Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter and Leon Russell

On the Joe Cocker album "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," in the bit of dialog before Joe, Leon, and the band, kill a version of the Beatles tune, "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window," is an unknown wonder.

You can hear Joe mention that it is Easter but in reality it is Good Friday and Joe is reluctantly playing at NYC's MSG. Joe has a lot of Catholic, and other religious fans, who were a bit upset at having to skip seeing Joe because of the Easter festivities, or get mortal sins scratched onto their respective spiritual ledgers.

Joe mumbles in the introduction, that "It's Easter," and that they are "living by the days" and then he fades away as he realizes that nothing he says next is going to come out sounding right to him or his fans. He literally stops speaking in mid-sentence, and seemingly loses his train of thought.

I suppose there is good cause for Joe being a little fried as the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," deal came about through bad communication, and craziness. And Joe, who thought he was in the USA for a vacation, suddenly found himself staring down 48 shows in 52 cities, without a band. 

Enter Leon Russell and the rest is, as they say, history.

So onstage on that Good Friday day, Leon Russell, stepped to the mike as he saw Joe lose his way and in that beautiful Southern Okie drawl he uttered some of the best religious advice I believe I have ever heard rendered anywhere.

Leon Russell said: 

"Don't get hung up about Easter." 

Then someone counted in the beat and they immediately went into the tune with no further comments. I think about that comment every Easter. Being a Catholic who grew up in a town peopled by field workers, Okies, Mexicans, and Holy Rollers of every stripe, these comments seemed like blasphemy.

In September of 1970, I got my appendix out. It was pretty routine except that I had the flu when I went into the hospital and they could not wait to get the thing out, so they operated anyway. The slight fever I had really went haywire when they cut me open. I remember fun stuff like lung suctioning, frozen sheets to get my temperature down, crazy medicines, and because my parents were good Catholics, and the doctors wanted to be sure, I got the Last Rites.

For those of you who did not have the benefit of being taught by women who could handle a yardstick like a Kata, the Last Rites are a group of prayers that are given to a person who is in danger of imminent death. I was so out of it I had no idea of why a priest was there speaking Latin, years after Vatican II.

On the way home from the hospital, we stopped at the local drugstore to get some medicine, and my mother decided that since I had survived beyond all odds, she would reward me by allowing me to buy my first record. All by myself, no questions asked. I looked over all those album covers, and Joe's picture was....different, and I was too.

The other thing was that the record was already marked down, and the druggist actually told my mother they were going to stop carrying records. I think that they found records like the one I was buying "distasteful." Of course I went home, listened, loved it, and felt reborn. I also never got hung up about Easter after that.

As you can see from this missive disguised as a blog post I managed to survive for a number of years now despite my best efforts to screw things up at every possible opportunity. The one thing I absolutely did right was marry and love my late wife for 23 years; 21 pretty happily married. She remade me into a fairly decent person, but she was not Catholic.

She was an American Baptist, and her faith was very important to her. The very real comfort I find on a day like Easter is the promise that she believed in so deeply. So when she died in November 2013 from lung cancer, I was, and remain, alternately bereft and joyous.

If there is such a thing as heaven, and Last Rites or not, I never have seen it, my late wife Ruth is there. It was her great reward for living a life beyond reproach. She never knowingly hurt anyone in her lifetime. On this day especially, I wish I could say the same, but I cannot.

What I can do is remember her and strive to be humble, patient, and try and break down walls rather than construct them. Already today some of the Easter news is tinged with hatred, and this past week has been a blight on humanity. Ruth would never want it to be that way. I know she would not. So here is a picture of my late wife on Easter Day, 1962. She will live forever in the hearts of those who loved her, and continue to love her. Try and love someone if you can.


Esther, Hobbs, Clara, Ruth, and Samuel Decker, Easter, 1962


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