Something for the weekend. Killing me Softly with His Song , written by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. Out of the musical wasteland that was the Seventies, this is one of the few songs that I enjoy. Sung by many artists, this version by Roberta Flack is the standard. The song had an interesting genesis if one believes one version of how it came about.
Don McLean, he of American Pie and Vincent, was singing and folk singer Lori Lieberman had an emotional reaction to his song Empty Chairs. She wrote a poem and the song was based on the poem. She sang the song in 1972 a year before Flack’s version. Here is her version: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). A combination of the Colonel Bogey March and the River Kwai March, performed by Mitch Miller.
Yesterday, taking a mini-vacation with the family, we were stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes due to bridge repairs south of Joliet on I-55. Temperatures topped 100 and my faithful Transit Connect Wagon decided this would be a splendid time to give me my first mechanical difficulties in three years by overheating. It was touch and go but we managed to get off the interstate and stopped at a convenience store. I let the engine cool down and then put coolant in with the able assistance of the store manager, an Indian immigrant who turned down my offer to pay him for his time. I gave him my card and asked him to call on me if he ever needed legal assistance gratis. I try to never forget a favor. We drove home without further incident and I will have the vehicle checked by my mechanic. I suspect it is a blown fuse on one of the electrical fans cooling the radiator, but we shall see.
In any event this heat drenched adventure convinced me to post a song where the setting is quite hot and the theme song from the Kwai film fit the bill. For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, it is magnificent. Alec Guinness plays Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, absolutely indomitable in the face of the most savage treatment from his captors. Ultimately he wins his war of nerves with his captor, Colonel Saito, over the issue of whether British officers must work in other than an administrative captivity, but fails to understand that by building the bridge he is collaborating with the enemy. Nicholson is a man of rules and discipline and in many ways he is a heroic figure, willing to die to uphold what he perceives as civilized standards, and is beloved of his men who he also loves. However, he is a tragic hero in that he fails to see that following what he thinks are the rules in his circumstances will benefit the enemy by building them a strategic rail bridge. He rectifies his mistake at the cost of his life. The film is an absolutely riveting character study of both Nicholson and Saito, stunningly portrayed by Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese immigrant to the United States, who fought with the French Resistance during World War II, helping downed Allied fliers. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The things you find on Youtube! I loved this album and this song, Ghost of Bras d’ Or, when I was a kid. Part of my Mom’s Newfoundland record collection. I always thought that Dick Nolan sounded like Johnny Cash, and I see that he was called the Johnny Cash of Newfoundland. I am sad to also see that he passed away in 2005, but his music endures. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Mister Here’s Your Mule! The Civil War had a great many comic songs and one of the best was Mister Here’s Your Mule which was popular with soldiers on both side. Written in 1862 by C.D. Benson, the song swiftly became a campfire favorite.
Something for the weekend. American Civil War Fantasy. Written in 1971 this piece attempts to convey the emotions of the Civil War. From a description of the composition: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Palm Sunday Gregorian Chants. Holy Week is our lives writ in Eternity. We begin with a burst of joy in our birth, and as sure as we were born we die, with the sorrow that death inevitably brings. Thanks to Our Savior Christ, that is not our end, and we can share with him the everlasting joy of Easter.
Something for the weekend. Pontifical Anthem, sung in Latin, of course. Written in 1869 by Charles Gounod, who also wrote Ave Maria, for the silver jubilee of Pio Nono. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Irish Americans and Irish immigrants distinguished themselves in battle throughout the Civil War, whether they fought beneath the Stars and Stripes or the Stars and Bars. In 1865 one of them who fought for the South wrote this song to the tune of The Wearing of the Green. A brave defeat to the Irish is always more cherished than a victory.
Something for the weekend. As we approach a conclave and the choosing of a new pope I think a fitting musical interlude is the Prelude from the Agony and the Ecstacy (1965). Charlton Heston is magnificent as Michelangelo, but Rex Harrison steals the movie as Pope Julius II. Harrison plays the soldier Pope with a force and a wry sense of humor that dominates every scene in which he appears. Julius is shown, with all his flaws, as a man completely dedicated to God and His Church.
Something for the weekend. In the middle of winter it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that I have chosen for our musical selection the theme song from Lawrence of Arabia (1962). One of the last great historical epics, the film tells the tale of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab uprising. It is largely historically inaccurate, although a magnificent story. One reason for the historical inaccuracy, other than the usual transmogrification of history in the hands of filmmakers, is that it relied too heavily on Lawrence’s war memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence was a brilliant writer and a talented leader of guerrilla forces, but he never let a little thing like truth stand in the way of a good yarn. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The forgiveness song from El Cid (1961). I have always loved this retelling of the legend of El Campeador, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, who purportedly despised each other during the filming. I think the etchings of the intro capture something of the spirit of believing Spain, always waiting for the next great Crusade.
Here is my favorite sequence from the film: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. As With Gladness, Men of Old seems appropriate for an Epiphany weekend. It was written by William Chatterton Dix in 1859 on Epiphany. By profession Dix was the manager of a marine insurance firm. He wrote many hymns during his lifetime. He started to do so when he was confined to his bed as a young man suffering from a near fatal illness. Out of his depression he fastened his faith on the Alpha and the Omega, his hymns being a lasting testament to that faith. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. There can only be one song on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Immaculate Mary. A Lourdes hymn, it was probably first sung in 1873. No one really knows who wrote the lyrics of the hymn although it has been attributed to Abbe Gaignet, a priest of Lucon. The melody is from a traditional Pyrenean song. It has long been a favorite hymn of Catholics in America.
The belief that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin had its champions long before it was proclaimed as dogma of the Church in 1854 and some of the supporters, er, are unexpected! Continue reading
Something for the weekend. After the election results this week, I suspect that O God Our Help in Ages Past, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, will be of consolation to many of us. Written by Isaac Watts in 1719 it is a magnificent hymn based on Psalm 89. (Psalm 90 in Protestant Bibles.) The hymn is sung to the tune of Saint Anne written in 1708 by William Croft. Here is the text of Psalm 89 which reminds us of the omnipotence of God in spite of the transitory events of this life that preoccupy us: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The Ballad of Roger Young. Born on April 28, 1918 in Tiffin, Ohio, Rodger Young had a happy childhood until in a basketball game in high school he received a head injury which affected his hearing and his eyesight. He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year because he could not hear the teachers and could not see the blackboards.
A small man physically, along with his hearing and eyesight problems, Young would have seemed to have been totally unsuited to be a soldier. Nevertheless, Young joined the National Guard in Ohio in 1938. He made a good soldier and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was assigned to Company B of the 148th Infantry Regiment. With the coming of World War II his regiment was assigned to fight on New Georgia.
Shortly before his unit arrived in New Georgia Young took a voluntary demotion to private. He was by now almost completely deaf and his eyesight was worse and he didn’t think under these conditions he could perform the duties of a squad leader. With these disabilities his commanding officer wanted to send Young to the hospital. Young pleaded his case to remain with his unit with such passion, that he was allowed to stay with Company B.
A week after his unit landed in New Georgia, Young was part of a 20 man patrol near Munda that ran into a Japanese ambush. What he did next earned Young the Medal of Honor and cost him his life. Here is the text of his Medal of Honor citation: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. Composed seventy years ago, it was Copland’s reaction to the US entering World War II. Watching the video above, a salute to the soldiers of World War II, brought back memories from 36 years ago for me.
Back in the summer of 1976 I was on vacation between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Illinois. My father ran the steel shears at a truck body plant in Paris, Illinois. They were hiring summer help and I got a job working on the factory floor. Although I liked the idea of earning money, I was less than enthused by the job. The factory floor was not air-conditioned, and the summer was hot. Additionally I had never worked in a factory before, had no experience with heavy machinery and did not know what to expect.
I was placed under the supervision of a regular worker at the plant. He looked like he was a thousand years old to me at the time, but I realize now that he was younger than than I am now at age 55. I would assist him at a press in which we would manhandle heavy sheets of steel and use the press to bend them into various shapes. Before we began he pointed to a little box and said that if I lost a finger or a part of a finger as a result of the press, I should toss it in the box and proceed with the job. Thus I was introduced to his macabre sense of humor.
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but he was engaged in a rough and ready form of instruction. He had to take a completely green kid, and teach me various tasks, all the while keeping up with the jobs the press was assigned. He did it pretty skillfully, and I learned. I never got to like the job, but I learned how to do it. I also learned to grudgingly respect my mentor. He obviously wasn’t well read, but he was handy with machinery, and under his tutelage I learned how to operate the press without losing one of my digits, or costing him one of his. He kept me out of trouble at the factory, and included me in his conversations with his fellow veteran workers. All in all I probably learned more that summer of future value for me in life, than I learned from any of my courses in college.
One day during the half hour we had for lunch, I asked him if he had served in World War II. I was in Army ROTC at the University, and I had a keen interest in military history. He told me that he had been an infantryman in the Army and that he had participated in Operation Torch. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Give us a Flag, the unofficial anthem of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, written by a private serving in the 54th Massachusetts.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the notice by Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln doing so after the Union victory at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Reaction was, to say the least, mixed. In the North the abolitionists were enraptured. Most Northern opinion was favorable, although there was a substantial minority, embodied almost entirely in the Democrat party, that completely opposed this move. Opinion in the Border States was resoundingly negative. In the Confederacy the Confederate government denounced the proposed Emancipation Proclamation as a call for a race war. Today, almost all Americans view the Emancipation Proclamation as a long overdue ending of slavery. At the time it was very much a step into the unknown, and the consequences impossible to determine. Lincoln had converted the War for the Union into a War for the Union and against Slavery. It remained to be seen as to whether the War, whatever its objectives, could be won. Here is the text of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation: Continue reading