Blog Posts

History of the Poinsettia

December 6, 2005 /


Some thirty years ago, I studied one summer in Cuernavaca, a little town south of Mexico City. There is a story told there that long ago the people flocked to church on Christmas Eve because they loved to fill the Christ child’s manger with flowers. A little boy named Jose was too poor to buy any flowers. The story continues that an angel appeared to him and told him to pick some weeds from the side of the road. Following the instructions, Jose brought the weeds to the church. When he put them in the manger, they changed into beautiful scarlet flowers, which the Mexicans call the “Flor de la Noche Buena,” the Flower of the Holy Night.

These striking blooms caught the attention of Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, America’s first ambassador to Mexico. Dr. Poinsett brought the plant to America and raised it in his greenhouses in Charleston, South Carolina. It was named in his honor in 1836.

There are also white, pink and dappled poinsettias. By the early 1900’s, they were sold as potted plants in California. Many poinsettias are still raised in the state, especially for use as Christmas gifts and decorations. The city of Ventura, California is even known as the Poinsettia City.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of the Creche

December 5, 2005 /


One of the most beautiful Christmas traditions is setting up a creche during the Advent season. A creche is a model of the scene at the manger on the first Christmas in the stable at Bethlehem. A creche can be a small model, set up in the home or a large scene set up at a church or lawn.

The word creche is from the French word for manger. The French word comes from the Italian word Greccio. Greccio was the town where the first manger scene was set up by St. Francis of Assisi, in 1223. Before that time, many churches had built mangers, but these early mangers were covered with gold, silver, and jewels. They were much fancier than the original manger in which the Christ child was laid.

St. Francis wanted people to remember that Jesus was born in a humble stable. He asked a farmer friend of his to help by bringing an ox, a donkey, a manger and some straw to a nearby cave. On Christmas Eve, St. Francis and the people of Greccio met in this cave. By candlelight, they acted out the story of Jesus’ birth.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of Christmas: Traditions

December 4, 2005 /


Many of the customs that we associate with Christmas come from largely pagan or pre-Christian backgrounds. The word ‘Yule’ comes from an old Norse word for a twelve-day celebration. Mistletoe was prominent in the traditions of the Druids and the lore of northern Europe. The wassail bowl was first known in Scandinavia. Holly was used for decoration in the twelve-day Roman holiday known as the Saturnalia, which was followed by twelve holy days ending on January 1, and is where we get the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. Incidentally, the “X” in ‘Xmas’ is not an abbreviation for ‘cross’. It represents “chi” (which looks like our ‘x’), the first letter in the Greek word “christos”, which like the Hebrew word “messiah” means “the anointed one”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of Christmas: King Herod

December 1, 2005 /


When the wise men asked Herod the King “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” their question was not really spoken in a vacuum, for even the Roman author Suetonius wrote, “There had spread all over the East an old and established belief that it was fated for men coming from Judea at that time to rule the world”. But as wise as they were, their inquiry before the King showed no great tact. For instead of understanding the question to mean “Where is he who will someday succeed you”, Herod’s suspicious mind warped the query into “Where is the REAL king, you impostor?” At the time Herod mistrusted everyone and thought himself surrounded by young aspirants all plotting to seize his throne.

Rather than clap the Magi in irons for asking such a question, his native shrewdness tried to ferret out whatever information he could from them in order to kill off a possible rival. From the information he had gained about the date of the appearance of the star, and from the Old Testament prophesies his own scholars knew of, Herod concluded that the “king of the Jews” was about 2 years old and living in Bethlehem. By the way, since Herod died in 4 B.C., and Jesus was around 2, we might surmise that Jesus was born between 6-4 B.C. Furthermore, the wise men did not visit Jesus in the manger, contrary to the Hallmark Christmas cards, but some time later, perhaps 2 years later, when he was living in a house (Matthew 2:11).

The young Herod had been an exceptionally able ruler, governing Palestine as client-king in behalf of the Roman emperor Augustus. The House of Herod had the uncanny knack of being able to sniff the airs of Mediterranean politics and make the right choices. Herod’s father had given crucial help to Julius Caesar when he was down in Egypt, cut off from his supplies, and Caesar rewarded him handsomely for that. Herod himself shrewdly advised his friend Mark Antony to drop Cleopatra and make peace with Rome (advice he should have followed). And once Augustus emerged victorious from the civil wars, he was so impressed with young Herod that he allowed him to become one of his most trusted friends.

Herod beautified Palestine during his 33 year reign. He erected palaces, fortresses (Masada, for example), temples, aqueducts, cities, and – his crowning achievement – the great new Temple in Jerusalem. He created the magnificent port of Caesarea in honor of Augustus and stimulated trade and commerce. He also patronized culture in cities far from Palestine and easily became the talk of the eastern Mediterranean. He even sponsored the Olympic games of 12 B.C.!

But he had little support in his own kingdom. As a half-Jew he seemed far too Romanizing for his subjects, whom he taxed heavily. Soon he was hated as a tyrant, even by his own family. Herod was so jealous of his favorite wife (he married ten wives) that on two occasions he ordered that she be killed if he failed to return from a critical mission. He finally killed her anyway, as well as her grandfather, her mother, his brother-in-law, and three of his sons, not to mention numerous subjects. In his advancing paranoia, he was continually writing to Rome for permission to execute one or two of his sons for treason. Finally even his patron and friend Augustus had to admit, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son”. It was not only a play on the similar sounding Greek words for son and pig, but a wry reference to the fact that pork, at least, was not consumed by Jews.

Old and very ill from arteriosclerosis, Herod worried that no one would mourn his death – a justified concern. So he issued orders from his deathbed that leaders from all parts of Judea were to be locked inside the great hippodrome at Jericho. When Herod died, archers were to massacre these thousands in cold blood, so there would indeed be universal mourning associated with his death. Although the leaders were gathered, the order was never given. Not only did this plan fail, but so did his plan to kill “he who has been born king of the Jews”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

From Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of the Wise Men: the Magi

November 30, 2005 /


You’re familiar with the song that begins “We Three Kings of Orient Are…” but it is inaccurate in at least three ways. We don’t know how many there were, but we know they weren’t kings. They did not originate in the Orient, meaning the Far East.

How could they have seen the star “in the East” and arrived in Jerusalem unless they began somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as it says in the Gospel of Matthew 2:2 “We saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him”. One easy explanation is to see it in the sense of “We saw his star when we were in the east and have come from the east to worship him”.

A number of tradition places their number at three, with the presumption of three gifts for three givers: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But some earlier traditions make quite a caravan of their visit, setting their number as high as twelve.

The term “magi” is usually translated wise men, astrologers, or magicians (the word “magic” comes from magi). “The East”, has been variously identified as any country from Arabia to Media and Persia, but usually no further east.

What we know about their origin suggests to Mesopotamian or Persian origins for the magi, who were known to be an old and powerful priestly caste among both the Medes and Persians. These priest-sages who were extremely well educated for their day, were specialists in a variety of disciplines, including medicine, religion, astronomy, astrology, divination, and magic, and their caste eventually spread across much of the East. As in any profession, there were both good and bad magi, depending on whether they did research in the sciences or practiced augury, necromancy, and magic. The Persian magi at least were credited with higher religious and intellectual attainments, while the Babylonian magi were sometimes deemed impostors. The safest conclusion is that the Magi of Christmas were Persian, for the term originated among the Medo-Persians, and early Syriac traditions give them Persian names.

Primitive Christian art in the second-century Roman Catacombs of Pricilla, which I have visited, dresses them in Persian garments, and a majority of early church fathers interpret them as Persians.

The Church of the Nativity was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine’s mother upon the traditional site in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and indeed it is the only major church in the Holy Land that survives intact from the early Christian period. In 614, the church had a narrow escape. A Sassanian army from Persia had invaded the Holy Land and proceeded to destroy all the churches. However, they desisted at Bethlehem because they recognized the images of their ancestors, the Magi, above the entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Persian headdress. This account makes sense by virtue of the fact that the Magi were traditionally represented in early Christian art as Zoroastrian priests

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Inspired by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Christmas: Year

November 29, 2005 /


It’s obvious that Jesus was born on December 25, A.D. 1, right? Wrong. We do know that Herod the Great (who killed all the babies in Bethlehem younger than 2 years of age) died in the spring of 4 B.C., and the king was quite alive during the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) in the Nativity story told in the Gospel of Mark. So Jesus must have been born before this time, anywhere from 7-4 B.C. (Before Christ, or before himself!)

Why is there a gap of this much time in our modern calendar? There was a Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer named Dionysis Exeguus (Dionysis the Little) during the 6th century who unwittingly committed what has become history’s greatest numerical error as it relates to the calendar. As he endeavored to reform the Western calendar to center around Jesus’ birth, he erroniously placed the date of the Nativity in the year 753 from the founding of Rome (753 a.u.c. or Ab Urbe Condita), even though Herod died only 749 years after the founding of the city of Rome. The cumulative effect of Dionysis’ calendar error, which is the same calendar we use today, was to give the correct traditional date for the founding of Rome, but one that is at least 4 to 7 years off for the birth of Christ.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Inspired by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Christmas: Season

November 29, 2005 /


You’ve seen the greeting card — Joseph along with Mary on the back of a donkey making their way to Bethlehem in the wintery snow. But could Jesus have been born during that time of the year, perhaps with snow on the ground? It is possible, as 3 to 4 days a year snow can fall in Palestine. In January on 1950 for example there was 20 inches on the ground in Israel. It is usually pointed out that shepherds don’t have sheep on the hilsides during the winter, though the Nativity story reports “…shepherds watched their flocks by night…” But there were flocks of special sheep, those who were designated for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem who were kept all year round near Bethlehem at Beit Sahur, the “Tower of the Flock”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Inspired by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2005 /


The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony, although such celebrations date from ancient times. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America. The picture you usually see of a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621 we know that some 90 men accompanied the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit to visit at Plymouth for three days of fish, foul, and venison. But of the roughly 100 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, about half had died by this time. This would have left about half the 52 survivors as English men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!

The idea of a day set apart to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to render homage to the Spirit who caused the fruits and crops to grow is both ancient and universal. The practice of designating a day of thanksgiving for specific spiritual or secular benefits has been followed in many countries.

One of the first general proclamations was made in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1676. President George Washington in 1789 issued the first presidential thanksgiving proclamation in honor of the new constitution. During the 19th century an increasing number of states observed the day annually, each appointing its own day. President Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, by presidential proclamation appointed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, due to the unremitting efforts of Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Each succeeding president made similar proclamations until Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939 appointed the third Thursday of November, primarily to allow a special holiday weekend for national public holiday. This was changed two years later by both congress and the President to the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving Day remains a day when many express gratitude to God for blessings and celebrate material bounty.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

November 19, 2005 /
Categories: ,

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I had the opportunity to catch a private pre-screening of this movie. What a treat!

It opens in black and white with a dark and stormy night and the Warner Brothers logo. Then a snake slithers along the ground… and then the title. But soon afterward it explodes into full-color fireworks of the World Cup of Quidditch. But we aren’t shown this exciting game as it’s portrayed in the book (you’ve got to cut something from the 734-page book. They were toying with making two movies from it, to be released close together, but ultimately decided against it.) Rather we’re ushered into a different contest, the TriWizard Tournament competition.

It soon becomes clear that this isn’t your previous kiddies movie. As the first PG-13 movie in the Harry Potter franchise, it’s darker, more frightening and more mature. In many ways, it is the most satisfying of the series. However, the appearance of the personification of Lord Voldemort and some other scenes may be too intense for younger viewers.

This is not about fun and games, the struggles here are about life and death.

This movie picks up our heroes at the age of 14, whom we haven’t seen since they were 13, and the awkward challenges they face with their teenage years including testing the nature of their friendship. Associated with the TriWizard Tournament is the Christmas Eve night Yule Ball (a Christian holiday mentioned amongst the magic?) As each of our trio struggles with who to go to the dance with, some of the sly humor comes out.

As the visiting contestants from two other foreign wizarding schools arrive at Hogwarts, the special effects are the most dazzling yet. With a submarine sailing ship and a pegasus-pulled carriage, it’s fabulous.


The budding romance between Ron and Hermione is set aside as she is squired to the dance by an older visiting Bulgarian contestant. But Hermione is now revealed as a budding lovely young lady. This was hinted at in the previous movie but now showcased with her dramatic entrance to the Ball.

While Ron complains and mostly mopes, he does get one delightful scene with the delicious Maggie Smith as she instructs her charges in the fine art of formal dance.

Harry, on the other hand, laments how difficult it is to ask a girl to the Ball when they tend to “travel in packs.” His gaze has turned to a new face, the fresh face of Katie Leung in the role of Cho Chang, picked from an audition of 3,000 young ladies. The clumsiness and awkwardness of adolescence are poignant and touching, deftly and honestly handled.

Even Hagrid gets in the act with the French schoolmistress Olympe Maxima, an affecting and rather touching scene where both reveal some of their giant histories.

The climactic portion of the movie deals with the Tournament, with three tasks: in air, the water and on land (no it’s not Earth, Wind, and Fire… though when one thinks of dragons, one does tend to think of fire.) The contest with the dragon shows the decidedly Gothic spires of Hogwarts’ roofline in great array. But, it is the second contest that shows Harry’s character.

Harry Potter is an “everyman”, a rather ordinary boy with extraordinary power. But as a hero, he’s unexpected and reluctant, not the quickest in mind or body, but his character is revealed in each trial as that of “strong moral fiber.”

The third trial, in an ever-changing hedge-maze really shows what he’s made of as he faces difficult choices as he competes for the same goal as the other combatants.

Meanwhile, the co-starring roles of the Hogwarts’ faculty is delightful. Brendan Gleeson does a terrific job as the curious “Mad Eye” Moody, a new Professor of Defense against the Dark Arts, and his arch Dublin accent puts him just short of a Pirate. He’s had significant roles in recent movies, including Menelaus in “Troy” and Reynald in “Kingdom of Heaven.” He is probably best remembered as Mel Gibson’s right-hand man Hamish in “Braveheart” which was filmed mostly in Ireland. Ironically, Gleeson spent 10 years teaching school before becoming an actor.

Miranda Richardson plays the role of Rita Skeeter the gossip reporter for the Daily Prophet. You may remember her in the role of Madame Giry in the movie version of “Phantom of the Opera” or as Queen Elizabeth for fans of the BBC series “Blackadder II.”

Alan Rickman’s deliciously loathsome Professor Severus Snape is a delight to see at any time. My first recollection of him is as the bad guy in “Die Hard” but he’s been in a ton of English movies and other fine American ones. And who can forget him in “Sense and Sensibility?”

While the other professors have less screen time than in the previous movies, Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, knighted as CBE) has decidedly more exposure. We’ve loved him in “Gosford Park” and many other roles especially in West End Theatre in London.

Obligatory Movie trivia: he once auditioned for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby’s single performance in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” but was turned down as they didn’t want to hire another “unknown.” More ironic still, he appears in the 2004 movie “Layer Cake” with Daniel Craig, who has been cast as the new James Bond in the next 007 outing “Casino Royal.”

But this film especially felt the absence of Richard Harris in the role. Gambon seems to be more of an academic functionary and a less wise and powerful wizard than Harris. Something about Harris suggested his kind affection for the lonely orphan Harry. And Harris has played his share of regal characters.

Obligatory Theatre trivia: I had the pleasure of seeing Richard Harris in person doing the role of King Arthur in the revival of “Camelot” some 25 years ago in Los Angeles. While Harris did have a hit single in the 60s with “MacArthur Park” he is not known for his singing. However, he was a stand in for the original Richard Burton, who is even less known for his singing, but Burton had been permanently sidelined from the revival tour by a pinched nerve in his back.

At the end of each movie, Dumbledor has a brief interview with Harry where he asks simple yet deep questions and imparts some wisdom. The same happens here as he notes that with his coming of age he will have to make decisions “between what is right and what is easy.”

Ralph Fiennes is cast as the now corporeal Lord Voldemort. Lithe and reptilian he is both charming and loathsome as the evil wizard who years ago killed Harry’s parents. Harry’s contest with him is quite dramatic and revealing. I’ll say no more.

This is the first Harry Potter movie where John Williams does not do the music, other than the theme, and he wasn’t missed. I find the theme too reminiscent of his music in “Hook” and rather distracting in the Potter movies. Instead, in this movie, the music is by Patrick Doyle, who had a small role as an actor in my favorite movie “Chariots of Fire” (1981). He’s also done the music for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Gosford Park.” It’s got more of a sense of wonder and whimsey.

This movie was sincerely entertaining, a real pop-corn pleaser for the holidays, but those who know me have heard me describe the Harry Potter books as “Diet Tolkien” or “C.S. Lewis Lite.” While it does enjoy magic, it is derivative of Ursula K. LeGuin’s wizard school in “A Wizard of Earthsea” books. And the creatures, culture, history, and languages in no way compare to the depth and scope of Tolkien. Not that J.K. Rowling is not a good writer, it’s just that Tolkien was a professor and new his history, language and literature to a level far beyond Rowling. And Tolkien’s close friend, fellow professor and novelist C.S. Lewis was equally popular, especially with his magic series. Tolkien is my favorite writer of fiction, but I love Lewis’ non-fiction writing.

It will be interesting to see what December’s movie “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” brings.

Grade: B+

  • You’ll like it if: You like action, special effects, teen romance
  • You won’t if: You’re disappointed by movies that don’t cleave close to the book or are easily frightened

Bill Petro

Concert Review: Paul McCartney at Pepsi Center in Denver

November 13, 2005 /
Categories: , , ,


Sir Paul McCartney last visited the Denver Pepsi Center in 2002, where he performed what has now been captured on his album Back in the US. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been going to major concerts for 35 years. Why was this?

Paul McCartney plays the soundtrack of my life.

He created and plays the music my generation grew up on. It is hard to exaggerate that the Beatles — the group he was in before Wings — was one of the most seminal bands of the last century and changed the face of popular music and culture. Was this concert in November of 2005 as good? I’ll tell you at The End.

What does a $115 ticket buy you? Not the worst seat in the house. No, that was the seat a hundred feet to my left. At this price, it’s BYOO (Bring Your Own Oxygen). To get a seat on the floor is $250 plus fees.

The $30 Tour Program was very sharp, though curiously, filled with ads. Admittedly, there was inevitably a McCartney tie-in. This tour showcases his latest album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.”


Did you notice that Paul McCartney’s name on it is the same if rotated 180 degrees?

The show started about 30 minutes late. The Introductory part included a synthesized and amplified compilation of his music driven by a live DJ, with incomprehensible voice-overs by Paul and his wife with some colorful gear animations on the Jumbotron projector screen. Almost Peter Max-esque, like Yellow Submarine. Animation is a penchant for Sir Paul.

This was followed by a video starting with WWII in 1942 and the bombing of England, his birth, and early life in Liverpool.

Obligatory history trivia: This most successful musician, and the UK’s first music billionaire, was once a choir boy at his Anglican church in Liverpool. When he auditioned at the much larger Cathedral, indeed the largest Anglican Church in Britain, he was turned down as not talented enough. In 1991, he performed his Oratorio there. The story goes (whether true or not) that when he returned, he saw the old priest who turned him down. When Paul asked if he remembered him and what he’d said, the reply was,

“Yes, and because of it, you went on to become a Beatle!”

Liverpool Cathedral

There were then photos of the Quarrymen then the Beatles at the 1964 Ed Sullivan Show (I remember watching it) and then Wings. Then various tours followed by the 9/11 concert in NY, Live 8 in Hyde Park, London, and his colossal concert “Live in Red Square,” Moscow. (Back in the 1960s, the Beatles had been forbidden in the Soviet Union.)

Yet another history trivia: When Paul performed his previous tour in Rome, they build a stage over part of the floor of the Coliseum. A historical first!

Roman Amphitheatre

The show began in earnest 45 minutes late, thanks to security scans of all attendees. And it started with a surprise, though a very logical one – as we were asked to Roll Up, Roll Up For the Mystery Tour

  • Magical Mystery Tour

This title track to the album of the same name began with a live lighted stage floor lit up like a pinball machine. It was the most high-tech stage I’d seen. It appears to have been a 24 x 24 matrix of square LCD screens that could display colors and even animated pictures on the flat stage that extended to the back and curved up to a vertical backdrop to the drum set. By the way, the Beatles coach (bus) tour from the Liverpool Tourist Information Center is called The Magical Mystery Tour.


Paul introduced the “US” show with

“We have come for many miles to rock you tonight — and rock you we will!”

The crowd went wild.

The next song was:

  • Flaming Pie

This song is from his album of the same name.

  • Jet

The bass was overwhelming, even through my earplugs. After too many years of concerts by The Who earplugs have become required.

Paul then said,

“We’re gonna play some new songs and some old songs. The next one definitely falls into the later. If you remember it, you weren’t there.”

  • I’ll Get You (in the End)

This is a song he’s never performed live since the Beatles. He followed this with,

“Here’s one we performed at the Super Bowl.”

  • (Baby You Can) Drive My Car

There were two lava lamps next to the keyboard set. Foreshadowing?

“We performed in Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues clubs in Liverpool. We wanted to do the cabaret clubs — probably because they paid better. But you had to do a smoochier set.”

So he played:

  • Till There Was You

This is Paul’s old cover from the musical “The Music Man” this time accompanied by an accordion! And I thought it was the case: Use an accordion, go to jail. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law!

Abe, his drummer, said,

“Hello Denver, it’s good to be back. You’re looking good. Are you ready to rock?”

Thunderous affirmative from the crowd.

  • Let Me Roll It

Which was followed by a guitar riff Jimi Hendrix “Foxy Lady.” Then:

  • Got To Get You into My Life

Where the horns, of course, were synthetic, but every note, which is burned into our engrams was perfect.

A piano appears from below the center of the stage. Paul tells us,

“It comes up out of a hole in the stage. On the second night of the tour, I forgot. I stepped back with my bass and fell in. In slow motion, I thought ‘How deep is this hole?'”

  • Fine Line

This is the first track of his latest album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which he was careful to point out. Then back to the old hit:

  • Maybe I’m Amazed

It’s easier to track the harmonies — a descending progression — with this band for some reason than on the original album. If he can’t hit all the notes anymore, no one minded.

  • The Long And Winding Road

Back to his guitar — and he changed guitar between almost every song — for his solo. Back to before the Beatles. A skiffle song. He said how nice it would be to have the 20,000 backing vocals… we were to sing Whoa-aoo-oo-oo.

  • In Spite of All The Danger
  • (If You Want Me To) I Will

This wonderful song, from the self-titled The Beatles — but better know as simply the White Album — had never been performed live before. He related the story that he’d met a guy in a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena who told about how his daughter had performed it at her school. Paul made a point to perform it live.

His next song was:

  • Jenny Wren

This is an unusually beautiful song from his new album, reminiscent of his earlier Blackbird. In a previously published interview, Paul said he’s tried to avoid writing songs that sounded like his Beatles music, but no one else does. If they can rip him off, he can do it too. This one was done to beautiful effect. For this song, he was joined by Abe on the drums — a simple beat — and Wix on the accordion.

He told us it was sometimes to remember the words to his songs when he saw banners being waved in the audience. He mentioned one in particular:

“My mother saw you at Shea Stadium.”

Back to the piano, Paul began to sing A love that should have lasted years.

  • For No One
  • Fixing A Hole

Here he did a nice solo, with some modifications — it seemed to avoid some high notes. But nobody minded. This was followed by an introduction to one of the prettier songs from his new album:

  • English Tea

In it, he mentions, “Miles and miles of English gardens.” Veddy British.

“I am proud that I worked in the word ‘peradventure.’ I looked it up in the dictionary. It means ‘maybe.’ You don’t expect to come to a show like this and learn something like that. I understand that the word is now sweeping the nation.”

“I remember writing the following song in our little place in Liverpool.”

  • I’ll Follow the Sun

He did the last line 3 times

“It’s such a short song that I need to do it again,”

so he did.

“Enough’s enough!”

but the crowd wanted more, so he did it yet again.

“I’d like to dedicate this next song to my lovely wife and our child.”

  • Follow me (you lead me to places I’ve never been)

While this sounds like a very personal song, I couldn’t help thinking that it also sounds like an Adam Sandler tune. Nevertheless, the LCD floor fired up with sparklers cascading in the back.

“Back in Liverpool, George and I would play this song. It was semi-classical. It was actually classical, but we made it semi. It was by J.S. Bach. I took it and years later turned it into this”

  • Blackbird

As he sang and played, one could see on his left wrist he wore two white “Lance Armstrong” style bands.

  • Eleanor Rigby
  • Too Many People
  • She Came In Through the Bathroom Window

The crowd went crazy for this last tune. Then he related that with this next song, NASA woke up the space shuttle with the following song:

  • Good Day Sunshine

Since this concert, his Anaheim concert was beamed into space to entertain the international space station, ISS Expedition 12, to share with them this song and “English Tea.” However, this time the astronauts were awakened from sleep not by recorded music, but by live music, a first.

  • Band on The Run

I noticed that each front stage performer had 2-floor monitors — unusual in the day of in-ear monitors — but Paul had 3.

  • Penny Lane

Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool, where John and Paul were once waiting in a one-story building in the middle of the roundabout (rotary for us Yanks) and saw a “banker on the corner,” and “a barber.”

Penny Lane

Me at Penny Lane, Liverpool

This was followed by:

  • I’ve Got a Feeling

“Oh, I got a feeling…”

Paul said, and when the jet sound came up, and you just knew it was going to be:

  • Back in the USSR

“Those Ruskies love their Rock. We did it in Red Square,”

Paul said.

During the concert, it was more sad than amusing to watch two hyperactive middle-aged women, whose lack of rhythm was rivaled only by their inability to dance, stand up in front of me to rock and/or roll.

Back again to the piano, where they started to sing:

  • Baby Face

The crowd seemed confused until it was abruptly ended with,

“Sorry, wrong tune… Here it is:”

  • Hey Jude

Many in the crowd came to their feet for the chorus. Paul asked for participation in singing from the top, the floor, men only, women only, then everyone.

But last time, everyone was on their feet singing. The real crowd-pleaser followed:

  • Live and Let Die

with real multi-colored flames. Shades of the Wizard of Oz. What a way to end a show.

Obligatory movie trivia: At his Denver concert in 2002 there were 007 photo clips including Sean Connery, despite the fact that this was a Roger Moore Bond movie. It is ironic that Paul McCartney wrote the theme to a James Bond movie. In 1964’s Goldfinger, Sean Connery chides his golden girl Jill Masterson when the champagne loses its chill with “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”

He left the stage, only to return for his first encore:

  • Yesterday
  • Get Back

with the whole band.

“Thank you, Denver. I’ve got a feeling you still want to rock.”

  • Helter Skelter

Another encore had Paul returning to the stage in his red t-shirt, “No More Landmines.” The band was waving flags: US, Colorado, and others.

  • Please Please Me

But it was not like the original harmonies with John Lennon.

Paul then took down house lights and lit one candle on the piano to sing:

  • Let It Be

They ended with a fabulous:

  • Reprise from Sgt Pepper/Abbey Road Riff/The End

A satisfying show ended at 11:30 pm. But was it as good as the last concert in 2002? It may have rivaled it, but it did not compare. This one was a home run. But the previous concert, the best I’d seen was a grand slam. But a home run isn’t bad. I could have used more of his Beatles music. But couldn’t everyone?

Perhaps you can only see Paul McCartney the first time, once. This concert had fewer “off” songs than the previous concert. “C Moon” what was with that? And the new songs from his new album were not only almost consistently good but, in a few cases, rivaled the quality of his writing from the days of The Beatles.

At 63, it is understandable that Paul’s higher range might not be what it used to be, but I hope he comes back next year and sings to us “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

We’ll still need him, we’ll still feed him, when he’s sixty-four.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Beatle maniac

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History of Veterans Day

November 8, 2005 /


A professor once commented, “We write things down so we can forget them.” Now, of course this is wrong, except in the limited sense of writing down appointments so we don’t have to worry about forgetting things. But that’s just it, we do forget things. As individuals we forget things that are important to us. Corporations seem to have little in the way corporate memory, so they might do things better the next time. Countries forget the things that have occurred in their past, that make them unique. In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and the former British Commonwealth specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget”.

Historically, Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the ending of World War I on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) At 5 am on that day, Germany signed the Armistice (truce) in the Forest of Compeigne and the order was given for a cease fire, after 4 years of war. In the United States in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson issued an Armistice Day proclamation, but it was not until Congress first passed a resolution in 1926, and then passed a bill 12 years later that it became a federal holiday. But WWI, “the War to end all wars” was not the final war, and of the 16 million who served in WWII, more than 400,000 died. Birmingham, Alabama organized a “Veterans Day” parade on November 11, 1947 to honor all of America’s veterans for all wars. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the federal holiday to Veterans Day. In 1954 President Eisenhower proclaimed November 11 as Veterans Day asking Americans to redicate themselves to the cause of peace.

It is said that in old age, two things happen: first, you begin to lose your memory, next… I can’t recall right now. I for one am in favor of memorials, tributes, and parades. Let us remember, recognize, and preserve the memory of those who came before us and what freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifices. This is one of the reasons I created a tribute webpage for my father, a World War II soldier and hero who liberated the death camp at Dachau. HBO picked up his story and features in on their website when they run the Dachau episode of “Band of Brothers”. Get yourself a copy of the DVD and watch it. It will be good for your memory.

Some have said that we are raising up a generation who knows less about their own history than any generation before them. Let that not be our legacy for the future.

“Lest we forget.”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of Guy Fawkes

November 4, 2005 /


For our friends across the Pond

November 5th is known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night”, and all over Britain people fire off fireworks, light bonfires, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes was an Englishman who, in popular legend, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. He was caught, imprisoned, tortured on the rack, and finally executed, as we’ll see.

400 years ago, Guy Fawkes was a co-conspirator in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 in England. He and his cohorts decided to blow up the both Houses of Parliament in London and kill King James I upon the inaugural opening of the Parliament, and succeeded in smuggling several barrels of gunpowder into the basement of the Parliament.

This “Gunpowder Plot” occurred two years after King James I (of the “King James Bible” fame) ascended to the throne. A group of English Catholics, of which Guido Fawkes was a member, decided to kill the King because it was felt he had reneged on his promises to stop the persecution of Catholics. To this day, it is the law in Britain that a Roman Catholic cannot hold the office of monarch. And the Queen is still Supreme Head of the Church of England.
The plot was foiled at the eleventh hour; some of the plotters escaped, some turned King’s Evidence and reported on the rest. The unlucky Fawkes was taken in chains to the Tower of London. He was hanged, drawn and quartered. After Guy was hanged, he was torn asunder and drug through the streets of London behind a horse cart. The charge was treason, though some people in England prefer to remember Guy as “the only man ever to enter Parliament with honourable intentions.”

To this day, one of the ceremonies that accompany the opening of a new session of parliament, is the searching of the basement, by a bunch of men in funny hats. Parliament somehow made political capital out of the close call, and poor Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy every November 5th on bonfires all over Britain. They sell a lot of fireworks too, and children beg for money on the streets to buy them. The children usually exhibit the “guy” or dummy that will be put on the fire. “Penny for the guy, mister?” is a common refrain at this time of year.

In the last dozen years or so however, with the pervasiveness of American television and culture in England, the custom of celebrating Halloween is in the ascendancy, and many children are now going for the double treat: candy on October 31, money for November 5.

Bill Petro – your friendly neighborhood historian