Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bridge Over Troubled Water—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.

When it comes to comforting songs Simon & Garfunkel’s  Bridge Over Troubled Water is like snuggling in an easy chair by a fire, wrapped in a soft quilt with an old dog at your feet and a hot toddy in hand.
Paul Simon had been listening to gospel music  especially the Swan Silvertones and their song Mary Don’t You Weep and wanted to include a song on the new studio album that he was working on with Art Garfunkel that reflected the feel of surrender to a loving power if not the style of Black church music.  He was also frankly inspired by the Beatles’ recent song Let it Be.  The melody was simple but soaring and the famous harmony of the two singers was breath taking.
When the duo began work on what would be their fifth and final studio album they were already on divergent paths Garfunkel wanted to explore an acting career and Simon, the composer and lyricist was broadening his musical horizons including a rising interest in world music.  They had been musical partners since high school in Queens, New York and even had a rock and roll hit, Hey School Girl under the name Tom and Jerry.  By 1963 after pursuing solo careers while in college they reunited they became part of the New York folk music scene and signed with Columbia Records. 
Simon & Garfunkel’s debut studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., was recorded over three sessions in March 1964 and released in October.  It was not an immediate hit but slowly gained a following largely around Simon’s lyrics which were often called poetry.  If Bob Dylan was the Walt Whitman of folk music, Simon more like two poets he later referenced in a song, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. 
In 1965 The Sound of Silence was a surprise single hit and led to an album of the same name in 1965 which made Simon & Garfunkel must hear music in college dorm rooms around the country.  They followed up with other hugely successful albums—Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends.

Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon cutting a vocal track during the recording of A Bridge Over Troubled Water.

In the studio for the new album their complex recording style was disrupted by Garfunkel’s absences for his part in Catch-22 and things were often tense between the two.  But they were producing a masterpiece.  Simon wanted Bridge Over Troubled Waters to be the lead song on the album but Columbia executives, who usually deferred to their prize act wanted something more up tempo that could be a top-forty single.   Simon won out.
Finally released in 1970 the album Bridge over Troubled Water charted in over 11 countries topping the charts in 10 countries, including the US Billboard 200 and the UK Albums Chart. It was the best-selling album in 1970, 1971 and 1972 and was for a while time the best-selling album of all time.  The album and song won a combined 5 Grammies. Troubled Waters and The Boxer we listed in Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and were listed as 51 in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of Time.  Simon & Garfunkel reaped ever possible accolade and award including induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

Paul Simon with fellow Kennedy Center Honorees James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera, James Levine, and Elizabeth Taylor in 2002.
But it was the duo’s swan song.  They parted ways and pursued separate careers.  Their personal relationship became fractured. After more than two decades they reunited for a famous concert in Central Park and periodically since then.  Simon was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 and continues to release challenging original material.
It A Bridge Over Troubled Water was the perfect song to cap off the turbulent decade of the Vietnam War, street protests, assassinations, and urban rioting, it speaks just as eloquently to us today in the midst of a different crisis.

Of U.U.s, Lent, Sacrifice, and Vintage Murfin Verse

These days the Unitarian Universalist Association cheerfully provides Lenten worship materials for congregations and for individual spiritual practice.  It was not always so.
It is only 12 days until Easter Sunday so we are well into Lent and I was reminded that there is at least a mild rash of interest in and even observance of the season of personal sacrifice and contemplation of the Holy among my fellow Unitarian Universalists.  It was not always so.
As heirs of the Radical Reformation and step siblings Unitarianism and Universalism as they evolved in the United States instinctively rejected what they regarded as Popish trappings, liturgy, and anything that stood between humans and a direct relationship with God.  While both remained in the 19th Century avowedly Christian in the Protestant  tradition that meant eschewing the priesthood, Episcopal authority, the mass, saints, the liturgical calendar and holy days like Christmas or Ash Wednesday.
Springing from New England Puritanism, the Unitarians often practiced days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer in times of war or distress, they saw no reason for a special 40 day season.  After all, a good Puritan lived his or her entire life in a kind of perpetual Lent.
The Universalists preferred to joyfully celebrate the bottomless mercy of a loving God who sooner or later reconciled all souls to Him. The contemplation of this universal beneficence was enough to encourage mortal men and women to live virtuous lives to show themselves worthy of it.
Over time both traditions evolved under the influences of Transcendentalism, Free Thought, exposure to world religions via the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, and the explosion of Humanism following the First and Second World Wars.  Both tended to become less explicitly or orthodox Christian, although a wide variety of spiritual practice was found in both traditions.
Nothing could be more UU than a mug for coffee hour, often called Unitarian communion. This one expressed the feelings of many Humanists in the late 20th Century.
By the time the two united to become the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1960 a flinty sort of agnostic Humanism was the dominant strain among Unitarians and flourished to some degree among Universalists.  The larger and more muscular Unitarians soon dominated the united faith and Humanism overshadowed theism in its various guises for the rest of the century.
Humanists denied any supernatural intervention in human affairs and stressed the need for men and women to take charge of their own salvation in a broken world to create a kind of heaven on earth.  That translated into activism in matters of war and peace, social justice, civil rights, women’s equality, LBGTQ inclusion, and the environment.
But it also meant a bristling hostility to conventional religion among many.  In some congregations a Minister could lose his pulpit for using the “G word,” or citing Biblical scripture.  The old joke was that Unitarians read ahead in their hymnals to make sure that they approved of the lyric.
By the early 21st Century, however there was a growing restiveness in the pews and a yearning for deeper spirituality largely due to rise of the women’s movement within the UUA which led to the adoption of 7th Principle, “respect for the web of existence of which we are a part.”  That gave rise to a kind of pantheism, neo-paganism, Buddhist practice, yoga, and various elements of New Age Spirituality.  Inevitably it also led to a re-examination of Christian tradition and teaching.

Elements of Lenten practice--not just for orthodox Christians any more.
As an aging generation of Humanist ministers retired, they were replaced by graduates of UU Theological Schools and other seminaries who were more receptive to Christian theology and practice.  Today most UUs still identify mainly as Humanists, but are more tolerant of the theists among them and are more prepared to learn from the wisdom of religions including Christianity.  
Inevitably that has led some to examine traditions like Lent as personal spiritual practices.  Lenten themed prayers or meditations, sermons, and small group discussions are easily found on line.  While Lenten practice is far from widespread, it is no longer an aberration.
About 2002 as those changes were just getting underway, I was moved to write a poem for a service at the old Congregational Unitarian Congregation in Woodstock, Illinois–now the Tree of Life Congregation in McHenry.  It was included in my Skinner House Meditation Manual, We Build Temples in the Heart published two years later.  Since then it has occasionally popped up in services at other congregations.

Despite its length and structure I have often call this my Zen poem.

What Unitarian Universalists Should Give Up for Lent if They Observed It, Which They Don’t, Most of Them.

Pews without padding, Nature Conservancy calendars.
Volvos, polysyllabic verbosity,
herbal tea, austerity,
National Public Radio, unread books in fine bindings,
    Liberalism, Buddhism. Humanism,
    Marxism, Feminism, Taoism,
    Vegetarianism, Conservationism, Transcendentalism,
    Atheism, Consumerism, Sufism,
    for Christ’s sake, Libertarianism,
Joys and Concerns, pretension,
committee meetings, Habitat t-shirts,
potluck tuna casserole, black-and-white films with subtitles,
petitions, sermons, tofu and brown rice,
drums, theology,
season tickets to anything but baseball,
liturgical dance, poetry readings,
    Pilgrim pride
    pride of intellect
    pride of lineage
    pride of lions
    the pride that cometh before the fall
bistros, pledge drives,
advanced degrees, spirituality,
coffee hour, sensible shoes,
philosophy, choir rehearsal,
arrogance, animal sacrifice,
gender-neutral hymnals, learned clergy,
natural fibers, string quartets,
whiteness, turquoise jewelry,
recycling, self-congratulation,
acupuncture, bird-watching at dawn,
yoga, Common Cause,
God, doubt,
     egotism, self-denigration,
          yesterday, tomorrow.

—Patrick Murfin

Monday, March 30, 2020

Home, Sweet Home—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

Home, Sweet Home sung by Deanna Durbin.

How is home confinement working out for all of you?  Is working from home amid all of the distractions, limited access to everything you need, and tech glitches driving you to distraction?  Or is being out of work stressing you to the max as bills pile up?  Is homeschooling a disaster and the kids in hyper-active overdrive?  Is unlimited time with your spouse, partner, or significant other putting a strain on your relationship?  Or are you isolated alone separated from you love ones?  Have you run out of shows to binge watch and finally reached the bottom of the pile of books to read on your nightstand?  Are hours on social media and watching daily briefings from the Cheeto-in-Charge, your governor, and a parade of doctors turning you into a raving paranoid?  Is that little scratch you are feeling in your throat this morning an omen of doom?
Ok, maybe now is the time to take a deep breath, assume a position of reverential openness, clear the mind, and meditate for a moment on what home really means to you.  Or maybe you just need a musical nudge….

Home, Sweet Home was so popular that this West Virginia savings and loan gave away copies of the sheet music to drum up business in the early 20th Century
 Home, Sweet Home is probably one of America’s oldest popular songs but it started out in 1823 in London as an aria by Composer Sir Henry Bishop with lyrics by American actor and Dramatist John Howard Payne from the opera Clari, or the Maid of Milan.  That opera may be long forgotten but the aria was hugely popular from the beginning.  It got its American premiere at the Winter Tivoli Theatre in Philadelphia on October 29 of that year and was sung by a Mrs. Williams.
In 1852 Bishop re-arranged the aria into a parlor ballad for piano and voice.  The sheet music sold like hot cakes rivaling the popular success of Stephen Foster ballads—and like those songs was widely pirated by other publishers despite Bishop’s copyright.  Dozens of versions were sold for decades.

Home, Sweet Home samplers hung in many American parlors.
In America the popularity of the song was reinforced during the separations of the American Civil War.  It became a camp ballad among troops on both sides while it was being sung longingly by the folks back home.  At one point it was banned in some Union camps because it was thought to encourage desertion. And it never failed to draw tears from concert stage and music hall audiences.
Home, Sweet Home was naturally one of the first songs recorded on Edison cylinders and then on gramophone discs.  Early recordings were made by John Yorke AtLee in 1891, Harry Macdonough in 1902, Richard Jose in 1906, the reigning queen of the opera Alma Gluck in 1912, Alice Nielsen in 1915, and Elsie Baker in 1915.
Often sung in school music classes in the 20th Century and referenced in movies, the song remains familiar to many Americans.  But because of the rampant sentimentality of the lyrics it is seldom performed except as an ironic statement about dysfunctional family life.
But in 1939 Deanna Durbin recorded a hit version on the Decca label and Vera Lynn scored a war-time 1944 hit in Britain.

Deanna Durbin sang Home, Sweet Home in her 1939 film First Love and had hit record of the song the same year.
 Durbin was a teen-age operatic soprano wunderkind when she made her film debut in 1936 in an MGM short with Judy Garland.  The film was sort of a test to help Louis B. Mayer decide which of the girls to keep under contract.  Hollywood legend has it that Durbin was cut loose by mistake.  She was snapped up by struggling Universal Pictures where she soon became their most bankable star. 
She sang Home, Sweet Home in her 1939 fifth feature film, First Love, a modern take on the Cinderella story produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Henry Koster.  The public loved it.

RAF Bombers Fly into Hell—Someone Had Blundered

An RAF Halifax unloads its bombs over a German urban target in a saturation raid like that planned for Nuremberg.  Unfortunately the night of the long planned raid the city was mostly shrouded in cloud cover.
Blame the fog of war, command stupidity, bad timing, bad weather, vainglory, stubbornness, or just bad luck.  Every war seems to produce on a large or small scale shake-your-head disasters that seem, in retrospect, that they could, or should have been avoided.  Think the Charge of the Light Brigade, Custer at Little Bighorn, Gallipoli, or just about the whole damned Vietnam War.  
73 years ago, on March 30, 1944 795 Royal Air Force bombers flew into disaster.  95 planes would be lost, more than 11% of those engaged.  Many more would land damaged and riddled with fighter cannon fire and flack.  545 officers and men were killed, more than 150 captured, figures for the wounded unavailable, but high.  The Nuremberg Raid was Bomber command’s greatest loss of aircraft in a single operation and to make matters worse, the intended target suffered relatively light damage.
Other Allied air raids during the war would suffer even higher losses by percentage—the U.S, Army Air Force famous B-24 raid on the oil refineries around Ploiesti, Romania in 1943 resulted in the loss of 53 of a 174 planes.  But it was able to substantially destroy or damage its targets.  It was also, by scale, a much smaller operation than the Nuremberg Raid.
Conversely, later in the war, the industrial might of the United States was able to station an air armada of thousands of heavy bombers in Britain.  Some days almost all of them were engaged in action and on more than one very bad day, losses exceeded those at Nuremberg, but because of the total number involved, the percentage loss was much smaller.
The Nuremberg Raid was a night raid.  The RAF and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) had very different bombing strategies that had caused friction in the Allied high command.  In the end, it was agreed to allow each to wage its own campaign.  The USAAF with its high flying, heavily armed B-17s and B-24s, and their precision Norton bomb sights, elected to conduct a daylight campaign of precision strategic bombing targeting German industry and infrastructure as well military and naval targets.  In addition by 1944 the Americans had fast, long range fighters like the P-51 Mustang that could provide fighter cover deep into enemy territory.
The British with their lighter aircraft preferred night time saturation bombing.  They targeted cities and towns aiming to smother them with high explosives.  Certainly damage would be done to industry and infrastructure in the process, but it was essentially terror bombing aimed at the civilian population in order to “break the enemy’s will to fight.”  Part of it was to mock Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Göring’s boast that his flyers would prevent “a single bomb” from falling on German soil.  And part of it was outright revenge for the Blitz.  Night bombing also compensated for the fact that until bases could be secured in France, the RAF’s Spitfires and Hurricanes did not have enough range to provide fighter cover.
By March of 1944 plenty of RAF bombs had fallen on German cities.  Cities like Manheim, Cologne, and above all the capital of Berlin had already been targeted leaving behind large swaths of smoking rubble and huge civilian casualties.

The heart of Nuremberg was quaint and medieval, but the "Spiritual heart of Nazism" was marked for destruction at the highest levels in Britain.
The next target was Nuremberg, a city of about 150,000.  Although it certainly had industrial targets, it was not an important German cog in the German war machine.  But, as the site of Hittler’s famous, highly choreographed pre-war rallies, it was considered the “spiritual heart of Nazism.”  It was to be the last of the big RAF raids on cities before Bomber Command would turn its attention to support of the coming Normandy invasion. 
The raid was carefully planned.  A route was mapped out that would have the formations cross the European coast over Belgium then wheel and make a direct dash for Nuremberg.  Some diversionary sorties would be flown in hopes of confusing German defenses, but far fewer than those employed in the earlier raids.  Also the relatively direct route to the target was a departure from the practice of making several course corrections to confuse the enemy.  It was thought that this itself would be a surprise.
The day before the raid RAF meteorologists relying on reports from Mosquito weather planes flying over the continent concluded that there would be cloud cover over the Belgian coast to shield the formations from the bright half-moon and clear skies over the target which would make it easy for pathfinders to mark out the target with incendiaries.  These were ideal conditions.

Versatile little RAF de Havilland Mosquitos, a pesky wood-framed multi-use light bomber, played several roles in the Nuremberg raid including providing weather observations over the Continent, flying decoy missions, and dropping incendiary markers for the main bomber formations. 
But around noon on the 30th new reports from the Mosquitos showed clouds forming over Nuremberg and clearing skies over Belgium.  Deputy Commander Sir Robert Saundby said after the war, “I can say that, in view of the meteorological report and other conditions, everyone, including myself, expected the C-in-C (Commander in Chief) to cancel the raid. We were most surprised when he did not. I thought perhaps there was some top-secret political reason for the raid, something too top-secret for even me to know.”
Air crews were never informed of the changed conditions into which they would fly.
At the appointed hour 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos took off on the main mission.  Due to the usual mechanical problems and malfunctioning electronics several planes turned back.  About 750 made it to the Belgian coast.
Meanwhile forces of light Mosquitos and a flight of Halifaxes flew diversionary flights that included 49 Halifaxes minelaying in the Heligoland area, 13 Mosquitos to attack night-fighter airfields, 34 Mosquitos on diversions to Aachen, Cologne and Kassel.
The German command was not fooled.  And when the bombers came over the coast not only were they silhouetted against the moonlight, their contrails were clearly visible.  German radio crackled.  Over 200 night-fighters were scrambled on their way to the Ida and Otto beacons which neatly straddled the raiders’ course.  The British were flying directly into a virtual ambush.
The night fighters were among Germany’s best, mostly Me-109s, Me-110s and JU-88s.  Many were armed with new twin 20 mm cannons mounted on either side of the nose at an upward angle and a slight spread. Known as   Schräge Musik (slanting music) these weapons allowed a new tactic.  Fighters attacked from below, never seen or detected by the bombers’s gun crews.  They flew within a few hundred feet and let loose fire that straddled the bomb-laden fuselage and tore into both wings with their heavy loads of fuel.
The first bombers fell shortly after clearing the coast to heavy flack.  That gave way soon enough to the swarms of night fighters tearing into the formations with deadly accuracy and effect.  At least two Luftwaffe pilot personally downed four planes each.  Another destroyed two bombers in less than two minutes.

The wreckage of an RAF bomber and its dead crew after the Nuremberg Raid.
The night fighters continued to bring down the lumbering bombers for the next 45 miles until they finally disappeared into the clouds that would also obscure the target.  Not only had the attacks somewhat broken the formations, an unexpected cross wind began to blow some off course.  Leading the way the versatile little Mosquitos were the Pathfinders charged with marking the bombing range.  Two got off course marking a mostly rural area near Lauf ten miles distant.  150 of the bombers followed them, dumping their bombs mostly uselessly in the fields, although three ball bearing plants—a high priority for American strategic bombers—were inadvertently hit and sustained moderate damage, but not enough to put them out of commission.
Even those pathfinders that did find Nuremburg found that smoke from their incendiaries was blowing away from the city.  In additions some pilots mistook the burning wreckage of other bombers as signals.  As a result and under intense ground anti-aircraft fire, many of the bombs fell harmlessly away from city.
German records indicated that Nuremberg suffered “133 killed (75 in city itself), 412 injured; 198 homes destroyed, 3,804 damaged, 11,000 homeless. Fires started: 120 large, 485 medium / small. Industrial damage: railway lines cut, and major damage to three large factories; 96 industrial buildings destroyed or seriously damaged.”  This was hardly insignificant.  But had he raid proceeded as planned, the city would have been virtually leveled.
On the way back the planes continued to be hectored by fighters and targeted by flack.  But the formation was broken up and planes were widely scattered.  Only a handful more were shot down on the long three hour flight home, bucking a heavy headwind almost all of the way.  But several damaged planes crashed along the way.  11 made it all the way back to England only to crash either because of battle damage or because they had run out of fuel.

After all of these years it is still unclear how high the decision to go ahead with the Nuremberg Raid despite drastically altered and adverse weather conditions went.  Bomber Command Chief Air Marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris told his pilots that the raid was "dear to Churchill's heart." Was 10 Downing Street where the buck stopped?

There was no way around it.  The raid was a disaster, more so because the heavy losses were experienced without the mission being anywhere near satisfactorily completed.
The question remains to this day, why was not the mission scrubbed after the revised weather forecasts came in?  How high above the Deputy Commander could the decision to go ahead have gone?  Bomber Command’s Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris?  Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur Tedder, Air Commander-in-Chief, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF)?  Or perhaps even to Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself?  After all in pre-mission briefings pilots were told that the Nuremberg raid was, “…a target he [Harris] knows is very dear to Churchill’s heart.”