"Are you a surfer or a hodad?" Yikes! I was in 4th grade, on the way home from my public school in Los Angeles and cornered by yet another neighborhood bully who popped the dreaded question, his fist ready to punch me for the wrong answer. If I said "surfer" and he was a hodad, POW! If I said "hodad" and he was a surfer, POW! It was a no-win situation.
This was a trick question in more ways than one. In 1963 the Beach Boys were the pride and joy of Southern California. Local boys who made good, their string of consecutive hit singles celebrated the cool lifestyle of surfing, pendletons, girls, and good times at the beach. A hodad was thought to be a poser, but they were really tough greasers (slicked-back hair, white T-shirt, jeans and black shoes) who didn't surf but hung out at the beach in their fast cars.
"Well?" the bully glowered menacingly, his fist ready to strike. A small crowd was beginning to gather. Where had I seen this punk before? You had to think fast to survive in my neighborhood. I wasn't much good in a fight, but I could definitely outthink all my enemies. I looked the bully straight in the eye.
"I'm a Catholic," I declared dryly. Some kids in the crowd started laughing. The bully dropped his fist and let me pass.
"You're all right, kid," he shouted at me as I hurried home. I remembered where I had seen him before: at Mass the previous Sunday. The bully was an altar boy!
That memory came thundering back to me last week as I was cruising the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles during rush hour. The annual Religious Education Congress was over and I was driving a rented convertible with the top down, taking in a sunset that painted the sky with incredible hues of red, pink and orange. This quintessential scene needed only one more thing, and there it was on the radio: the harmonious music of the Beach Boys.
Contemporary Christian and Catholic music also has California roots. F.E.L. Publications, the original publisher of 1960s Folk Mass music, had an office in Los Angeles. Maranatha! Music, an early CCM publisher, got its start at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa in the 1970s. At one time or another, California has been home to such Catholic composers as Dan Schutte, Christopher Walker, Rufino Zaragoza, Fr. Ricky Manalo, Pedro Rubalcava, Janet Sullivan Whitaker, Sr. Suzanne Toolan, Bob Hurd, Jesse Manibusan, and yours truly.
Something in California's pioneering spirit must inspire so many composers to write music for the Lord. I like to think it all started with Blessed Padre Junipero Serra, who foresaw the potential growth of the Good News here and established 21 missions up and down the coast.
In honor of the Catholic/Christian music roots of California, I dedicate the following CCM song that appears in Spirit & Song: Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? Pretty good song for the earthquake state, don't you think?
By the way, let the record show that back in 1963, I was a surfer. POW!
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