All posts by bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author, a biographer, and a prog rocker. Interests: Rush, progressive rock, cultural criticisms, the Rocky Mountains, individual liberty, history, hiking, and science fiction.

Passion Incarnate: IZZ’s Half-Life (2020)

Well, let me admit, immediately and without hesitation, I’ve been a huge fan of IZZ since I first heard them a little over a decade ago. In everything they do, they combine passion, taste, and elegance.  One might even describe their music as an earnest intensity.  Lyrically, the band never dumbs itself down, but offers words of majestic inspiration and serious contemplation. 

Their latest release is an EP, appropriately and rather cleverly entitled Half-Life, itself comprised of three new tracks and one live track.  The three new tracks—entitled, in order, “The Soul of Music,” “Into the Sun,” and “Half Life”—offer grand progressive visions, reflecting, respectively, IZZ’s deep appreciation and love of Kate Bush and Chris Squire and Yes;  Rick Wakeman and Big Big Train and ELP; and, perhaps most interestingly of all, Stranger Things(the Netflix series) and Kansas and Glass Hammer.  

None of IZZ’s appreciation of other progressive rock acts gets in the way of that uniquely beautiful IZZ voice.  Indeed, such appreciation on the part of IZZ of other bands only makes IZZ all the more interesting, honed, and glorious. And, just in case it might seem like the music overwhelms the listener, the lyrics simply soar, especially on “Half Life,” bringing the listener to the verge of tears in the last several second of the track.

The final track is a rather stunning live rendition “The Weight of It All” from the band’s Ampersand, Vol. 1, album.

In this current whirligig of viruses, protests, injustices, and anxious unrest, do yourself a grand, grand favor—treat yourself to the humane, cultivated, and class act that is IZZ.  Your soul will thank you.

[To support IZZ (and for a mere $5), click here:]

Heartfelt and Intelligent: Auto Reconnaissance by The Tangent

In the not so distant past, I had the opportunity (and, perhaps, the gall) to label Andy Tillison the “G.K. Chesterton of progressive rock.” As I listen to the latest release by Tillison’s band, The Tangent, I can only nod in approval at my earlier assessment.  He has always been a master of story, but, on Auto Reconnaissance, he reveals himself as a master of story telling. Light your pipe, sip from your pint, and pull yourself up next to the fire. Tillison has several tales to tell, and he does so in the best way, as a friend rather than a teacher.

Auto Reconnaissance begins with the discovery of radio—not just its function, but it’s essence—on “Life on Hold.”  It’s a short piece, by The Tangent standards, but it offers the perfect introduction to an album that demonstrates the wonder of life.

The second track, the second longest on the album, “Jinxed in Jersey,” tells the story—quite convoluted at times—of Tillison’s journey to the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the story can be understood at many different levels, the literal but also the symbolic. If, on track one, the boy Tillison discovered the workings of radio, on track two, the adult Tillison discovers the realities and complexities of America.  The renaissance—or was that reconnaissance?—continues.

The third song, “Under Your Spell,” has a Tears for Fears feel, akin to “Working Hour” on Songs from the Big Chair.  Melancholic in theme, the song is tasteful to the extreme.

“The Tower of Babel,” track four, is the shortest on the album, but it’s intense and unrelenting with its disco-esque beat. A clever look at the techno-babble of the modern world, as the song’s title indicates, Tillison wonders just how we manage to speak to one another with so many types of technologies (where is that simple radio of track one!?!?) and so much noise in our modern whirligig of a very human (and very flawed) world.  “The system is human, too!”

At nearly one-half of an hour long, “Lie Back and Think of England,”—a jazzy, pastoral meditation—provides the brilliant backbone to the album.  Where are those hills and those dales?  On this track, especially, Tillison proves his title as the Chesterton of the prog world.  The song’s structure harkens back to the first two albums of The Tangent, and it is a gorgeous harkening, filled with passionate solos and musical lingerings and wild segues.

The final track of the album, “The Midas Touch,” provides the proper conclusion to such a complex album, offering a jazz-fusion odyssey.

The previous two The Tangent albums were deeply (and, at times, distractingly) political, but this album is appreciatively cultural. Indeed, it is Tillison and the band at its absolute best.  Heartfelt, clever, tasteful (yes, I know I’ve used this word already in this review) and, most of all, intelligent, Auto Reconnaissance is a true work of art, taken as a whole and even analyzed in parts.  Tillison proves that he remains England’s red-headed mischievous genius.

The Sacrificial Love of Saint Maximilian Kolbe – The Imaginative Conservative

As the man pleaded his case, Father Maximilian Kolbe came forward and offered his life for the one pleading. The German commandant of Auschwitz—probably rather shocked—agreed, and Kolbe, with nine others, stripped naked and entered the 3-foot high concrete bunker… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
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The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

During the thirty-one years that Lewis practiced Christianity, he offered three stories—or variations on a single story, depending on the angle one wishes to take—regarding the reason for his conversation. Critically, too, the three stories overlapped and played off one another. The first, the fulfillment of his paganism and paganism, in general. The second, his regress from modernity. And, third, the persistence of joy.

One may find the second version of Lewis’s conversion in his fascinating but somewhat erratic allegory, The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), the book that really began Lewis’s career as recognizably “the C.S. Lewis” who would soon become so famous as the world’s foremost Christian apologist. In it, Lewis fictionally traces his own autobiographical intellectual and faith journey. “On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.”[1] Stunningly, he wrote the entire work in two weeks while staying with Arthur Greeves in August 1932. It’s original title was: The Pilgrim’s Regress, or Pseudo-Bunyan’s Periplus: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism.[2]

Though drastically uneven in its ability to convey Lewis’s successes (and failures), The Pilgrim’s Regress possesses not a dull moment, though, in parts, it is viciously scathing toward opponents of Christianity and those Lewis dislikes. Upon writing it originally, he claimed to be mocking “Anglo Catholicism, Materialism, Sitwellism, Psychoanalysis, and T.S. Eliot.”[3] At times, the book is gentle, and, at times, brutal, especially in its descriptions of immorality and its attacks upon ideas and persons Lewis disliked. “The sole merit I claim for this book is that it is written by one who has proved them [his opponents] all to be wrong,” he explained in 1943. “There is no room for vanity in the claim: I know them to be wrong not by intelligence but by experience, such experience as would not have come my way if my youth had been wiser, more virtuous, and less self-centered than it was.” [4] Lewis believed, in the interwar period, that while all of the various schools of thought hated one another, they set aside their personal dislikes for their general hatred of anything that seemed, however slight, romantic, dismissing romanticism as mere “nostalgia.”[5]  

The Pilgrim’s Regress also possesses all the strengths and weaknesses of an allegory. Some allegorical elements are obvious to the reader, while others are frustratingly obscure. Given that Lewis’s rightful claim to fame came from his ability to explain complex ideas in a way understandable by all, The Pilgrim’s Regressis a failure, though a heady one. “In fact all good allegory exists not to hide but to reveal: to make the inner world more palpable by giving it an (imagined) concrete embodiment,” Lewis wrote ten years after the book’s first publication, admitting his own failure to create a convincing allegory.[6]

The story begins in Puritania, a thinly-veiled Ulster, in which the protagonist is given a list of rules. Should he not follow the rules—assuming the Landlord discovers such breaches—he will spend eternity in a “black hole full of snakes and scorpions as large as lobster.”[7] Everyone in Puritania wears masks when performing religious ceremonies, masks that allow them to be something they are not, and to give them courage to enforce the seemingly draconian rules of the Landlord. As the protagonist, John, flees from Puritania, he meets Mr. Enlightenment (there are several claiming the title), the Clevers (the in-crowd Lewis despised in prep school), Reason, Vertue (the Stoic), Mother Kirk (the Christian Church), Mr. Neo-Angular (Wydham Lewis or T.E. Hulme?), Mr. Neo-Classical (T.S. Eliot and his authors who wrote for his journal, The Criterion), Mr. Humanist (Irving Babbitt), The Guide, and a myriad of others. In his seemingly ceaseless journeys, he visits not just Puritania (his origin), but also Claptrap, Luxuria, Thrill, Hunch, Wisdom, the Grand Canyon, Superbia, and Ignorantia. Whether the story ends on a happy or disastrous note is up to the reader, and it is equally up to the reader to decide if the entire story was real or merely a dream.[8]

At first, the book sold poorly, and its publisher, J.M. Dent and Sons, sold the publication rights to Frank Sheed, the whirlwind behind the Catholic publishing house, Sheed and Ward. Sheed and Ward published the second and third editions of the book, but Lewis was furious at having to work with a Catholic publisher.

My other bit of literary news is that Sheed and Ward have bought the Regress from Dent. I didn’t much like having a book of mine, and especially a religious book, brought out by a Papist publisher: but as they seemed to think they could sell it, and Dents clearly couldn’t, I gave in. I have been well punished: for Sheed, without any authority from me, has put a. blurb on the inside of the jacket which says ‘This story begins in Puritania (Mr Lewis was brought up in Ulster)’—thus implying that the book is an attack on my own country and my own religion. If you ever come across any one who might be interested, explain as loudly as you can that I was not consulted and that the blurb is a damnable lie told to try to make Dublin riff-raff buy the book.[9]

Of course, if Puritania is not Ulster, the allegory completely falls apart, and, if nothing else, Lewis’s bias against Catholics just proved Frank Sheed’s blurb to be quite true.  One of Lewis’s students remembered his frustration as well: “Then Sheed and Ward took it over, and I’m not sure he was entirely happy that Sheed and Ward took it over, because Sheed and Ward were a Roman Catholic publisher, and I think Lewis, who of course came from Northern Ireland—at that time, probably would have thought it was not best to have his book put out by a Roman Catholic firm.”[10]

Reviews, though, offered a rather nuanced view of the book.  The Time Literary Supplement, for example, reported the poetry found within The Pilgrim’s Regress a grand success, evoking a holy joy. Yet, the review cautioned, “though Mr. Lewis’s parable claims to reassert romanticism, it is the romanticism of homesickness for the past not of adventure towards the future.”[11]  Jane Spence Southron, reviewing the second (Sheed and Ward) edition for The New York Times, found the book a delight, “a fresh wind blowing across arid wastes.”[12]

[1] CSL, Afterword to Third Edition, Pilgrim’s Regress, 200.

[2] Sayer, Jack, 136.

[3] CSL to Guy Pocock, January 17, 1933, in CSL Collected Letters, Vol. 2: 94.

[4] CSL, Afterword to Third Edition, Pilgrim’s Regress, 203.

[5] CSL, Afterword to Third Edition, Pilgrim’s Regress, 205.

[6] CSL, Afterword to Third Edition, Pilgrim’s Regress, 208.

[7] CSL, The Pilgrim’s Regress, 5.

[8] One of CSL’s greatest friends and students, George Sayer, claims The Pilgrim’s Regress ends in great joy. He might very well be right. See Sayer, Jack, 137.

[9] CSL to Greeves, December 7, 1935, in CSL Collected Letters 2: 170.

[10] Interview with Harry Blamires [student of CSL’s], WCWC.  Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.  Date: October 23, 1983.  Location: Wade Center, Wheaton College.

[11] “Pilgrim’s Regress,” Times Literary Supplement (July 6, 1933), 456.

[12] Jane Spence Southron, “The Pilgrim’s Regress and Other Works of Fiction,” New York Times(December 8, 1935), pg. BR7.

Hillsdale College Had Graduation During Coronavirus

Many high schools and colleges across America canceled in-person graduations during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, but Hillsdale College decided to host an in-person ceremony a few months late. The college approached state and local authorities, worked with the local health department and four epidemiologists, and hosted a crowd of roughly 2,000 people on July 18. More than two weeks later, no new coronavirus cases have been traced to the ceremony.
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There’s No Real Definition of ‘Conservatism’ and That’s a Good Thing | The American Conservative

Jump now to the time of Corona, in the year of our Lord 2020. “Conservative is kind of a meaningless word now,” a young and skilled writer (one I like to read, Brad Polumbo) recently stated on social media. Meanwhile, over at the venerable Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an institution charged with promoting conservatism within higher education, another young and gifted writer, Gracy Olmstead, writes: “I am loath, in fact, to embrace the label ‘conservative’ myself—in part because of the ways most people define it, and in part because I am unsure whether any political label fully defines my beliefs.”

I suppose it must be age and, perhaps to some extent, ego, but I find such statements to be as mystifying as they are unsatisfying. While I agree that conservatism is not, nor ever should be, a political label, I am far less certain that it should be loathed or dismissed so readily. I also fear that in this age of Trumpian populism and soft authoritarianism, conservatism is all too readily confused with populism.

The most important question for any conservative remains: what should be conserved?
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Edmund Burke and the Last Polish King ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Stanislaw Augustus (1732-1798) was the last Polish king. Not without controversy, he was one of the greatest patrons of the arts and sciences in his day. In his many efforts, he supported publishing, libraries, architecture, education, painting, cartography, ballet, theater, and industry. He was also the co-author of the Polish constitution of May 3, 1791. A great and meaningful reformer, the last monarch essentially undid his own position.

In An Appeal from the Old Whigs to the New, the grand Anglo-Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, praised the May 3, 1791 constitution as one of the great reforms of the modern world. It should be remembered that this was the so-called “Age of Revolutions,” and Burke had witnessed both the glories of the American Revolution and the hideousness of the French Revolution. Poland’s reforms and constitution, he thought, offered real meaning, much closer to the American experience than the French one.
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Conserving in 2020 AD or 499 BC ~ The Imaginative Conservative

What then does our conservatism mean in 2020? What does it mean as statues tumble, as injustice reigns, and as anger seethes? What does it mean when our leaders seek not the common good, but mob-ish acceptance? What does it mean when our children are indoctrinated with racialism and collectivism rather than individualism and personalism?

At its essence, conservatism has not changed over the years. While the debates may be about a variety of things, the meaning of conservatism lies in understanding that, taken as a whole, our ancestors are not utter fools. The past for the conservative must remain the great laboratory of human experience, human knowledge, and human wisdom. The past is our depository of strength, our trust fund of morality. Now, more than ever, we must preserve what has come before us. Every statue torn down by the violent is a terrorist attack on our very civilization and our very strength as a people. Like the unsung heroes of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451—the men and women who memorize each book burned by its society—we must remember and preserve our statues, our museums, and our cultural storehouses—even if only in our own minds and souls. Like those around the immortal Cato the Younger, we must become living embodiments of the virtues.
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Special Report: China expands amphibious forces in challenge to U.S. beyond Asia – Reuters

Experts on amphibious forces note the PLA already has powerful army units that are trained and equipped to make the kind of landings necessary for an invasion of Taiwan. In expanding the marines, they argue, PLA military planners are looking at operations across the globe, in places where China has extensive offshore investments. These commercial interests are likely to multiply as Beijing presses ahead with its Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious bid to put China at the center of global trading routes.
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Learning to Rest ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Later, of course, we find the commandment to keep the seventh day holy and free from trials and corruption. As the tablets commanded:

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Again, my words can add little to this, but it is quite clear that the Sabbath matters, and it matters intensely. In part (only in part, but an essential part, nonetheless), the human person must rest on the seventh day.
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