Bayou-Picayune Podcast, S02 EP13: My love for a free press and a mimeograph machine, part one
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I went to a Catholic seminary for high school. It was a boarding school, and there were only three times each year that we could go home — Christmas, spring break and summer vacation.
Other than those breaks from our schooling, we were never allowed off campus. That meant no interscholastic competition in any sport.
We had a very active intramural sports program, however. Flag football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.
We also competed in individual and doubles tournaments in tennis, handball, ping pong and card games, like bridge and hearts.
I was one of only a handful of students who knew how to draw up league schedules for any number of teams and how to set up and seed single- and double-elimination tournaments. And I was, apparently, the only one who was willing and eager to keep track of league standings, schedules and statistics.
So, in my junior year, the task of reporting league results and posting the next week’s schedule fell to me. And, with that, I was given access to the school’s mimeograph machine.
To me, that was a high honor, for the mimeograph machine was off limits to all other students and was to be used only by the priests who were our teachers.
At the start of my senior year at St. Ben, I wanted to do more than I had done as a junior. Instead of simply printing up and posting the league standings and schedule for the next week’s games in about a dozen locations around campus, I decided to provide a short sports writeup for each and every contest. That included the score by quarters and all the stats you might find in sports articles in any newspaper.
No one had ever placed a limit on how many sheets of paper I could use each week on the mimeograph machine, so I figured I could run off 156 copies of my weekly opus, one for each student’s desk.
This was how my St. Ben Gazette was born. Written by David Pierson. Edited by David Pierson. Published by David Pierson.
Then I quickly added a humorous column, which was written by none other than David Pierson.
Nobody in the school administration seemed to mind, so, my weekly St. Ben Gazette swelled from four to five and then six pages.
Soon, it occurred to me that my weekly newspaper lacked something I had seen in almost every other newspaper — an editorial.
Now, our school had an extremely restrictive policy regarding rock-and-roll music.
Since the entire student body consisted of young men who were supposed to be studying for the priesthood and since that meant we were supposed to be committing ourselves to lives of celibacy, the school banned rock-and-roll because that music celebrated boys and girls together.
To make it appear this ban was supported by the student body, the rector appointed a student committee, the St. Cecilia’s Guild, which was charged with approving which songs and records could be played on campus. (St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.)
It was 1965, the year that, in my opinion, the music of the sixties hit its zenith. You had recording artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Rivers, the Temptations and the Four Tops.
And you had rock-and-roll classics — “Satisfaction, “Like a Rolling Stone,” “I Got You Babe,” “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” “My Girl,” “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
But, while the times were a-changing everywhere in the country, while the whole nation was bursting out in song, here I was trapped in probably the only place in America where all you could listen to were show tunes, Johann Sebastian Bach and the Ventures. (We were allowed the Ventures because there were no words in their rock-and-roll music, and it was lyrics the St. Cecilia’s Guild found to be offensive.)
Then I heard Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” and my head exploded. Music, I realized, could be about more than girls and love! It could be about social consciousness and protest, I wrote in my editorial.
But, no, said the St. Cecilia’s Guild. “Eve of Destruction” was a song of pessimism and negativity, and these were not Christian attributes.
Then I editorialized about Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” How, I asked, could such a beautiful, upbeat, positive song like that be rejected?
But it, too, was banned; and, on top of that, the rector, at a general assembly shortly after publication of that issue of the St. Ben Gazette, explained that a Christian should not forget all his troubles and forget all his cares but face up to them.
I wrote yet another editorial attacking school censorship. Using the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds, I wrote “You can’t possibly reject this one. The words come right out of the Bible, right out of the Book of Ecclesiastes!”
I won a Pyrrhic victory this time. The St. Cecilia’s Guild approved the song but rejected the B-side, which meant the record could not remain on campus.
Shortly after that editorial, I was visited by my pastor who said the rector had informed him that I would not be allowed to return to the seminary for junior college. I would be allowed to finish out my senior year and graduate, he said, if I stopped publishing the St. Ben Gazette.
I agreed to cease publication. I told my pastor I had already decided against being a priest. Instead, I wanted to go somewhere else, major in English and become a writer.
That, however, is only half the story. Next time, the final chapter about my passion for a free press and a mimeograph machine.