Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter is Warm

Traditionally, Spring is the season of romance. But it's winter when I always fall in love. Especially when it snows, as it has. The way the snow muffles the noise, but lets through those rare and magic sounds. One bird chips. A rivulet of ice water rolls down the gutter. A crunch in the untouched garden.

I'm listening to music on a snowbound day. She's in her pajamas baking cookies. And Dylan's singing...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Notes of Christmas Past 1.0

A blast from Christmas Past! This article was published in our local papers in December of '02. Both the tale of our old manger, and conversely yet another opportunity for me to blather on about whatever currently interested me. I give you...


Dare I say, living now as I am in the Great Northwest, our Christmas tree, when my
brothers and I were youths, held no water and offered no scent? A fake tree, it was.
Unheard of, I am told, hereabouts. On Long Island in New York, winter hosted the annual event where inhabitants unboxed faux firs and semi-spruces, arranging color-coded branches before their insertion into two-tier pre-drilled trunks. Pine-scented mist sprayed from aerosol cans swirled in the air before settling shamefully on porcupinic tendrils. A yule fog on a Nicholasian decoy. Despite admonitions from natives such as “Christmas is not Christmas without a real tree,” and regardless of my negative tone, I recollect fondly our artificial tree. And why a fake tree? Hassle-free – no sap, no fallen needles, no watering. And of course, no fear of the always-told (and likely hyperbolic) tale of every live tree bursting into flames, consuming home and hearth, devouring stocking and snowglobes, while families swirled hot cider with cinnamon sticks at Christmas pageant intermissions. And what dangers held the artificial tree? Allergies awakened by eleven years of attic dust, I’ll offer. But it is in the shade of the tannenbaum where our narrative begins…

Well, not a narrative really. I’m not telling a story. But it made for an exciting introduction, right? If this were a film, maybe Harry Nilsson or Orson Welles would narrate. If they weren’t both dead, surely one of them would participate. We open with black screen, white text: December 1982. Dissolve and pan down from the wintry sky. The snow falls softly in huge flakes. Zoom into the living room of a ranch style suburban household. Cut to close-up of large blue eye. Slow zoom out gradually revealing another eye, a nose, a mouth, then the face and crown of a wise man figurine. The paint of his brown skin reveals his age – humans wrinkle, plaster chips. Pull back to frame full height and width of the manger.

Who’s in there? Well, according to the advent calendar on the fridge, the date is December 20. The wise men have gathered; the two shepherds as well. A camel and three angels complete the crowd. Nine spectators awaiting the Holy Family. They’re just standing there, staring at each other. I anticipate one of the shepherds shrugging the lamb from his shoulders and bum rushing a wise man.

- You think you’re smarter than me, King Cole?

- At least I can count more than sheep!

They tussle. Then I blink my eyes, shake my head and come to my senses. Okay, I wasn’t daydreaming. I’d been dunking my pinwheel cookies in eggnog. Zow!

Meanwhile, Joseph and Mary have hoofed it out of Nazareth (the attic) en route to Bethlehem (the living room floor). Let’s track their journey:

December 20: Location: Youngest Brother’s Bedroom. Top of dresser. Outside gate of Castle Greyskull, Skeletor’s abode.

Joseph, Mary and a donkey travel for a day and rest for the night.

December 21: Location: Shared Bedroom of Middle Brother and I. Nightstand. Next to Avon Pittsburgh Steeler After-Shave Decanter.

A dab behind the donkey’s ears.

An Aside: The Donkey. The donkey, kneeling in a grassy patch, rests on a felt-bottomed base. His long ears, these long years, have since broken off. The right one at first, followed several journeys later by the left. Sans auditory appendages, the ass looked like an otter. My mother, a great improviser and artisan, fashioned two little ears out of clay. From a distance, say the length of Ontario, one would not notice any disparity in the donkey’s appearance.

December 22: Location: Mother’s Bedroom. Nightstand again. Two days to Bethlehem. And yards of carpet to go.

Why we had the three kings and shepherds waiting for the Joseph and Mary at the manger, I’m not certain. I suppose it was symbolic. The couple didn’t know where they were going. You don’t make reservations at a manger. Maybe if they got a room at an inn, it’d make more sense. But as the story goes, there was no room at the inn. Can you believe that? Denying a pregnant girl a room? They must’ve had something in the back! Those kids didn’t need the honeymoon suite! Boost a chiseling drunk, for crying out loud! Still, I guess it worked out better this way – an inn under the Christmas tree would’ve made for a boring display. No animals. Just a bunch of shlubby guests and three astrologers decked out like hip-hop impresarios. An edgy father, a nervous mother, and a baby boy swaddled in hotel towels – throw in Mare Winningham and you’ve got a Lifetime Original Movie.

December 23: Location. Bathroom. On the countertop hungrily eyeing the Crest. 4 days without food (I never fed them although I did stumble over a moist candy cane on the morning of the 21st) and I’d start justifying toothpaste as a dietary supplement as well. Little sleep that night, what with the flushing and all.

And what sorts of accommodations were awaiting Joseph and Mary in “Bethlehem”? Let’s check the property listing:

Garage: None
Exterior: Plywood/Old Checkerboard
Roof Type: Matted Straw
Heating: Camel/Straw
Cooling: No Walls
Interior Features: Camel/Donkey/Angels/Crib
Exterior Features: Felt Tree Skirt/Santa Bear with Weak Battery Mewling Out Carols
Year Built: 1969 A.D.
Square Feet: One
Water: Oasis
Sewer: Oasis
This cozy nouveau barnette in much sought-after Bethlehem Woods neighborhood offers affordable yet gracious living in festive atmosphere. Recently remodeled – back wall has been replaced by a checkerboard! Private, well-shaded cul-de-sac. Close to public transportation (train travels circumference of tree). A must see! Priced at $8.99.

December 24: Location: The Manger beneath the Christmas Tree. With angels, wise men, shepherds and animals in attendance. Joseph looks at his watch. The lights fade.

A few hours of silence. At night. A silent night. Oh! A holy night! All is calm, all is… BRIGHT! ALL OF THE SUDDEN! Bedroom lights are on! Brothers are up! It’s 5:30 in the morning. The supporting beams of the manger vibrate and buckle. A wise man tips over spilling myrrh on the camel. We all gather in front of the tree.

Only one figure is missing from the manger. From behind the checkerboard, my mother retrieves the baby Jesus molded in his crib and places him between his parents. Good cheer! A child is come unto us! A shepherd reacts:

- Wait a minute. He was out back the whole time?

The wise man gets to his feet, brushing straw and myrrh from his fineries.

- Sometimes I think you’ve got less sense than that mangy lamb around your neck.

- You wanna throw down, King Vitamin?

A brawl ensues. Slow zoom out. Three boys opening presents enter the frame. Their mother collects discarded wrapping paper. Continue zoom out of living room, over kitchen table, through back bay window into soft glow of snowy dawn.

May you revive old traditions this year as new ones are begun. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hey, PSaur! Let's Have Christmas Dinner with Red Skelton in 1982!

On December 14, 1982, HBO first aired "Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner." Yet another televised artifact that has stayed with me over the years, emerging from the fog each holiday season. It's as funny and heartwarming as you allow it to be. As for me, it's both, and very much so. I employ the same brand of humor today, much to the chagrin of many. It's old man comedy & the lost art of schmaltz twirled like a candy cane into one. It is gossamer and mingled somewhere with the wisps of the advent candles. Enjoy!

Imagine: 28 Years Later

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas in Rockefeller Center: Was this Ever Entertaining?

I'm watching the "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" special right now. Live! Well, it was live 3 hours ago on the East Coast. I will comment throughout (if I can stand it!).

Jamie Foxx (with 2 "x's") just nearly massacred "The Christmas Song", with a shameless promotion of his new album as a coda.

Al Roker and Jane Krakowski (sp?) are hosting. What's the matter? They couldn't get Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey?

Now I'm being bored by Rascal Flatts (with 2 "t's"). "White Christmas" -- bland performance.

The Commercials: Zales (with yet another soft-spoken song by some dainty indie singer-songwriter); "Mamma Mia" on DVD; Aveeno, Ultra Calming!; Johnson & Johnson reduces greenhouse gases -- feel good about it!; "Little Spirit" promo, with Danny DeVito; "Momma's Boys" promo - ugh, how awful!

The special's back -- in HD! Yikes, I better switch to the HD channel! Ah, just in time for Faith Hill ("Joy to the World")! She looks all right, but she's kinda dressed like if Jackie O. special-ordered a Nudie Suit.

Actually, I'm kinda excited about seeing the tree lighting in HD. Most shows are no big deal in HD. But this... hey!

Steven Colbert talks to Roker! Hawking his Xmas special. They intro Tony Bennett; he's singin' n' swingin' "Winter Wonderland" with the horn section of the Count Basie Orchestra. I wonder, does he really need those earmuffs? I guess he is old. It's good, you know, Tony's not gonna blow it...

More Commercials: Glade Scented Candles, boutique quality fragrance at an affordable price!; "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" on DVD; Sudafed OM Nasal Spray: Unblock Your Head; Another Zales ad; A new Beethoven the Dog movie on DVD -- really? Critics call it a fun treat for the whole famly; "Momma's Boys" again; Subway, $5 Footlong song; Joe's Tent Event (Formerly G.I. Joe's Tent Event); America's Largest Christmas Bazaar at the Expo Center this weekend -- a thousand booths of crap! The News on Portland's CW at 10.

Now Jane with the star of "Billy Elliot" the Broadway musical. Great read, kid! Now, it's Rosie O'Donnell and her Broadway Kids! Too bad her variety show lasted one episode! Did Rosie write this song? It's awful! "Mambo Santa Claus"? Why? Back to Commack, Rosie! Oh, wait, it's from a CD for a benefit thing. I guess that's forgiveable then.

A brief mention of our troops overseas. Thanks!

Oh. My. God. It's Smiley Iris! With the "bad tooth-to-gum ratio", as Adam says. She's putting her mediocre, plastic twist on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." To me, she sounds like Brenda Vaccaro when she talks. And like every other teen when she sings. God love her -- let her do her thing.

Coming up: Harry Connick and Beyonce!

Even More Commecials: "Despereux" promo, another mouse movie; Splenda with fiber -- everyone's very excited!; Kerri Russell looks for the UL mark -- when was the last time you saw a commercial for Underwriters Laboratories?; A different Glade ad, this one "humorous"; "Mamma Mia" on DVD again -- yeah, I saw it... it was pretty good; Lubriderm lets you wear sleeveless tops; Greatest Holiday Moments on TV -- hey, there's Archie & Edith -- on Friday; "Despereux" again for a second.

Welcome back, says Jane. With a mention of "A Muppet Christmas" (featuring Jane herself). Kermit and Miss Piggy are here! She's drooling over Connick. Was Piggy based on Loretta Swit? Harry's singing "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"; it's got a latin-jazz beat to it. Where's Willie Lobo?

Hey, Jimmy Fallon! He sings a bit of "O Christmas Tree" with Jane, as Al describes the tree. Now Jimmy, Jane and Al are introducing the Jonas Brothers. They are rocking. The music sounds like something you hear when you press a button on a keyboard. They are singing an original, I think. "All I Want for Christmas is the Girl of My Dreams." It kinda sounds like something else. It sounds like everything else. I'm not just knocking it becuase of who they are. It's just bland. Poor kids.

Still ahead: David Cook!

Yet More Commercials: Tylenol Rapid Release Gels -- everybody's got a headache; A different Zales ad; Again with "The Mummy" on DVD -- with Jet Li; A third Glade commerical -- Mmm, gingerbread; "Momma's Boy" promo; "The Office" & "30 Rock" new eps on Thursday; A bad case of the holiday whats: You'll find it at Fred Meyer; Curtis Salgado plays the Trailblazer's theme; Comcast -- the internet speed dealer... sorry, speed leader; Trouble with a tanning salon, a customer is fondled, coming up on the News at 10.

Neal E. Boyd, the winner of "America's Got Talent", introduces David Cook singing "Happy Xmas (War is Over). Need I tell you?

Beyonce! As Sasha Fierce, singing a reinterpretation of "Ave Maria" with just the appropriate amount of booty and booby. Pretty good.

Yet Even More Commercials: Zales again (they're a major sponsor) -- it's that dumb commercial from before; "Despereux" the Gentleman Mouse, er, Gentlemouse!; Johnson & Johnson landfill ad; "Life" promo; "Law & Order" promo.

Time to light the tree (finally!). Mayor Bloomberg and others join Al & Jane, as well as the Rockettes. The countdown! 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.......... it lights up! Yay! The Rockettes dance! Yowza! The song they're dancing to is a made-for-tv song. "Let Christmas Shine"? Yay, spotlight snowflakes on 30 Rock!

Farewell from Al and Jane! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

Another lighting come and gone -- onward to Christmas! Thanks for joining me!

A Farewell to Ales!

While always one to favor a drop, I'm by no means a heavy drinker (all brag and bluster aside). Certainly there have been binge days (that was back in the 90s), but those were mostly skirmishes with the times. Not to say I haven't gotten hammered in even the last few months (ugh, Halloween!) But these incidents are few and far between. Mostly now it's wine, and even then, only with dinner.

But even the occasional wine, I find, leaves the door open for too much wine. And then I'm drunk. Which I'm finding to be stupider as I get older. Like watching professional sports.

So now I've decided to cut out even the wine. This will not go over well with the wife, I suppose. Nor will it be easy during the holiday season, when there are more gatherings than usual. It won't be easy.

Why now? I have a reason or two. But for the purposes of this less-than-personal blog, I've been contemplating the place of alcohol in the arts, specifically music. Up until recently, I've cringed a bit at hearing a formerly perpetually-soused musician cleaning up. Would his/her music now be lame? Perhaps less gritty, more Made-For-TV?

Being a known idiot, you'd expect that reaction from me. I can't recall the last sobered songwriter who gave me concern. Doesn't matter really. But looking into who has been on the wagon, and how their music did not begin to suck, but rather, debatably, gained strength, insight and beauty, I've come across this shortlist:

Think of Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon (god bless his soul), even Jeff Tweedy (Wilco is so much better than Uncle Tupelo!). Presumably, there are others (I can only Google so much here at work before I have to get back to my work). Costello may still drink (I hear Krall likes her wine), but he's gotten far past the Get Happy! days...

Surely my decision has to do with more than artistic integrity. Fact is, I'll be 40 next year. I've got a younger wife (yeah, that's right). And we've discussed having children. I might want to keep myself in good shape for that. I can barely keep up with my nephews now!

But O! Sweet Guinness! Dear Two-Buck Chuck! I will miss you! However, I think we've outgrown each other.

So, Mr. Waits, Mr. Reed -- here we go!

"Hold on Hope" by Guided By Voices

I love Do the Collapse (1999). The production, courtesy Ric Ocasek, works well with these songs somehow. Not exactly his "divorce album" (his drawn-out divorce was finalized in 2002), Pollard's songs here are decidedly more personal than in previous efforts. I've been listening to this all morning -- I'm listening to this now (over the blare of Ralph's Lou Monte Christmas album -- my mind keeps slipping from "Dragons Awake" to "Santa Nicola, Santa Nicola...").

Sure, I do prefer when I don't know what the fuck Pollard is talking about ("Hot Freaks"), but Do the Collapse has a nice soft sound for the morning.

Mostly, though, fans don't like it. Fuck 'em!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"I Love You" by People!

Yes, the Zombies song as covered by People!, featuring Larry Norman, the musician dubbed 9perhaps unfairly) as the "Father of Christian Rock." Just picked up his anthology, released by local record company Arena Rock Recording Company. No, I haven't listened to it yet (do you know me?) but with a praising blurb from Frank Black, I figured how bad could it be?

Go here to read the liner notes.

Plus, he's got a song called "U.F.O." 'Nuff said.