Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Johnny Cash Vespers on Kerouac Day

Every March 12th for the past several years, I have observed "Kerouac Day", in honour of my favourite writer. He was born on this day in 1922. For the past several years on my blog, I've written about him on the blog entry for this day, so I think I've probably said as much as I could say about him without repeating myself.

Currently, I'm reading yet another biography on him. He's the only person that I've read more than four or five biographies about. For most famous people, I'm happy to read one comprehensive biography about them (along with their autobiography or memoir). I've read quite a few biographies on both John and Robert F. Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson, but I think with Kerouac, I'm probably on the tenth biography. I want to read every one that I can get my hands on (my current read is Visions of Kerouac by Charles Jarvis, a hard-to-find, out of print paperback that I happened to find in Powell's City of Books a month or so ago). Each March and October (the month he died, in 1969), I try to read at least one book by or about Kerouac. I've read most of Kerouac's books, except for Dr. Sax, Visions of Cody, and his first one, The Town and the City (which sounds kind of boring). Hopefully, I'll get to them someday!

This year on Kerouac Day, I was in for a treat. The Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon had another "alternative liturgy" service in their wonderful series. Last year, I had attended (as well as blogged about) their Bruce Springsteen Eucharist and U2charist and enjoyed them immensely. This year, I had missed another U2charist but was informed that a service using the music of Johnny Cash was coming up. So I marked my calendar and wasn't planning to miss this one.

It wasn't a Eucharist service, but a Vespers service. Since I am not familiar with the terminologies in the "fancy churches" (Catholicism, Episcopalian, Anglican and Presbyterian churches), I had no idea what this meant. Now I know. The Eucharist means that communion is served, a Vespers involves candles. That's good to know! I love the use of candles and it was cool to see the smoke from all the small candles rise in this beautiful cathedral.

There is definitely something magical about having an evening worship service in a beautiful setting. It really does enhance the worship experience (a big reason why I was disappointed in the U2charist service I had attended was because it was relegated to the church's gymnasium / theater / cafeteria instead of having it in the beautiful sanctuary of the cathedral).

The songs that were sung by the live band included: "The Man Comes Around", "Ring of Fire" (probably my favourite Johnny Cash song), "(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley", "Hurt", "Wayfaring Stranger", "Man in Black", "Walk the Line", "I Corinthians 15:55" (I never heard of this song), "It Was Jesus", "The Wanderer" (a song that Johnny Cash collaborated with U2 on their brilliant Zooropa CD), and "Ain't No Grave."

One thing that really struck me in this service was the reading of Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest."

Wow...that pretty much sums up my feelings between 2007 and 2010, when I was stuck in a job that I hated more than anything, and wanting a job that better suited me. That my "dark night of the soul" last for so long, without any guidance from God nearly killed my faith in God, to the point where I had to rebuild the faith from the bottom up. In 2010, I finally received my deliverance and am amazed how changed my life is in regards to work. I now have a job that meets nearly everything I had requested of God. The fact that I get to listen to all kinds of music all day and create contracts so that songwriters can get paid royalties is simply an awesome way to spend 40 hours a week. Music has long been my "drug" of choice (I've actually never tried drugs, not even marijuana, because since childhood, I knew that nothing beats the euphoric bliss of listening to a great song!).

This kind of worship service, using the music of a popular singer to celebrate the life and message of Christ is my kind of service. I wish that my church would try a service like this, but I doubt that many of the older members would like such a worship experience. At best, I've seen a popular song or two used in a church service (most surprisingly: "Ray of Light" by Madonna at the end of a service last fall when a member of the First Presidency of the Community of Christ spoke).

At the end of the Johnny Cash Vespers, I left feeling euphoric and blessed. It was well done! There was a reception afterwards, but I didn't attend. I was still mulling whether or not to attend the OnEdge meeting. I was kind of upset about the OnEdge thing. Last month, I had mentioned to the group about the Johnny Cash Vespers and the facilitators of OnEdge did seem interested in attending. Last week, when they announced the discussion points for this meeting, there was no indication that they wanted to attend the Cash Vespers. I had emailed the leader to suggest attending the Vespers, then holding the OnEdge group at a place near the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Since OnEdge started at 7 p.m. and the Vespers was at 6 p.m., there was certainly an opportunity to do both. But, they nixed the idea.

The reason it upsets me is because the young couple that formed OnEdge are fellow church members who attended the special retreat last November regarding the role of Young Adults in the church. One of the complaints people made about church is that we don't support each other enough. Someone mentioned wanting game night. Well, there is a family who held a game night since that retreat, but I was the only one who showed up! Then there were those that complained that church doesn't do any innovative worship services, using popular music with a live band. Here was this Johnny Cash Vespers that I couldn't entice people to attend.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of supporting other people's spiritual groups and activities when they show no indication of wanting to experience innovative services with me. I always go to these things alone and it is frustrating. Its one of the reasons why I fell in love with Christine in the years that I knew her. She always said yes to anything I suggested that we do. Had she made the decision to stay in Portland, I'm sure that she would've wanted to attend these alternative liturgy services with me. I guess this means that I need to spend some time finding a female who would be interested in going to these types of events with me. The problem is, many of the ladies I know are not religious or even interested in spirituality. Its strange that its so hard to find someone as open-minded as me in regards to attending diverse events. Everyone seems to have their picky peculiarities. For me, I can attend just about any worship service of any church. Even a megachurch like Mars Hill. I'm intensely curious in "the human experience." I hope to find a lady who shares my interests and open mindedness. At the Cash Vespers, though, most of the attendees were Baby Boomers. Maybe our generation is not as exposed to Cash's music as we are with U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

I admit that I wasn't interested in Johnny Cash until I saw the film Walk the Line in 2005. I love biopics, so I'll go see one, especially if its about a famous singer. I had heard a few songs by Johnny Cash throughout my life and of course, in the Navy, our Winter Working Dress Blues uniform is referred to as "the Johnny Cash". What is up with the all black look?

At the Vespers service, a scene from the movie was read. Someone had asked Cash why he dressed all in black, like he was going to a funeral. I guess it was just a look that Cash helped to popularize. Its his trademark. In honour of Johnny Cash, I wore all black (shirt, pants, socks, shoes, peacoat, hat, eyeglasses and bolo tie). He also had to fight the studios to record an album in Folsom Prison. When he was asked how his Christian fans might react to his wanting to perform a concert to a group of thieves, thugs, hardened criminals, and murderers, Cash said, "They aren't Christian, then." Yikes! You have to admire his blunt honesty. We often forget that Jesus did hang out with the outcasts of society, which included criminals (he was crucified between two of them, after all, and promised them that they would be in heaven with him after their ordeal was over). Its something we need to be reminded about time and again.

So, in honour of Kerouac Day, how might Jack Kerouac think of Johnny Cash? In all my readings about Kerouac, I have not come across any mention of his having listened to anything other than Jazz. Kerouac was a big fan of Charlie Parker. He did not like Rock 'n Roll. I guess it was teenager music to him (he was in his 30s by the time Rock 'n Roll emerged on the scene). But if he was open minded enough or exposed to it, he probably would have found a kindred spirit in Johnny Cash. What Kerouac was to the literary world, Cash was to the music world: a true pioneer and a bit of a rebel. Thus, to attend a Johnny Cash Vespers on Kerouac Day was simply awesome.


pat m said...

I would have loved to go to this service...if onlys to listen to Johnny Cash music. He is one of my favorites!

Allan said...

I would love to gone to the vespers because Cash is my favorite singer. I wondered which songs would be chosen. While his faith was deep, he wrote about murder--murdering, actually--in perhaps a dozen songs, some of which are almost too dark to take in.
He projects a view of human nature that is forever capable of heinous deeds deeds, no matter what one believes or aspires to. I find that very powerful, even comforting. There's no room for pretense, no need to act "better than thou."
Still, we have been granted the gift of life, the most wonderful thing there is.