Growing Up Catholic: PART TWO "How My Own Experiences Affected My Views on CHURCH LADIES ON STEROIDS"

Stephen Arch                        



We believe what we want to believe, and mostly can't be told otherwise

Although the following may seem unrelated, it actually has much to do with the theme of these musings

I have a passion for listening to all types and genres of music - comparing older music (primarily from my era) with newer music.  I love all music types and styles. Probably the only type of music I do not like is "newer" rap and pop.  Everything else is fine with me, and I make it a point to, after listening to songs by Passenger, The Killers, Vampire Weekend, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, I for some reason found myself listening to Pink Floyd, Tanita Tikaram, Cranberries, and others.  

  Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos of the Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos of the Magnetic Zeros

I was listening to Lou Reed the other day - a hero from my youth and THE ONLY performer I never had the chance to see live. Even on several trips to New York City, I would call the Village Voice entertainment editor to see if there was some way Lou Reed was performing in some out of the way bar while I was in the city.

While scrolling through YouTube, I came across a video written and produced by Lou Reed assisted by Andy Warhol.  The video was set to the song Walk on the Wild Side. It seems, according to the video, that the characters in Reed's song were real people, not just characters in a fantasy as I always thought.

At the end of short video, which lasted as long as the song - around 5 minutes, captions appeared showing that each character who "starred" in the video were deceased, and the caption explained the cause of their deaths.  Most from drug overdoses or complications from some aspect of drugs or non-exclusive sexuality.  Holly (who in real life was a pretty cute "girl"), Candy, Sugar Plum Fairy, Jackie - they all were REAL PEOPLE WITH REAL LIVES.   When that song first was introduced in 1972, being a "good Catholic boy" I listened with extreme interest - these were fictional characters with fictional lives made up by a cool dude who played great music.  My friends and I sang along with, played air guitar along with, and wore out albums and 8 track cassettes because of the popularity of his hit songs.

Additionally, Reed sang of a culture about which I knew absolutely nothing.  Even though I held a tentative, angry, and isolated life, I couldn't imagine that these characters were real - just that they were cool.

Now, even though they lived a lifestyle that wasn't like my lifestyle in any way, I actually learned to love the song even more knowing the characters actually lived.  No, it's not such a huge deal, but again, it just goes to show that we believe what we want to believe, and many of us, including me, keep these beliefs close to us, even getting into arguments over these when they are challenged. To me, it no longer is just a song - it is a biography of a lifestyle of castaways (all of whom I NOW identify). I just finished, before writing this entry, listening to Walk on the Wild Side four times, as well as Sweet Jane with probably the best song introduction ever written.  Listen to the original live version of Sweet Jane with introduction on the disc Rock 'n Roll Animal, and I am sure you will agree. As a side note, I did watch several different videos of Reed with a variety of different introductions to that song - personally glad he chose the one he chose.

Getting back to the end of the video. It explained that Andy Warhol died from complications from three gun shot wounds he received from a psychotic "actress" who shot him because he wouldn't produce a film she had written.  Warhol died from gallbladder disease which was a result from the gun shots from which he supposedly had healed, but the infection was a result of the wounds he suffered. 

My understanding throughout my life, and living in Pittsburgh, was that Andy Warhol, due to his lifestyle and sexuality, died from aids.  That's what I really, thoroughly believed - not thought, felt, understood, but BELIEVED.  At the time of his death, I felt badly that he died at the age of 58, but I was really shocked the to see how wrong my thinking process is/was.  I never knew the shooting story of Warhol because I "assumed" that the obvious had taken his life - sexual irresponsibility or drugs. I feel even more embarrassed because Pittsburgh is home to the Warhol Museum, which I have visited many times.

That's the point of the story that precedes and follows this Prelude.  "We believe what we want to believe - what we feel is 'right' and don't investigate the real reasons for events that happen unless we were either actually present when it happened or from someone 'reliable' or, even scarier, from our own thoughts about a person, an event, or an action - even a belief. All of us, even the smartest, serious, and studied persons take certain events on face value.

However, that is what makes us who we are - the idea of discovery.  I never disliked Andy Warhol and was saddened by his death (and even more saddened as I was proud that he was from my hometown). I even had the chance a few years back to meet his brother.  I just knew what I heard, repeated that over and over in my own ego, and was satisfied with the story I thought was true.

Back to Reed. Saddened also by the recent death of Lou Reed.  Again, before even thinking about researching his death at age 71 (I just heard on the news that he had passed).  No real reason for his death was publicized at the time. So, I thought that it must have been because of his lifestyle.  Growing up in the 70's, I knew Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were an extremely wild group of musicians and "experimented," as did Warhol, with drugs and sexuality. Nevertheless, I knew Reed was married to singer Laurie Anderson; so, my feelings that Lou Reed died of aids because he was gay wasn't true; it was what I believed.  Only after researching this did I make connections.  The research was accidental, but I believe nothing is accidental. Please note. The mention of Lou Reed's sexuality isn't the issue, and though I thought he might be gay isn't a major point.  It also is important to mention the AIDS epidemic in the 70's and 80's.  The idea of his personal life is being used to prove a point on my belief systems.  Neither am I anti-gay whatsoever.  I believe in personal choices being personal.

So, I did my due diligence and found that he had died from complications of a liver transplant that he had the year before. Neither do I know why he needed a liver transplant in the first place.  The fact is that now I don't care as much because at least I know that I initially was WRONG in what I BELIEVED.  That, to me, gets to the heart of what I am attempting to say in this narrative.

The POINT is that I took all of this information in the context of my own life.  I assume; hence, therefore, it is true.  That's not good.  But it is awfully human. And now I move on through Part Two of my story - the "birth" of the Saturday Night Vigil Mass and how this change led to another change in "church" going that entirely changed my view of the piety of those who forced me to do "the right thing."

I found myself thinking the same way about the death of the great Bob Marley.  Again, because of his lifestyle and advocacy of drugs, particularly high strains of marijuana, I just thought the he died from a drug overdose - until I watched a documentary on his life on Paladia last year.  He actually died of melanoma, he suffered a long and painful death.  Again, how one thinks about aspects of life and develop a strong feeling about that person, event, idea does indeed structure our viewpoints.  

Recently, the FX Network concluded its seventh and final season of the extremely popular cult hit Sons of Anarchy - a show I enjoyed watching and was sad to see this type of program end. The same can be said for The Bridge, American Horror Story (all four seasons - Murder House, Asylum, Coven, and most recently, Freak Show. Additionally, FX produces Fargo and Tyrant (favorites of mine, all).  The recurring theme in all of the episodes of all of those shows mentioned above is the idea of isolationism and the need to be separate, yet to belong to something.  In Sons of Anarchy and Freakshow - my favorites, characters (Bikers, Outlaws, Freaks) all have something to offer, all are basically good characters (for the most part); however, these characters possess flaws and inabilities to incorporate their ways of life into mainstream living - bikers have their "gang" and the freaks have their "show" of "monsters" as Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) refers to them.  As seen in both of these presentations of "the different" - the main characters seem to be the ones who are preciously loyal and attached to their kind while the entire world views them as being different, unacceptable.  The exact same way Marlon Brando played Johnny in The Wild One. (I've watched that movie a few times, and for the life of me, other than being a biker, in the movie, Johnny really did nothing wrong or wild (other than fight a rival gang member in the middle of a small town).  In fact, he was the one biker who tried to calm things down and only became emotionally eruptive when "normal" society felt the need to chastise or discredit him).  Johnny is punished just because of who he is.  Again, that's not good.  It was the views of the townspeople who labeled Johnny as a "bad seed" and who instigated actions against him.

The same thoughts about these characters - these freaks, these outcasts, these outliers, can be seen in the 1961 hit movie The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, and Clark Gable.  Again, characters with passion, with soul, with desire yet did not fit into conventional society and were trapped as freaks in a world that didn't accept them for who they were.  These themes tend to resonate not just with me but in many of the great novels, plays, movies, poetry - the main character as misfit. They had each other - that was all - but it is a bit disturbing that societal outliers have to feel only comfortable with other outliers. Freaks with freaks.  Bikers with bikers.  Cowboys with cowboys.  You get the point.  Mixing a different culture with mainstream never seems to work (look at Jax's relationship with his wife Tara, a physician who cannot accept Jax's rebel heart - Johnny's relationship with a local woman, Kathy Bleeker).

I don't mean to ramble about the plots of the shows, musicians, artists, characters, and movies I mentioned above - one can do that privately and individually, but there is something both fascinating, special, yet loathsome (to normalcy) about those who don't "toe the line" and live by the mandates of others.  

The plots all come back us time and time again, whether they appear in a Shakespearean drama or a modern masterpiece or artwork - freaks, outliers, outcasts learn to fit in without fitting in - learn to get along without getting along.

I am asking you to keep these thoughts in mind as I tell the my story of my views of the Catholic Church in the area of my youth.

Back to the Church Ladies

In 1983, the Vatican gave permission for Catholics to attend Saturday Night "Vigil Mass" as a replacement mass for those who couldn't attend a Sunday mass.  Pope John Paul II confirmed this and made the official canonical statement in 1998 that "[b]ecause the faithful workers and others who cannot keep the Sunday obligation...pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the fulfillment of the precept....From a liturgical point of view, in fact, holy days begin with the First Vespers. Consequently, the liturgy of what is sometimes called the 'Vigil Mass' is in effect the 'festive' Mass of Sunday" ( 

What does an Andy Warhol/Lou Reed discussion have to do with Church Ladies on Steroids. The upcoming post that will tie all this together.