We’ve had an astonishing stretch of fantastically gorgeous late-summer weather in this little corner of the world—sunny and warm, with a light, dry breeze and big puffy clouds during the days, cooling off comfortably every night.
Take that near-perfect, hypnotically beautiful weather, turn it into music, and you’ll get something like Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness”, just a sweet, entrancing groove that you’ll wish would last and last. (The fact that this clip comes from a mid-70s appearance on Soul Train with the band wearing custom-designed matching jackets with striped 8″ lapels is pure bonus.)
From The Gospel At Colonus, the remarkable 1983 reimagining of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus, here are The Blind Boys of Alabama (who collectively played the role of Oedipus) with a prayer of supplication, “Lift Me Up (Like A Dove)”.
Those opening major 2nd piano chords that sound like Theolonius Monk? That’s Dizzy Gillespie.
Jumping in on bass and drums to set the groove are Curly Russell and Max Roach, the rhythm section that more or less invented bebop.
Dizzy’s not on trumpet because the 19 year old Miles Davis is sitting in. And on alto? No one other than the man himself, Charlie Parker.
Parker also wrote “Now’s The Time”, which has a timeless lyrical sensibility (it sounds like something Kanye West could sample today and top the charts). It’s also packed with more delightful and inventive soloing riffs, dips, swirls and confections in three minutes than most musicians can cram onto a double album.
You won’t find On The North Bank at your local book store (or online mega-merchant), but they still have some copies available at St. Michael Parish on Bridge St. in Lowell, Massachusetts, and if you ask nicely they may let you have one.
Some thoughts after reading On The North Bank: A Centennial History Of The Parish Of St. Michael 1883-1983:
- One side benefit of increased access to higher education is an improved ability to tell one’s own story. Brian C. Mitchell grew up in Lowell (across the river at St. Margaret Parish) and had just completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Rochester when Fr. Paul Bailey asked him to write St. Michael’s centennial history. On The North Bank rises above its genre because of Mitchell’s keenly developed research and writing skills, and his knowledge of the industrial, social and cultural forces that shaped his hometown.
- What Thomas O’Connor says about how the “bitter and unyielding conflict between the natives of Boston and the newcomers from Ireland” shaped Irish Catholicism in that city also holds true for Lowell (and much of the rest of Massachusetts), but perhaps more interesting was the complex and nuanced conflict between Irish and French-Canadian Catholics. With nearly a dozen Catholic parishes within walking distance of each other on both sides of the Merrimack River, there was an ongoing negotiation/navigation of what it means to be Catholic, American, Irish, French-Canadian, (Polish, Portuguese, etc.) that took place in and around “suburban-city” parishes like St. Michael’s over the generations.
- While the post-Vatican II years as recounted in On The North Bank hint at some of the challenges St. Michael Parish (and the wider Catholic community) was beginning to face, there’s little or no hint of the dramatic shrinkage that the Catholic church in Lowell, and across New England, would face in the ensuing years. The decline in priestly vocations and regular Mass attendance, the continued demographic changes, and the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of children (and its cover-up by the hierarchy) have taken a tremendous toll on parishes like St. Michael in the years since 1983.
- Despite that, Mitchell’s conclusion holds up more than 30 years after it was first written:
“When (Fr.) William O’Brien undertook his visits to potential parishioners back in 1883, he worried as to whether ‘former associations’ would give way to new loyalties to St. Michael’s Parish. O’Brien and his successors understood that the key to breaking these old associations and to maintaining the loyalty of St. Michael’s parishioners was to provide a sense of community. The meaning of community has changed over time and the methods of O’Brien and his successors were different but the motivation always remained the same. After one hundred years, St. Michael’s survives because it has something to offer its parishioners. It flourishes, however, because its parishioners care enough to give something back.” (p. 76)