Friday, December 4, 2009

Baby Dee & the Archbishop

For parking purposes, the four-day Thanksgiving weekend lasted two weeks. If you were industrious enough to find a Friday-only spot on November 20th, today was the first day you would have had to move. This is because, as the Times noted last Saturday, the Muslim holiday Idul-Adah (commemorating Abraham’s not having to sacrifice Isaac) overlapped with Thanksgiving, giving alternate-side parkers a break on the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally a day of great ticket-giving by New York’s finest.

Of course, this schedule of parking meant not using the car at all over the holiday, but that need not keep one from travelling. For the holiday itself, I took the train to Hartsdale. On Monday, I took a bus to Newark airport for a nonstop flight to Madison, Wisconsin, to see Baby Dee perform, and flew back into LaGuardia via Milwaukee, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan operated before moving to New York. I treated myself to a taxi home from the airport.

It was all a bit of a whirl. For one thing, the night before Baby Dee played Madison, the Archbishop played—I mean, celebrated Mass at—St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village. It was the First Sunday of Advent. A friend had invited me, and I was excited—I don’t think I’d seen a bishop in person since my confirmation (plus we were going out afterward for fried artichokes). The Archbishop wore a high purple cone-shaped hat and deep-purple vestments. His crosier was immense and shiny. His face was pink, with a sweet perplexedness in the brow, and a glow, when he worked the crowd, that can only be described as, yes, beatific. Archbishop Dolan is a man of the people. Like Sarah Palin, he drops his “g”s: “I hope you know I love doin’ this.” The proper form of address for an archbishop, incidentally, is “Your Grace.”

I hope His Grace knows that I didn’t mean to be rude by taking notes in church and will forgive me if I mix them up with the notes I took at the Majestic Theatre, in Madison, where Baby Dee was opening for a duo called The Books. The Majestic was not as majestic as St. Joseph’s, which has a painting of the Transfiguration instead of the traditional Crucifix at the front, and crystal chandeliers hanging by chains wrapped in ice-blue crushed velvet from a Wedgwood-blue coffered ceiling. Still, the old movie theatre, which has been reconfigured into a performance space with folding chairs, a few tall tables, and a bar, was just as crowded as St. Joseph’s. The d├ęcor consisted of a single banner advertising a radio station with the call letters WORT. Both venues had balconies, and the Archbishop did not fail to play to the upper tiers. The Majestic had royal boxes on both sides. St. Joseph’s had a good piano; the Majestic had none.

Baby Dee took the stage bare-headed in a Dalmation-spotted hoodie. She started on the harp, with some of her inimitable dirges. After the second song, a few girls in the second row got up and left. “They realized they were in the wrong place,” Dee said later, more in pity than in condemnation. Anyway, their seats were soon filled. Dee did one of her most popular songs, “So Bad,” which includes the refrain “Jesus got my mom in there, and beat her up so bad.”

Then he took the bread into his hands and he broke it and said—no, that’s not right, though it reminds me that Communion provided the most awkward moment at St. Joseph’s. Of course, I don’t receive Communion—not that I have been excommunicated, like that Kennedy boy in Rhode Island; I am just too full of sin to participate. Everyone else in the church, however, rushed the communion rail; seated at mid-pew, I was like a boulder that the river of communicants had to flow around. But at the Majestic we all drank freely of the local beer (the Archbishop, I understand, enjoys a beer now and then) and cheered when Baby Dee moved from harp to accordion.

The Archbishop’s homily was, appropriately, about St. Joseph, and the value of silence and action and grace under pressure. Dee’s text was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which we first sang as tykes beside our grandmother’s piano. Dee’s version is called “Rudolph the Disgruntled Reindeer,” and Dee told the story of how she once sang it, inappropriately, to a group of children caroling in the Village, and as their horrified chaperones hustled them away, Satan himself turned to Dee and said, “What were you thinking?”

The more I think about it, the more I see the influence of religion on Dee’s material. She did a song about Mormon underwear, and one about “God’s Great Plan,” and finished up with “The Song of Self Acceptance” (these last two are from “The Baby Dee Hymnal”; the words can be found online at Baby Dee’s Song Lyrics). Everyone sang along on the last verse: “I’m not the only pisspot in the house.” I would say that Baby Dee was for the most part well received. She did not overstay her time onstage. The Books proved to be clean-cut guys with a guitar and a minimalist electric cello, who accompanied videos they had made from old tapes found at thrift shops. This stuff is not for everybody.

At home, there was more parking news: the advent of an app for parking. The application, using something called “crowdsourcing,” was devised by Bryan Choi, an alternate-side parker in Inwood, who very sweetly hopes that people will use it “to build a sense of community.” For Christmas I will have to ask Santa for an iphone.

1 comment:

Susan T. said...

Wonderful, MJN. I feel like I was there--in the Village and in Madison.