Saturday, December 24, 2011

And so this is Christmas

Without thinking too much about it, it feels obvious that any number of traditions hold this time of the year to be somehow special. It's a magical time for some - and it is a time of magic. As celebrating the idea of the giving of gifts takes on its own meanings, one thing that doesn't seem to be understood much these days is that in the giving, you have created magic. A moment, a memory. Creating magic is up to us.

Over the last couple of posts, I've mentioned my opinion that over the last so many years there have been three great pop Christmas classics written. This one does it for me. It hits the dreamer. It catches something about this time of the year. It's not just a way-point marker in our souls, a little tick on the chart of survival. Much of the planet on which we live comes to a halt this one day in this one season. And many thoughts turn to peace, and joy. Condemn the consumer ethic, ridicule the sheer vulgarity of it all, but remember that we also create magic on this day.  And let the memories of it be a reminder of the magic we can create - if there's enough of us - if we find a way to stand together - if we really want it. The magic is created by living it, the best we can, every day.

Merry Christmas.
Create magic.

'Twas Christmas Eve, Babe

Tomorrow, December 25th, is Shane MacGowan's birthday. It's a wondrous thing. He's spent most of his life as a moving train wreck. He even managed to get himself thrown out of The Pogues, a group he founded. Between 1983 and 1985, he wrote the last great Christmas song written in the 20th century, and it hasn't been topped yet.

This song is important to stevil for many reasons. Back around 1973 or so, when such things just weren't done and could have caused bodily injury, I remember giving in to the moment in the East 70's of NYC and kissing a special guy openly on the street corner as we danced  through the night... Everyone should get such a moment.


Merry Christmas,
I loves ya baby.

Day before hollywood (d)reaming

Over the last few days, as I've busied myself this this project or that, I've kept my eye on the tv (now cable) dial for some of my old friends of the season from Hollywood and other entertainment purveyors. Some of the cable channels have been running soapy by the numbers supposed to be heartwarming not really inspirational claptrap whose connection to the holidays is often as tenuous as a game of pin the tail on the donkey. Where have the movies and shows we've all come to love gone? Well, I found them all-right. They are now available as cable and internet "on demand". Which means that they now make you pay about $3.00+ a pop for everything from old tv shows to movies. The collection of stuff to watch covers everything from Hanukkah (all for free) to Holiday music, also free where you can experience such classics as Jessica Simpson singing "O Holy Night", No Doubt's "Oy to the World" (oh, my God, Christina Aguilera  was even younger once?), or even Twisted Sister.There are three different versions of the Nutcracker (but not the classic Balanchine NYC Ballet version which has been filmed a few times now. There are Yule logs (free!), Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree with music, snow covered covered bridges with soothing music, Santa on radar, even "Yule Dog" in which three basset hounds sing a song. There's a selection of Disney movies. And the $3.00 movies. Bam Margera did a Christmas special? There's even the Harry Potter section, which includes several free tours (by the Weasley twins) of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal's Orlando resort - and they are all 233 minutes?!! (I do think that must be a typo). By the by, the "On Demand" menu structure is a mess. You often can't back up a section, and have to start at the top menu all over again. Just what everyone wanted - a chance to pay more and be tortured at the same time trying to see what you want. Fun!

As I look out my sliding glass door window onto the world of Putney Road, it's evident that something is wrong. There's something missing from the Vermont Christmas landscape. At least YouTube still exists with free old holiday friends (for now.... add ominous background music while thinking of bad legislation half approvedby the US Congress but yet to pass like SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] and PIPA [Protect IP Act] which will turn the internet over to government and corporate control, but hey, it's Christmas, so we'll talk about this another time.)

Ah, back when songwriters knew what they were doing. Irving Berlin, a Jew, wrote this great classic for the movie above, "Holiday Inn". The song was used again in the early 1950's in an eponymously titled project, using plot elements from the older picture. Originally, it was intended to re-team Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Stories vary as to why Astaire was replaced (some say he turned it down after reading the script, others maintain he was ill) with Donald O'Connor (ill) who was replaced with Danny Kaye. The movie was directed by one of the most reliable to turn out a good piece of entertainment no matter what you throw at him but he is crazy you know directors and by the way he doesn't play well with actors in Hollywood, Michael Curtiz - whose birthday is today. His Academy Award for Best Direction of a movie was for the make it up as you go along classic "Casablanca", a movie with the coveted and rare stevil seal of approval.

"White Christmas" also had a young, hot, vocally cool at her peak Rosemary Clooney torching out with "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me". The movie's uncredited  choreography is alleged to be the work of a very young Bob Fosse.

Which reminds me, Darlene Love belted out her "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" number on Letterman last night. She looked fabulous. There is no way on the face of the earth that I can accept that she is 70 years old. Brava!

And, in case anyone didn't get to see it (sitting through Letterman was a chore - he fell back on slightly homophobic jokes a couple of times, which he always does when he thinks he's losing the audience and which is one of the main reasons I don't watch him) here's a most wonderful way to spend 10 minutes or so that I just found on YouTube:

In my dictionary, the slangish use of the word "fierce" has a picture of Darlene Love.

It's time to get cleaning and laundry done. I'll be back later today with more.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our little traditions

This time of year is marked and observed by traditions. Some of us may not even realize that we have them. But if you watch "A Christmas Story" every Christmas Eve, you have one. If you put up holiday lights every year, you have a tradition. There may be changes within, but...

For instance, after my father built his house in the late 1950's, we used to put up lights around the windows that fronted the street every year. He had planned on it, and had built in places to plug the lights in for every affected window. For a couple of years, we would get yards of laurel, wrap it around each set of lights, and using a twist tie kind of method with preset eyelets, put up the lights. As the pace of life changed and made such tasks too involved, he solved the problem by creating special wooden window frames, painted green, on which the lights were permanently fixed. All that remained to do was add the laurel and use the hook eye sets to put them up. Quick, easy efficient. It was even quicker after laurel became expensive and was no longer used. But the central idea was one of the traditions we had. There were also 3 light candelabrum which were put in each of the windows. There was an electrical outlet under each window, and the top slot of each was turned on and off by the room's light switch if one so desired.

One of the traditions here in Brattleboro is actually across the river in New Hampshire. Many long years ago, a local boy-scout working for a merit badge, created a large star to put up facing town on the top of Mount Wantastiquet.  It uses large #10 sized tin cans to hold light-bulb sockets (and act as reflectors), each illuminating a point on the star. It plugs into a microwave tower related building that is there. The local troop hikes up there to relight it in early December every year. It is truly a light in the darkness, a candle burning in the window. And, it's just plain neat.

This morning, I was searching for something on YouTube when I noticed a little holiday bonus which I hope becomes a tradition. After a video starts playing, a snowflake appears at the bottom of the streaming window. It is clickable. Of course, I am posting a sample video so you can try it out. So, here's a medley of songs which originally appeared on the Phil Spector monaural sonic spectacular long playing album, "A Christmas Gift for You" as performed by two of that record's performers, Ronnie Spector and the great Darlene Love.

A word of warning: your chin is likely to drop to your chest when you start watching this. Please try to remember to click on the snowflake by the time Ms. Love starts belting "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".

And one further note, regarding Ms. Darlene Love. I fell in love with that woman's voice as I was growing into the start of my teenage years way back when. Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry. He's a Rebel. And so many others. Even during her "stardom", The Blossoms, the group she joined as a teenager, performed as session and touring back up singers for everybody from Sam Cooke to Elvis Presley. She was almost at the top of the pop business when the British Invasion changed American music, and she had a falling out with Phil Spector. "River Deep, Mountain High" was created for Darlene Love. The story has it that he was mad at her so he gave the song to Tina Turner, whom it made famous. In 1986, there was a Broadway revue format musical based on the life of songwriter Ellie Greenwhich. Ms. Love played herself. And, she got to sing "River Deep..."  Hers is the only rendition I ever heard that beat Tina Turner at anything. Every year now since 1986 when she was in New York doing the show and they first got her to do it, Darlene Love has appeared on the last live David Letterman show before Christmas. As the program's finale and Christmas present to all, she and Paul Shaffer and the band perform "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". This will be the 25th year they've done it. The song, one of the last three great pop Christmas songs created in my lifetime, was written in 1963 for Ronnie Spector, but Phil felt it needed someone stronger and gave it to Darlene instead. She still performs it like it's nobody's business. I look forward to her performance of it every year. It's one of my rituals, my traditions of the season. She'll be on the Letterman show tomorrow night, Friday December 23rd, 2011 if you care to join me, and I do hope you will.

By the way, a shameful oversight was corrected this year, 2011, when Darlene Love was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Longest Night

It's solstice and I have no time....
Unless I become unstuck in it again.

I'm not gonna get the post I wanted to do done.
Story of the old year passing.


And in the bad graphic classics:

Baby, it's cold outside.

My, my what hath those boys from "Glee" wrought?

New this year is the following video from Mister Chase and Chris Salvatore, a recording of Frank Loesser's 1944 song  "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Proceeds from purchases of the the song will go to organizations that help provide crisis and suicide prevention for at-risk gay youth. Therefore, a rare link to an obscenely profit oriented itunes for anyone with a couple of bucks to spend for a most worthy cause :

Written as a duet to be performed with his wife Lynn Garland at their housewarming, she considered it "their song" and was furious when he sold it to MGM. The studio used it in a 1948 Esther Williams bathing beauty pic, "Neptune's Daughter". It was not considered (or used as) a Christmas song at the time. There were two performances of it in the movie; one between Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, the other between Red Skelton and the under rated Betty Garrett. It won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture. In Mr. Loesser's score, the duet's parts are noted as being for "wolf" and "mouse".

Here's the video, but I suggest that you skip it and watch the second version below, in which Mister Chase performs his lines in ASL.

I am really going to have to find out more about these two guys. They also made available an American Sign Language version of their video. If anyone has been reading my missives here, it should be becoming obvious that I've been struggling since giving up the anti-depressants and anti-anxietals. I got a huge boost from not only this version of the song, but especially from the ASL version. Years and years ago, a show on which I worked and for which I wrote a good deal of material was given an ASL performance. It was one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life. Just recalling it has tears welling up in my eyes, as emotions have been very clsoe to the surface these last few weeks. Very Special Thanks to Edonline for letting folks know about this.


And, for anyone who isn't familiar with the Fox tv show "Glee", here's the version they did last year. With so many lovely moments on the show, it amazes me that I do not watch it religiously. By the way, the two characters here, high school students, finally succumbed to each others charms a few episodes ago. I recorded it, but haven't had a chance to watch it yet. I wish Jerry Campbell had lived to see this. He'd have loved it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Everyone telling you "Be of Good Cheer"...

The world is growing cold again.
An un-named evil seems to be growing, sensing that it's time is near.
The signs are everywhere.

I've been able to keep the crying in check, but every now and then a sob still suddenly wracks my system.

Many customers are acting out.
Good morning! How are you?
(Mad that I spoke) "I'm in a hurry".
That was a nice customer.

The staff is acting out.
I got called into a 20 minute you've been very bad session because my register was near locking up for having to much money in it and the supervisor who showed up to take money out wanted me to get change instead. I suggested the deposit be done first. She went to management. She lied about what I said. Management believes and backs their own. If you want to keep your job you bow and shuffle. It's the same if a customer complains. They are always right. We are always wrong. I am told there are many complaints from the staff about my attitude. I guess I didn't bow and shuffle hard enough or low enough. My life there will be utter hell for the next month or two.

I have no money until payday, Thursday. To eat lunch, I wrote a check knowing that I will be able to get money into the bank before the check will be there to clear. The computer refuses to accept my check. It refers me to the bookkeeper. The book keeper discovers that I had a check that bounced at the store in 2004. It must have been resubmitted, as it then cleared. But, there was a $20.00 fee. It's been unpaid all these years. They didn't know about it until I tried to write a check. I didn't know about it either. My boss immediately noted, "you were sent a letter, everybody is". It is very very bad, as I am now an employee. I have to sign paperwork that I will pay the fee from the next two paychecks. A bit later, before they put me back on a register, I am called into another "conference". I must sign paperwork that states that I will pay the fee this Thursday or be dismissed. I ask if I might make the payment on the second week originally mentioned. This is, after all, the last paycheck before Christmas. I take home less than $200.00 per week. The answer is a resounding no.

I immediately hear the deep voice of Thurl Ravenscroft singing, "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch".
Then, when no one is looking, I start sobbing.

I don't belong in this world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where do they go?

Every year, I wonder the same thing.

As I unpacked the balls for the Christmas Tree, I immediately became aware that most of them do not seem to have hangers. At first, some years back, I took this oddity with only a mild bit of consternation, I knew damn well that I was careful that every single ball had its hanger when the box was put away. As the years have progressed, it seems to get worse and I'm starting to get a bit pissed off about it. Where do those damn hangers go? Do teeny little mischief making elves sneak in over the summer, open every box and carefully remove the hangers? What do they do with them? I also note that the bag that never got packed away properly, the one with the few spare bulbs and hangers that popped out of every corner imaginable from the only shelf in the closet to fall reproachfully in my face every damn time I open the built out closet door is now nowhere to be found. I begin to wonder if maybe I'm getting too old for this. Little persnickety elves. You gotta watch them, you know. Keep it up fellas. It's not my first time, I've been to the rodeo before. This means war.

I start to wonder what it must be like to decorate really big trees....

December 1913 - Christmas tree, Madison Square, NYC
Nurses at the  Garfield Hospital Christmas tree, Washington, D.C. circa 1921

The Kennedy White House, 1961

The Christmas Mysteries

Yesterday I had most of a post ready. I've been using the new blogger interface in the Google Chrome browser. I accidentally clicked the browser window closed. No problem, I thought, in writing draft mode,I have auto save turned on.  Except it wasn't. So I went to turn it on. And I can't find it. I can't find it in help, either. It was one of the nicest features here.  And now it's like it never existed. I hope I'm just being dense. Wait - it just auto saved. I guess I have to hit the "save" button after which Blogger takes over? If you're in cyberspace can anyone hear you scream? At any rate, my immortal words vanished into the sub electronic ether.

My post yesterday ("... and now the scratching starts...") was written in full nasty virus rampaging through my system incoherent babbling can't type properly for shit mode. (To tell the truth, I am often a lousy typist even when I'm feeling quite well.) Austanspace posted ????? marks in the comments, noticing "I'm not poor enough to get anything better." When I saw her note at 5:30am or so this morning, I found myself totally flummoxed as to what the hell I'd meant. This was no right wing reference, not even for satire's sake, of social services programs, which I suppose is one way to look at it. (I once went through a mini hell of applying - with the assistance of a social services worker - for subsidized housing. After a lengthy wait, I was denied assistance because my then current landlord told them that I was late in paying my rent. Which was why I was applying in the first place...) I think what I intended is "I'm not paid enough", but that's an odd phrase for me, I think I'd write something more like, "I don't earn enough". The upshot is that I have no idea what I intended to write. I still have very claustrophobic feelings about my living space, though. As I sit in my chair typing, my knee bursts forth a pain bubble that makes me move my foot backward. I smash into a box temporarily under the chair because I've no place else to put it. These remarks should not be interpreted to mean that I am unappreciative of the space I rent, or my current landlord. Or spell check which I seem to need to use every three or four words because of my "there isn't enough light in here for me to see clearly and I never learned to type properly" attempts....

I had written a bit about the time I worked at Macy's one Christmas. I had a very desirable position selling VHS and Betamax video  tape recorders in the electronics department on the mezzanine off the Main Entrance (on the Herald Square/Broadway side). I'll have to tell that story again later. I just lost my train of thought again between my typing and the toilet flusher breaking. Again. 

I also wrote about working for Columbia/TriStar pictures in Boston and the morning of December 23rd, 1992 when a very non-professional-NPR voice suddenly interrupted my attempts to get up with an essay in which its writer reminisced about working at Macy's at Christmas. Needless to say, I loved it. It's now a true holiday classic. Get that cuppa, snuggle in for a few minutes, and give a listen: