Wednesday, August 30, 2017


How do they do it? I’m talking about frequent flyers. Tens of thousands of people fly at least once a week for business. My friends Jesse Manibusan and Steve Angrisano fly at least four times a month, ten months out of the years, for their road ministry of evangelization.

I’m old enough to remember watching television coverage of the Beatles as they walked down a ramp from their chartered plane at airports in major cities around the world while thousands of screaming teenagers greeted them at the terminal. Those kids wouldn’t even be allowed to do that in these post-9/11 times.

Flying has always been a part of the rock’n’roll dream. Musicians who have reached a certain level of success need to fly so they can bring their music and message across the country and beyond. Popular rock bands and pop singers fly with relative comfort, but most people slog it out with the madding crowd, waiting in long check-in lines, going through security (in my case, with a fragile guitar), and standing in yet another line to board the plane.

When I first started doing this Catholic music thing in the mid-1970s, I was flying from Los Angeles to Boston in a roomy 747, with plenty of leg room to stretch out and a fairly decent in-flight meal like Chicken Cordon Bleu. The plane was full but not overly packed. Nowadays, passengers are stuffed into a 737, shoulder-to-shoulder like sardines. It feels like my knee is touching my chin, and if I stay seated for too long on a cross-country flight my legs start to get numb. For a meal, we’re lucky if we get a tiny bag of honey-roasted peanuts.

I needn’t go on. Anyone who flies knows exactly what I’m talking about. Why do we do it? The simple answer is: to get from here to there as quickly as possible. For us Catholic composers and artists, we’re only trying to get to the people we serve. That alone is worth the inconvenience of airports and airplanes.

Case in point is the gig Jesse Manibusan and I had this past weekend, August 27, 2017. We entertained the military families of Joint Base Lewis-McChord at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. We toyed with the idea of driving there from Portland, but Jesse was coming from San Francisco and it was easier for him to fly to Tacoma directly. It’s only a two-hour to three-hour drive for me but I just didn’t feel like driving that 143-mile distance alone. So I booked the 30-minute flight on Alaska Airlines. It was really a choice between a rock and a hard place!

Oh, sure, the flight itself was uneventful and quick, but dealing with the usual airport lines and the security and the waiting was a huge headache. And, oy, the walking! The Alaska commuter terminals are way out in the boondocks at both PDX and SEATAC. I was trudging my bags and my bass guitar across long distances that never seemed to end.

But the soldiers and families Jesse and I met at the base more than justified the hassle. We helped lead music at the 9:00 and 10:30 liturgies, working with choirs of young people for each Mass. 

Afterward, there was a barbecue for the first interfaith summer picnic at Lewis-McChord. The base houses soldiers and their young families, often while the father or mother are deployed overseas. There must have been one thousand people on the outdoor picnic grounds, enjoying delicious barbecue by the Knights of Columbus and getting to know one another. The Catholic and Protestant chaplains were very pleased by the turnout and the comradery.

Jesse and I played with a band of base musicians and our friend Tony Gomez on percussion. We entertained the families with our own songs from Fish With Me, plus favorite songs by the Beatles, the Monkees, the Temptations, Ritchie Valens, and even Journey. Keeping in mind the ecumenical mix, we also did some contemporary praise songs that are common to both Catholics and Protestants. The little kids were awesome with the hand gestures, and it was great to chat with their parents and hear their stories.

It was 9:30pm on Sunday evening by the time I returned to Portland. I’m no spring chicken anymore and I was physically drained as I trudged across the terminal, guitar in tow. At one point, a young woman noticed I was limping slowly and dragging my feet. She asked if I needed any help. I smiled and thanked her for her kindness, even as I thought, “Gee, do I look that bad?” But it was a great weekend, spreading the Good News with Jesse and bringing good cheer to families who sacrifice so much for our country.

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