A Modest Proposal: Treat Priests Like Officers, Not Like Corporate CEO’s

“Soldier, shut up and soldier!”

That’s one of my favorite lines from Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers. You might remember that it was made into a campy, sci-fi cult movie back in the late 1990′s.

I remember it as a novel I read and enjoyed in high school (you know, instead of doing my homework) before I entered the Marines. Later, I would be amazed that it made the Marine Corps’ Professional Reading List.

Click on the link above and you’ll see Heinlein’s novel listed right there under the Captain / Chief Warrant Officer 4 heading along with a host of other great reads:

• First to Fight: An Inside View of the US Marine Corps by
LtGen Victor H. Krulak, USMC (Ret) (CMC 359.96)
• The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai (CMC 305.892)
• The Defense of Hill 781 by James McDonough (CMC 355.4)
• The General – by C.S. Forrester (CMC F)
• The Lions of Iwo Jima by Fred Haynes (CMC 940.54)
• Lost Victories by Erich Von Manstein (CMC 940.54)
• The Mask of Command by John Keegan (CMC 355.3)
• Passion of Command by Bryan McCoy (CMC 355)
• Sources of Power – by Gary Klein (CMC 658.4)
Starship Troopers – by Robert Heinlein (CMC F)
• The Tipping Point – by Malcom Gladwell (CMC 302)
• Victory at High Tide by Robert D. Heinl (CMC 951.9)
• We Were Soldiers Once and Young – by Harold G.Moore & Joseph L. Galloway (CMC 959.704)

Military thoughts, fact and fictional, from every clime and place. Guess what else? You’ll also find it listed under the lowly Lance Corporal rank heading too. The Marine Corps, see, doesn’t subscribe to the “master-slave” model of leadership development. Instead, she goes for what’s known as the “teacher-scholar” school of thought, sharing the wealth of knowledge across the entire rank spectrum. Both the officer and enlisted ranks are encouraged to further their professional knowledge for the good of the Corps.

Oh, that’s right. You thought Marines don’t read. Well evidently a number of priests don’t read either. Or at the very least, they don’t understand some basic leadership / followership traits that are just rudimentary stuff to anyone who has ever served in the military. It’s a funny thing, I know, to hear the Church referred to as the Church Militant, what with visions of military-like prowess and efficiency paraded before your mind’s eye.  And then you see that often the war for the salvation of souls seems to be run instead like a loose confederation lead by tribal chieftains rather than as a tight military operation with a clear focus and even clearer chain of command. By “tight” I mean “taut” as in “run like a taut ship.”

Lately it seems that there have been plenty of loose cannons rolling around the top decks, calling attention to themselves, putting themselves ahead of the mission of the Church, and generally wreaking havoc among the ships company, er, I mean the faithful. Blame this upset of good order and discipline on whatever you want. Everything from the “Smoke of Satan” to problems of “evil, corrupt bishops” and other excuses that run the gamut from A to Z show up in comboxes routinely these days.  But Joe Six-Pack, USMC has another suggestion for an explanation and it’s a very simple one: lack of discipline coupled with short-sightedness on how priests are assigned to roles within the Church.

Let’s discuss the latter of these reasons in detail, because the former one seems to be answered succinctly by the sentence that leads off this post. Keep in mind that I am a newbie Catholic who doesn’t know diddly-squat about how the Church actually runs her Officer Corps, er, I mean her “priestly assignment system.” But I can tell you that they don’t seem to run it in any way that makes sense from a military personnel development / mission accomplishment point of view. By that I mean priests (and I am probably wrong on this front, so those with Holy Orders feel free to correct me in the combox) don’t seem to be assigned like they generally are in the military where folks rotate into and out of line and staff positions routinely throughout the course of their careers. It’s an approach like climbing a staircase, or going up the rungs of a career ladder, where officers move in and out of line and staff positions throughout their career. Nobody stays in one place for too long.

Take the latest example of what is in the news now with Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of an organization called Priests for Life. The news of his recall back to the Amarillo Diocese is all over the wires. His bishop’s leaked letter to all his brother bishops, Fr. Pavone’s own statements, etc., etc., all played out in the court of public opinion for all us arm-chair generals and barristers to see. (Head over to New Advent for all the latest).

Wiser folks than I have been commenting on this latest example of “priests gone wild” and I haven’t up till now because I figured those involved would handle their differences quietly and professionally. Fat chance of that, or so it seems. So instead I got to thinking “what kind of rag-tag outfit is this anyway?” Staff officers on special assignment think they can call their own shots and do whatever they please while the line-officers prosecute the war and are flat out forgotten? And these priests circumvent their chains-of-command and chafe at the orders from their bishops too? That’s weird and dangerous. And it’s no way to run an army. I think the folks over at Global Security.Org have noticed this downward slide.

Within the last 12 months, we have witnessed the fall of Fr. Euteneuer, Fr. Corapi, and now this latest dustup with Fr. Pavone is unfolding right before our eyes. In each of these cases, the priest in charge of the (insert name of your favorite indispensable sloop of war here) was long at the helm of a staff command in an organization with an ancillary, nay, secondary (if not tertiary) mission in support of the specific mission of the Church. As a whole, what is that grand mission? Winning souls to Christ and His Church, and nourishing them sacramentally on their pilgrimage here on earth so that they move from the Church Militant into the arms of the Church Triumphant.

Over at Dr. Gerard Nadel’s blog, where he has lead the charge with sensible commentary on this latest cause célèbre, I commented that I’ve always wondered why our priests aren’t moved around more often among these high profile ministries, like officers in the military are. See, it helps them become well-rounded to be exposed and developed in new ways by these types of assignments. But in the military, they are never left there long enough to become homesteaded and then ensconced in them. The normal tenure is 3-4 years max, then they move on to another assignment or command, richer for the experience (in theory, anyway) and able to bring more to bear to the organization as a result.

A priest receives orders to head over to EWTN for an assignment in the limelight? Hey that’s grand. But slap a time limit on it, and it would be even better. Doesn’t that make sense? In that way, see, the heads of any of these organizations, be it Priests for Life, Human Life International, or a priest occupying a position in the the media spotlight , and heck I don’t know, even the heads of the various religious orders, would have clear career paths so that when it lands them in one of these assignments, it does so as stewards of an “office” and not like religious versions of Chief Executive Officers, with all the attendant cults of personality and troubles that this secular title implies. Lately the CEO/Media Superstar model of priestly leadership is showing it’s weaknesses.

If what I am suggesting seems impossible to change, perhaps that is because you don’t realize that this problem has been faced, and conquered, in various ways in the military since the time when Julius Caesar was conquering Gaul. But you don’t have to go back that far. Just look at the American experience of moving from a loose confederation of militias during the Revolutionary War to the transformation of a military that is a professional organization, with personnel policies that, though not perfect, have moved a long way from having, say, enough money and prestige to buy the rank of Colonel,  to actually earning that title by way of promotion via a selection board that has assessed your fitness to handle that rank and the responsibilities of command at that level. A difference, you must admit, that is like night is to day.

One of my favorite professors at UCLA wrote the definitive history about the modernization of the U.S. Navy’s officer personnel system from it’s roots in prize-money taking captaincies to a professional system of advancement. The book is expensive ($135!), and the subject (officer promotion and assignment policies…yawn!) esoteric, but given the seemingly non-stop episodes of priests being set up in positions that then lead to trouble, perhaps folks at the Vatican might want to pick up a few copies of this book. Think of it as “outside-the-box” reading of books written by laymen whose provenance is the study, and solving of, organizational problems of this nature.

The book’s title goes a long way to understanding the problems of homesteading and cronyism that faced the Navy before the system was fixed. It’s called Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes: Origins and Development of the U.S. Navy’s Officer Personnel System, 1793-1941. Don’t take Joe Six-Pack’s word for it though, let the experts sing it’s praises:

“An excellent source of lessons to be learned.”—Naval History

“This lengthy, important, and almost unique book addresses U.S. Navy officer policy for the first two-thirds of the service’s history.”—The Journal of Military History

“Donald Chisholm has provided us with an important book. It is the first comprehensive history of the development of the U.S. Navy’s officer personnel system.”—Naval War College Review

“Extensively researched in primary sources and thoroughly documented, [Chisholm’s] book is a major contribution to organizational theory.”—Naval War College Review

“Chisholm has achieved what he set out to do in fine style. He has provided a comprehensive history of naval officer personnel management and at the same time has shed light on the creation, structure, and problem solving that resulted in the organization we see today. From now on it will be impossible to write usefully about the history of personnel management without reference to this book. It promises to be a standard authority.”—Naval War College Review

Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes contains a wealth of descriptive detail on the general environment in which the personnel system developed and on the large cast of naval and political players involved. It is clearly organized, reads well, contains extensive citations, and includes an exhaustive bibliography. . . . it will stand as a definitive reference on the subject and will be used by many naval, administrative, and political historians for the rich material that it contains.”—The Journal of American History

And that’s about all I have to say about this issue. Until the way these, I don’t know if this is the right phrase to use, “plum assignments” are managed, the Church will most likely continue to be faced with embarrassing, mud flinging, headline grabbing turf battles between the well known heads of these ancillary organizations, and their bishops. Unchanged, this problem will continue to feed individual cults of personality with these individuals placed on pedestals by their admirers, facing all manner of temptations as a result.

It’s time to professionalize this approach. But that’s just this simple layman’s $.02.

UPDATE: How did the young Fr. Fulton Sheen handle this same situation? Take a look. (H/T Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers).

To Help Make A Movie, Part Deux!

Ian Higgins writes,

Hi Frank, 

I just wanted to personally thank you and all your readers who have so kindly donated and shown their support for our movie “All That Remains”. It has been overwhelming to witness such support in such a short space of time.

It is thanks to the kindness of all those who donated that we now have enough funds in place to film the crucial interviews in Japan. We’ve managed to raise enough funds to fly out to Japan and film the necessary interviews for the documentary aspects of the movie – thanks to everyone who rallied to our cause!

We didn’t reach our total, but we still consider our campaign a huge success and have decided to launch a second campaign – this time with the goal of raising the necessary funds for the drama sequences that will help bring this amazing story of a remarkable man to life with all the emotional power that a film has.

I would also like to add, to all those who chose to contribute anonymously on our previous campaign, remember to please get in touch with us at info@majoroakentertainment.com with your email addresses (that information is not given to us when you donate as anonymous) so we can send you the links to your perks as and when they become available. Your personal details will be treated as strictly confidential.

Thanks again for your kindness and support!

Huzzah! Ian and Dominic can wing it over to Nagasaki now and get some digital film in the flash drives! Very cool. Guess what else?

Frank, Dominic and I also would like to give you a producer credit on the movie. I know it’s not on the perk you purchased (Ed. a cheap one!), but I think as one of the job descriptions of a producer is to help raise funds for a production – that qualifies you.

Warmest regards,
Ian Higgins

Gulp. Know what that means? I’m now no longer just the chief fan boy or über cheerleader, but an honest-to-goodness movie producer now!? I gotta tell you, the Lord works in mysterious ways because I sure didn’t see that title landing beside my name EVER. No way, no how.

But this is a remarkable story that needs to be told, and told again. It never crossed my mind that I would be denominated with a title like producer on my résumé. And it never would have happened without the generosity of giving readers like you. Folks who live out the words penned by St. James (2:14-17) two thousand years ago,

What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

Know what else it means? That’s simple: I need to make some more rain for the project! And I’m a beggar-thy-neighbor type, long on faith and prayer, but short on cash. But God will provide, and of that I am sure. And it looks like I’ve got some new stuff to learn. Maybe Tom Cruise can help.

Takashi Nagai, praying the rosary

Remember that little post I shared with you about how Words Matter? Well they do. As I thanked you for your generosity before, I will thank you for it again and ask that you share the news on this project via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Heck, by any means possible. And give, give, and give some more —in any amount!

But I won’t brow beat you about it either. Shakedowns? We don’t need no stinking shakedowns! Instead, you can keep track of the fundraising progress right here at YIMCatholic. If you have a gander at the right-hand sidebar (up topside), you’ll see I’ve added a little widget showing the All That Remains Phase-2 IndieGoGo page where you can easily share it, see how many shekels are in the jar, how much time is left to give, etc., etc. How neat is that? Here’s an idea: put it on your blog too!

With prayer, action, faith, hope, and love,  I’m sure that Phase-2 of fundraising for this project will be a rousing success. All it will take is the following…

To Help Make A Movie? Why Not!

A few weeks back was the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. About a week ago, I received a note from Ian Higgins of  Major Oak Entertainment regarding a movie his studio is making about the story of Dr. Takashi Nagai, survivor of the bombing and author of The Bells of Nagasaki.  The title for the docu-drama  film is All That Remains.

According to Ian’s note, the film has the support of

the University of Nagasaki, his grace Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami and Fr. Paul Glynn, author of the acclaimed biography on Dr. Nagai, “A Song for Nagasaki”.

Here is a synopsis of the project,

Urakami Cathedral,
August 9, 1945 

All That Remains will be a powerful docu-drama telling the remarkable story of Dr. Takashi Nagai, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Catholic convert and dedicated peace activist. His story is a dramatic and inspiring testament to the power of faith in the most extreme of circumstances. Indeed, many have petitioned that he be made a saint, and now it seems Dr. Nagai may soon be declared “blessed” by the church, which is the first step to sainthood.

Takashi Nagai was a Japanese doctor and sceptical man of science whose passion for the pursuit of truth led him to undertake a dramatic conversion to Christianity at a time when Western religious beliefs were especially discouraged in Japan. On the 9th of August 1945, he found himself amongst the survivors of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, where this newfound faith was to be tested in the most extreme of circumstances.

With his beloved wife one of the 70,000 killed instantly, he was left with no choice but to fulfil his duty as a doctor, tending to the multitude of wounded and dying all around him, while struggling to make sense of his own loss and the responsibility he now faced for his two children.

It would be his faith that would guide him back to Atom bombed Nagasaki, and it would be this faith that would inspire him to stay there and help rebuild a city from rubble and ash.

He would dedicate the rest of his short life to promoting world peace through his work as a writer. His first book was “The Bells Of Nagasaki”, it went on to become a bestseller though out Japan, as a nation, defeated and demoralised by war, re-discovered through his words, the healing of power of love.

Dr. Takashi Nagai died in May, 1951 of Leukaemia brought on by prolonged exposure to radiation.

He left behind two children, a 10 year old son, Makoto and a 5 year old daughter, Kayano. But he also left behind a huge collection of books, articles and personal notes, addressed to his children and to God. Through these words, the spirit of Takashi Nagai continues to live, but sadly, his story is fast fading into the obscurity of forgotten history.

Here is the trailer for the film,

I don’t know about you, but this is a film I would like to see. The film version of The Bells of Nagasaki came out in the Fall of the year 1950 in the Japanese market and is due for a refresher. Guess what? We can help!

We are also offering the opportunity for other Christians to get involved and help us make this film, the people who understand the power of faith, the people who want films that hold meaning for them.

Ian has a fundraising page here. If you can, throw a few coins in the tin cup there. Who knows? Your name may even wind up in the credits. While you’re at it, go “like” their Facebook page.

UPDATE: Dr. Nagai’s Nagasaki Funeral Address.

For Thoughts from the Guide for Catechists, With a Little Help From My Friends


The next time the Easter Vigil rolls around, I will have been a Catholic 4 full years. But those of you who have followed my conversion story know that I sat in the pews with my wife, and later with my children, for close to 18 years, and that I started exploring the faith in earnest in the Fall of 2006. [Read more...]

For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About Discerning True Christians


A while back, I introduced everyone to my patron, St. Macarius the Great. He has some great homilies that help to prepare Christians for the trials and tribulations that we will encounter along this narrow path. What’s that? You don’t need to hear anything from a desert father about the inner struggle in the life of the Christian? Don’t delude yourself.

Think back over the past 9-10 years regarding scandals among the priesthood. Or better yet, look back just recently and there have been any number of implosions across the spectrum of those who profess to be good and holy Christians. I don’t have to name names, now, do I? Scandal is no stranger to the Church.
The fact of the matter is, the path of Christianity is treacherous and full of temptations, and risks of failure. As John C.H. Wu counseled yesterday, when you fall down, you have to get back up. No one is safe and as the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There is no dearth of scandal among members of the faithful.

But often times, we go looking for earthly heroes and alleged paragons of virtue whom we think we can follow with confidence anyway, when we should just stick with Christ. If we need additional models of Christian behavior, we should just stick with the saints, whom are our brethren in the Church Triumphant, and whose behaviors point us back to Christ anyway.

Below, my patron has a few important words on sifting the posuers from the pure at heart.

Homily XXXVIII: 
Great exactness and intelligence is required to discern true Christians, and who these are.

Many who appear to be righteous are taken for Christians. It is a task for skilled men and experts to try whether such men have really the stamp and image of the King, lest perchance they should be counterfeits of the works of skilled men, and skilled men wonder at them and criticize them. But people who are not skilled cannot test deceitful workers, for they too wear the shape of monks and Christians. For the false apostles also suffered for Christ, and they also preached the kingdom of heaven. That is why the apostle says In perils more abundant, in afflictions above measure, in prisons more abundant, wishing to show that he had suffered more than they.

Gold is easily found; but pearls and precious stones which do for a king’s diadem are seldom found, for many times none that will do are found. So Christians also are built up into the crown of Christ, that those souls may be made partakers with the saints. Glory to Him who so loved that soul, suffered for it, and raised it up from the dead. But as a veil was put over the face of Moses, that the people might not gaze upon his face, so now a veil lies upon your heart, that you may not behold the glory of God. When this is taken away, then He shines forth and manifests Himself to Christians, to those who love Him and seek Him in truth, as He says, I will manifest Myself to him, and will make My abode with him.

Let us endeavor then to come to Christ, who cannot lie, that we may obtain the promise, and the new covenant, which the Lord has made new through His cross and death, having burst the gates of hell and sin and brought out the faithful souls, and given them the Comforter within, and brought them into His kingdom. Let us reign then with Him, even we, in Jerusalem, His city, in the heavenly church, in the choir of the holy angels. The brethren who have been long time exercised and tried, these can succour the less experienced, and feel for them.

For some who had made themselves sure, and had been mightily worked upon by grace of God, have found their members so sanctified that they reckoned that concupiscence does not occur in Christianity, but that they had acquired a sober and chaste mind, and that from henceforth the inward man was raised aloft to divine and heavenly things, so that they really imagined such an one to have come already to the perfect measures. And when the man imagined that he was already near the calm haven, billows rose up against him, so that he found himself again in the middle of the ocean, and was carried where sea was sky and death was ready. Thus sin entered after all, and wrought all manner of evil concupiscence.

And again a certain class of persons having some grace vouchsafed to them, and having received a drop, so to speak, out of the whole deep sea, find it hour by hour, and day by day, such a work of wonder, that the man who is under its influence is amazed and astounded at the strange, surprising operation of God, to think that he should be given such wisdom. After this, grace enlightens him, guides him, gives him peace, makes him good in every way, being itself divine and heavenly, so that in comparison with that man kings and potentates, wise men and nobles are esteemed as least and worthless.

After a time and season things change, so that of a truth such a man esteems himself a greater sinner than all others; and again at another season sees himself like a great colossal king, or a king’s powerful friend; again at another season sees himself weak and a beggar. Then the mind falls into perplexity, why things should be thus and then thus. Because Satan in his hatred of the good suggests evil things to those who attain virtue, and strives to overthrow them. That is his occupation.

But do not submit to him, while you work at the righteousness that is accomplished in the inner man, where stands the judgment seat of Christ, together with His undefined sanctuary, that the testimony of your conscience may glory in the cross of Christ, who has purged your conscience from dead works, that you may serve God with your spirit, that you may know what you worship, according to Him who said, We worship that which we know. Obey God who guides you. Let your soul have communion with Christ, as bride with bridegroom. For this mystery is great, it says; but I speak concerning Christ and the blameless soul.

To Him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Thank you. And Abba Macarius? Please pray for us.

More wisdom from Abba Macarius can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Because of a Marine in Charge of Justice and Peace



Originally published on February 10, 2010.

Before I was a Catholic, yet seriously considering  the idea of becoming one, my wife made a suggestion to me.  My daughter was preparing for her First Communion and while the children were being prepared, there was someone speaking to the parents in the parish hall in the interim.  My wife said he was a very good speaker and that I might enjoy what this person had to say. I was dubious, to say the least. [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Economy: Catholic, and Not

Ok, class. Today’s lesson is on a little thing called “regression to the mean.” That’s a fancy way of saying that when something gets out of whack, you know, like when one thing shoots for the stars while everything else is holding steady, see, well, it will move back to where it belongs. And usually suddenly. Like a bursting bubble, which by now everyone with a pulse and a 401k is familiar with. Right? [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Vicissitudes of Michael Voris & Co. UPDATED

Actually, I have none. Really. I mean stuff like this happens all the time to me. I’m a father of three children and they are all the time doing stuff that a) I don’t know about; b) I don’t approve of; and c) that I didn’t teach them to do. Guess what? I love them anyway.

Is it scandalous? Only if he lets pride lead him by the nose. Is it embarrassing? You betcha. A dad knows, and a mom does too. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time my kids did something to disappoint me, I’d be a rich man. Of course, I’d be a lonely, Silas Marner, scrooge of a misanthropic man, no doubt. You know, the kind who never wanted children in the first place. But I’d probably think I was well off materially, of course. But spiritually? I’d be a wreck without them in my life.

Nope. You can’t run from the Cross, neither as parents nor as presidents of your own non-profit/for-profit, gig. You have to weather the vicissitudes of life, because ready or not, here they come. I suspect that things will get tightened up in the departments that have been lax, and I’m just as sure that eventually something new will rise up to take their place to harry him. I mean, I know this: it’s non-stop for me.

That’s why the saints teach us to be humble and to pray. It’s also why humility is the virtue that has the most telling effect on those with whom we interact with in our life as Christians. It very much explains why the “pitchfork and torches” or “drawn swords” modus operandi is generally a non-starter in the work of winning souls to Christ.

Deacon Greg Kandra, Elizabeth Scalia , and Mark Shea all have something to say on this news anyway (or will soon). I’ll just go back to trying to figure out what kind of bird this is. Help me out if you can.

UPDATE: The bird has been identified! Thanks Ramona.

UPDATE II:  Mark Shea’s charitable post today.

UPDATE III: From Madrid, Michael Voris responds.

UPDATE IV: What Should Michael Voris learn from this?

Because Yes, Baseball and Faith Are Compatible

H/T to Our Sunday Visitor for catching this ground ball and throwing it to me on second base. I first learned of Florida Marlins manager Jack MeKeon’s piety while watching  the video Champions of Faith with my children a few years back.


Long time readers of YIMCatholic know I’m a baseball fan. So I was glad to see this story  highlighting Jack’s faith in the New York Times this morning. Take a look.

Jack McKeon’s baseball days begin in a pew. At 8 on Tuesday morning, the Florida Marlins’ manager attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, less than 12 hours after his team beat the Mets on a 10th-inning grand slam. Such games are testament to his faith in the saint he prays to every game during the national anthem.

“A good night for St. Thérèse,” he said, sitting in the lounge of a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”

For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.
“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”
Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.

Hey, Jack and I have two things in common now! Go enjoy the rest here.

The 27 Club (Music for Mondays)

Photo credit: Syzmanski 

This past weekend, the news out of the UK was that singer, songwriter Amy Winehouse died. I’m not sure what the autopsy will show, but the press says her death was possibly from a drug overdose.

I really wasn’t a big fan of hers because I never really got around to hearing her music. I do remember her being splashed all over the internet, and by extension I guess that means the tabloids too.

I was saddened to hear of her passing though. It’s heart-breaking to learn of the demise of anyone with a gift that delights the world. At such a tender age, she was catapulted to fame, and her reaction to it may have contributed to her undoing. It could happen to any of us. It has happened to many others in her line of work.

And so it is that the newest member of the 27 Club will be put to rest. And as a kind of requiem music post, I do not wish to celebrate her crossing over into the select group of deceased musicians who preceded her in membership of this “club” by dying at the same young age. But she does join the company of some rock n’ roll music legends and I’ll share with you a few of them today. I said a prayer for her soul, and for the souls of those who preceded her.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. I’m a horrible consumer of recently popular music. As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to the latest stuff, I live under a rock. So I was surprised when I saw this haunting video from what the rest of you know as being from Amy Winehouse’s album that won five (5!) Grammy Awards. The imagery in this selection is all too prophetic. And in a way, this song may even help us remember those whose deaths have been eclipsed by hers in the news.

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The Rolling Stones, Paint It Black. A charter member of the “27 Club” is Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones. He died under “mysterious” circumstances (death by misadventure?!) a month after leaving the band on July 3, 1969, at the age of 27. On this particular song, he is playing the sitar, which is the signature sound on this hit that went to #1 both in the U.S. and the U.K. in 1966. It seems Brian could play almost any instrument he took a fancy to.

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Jimi Hendrix, All Along the Watchtower. Next on the club list, the innovative, ex-paratrooper, guitar genius named Jimi Hendrix. He died on September 18, 1970 from a combination of drugs and alcohol. Check him out as he covers Bob Dylan’s classic that he made his own in this live performance from the year he died. Hendrix could have played guitar upside down and sideways too. In fact, he did. He was a lefty, so he turned the classic Fender Stratocaster right-hand model upside down and strung it backwards for his purposes. He took the electric guitar to places no one even thought possible.

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Janis Joplin, Try (Just a Little Bit Harder). Janis Joplin had a lot in common with Amy Winehouse. A soulful voice, with a deep range. The ability to belt out tunes in a way that just made you realize that she poured every ounce of herself into it. Maybe so much that she thought there was nothing left. She died on October 4, 1970 of a possible heroin overdose. This is from a performance on the Dick Cavett Show on July 18, 1969. This song does not need a little more “cow bell,” if you know what I mean.

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The Doors, Break On Through (To the Other Side). July 3, 1971 on the second anniversary of Brian Jones death, Jim Morrison, the lead singer and lyricist of the Doors died in Paris, France. Cause of death? Heart failure is what the coroner came up with. Steve Huey, his biographer writes, he “would often improvise poem passages while the band played live, which was his trademark. He is widely regarded, with his wild personality and performances, as one of the most iconic, charismatic and pioneering frontmen in rock music history.” Val Kilmer played him in Oliver Stone’s movie. I’ll have to check it out.

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Nirvana, All Apologies. Aside from Amy Winehouse, I was too young when the rest of the members of this select group passed to remember a thing about their departures. Oh, I remember when Elvis died, but he wasn’t 27 years old. And he died when I was old enough to remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. But when Kurt Cobain committed suicide by a shotgun blast on April 5, 1994? I remembered thinking that it was just a sad and tragic waste; a loss not just to his band and fans, but to his recently started family. He personified the Seattle “grunge rock” genre.

This video is from an MTV Unplugged episode that aired 4 months before Kurt took his own life. Current Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl (who was the drummer for Nirvana) and guitarist Pat Smear, who Cobain added to relieve some of the pressure off himself, can be seen playing here as well.

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