"Song of Bernadette"

“Song of Bernadette”
Written by Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen, and Bill Elliott (1986)
Performed by Jennifer Warnes

The Music

One of the great overlooked albums of the 1980s, Famous Blue Raincoat by Jennifer Warnes features the singer covering the songs of Leonard Cohen. Warnes had toured with the Canadian poet-musician as a background vocalist for years, and had a deep feeling for his dense, lyrical songs.

Warnes even ended up co-writing one of the album's tracks, based on the life of a modern-day Catholic saint. She explained, “I was given the name Bernadette at birth. But my siblings preferred the name Jennifer so my name was changed. In 1979, on tour in the south of France with Leonard, I began writing a series of letters between the Bernadette I almost was, and Jennifer—two energies within me. One innocent, and the other who had fallen for the world. So the song arose in a bus nearby Lourdes. I was thinking about the great Saint who held her ground so well, and was not swayed from what she knew to be true. But the song is also about me longing to return to a place that was more pure, honest and true.”

Here's Warnes performing the song live:

The History

In 1858, near Lourdes, France, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirious had visions of a lady believed to be the Virgin Mary. Soubirious was later canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, and Lourdes became a destination for religious pilgrims from around the world.

Marie-Bernarde Soubirious was born in 1844, the eldest of four children. Though her family was initially well-off, a series of misfortunes plunged them into poverty. At the lowest point, they lived together in a dank one-room basement that was once used as a prison cell. Marie-Bernarde, nicknamed Bernadette, was a cheerful, kind-hearted girl who always pitched in with the chores to help her family.

The Visions

On February 11, 1858, she was out collecting firewood when she came upon a grotto filled with debris. It was there that she had the first of her 18 visions. As she described it: “I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white.”

Bernadette said that initially she felt confused by the vision, but was soon overcome with a peaceful feeling. When she told her parents about what she'd seen, her mother forbade her from returning to the spot. But Bernadette couldn't stop thinking about the lady in white.

A few days later, back at the grotto, she had another vision. On her third visit to the grotto, the lady in white spoke to Bernadette, requesting that the girl keep returning over the next month. Soon, hundreds of people were accompanying Bernadette to the grotto. While no one else could see the the lady, the witnesses claimed that when the visions occurred, they felt a change in the atmosphere and that Bernadette's face took on an otherworldly look, as if she was in ecstasy.

Bernadette described the lady as being “so lovely, that when you have seen her once, you would willingly die to see her again.”

In her ninth vision, Bernadette was asked by the lady to drink from the spring. But there was no spring. Bernadette began to dig with her bare hands in a muddy patch near the grotto and drank a few drops of dirty water. In the days after, a clear spring began to flow from this hole. And this was the beginning of the healing waters that have become one of the main attractions for miracle seekers at Lourdes.

During one of her final visions, Bernadette asked the lady her name, and was given the answer: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Though the idea of the Virgin Mary's conception by her mother Saint Anne had been part of Catholic doctrine for centuries, it had had only been formally proclaimed by the Pope a few years before the Lourdes visions. Some believe that as an uneducated child, Bernadette would not have known the phrase Immaculate Conception.

Sister Act

In the years after the visions, Bernadette's life was a constant parade of uninvited visitors, skeptics and religious pilgrims, all curious to hear her recount her tale over and over. Though she always answered questions with sincerity and humility, she grew weary of the attention.

In 1866, Bernadette escaped into the convent at Nevers, and as Sister Marie-Bernarde, assumed the simple, quiet life of a nun. With her positive attitude and patience, she was an inspiration to the other sisters. But over her 13 years there, she had ongoing respiratory problems. Often confined to her bed for months at a time, she never complained. She said her function was to “suffer” and to offer her own “feeble prayers” to God. When asked why she didn't return to Lourdes for healing, she replied, “It is not for me.”

In 1879, Sister Marie-Bernarde died from complications of tuberculosis. She was 35.


After her death, there was a Papal investigation and examination of the evidence surrounding her visions. The Catholic Church believes that one of the signs of a saint is a person whose body remains intact after death. Bernadette was exhumed 30 years after her burial. Though she hadn't been embalmed, she was remarkably well preserved. In 1925, her body was transferred to a glass shrine at Nevers. Thin wax masks were laid over her face and hands, which had begun to discolor.

In 1933, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI, for both her visions and the simplicity of her life. The little girl from Lourdes became Saint Bernadette, the patron saint of the sick and also of the family and poverty.

Samir Hussein, Getty Images
One of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' Gloves Can Be Yours (For the Right Price)
Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

Three things usually come to mind when people recall Michael Jackson's stratospheric fame in the 1980s: His music videos were events unto themselves; he toted around a chimp named Bubbles (who once bit Quincy Jones's daughter Rashida); and Jackson was often seen wearing a single white sequined glove.

There's no official count on how many gloves Jackson owned and wore during his career, but one performance-used mitt is now up for sale via GWS Auctions and their Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction. Used by Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour, the Swarovski crystal-covered glove is unique in that Jackson had it made for his left hand, as he wanted to keep the wedding ring—courtesy of his marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe—visible on his right. (Though wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand, Jackson was known to wear his on the right.)

A white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour
GWS Auctions

According to Jackson associate John Kehe, Jackson allegedly got the idea for the glove in 1980, when he was touring a production company and saw a film editor at a control panel wearing a white cotton glove. Jackson himself wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk, that he had been wearing a single glove since the 1970s. Either way, it was Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" during a television appearance for Motown's 25th anniversary in May 1983 that cemented the accessory in the eyes of the public. That particular glove sold for $350,000 in 2009.

The HIStory glove will be up for auction March 24; pre-bids currently have it in excess of $5000. The Legends of Music and Hollywood Auction is also set to feature a prescription pill bottle once owned by Frank Sinatra and a hairbrush used by Marilyn Monroe.

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The Stories Behind 10 Johnny Cash Songs
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Getty Images

Johnny Cash, who was born on this day in 1932, once wrote, “I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother And God."

That sums the Cash discography up pretty well. He covers at least 20 of those themes in the 10 songs below. Here are the backstories behind some of the Man in Black's most famous songs—and maybe a little insight into why he loved those topics so much.


In the song, Cash explains that he always wears black to performances and public appearances because of social injustices, “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” It’s a great story, but it’s not 100 percent true. In 2002, he told Larry King that black was his signature color simply because he felt most comfortable in it, although he preferred light blue in summer. “You walk into my clothes closet. It’s dark in there,” he said.

Rolling Stone wrote that the inky wardrobe was also helpful when it came to hiding dirt and dust in the early touring days.


Cash didn’t always wear black. In the video above, he’s dressed in bright yellow, accessorized with a powder blue cape.

Sound a little off-brand? It was. In the early ‘80s, Cash felt that Columbia, his record label, was ignoring him and failing to promote his music properly. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The plan worked, but it came at a price. “He was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy,” daughter Rosanne later said. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, in case the video is too painful to watch: “I put your brain in a chicken last Monday, he’s singing your songs and making lots of money, and I’ve got him signed to a 10-year recording contract.”


Written in just 20 minutes, Cash’s (arguably) greatest hit  was intended as a reminder to himself to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian, while he was on the road opening for Elvis in the mid-1950s. "It was kind of a prodding to myself to 'Play it straight, Johnny,'" he once said. According to other interviews, that wasn’t the song’s only meaning: He also meant it as an oath to God. Although Sam Phillips from Sun Records said that he wasn’t interested in gospel songs, Johnny was able to sneak “I Walk the Line” past him with the story about being true to his wife.


In 1969, Johnny and June threw a party at their house in Hendersonville. As you might imagine, it was a veritable who’s-who of music: Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Everyone debuted a new song at the party—Dylan sang “Lay Lady Lay,” Nash did “Marrakkesh Express,” Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now.” Silverstein, who was a songwriter in addition to an author of children’s books, debuted “A Boy Named Sue.”

When the party was over, June encouraged Johnny to take the lyrics to “Sue” on the plane the next day. They were headed to California to record the famous live At San Quentin album. Johnny wasn’t sure he could learn the lyrics fast enough, but he did—and the inmates went crazy for it. They weren’t the only ones: "A Boy Named Sue" quickly shot to the top of the charts. And not just the country charts—it held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.

The song was originally inspired by a male friend of Silverstein’s with a somewhat feminine name—Jean Shepherd, the author of A Christmas Story.


The story behind this one depends on who you believe. The Carter-Cash family has always maintained that June and guitar player Merle Kilgore co-wrote the song about June falling in love with Johnny despite being worried about his drug and alcohol problem.

But according to Johnny’s first wife, Vivian, June had nothing to do with “Ring of Fire.” “The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part,” Vivian wrote in her autobiography. She claims he gave June credit for writing the song because he thought she needed the money.

Either way, June’s sister Anita originally recorded the song. After Johnny had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns, he recorded it that way. 


“Ring of Fire” isn’t the only time Johnny had a dream that inspired a song. In his later years, Cash had a dream that he walked into Buckingham Palace and encountered Queen Elizabeth just sitting on the floor. When she saw him, the Queen said, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” Two or three years later, Cash remembered the dream, decided that the reference must be a biblical one, and wrote what he called “my song of the apocalypse”—“The Man Comes Around.”


This one is another early song inspired by Vivian. From the summer of 1951 through the summer of 1954, Cash was deployed in Germany with the Air Force. At the end of three years, he turned down the option to re-enlist, feeling homesick for his girl and his home. On the journey back from Germany, he penned “Hey Porter” about the excitement and relief he felt to finally be coming home.


After seeing Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Cash was inspired to write a song about it. Too bad that song already existed as “Crescent City Blues,” written by Gordon Jenkins.

Jenkins sued for copyright infringement in 1969 and received $75,000. Cash later admitted that he heard the song when he was in the Air Force, but borrowing the tune and some of the lyrics was subconscious; he never meant to rip Jenkins off. Oh, but the famous “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” line—that was all Johnny.

9. "CRY! CRY! CRY!"

After Cash returned home from the Air Force and signed with Sun Records, he gave Sam Phillips “Hey Porter.” Phillips asked for a ballad for the B-side, so Cash went home and quickly wrote “Cry! Cry! Cry!” literally overnight. It became his first big hit—not bad for an afterthought.


Though “Get Rhythm” eventually became the B-side for “I Walk the Line,” Cash originally wrote it for Elvis. It might have been recorded by Presley, but when he went to RCA, Sam Phillips refused to let him take “Get Rhythm” with him.


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