Saturday, April 02, 2005

Vatican Blues

Although much will likely be said about the late Pope John Paul II (who died Saturday at 84 after a long illness), it’s unlikely any of it will have to do with popular music.

OK, there was the infamous Sinead O’Connor incident, in which the shaven-headed singer capped a Saturday Night Live performance of “Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home” with an a cappella performance of Bob Marley’s “War,” followed by her shouting “Fight the real enemy!” and tearing up a picture of the Pope. It was a bit of a shock, and led to O’Connor getting booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute not long thereafter. But strictly speaking, that had more to do with O’Connor than with John Paul II, and it’s worth noting that O’Connor did eventually apologize for the stunt.

But John Paul I, his predecessor, was the subject of a song by Patti Smith. Seriously. “Wave,” the title tune from her third album, was a one-way conversation with the late pontiff, to whom the singer once waved while visiting the Vatican. Offhand, I can’t think of any mainstream pop songs about John Paul II; there’s nothing in Jeff Green’s wonderful The Green Book of Songs by Subject, nor does a cursory Google search turn up much beyond devotional music.

Still, John Paul II was not only a big music fan — “I have a sweet tooth for song and music,” he once said; “This is my Polish sin” — but a recording artist in his own right. Amazon carries eight of his albums, while the All Music Guide includes him among their gospel artists. (John Paul II, Shirley Ceasar and Al Green — now, that would have been a show to see!) I actually reviewed one of his albums, in the January, 1995 edition of Musician:


John Paul II

The Rosary with the Pope (Cesar ISR)
Possibly the lamest rapping I’ve ever heard....


OK, so I’m a smart-ass. But even though I didn’t always applaud with his dicta (like a number Catholics, I would prefer to see women accorded a broader role in the Church), I found John Paul II to be a real inspiration in my life. A number of examples spring to mind, among them his Letter to the Jews, and his efforts to bring lapsed Catholics back into the fold with the new millennium. But the most emotional came two days after the 9/11 attacks. I was working at Blender then, and the office had been suddenly shut down due to bomb threats nearby. Wandering down to Union Square, I looked at some of the messages posted there, and was unexpectedly saddened to see calls for violence and vengeance among the impromptu memorials. For some reason, I suddenly flashed on the Pope, remembering how after having been shot by Mehmet Ali Agca he had gone to visit his would-be assassin in prison, where he forgave the gunman. It gave me solace and hope, reminding me of the healing power forgiveness bestows.

It’s a tough lesson, forgiveness, and more easily praised than practiced. It probably won’t be listed among his achievements in the obits, but for me it will be the highlight of John Paul II’s legacy. And that’s better than a pop song, any day.

Comments:
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Hello Blogger !

I'm a music lover, and I found your post, "Vatican Blues", while searching for info on label - I don't know why your post came up, but it did capture my attention and interest! Thank You!

Hey - Tonight, I'm being frothed into a righteous euphoria by the "nuclear-meltdown, piano-mania, happy blues" piano music at http://www.claycotton.com. And I just can't stop smiling :)

I wonder if you like it as much as I do... Lemme know, ok?


Thanks,

- Sandra

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Hi Blogger !

Nice post!

I really love that music means so much to so many. It brings us all together!

Right now, I'm rockin' out to the "nuclear-meltdown, piano-mania, happy blues" piano music at http://www.claycotton.com. It smokes so righteously that I can't stop smiling :)

I wonder if you can feel it as much as I do...

Thanks,

- Sandy

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