Joe Franklin and Catholicism

UnknownSo radio and TV icon Joe Franklin died this week at the reported age of 88 (I don’t believe that for a second).  Joe was a real character and I met him a few times while working alongside him at the legendary WOR Radio in New York.

Fr. Paul Keenan’s show often preceded Joe’s and I remember that Fr. Paul, who brokered time on the station, was having a hard time coming up with the funds to keep his show on the air. (Editor’s note: Time brokering is when someone pays the station to host a show and they in turn, sell to their own advertisers, much like late night TV infomercials).  He considered cutting back and only brokering a half hour, but Joe Franklin told him, “Oh Father!  Don’t do that!  This is a time to expand, not contract!”   The advise was well-heeded and Fr. Paul ended up adding a few more sponsors and buying more time on the station.

Sr. Mary Beata Gerrity was a frequent guest on the television show, an Irish folk singer who often made the rounds at various Irish events and was known as the “Singing Nun.”

Joe Franklin was a true character.  If you did something for him, you might find a “Classic” TV Guide in your mailbox the next day as a thank you.  Or something else twice as bizarre.

And speaking of bizarre, you’d never know who you would find up in the studio. Rarely, would I have to be in the studio on the overnight (when Joe’s show aired on the weekend).  But I was up there once and it was crazy.  You never knew who would show up.  One night Billy Crystal came up and not far behind him was a random drag queen with a shopping cart full of his (her?) stuff who proceeded to offer me some chinese food.

I politely declined.

One of the biggest surprises that I found during my time at WOR was that Joe actually did that overnight show live.  He almost never recorded it when it would have been very easy for him to do so.  I once asked him why?  His reply was quick: “I dunno.  Keeps me outta trouble.  My other big problem is that I’m making too much money.”

Bizarre.

But the two stories (both similar) that takes the cake for me were the following:

You see, Joe thought that he was a little bit of a bigger star than he actually was.  So one day, my colleague, who I’ll call, Steve, was working with Joe on an interview he needed to record.  At the end of the taping:

Joe: “Ah! Stevie, you’re the best!  The best! (Everyone was the best to Joe)  Stevie, what’re you doing tomorrow?

Steve:  “Nothing.  Why?”

Joe: “You wanna take your wife to a Broadway Show?”

Steve: “Well, I’m not married, but sure, I’ll go with my girlfriend.”

Joe:  “OK! Two tickets.  Phantom of the Opera.  The tickets will be waiting for you at the Box office.”

So Steve went down there….WITH A DATE….and….there…were…no tickets…waiting…for…him.

A second colleague that I’ll call Forest, was asked by Joe what his weekend plans were:

Forest: “Eh, I gotta paint my house.”

Joe:  “You need paint!  You go right down to Martin Paints and mention my name and they’ll give you all the paint you need!

So Forest did.  And the guys at Martin Paint had never heard of Joe.  (Martin Paint, in fairness sponsored Joe’s TV show for a long time–but that was about 10 years ago at this juncture).    They laughed Forest out of the store.  So Forest went back to Joe who was enraged!

Joe:  “WHAT!?  YOU GO BACK DOWN THERE TOMORROW!  I’LL MAKE A CALL!”

Nope.  No paint then either.  Forest was crazy enough to go back the third time before Martin Paint threatened to put him on some kind of “we don’t do business with this guy” list.

Bizarre.

But despite all of his craziness, Joe Franklin was a great guy and a very nice man to all who he encountered.  I don’t think I ever heard a mean word said about him.  I thought this video from the past with Gilbert Godfried summed up Joe’s character well.  Rest in peace, my friend.

 

 

Working with Joan Rivers at WOR

They say all comedy comes from pain. My late college roommate was a stand up comic and his illness was a major piece of his comedy. During the late 90s I worked with Joan Rivers at WOR Radio and I believe this was certainly true for her as well.

Joan lived through the suicide of her husband after they were both fired from FOX, bouts of bulimia, financial issues and a rift with Johnny Carson over taking a show on FOX that competed against his own after mentoring her. The two never spoke again and it caused Joan much anxiety and several times she reached out to reconcile with him to no avail.

I’m sure all of that gave her a lot to cry about, but Joan turned all of that anger into comedy. At times I thought her bitterness was way too angry, but I could also tell that she had only a few outlets for her own personal pain. Her manager and her two writers accompanied her everywhere and often protected her from anyone who tried to talk with her. You didn’t talk to Joan, you talked to her manager.

I worked with her on an evening radio show she did at WOR. One of my jobs was to record commercials that clients paid to have her read. What we didn’t know was the Joan was dyslexic and reading copy was quite difficult for her. In the early days of her show she had 15 or 20 commercials to record over the course of a week. She simply couldn’t do it and often I was the object of her angry tirade over the disability.

I felt bad for her, of course, and knew she wasn’t lashing out at me, but she wasn’t a lot of fun to work alongside. We never hit it off and she had a hard time taking direction from anyone much less, me. The show was often horrible, unlistenable, despite my efforts. My best friend took a crack at working with her and had some moderate success and probably was a bit more willing to take her abuse. I went as far to put in writing:

“I will not work with Joan Rivers.”

Off the air Joan was actually pleasant most of the time. She simply wasn’t an easy person to work with and I can imagine that she was drawing paychecks from a bunch of small jobs after her FOX show failed and comedy work in Vegas and elsewhere had long dried up.

In short, it could not have been easy being Joan Rivers. I’ve come to understand her plight a lot more in these last few days and for that I am thankful. It’s made it easier for me to forgive and that indeed is God’s work at opening my heart a bit further and I hope that Joan was able to let go of some of vileness that she always seemed to carry around in her humor.

My biggest grudge with Joan, which I now laugh about came when she was asked to fill-in on our afternoon drive show. At the time, I was the producer of that show and so I simply switched roles with her producer and ended up on the evening shift, the slot she would usually be in. Joy Behar was hired as a fill-in host and one of the things she wanted to do was to have Janeane Garofalo on the show because she had been feuding with Joan Rivers over remarks that Rivers made about her outfit at the Oscars. (Essentially Garofolo’s trademark is that she doesn’t dress up and Rivers had a field day with that on the red carpet). Full disclosure I had a huge fan-crush on Garofolo and was really looking forward to meeting her.

When Rivers found out Behar’s plan to have Garofolo on the show she nixed it and Behar promptly quit. I had been busy booking other guests for the program and now several hours before the show I find out that all that work was for nothing AND I wouldn’t get to meet Garofolo or Behar. In short, I was really annoyed with Rivers and her anger that really didn’t make sense to me.

But those days are gone. My crush on Garofolo isn’t the stuff of grudge-holding and Joan Rivers probably had a lot of pent-up anger for many good reasons. Nobody deserved the horrible death that she had at the end–too sudden, too tragic. I pray that today she finds some peace.

All comedy comes from pain. Perhaps that is true. And while Rivers faced more than her share of pain, she often chose to laugh through the anger and perhaps that is a good legacy for Joan to leave with us.

So long, Joan. May your anger now also pass away so that you can rest in peace in the arms of God. And may God bring comfort to her family and peace to all who found the brusque end of a Joan Rivers tirade.

Peace to Grant

As many of you know, I worked in radio for some 10 years. And one of the shows I worked on was a show called The Bob Grant Show. For people outside of the New York City area this may not be a household name, but in the 90s, Bob Grant WAS conservative talk radio. Essentially he invented the whole “hate radio” format. He would tell you all the things he hated, high taxes, big government, President Clinton (who he called Slick Willie and did a pretty good imitation of him to go with it) and plenty more. His signature catchphrase came each time some caller would make him so angry that he’d scream “GET OFFA MY PHONE, YOU JERK!”

For two months at one clip in my career, I was his interim producer. I booked guests, I screened calls, I directed the technical elements of the show and I enjoyed every breathtaking minute.

Now you have to be asking how in the world could I have enjoyed this. Well, truth be told, Bob Grant, the King of HateRadio, was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. I agreed with him on nothing and I worked well with him because I’d find liberal callers for him to yell at and knew just how much to push him to get him to blow his top. It was all an act, well sorta…He truly was angry and did believe many of the opinions he held, but he never let his feelings spill over into our relationship.

Bob lost his job at WABC mostly because he was thought to be a racist. He made light of the Valuejet crash and said he was “being a pessimist” when he considered the possibility of the lone survivor of the crash being Treasury Secretary, Ron Brown ( who was also a black man). He ended up at WOR where I was working and I got to know him with my own jaded opinions at the time of having him become part of our team.

While I shared none of his political opinions, Bob was like the grandfather I never had. He was kind and funny and always made me laugh in a “oh, Grandpa!” kind of way. He had some opinions that were frankly awful, even embarrassing, but when you got to know him you realized that he also had a tender side. He praised traffic reporter, Kerrin McCue, for donating a kidney to his best friend. He was kind to women and showed respect to even the most liberal of his colleagues. Malachy McCourt, a known liberal rabble rouser, was even allowed to sit in as a guest host and on Bob’s birthday, McCourt was one of the first to call and wish him well.

Bob died around New Year’s Eve at 84. Reportedly, he had been in decline for a few months.

When I was working with him, WOR was attempting to hire his old producer “Broadway Roy” Fredriks, who by the way was given that name because he was an actor and Bob thought it might help his career. They eventually did hire Roy and I was also up for the position. The program director, a kind man, named David Bernstein, told me that had a deal not been in the works I would have been given the job because I had done a great job in the interim and he promised me that the next full time job that came available would be offered to me. True to his word, I got the midday producing job in a few months. But the day they hired Roy, Bob came over to my cube and placed a hand on my shoulder and said: “Mike, you have done a great job and if this deal wasn’t already in the works, I would have been proud to have you as my producer.”

Classy.

Many people, certainly many democrats and minorities hated Bob’s opinions and he certainly contributed to the climate of hateful dialogue (or lack of dialogue) in politics. But I’ll just remember him for his sincerity and kindness to me and to our colleagues.

Perhaps God will forgive him for his shortcomings and he can rest easy in God’s loving arms today. May his family and friends be comforted today. And eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Bob’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

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She Changed the Way Americans Ate Italian Food

08marc.1.184I was a producer for Arthur Schwartz’s Food Talk Show on WOR and I was at one of the many soirees that would be thrown by New York foodies. These parties were always magnificent but never gluttonous or ostentatious. “The good cooks keep it simple.” Arthur would remind me of this constantly. He’d always prefer to talk with cooks he knew well and had no problem conversing with, rather than the Star Chefs who seemed more style than substance.

I went to get a glass of Prosecco from the bar and an older woman came over to me and her kind eyes met mine. She frowned and said, “So hey! Who are you? I have never met you before!” She extended her hand. I took her hand in mine not knowing who this woman, with a deep rich Italian accent, was.

I stammered a bit and said “I’m Mike Hayes. I’m Arthur Schwartz’s producer at WOR.”

And before I could ask who this woman was her eyes opened wide and she smiled, “Oh thank God, you are with Arturo!” as she called him. “I am Marcella Hazan. You are with someone who actually knows how to cook! Where did you go to school?”

I knew her name well. Arthur sang her praises as one of the many great cooks he admired. Today’s NY Times captured her style intimately.

Mrs. Hazan embraced simplicity, precision and balance in her cooking. She abhorred the overuse of garlic in much of what passed for Italian food in the United States, and would not suffer fools afraid of salt or the effort it took to find quality ingredients.

Her tomato sauce, enriched with only an onion, butter and salt, embodies her approach, but she has legions of devotees to other recipes, among them her classic Bolognese, pork braised in milk and her minestrone.

When Mrs. Hazan arrived in New York in 1955, Italian food was still exotic, served in restaurants with straw-covered Chianti bottles and red-checked tablecloths.

She was a newlywed who did not speak English, transplanted to a country whose knowledge of her native cuisine was not much more than spaghetti covered with what, to her, tasted like overly spiced ketchup.

Armed with what little I knew about Marcella, I said:

“Well, I didn’t go to cooking school if that’s what you’re asking, Mrs. Hazan.”

“Mrs. Hazan? I am Marcella. And I didn’t go to cooking school either! The best school is in your own kitchen. I meant what college did you go to to learn how to run Arturo’s radio?”

“Ah!” I said. “I went to Fordham…in the Bronx.”

Marcella asked, “You ever eat in Arthur Avenue?”

Arthur Avenue, for the uninformed, is known as the “Little Italy of the Bronx.” It’s a wonderful little step into a place where Italian food becomes an art. I replied eagerly as I loved going there when I was at Fordham.

“All the time. When I could afford to eat a meal out!”

She smiled. “What’s the best place to eat there?”

She was testing me. “Well, I love Roberto’s, which is a bit off the beaten path on 186th and Hughes.”

She smiled and said, “That is the ONLY place to eat on Arthur Avenue. The place has gone downhill lately.”

She was right. There were dozens of restaurants but Roberto’s was true Italian food and I have never ceased to go there when I visit my Alma Mater. It’s tiny, but wonderful. The food literally falls off the bone. The risotto is to die for. Everything there is simple but precise.

“I kind of like Dominick’s too, for the experience…”

Dominick’s is a hoot. You walk in and there are long communal tables, so you eat with people you don’t necessarily know. There are also NO menus. The waiter asks “Whattya want?” You ask, “Whattya got?” Those that aren’t a pain in the butt to the waiter and order well are the ones who get charged a lower amount. “Let’s see you had the chicken and the fresh vegetables…eh..$12.”

Marcella said, “It is no Roberto’s, but yes, good. It is not what it once was, but still very good and it is good to eat with people, if they even talk to you these days.”

I said to Marcella, “Let me tell you a quick story! I took a date there once and she said that the food was too fresh! She said it was like they just killed the chicken in the back yard. I looked at her like she was crazy and said, ‘That’s exactly what they SHOULD do! THIS is food! Not whatever processed crap you’ve been eating.'”

She smiled and said, “Arturo has taught you well. And you should break up with that girl…she know nothing about the food.”

I said, “I did and that was a big reason why.”

“Your bill at Dominick’s must have been $500 with that one!”

I laughed and told her it was something like that.

We had Marcella on the show with her husband Victor. Marcella didn’t speak English when she came to the United States and Victor served as her translator often. He was very precise. He translated all of her books. He would come to the radio show and talk with his beloved wife who he came home to for lunch every day of their marriage.

Marcella, died this week at the age of 89. I simply remember her as a brusque woman who had strong opinions. For instance, Mario Batali told this story in today’s NY Times:

…the exacting and sometimes prickly Italian-born cook told Mr. Batali he was all wrong. In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Hazan told him the only proper way to make risotto was in a saucepan. He did not agree, but the two became friends anyway, sitting down over glasses of Jack Daniel’s whenever their paths crossed.

“I didn’t pay attention to Julia Child like everyone else said they did,” Mr. Batali recalled. “I paid attention to Marcella Hazan.”

He’d better, or he’d get an earful and some of it in Italian.

I was simply blessed to share a moment or two with her. Rest in peace, Marcella.

Remembering Marty

My friend Phil Giubileo, over at the Play by Play blog took some time for some memories of Marty Glickman, the famed New York radio sportscaster who I came to know well during our undergraduate days at Fordham. He was invited by the acclaimed Bob Papa, now the voice of the NY Giants amongst other things, to become our broadcast coach at Fordham during our activity period. It was a rare chance for a bunch of young broadcasters to be tutored by the man known as the “Dean of Broadcasters.” Marty had invented much of sports radio play by play broadcasting and was one of the first “jock sportscasters” after being a track and football star at Syracuse and being named to the 1936 Olympic team only to be snubbed by anti-semitism.

Marty was a great guy and was a great mentor. You’d look forward to his praise but you’d invite his criticism as well. It only made you better and he was quick to make your mistakes obvious. If you fell behind a play he’d point it out. “I heard that whistle 3 whole seconds before you called that guy down!” When on the radio sometimes it’s easy to get lazy because you know nobody else is watching the action that you are–especially obscure teams that aren’t televised. You don’t have to “call the play” as closely on TV because the action is right there. But on radio, description is key and Marty gave you no slack in giving descriptions of ballgames.

Someone would say “That was a great play!” And Marty would scream, “That word doesn’t mean anything! It was a GREAT play–well, WHY THE HELL WAS IT GREAT?” You’d then sheepishly tell Marty that the player made a leaping one handed grab. And he’d say “NOW THAT’S a description. Have those words ready.”

I tried pretty hard to be a broadcaster and fell short of “the dream” of doing it full-time as a career with a major league team. The truth is that I just didn’t love it as much as some of my classmates and colleagues. I was always being pulled away by ministry. When I started to consider leaving broadcasting someone asked me why I got into the business in the first place and I was able to summon two reasons.

The first was that I wasn’t a great athlete in high school but loved playing and being around the team. I knew a lot about sports and we’d all sit on the sidelines and talk until we got into the game. So I had some natural talent that other guys would encourage in me. I kept score and knew the nuances of the game and I had a good speaking voice. I did PA announcing for the football and basketball games and would often call it play by play back then–not really understanding the difference between play by play and public address announcing, but it got me sharp. So I pursued that as a career in college.

The second came from Marty. And I tell this story in my book Loving Work. Marty was a master of description and so I asked him how I can improve this skill for myself. He said to me, “You know what challenges me? Each year I do a circus on the “radio for the blind”. Man that’s tough. I mean how do you describe an Elephant to someone who can’t see what it is?” Marty had invited us college guys weeks later to a dinner held in his honor for a Syracuse University Scholarship named for him. It was at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center and I was seated next to a man who was blind. Marty developed a friendship with him for many years and it was that night that I asked him how he knew Marty and he simply said, “Well, Marty’s been my eyes for over 50 years.”

I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Everything else didn’t matter. I vowed to keep people like this guy in mind every time I was on the air. Description was paramount. Beth Kelly was no longer just a Sophomore forward, she was an apple cheeked Irish colleen that stood 5’8″ tall. Damon Lopez was a barrel-chested 6’8″, 240. Even names were described well. Mark Blazejewski was pronounced BLAH-JA-EFF-SKI. All stuff that Marty taught us. Uniforms–what were the colors. Michael Kay on Yankeee games talks about the interlocking “NY” on Yankee hats–where do you think he learned that? Of course, at Fordham, from Marty.

But it was my altruism that was exciting me, not the thrill of being on the air, or in sports. And I could feel Marty whispering in my ear that it was OK to leave and to follow what you were clearly more called to do.

Often Marty’s best advice was stuff that he taught us outside of broadcasting: Stay fit, eat well, always wear a hat, but never indoors to stay warm in the winter and to take care of one another. When asked what his greatest achievement was, Marty never hesitated: “Marrying my wife.” Marge Glickman was a wonderful woman and Marty had married well. He recalled that when he got his first sponsor, he took that money and Marge and him “got married on that money.” Then the sponsor dumped them. “But we stayed married!” he quipped. “For better, or for worse, for richer, for poorer. And all that stuff. We learned that early.”

Marty was a champion of seeking out higher values. Besides his experience in the 1936 Olympics, Marty was decisively anti-gambling. If you mentioned a point spread, Marty would get all over you. “You don’t need to contribute to gamblers!” he’d yell. He once told us that his father lost the family business gambling and so he had made a decision that he was not going to support gambling in any way. He hated the environment around boxing and told us to be careful around that element if we got involved with broadcasting boxing.

I wonder what he’d think of broadcasters today. He hated Dick Vitale’s style on College Basketball and the entertainment value of broadcasting is now much more paramount than the journalistic value at times. I often think he’d understand that, but hate it at the same time. I do think he’d love the internet and would encourage us to develop our own shows without the bureaucrats running the airwaves. Something about the democracy of the internet would appeal to his sensibilities I think.

A final story: I had a deja vu experience of Marty when I had graduated from Graduate School at Fordham. As many of you know, my father is an Irish immigrant. He never went to high school, never mind college. He worked hard to send me to school and I was able to make it to the next level with some help from Fordham and from the Paulist Fathers. He was very proud of me that day.

After the ceremony the Dean came over and met my mom and dad and sister and he already knew Marion, my wife. He said to my father, “Michael is one of our best students, we’re very proud to say that he’s a graduate of our school today and to have your family with us today.”

My father beamed. And then I remembered Marty telling nearly the same story about his mother and a Syracuse professor who came and said “I must meet the mother of one of my favorite students.” His mother could only afford to come to graduation from the city and Marty welled up…”My immigrant mother could never imagine that such a learned man would say anything like that to her! That’s why Syracuse is so special to me.”

And Fordham to me. Not only because of that one story.

But also, because it was there that I met Marty Glickman.

I Can Hardly Bear This Cute Video

Wave for the camera, Mr. Bear….

And of course this reminds me of a story. When I was in radio I worked on the Bob Grant show, one of the many conservative talk radio shows out there. Bob is semi-retired now but at one point he was the top of the charts, long before Rush and Hannity and Beck. While Bob and I agree on nearly nothing politically, we were great friends and he was possibly the easiest person to work with during my career in radio. My job was to get him angry and to put anyone who was just lame enough to be funny on the air so he’d yell at their stupidity.

So Marc Loponte and I would pull this gag all the time. Our phone line was also used for another show on the weekend. A pet show. Occasionally one of our west coast affiliates would run that show on tape (yes, we actually used tape not that long ago). And occasionally we’d get calls asking for the pet show or asking a question about pets.

So what would we do? We’d put them on with Bob Grant and watch his head explode.

Here’s two of my favorites:

Caller: I want to talk about the Kodiak bear!

Bob: Huh? Why in the world would you want to talk to me about the Kodiak Bear.

Caller: Well, Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like and I would say that I never met a bear I didn’t like.

Bob: That’s just stupid. I mean what do you do, walk up to a bear and say, “Hey I like you.” Well now wait a minute. There’s an idea…NOW GET OFFFA MY PHONE!

The second one:

Caller: Yeah I want to talk about my poodle.

Bob: I DESPISE Poodles! I hate hate hate poodles.

Caller: Um, Warren? (the host of the Pet Show)

Bob: (Catches on to our joke). Oh I see….ya see ma’am, we have another show on this network and I think you called that show. It’s hosted by a guy who I swear is in love with a German Shepherd. Every picture I see him in, he has a German Shepherd next to him. Well anyway, you got the wrong line so GET OFFA MY PHONE and I hope your poodle wets your rug!

I’m glad now I can just see a happy bear wave and see the glory of nature that God provides for us. And a hat tip to Zach Tomasik and Ryan Undercoffer who pointed me to the bear video on Facebook.

Slaughter the Baseball Player?

So as Spring Training is heating up in Florida, baseball season is not that far away.

I miss being near a major league team, although the AAA Buffalo Bisons is not bad baseball indeed. Buffalo really got a the bum’s rush when they thought they’d be granted a MLB team and weren’t.

Regardless, someone brought up the famed Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine. Which is hysterical old time comedy. Their sense of timing is incredible, the mark of a good comic genius.

However, I think the entire show where Who’s on First? originated should be heard in its entirety to really appreciate it even more. The show’s premise is that Costello has been asked to take Joe DiMaggio’s place on the Yankees while he recovers from foot surgery (for heel spurs–the injury is the only true part of the story). The rest of the show is a whirlwind of some of the best radio comedy of all time.

But I think who’s on first takes a back seat to when they go into a sporting good store. I have the show somewhere on cassette and had a lot of this memorized. Here’s just a snip of what I can remember from the scene–where they refer to Cardinals great Enos Slaughter.

Abbott: “Excuse me sir, do you have any bats?”

Salesman: “Certainly, here’s a fine bat! Autographed by Slaughter of the Cardinals. This bat was made for Slaughter!”

Costello: “Ain’t ya got one that was made for baseball?” (BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

Salesman: “No, no. Slaughter the baseball player.”

Costello: “Slaughter the baseball player?! With that bat you could slaughter ANYONE!”

Salesman: “Young man, everyone knows Slaugher. E-nos Slaughter (emphasis on long e here).”

Costello: “Well, maybe he knows Slaughter but I don’t know him!”

Hysterical.

They do a similar bit on Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians. “What Feller is pitching for the Cleveland Indians?” is the key to that one.

But here is the famed original “Who’s on First?” routine for your enjoyment.

And happy spring training:

Pop Culture and Religion = Trying Too Hard

Over on Facebook, my colleague Tony Rossi over at the Christophers blogged a piece about how Greg Plageman a longtime TV writer got into the business because he noticed his then-students were more influenced by “Saved by the Bell” then by him as their teacher.

My first thought was …Saved by the Bell?? You’ve got to be joking. I don’t know what age the students were that he was talking about but I’m hoping it’s middle school. Regardless, pop culture certainly has some influence but often when Christianity tries to make something in the pop culture realm, it tries way too hard.

I won’t out the group that was singing but at a conference I attended there was a music group from a university who put on what I called “a Sister Act” type of show. It tried way too hard to be “cool” and ended up being a bit nerdy. The students weren’t bad singers, it was just overdone. You could tell that they were trying too hard to be relevant but it smacked of the disingenuous. When asked if we had any questions for the performers I had to stop myself because I wanted to ask:

“How often do you guys get beat up?”

Christians just try too hard sometimes.

Tony makes the point that Christians should have more of an influence in pop culture and he’s probably right–but not if their work isn’t up to snuff. I’ve seen too many syrupy-sweet movies that smack someone in the head with their overdone theme that I can’t possibly take them seriously.

Even the movie, Bella, a good movie about pro-life themes falls short of the standard. It’s better than most, but another movie about pro-life stole the show. It’s name: Juno.

People even started to say that that movie, created by fairly secular producers has a greater effect on teens and others considering abortion than Bella did. They often referred to “The Juno Effect” when discussing the film’s influence–some said it glamorized teen pregnancy and others said that it was a strong pro-life message. Even the USCCB included both Bella and Juno in a tie for their 2nd best movie of 2007.

What did most others say about Bella? Next to nothing. I did an informal poll today on my secular campus of 20 students. Not one student knew about the movie Bella, but they all knew about Juno.

Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, seemed to strike the right chord. I think that’s a must see.

Even the Passion of the Christ, while a huge hit, needed a controversy to get an audience.

The truth is that faith is often subtle and when it is, it often has a greater effect. Nobody makes another person believe in anything. We can influence them certainly, but that takes great care, patience and love.

It also takes trust and conversation. A former student of mine said that he first met me on an alternative break when he sat next to me on the bus headed for New York City. He didn’t know what to talk with me about but he knew my past as a sports radio person and he began a conversation with me about that. In coming to see me as a “normal” person (for lack of a better term), he grew to trust me. I know I had several profound experiences on other trips with some others in similar ways. One even stayed up talking to me deep into the night about some serious matters.

But it all started rather subtly. God whispers through us much more readily than a scream or a shout or an obvious hammer blow. Movies and TV programs should do the same most of the time.

But that’s just my opinion! Inspiration strikes us all at different places on the journey. Where in the modern media has inspiration struck you?

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait Even Beyond the Grave

Chicago Cubs fans are celebrating at the news of former player and radio analyst, the now late Ron Santo’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee. Although Santo died last year, he nonetheless deserved to be amongst baseball’s greatest players. It’s a shame we won’t get to hear a speech from one of baseball’s most colorful characters.

USA Today has some comments from Cubs Management:

“All who knew Ron or welcomed him into their homes on the radio recognize he was so much more than a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. “He was the beating heart of Cubs fans. As an athlete, he was our All-Star. As a radio analyst, he carried our passion. For those battling illness or disease, he remains an inspiration. And for all of us who had the honor of calling him our friend, he is forever beloved.

Indeed. Santo was an amazing ballplayer who also battled diabetes throughout his career. He often played with double vision when his glucose levels would drop and he refused to call it quits. Years later, Santo had his legs amputated because of complications and continued to inspire people with his fight. His prosthetic legs looked like a Cubs uniform and he inspired so many people with his fight to remain independent and positive as he dealt with diabetes and amputations. He’d talk with amputees. “You can do it, look at me!” He even inspired Wild Bill Holden, an old guy with bad knees to walk nearly 2100 miles from Arizona to Chicago to raise money for Diabetes research.

My sister is a diabetic, so I know how tough the disease is and it pleases me that Ron is now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His wife couldn’t be more proud either.

http://mlb.mlb.com/shared/flash/video/share/ObjectEmbedFrame.swf?content_id=20021677&topic_id=&width=380&height=254&property=mlb

Wherever you are, Ron. Look down today and be glad and rejoice. You made it.