He Said Goodbye to Hollywood
Fifteen years ago, had someone told Paul Harrigan that, one day, he would play his music for tens of thousands of young people at a great religious event led by the Pope, he would have laughed in that person's face.
Yet there he was in August, at 41, playing World Youth Day in Cologne with his band.
For Harrigan, the road to that particular stage — and to his feeling perfectly at home on it — was nothing if not long and winding. Years ago, he gave up playing the seedy L.A. nightclub scene, along with indulging in its hard living and harder partying. The change came after he received an unexpected call — from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As Southern California-based Harrigan explains the turn of events, it was an invitation to attend a 1991 pilgrimage to Medjugorje that ended up leading him to life in Christ. Today he uses his musical gifts to evangelize and catechize young people hungry for beauty and truth.
Harrigan spoke from his home with Register correspondent Scott Powell shortly after the singer's return from Cologne.
Tell us a little about your life before coming back to the Church. What were your desires and goals as a musician?
I'm the youngest of 10 children (eight of whom are boys). We were raised in a devout Catholic home, but by the time I reached high school, I had pretty much made rock ’n’ roll and partying my ‘gods’ and, eventually, fell away from my faith. My goal was to make it big in music so I could partake of all the things money, fame and success would afford me.
During my college years, my band began performing at many of Hollywood's infamous night spots, including the Troubadour, Gazzari's, the Whiskey A-Go-Go and the Roxy. We had some success and some fun, but it was mostly heartache and headaches as I searched for happiness among material things, and left God on the far back burner.
What led you to go to Medjugorje, and what was it about that trip that affected you so profoundly?
Several years of trying to hit the big time without [attaining] the fame and success I had hoped for brought tremendous sadness and frustration. I had a good job selling high-end cars and was involved in a serious relationship that kept me satisfied, or so I thought. But even these could not quench this inner desire for something more — for the divine.
Then, one day, my older brother called me from back East. He had been working there as a traveling salesman and told me he was quitting his job and moving to Europe. He was headed to teach English in Spain but, before that, he was going on a pilgrimage to some place in the former Yugoslavia that I had never heard of. Nor could I pronounce it. Padre — which is what I call my brother, as he is now a priest — told me the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, had been appearing to six children there on a daily basis.
I believed instantly. Several months later, I was let go from my job, broke up with my girlfriend and quit my band and the party scene. I was ready for something new, yet something, someone, familiar — Jesus. He and his Mother, Mary, were gently leading me to him.
I made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in May of 1991 with Padre and another brother. There, I experienced the love and mercy of God as never before. I went to confession and poured out my heart to God through his priest. I let go of all the things that had kept me away from God. If I could sum up what Medjugorje means to me, it would be: prayer. Prayer from the heart, the holy Rosary, holy Confession and the Most Blessed Sacrament — the Eucharist. The Blessed Mother had led me back to where I started — the Church.
What are your goals as a musician now?
I now sing and perform regularly in churches and at praise-and-worship concerts and retreats. I was blessed to appear on EWTN's “Backstage” concert series a while back and had a great time down in Birmingham. Today, I'll sing just about anywhere, for anyone who will listen. The way I look at it, God is always listening, so I'll always have an audience.
How did it feel to perform in an enormous venue, one with the Pope as the “main event,” at World Youth Day?
We were able perform at a beautiful arena for a special screening of The Passion of The Christ, but I would have to say that, for me, the musical highlight of the trip was playing on the steps of the cathedral in Cologne with about 50,000 youth dancing and singing all around us.
If you’d have told me back in my rock ’n’ roll heyday that, one day, I would be singing for the Lord, I probably would have laughed really hard.
You describe your new CD,
In the past, my songs were usually about searching for something and coming up empty. They were mostly melancholic. I now “borrow” lyrics from the Psalms and put contemporary music to them. Praise music is a powerful way to “pray twice,” as St. Augustine said.
I like to have fun with my music. I think young people who are on fire for their faith also want to enjoy themselves — and I couldn't agree more that they should. So my newer work focuses on getting them on their feet, clapping their hands, however the Spirit moves them. And I get to have fun, too.
What are some of the projects you're working on, going forward?
I hope to record my new album in the near future and start singing wherever God wants me to. I also have some songs that will hopefully cross over to film and television.
Ultimately, I want to evangelize through my music. I want to give people hope because with Christ, we have every reason to hope.
Scott Powell writes from Denver, Colorado.
- October 9-15, 2005