in an age that does not attempt to name itself.

There is often a smug quality in contemporary intellectual talk that I suspect is connected with postmodernism. Our culture now values pleasure above all things. Sexual pleasure is the greatest of these, but there are many others, and one of them is the sense of being superior to the past. It's a natural corollary to the notion of progress, but it's much more pronounced now than even fifty years ago. It induces a general spirit of mockery and cynicism which is really just incomprehension and which I suspect can be connected to postmodernism: it views the past as something always on trial, always under attack, always to be"interrogated," always required but always failing to justify itself to us. This again is not new and in a different tone is certainly seen in modernity in general, but it seems to have a different and more unpleasant flavor in postmodernism, as in the literary academic I once heard describe Dante as "a Christian creep." 

Like so many unhealthy things that trickle down from the intellectual class to the masses, this disdain has become an unconscious assumption for a lot of people, and the younger they are they more likely they are to have it. I get the feeling from many young people now that they hardly even know that the past existed except as a sort of nightmare of racism, sexism, and "homophobia." It's natural for young people to be that way to some degree, and maybe this is just my age speaking, but it seems more pronounced now.


I never have liked the phrase "having sex." It's a strikingly cold and empty description. But "hooking up" is worse. It always makes me think of something mechanical, like hooking up two railroad cars. That's a thought provoked by reading a young woman's astonishingly shallow comments on the reasons she does and does not choose to do it with this or that male. 


I apologize in advance for putting into your head the image you're going to see in a moment, but it's too funny for me to keep to myself. Writing for National Review, Kyle Smith devotes some time to making fun of pop singer Katy Perry making an attempt to be all serious 'n' stuff, which seems to be an occupational temptation for entertainers these days. I'm not sure why he bothered, except perhaps that he thought it was fun to do, and I'm not sure why I read it, except that I thought it might be amusing, which it was, especially this: 

[A]s a pundit Katy Perry has about as much appeal as George Will does in a halter top.


In an interesting Facebook post, someone speculated that the current polarization in politics has something to do with the prominence of the baby boomers, and with the tendency of older people to want to simplify their lives, and to care less about what others think of them. The writer suggests that this might result in a tendency for Christian public intellectuals to take positions that are more blunt and less qualified and nuanced. He also suggests this might involve the casting off of a career-related reluctance to avoid giving offense on topic A in order to be heard on topic B, no longer necessary as the end of the career approaches.

I don't exactly qualify as a public intellectual, but I have spent a fair amount of energy over the years voicing my opinions about many things, and I'm 68 years old, so I asked myself if I might be doing this. It's the sort of thing one could fool oneself about--who, me? I'm not like that. But I don't think that particular syndrome is really operative in me; that is, I don't think I've become more harsh and more given to polarizing rhetoric, or that I'm falling into those old-guy mental habits.

I do, however, believe that in objective fact our social-cultural-political situation has changed significantly over my lifetime in that (among other things) our society is very deeply and angrily divided, to a degree that endangers the future of this and perhaps other nations. There have been changes for the better, but this division, this attempt of two hostile cultures to co-exist, is clearly not one of them, and it may be ruinous--and that's apart from whatever harm might be done by the ideas pushed by either side. (I can think of several ways in which that might be the case, but will leave out the specifics for now.)

And in some respects I am definitely on one side of the division. I'm thinking, of course, specifically of the sex-related matters like the assertion that the distinction between male and female has no relevance to marriage. So when I write about that, it may seem that I am in fact falling into old-man syndrome. Perhaps I am. But I argue that this is an objectively bad situation, not just an old man's cranky opinion.

Since I have written very little for pay over the years, and so have mostly been completely free to say exactly what I think, the career-related reasons for reticence have not applied. There is, however, one respect in which they have: since 1990 I've worked for a Jesuit institution, and I haven't said much at all about it. This is not because I have nothing to say. Perhaps one day I'll say it. I don't mean that to be mysterious or threatening; it would not be all bad by any means. But it would not be all good, either.


We had a lot of rain from tropical storm Cindy. On Thursday afternoon, after most of it had passed and the clouds were beginning to break up, I was at the bay with the two grandsons who are staying with me several days a week this summer. For a few minutes one shaft of sunlight dropped straight down from the clouds away to the west. This picture was the best I could do by way of capturing it.


52 Albums, Week 25: The Allman Brothers Band


I haven't yet mentioned Gregg Allman's recent death here, so am going to take this occasion to honor him and the entire original Allman Brothers Band. I don't have much time, but then I don't really think it's necessary to talk at length about this album. In my not-so-humble opinion, the Allman Brothers at their best, before Duane was killed, were the greatest blues-rock band ever. It's difficult to imagine anyone ever surpassing them, because the whole cultural and musical landscape has changed so much. I'm sure there will be many other musicians working in this basic style, but the roots that nourished the Allmans, the historical moment in which they flourished, are gone now. (That's true for other groups that appeared in the Sixties, too, for instance the Beatles, but that's another topic.) You can read the band's long story at

The Allmans never, to my thinking, did anything better than this album, which was their first. As good, yes--the Fillmore recordings certainly meet that criterion--but not better. It came out in late 1969, when I was still in college. I think I became aware of it through a musician friend, who moved in some of the same southeastern musical circles as the Allmans, though I don't think he knew them himself. I recall listening to it for the first time one afternoon after class, probably a few months into 1970, and even on that hearing thinking it was really good. After a few hearings "good" became "great", and that's still my view, almost fifty years later.

Duane Allman is of course a legendary guitarist now. I wrote about him in the 52 Guitars series a few years ago. I'd argue that Gregg deserves equal respect as a blues or bluesy singer. I don't understand how a 22-year-old could sing like he did on "Whipping Post," which he wrote, and which became something of a signature song for them.  

A couple of years ago in comments on some post or other here there was some discussion of whether a vocal talent like Gregg's was a gift of nature or something he learned. The obvious answer, I think, is that it was both. Later I read his autobiography, My Cross to Bear (the title of another of his songs, which also appears on this album), and can say definitely that it was both. Obviously he had a rare gift, but he worked long and hard to develop it, and had a lot of tutelage from a black singer, Floyd Miles, in whose backup band Gregg and Duane played for a while.

I call them the greatest blues-rock band, but that term doesn't describe all their work. This is another signature tune, also written by Gregg. His singing is of course very bluesy but the song itself is not especially. That of course is Duane's long slide guitar solo.

The only thing wrong with this album is that it's too short, only thirty-three minutes. But it's thirty-three mighty fine minutes.

Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, and Butch Trucks, RIP.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


Sunday Night Journal, June 18, 2017

When I left the academy in the early 1970s postmodernism had not yet arrived in a big way. at least not in the English department, at least as far as I was aware. The whole thing has pretty much passed me by, partly by my own choice. There has always been for me a sort of bad odor about it, starting with the word itself: if "modern" means, more or less, "contemporary," what can "postmodern" refer to but the future, speculative and ever-receding? I'm sure that remark is tiresomely and stupidly pedantic to a postmodernist. I don't care. As I mentioned last week, I know I'm a relic.

Another off-putting feature is the rhetoric of postmodernism, to which I have had only limited exposure, but enough to reinforce in me the sense that there is something unwholesome about it. The needless and seemingly deliberate obscurity has been often remarked. What strikes me as even more fundamental, though, is that it tends heavily toward the sententious. If the rhetoric emanating from the liberal arts faculties of our universities now is representative, a politician of 1900 bloviating about motherhood was no more platitudinous than they, though he was probably more clear, and his platitudes more respectable.

The tone and the aims of course are entirely different. The sneer seems to be an important component of postmodern "discourse," to use a term that seems to be favored. Sometimes it's a subtle or implicit sneer, but it's generally there in a sense that the speaker, by virtue of his or her initiation into "critical thinking" (a term which, in the academy, does not seem to mean exactly what it appears to mean) is piercing some conventional falsehood and telling us how it really is. 

I don't know whether what's called "identity politics"--the approach to politics that focuses on one's group identity as a way of positioning one within a hierarchy of oppressors and victims--is necessarily bound up with postmodernism or not, but they certainly seem to be related in fact. In general, from my outsider's and layman's point of view, postmodernism seems to be very much bound up with a very irrational and intolerant strain of progressive politics.

Such are my impressions. Are they wrong? Am I misjudging the whole phenomenon of postmodernism? I have the additional impression that there are orthodox Catholic theologians who are postmodernists or at least find good things in postmodernism. No doubt it would be a mistake to write the whole thing off, but is there enough there to make learning more worthwhile?

These questions are on my mind because of the recent doings at Evergreen State College in Washington (State). You've probably heard about it, but in case you haven't, a very brief synopsis is that a biology professor, Bret Weinstein, objected to a racial-awareness event which asked white people to leave the campus for a day, and was in response driven off campus by students. Weinstein, telling the story in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, attributed the intolerance to postmodernists. That piece is no longer available online, so I can't send you to it. There is an excerpt here, from which I will take an excerpt:

The button-down empirical and deductive fields, including all the hard sciences, have lived side by side with “critical theory,” postmodernism and its perception-based relatives. Since the creation in 1960s and ’70s of novel, justice-oriented fields, these incompatible worldviews have repelled one another.... So [the college's new president] tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities by, in effect, arming the postmoderns.

Well, is that fair? It's an interesting echo of the Sokal affair of twenty years ago, in which a real scientist submitted a deliberately nonsensical paper to a postmodern journal, which accepted and published it. The scientist, Alan Sokal, co-wrote a book about the whole syndrome, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science. I read that book, and admit that it helped to form my prejudice against postmodernism, in part because it included actual quotations from postmodern thinkers.

It was for just this sort of question that I recently bought myself a copy of The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. I figured it would be useful for learning a little about things I will never learn a lot about. The word "postmodern" gets about a page and a half of the dictionary's fairly dense print. This seems to be what I'm after:

Postmodern philosophy is therefore usefully regarded as a complex cluster concept that includes the following elements: an anti- (or post-) epistemological standpoint; anti-essentialism; anti-realism; antifoundationalism; opposition to transcendental arguments and transcendental standpoints; rejection of the picture of knowledge as accurate representation; rejection of truth as correspondence to reality; rejection of the very idea of canonical descriptions; rejection of final vocabularies, i.e. rejection of principles, distinctions, and descriptions that are thought to be unconditionally binding for all times, persons, and places; and suspicion of grand narratives, metanarratives of the sort perhaps best illustrated by dialectical materialism.

My emphasis, of course. The writer, whom I presume to be at least sympathetic to postmodernism, goes on to mention "gender theory" as a species of postmodernism in which

the conception of "reason" itself as it has often functioned in the shared philosophical tradition is redescribed as a conception that, it is often argued, is (en)gendered, patriarchal, homophobic, and deeply optional.

You can certainly see how a lot of the madness currently on display in certain quarters of academia and the graduates of certain disciplines--alas, including literature--could be a manifestation of these ideas, perhaps in a dumbed-down form, but nonetheless clearly rooted in them. You can also see how this could be a very hospitable environment for intellectual hucksterism. 

Concern for the very principle of truth as correspondence to reality prevents me from simply dismissing the whole thing. Even very confused and mistaken people often have worthwhile insights. But the answer to my own implicit question--should I learn more about this?--is pretty straightforward: life is too short. At age sixty-eight, that's my truth. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle's father: I am a relic and I mean to go on being one; I like it.


We've discussed (admiringly) here more than once the films made in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. I always wonder how it was that such subtle, quiet, and serene films came to be made so soon after Japan was defeated in the Second World War. At least in the ones I've seen, the war is a fairly distant thing, and is not treated directly. One of them, Late Spring, generally considered one of his best, was released in 1949. The war had ended only four years earlier. I don't remember any mention of it in the film, though surely there must be at least some references to it. It puzzles me that life could have gotten back so close to something like normal so quickly.

Last week I read a novel, The Typist by Michael Knight, which sheds a different light on the period, and might be of interest to those who like Ozu. It's a first-person narrative by the titular character, who is a soldier working as a typist in the American administration set up by General Douglas Macarthur to re-design and re-build Japan. It's an excellent novel which brings together the reconstruction of Japan, the peculiar relationship between the American rulers and Japanese society, and the typist's own personal reconstruction in a moving way. I think it might be of interest to Ozu fans, as it deals with what Ozu does not, at least in the films I've seen: the raw physical wounds of the war, the desperate poverty and disgrace of many of the Japanese: black markets, prostitution, and all the sort of thing that follows war and conquest. It will be in my mind the next time I see Late Spring. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, there might have been at least some mention of the war's devastation in the film, but American censors did not allow it.


An addendum to discussion of the Beatles: someone who is named Bill Wyman but is not the Rolling Stones bass player has taken it upon himself to make a list, with commentary, of all 213 Beatles songs ranked from worst to best. I had never heard of the writer, or the site (; I only saw a link to it on Facebook or somewhere and was curious enough to look. It's pretty entertaining, with no doubt something to offend and please everybody.  I was outraged by #213, "Good Day Sunshine." What?!? What's the matter with this guy?! But I was pleased by #194, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da": "The whimsy will continue until morale improves." And surprised by #204, "She's Leaving Home." In general the writer seems to tend toward my low opinion of the white album, and of course I like that. I haven't actually read past the first 50 or so, but I did look ahead to #1: "A Day in the Life." I approve.



 Sunflower, weary of time

52 Albums, Week 24: The Walking (Jane Siberry)


A couple of weeks ago Stuart Moore and I were discussing our differing views of what we wanted to do with this 52 Albums thing. He wanted to sing the praises of classics and reminisce about them, as he just did with Sgt. Pepper’s, while I had in mind drawing attention to albums which I think are unjustly neglected, in some cases downright obscure, or at least not as well-known as I think they should be. I thought from the beginning that Jane Siberry would be one of them, in spite of the fact that I hadn’t heard her music for quite some time (apart from one or two songs like her beautiful collaboration with k.d. laing, “Calling All Angels.”)

Around 1989 I worked with a young woman who was a music lover—with pretty good taste, I might add, meaning it was compatible with mine—and who was a bit of an evangelist for female artists. She introduced me to several whom I probably would not have heard otherwise. Jane Siberry was one of them, and the one that I liked best. Robin (the co-worker) lent me several of Siberry’s albums, and I ended up buying them for myself. These were LPs, which were on the way out in favor of CDs by then, but were still available, and I didn’t have a CD player. There were three of them: No Borders Here (1983), The Speckless Sky (1985), and The Walking (1988). I listened to them a few times, and then in 1990 I left that job and we moved from north Alabama to the coast, and what with one thing and another, including intermittent problems with my turntable, I didn’t listen to very much music for some years, and when I did it was usually not LPs.

In short, almost thirty years went by between the last time I heard those Jane Siberry albums before I changed jobs in 1990, and last week, when I listened to The Walking. I picked it because it was the one that had really stuck with me. Though I probably hadn’t heard it more than three times back then, even after all those years I could still hear a couple of bits and pieces of it in my mind.

I was not disappointed. The Walking is as good as I remembered. Siberry is a little bit like Kate Bush, not in any specific musical way, but in a broad sense: both strike me as representative of a type which I’ve encountered a few times, and to which I’m going to give the possibly offensive, but not badly intended, name of Flaky Chick. The Flaky Chick with whom I’m most familiar is a hippie girl who seems to live in a world of her own, a world of dreamy and obscure but intense emotions, moods, whims, and visions. This can be irritating or charming, depending on a number of things including whether one senses that the flakiness is genuine or contrived. The word “quirky” is usually applicable. She’s capable of apparent nonsense but also of great insight, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. There’s a sense almost that she’s listening to voices only she hears, or following a vision that only she sees.

In Jane Siberry, or at least in this album, those qualities are in the service of a prodigious musical talent. (That’s true of Kate Bush, too, but I’m not writing about her now. And just in case there is any question, both of them seem to be utterly genuine, their eccentricity not contrived in the least. In that respect their work reminds me of the poetry of Hopkins.) She has a very very good voice, and she’s a gifted writer in both words and music. Somehow the word “songwriter” doesn’t seem quite appropriate for the compositions on this album, at least the longer ones. And those are the best, to my taste.

The first track on the album, “The White Tent The Raft,” and the second, “Red High Heels,” are the ones I remembered most from my 1989 hearing of the album. They clock in at 9’12” and 7’19” respectively, and are not “songs” in the usual sense of the term, but swirling, tumbling, eddying streams of music and imagery, sometimes sweet and poignant, sometimes driving. When some songwriters deploy a series of apparently disconnected and obscure word-pictures, you get the sense that they’re throwing together things that just sound evocative of whatever state of mind they’re trying to establish. With Siberry it seems more that the bits and pieces are, for her, very particular and concrete, that she is referring to definite people and incidents, and that they only seem obscure and disconnected because she declines to provide the whole picture, as if she’s showing you only certain details from a series of photographs. It works, for me anyway, because the music is so good, and because those details are often so intriguing and effective. The arrangements and playing are very effective, too--she has a great set of instrumentalists working with her, and the fact that she’s listed as co-producer suggests that she had a big hand in the arrangements.

I’m only going to include one track here, “The White Tent The Raft,” because it’s so long. If you don’t like it, never mind. If you do, you’ll want to hear more. And please don’t decide that you don’t like it without listening to it more than once. And you really must read the lyrics.

The reviewer at, in an unenthusiastic 4-out-of-5-stars review, says that the album is “bound to lose the casual listener quickly.” Well, so much for the casual listener’s taste.

Possibly my special liking for those first two tracks is only because I heard them more. It often happens that I start listening to an album and don’t get all the way through, so this is a common occurrence. I’m very much looking forward to getting more familiar with this album, and the other two I own, and to investigating her later work. Apart from “Calling All Angels” I haven’t heard any of it later than The Walking, though I know some of it has been well-received.

P.S. Thanks, Robin, wherever you are.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, June 11, 2017

Over the past couple of weeks I've read a couple of interesting memoir-autobiography sorts of things, one new and one an old friend. The new one is Swimming With Scapulars by Matthew Lickona. I had heard of it when it was published ten years or so ago, and can't remember now what prompted me to read it--whether it was another of those saw-it-at-a-library-sale finds or I actually and deliberately bought it from some place like Amazon. At any rate I had been curious about it. I had the idea, based mostly on the title, that the author was a product of the super-orthodox sort of Catholic milieu which has flourished (or failed) here and there since the early 1980s or so, and had not entirely rejected it. I was interested in hearing what he had to say about it, good and bad, as he is not much older than the oldest of my children.

In my impression of the book I was partly wrong, as his experience of Catholicism in childhood and adolescence seems to have been a fairly typical contemporary American one, except that his parents were unusually serious and active in their parish. It was his own spiritual development that led him in a somewhat more traditionalist direction, wearing the scapular in his late teens, and attending Thomas Aquinas College. But he did this without taking the turn that similarly-minded people sometimes do, toward an attempt to escape as much as possible the influence of an increasingly hostile secular culture. So although the book was not exactly what I expected, it was as interesting as I had hoped. Lickona's approach to the faith, and to the stresses and strains of living it out in contemporary America, is down-to-earth and devoid of the tendency toward a slightly strained--or constrained--piety that one sometimes encounters in Catholic writing. 

The advertising for the book, such as the blurb at the publisher's site, makes a little too much of the fact that he is Not One Of Those Reactionaries--he listens to Nine Inch Nails! (kind of an old blurb I guess)--but the book is better than that. 

I really like the cover:


Matthew Lickona is one of the principal writers at the popular (I think) blog Korrektiv, which I would read if I didn't already spend way too much time reading things online. 

The other book, the old friend, is C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy. I had read it over thirty years ago, and I think once since then but still quite some time ago. I needed a couple of quotes from it for the book I'm writing, and, never having bought my own copy, checked it out of the library just to get those quotes. I ended up reading the whole thing, and enjoying it even more. There are several passages that are more dense philosophically than I recalled--I'm thinking of several toward the end of the book, where he's describing his movement from an acknowledgement that some sort of Spirit exists to an openness to the idea of the Christian God, and I think I must have just sailed over them without really grasping them before. This time around I'm more impressed than before with Lewis's erudition and intellectual rigor. In the unlikely case that you're a Lewis fan but haven't read this one, you should. 

I had forgotten how much time he spends describing his frustrating relationship with his father, whom he describes with a phrase I don't remember noticing before, but will not soon forget, as "a man not easily informed.... What he thought he had heard was never exactly what he had said." 

A few people are that way congenitally, very few in my experience. But in recent years politics seems to have induced the condition in many more. 

Whenever I read Lewis, and many others of the early-to-mid-20th century Christian writers, especially the British ones, I have a sense that these are my people. Never mind that I would have been only the most awkward sort of presence if I had ever, in violation of the limits of both time and space, found myself drinking in a pub with them; I can only hope I would have had the sense to keep my mouth shut. They are nevertheless the people I would most like to emulate in my thinking and writing, and whom I do in fact resemble, in a very small and distant way, in my thinking and general sensibility. As far as I know their kind no longer exists. They are of, roughly, my grandfather's generation, and now I'm a grandfather myself. That makes them antique, and me a sort of relic, too. Those writers will be as distant to my grandchildren as the Victorians were to me. Much of contemporary intellectual life, insofar as it comes to my attention, even Christian intellectual life, seems somewhat alien to me, so it's always something of a comfort to revisit these writers.


Two memorable remarks (unrelated to each other) I've seen on Facebook in recent days: 

Yes, it's poetry but it's beautiful.

I concur whole heatedly.


From watching five episodes of the American version of The Killing, I have learned that Seattle is the most dismal, dark, depressing city on the face of the earth. It's so dismal that people keep their homes and offices only half-lit. Perhaps it's an environmentalist thing: as long as a few 40-watt bulbs give you enough light that you can move around without stumbling over things, why contribute further to global warming?

Or maybe it's that at a time when dismal, dark, depressing crime dramas are popular, the makers of this one decided to make the dismalest, darkest, depressingest one of all? I'm a little sorry I started watching it, because now I have to finish it, and it's long. I suppose I could just read a synopsis. 

Speaking of this, and of last week's discussion of the dark-'n'-gritty Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables: according to Eye of the Tiber, the USCCB is getting in on the trend: 

USCCB Announces Plans To Come Out With Dark, Gritty Reboot Of The Mass


A couple of weeks ago, apropos a wedding, I said that I pity more than envy the young now, and even fear for them a little. I thought of that again last weekend when I attended the ordination of now-Father Nick Napolitano at the Cathedral in Mobile. (You may be able to see a picture and read the diocesan paper's story here. I say "may" because the page wants you to install Adobe Flash, if you don't already have it, but it seems to more or less work without that.) I don't know him very well, but am acquainted with him because he's a friend of a couple of people in our Ordinariate group. It was Nick who, one memorable Sunday, was serving as thurifer, and in the recessional was swinging it in a circle (vertically). The chain broke, the thurible went flying, burning incense went flying, and the next few minutes were spent trying to put out a number of small fires in the carpet that covered the aisle. 

I believe Fr. Nick is younger than the youngest of our children, which makes it pretty odd to call him Father, though not a big step from the same experience with a priest who's roughly the age of our oldest. It's daunting to me to think that he may be a priest for another fifty years, and to think of the challenges he will face. It takes a great deal of courage to become a Catholic priest today. It always does, or should, but now along with the normal difficulties anti-Catholics now are ready and willing to call you a pedophile whenever you contradict some pet belief of theirs, or, even worse, get in the way of some part of their program. That would be hard to bear. God only knows what the climate will be like in another forty or fifty years. I'll be praying for Fr. Nick, and all priests.


I've finally posted an excerpt from the book I'm writing. I've pretty definitely settled on the title War in the Closed World. You can read the excerpt here for at least the next week or so. The excerpt consists of a partial preface and the first 5,000 or so words of the text. I'm at a somewhat frustrating point in the work. It's probably 85-90% complete in actual composition, and was so several months ago, but I'm writing in longhand, then transferring the text to the computer and revising as I go, and for various reasons, some my fault and some external, have made fairly slow progress at that. There are still a few significant bits to be written, mostly having to do with my high-school years. And there's a good bit to do in the way of organization and structure. Anyway, if you're interested in this project, I would very much appreciate having your opinion on this excerpt. You can comment on the page, or privately if you prefer (see the blog Profile page for my email address, or send me a private message on Facebook). The next excerpt will probably jump forward in time to my college/hippie years, so I can get some reaction to that part of the story. 

The book, in case you haven't heard me mention it before, is a sort of spiritual autobiography, but with a strong element of cultural history, as I try to get at the significance of what we call "the Sixties." I was serializing it here five or six years ago but decided that wasn't a good way to do it. 

52 Albums, Week 23: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles and George Martin)

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As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s I would like to say that I DO think that it is the greatest Beatles album, and I am also in agreement with Rolling Stone magazine that it is the number one and therefore greatest album in the history of mankind. So there. I always state, when asked, that The White Album is my personal favorite Beatles album, and it is; it is quirky and fun, and has four sides that are each different and fun to deal with. However, Sgt. Pepper’s is the greatest.

My parents divorced when I was 12, and my father initially rented a room from some guy down closer to the airport in Miami (he worked for Eastern Airlines). One day that guy gave me a bunch of record albums for some reason that I cannot remember. I don’t recall everything that was in that pile, but Sgt. Pepper’s and The White Album were amongst its treasures. Now, thirty-nine years later, I can only imagine what it was like to be 12 and listen to those albums for the first time. It is hard to get my mind around it. All of the Beatles are still alive at that point, and Sgt. Pepper’s has only been out for eleven years. Wow.

Who knows what I had been listening to previously? 12 is relatively young to be interested in music. I have watched stepchildren grow through that age and the boy had no interest in music (still doesn’t), while the girl at age 12 seemed to be interested in music as a reflection of teeny-bopper culture (first Justin Bieber, then One Direction). She and I would have these silly discussions where One Direction would be compared to The Beatles. “Let’s wait fifty years and see what happens”, I would reply to this nonsense game. I will most likely not be around in fifty years, but I feel confident in my position.

Just owning the album back then, now I have a smaller CD, and the current generation would only have an even smaller picture on their phone, was a treasure. The cover montage with all of the famous people, most of whom I had never heard of and did not recognize (I knew Marilyn Monroe!); the inserts of each member of the band, the bright colors…none of the other albums in my free pile could match it for a 12 year old’s studious inspection.

Then there is the music. Again, thirty-nine years is a long time to try and remember first impressions and memory becomes something that you partly recall and partly make up to suit your narrative, but it all seemed joyous, new, fun, odd, circus-like; there was nothing that I did not love. My favorite would still be where the opening track introduces Billy Shears (Ringo Starr) who then begins to sing “With a Little Help from My Friends”. I thought this ingenious and marvelous. But the next track was enchanting, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and the next three were all good, and finally to end Side 1 “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” I was thrilled by. I had a friend whose last name was “Henderson” and still to this day I picture he, his brother, and mother all dancing and singing as mentioned in the song.

I feel like I need to stop here and comment on the fun it would have been to have to turn over the record now in order to hear the rest of the album. I know albums have made a little comeback, and I see them and enjoy looking at them in Books-a-Million, but they are no longer ubiquitous and all of mine are long gone and replaced by maybe 1200 or so CDs. So I turn over the album, place the arm onto the spinning disc and am rewarded with the strangest track of the record, “Within You Without You” by George Harrison. I don’t know what I thought of it, but as an adult it is simply marvelous and perfectly placed within the context of the rest of Sgt. Pepper’s. But what fun for (most likely) George Martin to make the decision to put George’s song in that spot. Now it occupies the middle spot in CD or download, but remember it used to begin Side 2, a much more interesting distinction.

Following Mr. Harrison’s contribution, we are back to normal, with “When I’m Sixty-Four”, “Lovely Rita”, “Good Morning Good Morning”, the reprise of the title track …. And for years I forget about what is probably the finest song of them all, “A Day in the Life”. For some reason I always feel like the album is ending with the reprise, and “A Day in the Life” is a sort of post-script. Most likely another intentional move by George Martin.

I don’t need to say very much more about this great album. More has been written about it than probably any other, to the point that fans and the general public most likely became sick of it at some point and will always shout out their favorite Beatles record, with it never being Sgt. Pepper’s. Nevertheless, it is still the gold standard, the album other great albums are measured up against, and I can certainly never forget the first time I sat down and listened to it as a small boy.

All of you know the songs, no need to embed any music with this post.

—Stu Moore is currently vacationing in Arizona and New Mexico, probably without any Internet at all, and will have to respond to comments at a later date.

Sunday Night Journal, June 4, 2017

If you've been reading the Sunday Night Journal since its early days (2004(!)), you may remember that from time to time I mentioned "the dogs": walking the dogs, feeding the dogs, being amused or annoyed by the dogs. I also mentioned cats. At the time we had two dogs and three cats. Since then the ranks have thinned out considerably, and we are now down to one dog and one cat, Andy and Meme (pronounced "Mimi"). 


Of all these animals, only Meme was deliberately acquired by the people who had the care of them for the past ten years or so, i.e. my wife and me. Like many parents, we came to have pets which were either requested (begged for) by one of the children, or bequeathed to us by an out-of-the-nest child who was moving to a place where he/she couldn't take the animal along. Andy was a sort of accident. Someone my wife worked with was trying to give him away, and my wife was the intermediary for the dog to be given to our nieces (her brother's children). It turned out that the girls were allergic to the dog and wanted to give him back. But the original owner didn't want him. So we were stuck with him. 

Andy is a bichon. He was so cute that he even charmed my wife, who is not a dog lover. Of course all puppies are cute, but he was especially so--a little ball of white fluff. Full-grown, he looks something like an animated teddy bear. The other dog was Lucy. She died in 2015, more or less of old age, as she was about the same age as the century. She was only a little older than Andy, but she was a big(ger) dog, and apparently small dogs live longer. (The two cats also died more or less of old age--more in one case, as she was over twenty.) We aren't sure exactly how old Andy is but we think he's about sixteen. I know we had him in 2002, but I think not very much earlier than that, maybe a year, so he was probably born in 2001.

Age is really catching up with him now. Something or other I read about bichons years ago described them as "merry," and it's a good word. They are very attached to people, very affectionate, and lively without being hyperactive, as so many small dogs are. I'm one of those (probably a majority of the human race) who dislike, if not detest, small dogs that exercise their high-pitched yap with hysterical frequency and intensity. Happily, Andy is not like that. In spite of his twelve-pound size, his bark is not gratingly squeaky, and he doesn't bark any more, or any more frantically, than any other dog. Until recently he was sometimes subject to what is known as the "bichon buzz," in which he would run around the house at top speed, leaping wildly over any obstacle, flying up, over, and down the furniture. It's a funny sight. 

He hasn't buzzed for a long time now. Once in a while he still gets a little playful, but it doesn't last very long. His eyesight is going. He's not blind, and I can't tell for sure (of course) exactly how well he can see, but it's obviously not very well: he walks into things. And he apparently doesn't hear as well, either. If someone, for instance a 5-year-old grandchild, comes within a foot or two of him and then makes a loud noise, Andy is violently startled, and afraid--he hasn't seen or heard it coming and doesn't know what it is. He's often afraid in general, trembling violently in any stressful situation, such as getting a bath or going to the vet. He and Lucy used to start barking when someone walked down our street even before they came into sight, and long before I heard or saw them. Now Andy apparently doesn't hear this at all, or perhaps he just doesn't care anymore. At any rate he goes for days at a time never barking at all, even when a UPS driver comes to the front porch. 

In his prime he was something of an alpha dog. He generally seemed to be the boss with Lucy, in spite of the fact that she outweighed him five to one. And he was feisty and even commanding with other dogs, no matter how big they were. Once two poodles, fifty or sixty pounds each, were loose down at the bay where I was letting Andy run around, and in no time at all he was the boss. He seemed to have no idea of the disparity in size, or that they could have dispatched him with a few snaps of the jaws. Now he quails at the approach of any other dog.

His attachment to us has a sort of neurotic edge now. He gets a little frantic when I walk away, because he seems to have trouble following me, and he can't settle down until I do. When both my wife and I are here, it upsets him for us to be in different rooms, and he hurries back and forth between us, making worried little sounds.

I think he's arthritic. Sometimes his back legs seem to just go out from under him. He's always been a little skittish about steps, but now I have to give him a little push to start him down the front steps, and others he won't attempt at all, so I just pick him up and take him up or down.

Worse, he's losing some control over his bladder. I have to remember to take him out every hour or two if I don't want to find a puddle somewhere. Fortunately we don't have a lot of rugs and carpeting in the house. And when he gets upset about something--for instance, being stuck with a flight of stairs between him and the people, and unable to get to us--he's liable to lose it even if it hasn't been all that long since he went out. If you're wondering why I don't just make him stay outside most of the time, it's because it would make him crazy, and because he would be thoroughly flea-infested, and when he has flea bites, or any other skin irritation, it becomes a major problem, as he chews and licks on himself until he creates bloody ulcers.

In short, he's a lot of trouble. Always has been, really, but more now. Oh yeah, one more thing: we can't travel anywhere that involves one or more nights away without boarding him--and the cat if it's more than one night--because there's no one close by who can come and feed them. So why do we have them? I'm fond of Andy, and will miss him when he's gone, but I won't be heartbroken. How decrepit would he have to get before we decided to "put him to sleep"? The only answer I can give you is "Much worse." And as to the "why," well, partly it's just the way I am--soft-hearted. But lately there's a little more to it than that.

I was in my mid-fifties when I started the Sunday Night Journal. I'm now in my late sixties. Victor Hugo once said that "Fifty is the youth of old age." I amended that to sixty, because we tend to live longer now. But I'm nearing the end of that youth and feeling a little alarmed at the approach of actual old age. Fortunately I'm in good health overall, so I don't have much cause for serious complaint, but it seems that every few months there is a new addition to the list of Things That Hurt or Things That Don't Work Right Anymore.

And in my mind there is a semi-superstitious connection between my old age and Andy's. I feel as if there's some sort of do-as-you-would-be-done-by principle involved, as if my treatment of him is somehow going to affect the way I'm treated if I live long enough to get pretty decrepit. Or then again maybe it's just sympathy for one old creature for another. I see him anxious and struggling to figure out, in dog terms, what's going on around him, or afraid to go down a flight of stairs because he's feeble and he can't see clearly, and I think "That may be me in five or ten years." And I feel more patient. 


Obviously I like animals, and am perhaps a bit unusual in being neither a dog person nor a cat person, but liking both. But I'm a little horrified by the recent tendency of people to talk of their pets as if they were their children. I was shocked once when someone referred to me as "Lucy and Andy's dad." NO! 



Sometimes a guest appropriates your favorite chair and good manners dictate that you just have to accept it. This is my daughter's dog. 


I've never read Anne of Green Gables. I don't know if it's a good book or not. But I gather it doesn't merit the "dark" and/or "gritty" TV adaptation that's recently been released. At Dappled Things, Michael Rennier has a good discussion of the odd trend of which this is only one example: the impulse to take some kind of beloved and relatively innocent classic and give it the dark-'n'-gritty treatment. 

This darkening of the classics to achieve modern relevance is an ongoing problem (I’m looking at you, Brideshead Revisited) because it seems as though our storytelling has lost confidence in the fact that there is actual goodness to be found in the world, actual, real-life goodness buried deep in the marrow of creation.

I don't disagree with that, and no doubt it's part of the story. But I think there's also something more fundamental and worse at work: an actual desire to sully or even defile the good and innocent simply because it is good and innocent, and the one doing the sullying knows that he is not. Anyway it makes me think of Dylan's lines:

While one who sang with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat-race choir
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole that he's in
--from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

Movies started getting dark-'n'-gritty at the end of the 1960s; I think Bonnie and Clyde, in 1968, was one of the first examples. Some of that was a desire to break out of the Hollywood tendency toward sentimentality and idealization and general un-reality, and it produced some good work. But at this point dark-'n'-gritty has become its own form of sentimentality.


Speaking of movies, I notice that a Wonder Woman movie (called Wonder Woman, if I'm not mistaken) is a big hit. I know it's the latest in a long line of movies about comic-book superheroes, of which I've seen only a few. I saw the first Spiderman movie, which I enjoyed, and the second one, which I didn't much like. And I watched one of the Batman "Dark Knight" movies on TV, the one with the very creepy Joker, and didn't much like it. I don't have any interest in seeing more of this type of thing. Big noisy action movies featuring heroes (or heroines) with more or less magical powers actually tend to bore me.  There's not much real dramatic tension because the more-or-less magical things that happen just seem arbitrary, like Wile E. Coyote falling a thousand feet, making a hole in the ground, climbing out of it, and getting after the Road Runner again.

Batman, Superman, and other superhero comics were very popular when I was growing up (I was twelve in 1960), in what I have just learned from Wikipedia is considered the Silver Age of comics (1956-1970). I read them and enjoyed them when I ran across them, usually at a friend's house, but I wasn't really an enthusiast and didn't go much out of my way to get hold of them. It seems to me that self-conscious and obsessive comic-book fandom developed sometime after the mid-1960s. Obviously a lot of people are very much into it, and serious critics are writing seriously about the movies. Well, it's lost on me, and in fact I'm a little puzzled by the whole phenomenon. Maybe it's just because I'm old.

52 Albums, Week 22: Lost Souls (Doves)


The period right around the turn of the millennium was a good one for music fans, as whatever was in the air at that time resulted in a fairly large cluster of memorable releases. Established acts like Radiohead, David Gray, and Yo La Tengo put out highly regarded albums, while some up-and-comers and lesser-knowns like Joe Henry, Moby, and The Flaming Lips released records that put them on the musical map. And there were some notable debuts – Coldplay, Sigur Ros, Elbow, and Doves among them.

Doves had originally been formed as an electronic music band called Sub Sub in 1991, and had a top five UK hit in 1993. In 1996 their recording studio burned down, destroying most of their equipment. They chose to reform as a “regular” rock band, and in 1998 the new band Doves was (re)born.

Lost Souls, their debut, came out in April 2000 in the UK, and in October of the same year in the U.S. The album got good reviews on both sides of the pond, but did much better commercially in the UK, where it spawned three top 40 singles, hit no. 16 on the charts, and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. I first read about it in a review in one of the major Pittsburgh newspapers. If I remember correctly the reviewer gave it three out of four stars and mentioned its “post-punk” and “shoegaze” elements. That was enough to get me interested, and I bought a copy as soon as I could. It’s been a top-shelf favorite ever since.

I remember listening to it the first time: at home, on headphones. I was struck immediately by the sound, but also by the thought that it takes a fair amount of confidence to open a debut album with a downtempo trip-hoppy instrumental number, especially one that lasts almost five minutes. “Firesuite” sets the tone for the rest of the album though, not so much in terms of style, but in terms of sonics and “feel.” Lots going on there, and you immediately gather that these guys know their way around the studio.

The second tune, “Here It Comes,” breaks in almost immediately after the first track ends, and is slightly more up-tempo, driven by piano, and featuring a “treated” vocal, something which appears on several other tracks as well. The record picks up the tempo with the fourth track, “Sea Song,” a bit of folky psychedelia in 6/8 time:

which is then followed by “Rise,” not only my favorite song on the record, but one of my favorite songs of the past 20 years. To my mind it’s five-and-a-half minutes of perfection.

If U.S. listeners are familiar with any of the songs on here, it’s likely to be “Catch the Sun,” which was a minor “alternative” hit and which you still hear from time to time on the sort of playlists that run in malls, department stores, and restaurants. It’s also the album’s most up-tempo, straightforward rock number.

Another highlight is “The Cedar Room,” which was one of the UK singles and is probably the most shoegaze-y of the songs. In fact, the only track on the record I don’t really care for is the title cut, which is okay but to my mind goes on a little long.

The band followed Lost Souls in 2002 with an almost equally good album called The Last Broadcast, slightly less edgy and a bit lighter in tone. Two subsequent albums were more mainstream and in my opinion weaker overall, and currently the band is on hiatus.

What appeals to me most about this record is the combination of the songs and the sound. It’s got enough of an experimental sonic edge to make it interesting, but not so much that the songs lose their musical quality. It’s a great record to listen to in the car, turned up loud, but even more so Lost Souls is a headphone listener’s dream. So much interesting stuff going on!

—Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies which he's put to good use working on the insurance side of the healthcare industry for the past 20 years.  He's published a number of book and music reviews, mostly in the small press, and sometimes has even gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.