Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Singing for Salvation

After a heavy-duty post, I believe something a bit lighter is in order. Plus, it gives me some time to write my next book review, a contemporary Japanese murder mystery.

This is a true story except . . . well, you'll find out.

* * * * *


When my little sister and I were in grammar school, either Mom or Dad taught us George M. Cohan’s song “Harrigan” using our name, Callahan, in place of the name, er, Harrigan.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the Snoop Sisters at school found out about our personal family song (to this day I suspect it was my blabbermouth little sister). If sharp pointers and flying erasers weren’t bad enough, then forcing me to sing “Callahan” to the tune of “Harrigan” in front of the whole class was the ultimate humiliation, degradation, and penance for my massive amount of sins.

I mean, I couldn’t carry a tune in an iPod. I made Lurch sound like Josh Groban. If old George M. had heard me sing, he would have spit up in his Guinness before rolling over in his grave.

Luckily, my blabbermouth sister was a pretty good singer when she wasn’t blabbing. She took the spotlight off me, plus she was something to hang onto when I felt like toppling over from performance anxiety. She would belt out “CALLAHAN!!!” like a pint-size Ethel Merman, while I stood there shaking and squeaking like Spanky’s pal Alfalfa (not to mention that I looked like him too).

Whenever we had a visitor at school, which was usually one of the parish priests who had nothing better to do than bug the piss out of everyone, Cathy and I would have to do our big (and only) number:

C-A-Double L-A, H-A-N spells Callahan!
Proud of all the Irish blood that's in me,
Divil a man can say a word agin me!
C-A-Double L-A, H-A-N you see!
It's a name
that no shame
has ever been connected with,
CALLAHAN, that's ME!

One time, we had to sing for the bishop. Not just your ordinary, garden-variety bishop mind you, but Bishop Fulton J. Sheen himself.

You remember him, the fellow in the 1950s who had eyes that could peer straight into your soul and see every filthy corner of it. I have no idea how he did it, but whenever he was staring at you out of the television set his piercing eyes followed you all over the room. You could lie under the carpet, hang out the window by your toes, or swing back and forth on the ceiling light fixture: It didn’t make a damn bit of difference where you tried to hide because he could . . . see . . . you.

This guy was so good that he even scared the crap out of the Protestants.

When the Bishop came to visit our humble St. Agony’s Parish, one of the Snoop Sisters made us sing the stupid song for him. Twice. He stared at us the whole time, just like he did on television, and I had my normal Bishop Fulton J. Sheen reaction: I wet my pants.

But then, when we were finished, he smiled and said we were very good. Well, he told Cathy she was very good, and he gave her a nice holy card of some beheaded saint with her head lying in a wicker basket, bloody-stump-first. “It’s an omen,” I thought bleakly.

About a week later, though, I got a package in the mail. It was a brand-new box of Sunday collection envelopes with my name, “Charles Harrigan”, printed on each one of them, along with this note:

“Please use these instead of your voice and we will all be thankful.”

(I made the last two paragraphs up because I think they’re endearingly and heartwarmingly Catholic.)

* * * * *

For those who would like to sing along, here's the tune and words. It is mandatory, however, that the name "Callahan" be substitued for "Harrigan." This is the best recording I could find, so you'll also have to turn your speakers UP. It's worth it, though, just so you'll know what I went through. [Thanks to Kim Ayres for the suggestion—the man is always thinking.]


Kim Ayres said...

Have you managed to find the song on YouTube? You could post a link then we could all sing along, only making sure we insert your name!

koonsmother said...


Just trying to help.

Charlie said...

KIM: Having heard your voice, I suspect you are a tenor. The reason I didn't find a video on YouTube was because I never thought of it. Thanks again.

KM: Thanks for your help too. Between Kim and you, there's no reason for me to do my own thinking. I like it.

Wandering Coyote said...

Man, that is one creepy bishop! I get chills from the picture you posted.

Did you indeed pee your pants in front of him? That's terrible...and classic.

Charlie said...

WC: Did you mean classy instead of classic? There was indeed a partial squirt, but nothing like Old Faithful. I had terrible performance anxiety as a kid—I wanted to be invisible, but the Snoop Sisters wouldn't let me.

Stinkypaw said...

Why do I have this snealking suspicion I'll be stuck with that tune for the rest of the day?!

Wandering Coyote said...

No, I meant "classic."

Pat said...

Catchy tune. I think Stinkypaw is right.
I'm so glad I'm no the only person in the whole world who remembers Spanky.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

So glad you posted that clip. Otherwise I would have been up all night wondering how the hell that song sounded anyway.

And you probably never knew you keep me awake nights!

Charlie said...

STINKY: The rest of the day? Hell, I was stuck with it for about three years, until even the Snoop Sisters got tired of hearing it.

WC: OK. Just thought I'd check.

PAT: With all the youngsters around this place, I have a feeling there are a lot of things only you and I remember.

BARBARA: Go ahead, blame me for your insomnia. Or are you being fresh?

St Jude said...

Very catchy tune, very scary bishop.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I love this theme. And you do so well capturing it. Brings back some interesting memories.

Charlie said...

ST JUDE: Yes and yes. (Talkative, aren't I.)

SHELLIE: Your "interesting memories" make me curious. I take that back. They make me snoopy, but I won't make you sing in front of the class.

savannah said...

12 years of catholic school, sugar! seen it all and then some! and yes, i remember our gang on tv! xoxoxo

Tiffin said...

Perfesser, that bishop of yours didn't scare me in the least. Mitre or crown, they all tumble down. Seriously, though, he did stand up against the Vietnam war and Stalin. I respected him for that. Cute story about you singing.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Charlie -
I loved the school - it was mostly fun - except the rulers across the knuckles, soap in the mouth and standing for 15 minutes with my nose to the black board on a chalk spot that was not allowed to be wiped off. Those nuns did some odd things. And there was brother Brian - sweet and swishy who ran the chior. :)

But enough of that I have come to tag/torture you with an evil meme. lol!
No pressure but this could be very funny (or not). Its called Whats on your desk Wednesday.
Take a pic of your desk or tbr pile without cleaning it and post it then tag others - spread the pain. Sort of goes well with this post. lol.
Here is the link to my post the post
No pressure, have fun. :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

We had a version of "Harrigan" on High Fidelity 33 1/3 vinyl by Mitch Miller and the Gang. My dad loved to sing it. The album was titled: "Favorite Irish Sing-Alongs. Creepy looking guy, that Mitch.

Charlie said...

SAVANNAH: You never saw me try to sing, so you saw damn near everything and then some.

12 years. I believe you'll be the first Saint Savannah, which has kind of a nice ring to it.

TIFFIN: Sheen's program, "Life is Worth Living," was broadcast nationally to 30 million people in the U.S. He did indeed denounce Stalin and Vietnam on the air, which had a non-denominational audience. He also wrote a total of fifty-three books.

Nevertheless, his intense stare always got to me.

SHELLIE: We never had corporal punishment in grammar school—after all, they were the Sisters of Mercy—but boys high school was a different story. I was so happy to flunk out after two years!

Thanks, I think, for the meme.

ROBERT: Long story, but I met Mitch at the Macy's Day Parade in the early 60s because we were both from Rochester, NY. Lots and lots of makeup and weird eyebrows, but the guy made a mint.

kara said...

is it normally difficult to scare the crap out of protestants?

Charlie said...

KARA: I don't know—I've never tried.

Meg said...

Oh my gosh. How traumatic!

Mary Witzl said...

I remember that song. Only very vaguely, but I still remember it. I think that show was on just before Leave it to Beaver -- or was it My Three Sons?

Bishop Sheen must have been a great guy: Martin Sheen the actor took his name as his own. That counts for a lot in my book: I'm a HUGE Martin Sheen fan.