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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Popefying of Francis

Welcome Pope Frank!

I guess Pope Benedict was too pooped to continue popeing.

Like so many things, religious, the choosing of a pope is shrouded in mystery, requiring mental imagery, rather than broadcast-ready action and drama.

At the same time, it’s an ancient spectator sport – a bit sedate, but far less deadly than most of the games from the late Roman Empire. We join together and focus on a port-a-chimney placed atop the Sistine Chapel, and wait to see what 100 guys in red hats are smoking. We cheer for the white smoke (usually Jamaican, but maybe this time, Argentinean.) I’m never disappointed by the black smoke though. It means OVERTIME, and the secondary high keeps on going.

Of course, I’m not in Rome, and as my buddy didn’t order the hi-def smell feature on his new flat-screen, all my hopes of rockin’ with the Vatican went up without smoke.

(Children – Headley Hauser in no way endorses the use of illegal substances for recreational purposes, be it marijuana, papal ballots, or shiitake mushrooms, diced fine, dried with chive, oregano, and a light vinaigrette.)

(First time I’ve ever written ‘shiitake’ in anything – pretty disgusting mental imagery)

Forty-odd (or even) years ago, Tom Lehrer wrote a song, The Vatican Rag.

Make a cross on your abdomen

When in Rome, do like a Roman

Ave Maria

Gee it’s good to see ya.

Doin’ the Vatican Rag

(copyright Vatican Rag by Tom Lehrer MCML something-something)

Professor Lehrer offered his paean to Catholic propagation in a time of significant change for the Holy Roman Catholic Church. His thinking (as he said on his album,) was that if the church really wanted to sell the product, it needed to appeal to the people in the modern vernacular. He then presented a song in a musical style that was a generation and a half out-of-date.

These are different times for the Rome team. People aren’t talking Vatican 2 anymore (so good – you’ll forget all about Vatican 1.)

They’re pissed.

They’re pissed about discrimination, gay rights, birth control, abortion, the price of gas (which I’m told has nothing to do with Church, but it’s bugging me, so I’m including it.)

They’ve also just about had enough of ‘celibate’ priests instructing the youth in ways not found in the catechism. Of course priests have been doing this as long as Cardinals have been smoking papal ballots, and reformers have repeatedly discussed putting an end to it. Maybe we’ve reached the two millennia procrastination limit.

Recent popes have been firm, but apologetic in their response to this growing dissatisfaction. Pope John Paul 2 (who hung out nearly thirty years in the funny hat to make up for the first John Paul, who skipped the mortal coil before the lacquer on his ruby slippers was dry,) was so sweet and endearing that people almost forgot why they’d been genuflecting with middle finger extended.

That was not going to work long-term. How many guys in Cardinal University (or is it still just a college?) remind you of your favorite childhood teddy-bear?

I think the blessed Tom Lehrer – may he rest on his couch (‘cause I think he’s still alive – though freaky old. If he’s dead, the couch might not be the best place for him.) had the right idea in bringing out-dated musical forms to the church issues of the day. Using his of out-of-date algorithm (he did teach math,) our generation and a half interval leaves us with a wonderful selection of music from the late 60s through the early 80s.

But the tone has to change as well as the form. The Vatican Rag was upbeat, optimistic – you could almost see the dancing altar boys, glad-hands flashing (careful with those mental images, Friar.) The firm but apologetic approach won’t work either, not only is it unworkable, it severely limits the music available.

Remember the classic Ali-Forman fight years before George started selling hamburger makers?

Well, it looks like the Cardinals decided they’ve been riding the ropes long enough – no more pope-a-dope. They picked a Jesuit. Time to kick some acolytes!

So what theme can we create for our new Pope Frank?

I’d eliminate Barry Manilow off the top – his music doesn’t fit, and everybody out there secretly wants to eliminate Barry Manilow.

(Mental image of B.M. being eliminated – is he gone? Don’t forget to flush.)

Even without Barry’s one hundred and sixty-seven identical chants, we still have a number of potential anthems for our pleasantly pugilistic Pope.

What about (Every) Mother’s Son Bites the Dust?

(Bit of a stretch? What was I going to change it to – Another Nun Bites the Dust? No, I don’t like hate mail unless it’s from people giving me money.) All you need is to add a few smells and bells, and it sounds aggressively liturgical.

Play That Funky Music, Padre would have the dual effect of intimidation, and getting congregants groovin’ on those kneelers instead of scooting to the front of their seats and faking it.

There has to be a way to adapt Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting. You like that one Papa Frank? I’ll work on it for you.

Maybe you could even turn around that back-room altar-boy problem with a little James Brown - Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Monsignor.


Maybe not? Just throwing it out there.