It’s still a beautiful morning for former Rascal

It’s still a beautiful morning for former Rascal

The songs he is most readily associated with — Top 40 hits that got him inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, like “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin” and “A Beautiful Morning” — are infectiously upbeat and optimistic.

Even a song with a melancholy title, “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” ends on a note of pure joy, with the singer, no longer alone, thrilled that he’s now “gliding through this world of beauty.”

But is it still a “world of beauty” only a few years after your daughter has died of breast cancer?

For Felix Cavaliere of the 1960s hit-making machine The Rascals, the answer is yes. But it’s a hard-won yes, achieved only after a period of doubt and searching, and the good fortune, he says, of being raised in the Catholic faith and absorbing from a young age the Christian conviction in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Cavaliere is a living — and singing — argument for the belief that family is the domestic church, and that parents are the first teachers in forming their children in the faith. He credits his fiercely devout mother with ensuring that he had a firm religious foundation and invokes her influence repeatedly during a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville.

“It just feels very important to give children training in the faith, like I had, to keep them pointed in the right direction. Thankfully, I got that,” he said.

But the woman who was so influential in building that foundation in her son was also the reason his faith was first tested. Her death from cancer was traumatic for young Felix, who was in his early teens when she died.

“It took me quite a while to where I could get to that place to soothe my aching soul. I had to keep searching,” he said. “I had to dig deep to find the answer.”

The answer?

The musician, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame whose rhyming lyrics still linger in the mind, struggles to articulate something about the mysteries and paradoxes of faith. “We’re not in control,” he says finally. “But there is an explanation.”

He mentions his sister, who is as pious as his mother was, and a friend who was a Jesuit seminarian that he discusses big questions with. He says he was named for an Italian saint, Felix of Nola, and that he was impressed Pope Francis took the name of the saint from Assisi. And he often prays to Saint Anthony because he’s always losing things. (He points out that, fittingly, his middle name is Anthony.)

Mostly, he emphasizes that the faith he was taught as a child has stayed with him throughout life and affects him in ways he’s not always immediately aware of.

Cavaliere was the founder, keyboardist and primary vocalist and songwriter for 1960s group the Rascals, an American quartet that held its own in the wake of the British invasion and maintained its commercial success as it changed with the times. Abandoning their former name, the Young Rascals, and the school boy outfits they wore onstage, their pop sensibility of the mid-1960s evolved with the more challenging musical trends of the later years of the decade, culminating with their biggest hit, “People Got to Be Free.”

Released in the turbulent year of 1968, it was a plea for cultural and racial harmony that includes language derived from the New Testament. The song claims that love “can move a mountain” and “make a blind man see,” and it restates the Golden Rule: “I’ll do unto you what you do to me.” It’s easy to see an echo of the parable of the Good Samaritan in song’s “man who is down and needs a helping hand.”

The group would sometimes perform “People Got to Be Free” as part of a medley with the Gospel music standard “Oh Happy Day.”

The Rascals took a stand for integration, insisting that any bill they perform on include black artists. (Early in his career, Jimi Hendrix was their opening act for a concert in New York.) Cavaliere, who once said that music can connect people “almost like prayer” and believes concerts can be morally inspirational, said his favorite performance was a benefit at Madison Square Garden that also included King Curtis, Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave.

Commenting on racial relations in the United States today, Cavaliere says God made all people equal. “It is so silly to me that in 2019 there are people who don’t realize that all people are the same,” he said. “It’s just silly,” he repeats incredulously.

After the breakup of the Rascals in the early 1970s, Cavaliere had a solo hit with “Only a Lonely Heart Sees,” toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, worked with Billy Joel, recorded a Christmas album and has been busy with other projects. In 2012 he reunited with his former bandmates for “Once Upon a Dream,” a series of reminisces and musical numbers at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. “Mr. Cavaliere’s voice is still exultant,” the New York Times noted in its positive review, and observed the show is based on “the Rascals’ perpetually upbeat messages.”

These days Cavaliere is performing with his current band, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals, and he is still upbeat, still optimistic, still joyful.

Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals will perform Thursday, May 2, 7:30 p.m., at the Levoy Theatre, Millville. For information and tickets, call 856-327-6400, email info@levoy.net or go to https://levoy.net/event/felixrascals/

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