Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for April 15, 2011

Today's Flashback is brought to you by Montgomery Theater's 

[Hail Mary!] -- First off, I'm kidding about the "brought to you by" message that introduces this post. The Friday 80s Flashback does not have a corporate sponsor ... at least not yet (c'mon, HP, Google, someone ... call me). But this morning, I heard Morgan Spurlock in a radio interview as he talked about his latest "docbuster" (i.e., documentary blockbuster), The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Spurlock's new film explores corporate sponsorship and the future of branding. I find this interesting because corporate sponsorship started with the media boom, which helped grow commercial radio and television, but the practice pretty much exploded in the 80s and 90s (college bowl games and stadium naming rights coming into play). All of which led many of us in the 80s to ponder the question that Spurlock pointedly asks in his film: What if we lived in a world where everything was "brought to you by" some corporate sponsor? And, trust me, the irony of it all is not lost on him.

Anyway, back to the business at hand.

Regular visitors to Prophet or Madman know that I love my 80s music. What you might not know, however, is my love of live theater -- it is such a fantastic and powerful medium for storytelling. Now, I have been involved with a small professional theater in Souderton, PA, for the last several years. And this is opening weekend for our production of Tom Dudzick's "Hail Mary!" As with the previous Dudzick plays I have worked on ("Greetings!" and "Over the Tavern"), I am quite taken with the message in the script: Shine your light in this weary world, because that's just what the world needs. To be a little more specific, without giving up the full plot, "Hail Mary!" is also about sponsorship of sorts (see what I did there?). The play could just as easily be asking, "Who do you want to be sponsoring God?" or "Does God really need a sponsor at all?" or "Sure, that's what [insert institution's name] taught you, but how is it really working for you?" You see, your worldview is "brought to you by" someone or something. And, much like our downtown view has been hijacked by billboards and other signage touting various corporate messages, our opportunity for a peaceful world has been hijacked by the sponsors of competing worldviews. It might be time to cleanup the public space of our hearts and minds. For folks engaged, or even interested, in interfaith dialogue (another passion of mine), the core themes of this play will truly strike a chord that resonates long after the final bow.

For more information about the production, please visit Montgomery Theater's page, Hail Mary Opens This Weekend. To learn what selections this play has inspired for this week, read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1"Oh, Mary don't you weep. Martha don't you mourn." 

Our first flashback artist is an a cappella gospel act. Formed by students at Alabama's Oakwood College in 1980, they first called themselves The Gentlemen's Estates Quartet and later performed as Alliance. After signing a contract with Warner Brothers in 1987, they changed their name to Take 6. Their eponymous and critically acclaimed debut album was released in 1988 and it earned the group two Grammys and three Dove awards. Our first flashback of the day, however, is not one of the three singles from Take 6. Instead, I have chosen their performance of the spiritual, "Mary" (also known as "Mary Don't You Weep"). For the purpose of our flashback, this song represents the titular character in "Hail Mary!" and it also speaks to the long tradition of the faith she alternately loves and struggles against.

Here is Take 6 performing "Mary" on the Arsenio Hall Show.

Flashback #2
"I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours, but think that God's got a sick sense of humor. And when I die, I expect to find Him laughing." 

One theme addressed in "Hail Mary!" is the question of who knows the mind of God. The folks who represent the Catholic tradition, or even those radicals who flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings, would certainly find the view expressed in our second flashback to be rather blasphemous. But is it any less blasphemous to saddle children with the idea that some of their actions actually hurt their loving father in heaven? What idea is more damaging: That of a laughing deity; or that of an angry and vindictive deity? You can make your own choices, but I know that my vision of divinity holds more room for laughter than corporeal punishment. I suspect Depeche Mode, who released "Blasphemous Rumours" as the third single off their fourth studio album, Some Great Reward (1984), also struggled with the notions of God they learned as children. Not surprisingly, "Blasphemous Rumours" was considered offensive and even banned by some U.S. radio stations. I found it to be beautiful and poignant. The song has aged well, in my opinion, and is still a worthy meditation on God, death, chance, and teachings that surround these topics. If you are interested, there is even an 8:00 minute, mini-movie version of the video that explores the story in more depth. The casual 80s-phile can simply enjoy the "official" music video here:

Flashback #3
"Hope you find it in everything, everything that you see. Hope you find it. Hope you find it. Hope you find it in you." 

As I mentioned in the January 7, 2011 Flashback, Howard Jones' Human's Lib (1983) was the first compact disc I ever purchased. All four singles from this album reached the UK top 20, the first two of which even reached the US top 50. Of these four, the third single best represents the worldview that Mary and Father Stanley espouse in Tom Dudzick's "Hail Mary!" Well, it doesn't show a complete worldview, but it is a good base from which to start. Released in 1984, "Hide and Seek" paints a picture of a cosmic being who engages in creating an entire universe while hoping that the created will find the spark of creation within themselves. This theme is repeated in the story of a young woman who plays the game of life while trying to find where she had hidden herself in a world of her own creation. This song offers no pat answers, no stunting dogma. Where is the cosmic being now? Did that woman find herself? We don't know. We are left only with our questions and a simple message, "Hope you find it in everything." As such, "Hide and Seek" imparts a quietly hopeful message amidst the somber and sometimes heavy synthesizer music. I think both Mary and Father Stanley would approve.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If you don't like the flashback, share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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