Halloween Open Thread: Pescador de Niños

So, there’s this song that you might know if you go to church ever, it’s actually a really pretty song with well-written lyrics, I even liked it myself. It’s called “Pescador de Hombres” [Fisher of Men] because it was written by a Spanish priest in 1974, but it’s been translated to dozens of languages – they sing it in Croatian at a Croatian church I’ve been playing at, and of course they have several popular English translations. It’s inspired by the part of the Gospels where Jesus tells Peter and his fellow fishermen, “Now you are just fishermen; come with me and I will make you FISHERS OF MEN.” (I.e. proselytizers.) I always wondered if that little play on words worked also in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin as it does in English. Here’s the first verse, in Spanish then English:

“Tu has venido a la orilla,
No has buscado a sabios ni a ricos
Tan solo quieres que yo te siga…”

“Lord, You have come to the seashore
Neither searching for the rich nor the wise,
desiring only that I should follow…”

Here’s some alto singing it in a really low key:

I like the fact that this slow easy-going 6/8 tempo is often known as a “Barcarolle,” which in the Italian imagination was the sort of song a Venetian gondolier might sing while rowing his boat – I don’t know if the songwriter, Cesareo Gabarain, was aware or thinking of that. (By the way, twenty years ago I had a bitter dispute with Oregon Catholic Press over two notes in the verse melody, a dispute I lost, but that’s another story.)

So, me and a singer were up in the choir loft yesterday practicing this song for a funeral, and the priest ran up the stairs to tell us, “Don’t do that song! It’s blacklisted! The songwriter turned out to be a pedophile!” Really, Cesareo Gabarain a pedophile? That’s weird and depressing. Now it’s gonna be a little creepy listening to that song, just like hearing “I Believe I Can Fly” on the radio. Utilizing a technique known as “black humor,” I said “I guess Cesareo was a Pescador de Niños,” and the priest and cantor both laughed before feeling guilty about laughing.

Did you know a lot of churches won’t allow Wagner’s Wedding March (which we think of as “Here Comes the Bride”) to be used at weddings, because not only was Wagner an unpleasant thieving cad who “lived in sin” with Liszt’s daughter Cosima, but was also an outspoken and obnoxious anti-Semite (as so many Europeans were back then.) Most people don’t know that popular wedding march is just the middle section of this stirring “Fanfare and Bridal Chorus” from the opera “Lohengrin,” which most of us know from either the Marx Brothers’ “At the Circus” or the Beatles’ “Help!” movie.

[Fun fact: Everyone gives credit to Wagner’s contemporary Mark Twain for saying “I understand Wagner’s music is better than it sounds,” because everyone likes to give Mark Twain credit for everything, and he DID say it on a few occasions, but he always gave credit to the guy who first said it, the 19th-century humorist Bill Nye, who before you ask was NOT a Science Guy.]

The composer Carl Orff is blacklisted in many circles because he managed to get along so well with the German Nazi government, which loved his “Carmina Burana.” Nowadays everybody associates the “O Fortuna” movement of Carmina with horror movies, even though it was supposed to be a joyful pagan chant to the God of Fortune. Carlton discovered that it also makes an excellent beer commercial:

I actually lost a great church music director job a while back because (mostly because) I played, at the family’s request, John Lennon’s “Imagine” – WITHOUT WORDS! – at the beginning of a funeral. That priest was livid – “That song is anti-religion!” It didn’t help for me to protest “I only played the music,” and “John says IMAGINE no religion, no hell below us, above us only sky, etc…” – it really IS an anti-religious song. That priest, just like Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman, had grown up as a huge Beatles fan and then felt outraged and betrayed by “Imagine.” Chapman, when that song came out, actually went around singing “Imagine no John Lennon,” and a few years later he went to New York and killed him. NOT making this up, you could look it up.

It makes sense that the Catholic Church would blacklist Gabarain’s songs, they’re trying so hard to get away from that pedophile look – a real bad look. But I still can’t help but have mixed feelings – it’s not the SONG’s fault that the guy who wrote it was a sexual predator. I guess I just feel, as someone who’s written hundreds of songs myself, after a few years they seem to exist independently of me. Like my sons. Like some kind of aural/verbal creature out in the ether that’s pretty much forgotten about me. Same with “Pescador de Hombres,” loved by millions – it can’t speak for itself. It can’t exactly pull a Ronan Farrell and say “My progenitor was severely flawed but don’t take it out on me!”

So, I guess this all came out back in August. From Catholic News Agency, August 9:

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, there are four former students of the Chamberí Marist school in Madrid who have accused Fr. Gabaráin of abuse dating to the 1970s.

One of the alleged victims, Eduardo Mendoza, 57, said that he reported the priest to his homeroom teacher in 1978, the probable cause of Fr. Gabaráin being removed from the school. [Four years after he wrote Pescador – V]

Another alleged victim of Fr. Gabaráin, César Aguilera, spoke about what happened with his father, who reported the case to Brother Aquileo Manciles, now deceased, who supposedly admitted that the abuse took place.

Shortly after leaving the Marist school, Fr. Gabaráin was appointed vicar of the Our Lady of the Snows parish in the Mirasierra neighborhood of Madrid and was assigned to San Fernando school. [Moved around. Checks out. – V] 

He died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 55, without being charged or tried for abuse.

And within weeks of that more victims (total of 8) and witnesses (4) came forward.

We all hope the Catholic Church is doing a lot more than Cancel-Culturing songs to address this problem. And we all know what they NEED to do:

  1. Let priests marry.
  2. Let women be priests. And
  3. Not only tolerate, but CELEBRATE open homosexuality, like the rest of the civilized world does. After all, if 10% of us are born gay, that clearly indicates that GOD IS FABULOUS!

Until then, the Catholic clergy will be the sort of culture that the noted religious scholar Louis CK described back in 2007 (the same year they fired me for playing “Imagine.”)

On that note, talk about that or WHATEVER you want, it’s your goddamned late Halloween Weekend Open Thread! And tomorrow I’ll have an All Saints’ Day joke for you!


Update Monday: Happy All Saints’ Day!

TOMORROW is Dia De Los Muertos (and All Souls’ Day) – PBS had it wrong this morning in their zeal to get all ethnic. Anyway here’s my All Saints’ Day joke:

Q: Did popular, regressive, early 20th-century composer Ralph Vaughn Williams write the hymn “For All the Saints?”


(This hymn by William How and Ralph Vaughn Williams is actually a great tune, I think.)

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.