THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
This morning I was at the gym going about in circles like a mind-numbed hamster, (Yes, the Rev. Know-it-all goes to the gym, even in his advanced age. When I was young we practiced harsh penances for the sake of eternal life. Now we go to the gym and submit ourselves to instruments of torture so that we won’t look so much like beached whales while sunning ourselves at the seaside. How culture has advanced!) As I plodded along past the television sets arranged so as to distract the penitents on the treadmills, I saw a news show featuring a perky bunch of dancers dressed as nuns singing invigorating Gospel Music. (Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel and Perky Make-Believe Nuns singing and dancing on the morning news. Sometimes the collapse of the civilization exceeds one’s power to comment.)
It all brought me back to the heady 60's when the spirit was a blowin’ all over this land. In the 1940's, Catholicism was the darling of Hollywood, that fountain head of American culture. Going My Way was a 1944 film, a light-hearted musical comedy about a young priest replacing an old curmudgeon pastor Fr. Bing Crosby, living the typical life and sings constantly. Next year, Fr. Crosby in the sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's is still singing and raising funds as he argues with Sister Ingrid Bergman as they both save a struggling school. The Bells of St. Mary’s was the highest-grossing picture of 1944. After a slew of Bible movies, 1959 gave us the Sound of Music, a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein with more singing religious, nuns this time.
Then in 1963 there was Lilies of the Field in which Sidney Poitier teaches German nuns to be more open minded. And also how to sing more modern music. Then things take an ominous turn. Change of Habit is a 1969 movie in which Dr. Elvis Presley falls in love with Sister Mary Tyler Moore while working in the inner city. Then we move on to the TV show, The Flying Nun, a sitcom placed in Puerto Rico in which Sister Sally Fields learns to fly using her traditional Ursuline habit. This disaster ran for three seasons beginning in 1967.
By 1992 we have Sister Act a film in which Sr. Whoopi Goldberg teaches nuns how to sing more relevant music. The Pope visits them, loves the music and the nuns begin recording careers. Hollywood Catholicism is at best a musical comedy, a kind of harmless joke. At worst it is a sinister cult as portrayed by movies like, Agnes of God about nuns killing babies, Elizabeth and its sequel, The DaVinci Code and the recent Showtime series The Borgias, among many more.
Nuns however, when they aren’t being sinister, sing gospel music which brings us back to the Perky Nun Singers who took me back fifty years to another television show and another perky nun, the original singing nun, Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) when she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 5, 1964 with her smash hit song, “Dominique”. We knew her as the singing nun.
Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers was born in 1933 in Belgium and joined a Dominican convent in 1959. She wrote songs and played the guitar at retreats for young girls and finally recorded an album, available for sale in the convent gift shop. In 1963, the single "Dominique" became an international hit. In 1967, Deckers left the convent and hit the road as Luc Dominique. In 1967, she recorded “Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill,” a joyous song of thanksgiving for artificial birth control. It was a flop and her career nosedived, despite the 1966 movie “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds. Deckers called the film “fiction.”
Deckers opened a school for autistic children in Belgium. In 1975 Soeur Sourire moved in with Anna Pecher, her companion for the next ten years. In the late 70's, the Belgian government claimed that she owed $63,000 in back taxes for the royalties on her one hit song. Unable to meet her financial obligations, she and Pécher committed suicide together by an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol on March 29, 1985. She was 51. Her sad life somehow sums up the disaster that was the optimistic Catholicism lite of the 60's. A happy progressive Catholicism that cast off what it believed to be the shackles of the past only to find itself devoid of any depth, like a seed sown on rocky ground that the birds came and devoured. Jesus said:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)We tried to exchange the rock of Peter which is the rock of Calvary, the SACRIFICE of the Mass for something more pleasant, more in keeping with the times. The attempt has failed utterly.
The Second Vatican Council has not failed. It has not been fully implemented. The rebellion that used the Council as its cover has failed. Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”.(Matt13:24-50)These were not just any weeds. These were “zizania” or lolium temulentum, to use its scientific name. It makes one feel drunk at first, but can cause death. Another name for it is “false wheat,” because until it is full grown it is indistinguishable from wheat. The meaning of the parable of the weeds and the wheat is that certain things mimic food, but are poison. What passed for liberation in the 60's turned out to be a kind of toxic drunkenness. It certainly killed Souer Sourire and I suspect that it killed the souls of many, many more. Perhaps it is time to quit insisting that the weeds are perfectly edible and to return to pure wheat, the Bread that came down from heaven.
SO, REV. KNOW IT ALL, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT WE SHOULD DO?
Next Week: A FEW SUGGESTIONS