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The Pope Trope 

Wednesday, Apr 21 1999
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Art by Mike LeeAFTER DISAPPOINTING SALES OF HIS 1994 CD, The Rosary (distributed exclusively by Divucsa Records, Spain), the pope's second CD, Abbà Pater, just came out on Sony Classical, and things are looking up. With Sony's hardcore megabuck publicity campaign -- a copy was even sent to the Weekly -- the new CD promises the Vatican's biggest increase in market share since Vatican II. I've been listening to it all night (with the requisite and simultaneous red wine and Lenny Bruce: Swear To Tell the Truth, Robert B. Weide's 1998 documentary), and I can't tell you how elated I feel.

Read my words: 1999 is the year The Pope becomes a household name.

In the mid-'70s, when my papal knowledge was limited to Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch, I met a straight married couple by the name of Gorecki (rhymes with Jet-ski™). The Goreckis taught at the University of Illinois. They had moved to Champaign-Urbana from Poland, and now their daughter, Marie, was my brother Daniel's girlfriend. The four Goreckis -- Dr. and Dr., Marie and her brother, Piotr -- visited the five Shulmans occasionally to sit around and talk, have a few drinks, that kind of thing. During one of these visits, they mentioned how someone they knew from college -- some guy who'd been in this experimental theater group -- had become a top executive in the religion biz and was being seriously considered for potential popedom if and when the current pope -- Paul VI -- kicked the holy bucket, which no one particularly expected.

"No one expected the Spanish Inquisition," said I, for I was young and truly annoying.

By the time Pope Paul VI went to heaven, in August 1978, Danny and Marie had long since broken up. We'd been out of touch with the Goreckis for at least a year, but we paid attention to the Vatican transition anyway. Someone from Italy named Albino Luciani was elected to replace Paul VI as John Paul I.

Not the guy.

No. But a month goes by and -- remember? -- Luciani dies. A new election is held, and this time a very white man from Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, a.k.a. "Lolek," is named Pope John Paul II.

That's the guy. The Goreckis' friend.

Watching the pope-adjacent ceremonies and commotion on television over the next few weeks, I tried to imagine the young actor, 40 years earlier, onstage in Kraków. I'd never thought of a pope as a former member of an experimental theater group, yet here he was -- an ex-actor being promoted to a job wherein his authority on all sorts of important things would now be considered incontrovertible by millions of followers, fully two years before Reagan. Here was some old friends' old friend, onstage again, with more groupies than Led Zeppelin and Billy Joel combined, yet he was just a man -- a kind man who woke up, put on his uniform and went to work, well aware that no matter what else the day might bring, he would definitely not get laid.

 

> If everyone throughout history had been fruitful and multiplied by the Book, we'd have suffocated ourselves centuries ago: Human flesh would be moving at the speed of light. Fortunately for us, civilized population control methods such as the Spanish Inquisition saved the day. Young Paul Fitzpatrick of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab has arranged just the right amount of text, images and reverence into a sort of do-it-yourself Spanish Inquisition site (www.ai.mit.edu/people/paulfitz/ spanish/index.html). Read up on celebrity confessions -- George Washington, Winston Churchill, Barney the Dinosaur -- or fill out your own confession form for some refreshing after-dinner salvation (www.ai.mit.edu/people/paulfitz/spanish/con form.html). Includes a complete, interactive version of the aforementioned Monty Python sketch, replete with assorted comfortable chairs ("models available in dark-oak or light-cherry finish").

 

> In 1995, Terry Gilliam (Cardinal Fang in the Python sketch) did a short interview with Webcast Multimedia, a 1MB chunk of which was entitled Overpopulation (www.filmscouts.com/zzvmisc/ ter-gil/ter-gil3.mov). In it, Gilliam appears to be sitting alone in a conspicuously comfortable chair -- a highly effective form of birth control.

 

> As I mentioned, the pope's new CD kicks ass. It's overproduced in a highly digestible, Peter Gabriel sort of way, and includes a 32-page high-gloss booklet. But wait; there's more: Download a QuickTime video clip (www.sonyclassical.com/videos/ 61705/abba_pater.mov) featuring cameos from Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Sony Classical's elegant, streamlined logo (© 1999 Sony Music Entertainment).

EPILOGUE: IN THE BEGINNING

The Goreckis came from Catholic stock. The Shulmans came from Jewish stock. Danny and Marie spent a lot of time together. And then Marie went out of town for a few weeks, and Danny missed her.

When she returned, my parents sent me to sleep over at a friend's house while they spent the night across town at my sister's apartment. So that, with the Goreckis' blessings, Danny and Marie could have the house all to themselves.

And nothing bad happened.

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