Posts Tagged ‘hell’

Bill and Noah and Albert and Me

April 21, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

The fact that I could memorize just about anything that interested me became evident at a very early age.  While I couldn’t learn science to save my life (and still can’t!), I could eventually recite half-hour sitcoms with the greatest of ease.  One major accomplishment was that by the age of six, I had committed to memory every skit on my parents’ The Best of Bill Cosby album.  It never occurred to me that I could simply recite the routines, but I did enjoy making friends and family laugh by lip-synching and acting out Mr. Cosby’s stories of Noah’s conversations with his next-door neighbor and God, as well as humorous tales of The Lone Ranger, Fat Albert, and Adam and Eve.

Then, I had an idea.  If my best friend Dave laughed so much at my pantomimes, maybe the entire class would like them, too!  With my mom’s and my teacher’s permissions, I took the record to school one day, stood in front of the class, and pretended to tell them stories.  It was a hit!  First-graders were giggling at every desk, and even my teacher laughed.  About a year later, I realized that I had a brand-new audience in the second grade, and I repeated my one-boy show.  By the sixth grade and the end of my elementary school run, I had performed the entire LP of routines a total of seven times (including a repeat performance in the fourth grade, due to a family move to a whole new school districtful of fresh listeners).

In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I got up in front of those students.  I had awful stage fright throughout my childhood.  I guess it was the fact that someone else really did the performing, and I just went along with him, that relaxed me.  I mean, I couldn’t really forget a line, now, could I?  They were spoken for me.  And as history proved, the routines were pretty much guaranteed to get laughs.  Those first years, I had to sweat through mouthing one “damn” and one “hell,” but no teacher so much as raised an eyebrow, so I relaxed about that.

It’s sort of a shame that I deemed junior high too sophisticated for the Cosby/Pender show, but I know I made the right choice.  In a way, it would have helped me during the seventh grade, during my nervous first weeks of wandering the halls looking for classrooms (which I now had to switch every hour), remembering locker numbers and combinations, and surviving a new crop of bullies.  I did slowly learn that making the bigger, tougher boys laugh was a smart move, and I always attempted to entertain the roughest kids I could find during the early days of each new school year.

It was just a bit tougher, since I had to do it on my own.  Leaving Bill and his characters behind was quite a rite of passage.

Heavenly Motives, Heavenly Hash

April 7, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Happy Lenten season!  I must admit that, prior to last year, I knew very little about the hows and wherefores of Lent.  All I really knew was that Christians give up something for a few weeks.  In college, and a few Lents afterward, I used to joke that I was giving up sex for Lent, because I wasn’t having any, anyway.

Only last year did I learn more about the mechanics of this season, and put forth an honest effort.  In doing so, I ended up learning even more.

I found myself in church last Ash Wednesday, although I must also admit that I had no clue that it was, in fact, Ash Wednesday.  My church at that time held simple dinners on Wednesday evenings, and I partook on occasion.  This particular Wednesday, I was asked if I was staying for the holiday service, and while trying to hide my surprise, said, “Sure!”

During the short gathering, I learned that Christians give up doing something they normally love doing, and are meant to then spend the time they would normally devote to this activity communing with the Lord.  It is something that should be a personal decision, and something they should not share with anyone else but God.  I was very moved and intrigued by this, and made a decision to give it an honest try.

(According to the rules, I’m not really supposed to be telling you the rest of this, but I hope in passing on my lesson, I’ll get a pass.  Also, someone with more power than I broke the rule first, so hopefully, he will be my scapegoat.  More on that later.)

It just so happens that my birthday falls during Lent.  Last year, I took a Monday off and headed to my mom’s winter home in Florida for a long weekend of “mom time.”  On my last day there, which happened to be the big day, Mom had ice cream and cake for me and several neighbor friends.  It was a very nice time, with only one little glitch: I had given up ice cream for Lent.

In retrospect, it may not have been the wisest of moves to give up ice cream during a period of time that includes your birthday.  Keep in mind while pointing and laughing that I made this decision weeks before the event, and prior to making plans to see Mom.

So, I had a conundrum for a few seconds.  Do I politely explain that I can’t actually eat the wonderful Heavenly Hash ice cream that she had specifically bought because the amazing combination of chocolate ice cream, marshmallow, chocolate chips and almonds is my favorite?  Or do I throw sacrilegious caution to the wind, and dig in?  I decided not to insult my mom’s efforts, but it wasn’t an easy decision.  I spent the next six days sweating it, until I got back to church.

During the next sermon, my pastor told us his Lent story, which included what he chose to give up, and why it was a funny thing in the weeks that followed.  After the service, I approached him and began, “I realize I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but since you told everyone what you gave up, I don’t think I’m going to be in too much trouble.”  He laughed, and I explained the Lent/birthday issue, ending with the exaggerated puzzler, “Am I going to Hell?”

“Actually, no!” he replied quite enthusiastically.  It seems that it is a far greater moral crime to refuse a host’s hospitality than it is to keep your Lenten vows.  Leave it to Jesus to protect us from punishment for eating Mom’s ice cream.  Again, in a way I’m breaking a rule by sharing this tale, but I hope it teaches others about the intricate contract that is Lent, and how sometimes hurting your mom’s feelings is a greater sin than breaking a promise to Jesus.

The Coming of Jonah

April 4, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Battered plate of gold and silver
Covers a warrior of Divine Direction
Who approaches the dark gates
Of a Fortress
Some would call impenetrable
And behind him
Comes the Dawn
He has been on a journey to
This Place
From the moment of his
First step into Life
His brow is set low
Deep over his clear eyes
He knows what lurks about the Gate
And what awaits him beyond
But the One who sings to his heart
He knows is fighting her way out
As he must fight his way in
To cast aside Any who would
Challenge their Bond
To him she is Rachaél
The One
And to only Her
He is Jonah
They met in their youth
When he came to her
Only in dreams
And she came to him
As sweet verse
But she did not believe in dreams
And he did not know
Her name
And then one day
Their voices touched
And blazed his trail
To her
Demons rose from the dark
When the awesome Light of Love
Shone around her
They had banished this light ages past
And its return
Threatened their iron hold
On her Soul
And so he comes to battle
Armed with the invincible weapon
Afforded him by the grace of Heaven
Affection, stubbornness and sheer will
He leads Angels to her
Who are engaged in the
Eternal Struggle
To set things right in the eyes of God
And who wish to surround
Her heart with the
Warmth of True Love
The Demons fear
Her Jonah
And his Love for her
It is the only thing they cannot
Control or defeat
And they wail in anger
They know this Love has
Made her invincible
For she reaches beyond their world
As never before
She dares to dream now
And hope
For she knows the Power
She and Jonah have
This is the Secret
That makes the Two strong
Beyond any mortal bounds:
They were wed
In an intimate ceremony
With God as their only Guest
They exchanged Kisses of Air
To seal their Bond
Truly made in Heaven
Truly challenged on Earth
On his finger, Jonah wears a symbol
Of Rachaél’s love
A golden circle made perfect
As their Union
It is this love, this symbol
That protects him
From the obstacles that come
To battle against Truth and Beauty
And on her finger, Rachaél
Wears a symbol of Jonah
And his dedication to her
It is this symbol
That opens her eyes to the Sun
And allows her the
Luxury of Wishes
Together with the Strength
To chase them
His road has never been easy
For while he knew his Destination
He did not know how
To find it
He has searched tirelessly for his Home
Though dark detours
Have kept him from it
Transparent beings
With malice in mind
Reached for his hand
To lead him astray
But such spectres were burned by
A fire of Love too strong
For any but Her
Rachaél cannot understand
His love
She did not seek him out
She did not call to him
She did not see any way to him
She had clothed herself in
Numb solitude
Prepared to sleep through Life
Alone forever
But Jonah knows
This love makes Sense
Beyond Reason
Their devotion is stronger
Than Comprehension will allow
Their Union is sealed
On levels above Human Nature
Jonah had placed his Hope
In the hands of God
And his Lord had
Touched his Soul
With hers
In response
He united their Minds
He let them exchange Hearts
And approved of this love
Feeling her Need inside him,
Jonah had pled to God
To watch over Rachaél
And God responded
In His own voice,
Telling Jonah
“I did, I sent her you.”
And now, nearing her,
There is nothing that can
Convince him that
They are not
One Forever
Stepping through the demon field,
On the threshold of the dark Fortress,
Jonah’s eyes are locked on one
Magically lit window
And the face of the One
Who knows he is near
Her wings are spread to
Embrace him, and her
Firelight shines to blind
Those who are charged with
Keeping her world dark
Hordes of pure evil
Gather in frenzied fear
To hold and harm and defeat
Love’s champion
They reach to keep him back
To smite him
To make him the example
Which will dim Rachaél’s
Mighty light
Charging forward
His eyes locked with hers
Jonah barely acknowledges
The Beasts he throws aside
With a gift of power from Heaven
He burns them
He breaks them
And he scares them away
For he knows who he must meet
To make his Rachaél free
The storm of Jonah
Blows in the Fortress wall
Creatures scream in horror
In pain
And in defeat
Jonah searches the labyrinth
For his prey
Calling for him to show
Himself to face
The end of his
Reign of terror
The Creature
Explodes into Jonah’s presence
And stands
Vile and ugly
But behind his roars
His horrible eyes
Show fear
For the first time
While Jonah stares down
The Beast
With eyes full
Of Love’s Power
Jonah steps forward
But the Creature cannot
Jonah holds high his
Sword Immaculate
To strike down the Being
Which dared to drag
His Only Love through
But then a single
Soft voice caresses him:
And there before him,
Rachaél appears between
Her love and her captor
Her hand, warm with
A lifetime of untouched love,
Lays against his cheek,
Hot with vengeance
“Jonah. You’ve come.
I’m here.
Take me home.”
Jonah’s eyes pull from
Hers to stab at the
Beast, but it is
Now surrounded by
The Angel battalions
Brought to fulfill
God’s plan
The Creature wails in
Heavy Agony as the
Angels touch it with
The Undeniable Power
Of the Lord
The Creature falls, and
As the host of Angels
Touch it, the Creature
Becomes vile flame, and
Then nothing
Jonah holds his Rachaél
Rachaél holds her Jonah
And for this
All evil was worth
Walking through
As they embrace
The True Light
Grows around them
And the angels
The World feels
A slight tremor
And the Sun
Flares with Beauty
And Light
And God smiles
written by t. michael pender 1/28/96
©1996 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” . . . Sliced!

December 3, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

I’m a big fan of symbolism, and of hidden meanings in art.  One of the most enigmatic songs in the rock and roll era has to be “American Pie” by Don McLean.  Released in 1971, the eight-and-a-half-minute lament was a history lesson hidden in symbolic and vague lyrics.  McLean himself has never publicly explained the lyrics, so it is left to amateur interpreters to find specific meaning in them.  The meanings of some words and lines seem rather obvious, others could have a couple of meanings, and still others are unsolved puzzles!  Here are line interpretations that are generally agreed on . . . or at least narrowed down:

A long, long time ago (Events in “American Pie” happened 2-15 years before the song’s release)
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance

And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver (On February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa)
With every paper I’d deliver (McLean had been a paperboy in his youth)
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
(This could be a reference to Holly’s young wife, who was pregnant when he was killed [and later miscarried], or Jackie or Ethel Kennedy, or Coretta Scott King.  It could also be intended to mean each of these ladies in a symbolic fashion.)
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
(This seems to support the “Holly’s wife” theory, since the day of the Clear Lake crash has long been referred to as “The Day The Music Died.”)

Did you write the book of love (a song reference to The Monotones’ 1957 hit “The Book of Love,” which contained the line “I wonder who wrote the Book of Love”)
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ’n roll,

Can music save your mortal soul,
(These four lines could be speaking of diverse “beliefs,” since early rock and roll was seen as “the devil’s music.”)
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
(The harder and more psychedelic music of the late 1960s abandoned the danceable tunes of the 1950s)

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym

You both kicked off your shoes (A reference to the school gymnasium “sock hops” of the 1950s)
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues!
(Rhythm and blues music “crossed over” to white audiences and became highly popular in the 1950s and ‘60s, with the help of such people as radio deejay Alan Freed)

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck (“A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)” was a hit for Marty Robbins in 1957.  The pickup truck was also a symbol of independence, especially in a Texas context.  Buddy Holly was from Lubbock, Texas.)

But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own (McLean began writing “American Pie” in 1969, 10 years after “The Day The Music Died”)
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone (This could be a reference to The Rolling Stones, who took their band’s name from the saying “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” or it could be a reference to Bob Dylan, the writer/singer of “Like A Rolling Stone.”  Dylan got married and started a family, and did not tour musically from 1966 – ’74.)
But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen

In a coat he borrowed from James Dean (The jester is widely believed to be Dylan, who wore a jacket on the cover of his The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album which was identical to James Dean’s jacket in the film Rebel Without A Cause.  The “king” is believed to be Elvis Presley, known as “The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and the “queen” could be Connie Francis, and some even believe Little Richard!  Alternately, Bob Dylan did perform at Martin Luther King’s Washington, D.C. rally, which the Kennedys observed from the White House, making John and Jackie Kennedy the possible “king and queen.”)
And a voice that came from you and me (Bob Dylan sang folk music in the ‘60s, which is sometimes called “the music of the people.”)
Oh, and while the king was looking down (This could mean Elvis looking down from on high/his lofty position, or it could mean that he was distracted from rock ‘n’ roll while making a string of Hollywood films in the ‘60s.)
The jester stole his thorny crown (The “thorny crown” is seen as the price of fame.  Early in his career, Dylan spoke of wanting Elvis’ fame.  Dylan rose to fame during Presley’s Hollywood years.)
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.
(This could either be the then-current-events courtroom drama of the “Chicago 7” Yippie trials, or the Dylan/Presley comparison.)

And while Lennon read a book on Marx (A reference to politics in music, utilized by the Beatles, and ‘60s music overall.)
The quartet practiced in the park (This could mean The Beatles’ famous concert at Shea Stadium.)
And we sang dirges in the dark (Dirges, or funeral songs, seem to reference the many famous 1960s deaths referenced throughout the tune.)
The day the music died.

Helter skelter in a summer swelter. (The Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” played a role in the 1969 Tate/LaBianca murders committed by Charles Manson and “the Manson Family.”  The “swelter” could refer to the 1967 “Summer of Love” or to the Watts riots, which occurred in the summer of 1965.)
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast
. (The rock group The Byrds had a hit with the song “Eight Miles High.”)
It landed foul on the grass (A member of The Byrds was arrested for marijuana possession.)
The players tried for a forward pass (The Rolling Stones attempted many times to break out in the music business, but didn’t get their big break until The Beatles split up in 1970.)
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast (On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his motorcycle, and spent nine months in seclusion while recuperating from the accident.)

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume (This could mean marijuana or the tear gas used on protestors at both Kent State and the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.)
While the sergeants played a marching tune. (This could reference The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, or the militant approach of the police at the Chicago convention, or the Vietnam draft.)
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
(This could be The Beatles’ final concert, which took place at Candlestick Park and only lasted 35 minutes, or the rise of psychedelic “non-dance” music.)

`Cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
(Some folks think this refers to either the 1968 Democratic Convention or to Kent State University, where four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest.)

Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space (Could be referencing TV’s “Lost In Space,” hippies being “spaced out,” or the ambitious NASA projects of the ‘60s.)
With no time left to start again. (This could mean the “wasted” lives of hippies, or the “abandoned” dance music of the ‘50s.)

So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack flash sat on a candlestick
Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.
(Mick Jagger, lead singer of The Rolling Stones, sang “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”  They also played a concert at Candlestick Park.  Some believe this is a reference to the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis.  The symbolic quelling of the Cuban nuclear missile program by President John “Jack” Kennedy could be symbolically represented by him “sitting on a candlestick.”)

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell.
(For a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in 1968, members of the Hell’s Angels were hired to provide security.  Meredith Hunter, an audience member near the stage was beaten and stabbed to death, reportedly by the Hell’s Angels.  Some say the group was performing the song “Sympathy For The Devil” during the beating, and possibly even egged the Hell’s Angels on.)

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
(The most likely interpretation is that McLean is still talking about Altamont, and in particular Mick Jagger’s prancing and posing while it was happening.  The sacrifice is Hunter, and the bonfires around the area provided the flames.  It could also be a reference to Jimi Hendrix burning his Stratocaster at the Monterey Pop Festival, but this is unlikely, as the Monterey festival was in 1967, and this verse is set in 1968.)  

I met a girl who sang the blues (Janis Joplin)
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
(Joplin died from a heroin overdose on 10/4/70.)
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
(There are two interpretations of this: The “sacred store” could be Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, one of the great rock and roll venues of the day.  Alternately, this refers to record stores, and their longtime-but-discontinued practice of allowing customers to preview records in the store.  It could also refer to record stores as “sacred” because this is where one goes to get “saved.”)
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play. (The Fillmore closed with a concert on 7/4/71.  Perhaps McLean meant that nobody is interested in hearing Buddy Holly et al.’s music, or, as above, the discontinuation of the in-store listening booths.)
And in the streets, the children screamed (“Flower children” being beaten by police and National Guard troops; in particular, perhaps, the People’s Park riots in Berkeley in 1969 and 1970.)
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed (Possible reactions of ‘50s love song fans to ‘60s psychedelic music.)
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
(Broken bells = no music = deceased musicians)

And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the Holy Ghost
(Likely the assassinated John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Some believe it to be referencing back to Holly, Richardson and Valens)
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.
(These last two lines seem to imply that the “three men” are Holly et al.)