In the light of the scandal at the U of North Carolina, and the continuing dog-wagging from the tail of college athletics, it’s tempting sometimes simply to say to hell with it. But then there’s this story from my old Cincinnati stomping grounds.

Lauren Hill is a 19-year-old freshpeep and basketball player at Mt. St. Joseph University, a small Catholic school in Cincinnati. She probably won’t see the end of the term, and may not make it to Thanksgiving. You see, a few days after she committed to MSJ last year, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, a type with a zero percent survival rate. The doctors gave her one to three years, but it now looks as though it’s going to be on the short end of that.

Throughout the process, Ms. Hill has tried to cram as much life as she could into the time she has, and part of that has been the sport she loves. She said that she wants to play one college game for Mt. St. Joe, wearing the number 22 she earned.

Blessedly, she’ll get the chance Sunday. The NCAA granted a scheduling waiver, and nearby Hiram College has agreed to move its game against MSJ to Sunday. Ms. Hill will play, and a local TV station will carry the game live. The game has been moved to Xavier University’s gym, and the 10,000-seat gym sold out in half an hour.

Sometimes college sports makes me angry — justifiably. But it can also break my heart. Good luck and God bless you, Ms. Hill.

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Tonight’s Film Screening

(And yeah, I know the song isn’t in the movie, but I like it, too.)

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“Guess I Found Another Lost Weekend…”

I spent the second half of last week visiting Nashville over Fall Break. It was a good trip — I stayed at my aunt’s house and got to spend some time with very dear friends. All those folks are well, and that gladdens me. I got to hear an advance mix of the new album from Salem Hill, and played “Spot the Musical Allusion” with two thirds of the band (the dear friends mentioned earlier.) It’s a very solid album, and I think it will be well received.

I also spent each morning of my visit at the cemetery where my parents are buried. I took a collapsible chair and sat for a few hours by their marker. Mom and Dad have been dead for five years, now, and I’ve been coming to town a couple of times each year since then. I used to feel really awkward when I was there — it’s not like there’s some sort of protocol for gravesite visits, so I’ve had to feel my way through the process over the years, and I’ve never been terribly good at just being somewhere. But now, I find I’m quite comfortable sitting there for two or three hours.

I don’t usually talk much — it’s hard for me to accept the conceit that I can speak to them better at the cemetery than I can anywhere else. Instead, I look around, or read, or occasionally wander around a bit. In short, it’s the kind of stuff I used to do when I would go home to visit them when they were alive, but quieter. And now, it’s comfortable, and that’s a relief too. But even if I’m not doing much of anything there, it’s good to be there, and it’s always hard to drive away, whether just for a day or until my next visit to town.


On Thursday, as I was sitting there, I saw preparations were underway for a funeral about 50 feet from our plot. The vault was in place on the lowering device. (Aside: As I was typing that last sentence, I wondered what the term was for the contraption that is used to lower vaults, caskets, and such into the grave. Turns out it’s called a “lowering device.” Accurate, I guess, but so prosaic. Now catafalque, that’s a fine word.) I asked an attendant when the service was scheduled, and when I learned it would be later that afternoon, when I was elsewhere, I settled back in.

A few minutes after that attendant headed off, another fellow pulled up with a flatbed truck, to set up the awning, chairs, and other trappings for the exequies. The awning works rather like a pop-up tent, and he got most of the pieces set up without much trouble. However, the attendant wasn’t very tall, maybe 5′ 5″ or so, and I noticed he was having trouble putting some of the awning’s framework into place. “Need a hand?” I asked. He did, so I wandered over and connected frame pieces and held poles as he tightened ropes until things were done.

“It’s my first day,” he said. “Not my first day doing this kind of thing, but my first here.” It was okay with me — I wasn’t evaluating him or anything. I didn’t even ask for a uniform ball cap.


I spent a fair amount of Friday afternoon talking with my aunt about bad and sentimental poetry. I did some readings of McGonagall, Julia A. Moore, and of course, Red Sovine‘s masterpiece, “Billy’s Christmas Wish.” One thing led to another, and I discovered that Mr. Sovine is one of several country stars interred at the same cemetery as my folks. Being the kind of person I am, this of course meant that when I visited the cemetery before leaving town on Saturday morning, a pilgrimage was in order.


Although it’s in a far corner of the cemetery, it’s really very similar to Mom and Dad’s marker, and as I’ve mentioned before, that was one of the things my family liked about Woodlawn — that there was a certain democracy of headstones there.

But as I’ve also mentioned, exceptions have been made in recent years, and I saw George Jones’s grave about 50 yards from Sovine’s. You can’t miss it, really — the marker is about 7 feet tall and the plot has a wrought-iron fence around it, and a sign that designates it as “The Garden of the Grand Tour.” Another sign quotes from the song, telling visitors to “Step right up and come on in.” But I didn’t and came home instead.

And how was your weekend?

Posted in Culture, Family, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

I Don’t Remember This on Happy Days…

Anyone who spends much time in the weirder areas of popular music and comedy will be aware of the phenomenon of the “party record”. Back in the 40s and 50s, artists like Ruth Wallis and Rusty Warren cut albums filled with risque lyrics and double entendres for the amusement of the cocktail party crowd after the kids were sent upstairs. In many ways, the trend died out thanks to comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor, who broke many of the barriers between so-called adult and popular entertainment. An extreme form of this kind of stuff can be found in the work of Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts from the 60s. In his early, pre-Mothers days, Frank Zappa was arrested for producing a party record, and did a ten-day jolt in county for “conspiracy to commit pornography.”

These albums and singles were typically sold under the counter, or at flea markets or personal appearances, because “respectable” stores didn’t want to be known as smut merchants. Of course, there was the mail-order option:


And then there are those songs that, while not exactly in the category of party records, were nonetheless a bit… steamy for the 1950s mainstream, to the point that one wonders how they got released. And as an example of what I mean, here’s 1958’s “Little Girl”, by John and Jackie. I’m guessing it didn’t get much play from Richie and the gang at Arnold’s. Even today, it’s clean, but, well… ah, just listen.

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Putting the “Meta” in the Metaphysical

In the wake of yesterday’s post about bad Christian rock, reader and friend David D. pointed this one out to me. As he notes: “The realism of this video is the reason I’m ‘nosebleed’ high church these days.” I’ve never been quite at this point, but having done a couple of stretches deputizing in worship bands, I can dig it.

OK,  seriously, whatever brings folks closer to Christ is a net gain, but I worry that this might be a little too much shiny happy Christianity, long on flash and thin on substance. Hope I’m wrong.

And just for the heck of it, back in my undergrad days, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the campus radio station (Surprising, I know.) One day, some friends and I were rooting through the albums of yesteryear and found what appeared to be some sort of old-school acid rock/heavy psych. We didn’t know anything about the group, but closer examination and a couple of spins revealed it to be a Christian rock album — in fact, the band that made it was one of the first Christian rock groups. It was Mind Garage’s Electric Liturgy album, and while side one was standard late-60s hard rock (including what I remember as a pretty fair Vanilla Fudgish version of “Paint It Black“), side two was the titular concept piece, a full-on Episcopalian service (with hints of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida). So, submitted for your consideration, praise and/or blame, here’s a bit of Morgantown, WV’s Mind Garage.

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In the Words of Hank Hill…

“You ain’t makin’ Christianity better; you’re makin’ rock and roll worse.”

There are very good rock bands that address Christian themes and ideas — one of them is finishing up a new album as I type.

And then… there are others. These guys make Up With People sound like the P-Funk All-Stars.

“He taught me how to praise my God and still play rock and roll.”

You sure about that?

Still, I guess I can hope that there’s an “Our Lady’s Juggler” aspect to all this. I can hope.

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Death Metal at 8:20 A.M.

I just received an e-mail from our HR department intended to present the facts and some reassurance about Ebola. It mentioned that one possible disease vector was contact with or consumption of “infected meat.”

Is it wrong that I immediately thought that “Infected Meat” would be a really good name for a thrash metal band?

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