Prayer would seem to be a very simple thing, a straightforward concept that the devout and the atheistic alike easily understand. “Please God, do this for me, make that right, fix this problem.” Yet the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to believe that the beating heart of prayer is actually something far simpler that I ever comprehended as a young person, loaded as I was with the ideas and traditions to which I happened to be exposed. And it is the simplicity on the far side of complexity (as per Oliver Wendell Holmes) that is most to be desired.
Some of what seems to me to be great and ultimately simple wisdom on the nature of prayer is below from Abraham Joshua Heschel:
The true source of prayer […] is not an emotion but an insight. It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray. As long as we refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, beyond our reason; as long as we are blind to the mystery of being, the way to prayer is closed to us. If the rise of the sun is but a daily routine of nature, there is no reason to say, In mercy Thou givest light the the earth and to those that dwell on it … every day constantly. If bread is nothing but flour moistened, kneaded, baked and then brought forth from the oven, it is meaningless to say, Blessed art Thou … who bringest forth bread from the earth.
The way to prayer leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement. The illusion of total intelligibility, the indifference to the mystery that is everywhere, the foolishness of ultimate self-reliance are serious obstacles on the way. It is in moments of our being faced with the mystery of living and dying, of knowing and not-knowing, of love and the inability of love—that we pray, that we address ourselves to Him who is beyond the mystery.
That’s from Heschel’s book Man’s Quest For God.
Continue reading On Prayer: Heschel, Ysabella, etc.
Recently contributed by someone to YouTube is a one-hour TV interview with Paul Simon, conducted by Mark Steyn in the 1980s (embedded below). Some of us who are fans of Mark Steyn’s sharp-witted topical commentary are amused by the references he occasionally makes to his apparently glamorous former life as a globe-trotting hob-knobber with musical luminati. “As Paul Simon once said to me,” he’ll insert as an aside in some piece on how utterly depraved and beyond-hope the Western world has become; on other occasions it might be: “as I once said to Frank Sinatra …”
Well, there’s now at least video evidence of his proximity to Paul Simon at one particular time, and an extended time at that, talking to him at his home on Long Island and driving around Queens with him visiting Simon’s childhood haunts. And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.
But you don’t see very much of Mark Steyn, because the show is actually focused on Paul Simon, who, judging by the conversation, had most recently released the Graceland album. Although about twenty-five years have passed since this interview, it is a superbly intimate portrait of Simon the artist. Steyn knows music and the art of song in particular, and he is a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. I especially appreciate the time spent on songs from the Hearts & Bones album as I harbor a special love for that record and believe that “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” likely still stands as Simon’s most perfect song and recording. And I say that as a serious fan who believes that every Paul Simon album (post-Simon & Garfunkel) contains multiple doozies. Continue reading Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)
James Rockford. 1970s TV detective. Lovable loser. Does he ever get paid for a case? He always gets to the truth of the situation somehow, but the paycheck seems to evade him for one reason or another virtually every time. That obviously explains why he lives in a grungy trailer on the beach. On the other hand, something’s got to be paying for his shiny Pontiac Firebird, which gets bashed up quite often.
Although The Rockford Files has been in syndicated reruns since record-keeping began, I’ve been getting reacquainted with it through the internet service “Hulu,” where there are currently three seasons available to watch for free. I like watching this way because as compared to regular TV, where scenes are often brutally edited to squeeze the show into a time-slot with the requisite number of commercials, on “Hulu” you seem to see every minute of what’s on the original tape (even if advertisements sometimes butt in at odd moments). And naturally it’s nice to watch a show just when you feel like it. Me and Mrs. C. recently finished watching everything available from Kojak—the often-brilliant 1970s police show with Telly Savalas set in New York City. Continue reading The Wisdom of Jim Rockford
“Twelve Gates to the City” is a classic gospel number by the Reverend Gary Davis which Bob Dylan recently sang (in Toronto on July 15th, with guest musicians Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and and Jim James of My Morning Jacket). On YouTube you might just find someone’s amateur recording of that performance, and no doubt a version or two from the inestimable Rev. Davis himself (also purchasable here). But, in advance of a brief reflection of my own on the song, here’s a different version, a live one from the very charming singer Eilen Jewell and her band.
(Their recording of that is available with other great gospel numbers on an album titled The Sacred Shakers,a side project of Eilen Jewell and various musical compatriots.)
The song “Twelve Gates to the City” was inspired by chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, where John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is described.
It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.
The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper, and the city itself is described as “pure gold, like clear glass.” As it happens, Bob Dylan once wrote a song of his own presumably inspired by the same passage of scripture, titled “City of Gold” (never officially released by him, but recorded by the Dixie Hummingbirds and featured on the soundtrack album for Dylan’s blockbuster movie, Masked & Anonymous).
Now, the length and width of the New Jerusalem are each specified in Revelation as being “12,000 stadia,” a measurement which in modern terms is equal to 1380 miles. That’s a heckuva big city. In fact, when you think about it, that is a city big enough for billions of people to live in. Naturally, the population density would be affected by zoning regulations, building codes and the like; on these, however, John the Revelator is unforthcoming. Continue reading Twelve Gates to the City
Last year, a photograph of a man named John cradling his aging dog while floating in Lake Superior went mega-viral. (It’s the photo at the top of their Facebook page.) That dog, a twenty-year old shepherd mix named Schoep, finally passed on yesterday. The story behind the photo, for those who missed it, is that due to Schoep’s arthritis, about the only place he could truly relax was in water, while floating. So his owner would take him to that lake as often as possible and just hold him in his arms and allow Schoep to relax and doze. He had gotten Schoep from a shelter as a puppy. Continue reading The Passing of Old Schoep
Around nine o’clock this morning, it was already absolutely sweltering in the sun in New York City, and it’s headed up to 99 degrees today, at least. Try walking on the hot pavement when your entire body is spread out only four inches above it. The concrete and asphalt absorb the sun’s rays and radiate that heat right back out. Fuggedabout your feet; your whole body gets cooked so much it only needs mustard and a bun to finish it off. Continue reading Where Are My Fried Eggs?
Volume 10 of the continuing “Bootleg Series” of official Bob Dylan releases will mainly cover the period from 1969 to 1971; in other words sessions from Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning and other odds and ends from the time. The emphasis appears to be on outtakes and original stripped-down mixes of songs from the Self Portrait sessions. A three-minute video promo has been released by Sony (embedded at bottom). The release is titled Another Self Portrait.
Whenever the much-maligned Self Portrait album is mentioned, reference is nearly-always made to the first line of the review that the album received in Rolling Stone magazine, namely: “What is this shit?” That was written by Greil Marcus. While I do not know, I have to speculate that Bob Dylan himself must find it rather exquisitely ironic that the same Greil Marcus has now written the liner notes for this forthcoming release, extolling the music that comes from the vaults of the same sessions. Naturally Marcus would be well aware of the irony also. Continue reading Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait (and video promo)
Mariano Rivera, born in Panama City, Panama, is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. No serious person will argue that point, I think. He has arrived at this status as a result of being a reliever—mainly the closer—for the New York Yankees, for nearly twenty years now.
Being a New York Yankee fan by birth (born in the Bronx even if I grew up largely on distant shores) those few times that Rivera blew a big save naturally loom unnaturally large in my memory, but taken as a whole his achievements defy explanation or even praise. What can you say about someone who is so beyond-the-norm of excellence?
2013 is to be his final year of pitching for the Yankees, at the age of 43, if the amazingly-stellar year that he’s having so far (30 saves, 1.83 ERA) does not compel him by acclamation to return for yet another year. There is much being said and written about his career and his character. He is clearly one of the most loved and respected players in baseball, by both friends and opponents, and by both players and fans. Continue reading Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God
In 1959, at the age of 18, the then-Bobby Zimmerman, by happenstance, got a gig playing piano with the even-younger singer Bobby Vee and his band while they were playing in North Dakota. Vee was having a pop-hit with the song “Susie Baby.” The story is apparently that Bob Dylan played at two dances with Bobby Vee. Vee told Robert Shelton that “he played great—in the key of C. His style was like Jerry Lee Lewis.” But Dylan (who came up with the name “Elston Gunnn” for this gig) didn’t have his own piano, and the band were not in a position to buy one and transport it around with them. So after the two shows in North Dakota, they bid farewell, with Bobby Vee paying Bobby Z. the then-respectable sum of $30.
Last Wednesday, July 10th, Bob Dylan played a concert in St. Paul, Minnesota. It turns out that Bobby Vee was in attendance. He is now 70 years of age (and last year shared the news that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease). Late in the set, Bob Dylan interjected a few rare spoken words, something like the following:
I lived here a while back, and since that time I’ve played all over the world with all kinds of people, everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna … and everybody in there in between. … But the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with is a man who’s here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Susie Baby.” Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So we’re gonna try to do this song. I’ve done it before with him once or twice.
Continue reading Bob Dylan pays tribute to Bobby Vee
[PLEASE SEE CRUCIAL ADDENDUM TO THIS REVIEW AT BOTTOM]
If vous are like moi, you certainly don’t associate France with whisky (or even with whiskey). Cognac and brandies, to be sure, but not the kind of whiskies one might order on the rocks or mix with soda and guzzle while gobbling peanuts or potato chips. So very un-French. Indeed, the one time that yours truly visited France, I tried ordering some favored spirits on the rocks, and was disappointed; the portions were skimpy, the glasses were inappropriate, the ice was bad, and the drink just plain didn’t feel right while sitting on a sidewalk in Paris. I soon realized that one should not try to drink like an American while in France. Instead, drink like the French do: alternate red wine with cappucinos, act blasé, and take August off.
Yet, it turns out that French whiskies do exist, and, like so many things both good and bad these days, they appear to be multiplying uncontrollably.
Let’s try to get a handle on at least one, recently encountered, which goes by the name of “Bastille.” The large “1789” on the bottle does not refer to the origins of the whiskey, which are considerably more recent, but instead to an event known as the French Revolution. (I suppose they don’t mind if a few impulse-buyers are fooled.)
It is described as a “hand-crafted whisky,” distilled from wheat and barley, and utilizing water “naturally filtered for centuries through Grande Champagne limestone.” It is a blended whisky. It is aged in wood casks, “including the most luxurious French Limousin oak.”
Cutting to the chase Continue reading Bastille 1789 (a French Whisky)