By John Ruberry

Next week the fiftieth anniversary arrives of the release of the groundbreaking Sweetheart of the Rodeo album by the Byrds..

At the time, however, the collection was a commercial flop and it received mixed reviews.

Byrds leader and lead guitarist Roger McGuinn envisioned the band’s sixth album as an overview of the history of American music. McGuinn was not originally a rocker, he began his preforming career after graduating from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. But a new member, who was soon to depart, Gram Parsons, urged the band to record a country album. The result was arguably the first country rock album, at least by a major artist, one that also served as an inspiration for the alt-country and Americana genres.

“Eleven trips to the country” is how a radio ad described the work. And Sweetheart’s eleven songs are dominated by banjo, country fiddle, and pedal steel guitar. This was not your older sibling’s Byrds.

The album begins typically for the Byrds, with a Bob Dylan cover, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” Dylan’s primary career inspiration was Woody Guthrie and Sweetheart includes a version of his “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Parsons’ two Sweetheart compositions–one was co-written by a former bandmate–“Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now,” offer a contrast to listeners. The first is a traditional country tune. The second ironically is the Byrdsiest–sounding track on the album.

Sweetheart was recorded in the spring of 1968 in Nashville–after which things got interesting. The Byrds managed to score an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, where these hippies were booed by the straight-laced audience. A deejay covering their concert mocked the band, which inspired McGuinn and Parsons to write a song, “Drug Store Truck Driving Man,” that appeared on the Byrds’ next album.

By that summer Parsons, who some say was not actually full-fledged member of the band but a contract player, quit the act. There are two versions of his departure. One was that he preferred to hang out in London with the Rolling Stones, or that Parsons left to protest the Byrds’ decision to perform in South Africa.

Parsons’ lead vocals on “The Christian Life”, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “One Hundred Years from Now,” were replaced by McGuinn’s on the first two and with Chris Hillman’s along with McGuinn on the latter.

Since 2003 the Parsons leads have been available, but on Spotify only the original release versions play first–you have to scroll down to find Parsons voice up front on those tracks. McGuinn’s take on “The Christian Life” is a sardonic take of this Louvin Brothers song, found on the now infamous, because of its outlandish album artwork, Satan Is Real collection.

Recently McGuinn had this to say about Parsons vocals on that cut. “I was doing almost a satire on it. I was not a Christian at the time,” he remarked. “Back then, it was kind of tongue-in-cheek. I know the Louvin Brothers meant it when they wrote it and sang it. And Gram meant it. He was a little Baptist boy.”

After Sweetheart Hillman bailed on the Byrds and with Parsons formed the highly-influential Flying Burrito Brothers. After two brilliant country rock albums that sold even worse than Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Parsons was booted from the band because of his excessive drug use and overall unreliability. Parsons’ two seminal solo works, also poor sellers, showcased the talents of the then-virtually unknown Emmylou Harris.

Parsons died in 1973 from a drug overdose. The theft of his body and the makeshift cremation of his remains at what is now Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most bizarre tales you will ever hear.

McGuinn and Hillman, two of the three surviving original Byrds members, David Crosby is the third, are currently on a 50th anniversary tour celebrating the release of Sweetheart, which has already included a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

As Aesop wrote in the Tortoise and the Hare, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.” As that is the case with Gram Parsons and Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

I talk to David Tittle of Musicians for Life about their New CD of Prolife songs called “It’s a Life” 2018 Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show in Lancaster PA.

To my knowledge this is the first produced Album/CD of origional pro-life songs by a band ever released but if you know of a different one I’d be happy to find out about it.

If you want to hear a live performance of the lead song it’s here.


Aug 13th Voices of CMN 2018 David Tittle Musicians for Life new CD “It’s a Life”

Aug 12th Voices of CMN 2018 Novena for Our Nation Starting Aug 15th & Rosary Coast to Coast Oct 7th

Aug 11th Voices at the 2018 CMN Moria Noonan Co-Author: Spiritual Deceptions

Aug 10th Voices of CMN 2018 Lesliea Wahl Author: An Unexpected Role

Aug 9th Voices of CMN 2018 Gerard Hasenhuetti Compassionate Capitalism The Intersection of Economic Growth and Social Justice

Aug 8th
Voices at CMN 2018 Ruth Apollonia Author of Annabelle of Anchony

Voices at CMN 2018 Kimberly Cook My Hand in Yours Yours in Mine Catholic Authors

Aug 6th Voices at CMN 2018 August Turak Author: Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim and the Purpose of Life

Aug 5th Voices at CMN 2018 Fr. Edward Looney Author A Heart Like Mary’s

Aug 4th: Karina Fabian of the Catholic Writers Guild or A Preview of Blogging Attractions


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By John Ruberry

Synesthesia: “A sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color,” so says Dictionary.com.

If there is a void in your musical life and you are a fan of the Kinks and the Beatles, or perhaps Oasis, then I suggest you explore the career of XTC, the most unappreciated band of its time.

And what a time it was. XTC was part of the Class of 1977, rock and roll’s last great year in my opinon, when the Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many more burst onto the musical scene. By 1999, after a seven year strike against its British label, when they released their penultimate album, Apple Venus Volume 1, only Costello and XTC remained as active acts.

Like the Beatles, XTC evolved musically into a much different group when it was all over.

Late last year in Great Britain and early this year in the United States, the documentary, yes, rockumentarty, XTC: This Is Pop was released. It’s available where I live on Showtime and Xfinity OnDemand.

What became XTC began in the southwestern English city of Swindon, the onetime home of the Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway, with a band started by its de facto leader, Andy Partridge. Bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers rounded out the nucleus of the group. London keyboardist Barry Andrews, the only XTCer who is not interviewed for This Is Pop, later joined; he appears on the band’s first two albums, White Music and GO2, which comprise the band’s punk period. After Andrews’ departure he was replaced by another Swindonian, guitarist Dave Gregory.

“I actually think we started pretty damn good and then got a lot better. And there’s not too many bands can say that’s their arc,” Partridge immodestly but correctly boasts about XTC.

Yet there is some humor in This Is Pop that offsets the braggadocio.

“Don’t you dare have-into this documentary,” Partridge waves off “that lugubrious keyboard player from that prog-rock group,” Rick Wakeman of Yes, who makes a hilarious cameo.

Partridge says of his troubled childhood, “I never thought I was good at anything until I got more and more into drawing and painting.”

Imagine if legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who early in his life aspired to be a painter, formed a rock group instead. It just might have sounded like XTC.

The band’s breakthrough in 1979 came not from a Partridge-penned tune but one by Moulding, “We’re Only Making Plans For Nigel” from their third album, Drums and Wires, which Little Marathon Pundit said of the other day, “That’s one song I like.” If its sonorous drum patterns seem familiar, that’s because engineer Hugh Padham discovered that effect while recoding “Nigel” before bringing the technique to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” Many other 1980s acts swiped that sound.

The next two albums, Black Sea and English Settlement, brought more–albeit modest–success and momentum to XTC as it rounded out its New Wave period. But as the Kinks often bungled their career, XTC’ sabotaged things too, although not intentionally as I’ve always suspected the Kinks did. The effects of Partridge’s Valium addiction, which went back to when he was 12, and the withdrawal effects, led to a nervous breakdown during a Paris concert–which is shown in This Is Pop. The lads from Swindon still traveled to the United States for their first tour as a headliner. But what should have been an American victory lap lasted just one show. Outside of a smattering of radio and television appearances, they never performed live again.

XTC’s pastoral era brought three albums, Mummer, The Big Express, and Skylarking. But within that period XTC’s psychedelic alter ego, the Dukes of Stratosphear, released two collections that outsold those last two in the UK.

Before recording Skylarking, Partridge tells us, their record label issued an ultimatum: You need to grow your American audience and hire an American producer. Presented with a list of unfamiliar names, Partridge chose the only one he had heard of: Todd Rundgren. The result was the band’s masterpiece, Skylarking. On it you find the conceptual orchestral greatness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But because Partridge and “Runt” butted heads–they probably had too much in common–the studio atmosphere mirrored the angst of the Beatles’ White Album recording sessions. XTC came close to blowing this moment too as the original pressings of Skylarking omitted the best song from the Rundgren sessions, the controversial atheist anthem “Dear God.” It was the B-side of the “Grass” single. American deejays elevated “Dear God” to prominence. Their record company was right, XTC needed a jump start from America.

Earlier I mentioned synesthesia. “How I write a lot of the songs, I will find a chord or a chord change on a guitar or on a keyboard,” Partridge describes his songwriting technique, “and I’m playing those but not I’m not hearing music–I’m seeing pictures. That’s how I write songs, it comes usually from the synesthesic level.”

And I wager you thought I was overreaching with the Akira Kurosawa comparison.

“Synesthesia is where you get stuff mixed up,” Partridge expands on his thoughts, “someone will say a number and you’ll hear a noise, or someone will show you a color and you’ll think of a number, or you’ll hear a peace of music or a chord and to me it makes a picture.”

And that is why XTC’s music is different.

The follow-up to Skylarking was 1989’s Oranges and Lemons, another success as XTC entered its proto-Britpop era.

Chambers left during the pastoral period and Gregory departed shortly after XTC’s recording strike ended. Their band’s final album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), was released in 2000.

An eclectic group of commentators contribute context to This Is Pop, including Stewart Copeland of the Police, Blondie’s Clem Burke, and a veteran mockumentary performer, Harry Shearer, who, unlike Wakeman, plays it straight here.

Woven into This Is Pop is the countryside of southwestern England and a model train set winding through an intricately-reconstructed Swindon, because it doesn’t seem possible to separate XTC from their hometown.

XTC: This Is Pop is an essential film about an essential band, a group that belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The documentary can be streamed on Amazon.

John Ruberry, who has been an XTC fan since 1979 after hearing “We’re Only Making Plans for Nigel” on WXRT-FM in Chicago, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

I speak to Singer Anna Nuzzo at the 2017 Catholic Marketing Network

You can get her music here

The Rest of my Catholic Marketing Network posts are here.

I speak to Singer Mary Zitnik of Pondtiz Productions at 2017 Catholic Marketing Network

Here’s a sample of her music

The Rest of my Catholic Marketing Network posts are here.

I spoke to Monica Fitzgibbons of DeMoffat Music at the Catholic Marketing Network event

Their website is here

The Rest of my Catholic Marketing Network posts are here.

I speak to singer Marie Bellet at the Catholic Marketing Network Event in Chicago

Her latest album is here

Her web site is here

The Rest of my Catholic Marketing Network posts are here.

I’m inspired by the Independence Day posts from Juliette & Christopher of DTG’s Magnificent crew. Each celebrated a beauty not to be found in the political world I often choose to inhabit.

In the same vein, I offer an unapologetic plug for a friend’s project, inviting all New Hampshire-area DTG readers to attend something special.

Come to hear Massenet’s oratorio “Marie-Magdaleine” on July 22. One performance will be at 2 p.m. at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, and the other will be at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge at 7 p.m. The performance at the College is donations-accepted, while the one at Cathedral of the Pines has (I think) a $10 admission fee. Call 603-781-5695 for more information.

I’ll be going out of my way to hear one of these performances. Why?

Sheer beauty. With the first note, I know workaday concerns will fall away for awhile. The next deadline, the next gosh-forsaken tweet, the next bill to pay: all will be in abeyance for an hour or two as I undergo the attitude adjustment that’s one of music’s little gifts.

Hope. For my husband and me, Northeast Catholic College is a favorite place, dedicated to education in faith and reason. It’s a place of encouragement and challenge and laughter. The world’s a better place because it exists. Likewise with Cathedral of the Pines, which was established by grieving parents in memory of their son, who died in the service of our country during World War II. It was a true act of hope for those parents to experience such terrible loss and then go on to create a place of peace and tranquillity.

Encouragement. I think you’ll find encouragement simply by being in the same room with the producer of these performances. I’m acquainted with her. She’s a pro-life warrior, a conservative woman, an opera singer, and a patron and leader of nonprofit agencies that enrich the community. Oh, and she was formerly a volunteer legislator (which is how we roll in the Granite State). When things look discouraging – and as a legislator and a volunteer activist, she has some experience with bad days – she responds dynamically and positively. No whining.

You go, girl.

If you’re inclined to attend the performance in Warner, be aware that the College is offering Mass (11:30) and a light lunch (12:30) before the 2 p.m. show, with RSVPs requested. (More about that here.)

Let it be known that this is not a paid promotion. I just want to share good news.

The State House and the White House and my work as a writer will all still be there after the show. When I turn back to them, I’ll be refreshed and ready for whatever comes along. Beautiful music, whatever the source, has that effect on me. Maybe on you, too.

I’ll tag this one “culture victories,” not “culture wars.”

Ellen Kolb blogs about New Hampshire life-issue policy at Leaven for the Loaf and looks farther afield in ellenkolb.com

During the 2nd day of Fr Stephen Imbarrato’s visit to Massachusetts after celebrating a mass and attending a breakfast in Medford he traveled to Fitchburg. We covered his Eucharistic Procession here but there were several other items of interest both before and after that event.

He said Saturday morning mass at St Camillus church at St. Bernard’s Parish in Fitchburg and sat for an interview after mass on the events.

Linda Santo who spoke the previous night in Medford attended this mass and also consented to an interview.

From there we went to Slattery’s in Fitchburg (home of that most perfect of deserts Kentucky Derby Pie) for a luncheon to a packed house, Fr briefly spoke there as well.

Next there came the procession viewed now online by over 200K people (for context the population of Fitchburg is 40k) after the procession we traveled to the former Madonna of the Holy Rosary parish where Fr. heard confessions, celebrated the divine mercy vigil mass followed by a dinner served by the Knights of Columbus of the St. Anthony of Padua counsel and a talk.

But the there was a pleasant surprise at both this dinner and the previous one. There was a band playing at both this event and the previous one in Medford. It turns out they were a group called Musicians for life and they not only performed old guitar staples of the faith like Mighty to Save during dinner

but after an introduction by Fr. Imbarrato also performed six original songs explicit pro-life songs written specifically for these event such as Let em Live: (which was streamed life to his facebook page)

Where have all the Children Gone

I’m Here with Jesus

Listen to my Heart Beating

It’s a life (which I think is a really catchy tune)

and the Choice is Yours

At the end of the night they sat for an interview

It would be their final performance during Fr. Imbarrato’s trip as they had a commitment the next day but if I may be so bold and suggest that they and their music would be a welcome addition to any Catholic or pro-life event.

A photo gallery follows:

MORE TO COME…

Previously:

Voices of Life in Medford: Fr. Imbarrato, Pro Life Legal Defense League, Linda Santo and more

Eucharistic Procession to Planned Parenthood Fitchburg led by Fr. Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life

Protest Prayers and Procession at Planned Parenthood Boston Led by Fr Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life


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Doughboy monument, Morton Grove, Illinois

By John Ruberry

This week marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, then known as the Great War. Much of Europe had been engaged in widespread slaughter since 1914 when Congress, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

After the armistice ended the war on November 11, 1918, America was a transformed nation.

The war caused an American agricultural expressed a boom. Obliteration of farms and a lack of manpower in Europe created a huge demand American grain. After the war rural America was hit with an economic downturn that ran contrast to the robust industrial expansion in cities like Detroit–and many farms were foreclosed. Bold farmers who borrowed money to plant crops in marginally arable areas such as the Great Plains first endured falling commodity prices and then the Dust Bowl of the 1930s–and of course, foreclosures.

While the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North may have begun a few years before the declaration of war, the demand for factory workers in northern cities clearly hastened it. Black soldiers fought the Germans in France–and like all American soldiers they were celebrated as heroes by the grateful French and Belgians. When these black troops returned home, they discovered that white American racial prejudices remained, perhaps they were even worse than before the war. A series a race riots swept America in 1919, known as Red Summer. The deadliest riot occurred in Chicago, with 38 fatalities. It began after an African-American man floating on a railroad tie on Lake Michigan unwittingly drifted into a white section of a segregated beach.

Victory Monument honoring African-American World War I soldiers, Chicago.

These riots were a precursor of the urban unrest of the 1960s.

While it’s now considered impolite to ask a person their ethnic background, especially if you don’t know that person well, it wasn’t in the 1970s and 1980s, at least in the Chicago area, where I grew up. For instance, one of my neighbors from my youth had an Anglo last name. But that name was changed, I was told, in 1917, from a German one when their grandparents had to close their business and move to a different part of Chicago because they feared for their lives after being victims of anti-German violence. Thousands of others–maybe tens-of-thousands of others–also changed their surnames and cut ties to their pasts. I know about a dozen people whose ancestors dropped their German last names during that time and picked ones that were more “American sounding.”

If you take one of those Anscestry.com DNA tests and you surprisingly find German blood in your veins, it could because you unlocked a Great War family secret.

During the war many German-Americans were jailed on flimsy evidence as America, for a while, forgot it was a free country. And that’s not all. Irrational fears of communism after the Russian Revolution, itself a result of World War I, brought about the civil rights abuses of the Red Scare of 1917-1920. Wilson, a progressive Democrat, signed the Sedition Act of 1918 into law, which made criticism of the war or the nation illegal. In response to all of this madness, the far-left American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920.

Later that year Americans overwhelmingly elected Republican Warren G. Harding as president. He promised a “return to normalcy.”

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Germans in the United States in the early part of the 20th century were stereotypically viewed as beer guzzlers and saloon owners. The Prohibition movement was already strong when the war began–but the progressive teetotalers preyed upon this new bigotry as they sealed their deal with the passage of the 18th Amendment two months after the end of hostilities. Speakeasies replaced bars–and jazz music, often performed by black musicians who were part of the Great Migration–was the music of choice in many of these illegal establishments. This was not a return to normalcy–it was a new normal.

Europe never completely recovered from World War I–America was the world’s most powerful nation after the armistice was signed.

And it still is.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.