Today is Good Friday—at least for those observing the liturgical calendar followed by most Christians in the western hemisphere. It is a Christian holy day, but not a U.S. federal holiday, nor a New York State holiday, and yet, curiously, Wall Street—the New York Stock Exchange—is closed today. It’s been closed on Good Friday as a rule since its inception. Hard-nosed capitalists or no, it seems that no one has had the gumption to break that particular precedent. Well, deference to much of anything being in such short supply, I think one can only applaud it when one sees it.
My purpose today, however, is just to reflect a little on a song. I think it might be described as a Good Friday kind of song, and it’s a song I’ve grown to love, although a few months ago I had not even heard of it.
Accounts tell us that in 1872, an American Methodist minister named Lewis Hartsough wrote the lyric and the tune, during the course of a revival meeting in Iowa. The song become known by its first line: “I hear thy welcome voice.”
Yet, I’ve never heard the song sung in English, and I would guess not all that many people have.
The song was noticed not long after its first publishing by a Welsh Methodist minister named John Roberts (also known by his poetic name of Ieuan Gwyllt). He translated the song into Welsh, and I guess you could say that from there it went viral. (This being the age before antibiotics, perhaps back then they would’ve said that it went bacterial.) It quickly became a deeply beloved hymn of the Welsh, such that many presume that it has been Welsh all along. Continue reading Gwahoddiad – I Hear Thy Welcome Voice – Arglwydd Dyma Fi→
As hardened as we may be to the most grotesque news these days, I’d wager that there are not many people who didn’t pause in special horror at the story of a mugger in Georgia who last Thursday demanded money from a woman pushing a stroller, and, when she didn’t cooperate, went and shot her 13-month old baby boy in the face, killing him. The 17-year old suspect was indicted today, along with an alleged accomplice who is 15 years of age.
I wonder if I’m the only one—though I bet I’m not—who found in the timing of this particular obscene crime a gruesome echo of crimes being detailed in a trial currently taking place in Philadelphia. There, a man named Kermit Gosnell is charged with the murder of a 41-year old woman and seven infants. The trial is not getting a whole lot of publicity. The defendant is not as interesting as, say, Amanda Knox; the killings were not committed with an AR-15 rifle; and the actual events took place some years ago now. Kermit Gosnell is a doctor, who ran an abortion clinic in the city of Philadelphia where, by all accounts, most of the desperate women who came to see him were treated worse than animals, and where late-term babies were routinely induced to premature birth, so that shortly after they saw their first light and took their first breaths their spines could be severed by shears. I guess it was the easiest way of doing business. The clinic was uninspected for about 17 years, enabling the abbatoir-like conditions to flourish. Though, of-course, it is more than just a lack of official inspections that allows something like this to go on, in our great and so-civilized society. Continue reading Executed Infants→
Very recently uploaded to YouTube by “Prism Films” (who I presume owns the footage) is an interview from 2004 with the late Jacques Levy, a lyricist and theater director who is familiar to Bob Dylan fans as the co-composer of many of the songs from Dylan’s 1975 album Desire.
Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of Passover, and today was Palm Sunday and the kick-off of Holy Week for many Christians like myself (although for those observing the Eastern Orthodox calendar, Palm Sunday will arrive very much later on April 28th). So I take this opportunity to wish happy holidays and observances to all, and may God have mercy on every one of us.
In the spirit of thinking of songs that in a certain sense span the Judeo/Christian story, I happened to think of “Wade in the Water” today. It is of-course a famous Negro spiritual, and has been performed too many times by too many people in too many variations to even begin a litany. I love the song for its mysteriousness. I guess the one fundamental observation that can be made about it is that it blends the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with the Christian belief in baptism by water. The chorus (which is the one thing that is consistent amongst the many versions) goes: Continue reading Wade in the Water→
It’s not the first ever story of a dog who takes it upon himself (or herself in this case) to guide another dog who has gone blind, but there’s something about this one that is particularly touching. I guess it’s the fact that they were picked up off the street as strays. They are an odd couple indeed: a blind husky with bulging glaucoma eyes, and the little terrier mix that stays with him at all times, cries for him when he is taken away and protects him when people approach too quickly. They’ve given the name of Isabella to the guiding terrier, and the husky is being called Isaac. Video below via News10: Continue reading A Blind Husky and His Mixed Terrier Guide Dog→
From the Spanish guitar intro by Chet Atkins to the final harmonized line by Don and Phil Everly, there’s little that isn’t lovely about the live performance (embedded below via YouTube) of Mark Knopfler’s song “Why Worry.”
That’s from 1986, and the Everly Brothers recorded the song for their album from that same year titled Born Yesterday.Knopfler had recorded it with Dire Straits the previous year, but apparently had written it with the Everly Brothers in mind.
Many Christian churches this morning would have featured a reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, including this passage which might have evoked a certain melody in the minds of Bob Dylan fans:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Revised Standard Version)
The phrase “upward call of God” was “high call of God” in the King James.
Of-course the refrain of Bob Dylan’s song “Pressing On” goes like this:
Well I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord
And there’s really not much more you can say but that, which is probably why the song is largely just that refrain repeated over and over again.
Killing two birds with one stone on this Day of Saint Patrick, I am embedding a live version via YouTube below from two talented Irishmen, namely Liam O Maonlai and Glen Hansard. Continue reading Pressing On→
The Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, describes itself as the oldest licensed distillery in the world, and no one seems able to mount a serious challenge to that assertion. The license to distill in that spot was granted by King James I in 1608.
As with my previous considerations of Jameson and Tullamore Dew, this review is only concerned with the plain, common man’s variety of Bushmills Irish Whiskey; i.e. the Bushmills Original blend, sometimes known as Bushmills White Label or just White Bush (there being another popular but pricier blend by the same distiller called “Black Bush”). And as with Jameson and Tullamore Dew, Bushmills is a triple-distilled blended whiskey, and that’s enough on the technical end.
Speaking of Bushmills cannot but be a little personal for me. I was relatively young when I decided (or realized) that I was not cut out for drinking beer. One is always fine, but any more than that is just too much liquid. I find it wearying to consume. So, I looked to the spirit world for guidance. To order a mixed drink all the time seemed like it might be a bit fey, not to mention the link to monster hangovers. Being of Irish stock, I made a try of drinking Jameson, but as my review would’ve hinted, it did not ultimately please. I think I went straight from there to Scotches. I tried single-malts occasionally, but my standard go-to in a bar became the blended J & B. It was unostentatious, and quite sturdy enough for my youthful palate, although a little problematic to order in a loud bar since it was sometimes misheard as “Jim Beam,” which I found wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Continue reading Bushmills Irish Whiskey→
Jameson Irish Whiskey is easily the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. It has long been a fixture as such; if a bar stocks only one Irish whiskey, it is almost certainly going to be Jameson. I’m not the sufficient historian to know how and why this came to be so. But it likely has something to do with the fact that Jameson was one of the few survivors of the destruction of a once-thriving international market for Irish whiskey, caused by a trade war with Britain and worsened by the era of prohibition in the United States, both events occurring early in the twentieth century. In addition, being a whiskey manufactured in the Republic of Ireland, Jameson has arguably generated loyalty from many Irish expatriates and their descendants, as opposed, say, to the “Protestant” Bushmills Irish Whiskey from Co. Antrim.
Whatever the reasons for Jameson coming to connote “Irish whiskey” in much of the world, I do think that Jameson’s dominance explains why Irish whiskey has had such a low status for so long. (This has been changing in recent years with a proliferation of good quality new and resurrected brands.) Jameson—and here I am speaking of the plain, ordinary type and not the single-malt and aged varietals—is simply not a good whiskey.
Before I get more specific about my dislike of it, however, I’d like to indulge in a brief reminiscence that perhaps shows how even bad liquor finds its appropriate place.
Those who traveled back and forth between Ireland and the U.S.A. in past years and decades would undoubtedly remember a strange feature of the trip: the forced stop at Shannon Airport. That is, if you had booked a flight from the U.S.A. to Dublin (the capital city on Ireland’s east coast) you would fly across the Atlantic for six and half hours or so, and then, with your destination about fifteen minutes away, the aircraft would descend and land on Ireland’s west coast, at Shannon, a place that seemed more of a glorified airfield than a true, busy international airport. Passengers would be required to leave the plane, for perhaps an hour and a half or so, and then would have to get back on so the plane could take off again for one of the shortest jaunts a jumbo jet would ever make, over what seemed just a few fields and rivers to Dublin city. Although Shannon was at one time a standard refueling stop, nobody was fooled as to why this stopover was maintained as a compulsory one for modern transatlantic airliners; its purpose was only to provide work to the employees of that airport, and to get the travelers to open their wallets in various ways. Indeed, duty free shopping originated at Shannon Airport. And that is not the only thing that Shannon Airport gave to the world. Continue reading Jameson Irish Whiskey→
St. Patrick’s Day is days away, and what better way could there be of celebrating the conversion of the Gaels to Christianity than to meditate upon some Irish whiskies. Indeed, were it not for Irish Catholic angst (speaking from some experience) the whiskey industry might never have flourished in that country at all.
The very word whiskey (or whisky) in English is derived from the Gaelic term for the same substance, namely uisce beatha (pronounced ishka bah-ha), which is translated literally as “water of life.” Drop a mouse in a bowl of whiskey and you’ll see how long it lives; nevertheless, even poison has its place in God’s creation, as Proverbs 31:6-7 tells us:
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Indeed. It is not for yours truly to review any top-shelf whiskies; I am just not a top-shelf kind of guy, as my friends would readily attest. Instead I plan on looking at three of the old mainstays: Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew—the plain versions, not the new-fangled single malt variations and such.
I will begin with the latter of the three. Tullamore Dew is a blended Irish whiskey. It shares the most common characteristic of Irish whiskies, namely that it is triple distilled. (Rumors that St. Patrick used the process of triple distillation to explain the Holy Trinity seem unfounded, however.) And as opposed to most Scotch whiskies, peat is generally not featured in the Irish malting process, resulting in a smoother-rather-than-smoky finish. (I will not go further into all of the more tendentious distinctions between various types of whiskey.)
Tullamore Dew is certainly nothing if not smooth. It is so smooth that it is best appreciated neat, or with the merest splash of water, or poured fairly generously over a single ice-cube. You will hear it described by educated tasters as medium-to-full bodied, light-straw in color, featuring notes of wood and honeysuckle, with a long finish. I’d endorse all of these descriptions, emphasizing again that it needs to sipped nearly or entirely straight in order to bring its personality to the fore. Continue reading Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey→