Fundamental-ish

Fun-da-men-tal-ish
By Dr. Jeff Farnham
Sword of the Lord Publishers, 2019, 139 pp.

2 Stars

I saw this short book advertised in “The Sword of the Lord” recently and thought it might be interesting to read independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) pastor, Dr.* Jeff Farnham’s (formerly of LaGrange Baptist Church, LaGrange, Indiana) views on IFB churches that he contends have compromised their status from being fundamentalist to “fundamental-ish,” i.e., still teaching the fundamentals of the faith, but compromising on important secondaries.

In his opening section, Farnham rebuts the appeal to “Christian liberty” as an excuse to compromise fundamentalist principles. He argues that wise and mature fundamentalists must continue to uphold their convictions even more strongly so as not to be stumbling blocks to the weaker, less mature brethren.

Farnham then gets into the meat of the book; the specific areas where he believes compromising fundamentalists have become fundamental-ish:

Worship Music – Farnham is distressed that some compromising IFB pastors are incorporating Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and drums into their worship music. Farnham notes that CCM music employs “a syncopated thumping that accents the off-beat and diminishes the downbeat and creates agitation.” He judges all such music to be “spiritually oppressing and sensually provocative” (p.61). Farnham notes that IFB pastors in the past commonly referred to such music as “jungle music,” and while he acknowledges that many would find that term to be “racially insensitive,” he believes it is accurate.

Attire – Farnham judges that compromising IFB churches are allowing and encouraging people to wear inappropriate clothing. Amidst some other, superfluous examples, the PRIMARY issue for Farnham boils down to whether women should be able to wear pants. Farnham doesn’t believe so, citing Deuteronomy 22:5. He attempts to rebut all opposing rationale.

Education, Entertainment, Employment – Farnham contends that fundamental-ish compromisers allow their children to be educated at godless public schools and that they prioritize worldly entertainment and employment (working on Sundays) over God, church, and an obedient Christian lifestyle.

Church Names – Farnham bemoans the fact that some IFB churches have removed “Baptist” and/or “Church” from their names, opting instead for such compromised, culture-pleasing titles as “The Potter’s House” or “Messiah Fellowship.”

As Christians, we all have beliefs and opinions regarding these secondary issues. The IFB movement no doubt represents the most conservative of viewpoints. I attended an IFB church from 1983 to 1991 and the focus and constant brow-beating over the “dos and don’ts” is a bitter memory. The IFB is no doubt in steep decline compared to those days and this book testifies to the increasing squabbling and infighting as the movement struggles to survive and an ever-growing number of IFB pastors fail to “hold the line.” Some readers of this review may be surprised that pants and short hair on women are still issues. Yup, they are in the IFB. Farnham doesn’t mention it in this book, but another disturbing characteristic of IFB churches is their idolatrous propagation of American Christian nationalism. Whether IFB pastors like it or not, the term, “fundamentalist,” is resoundingly understood as a pejorative by the general public these days. The movement’s prideful loyalty to that other-era term is a stumbling block to the Gospel it professes to desire to sow.

Farnham has a few good points. As Christians we can rationalize and become too chummy with the world. But the IFB’s extremism and “majoring on the minors” breeds a “bunker mentality” that pits the Christian against the world rather than fostering an emissarial approach to the world.

Recommended only for those curious about the current state of the IFB movement.

*IFB pastors stereotypically love to append their honorary doctorate titles to their names.

Throwback Thursday: Turn! Turn! Turn! Roger McGuinn and Jesus

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 24, 2016 and has been revised.

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As a young teen, I became a huge fan of the rock group, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). I was such a dedicated admirer that I even began exploring the back-catalogs of the members’ previous bands, including David Crosby’s stint with the Byrds. I eventually became a bigger fan of the Byrds than CS&N.

The Byrds came together in 1964 with Jim McGuinn on lead guitar and vocals, Gene Clark on vocals, David Crosby on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Hillman on bass, and Michael Clarke on drums. They were all folk musicians who had seen the writing on the wall with the rising tide of Beatlemania and attempted to make the switch to rock ‘n’ roll. Their resulting sound, with the instantly-identifiable, jingle-jangle of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar and Crosby’s high vocal harmonies, was a unique blend of folk and rock; a synthesis of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

The Byrds’ first two albums were wildly successful and influential, but the band’s popularity gradually waned as rock music began drifting toward a “heavier” sound. Over the years, band members came and went and by 1968, McGuinn (pronounced mik-gwin) remained as the only founding member. But McGuinn and his hired hands continued to release albums and tour as the Byrds until 1973 when he disbanded the group to begin his solo career.

At the peak of the Byrd’s popularity, McGuinn, a former Roman Catholic, began dabbling in Subud, a form of Eastern religiosity, and subsequently changed his first name from Jim to Roger in 1967 as part of his initiation. The Byrds’ recorded repertoire included a large number of songs with a spiritual theme, which no doubt reflected McGuinn’s restless spiritual search: Turn! Turn! Turn!, 5D, I Am A Pilgrim, The Christian Life, Oil in My Lamp, Jesus Is Just Alright, Glory Glory, and Farther Along.

Drugs were a staple of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and McGuinn was a regular imbiber. By 1977, heavy drug use had brought McGuinn to the lowest point in his life. Elvis Presley’s drug-induced death in August of that year was a wake up call. McGuinn thought to himself, “That could have easily been me.” The Holy Spirit was working in McGuinn’s life and after talking with some Christian friends, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Being a huge Byrds fan at the time (and currently still), I thought McGuinn’s acceptance of Christ and becoming one of those “born-agains” was some very strange and disappointing stuff. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit was using McGuinn’s conversion, along with many other people and things, to also prod me along. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior six years later in 1983.

McGuinn’s witness continued to affect my life. Five years ago (2015), I was reading an online article in which Roger described how he and his wife had a daily devotion time together, during which they read a Psalm, a Proverb, and a chapter from the Old and New Testaments and prayed. My wife and I had never had a daily devotion time together. I suggested it to my wife and she gladly agreed and it’s been a huge blessing in our lives ever since!

At the age of 78, Roger continues to tour and delight audiences. Nobody plays the twelve-string quite like him.

Just one look, back, at the Hollies

It’s time for a little pandemic lockdown frivolity!

The Hollies: Look Through Any Window, 1963-1975
Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2011, 120 minutes

4 Stars

I’ve told the story several times about how I became a fan of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young) back in 1969 at the age of thirteen. I liked the group so much that I delved into the back catalogs of the members’ previous bands; David Crosby’s Byrds and Steve Stills’ (and Neil Young’s) Buffalo Springfield. To each their own, but of the three amigos, I liked Graham Nash’s songs the least. They were way too heavy on the saccharine for my taste. But being the nerdy completist that I was, I also lightly delved into the back catalog of Nash’s previous band, the Hollies.

During this COVID-19 quarantine, I was looking to fill some time and stumbled across this documentary on Amazon and decided to queue it up on the turntable for a spin for nostalgia’s sake.

Graham Nash and Allan Clarke grew up as grammar school mates in Manchester, England and both had a talent for singing. With the rise of rock and roll, the pair aspired to forming their own band. The duo founded the Hollies in 1962, and after several personnel changes, they cemented their hit-making line-up in 1966 with Clarke as the lead vocalist and frontman, Nash on rhythm guitar (barely) and vocals, Tony Hicks on lead guitar and vocals, Bernie Calvert on bass guitar, and Bobby Elliot on drums. The band had phenomenal success in the U.K.  – 18 Top Ten singles – and to a lesser degree, in the States (6 Top Ten). The Hollies were especially noted for their unique vocal blend with Nash’s high harmonies nicely complementing Clarke’s tenor lead and Hicks rounding out the bottom.

Like the Beatles and most of the other bands that were part of the early years of the British Invasion (1964-1967), the Hollies were strictly a pop band that played songs with simple melodies and simple lyrics for their teeny bopper audiences. But whereas the Beatles and others progressed into more sophisticated musical forms, the Hollies largely stayed in their bubble-gum lane. A frustrated Nash prodded the group to expand their horizons, resulting in the slightly-adventurous albums, “Evolution” (1967) and “Butterfly” (1967), but the increasing tensions caused him to finally part with the band in 1968 and begin his tenure with CSN&Y.

This documentary traces the history of the Hollies from their start to their less-successful, post-Nash years. There’s interesting interviews with Nash, Clarke, Hicks, and Elliot. Twenty-two song performances are included in the video. Some are live and some are lip-synched. The only criticism I have of this documentary is that each song is played in its entirety. Many of the lesser-known songs should have been sampled and the interview segments expanded.

Clarke retired from the band in 2000 and Hicks and Elliot soldier on as the Hollies with journeymen filling the slots. The Hollies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Hollies’ 18 U.K. Top Ten singles:

  • 1963 – Stay
  • 1964 – Just One Look – Here I Go Again – We’re Through
  • 1965 – Yes I Will – I’m Alive – Look Through Any Window
  • 1966 – I Can’t Let Go – Bus Stop – Stop, Stop, Stop
  • 1967 – On A Carousel – Carrie-Anne
  • 1968 – Jennifer Eccles
  • 1969 – Sorry Suzanne – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother
  • 1970 – I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top
  • 1974 – The Air That I Breathe
  • 1988 – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother (re-release)

Three “shoulda been Top Tens”: One of my favorite Hollies songs, “Dear Eloise” (1967), wasn’t released as a single in the U.K. and only made it to #50 in the U.S. Although it performed only modestly in the U.K. (#32), “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” (1971) was a huge #2 hit in the U.S.  The excellent “Long Dark Road” (1972) was released only in the U.S. and peaked at a disappointing #26.

Postscript: As the documentary ends and the closing credits roll, an excellent 1971 rendition of the Hollies singing “Amazing Grace” a capella plays in the background.

Crosby vs. McGuinn: Year 52

I’m not one to pay much attention to soap operas, but I’ve been observing this one for fifty years…

Growing up back in the 1960s, my five older sisters always had a Beatles LP spinning on the turntable. But I eventually blazed my own trail by becoming a fan of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which led to exploring David Crosby’s back-catalog with the Byrds. I really loved the Byrds with their signature sound of Roger McGuinn’s jingly-jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar complemented by Crosby’s high vocal harmonies. But I also learned there had been tremendous discord in the camp. Laid-back McGuinn was the de facto leader of the group, however, the free-spirited, outspoken Crosby constantly grated against that. As Crosby developed as a songwriter, the conflicts and tensions escalated to the point that McGuinn and Byrds’ bassist, Chris Hillman, drove to Crosby’s house one afternoon in 1967 and fired him from the band.

Crosby went on to bigger things with CS&N, but the resentment and discord never completely healed. By 1969, McGuinn was the only founding band member remaining, but he kept the ersatz Byrds going until 1973. His subsequent solo career achieved only so-so success and he spiraled into heavy drug use. In 1977, at rock-bottom, former-Roman Catholic, McGuinn, accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior! At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh, no! McGuinn has become one of those born-agains!”

McGuinn and Crosby have kept in touch – barely – over the years and participated together in a few (very) short-term projects, however McGuinn keeps a bit of a distance. He has repeatedly resisted Crosby’s MANY overtures to reunite the remaining Byrds (himself, Crosby, and Hillman) for a concert tour. On the occasion of the band’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the Byrds noticeably did not reunite because of McGuinn’s reluctance. McGuinn has explained in a couple of interviews that he declines to be yoked with unbeliever Crosby in another venture (2 Corinthians 6:14). I’m sure that McGuinn deals with many unbelievers in his ongoing solo career, but the thing about Crosby is he’s still very pushy, spews obscenities in his regular conversation, and constantly tokes marijuana.

Despite their differences, McGuinn has had nothing but kind remarks to say to, and about, his former bandmate, but Crosby’s recent documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” has reopened old wounds. Crosby, who is well-known for his frequent and blunt chatter on Twitter, recently blocked McGuinn from his account. Well, he’s undoubtedly hurt that McGuinn refuses work with him.

The McGuinn-Crosby friendship/feud has been played out in public for 52 years. Why should we even care about this on-again, off-again soap opera? Because it’s an amazing irony. Crosby still crusades for peace, love, and harmony in his songs and tours, but he’s not going to find it outside of Jesus Christ.

Note how the Tweeter below supports Crosby’s decision to block his old bandmate by scoffing at McGuinn for proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel in a tweet he posted back in March:

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David Crosby Does Not Want to Read Roger McGuinn’s Tweets
https://www.spin.com/2019/12/david-crosby-roger-mcguinn-twitter-block/

The birth of “folk-rock” in the hills of Los Angeles

Echo in the Canyon
Directed by Andrew Slater and featuring Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Jakob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, and Lou Adler
Greenwich Entertainment, 2018, 82 min

4 Stars

In the early-1960s, young people gravitated to two types of music; there was rock-and-roll for teeny boppers and the “unsophisticated,” and there was folk music for college students and the “socially conscious.” Both groups eyed each other and their music with contempt. But when the Beatles came to America in 1964 and took the country by storm with their infectious brand of rock-and-roll, a few young folk musicians took notice.

In Los Angeles, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn hooked up with fellow struggling folkies, Gene Clark and David Crosby, to form the Byrds and together they created a synthesis of folk music and rock-and-roll. It was one of those rare moments of “game-changing” creativity. The new style of music, dubbed “folk-rock,” was a huge success and had a powerful influence. Both the Beatles and Bob Dylan, folk music’s premier troubadour, were paying attention and changed course; the Beatles became more cerebral and Dylan plugged in. Young musicians and songwriters who were hip to the new sound flocked to Los Angeles where it was “happening.” With some serious paychecks now coming in, Crosby bought a house in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and was followed by many other like-minded artists. For a brief period, 1965-1968, Laurel Canyon was THE place to be.

Former record company executive, Andrew Slater, put together this documentary to capture some of the excitement of that particular time and place. Host, Jakob Dylan (son of Bob), takes the audience on a journey that includes archived footage and interviews. Dylan and his young friends (Beck, Jade Castrinos, Justine Bennett, Regina Spektor) ruminate on the impact the Laurel Canyon sound had on popular music and perform some of the old chestnuts in concert.

I had been meaning to catch “Echo in the Canyon” at Rochester’s art house movie theater. Having missed it there, I was pleased to see it was already available via Amazon Prime videos. Being an old Byrds/Buffalo Springfield fan, I really enjoyed this documentary. But I was even happier when I listened to my wife describe the film to one of our sons over the phone the next day. She told him the Laurel Canyon musicians sang about peace, love, and universal brotherhood, but they couldn’t get along themselves. Hey, that’s my line! Yup, Jesus Christ is the ONLY answer.

Postscript: Many have asked why one of Laurel Canyon’s most celebrated former residents and artists, Joni Mitchell, is conspicuously missing from this documentary? Well, Joni has been scathingly critical of Bob Dylan in several interviews and I’m sure Jakob Dylan was not enthusiastic about featuring her in any form or fashion. Peace? Love? Harmony?

David Crosby: A lot of questions, but no answers and time is running out

David Crosby: Remember My Name
Directed by A.J. Eaton, Sony Classics, 2019, 1 hr 35 min

4 Stars

A couple of Thursdays ago, my wife and I went to the theater to see the documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” David Crosby was a founding member of two very popular and influential bands from the 1960s and 70s; the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). I became a fan of CS&N back in 1969 when I was thirteen-years-old and bought every record those guys cranked out in their various permutations over the next eight years. I especially enjoyed Crosby’s unconventional songs with their weird guitar tunings. And what a voice! Crosby was one of the great singers in rock and roll. Learning that Crosby had previously been a member of the Byrds, I eventually bought the entire back-catalog of that band as well and grew to like their music even more than CS&N’s.

Crosby has led an “interesting” life. The Byrds achieved phenomenal success in 1965 with their breakout folk-rock single and album, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Crosby played rhythm guitar and contributed masterful vocal harmonies. He also began writing songs and the band’s third and fourth albums featured his unconventional and uncommercial compositions. An extroverted and outspoken personality, he became a leading figure in the Los Angeles and San Francisco counter-culture scenes. However, Crosby’s confrontational temperament made him an insufferable bandmate and he was notoriously fired from the group in 1967 during the recording of the Byrds’ fifth album.

Crosby landed on his feet, to say the least, when he hooked up with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in 1969 to form CS&N. The group became arguably the most popular and successful rock band in the world in 1970-1971. But with the money and fame also came misery. The accidental death of Crosby’s girlfriend in 1969 led to a long depression that was exacerbated by drugs. Squabbles within the band led to a constant pattern of breakups and reunions. Crosby’s spiraling drug addiction led to increasingly frequent run-ins with law enforcement, which eventually led to a 5-month prison stretch in 1986.

Following his prison release, a drug-free Crosby returned to CS&N, but the group had largely devolved into an oldies touring band. Internal conflicts permanently broke up the band in 2016. Freed from CS&N’s constraints, an aging Crosby improbably caught a creative second wind, releasing four solo albums in the past five years.

This one-and-a-half hour documentary is as disturbing as it is entertaining. The now seventy-eight-year-old musician contemplates with great regret his soured relationships with his ex-bandmates in the Byrds and CS&N. Both groups sang songs exhorting everyone to live together in peace, love, and universal brotherhood, but they themselves were glaringly not able to do so. In addition, Croz admits that he steamrolled over hundreds of women in his pursuit of selfish sexual pleasure as a celebrated “rock star.” He also bemoans wasting ten years of his life while in the throes of drug addiction, although he continues to be a heavy marijuana user.

Crosby is now an old man in very poor health. He knows he is close to death and fears his end. Has he considered the Good News! Gospel of salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ? Below is a snippet from a 2017 interview:

Q: How do you feel about religion?

A: “I think it’s absolute nonsense. It’s fairy-tales.”

Q: So would you call yourself an atheist?

A: “Yeah, certainly an agnostic. I just don’t like it because even when it starts out as a good idea, ‘Love thy neighbor’ for example, not a bad idea, when it winds up as the Inquisition or the Crusades, it’s gotten out of hand. What happens with religion seriously, starts out as a great thing and then winds up a way for a few to manipulate the many.” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/david-crosby-a-certified_b_8079334

Crosby knows about institutional religiosity, but he doesn’t know the Lord. Throughout his entire career, Crosby has written and sang about some of the great questions of human existence, but he has yet to find any solid answers. We enjoy the work of talented, secular artists, but all they can do is make observations or ask questions, they cannot provide answers. I appreciated Crosby’s honesty in this documentary regarding his fear of his impending death. There is an answer to his fears and His name is Jesus Christ. Do you fear death as well? You should if you are not a Christian. Repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

When the Flying Burrito Brothers introduced me to Bluegrass music

Last week, I wrote a post about my appreciation for Bluegrass music (see here) and that appreciation all began with the LP…

“Last of the Red Hot Burritos”
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Producer: Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Release date: May, 1972, Length: 34:45

5 Stars

The Flying Burrito Brothers had already crashed and burned as a band by the time this album was released in 1972. Ex-Byrds, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, had formed the group back in 1968, hoping to pursue their dream of melding country music, R&B, and rock-and-roll. Their debut LP, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” remains a pioneering classic (see my review here), but Parsons’ descent into drug and alcohol addiction quickly spelled trouble. Their sophomore release, “Burrito Deluxe,” was uneven, and their Parsons-less, eponymous third album, although pleasant, was uninspiring.

After four years, with zero commercial success, Hillman had had enough and decided to pull the plug. To fulfill their contractual obligations, the band released this live album. I liked it a lot and it ranked right up there as one of my most-played LPs back in my high school heydays. At its end, when this album was recorded, the band consisted of Hillman on bass and lead vocals, Rick Roberts on rhythm guitar and vocals, Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar, Kenny Wertz on guitar and banjo and vocals, and another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke on drums. For the short Bluegrass set, Byron Berline (fiddle) and Roger Bush (upright bass) came out on stage and helped out.

Side One

  • “Christine’s Tune (aka Devil in Disguise)” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:54 – A great tune from the band’s debut album with plenty of tasty pedal steel licks from Perkins.
  • “Six Days on the Road” (Earl Green, Carl Montgomery) – 3:03 – The boys do their rendition of this classic truck driving ditty. The song had been a #2 country hit for Dave Dudley in 1963 and was a staple in Burrito concerts.
  • “My Uncle” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 2:20 – Another song from the band’s debut; a lament about being drafted during the Vietnam War.
  • “Dixie Breakdown” (Jimmie Lunceford, Don Reno) – 2:17 – With this tune and the following two, Hillman and the Burritos add Berline and Bush to the mix and do it up Bluegrass style. This is a classic 1958 bluegrass song from Don Reno. Hillman contributes an excellent mandolin solo.
  • “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (Louise Certain, Gladys Stacey Flatt, Jerry Organ, Wayne Walker) – 2:20 – Roger Bush does a nice job on lead vocals on this 1925 classic. It doesn’t get much “rootsier” than this.
  • “Orange Blossom Special” (Ervin T. Rouse) – 3:39 – Byron Berline and his fiddle shine on this 1938 classic. I thoroughly enjoyed these three Bluegrass numbers and it’s clear from the live recording that the audience did as well.

Side Two

  • “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (Homer Banks, Deanie Parker) – 3:20 – The Burritos deftly put a country spin on this 1966 Stax-Memphis, driving R&B soul tune. Yeah, Al Perkins could play.
  • “High Fashion Queen” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:22 – From their “Burritos Deluxe” album.
  • “Don’t Fight It” (Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper) – 2:56 – Another countrification of an R&B tune, this one written by Wilson Pickett in 1965.
  • “Hot Burrito #2” (Chris Ethridge, Gram Parsons) – 4:35 – One of the best songs from the band’s debut LP.
  • “Losing Game” (James Carr, Dennis Weaver) – 2:59 – Hillman struggles a bit with his vocals on this R&B song written by Memphis soul artist, James Carr, in 1967.

Postscript: Back when album covers were considered works of art, this LP cover was a simply a thing of beauty. Credit goes to famous album cover illustrator, Joe Garnett. Being the completist that I am, I’m going to have to review the Burrito’s 2nd and 3rd studio LPs somewhere down the road.

How a Yankee New Yorker became a fan of Bluegrass Music

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a birthday bash for my wife and after everybody left, I crawled into bed and aimlessly surfed the cable channels as is my nightly custom. When I got to PBS, I saw they were broadcasting a documentary about the history of Bluegrass music. Are you kidding me? I love Bluegrass music! I watched the show for about thirty-minutes until I started to fall asleep, but caught the entire thing via on-demand the next day. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of Blugrass, you’ll really enjoy this documentary:

Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music
Produced by Kentucky Educational Television
PBS premier, August 30th, 2019, Length: 1 hr 58 min
To view online see here.

So how does a person born and raised in Western New York become a fan of “hillbilly” Bluegrass music?

While I was growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. in the 1960s, my older sisters always had their Beatles records blasting from the family phonograph. Having a mind of my own, I eventually adopted the Byrds* as my favorite band, but other musical forms piqued my interest as well. I can clearly remember hearing the opening theme music of “The Beverley Hillbillies” television comedy when it premiered in 1962 and being absolutely fascinated by the lightning-quick banjo picking of Earl Scruggs (accompanied by guitarist, Lester Flatt). Flatt and Scruggs caught my attention again, as well as the rest of the nation, when their Bluegrass tunes were featured in the 1968 film, “Bonnie and Clyde.” Then there was the popular “Dueling Banjos” song featured in the 1972 movie, “Deliverance.” No, I didn’t have any Bluegrass records yet, but I definitely liked the sound.

Chris Hillman started out very young as a Bluegrass mandolin player, but was drafted into rock and roll as the bassist for the Byrds in 1964. With Hillman on board, the Byrds did take some notable excursions into country music, but he quit the group in 1968 andCapture14 attempted to combine rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music with his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The experiment, documented by three studio albums, was artistically brave and noteworthy, but a commercial failure. Hillman and the FBBs ended their four-year run with the release of the live LP, “The Last of the Red Hot Burritos,” in 1972. The latter-day Burritos had begun including a Bluegrass set within their concerts and this album featured three Bluegrass performances, “Dixie Breakdown,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I loved it. I mean, really loved it. No, I didn’t run out and buy a bunch of Bluegrass albums, but I definitely had an affinity for the music. Hmm. Do I sense an album review coming up in the near-future?

Years passed by and as I was walking through Borders Book Store in 1995, a new CD wasCapture15 being played through the store’s sound system; “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection,” a retrospective of the early recordings of Bluegrass artist, Alison Krauss. Wow! Great music! I bought that CD and eventually also bought Krauss’ five-album back catalog and stayed current with her new releases.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the artists and some of the history of the Bluegrass genre. Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with taking various strains of Appalachian roots music and melding them into Bluegrass beginning in the 1930s. In Bluegrass, you’ll often hear songs with Gospel themes. Hillman has continued to feature Bluegrass on his solo albums. I generally don’t buy CDs anymore, but I will make an exception for a new Krauss album (although she’s sadly been crossing over into mainstream music more and more). Mandolinist, Sierra Hull, is pretty good, too.

So, that’s how a Yankee, born and raised, improbably became a fan of Bluegrass music.

*The lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McQuinn, came from a folk background. He didn’t know any better and multiple-finger picked his twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar like he had his banjo, creating a unique, “jingle-jangle” sound that became the band’s signature.

Remembering the Summer of 1969: Part 1 – Woodstock

I grew up during the turbulent 1960s and I can remember that decade very well. Just about every day, there seemed to be something in the news about the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, or the burgeoning youth/counter culture movement.

Towards the end of the decade, young people had the optimistic hope that the old institutions were crumbling and that we were all heading into a new and marvelous era of peace, love, and universal brotherhood. In books, films, and music, especially music, writers and artists were anticipating this coming Age of Aquarius.

“But the age of truth will soon appear, Aquarius arrives…”
– from “Right Between the Eyes” by Graham Nash, written in 1968

A pop song, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” caught the imagination of the entire country just prior to the summer of 1969:

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius
Aquarius! Aquarius!
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was originally written by Rado, Ragni, and MacDermot for the 1967 Broadway musical, “Hair,” but The 5th Dimension’s rendition caught the imagination of young people across America. The single was released in March 1969 and reached the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart where it stayed for six weeks in April and May.

I had just turned thirteen in the summer of 1969 and I was somewhat aware of the Woodstock music festival in Bethel, New York, about 230 miles southeast of Rochester, which was fully-billed as the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair – an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” The festival ran from August 15 to 18, and back in Rochester we heard daily reports on the television news that weekend about the New York State Thruway being shut down by the logjam of cars belonging to the festival goers.

When I returned to my Catholic grammar school in September, our resident eighth-grade hippie classmate, Bill DeFraine (d. 2016), was exuberant about the Woodstock “happening,” but was short on details. Those would come later with the release of the documentary film, “Woodstock” on March 26, 1970 and the triple-album, “Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More” on May 11, 1970.

There’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty details of the festival for our purposes except to note that thirty-two music acts had performed during the weekend in front of almost half-a-million concertgoers. Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young) would leverage their Woodstock appearance into becoming the “voice of a generation.”

“We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
– from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell and popularized by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young* with their single version, released in March, 1970, which peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

There was no sign of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the festival. It goes without saying that few of the 400,000+ attendees (or the musical performers for that matter) were actually full-bore, new-age Aquarian astrologists, but most readily supported the festival’s faux-spirituality of “wine, women, and song,” including the nebulous notion of “universal brotherhood.”

Woodstock is now just a 50-year-old memory and many of the young people who attended the event subsequently became part of the very “establishment” they had previously claimed to abhor. The natural man is constantly searching and flailing about for some type of meaning to life and the universe, and the faux Age of Aquarius and the Woodstock Nation were just two more false hopes among countless others.

Jesus Christ is the ONLY Salvation and Hope. Learn about Him and trust in Him as your Savior. He doesn’t go out of style. He’s the eternal Rock Who never fails.

How can I be saved?
https://www.gotquestions.org/how-can-I-be-saved.html

Woodstock symbolized the idealistic hope of young people in 1969-70 and was widely believed to be part of the dawning of a new era of peace, love, and universal brotherhood. But the highly anticipated Age of Aquarius wasn’t to be. A few other events in August, 1969 took a lot of the luster off of the idealism of the “Woodstock Nation” that we’ll discuss on Friday.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14

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Above: Woodstock’s official poster, advertising the event as an Aquarian exposition

*Quite revealingly, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who had harmonized about peace, love, and brotherhood at Woodstock in 1969, did not reunite for their 50th anniversary this year because, basically, they can’t stand to even be in the same room together.

Fifty-years of The Gilded Palace of Sin

The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Larry Marks, A&M Records, Released February 6, 1969, Length: 37:24

5 Stars

The Byrds had recorded the groundbreaking country-rock album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” in 1968, but personal and artistic differences led members Gram Parsons followed by Chris Hillman to leave the band shortly afterwards. The two country music enthusiasts soon teamed up again to realize their vision of country and rock-and-roll fusion with the formation of the  Flying Burrito Brothers. For a couple of months, Parsons and Hillman holed up together in a rented house dubbed “Burrito Manor” in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley and wrote a collection of excellent tunes. With Hillman on rhythm guitar and Parsons on acoustic guitar and keyboards, they rounded out their sound with the addition of Chris Ethridge on bass and Pete “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on pedal steel guitar (four session drummers were used on the debut LP). A&M Records was attempting to beef up its rock and roll footprint at the time and unwittingly signed the Burritos, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

When “The Gilded Palace of Sin” was released in early-1969, it landed with a huge thud, peaking at only #164 on the Billboard 200. Rock and roll audiences were not quite ready for the synthesis of country and rock music. But recording artists and music enthusiasts are keenly aware of this excellent pioneering effort.

The Burritos’ legacy was a short one. Their second studio album was disappointing as Parsons descended deeper and deeper into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse. Hillman fired Parsons in 1970 and released the third and final Burritos studio LP in 1971. After two uneven solo projects (both prominently featuring a relatively unknown, young vocalist by the name of Emmylou Harris), Parsons died of a drug-overdose in 1973. Hillman would go on to have a long career, most notably as the front man for the successful country group, The Desert Rose Band, from 1985 to 1994.

While the Flying Burrito Brothers’ tenure was brief, music fans have been enjoying the “The Gilded Palace of Sin” for fifty years.

Side One

  • Christine’s Tune (Parsons, Hillman) – A bitter diatribe lambasting the former founder of the Byrds’ fan club who was meddling in the band members’ already-troubled marriages. A great tune. As in the rest of the album, Hillman’s steady harmonies perfectly complement Parson’s more adventurous and fragile lead vocals. Sneaky Pete’s rocked-up pedal steel solos are overdone here, but most of his contributions on this disc are excellent.
  • Sin City (Parsons, Hillman) – Hillman takes aim at the Byrds’ money-grubbing, former manager, Larry Spector. This is a country-rock classic that has been covered by many artists over the years. In this case, “Sin City” isn’t Las Vegas, but Los Angeles, and the former manager is portrayed as the much-anticipated object of the Lord’s retribution. Listen here.
  • Do Right Woman (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Parsons included this and another Moman-Penn penned “Southern Soul” tune immediately following, showing his interest in fusing country, rock, and blue-eyed soul into a gumbo of “Cosmic American Music.” That’s David Crosby providing some vocal harmonies.
  • Dark End of the Street (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Sneaky Pete’s use of the pedal steel guitar as a rock-and-roll lead guitar was radically innovative.
  • My Uncle (Parsons, Hillman) – Parsons received his draft notice in the mailbox during the height of the Vietnam War, prompting this tongue-in-cheek promise to head “for the nearest foreign border.” Parsons subsequently received a 4-F deferment. He was actually the very last person in the country the U.S. Army would have wanted in uniform. In this song, Hillman goes back to his bluegrass roots with some nice mandolin weaving around Sneaky Pete’s tasty steel licks.

Side Two

  • Wheels (Hillman, Parsons) – Parsons’ paean to motorcycles following a minor accident with his BSA bike. He sings, “I’ll turn to Him who made my faith so strong.”
  • Juanita (Hillman, Parsons) – His woman left him and he’s lower than the floor; the grist for about 90% of country music songs.
  • Hot Burrito #1 (Ethridge, Parsons) – Speaking of a song about a woman leaving her man, Parsons scores the very best vocal of his short career with this lament dripping with palatable pathos. Ethridge brought the melody to Parsons who added the lyrics. Listen here.
  • Hot Burrito #2 (Ethridge, Parsons) – What? Yet another song about a broken relationship? Yes, and another Ethridge melody with lyrics by Parsons. An outstanding Parsons vocal. The improbably titled Hot Burrito #1 and #2 are the finest songs on a great album.
  • Do You Know How It Feels (Parsons, Barry Goldberg) – The fourth song in a row about a relationship breakup. Parsons sings in a traditional Country-Western style. Co-writer, Goldberg, would have a long career and eventually end up in Stephen Stills’ The Rides.
  • Hippie Boy (Hillman, Parsons) – Hillman talk-sings through a dirge about a hippie and “redneck” trying to find common ground over the death of a hippie boy. The song was generally a plea for the generations to be more tolerant towards each other at the time of the turbulent sixties and specifically a plea for the country music community to be more accepting of “hippies” like Parsons and Hillman.

There are references to the Lord throughout the album, and much of that no doubt can be attributed to Parsons’ upbringing in Waycross, Georgia, deep in the Bible Belt. Parsons, like many other people, knew ABOUT the Lord Jesus Christ, but he didn’t KNOW Him. Parsons tried to find peace, truth, and fulfillment in the bottle, the pill box, in music, and in fame, but there was no lasting peace or redemption to be found in those things.

Chris Hillman Reflects on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ at 50
https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8496642/chris-hillman-flying-burrito-brothers-gilded-palace-sin