Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

“Good Morning America’s” new series-within-a-show, “What’s Your Sign?” debuted today with my fave astrologer Susan Miller (check out her eerily prescient ‘scopes at: astrologyzone.com). She talked about things like why most billionaires are Virgos. Turns out Virgos and Pisces are common superrich signs; Miller says it’s because they care more about doing for others and creating a great product than they do about cash itself. She added that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have some very similar aspects on their charts–indicators of huge wealth–even though they were born nearly two decades apart.

Miller also explained that astrology does not predict the future or interfere with free will; instead, she said, we can find out what’s happening with the stars and then align ourselves accordingly so we’re not swimming upstream. Diane Sawyer looked vaguely embarrassed when she was called out for being the dependable, hard-working Capricorn that she is. (Her co-hosts are apparently both truth-seeking Sagittarians.)

After reading Miller’s monthly horoscopes for years, it was great to see her speak in person, despite the hokey context. She came off as warm, enthusiastic, and surprisingly non-dippy and grounded for someone who practices a notoriously flakey profession (she’s obviously had some good media coaching). It was also fascinating to watch a spiritual, much-maligned art of the cosmos taken fairly seriously on national TV, albeit by a non-serious “news” show. Can’t wait to see the next part in the series. Check out the segment yourself on Yahoo.com

The end of Seinfeld was the kiss of death for just about its entire cast–save Jerry Seinfeld of course. Will the similar end of power house drama “The West Wing” mean the same for its long time actors and actresses, who have walked away with armfuls of Emmys but not necessarily a future career?

Emmy award nominee Dule Hill, who played Charlie Young, the President’s personal aide, for the entire life of “The West Wing” (all seven seasons), is first up to try out life after a beloved television drama is laid to rest. He’ll make his post-West Wing debut as Gus, best friend of the central character, Shawn Spencer, in the new USA series, “Psych,” premiering Friday, July 7 at 10pm. “Psych” is an upbeat crime-solving comedy about a cop’s kid–Shawn–who convinces the police that he’s a psychic. Shawn’s not really a psychic, he’s just meticulous in his attention to detail. Dule Hill will play Shawn’s sidekick and reality check when things head out of hand.

I’m rooting for a successful life after West Wing for all concerned and will be interested to see how “Psych” plays out for Hill, his second time around as an assistant of sorts.

Whatever happened to music that can change the world? I’m talking about folk music, music with roots and wings and a message.

Folk music is dead, you say? Tune in to your local PBS station starting July 5th for Bruce Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” on Great Performances to hear music with more vitality, joy, and, yes, meaning than you’ve heard in a long time.

I admit it: I’m a dyed-in-the wool folkie. During my NYC high school years, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were just starting out in Greenwich Village, and I’ve never recovered. A few years ago I was somehow lured to a Springsteen mega-concert in Giants Stadium in New Jersey where 60,000 people were standing on their seats, grooving to every word. But I bolted before the break–I didn’t recognize a single song except “Born in the USA.”

So it was with joyous disbelief that I got hold of Springsteen’s new Seeger Sessions album. The Boss, a rock ‘n roll kid from Asbury Park, N.J., came late to folk music. It wasn’t until 1997 when he recorded “We Shall Overcome” that he got to know Pete’s music and influence. He loaded up on Seeger records and was converted.

Over the next few years he gathered a group of singers and musicians who played accordion, fiddle, banjo, and washboard and in three unrehearsed sessions recorded 13 songs popularized by Seeger. Springsteen says in the liner notes: “Street corner music, parlor music, tavern music, wilderness music, circus music, church music, gutter music, it was all there waiting in those songs, some more than one hundred years old.”

What he got was some of the most uplifting, spiritual, rollicking, spontaneous, and world-changing music ever created, most of it by that great old songwriter, Traditional. It’s part of what Seeger calls the folk process, the borrowing and rearranging of old songs for new times.

When you hear “Mrs. McGrath,” an 1815 Irish ballad about a soldier returning legless from war (“A cannonball on the 5th of May tore my two fine legs away”), you can’t help thinking of the recent news photo of Sgt. Christian Bagge, who lost both legs in Iraq. “All foreign wars I do proclaim/ Live on blood and a mother’s pain” calls to mind Cindy Sheehan.

The beautiful Pentecostal hymn “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” which became a civil rights standard, contains this chilling prediction, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign/Said ‘No more water but fire next time.'”

“Jacob’s Ladder,” a Negro spiritual, was transformed into a worker’s hymn when the chorus “soldiers of the cross” was rewritten as “brothers and sisters, all” by striking textile workers in the 1940s.

“Keep Your Hand on the Plow,” a Holiness hymn, became “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” a staple of the civil rights movement.

“My Oklahoma Home,” an ironic memoir of the Dust Bowl by “Sis” and Bill Cunningham, in which a man loses his farm, crops, animals, and wife (“Everything except my mortgage blown away”), calls up thoughts of New Orleans.

And of course “We Shall Overcome,” the inspiration for this album, about which Springsteen writes: “The most important political protest song of all time, sung around the world wherever people fight for justice and equality. Originally a Baptist hymn, brought into the labor movement in the 1930s, popularized among civil rights workers in the 1950s.” It is every bit as timely today as in the ’60s and ’70s. Note to today’s generation: Listen up.

Layers upon layers of meaning and history infuse these songs. But that doesn’t make them less fun–the arrangements have a strong Louisiana zydeco flavor and rhythm that beckons you to let the good times roll.

As Seeger, a cradle Unitarian, might put it: How can I keep from singing?

“Everyone take a look, see I’m doing fine/Put me and my box on the 309.” The stark symbol of a coffin being placed on a train bound for some unknown location is only one of the many allusions to love, death, and the afterlife on Johnny Cash’s posthumous recording “American V,” released last week. The twelve songs on “American V” poignantly reflect Cash’s coming to terms with his own mortality in the months after his wife June Carter Cash’s death and prior to his passing in September, 2003. During this time, though he was weakened by asthma and diabetes, Cash reportedly found solace in returning to the recording studio one last time to do what he had done many times before in his career–share his deepest joys and sufferings with his fans.

While the brooding and frail vocals on a heart-wrenching song like “Help Me” might be a bit too painful for any but the most die-hard Cash fans to listen to, other songs are as enjoyable as they are thoughtful. “Rose of My Heart” and “Love’s Been Good to Me” are sweet tributes to his late wife, while songs like “If You Could Read My Mind” and “A Legend in My Time” are humble, and occasionally slightly humorous, musings about how his career will be remembered after he is gone.

It’s unfortunate that much has been made in the press over whether or not this musical farewell truly represents Cash’s final wishes (the final song choices were all made by producer Rick Rubin after Cash died) because “American V” feels like it is a labor of love for Rubin as much as it must have been for Cash. More importantly, this is a tour-de-force celebration of a life fully realized. As I listened to the tracks of this recording over and over again, I couldn’t help but think to myself that here was a man who had loved passionately, felt fully every experience he had–good and bad–and now had come to a place of total peace with his life. And the reason for that peace was clearly God. Cash has certainly sung about his faith before, but perhaps never with this much vulnerability. Songs like the remake of his hit “I Came to Believe” and the vibrant, foot stomping rendition of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” give listeners fresh glimpses into the depth and fervor of his faith.

While it remains to be seen as to whether or not “American V” will actually be the last musical journey of Cash (Rubin has come out in recent interviews saying that there are more than enough tracks to release for an “American 6”), with this recording Cash’s musical and spiritual legacy will now not only include his unflinching views of life, but his calm, unwavering sense of hope in the face of death.