Friday, November 28, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend.

Carol Kaye

“When you hear somebody with [audacity], that’s me.”

I'm often asked why I became a priest.  When I was younger, and testing the vocation, it was a question that was part of the process as the "powers that be" were always very, very concerned that someone would be ordained "for the wrong reason".  [Given how those men and women who were the guardians of faith in my early career have all but destroyed the church, I'd like to re-visit their standards.  Oh, well, they let me in.  Eventually.]  Later in my career, the question would be asked with a different emphasis, as in "Why did you become a priest?"  I confess that I've never had a particularly compelling response, especially as it's a question I intend in asking the Almighty should I one day be granted an audience, mainly because I don't know the answer.

But no one asks me why I play the bass, which is a pity since I actually know the answer so well that I can trace it to a specific date and occasion.  It was February 27, 1966 and I was on the floor of my parents' living room watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my grandmother when some famous singer's daughter came on and sang a brief, rather ordinary song that featured a terrific bass line in its chorus.

"What's that instrument, Grandma?"
"Ah, Robbie, I think that's the bass fiddle.  Pity we can't see the musicians for this silly girl."
[I should note that my grandmother, who was seventy at the time, was quite a fan of The Beatles.]

Well, she was right about the instrument, although it was an electric solid body bass rather than a bass fiddle, and she was right about not being able to see the musicians, as those who provided the backing for the famous singer's daughter was a group of legendary, albeit invisible, studio musicians known informally as The Wrecking Crew.

"The Crew" were much in demand during the 1960's and backed performers as diverse as The Monkees, Bing Crosby, The Mamas & the Papas, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Nat King Cole, and many, many more.  As they only worked in the studio, they remained virtually unknown outside of the close community of musicians.  Only three of the forty-some who worked in this amorphous group ever developed successful solo careers: Leon Russell, Dr. John, and Glen Campbell.  To my knowledge, there was only one woman in The Wrecking Crew and that was Carol Kaye, the bassist who laid down that walking line that was the best thing about that mediocre song.

It wasn't just "Boots" that Kaye improved, though, as even a casual listener to the radio, or viewer of movies and television in the 1960's will have been exposed to her talent again and again.  In fact, even if the reader's knowledge of '60's pop music is nil, it is still likely that he or she has heard Kaye provide the bass line for the themes to the TV show Mission Impossible and other long-running shows like Mannix, MASH, Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart, Kojak, and, naturally, Hawaii Five-O.

TV work brought Kaye a steady income, but a bass can easily become lost in a brassy, busy TV score, or reduced, as in the Hogan's Heroes themeto walking lines so routine and repetitive that they would numb the bassist's mind.  It was in the pop singles of the 1950's and 60's that Kaye's musicality provided the drive that defined what we think of when we recall the music of that era.  Remarkably, because of the role of studio musicians in those days, not only was her influence unnoticed, but her name and those of her colleagues tended to be left off of the songs' credits.

Kaye was the daughter of musician parents so, naturally, she grew up in poverty in Washington state.  To help her family, she took up the guitar and started working as a busker and giving lessons.  This lead to work as a guitarist for a variety of bebop bands in the Los Angeles area at the time when the guitar was the least important instrument in the ensemble.  This brought her to the attention of Sam Cooke, who invited Kaye to be the guitarist in what would become her first popular recording.

When Leo Fender took pity on bassists, who often had to lug a massive instrument up and down narrow nightclub stairs and fit them into buses, cabs, and subway cars, and invented what was originally known as the highly portable, guitar-oriented Fender Electric Bass, many guitarists switched to the new instrument and decided to earn their living in those bottom notes.  Kaye was one of the first and it was on that instrument that she played in over 10,000 recording sessions.

While a complete list of Kaye's bass recordings may be found on the Internet, her favorite ten are "Boots" and "Summertime" linked to above, "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys, Ray Charles' versions of "America the Beautiful" and "In the Heat of the Night", Glenn Campbell's "Wichita Lineman", Lou Rawls' "A Natural Man", Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" [yeah, I know], the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet of "Something Stupid", and her fave, Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright".

So, a surf harmony classic, The Chairman of the Board, Barbra herself, the '60's favorite country twanger, and a gutter rocker.  That's quite a repertoire, isn't it?  It's also the mark of a true musician that whatever the croon, cocktail duet, soul ballad, or deconstructed 4/4 signature barn-burner, the person they had to have on bass was Carol Kaye and no one else.

I have to admit that my favorite of her's is the bass line on this one-hit wonder, and one that I still play along with in idle moments:

I'm also partial to her work on The Monkees' "I'm A Believer", but that's also because it was the first song I ever sang in public.  We'll play that one at 5pm.

Carol Kaye still records from time to time, but mostly she manages to teach up-and-comers and give entertaining interviews about pop music's early days.  As she has written over a dozen instructional manuals with related CD's, her influence is still powerful and there is no bassist with whom I've played, spoken, or for whom I've made an instrument who has not given her due credit for encouraging their interest in the instrument and what it can do for music played in ensemble.  This is why she is now considered the #1 session player of her era.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Things To Come

Spring church sees new light through stained glass

The church, St. Timothy's in Spring, Texas, is not an Episcopal church but an Anglican one.  In the last few years, the Anglican Church in North America has planted over 400 new congregations, many of them with their own worship sites rather than using borrowed space.

In the same period of time, the Episcopal Church in the United States has planted...four new parishes.

This Fall On ABC-TV: Albert Camus On "Dancing With The Philosophers"

Something From G.K. Chesterton

"Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them limits and their plain and defiant shape. . . . We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We will be defending not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for the visible prodigies of the invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be those who have seen and yet have believed."

Please Read This Story As These Fellows Are Real Heroes Of An Uncommon Sort

NPR: 'If We Left, They Wouldn't Have Nobody'

Crown Him With Many Crowns - Westminster Abbey

Friday, November 21, 2014

Well, There Goes Half Of My Diet

Health Dept: Don’t eat gas station’s fish

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

This is a sublimely silly video, but typical of the much simpler, far-less-corporate style of the 1980's.


Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis

On Fridays I write of people whom I admire, either from afar or, when lucky, due to some direct association.  While maybe not generally known by members of the ingrown culture in which I live and work, many of these admired people have their own Wikipedia pages or numerous listings on search engines.  Some have their own pages on the websites of online book retailers.

Others are much more obscure, and if they are no longer with us on the mortal plain, they tend to be remembered only by their families and a few stray friends.  Such is the case with Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis.  You will not have heard of them, but they brought to their lives and endeavors some small portion of joy and, through luck and hard work, enabled that joy to be passed to others.

Ted was one year behind me in college but, as we were both English majors, we had a number of classes in common.  Our college was primarily attended by men and women from towns in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, usually from families of means, who found the small size of the student body [1200 enrolled] comfortable.  I was an uneasy fit in this world, as I was from a city, had attended a high school three times the size of the college, looked about six years older than my age, and was found physically imposing by most of my classmates.  I also worked in the neighboring town as truck driver.

Ted was of a gentle nature and had the luxury of having grown up in comfort in suburban New Jersey.  His manners were impeccable and his wit quick.  He could quip faster than anyone.  Even though he was sub-majoring in speech and theater and I in criticism, we found ourselves matched by one of our more demented professors in preparing a paper and related presentation about the use of "toy theater" in performance and literary development.

During lunch later that day, after Ted received the news of our pairing, I happened to be seated at a table behind him in the cafeteria.  As he did not know I was there, he was openly sharing his concerns with some other drama students about the "terrifying man" with whom he was to work.  "I don't know if he can even put together a sentence."  Obviously, Ted needed some education, so during our shared work I was careful not only to show him my ability to match subject and predicate, but also that I wasn't terrifying.  In fact, between my literary flair and Ted's natural stage presence, our collaboration was successful enough that we earned some meaningless trophy or certificate.

Ted and I were pals from that point forward.  So much so that, when he was to direct Romeo and Juliet, he begged me to play Mercutio.  I did, even wearing those dang tights that so amused the members of the wrestling team.  While I had memorized my lines, I still had issue with my rhythm.  After a particularly miserable rehearsal, I heard his voice from the darkness of the theater intone, "Well, no tip for you, Mercutio."  That expression became so associated with Ted that I remember hearing it murmured from the back of a classroom when we were presented with a particularly knotty linguistics exam.  I earned a stern look from the professor when I laughed out loud. There is no laughter in linguistics.

After college Ted would earn a Master's in theater and become a director of small theater productions in the greater metro New York area, including serving as an adjunct professor for a number of colleges. He was becoming recognized as an up-and-coming voice in contemporary theater when he died at the age of 34.

Ricardo was the first person to greet me on my first official day at The General Theological Seminary. He was a third-year student, what was called a "senior" at General, and had been put in charge of a small group of new students as our personal orientation guide.  While that group of six now includes one bishop, one cathedral dean, a seminary professor, and a handful of cardinal rectors, on that first day we were little more than a collection of disquieted first-year students.  Ricardo, with cadences drawn from his youth in Cuba [from which he and his parents had escaped to the U.S. upon the advent of Castro's rule], dispensed with the canned crib sheets and information about seminary life and did something that, judging from recent news from my alma mater, is still not in practice by either the board of trustees or the faculty.  Namely, Ricardo told us the unvarnished truth.  It was liberating.

During that first year, whenever I had a question about seminary life or the academic process, I would seek out Ricardo who would offer truth and wisdom.  He was especially good about knowing the best political path to take when navigating rival faculty, especially since he had already earned a PhD in history from Georgetown University and had piloted even trickier waters.  Without question, my seminary days were easier than they would have been if not for Ricardo.

On the evening before Ash Wednesday it was a hallowed seminary practice to gather for a mad blowout of a party that was never considered a success until someone in the neighborhood finally called the NYPD.  Our first year, after working my way to an uneasy status within the ever-shifting politics of an Episcopal seminary, all of us were encouraged by Ricardo to celebrate with the best of our energies.  To focus his point, he then began madly to dance to "It's Raining Men." [If you don't know the song, come back to this page after 5 p.m.]

He would graduate at the end of that year, be ordained a priest and become the vicar of a small parish in Baltimore that also had a active presence in the Spanish-speaking community, where Ricardo's bilingualism was welcomed.  He became a strong voice for the poor neighborhoods in the Charm City and was often spoken of as a future bishop.  He would die at the age of 45, just four years after his graduation.  On the night I heard of his death, I was attending my first diocesan convention as a priest. During the impromptu party after the first day's deliberations, while sitting with a gossipy collection of parish secretaries in the lounge of a Holiday Inn in DuBois, Pennsylvania, someone punched up "It's Raining Men" on the juke box and there was a moment when I was convinced that Ricardo's spirit had passed by just to say "so long".

Curtis and I were classmates at General and members of the same advisory group.  These groups were headed by a faculty member who would often hand-pick the members.  Our group was generally regarded as the most promising of our class, although I take no credit for that.  Indeed, many of its members did move up to significant roles in what used to be The Episcopal Church and all of us, at that fledgling stage, were ambitious enough to engage in the fine art of perpetual disagreement.

In truth, I didn't much care for Curtis during our first year or two, as he could be condescendingly expert about liturgy, having made it his hobby since childhood, and had no interest in any other aspect of spiritual life.  I, on the other hand, found that spiritual life could combine art, music, and literature, even from a decidedly secular realm, and present it in a manner that was less dependent on liturgical form and more so on teleological function.  Since I could also be condescending, we argued a lot in classrooms, in the refectory, and at the bar at the Peter McManus' Cafe on 7th Avenue.

However, we came to respect one another's abilities as the three years unfolded.  I recall all of us being subjected to some Pentecostal crackpot at one point, some guest speaker who decided the best thing to do when invited to speak at the flagship seminary of the original Episcopal Church was to trash our tradition, Anglican theology, and the quality of our calling.  While the rest of our classmates sat placidly waiting for the speaker to end his harangue, Curtis and I shared a look, raised our hands and, in a tag team match worthy of television wrestling, so tangled the poor fellow up in his statements that he stormed from the room in a stuttering rage.  I believe the two of us were spoken to about this by some authority figure.

Curtis would be ordained and serve in a parish in New Orleans but his chief contribution was in editing the most popular auxiliary hymnal in the church.  Through it, his labor of love, he combined his abilities as a chorister and organist to bring into common use many of the great hymns and spiritual songs of the African-American tradition in Anglicanism.  It would serve as a lasting legacy, as he would die at the age of 34, just seven years after our graduation.

These three came offhandedly to mind the other day when one of my students was researching the effect of AIDS on society.  We hardly talk about it anymore, but I recall the devastation that the disease wrought upon members of the arts, academic, and ecclesiastical communities.  I remember the fear, anger, and sometimes just plain hatred on display in parishes and student bodies.  I remember what it was like to face a vestry who no longer wanted to receive communion on Sundays because they didn't want to "catch AIDS".  I remember those in New York City who would refuse the common chalice at the altar rail.  I remember how even those groups, such as the theater community, who were traditional oases of support for the gay community would turn their backs on someone so afflicted.

But mainly I remember the toll the disease took on mostly young men who had much to offer to their friends, families, and professions.  I especially regret that I never had the chance to speak with them one last time and thank Ted for his friendship, Ricardo for his mentor-ship, and Curtis for being such an able competitor.

When the Burial Office was read for Ricardo at the cathedral in Baltimore, the preacher, who would himself later die of complications from AIDS, would offer the following:
"I know that many in this cathedral live in fear of the plague that afflicted Ricardo, the fear of getting sick, the fear of being rejected because of your sickness, the fear of being alone when you most need the love of friends. But let this service be witness to the fact you need not be afraid -- we have heard the Gospel message -- and as you are not excluded from the love of God, so you are not excluded from the love of those who love and serve the Lord.  For we know that every human being, no matter how you live or what your pain, is someone God thought worth the death of his son. ... And more than this -- more than being loved by God, more than being cared for by his church -- the promise of eternal life is yours."
Amen, brother.  And thanks Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis.  My life was richer because of you guys.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Listen to the Requiem a Dying Star Wrote for Itself

The data from the star—which has a small, distant companion—is converted into points on the disk of a music box. The star's pulses become the beats; variations in the strength of its radio waves guide how the music changes. PARTY made 70 disks at different frequencies which play the sad melody....

Direct Action In The Face Of An Intractable Opponent Is Sometimes The Only Way

Palm Beach Libertarians plan to defy ordinance in order to feed the homeless

If you're wondering where the Episcopal Church is in all of this,'s complicated.

Sorry, But I'm Not Surprised

We've had a rash of home burglaries in my little town recently.  I'm not sure why, except that it's a place without a police department, with an older than average citizenry who live in remote areas, tend to display their affluence, often leave their doors unlocked, and find the notion of personal gun ownership distasteful.  Really, what in that mixture would attract a criminal?

I can't tell you what it's like to grow up in the kleptocracy of Cleveland and now drive about a town in Connecticut muttering "easy mark, easy mark, easy mark" with every house I pass.

The good news is that the crooks seem to get caught with a brutal frequency.

This Must Be Part Of The Economic Recovery I Keep Hearing About

New report: Child homelessness on the rise in US

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Game Day

The Tiger is a real entrepreneur, isn't he?

The fine are of intimidating the refs

The 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl, by the way.

Now that's a fan.

Princeton lost, it was cold, but still a fine day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

Gerry Lopez

“Okay...I guess this is a good day to die!" - Gerry Lopez, when first being towed offshore to ride a mega-wave.

Bear with me, but I find a lot of similarity in the histories of surfing and Christianity.

Both began in simplicity and, over time, became too complicated to carry their own weight. Christianity was a simple movement realized from person to person and nimble in its spiritual expression, especially when compared to the monolithic religions of the era. Surfing was the avocation of people young and old riding wooden boards on unnamed beaches that weren't always the most accessible.

By the fourth century, Christianity had become the "official" religion of the Roman Empire and, while that enabled its rapid spread across the Western world, it became intertwined with empires, kingdoms, and governments to the point that the spiritual and the venal were inseparable.

Surfing, in the days of the wahines, groms, hodaddies, and kooks was a relaxed and uncommon pursuit for a variety of age groups.  In the 1950's, World War II and Korean War veterans, in particular, found it a pleasant diversion from the nightmares caused by long-resolved battles*.  As it became popular in general culture, and the source of a lot of attention from adolescents with money to spend, it naturally attracted the marketers who created the monster known as the "surf lifestyle".  Nowadays a 14-year-old with a natural affinity for reading waves and balancing on a board can become the multi-millionaire spokesman for a power drink company.

Both Christianity and surfing suffered from this growth and both are now entering a post-institutional phase.  While there are a lot of people attempting to lure Christendom back to its effective and simple days of just being Christianity, surfing is still making way too much money for those in charge of merchandising and contests for there to be a general recognition of the effect of the loss of simplicity. However, a growing number of young surfers are attempting to reclaim those days when it was the surf and not the sponsorship where watermen found satisfaction.

The man himself.

And, in that quest, they tend to turn for inspiration to the guy known as Mr. Pipeline.

Once in Huntington Beach, I was in the "green room".  Just that once.  It doesn't happen on the east coast really, so it was rather special.  The green room is that tube formed by a rolling wave in which good surfers in good surf can place themselves.  While mine was a good wave, I'm not that good of a surfer, so it was probably for only five seconds or so, but on my deathbed I will regard it as one of the best moments of my life.  I can't imagine what it's like regularly to abide in the room and, in sublime confidence and ability, reach out and touch that dynamic wall of water.

Gerry Lopez has been in the green room so often he should move an easy chair in there.  That really shouldn't be a surprise, given the milieu into which he was raised.  Lopez was born in Honolulu in 1948, educated at the prestigious Punahou School [which, through the years, also counted the dance coach Cari Ann Inaba, the politician Barack Obama, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, pro golfer Michelle Wie, Chinese president Sun Yet Sen, and Olympian and actor Buster Crabbe among its students] which used to stress development of both body and mind.  Lopez extended his education when, at the age of 14, he became the Hawaiian State Surfing Champion.

Nowadays, he would be the toast of every surf beach in the world and a fair number of advertising agencies, too; probably with his photo of the cover of a variety of surfing periodicals.  But, in 1962, he was given a simple trophy in a makeshift ceremony and left to his own devices.  He would, as he matured, develop a recognizable style that, to those who have never surfed, appeared casual and offhand, but was anything but; and he would challenge greater and greater waves.

Lopez and his friends started to experiment with the enormous waves of Oahu's North Shore around the time that surfboard design was changing from the rather simple solid wood boards to those made of fiberglass with channels, subtle curving known as foil and rocker, and downrailers.  The new design made even the most daunting of waves accessible.

It's more complicated than you thought, isn't it?

Lopez dedicated himself to what came to be known in lore and legend as the "Banzai Pipeline", a surf break in the reef system that produced massive waves that were beyond the technological capacity of the original surfboard.  From a familiar online source:
Pipeline is notorious for huge waves which break in shallow water just above a sharp and cavernous reef, forming large, hollow, thick curls of water that surfers can tube ride. There are three reefs at Pipeline in progressively deeper water further out to sea that activate according to the increasing size of approaching ocean swells.
In other words, if either the surfer or his/her equipment is not up to it, a rider will be severely injured or killed in rather short order.  In the 1960's, Gerry Lopez took a new board design into the surf at Sunset Beach Park and rode the tubes over and over again.  By his 25th birthday he was recognized as the best tube-rider in the world and earned the nickname "Mr. Pipeline".  A few years later, the annual competition on the North Shore was re-named the Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters.

It's probably better to simply stand on the beach and admire them rather than get crushed.

There are many athletes who have become champions in their field and then, as age or injury remove them from competition, retire and find pursuits that are fulfilling or, at the very least, keep them mostly out of jail.  Shortly after being recognized as the champion he was, Lopez, while still competing, made a move into the next phase of the sport.  Using his intimate knowledge of what worked on a surfboard and what didn't, he began to design and market his own line of surfboards, memorable for their lighting bolt design.

By the time I had enough money to buy a proper surfboard, Lopez boards were the ones to have. Unfortunately, by then Lopez boards were too expensive even for those of us who thought we had enough money.  Since Mr. Pipeline knew what it was like to ride a three-story wave, these shaped bits of fiberglass and foam were renowned for their stability and speed.  Also, as longboards gave way to shortboards during the 1980's and 90's, enabling surfers to spin, wheel, and climb on the waves as if they were on skateboards, it was the Lopez design that served as the foundation for what was to come.

In other words, this:

Became this:

With his fame within the sport, and his fortune made from his surfboards, Lopez continued to give to the community, enabling scholarships, study programs, and surf competitions.  And, like his contemporary in the martial arts world, Bruce Lee, he discovered lucrative and rewarding work in Hollywood, teaching actors how to look authentic on a surfboard.  He would even take roles in films from time to time.

However, as with any successful venture, Lopez would see his sport become more and more commercialized and complicated.  Somewhere, it had lost its loopy, easy-going fun and become just another over-serious mega-business.  At the nadir of this transformation, Mr. Pipeline, the super-surfer from the North Shore of Hawaii, left the coast, moved to Oregon, and became...a snowboarder.  Yeah, I know.

Now in his mid-60's, Lopez has come to be considered the "Yoda" of surfing.  This summer, in my eccentric role as a chaplain to the Christian Surfers organization, I noticed that Lopez's autobiography, Surf Is Where You Find It, was the second most popular book read on the beach in between wave sets.  [Given the organization, it should come as no surprise that the most popular was The Holy Bible, King James Version.]  When asked about it, the young people confessed a fascination for those early "Gidget" days of surfing, where it was less a sport and more a community-building activity with a mutualized support structure.  It wasn't so much about trying to out-do one another on a wave [although a natural sense of competition is always present] as it was celebrating the joys of a common activity, one that tended to obviate the constraining social structure of its time.  

Remarkably, at a time when young Christians are attempting to do the same with their faith, young surfers are trying to find that meaningful center in their pursuit; the center that has been obscured by much less important concerns.  Perhaps both surfers and Christians should take heed of Lopez's wisdom, "Life is an adventure, and when we see it as such it becomes more fun and enjoyable and less of a burden and toil."   If faith is life, then that sagacity is doubly true.

[*I'll bet that you never realized surfing was once an effective treatment for what's now called Post-Traumatic Stress Reaction.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

From Today's Diocesan Newsletter: Nothing About The Day Of Remembrance [aka Veterans' Day]...

...but plenty about mission research, gun violence, care for creation, and UTO grants.  Oh, and about the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

My Hero

Meet America’s oldest living vet. He smokes cigars, does yard work, drives and drinks whiskey. And he’s 108.

Punishing Christians For Being Christian

Derry poll worker ousted for comments

A Prayer For Veterans' Day

God of compassion,
God of dignity and strength,
Watch over the veterans of the United States
In recognition of their loyal service to our nation.
Bless them with wholeness and love.
Shelter them.
Heal their wounds,
Comfort their hearts.
Grant them peace.
God of justice and truth,
Rock of our lives,
Bless our veterans,
These men and women of courage and valor,
With a deep and abiding understanding
Of our profound gratitude.
Protect them and their families from loneliness and want.
Grant them lives of joy and bounty.
May their dedication and honor
Be remembered as a blessing
From generation to generation.
Blessed are You,
Protector and Redeemer,
Our Shield and our Stronghold.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Monday, November 10, 2014


A laboratory retained by the Catholic Church of Kenya uncovers miscarriage drugs in the tetanus vaccine distributed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Read the whole thing as it may be the wildest story I've read in years.

Surfer Barely Escapes Shark

“I’d rather try to hold my ground against it and not freak out and make a commotion,” he said.  “If you’re going to get chomped, then you’re going to get chomped. There’s nothing you can do about it,” he added.

I've never been menaced by a shark.  I've seen them near me in the water, of course, but they tend to understand we're neither a threat to their feeding grounds nor particularly tasty.  I have been stalked by a barracuda, though, and suffered numerous injuries, including being knocked unconscious, submerged, and nearly drowned, by other surfers.  But the sharks and I are cool with one another, bud.

Good Night, Chesty, Wherever You Are.

Today's the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

For more about the posting's heading, please go here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

"...expect criticism; if you can't do it get help; you don't need fancy tools or a fancy garage; and if you fulfill your duty Heavenly Father will bless you in what you do."

Do you see that little yellow vehicle in the background behind Annette Funicello?  It really deserved to be the star of Beach Blanket Bingo, probably the best of those terrible mid-sixties beach movies. That's just my personal opinion, of course, but for all of the songs, surfboards and bikinis in that film, it was that stray bit of decoration that remained in my memory and imagination.  [Well, maybe Donna Michelle was a close second.]

The Surfite in full glory at a recent auto show.

The car was "The Surfite" and was one of many, many creations, automotive and otherwise, of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, one of the most original, prolific, and ignored American artists of the post-WWII period. I knew of the cars not because they would ever be seen on the east side of Cleveland, but because they were well represented in the modeling aisle of my local Woolworth's.

My fellow juvenile delinquents and I could never get enough of the models of cars designed by Big Daddy and news of a new product on the five and dime shelves would make the rounds of recess at Lincoln Elementary School with all of us attempting to be the first to score fifteen cents for the model and another ten for the custom paint set.  Yes, life was that exciting in Ohio in the early '60's.

About five years later, when I discovered surfing, I was amazed to discover that Big Daddy was an influence in the design of what was becoming called the "surf lifestyle".  When I was older still, and the owner of a battered BMW R100 motorcycle, I discovered that Roth was still an influence in the burgeoning bike customization industry.  I've studied everyone from Xenokrates of Sicyon to Salvador Dali, even married an art history major, and can't recall any artist having such a trans-cultural influence through graphic, commercial, animated, and industrial art.

Ed Roth, like his school of art, was born in L.A. County.  He lived through the period when his city transformed from orange groves and farmland to the entertainment capital of the world with that urge to entertain influencing all other endeavors.  For some reason it also became, by the late 1950's, the car and motorcycle customization capital of the world.

Roth originated automobile pin-striping at his art/auto body/t-shirt shop in 1959 and financed his operation mainly by creating one-of-a-kind designs airbrushed onto t-shirts and sold at various hot rod shows.  The designs were bizarre, sometimes horrifying, and certainly different from anything else that was on offer in the days of Ozzie and Harriet.  It's no wonder that the burgeoning car/cycle crowd found them evocative.  As the dominant animal in southern California was Mickey Mouse, an icon loathed by most normal people, Roth created a dark alternative.

Behold, the Rat Fink:

Whether or not the reader has seen this particular icon, it is the spirit animal of an entire school of art that has influenced almost everything we have seen during the last fifty years.  Certainly, it was ubiquitous in youth culture as it was found on t-shirts, motorcycle helmets, car models, shift knobs, guitars, coin banks, barware, decals, and bobble head dolls.  In 6th Grade, I had a collection of Rat Fink erasers for my #2 pencils.

And hats, too.  Especially the "hillbilly crash helmet" modeled above by its maker.

Along with other tactile artists such as Dean Jeffries [who created, among other works, the original dune buggy and the car driven by The Monkees on their eponymous TV show], graphic artist Von Dutch, George and Sam Barris [of the original Bat-mobile], and other car, motorcycle, and guitar customizers, tattoo artists, cartoonists, fashion designers, and musicians, Roth and his cadre were the representatives of what is now known as Kustom Kulture.

From a popular information site:
Kustom Kulture is usually identified with the greasers of the 1950s, the drag racers of the 1960s, and the lowriders of the 1970s. Other subcultures that have had an influence on Kustom Kulture are the Skinheads, mods and rockers of the 1960s, the punk rockers of the 1970s, the metal and rockabilly music, along with the scooterboys of the 1980s, and psychobilly of the 1990s. Each separate culture has added their own customizations to the cars, their own fashions, influenced the music, and added their own ideas of what is cool, of what is acceptable, and what is not. Everything from wild pinstriped paintjobs, to choptop Mercurys, to custom Harley-Davidson and Triumph Motorcycles, to metal-flake and black primer paint jobs, along with music, cartoons, and monster movies have had an impact on what defines anyone and anything who is part of this automobile subculture.
While an artist, t-shirt designer, musician [his band was "Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos"] and fashion icon, it was with cars that Roth made his biggest impact.   Originally, Big Daddy was the guy who simply put pinstripes on cars, which he then expanded to custom colors and media, making the metal flake finish popular in the custom world.  And then came the most wonderful construction material of all, the one that transformed surfboard shaping, watercraft design, and auto body fabrication.

By the mid-20th century, both DuPont and Owens-Corning had perfected the combination of glass strands, silica, and polyester resin to create what we now recognize as fiberglass.  With this medium, car bodies could be shaped in ways not possible with sheet metal, provide for a lighter overall weight, thus boosting horsepower, yet retain the strength necessary to carry the chassis.  When Roth realized what this newest form of plastic could do, he was limited only by his imagination; if it had any limits, that is.

While I could describe the cars that Roth would create, in forms and styles never before seen, it's far easier to show them.

Tweedy Pie, 1964

Road Agent, 1965

Druid Princess, 1966

Beatnik Bandit, 1960

Mysterion, 1963

Orbitron, 1964

Tellingly, the fate of the Orbitron sums up the reality of Roth's world.  It was originally sold for $750 [yes, that's right] to another KK customizer who, in turn, sold it to a collector in Texas, who sold it to a carnival owner in Chihuahua, Mexico.  By 1991, the Orbitron had disappeared. Although, there were rumors....

Following up on those rumors in 2007, a professional car finder [that's an actual job] discovered the Orbitron, or what was left of it, being used as a trash trailer for the owner of an...ahem..."adult lifestyle" store in Juarez.  After considerable negotiation, the hulk was brought back to southern California and recently had its full restoration completed.

Much like the Orbitron, Kustom Kulture and the works of Roth have never quite disappeared, although they have morphed into other media.  On any given evening, cable TV is filled with "reality" shows about customizing cars and motorcycles, skateboard and surfing periodicals are mostly ads for the ephemera of the sports rather than athletic pursuit, and colorful t-shirts sporting characters and ironic statements are the norm even in Brooklyn in winter.  What was once a sub-genre lost in its own orbit has since managed to influence the mainstream without having given up its edginess.

A lot of that spirit of defiance can be traced to Roth.  Once, when on his way to some car show in some middle-of-nowhere location, driving himself in one of his less dramatic creations, he pulled to the side of the road for the evening, sleeping in the car.  As he was 6'4", his bare feet were left sticking out the window and, when a fan with a camera recognized the car and took a photo of the scene, the Revell model company, that paid Roth a considerable sum to copy his cars, suggested that he neaten up his image.  He did so, not by adopting a Brooks Brothers suit, but by buying used white tie and tails, complete with top hat and monocle.  Like the Rat Fink, that look became his signature and a familiar sight at auto shows. Big Daddy's life had now become his art.

Roth would continue to stoke his brand, licensing the Rat Fink and related products, selling a line of metal flake auto paint under his name, and making the rounds of auto shows signing autographs and delighting fans.  His wild nature was mollified in his later years as he became a Mormon and dedicated the remainder of his life serving his church and enabling good works.  He died shortly before his 70th birthday in 2001.

Ed Roth captured the attention of Tom Wolfe in his article "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby", is the subject of numerous art and automotive books, at least one well-received documentary, "Tales of the Rat Fink", and maintains a popular online presence.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Archaeology Meets Surfing [See, Mom, I Told You]

Noah Cordle was body boarding when a sharp object hit his foot. Thinking it was a crab he jumped back. But upon noticing its dark color, the 10-year-old plucked it from the surf only to discover it was an arrowhead.

Turns out, the object he found in the waters off Beach Haven, New Jersey, on summer vacation wasn’t just any arrowhead. It was a rare and “classic” Clovis point dating from 13,500 to 14,000 years ago, according to

Look What News Floats Up After An Election

Number of People Under "Active Monitoring" for Ebola in NYC Triples, City Officials Say

Well, For Now

Query: What The Heck Is A "Non-Religious" Church?

The event is part of an international tour by the non-religious church, which has its headquarters in the Dominican Republic, to publicise its Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS).

Washington Post: Want to help veterans? Stop pitying them.

Sweaty mornings of community service are part of the veteran experience that civilian Americans rarely see. Stories of painting schools, building playgrounds or feeding the homeless don’t attract the same attention as a mentally ill veteran who goes on a shooting rampage or one who has sustained life-altering injuries.

Boring Ourselves To Death

One of my favorite riffs is on the color and style of automobiles today versus fifty years ago. If you walked through a typical American parking lot in 1968, you would have seen cars with fins, lots of chrome, a variety of colors and lots of brash styling. The colors would be what jumps out to the modern eye. Today, the three most popular colors today are gray, black and white. Fifty years ago, green, yellow, teal, blue, red and orange were the popular colors.

Dangerous Criminals Brought To Justice

Police charge 90-year-old man, 2 pastors with feeding homeless

Law enforcement prefers soft targets as they put up less of a fuss and can be cowed by military surplus costumes and vehicles.  Besides, demonizing Christians for being Christian is a growing trend.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Are We Being "Benzed"?

I'm trying to come up with a verb to describe what is done to the food ministry when a fellow in a Mercedes Benz comes by, takes with him enough toilet paper for twelve families, and then complains to the town government a few days later that we don't have any toilet paper.

The Chapter: A History

In their enthusiasm for chapters, however, early Christian editors and writers introduced a problem, one that cut to the heart of their own sacred texts and presaged the challenge that chapters present to writers even today. How do you segment continuous, narrative texts rather than informational ones? How, for instance, do you divide Scripture—like the Gospels—into bits, given that they were written as one continuous text, undivided and unlabelled? At first, the problem must have seemed merely technical. Eusebius solved it by devising an elaborate system of small sections cross-indexed among the different Gospels, one that remained popular well into the Middle Ages, but it was cumbersome: there were over three hundred such sections in Matthew and Luke each. The Bibles of late antiquity and early medieval culture contained a bewildering variety of chaptering systems to complement or replace Eusebius’s sections, and each system had its own sense of what counts as a significant unit of action or a significant moment deserving of its own heading. To divide, it turns out, is already to interpret.

Fit to a Fault?: Seeking the Perfect Body Can Endanger Our Spiritual Health

Play and sport are part of being in community. They give us a relaxing setting in which we can create friendships that are fun. Even working out to maintain health is beneficial to helping us engage the community. But this cult of the body, when physical perfection becomes the elusive and consuming goal, is a beast of a very different nature. It’s a vanity and pride that stems from an ethic that values the individual before all else; in a way, through this sort of practice, the individual becomes estranged from the community.

It’s not surprising, then, that often more people can be seen in the gym than in church on Sunday. Both groups are seeking to defy death – one through the perfection of their own bodies, the other through the broken Body and spilled Blood of Christ. Fanaticism for fitness does bring to life the words of St. Paul, however, and that does give us advice we would all do well to practice, if we hope to live:

Looks Like

Does the military have a problem with Jesus?
A colonel’s column was removed from an Air National Guard newsletter because the writer violated military policy by including references to Jesus Christ and God, an Ohio National Guard spokesman said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Don't Know; It's Been In My Head All Day

Jeez, Make Up Your Mind

Post-Modern Religion

Goat heads found hanging from NYC light pole

High Schools Are Deranged

Two high school runners in Minnesota have been disqualified in the state girls cross country meet for helping an opponent who fell.

Great Lakes Surf Season Has Begun

Monstrous Lake Michigan waves top 21 feet: See photos from Great Lakes

Separating meditation from faith is a dubious business, morally and sometimes in its effects

Think how hostile an awful lot of companies are to organised religion; to any talk of ‘faith’. Now consider that in both America and the UK, it’s probably easier to count on your fingers the number of institutions that aren’t engaging in ‘mindfulness’ than those that are; giving ‘mindfulness’ teachers special spaces to have classes and encouraging staff to take part.

Suddenly, Public Schools Really, Really Care About Religion

Newington schools cancel Halloween parties

An Obituary Of Note

Tom Magliozzi, Popular Co-Host Of NPR's 'Car Talk,' Dies At 77