How Time Flies: Liturgical Music Edition


The building of the pyramids was more distant history to Cleopatra than she is to us.

More recently:

Civil War to now
From when Lee surrendered to Grant until sneak attack on Pearl Harbor is 3 years longer than from Pearl Harbor until supposedly sane people argue over whether or not it’s a good thing for a privileged, spoiled young woman to get naked while swinging on a wrecking ball.

More to the point:

Cole Porter to College Drop
In 1934, Cole Porter, a witty, talented and highly trained musician, was cranking out pop music that few serious musicians took seriously; in 1974, a bunch of amateurs of limited talent took over liturgical music in the name of ‘giving the kids what they wanted’; in 2014, what the kids want is evidently unmusical ‘songs’ that use obscenity to mock the very idea of education. Perhaps this is not mere coincidence?


To put this in perspective: Consider the top pop songs of 1974:

1974 hit songs

I was 16 in 1974. I can hum most of these songs to this day. (This was the year before I pretty much gave up on listening to pop music on the radio. The reason should be obvious.) As evidenced by the presence of these songs on the Billboard Top 100 chart, actual Americans parted with actual money to own these songs. For example, the totally forgettable bit of doggerel (perhaps the French original was more felicitous) married to a pre-school level tune Seasons in the Sun sold over 10 million copies.

More representative of the times would be Midnight at the Oasis“, a ditty about seduction in the desert that was rumored to have resulted in more illicit sexual encounters than any other song of that period. (Things have improved to point that, now days, nobody understands what ‘illicit’ means.)

Two things can be said for every song on this list without any fear of reasonable contradiction:  None of them are in the style of any St. Louis Jesuits tunes, and that every one of them is vastly superior, musically, to anything the SLJs wrote**.

Some sticklers might point out that there are 2 John Denver and 1 Jim Croce songs on this list, and that they represent the ‘folk’ style of “Neither Silver or Gold”.  This assumes the listener is effectively deaf. While Croce and particularly Denver are by no means great songwriters (like, say, Cole Porter or Paul McCartney), they are serious and accomplished to the point where their ‘style’ is so much more sophisticated than what the SLJs did as to be qualitatively different. Now, if Peter, Paul and Mary had a song on this list, that might work – even though they were much better musicians, they were closer to the SLJs than to Croce.

But Peter, Paul and Mary are not there. There isn’t a folk song of the kind the SLJs attempted to ape anywhere on the list.

Why is that? you might ask. Simple: the brief ‘folk’ infestation* was all but over 10 years prior, when Dylan started plugging in his guitar. Kids weren’t all that fond of ‘If I Had a Hammer’, when you come right down to it, and abandoned that style in droves once they had any other options.

So, here’s the point, which point has galled me lo these 40+ years: by the time the St. Louis Jesuits took over the world of liturgical music, no actual kids listened to folk music. The people who had listened to it were now in their mid to late 20s at the youngest. The kids who were kids in 1974 didn’t want folk music – that was what the SLJ thought they themselves wanted when *they* were kids (largely, one uncharitably supposes, because they could play it with the 5 and half guitar chords they had mastered at that point.) The kids probably had no opinion about what we wanted for liturgical music – as if what the kids want is the only or even an important consideration.

We were lied to. Mr. Hippie Ex-Seminarian and Sr. Moonbeam inflicted their idiotic ideas on us with no regard to what we wanted or – more important- needed, robbing us in the process of any connection to a greater Catholic world, and – visions of millstones dance in my head – chasing off most of 3 entire generations of Catholic kids, and crippling the rest.

Back to the fun timelines: in 2014, 40 years after the St. Louis Jesuits and *50* years after folk music effectively died as pop music, we still sing ‘contemporary’ ‘folk’ music, the label given to quasi-heretical doggerel set to infantile tunes meant to defeat any actual thought and rub out any blossoming of musical taste in us and our children. It’s reached the point where anyone who favors reverent, musical and theologically orthodox or even merely coherent lyrics is viewed as some sort of fuddy-duddy or reactionary.

Yet – what we call ‘contemporary’ music is as relevant to us now as the 1930’s music was to us then, back in 1974. Imagine if someone had brought a swing band into the sanctuary in 1974, telling us all the time that they were just trying to be ‘contemporary’ – that’s exactly what the current ‘contemporary’ music is doing to us now! (Of course, the people in swing bands could actually, you know, play. And read music. And people paid to hear them. How long do you think the OCP stable could pay the bills if they had to tour for a living? Not workshops – gigs. Not sales to parishes – sales to people with real discretion as to how they spend their money.)

Just because the aging nuns and ex priests and Protestants writing our songs are still alive doesn’t make what they write ‘contemporary’ in any sense that making a buggy whip today makes surreys contemporary. Can we just call it ‘hippie music’? actually, that’s it – from now on, in the name of eschewing Orwellian euphemism, I’m calling that style ‘aging hippie’ music. Imagine:

“No, I think I’ll go to the 5:30 p.m. Aging Hippie Mass.”

“So, ‘Be Not Afraid’ is your favorite aging hippie hymn?”

“Wow, you mean the St. Louis Jesuits are still *alive*? I thought all those aging hippie songwriters dies out with tie-dyed bell bottoms.”

Yes, I’ve been in better moods. Why do you ask?


* In the immortal words of Tom Leher: the reason folks songs are so bad is that they were written by the people.

** Yes, “Spiders and Snakes” is actually musically superior to anything the Jebbies wrote. No, really.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

5 thoughts on “How Time Flies: Liturgical Music Edition”

  1. If the songs really were as earthy and direct as traditional folk songs, as opposed to commercial faux-folk, they’d be less problematical. But in many cases they sound like show tunes sung by Disney Princesses.

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