With no Saints to honor, today is the Lyrid Meteor Shower, Earth Day, and the first day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Today is also the birthday of my brother Michael in Seattle (1955). And at sunset today begins the great Jewish feast of Pesach, commemorating the Hebrews’ escape from enslavement in Egypt.
The Lyrid Meteor Shower (its radiant located in the constellation Lyra) normally peaks on this date, with, under optimal conditions, five to ten meteors of magnitude +2 per hour, not counting the occasional “Lyrid fireballs”, which can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind smoky debris trails that last for minutes. A strong Lyrid shower was observed by the Chinese in 687 BCE. Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. Responding to widespread environmental degradation, Senator Gaylord Nelson (died 2005) from Wisconsin called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, to be held on April 22, 1970. Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events, so he chose Wednesday, April 22. Earth Day proved popular in the United States and around the world. The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. Senator Nelson stated that Earth Day “worked” because of the response at the grassroots level. Twenty-million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. He directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading United States politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency. April 22, 1970 was also the 100th birthday of Vladimir Lenin. Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was “a Communist trick,” and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying, “Subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.” The observance of Earth Day is now observed in 175 countries and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year.” Environmental groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes. Today is also the opening day of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (known far and wide as Jazz Fest). According to the official Jazz Fest website, “From the very beginning [in 1970], the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was envisioned as an important event that would have great cultural significance and popular appeal. The Festival was the culmination of years of discussions and efforts by city leaders who wanted to create an event worthy of the city’s legacy as the birthplace of jazz.” The 2016 Poster for the festival is “House of Swing: Portrait of the 1st Family of Jazz” by Paul Rogers. Since 1991 the Festival is always held during the last weekend of April (Friday through Sunday) and the first weekend of May (Thursday through Sunday). Today’s lineup includes Cowboy Mouth, Michael McDonald, Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, Gov’t Mule, and Steely Dan. Today is also the birthday of my brother Mike in Seattle, whose birth predates Earth Day; Liz Ellen and I have not been able to get a response out of him in about four or five years (1955). Pesach, or Passover, begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan (equivalent to March and April in Gregorian calendar), the first month of the Hebrew calendar’s festival year according to the Hebrew Bible. In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that YHWH inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Hebrew slaves, with the tenth plague being the killing of all of the firstborn, from the Pharaoh’s son to the firstborn of the dungeon captive, to the firstborn of cattle. The Hebrews were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term “passover”. When Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover, no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread”. Matzo (unleavened bread) is the primary symbol of the holiday. On this night it is traditional for Jewish families to gather for a special dinner called a seder (derived from the Hebrew word for “order”, referring to the very specific order of the ritual). The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. Four cups of wine are consumed at various stages in the narrative. The Haggadah divides the night’s procedure into 15 parts which parallel the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem on which the Levites stood during Temple services. Audience participation and interaction is the rule, and many families’ seders last long into the night with animated discussions and much singing. The seder concludes with additional songs of praise and faith printed in the Haggadah, including “Chad Gadya” (“One Kid Goat”). (According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Passover was on Thursday evening, which made the Last Supper a Passover Seder. According to the Gospel of John, after his Crucifixion Jesus was buried quickly because the “solemn Sabbath” of Passover was about to begin.)
The Full Moon arrived at 12:25 am, just as I was hauling myself out of bed to get ready for work. I posted to Facebook that today was Earth Day, did my Book Devotional Reading, set my Bluetooth speaker to charging, and we headed off to work. I did my Internet Devotional Reading on our way to the casino, and I totally forgot about looking for Lyrid meteors. When we clocked in, Richard was first on Let It Ride, closed that table, helped change Blackjack cards, then became the Relief Dealer for Mini Baccarat and Pai Gow (with the second Mississippi Stud table added to his last rotation of the day). I was on the $5.00 Minimum Bet Blackjack table all day; most of my guests were good, with only one person upset that on that table (unique to the casino), a Blackjack does not pay 3-to-2 (or what we prefer to call “time and a half”), but only 6 to 5. At the beginning of the shift Richard had to go to the Shift Office about a mistake he had made on the Pai Gow table last week. And I sold the Golden Ticket I had won last week (allowing one to be first on the Early Out List) to our co-worker Dan for $30.00.
After work we went to the Pharmacy, where I picked up my prescriptions. When we came into town we went to Wal-Mart, and Richard got my salad supplies for me (thank you, Richard). When we got home I made my lunch salads for today and Sunday, and ate today’s salad while reading the morning paper and yesterday’s local paper. I then came to the computer to do today’s Daily Update; I had a very busy day yesterday, and feel that the best course of action will be for me to go to bed early. (Also, I do believe I am coming down with Richard’s cold.) Our #5 ranked LSU Tigers will be playing the first game of a three-game home Baseball series against #7 ranked Mississippi State tonight; I will post the score of the game in tomorrow’s Daily Update.
The Jewish feast of Pesach continues tomorrow, and tomorrow is the Optional Memorial of Saint George, Martyr (died about 304), and the Optional Memorial of Saint Adalbert of Prague, Bishop and Martyr (died 997). And tomorrow is World Book and Copyright Day, and the second day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Also, since I heard thunder on February 23rd, tomorrow should be cooler than normal. We will be working our eight hours at the casino (plus an extra 15 minutes for the Saturday Pre-Shift Meeting), and in the afternoon I will be heading to the Adoration Chapel for my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration. Our #5 ranked LSU Tigers will be playing the second game of a three-game home Baseball series against #7 ranked Mississippi State tomorrow night; I will post the score of the game in Sunday’s Daily Update.
Our Parting Quote as Pesach arrives comes to us from Richie Havens, American singer-songwriter and guitarist. Born as Richard Havens in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, he was of American Indian (Blackfoot) descent on his father’s side (his grandfather and great-uncle had left Buffalo Bills’ Wild West Show and ended up in Brooklyn), and of British West Indies descent on his mother’s side. At an early age he began organizing his neighborhood friends into street corner doo-wop groups and was performing with the McCrea Gospel Singers at age sixteen. In 1961 Havens left Brooklyn, seeking artistic stimulation in Greenwich Village; he drew portraits for two years and stayed up all night listening to folk music in the clubs until he thought of playing his guitar. Havens’ solo performances quickly spread beyond the Village folk circles. After cutting two records for Douglas Records, he signed on with Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, and landed a record deal with the Verve Forecast label. Verve released Mixed Bag in 1967, which featured tracks such as “Handsome Johnny” (co-written by Havens and future Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr.), “Follow,” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” Something Else Again (1968) became his first album to hit the Billboard charts and also pulled Mixed Bag back onto the charts. Two of those albums were unauthorized “exploitation albums” released by Douglas Records (or Douglas International):Electric Havens (released June 1st, 1968) and Richie Havens Record (1969). At Woodstock on August 15th, 1969 he was the first performer, and held the crowd for nearly three hours by himself (partly because the other artists scheduled to perform were stuck in traffic). He was called back for several encores, and, having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child” that became “Freedom”. He also appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival in late August 1969. The subsequent Woodstock movie release (1970) helped Havens reach a worldwide audience. Following the success of his Woodstock performance, Havens started his own record label, Stormy Forest, and released Stonehenge in 1970. Later that year came Alarm Clock, which included the George Harrison-penned hit single “Here Comes the Sun”. This was Havens’ first album to reach Billboard’s Top 30 Chart. Stormy Forest went on to release four more of his albums: The Great Blind Degree (1971), Live On Stage (1972), Portfolio (1973), and Mixed Bag II (1974). Memorable television appearances included performances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. On the latter program, the audience reacted with such enthusiasm that when the applause continued even after the commercial break, Carson asked Havens to return the following night. Havens also began acting during the 1970s. He was featured in the original 1972 stage presentation of The Who’s Tommy, as Othello in the 1974 film Catch My Soul, in Greased Lightning alongside Richard Pryor and in Bob Dylan’s Hearts of Fire. Havens increasingly devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues. In the mid-1970s he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Natural Guard, an hands-on ecological organization for kids. In July 1978 he was a featured performer at the Benefit Concert for The Longest Walk, an American Indian spiritual walk from Alcatraz to Washington DC affirming treaty rights, as a result of legislation that had been introduced to abrogate Indian treaties. During the 1980s and 1990s Havens continued a world touring schedule and a steady release of albums. In 1982 Havens composed and performed a promotional slogan for NBC’s 1982–83 television season entitled “We’re NBC, Just Watch Us Now”. He also performed slogans for CBS and ABC, and recorded commercials for Amtrak, singing the slogan “There’s something about a train that’s magic”; and in 1985, for Coca-Cola. Havens also did corporate commercial work for Maxwell House Coffee as well as singing “The Fabric of Our Lives” theme for the cotton industry. Havens also played a small role as a character named Daze in a 1990 film named Street Hunter starring John Leguizamo. Havens was the twentieth living recipient of the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, presented in Sherborn, Massachusetts, on April 12th, 1991. In 1993 Havens performed at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Among the selections was the “Cotton” song, made famous by a series of television ads in the early 1990s. The release of the 1993 Resume, The Best Of Richie Havens by Rhino collected his late 1960s and early 1970s recordings. In 1999 Havens played at the Tibetan Freedom Concert for an audience of more than 100,000. In 2000 Havens teamed with the electronic music duo Groove Armada for the retro 1970s-style song, “Hands of Time.” The song was featured on the soundtrack of the film Collateral; the same song was also used in the films Domino, A Lot Like Love, and Tell No One. Havens was also featured on “Little By Little” and “Healing” on Groove Armada’s third album Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub). In 2000 Havens also published They Can’t Hide Us Anymore, an autobiography co-written with Steve Davidowitz. He maintained his status as a folk icon and continued to tour. In 2002 he released Wishing Well, followed by the 2004 album Grace of the Sun. In 2003 the National Music Council awarded Havens the American Eagle Award for his place as part of America’s musical heritage and for providing “a rare and inspiring voice of eloquence, integrity and social responsibility.” On October 15th, 2006, Havens was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. In 2007 Havens appeared as Old Man Arvin in the Todd Haynes film I’m Not There. In a classic front-porch jam scene, he was shown singing the Bob Dylan song “Tombstone Blues” with Marcus Carl Franklin and Tyrone Benskin. Havens’ version of the song also appears on the I’m Not There soundtrack. Havens was invited to perform at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival opening ceremony, and played “Freedom” at the request of the jury president, Sean Penn. In March 2008 Havens released a new studio album entitled, Nobody Left To Crown. The first single release was the country-tinged “The Key.” He also performed at the London, Ontario, Blues Festival in July 2008. Havens appeared in the acclaimed 2009 film Soundtrack for a Revolution, which provided a general history of the modern civil rights movement, and had modern artists performing many of the era’s musical classics. In the film, Havens performed a haunting rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken?. On May 3rd, 2009, Havens performed at the fundraising concert in honor of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. In June 2009 he performed at the fifth annual Mountain Jam Festival. The event, hosted by the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, was held at the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort in Hunter, New York. As is the tradition, the festival took place on the weekend following Memorial Day. On June 20th, 2009, Havens performed at the Clearwater Festival. On July 4th, 2009, he performed at the Woodstock Tribute festival in Ramsey, New Jersey. On August 8th, 2010, he performed at Musikfest 2010 at Foy Hall at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 2010 Havens had kidney surgery but did not recover fully enough to perform as he had before. On March 20th, 2012, he announced on his Facebook page that he would stop touring after 45 years due to health concerns. He was cremated after his death, and pursuant to his request, his ashes were scattered from a plane over the site of the Woodstock festival, in a ceremony held on August 18th, 2013, the 44th anniversary of the last day of the festival (died 2013): “I opened the Woodstock Festival even though I was supposed to be fifth. I said, “What am I doing here? No, no, not me, not first!” I had to go on stage because there was no one else to go on first – the concert was already two-and-a-half hours late. Everyone was at the hotel seven miles away and couldn’t get to the stage because the one back road they thought they could take was completely blocked. I was alone on stage for two-and-a-half hours before any of the other performers came!”