We haven’t made Christmas cookies yet. (Which reminds me to call and ask if it’s happening this year.) But everything else in this repost is true.
So Christmas has officially arrived for me: today was Christmas cookie day. We get together with my aunt and make sugar cookies from my Grandma’s recipe, cut into various holiday related shapes and decorated with sugar, sprinkles, and icing. (This year, I found a cookie cutter shaped like the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, so we had to try that one; it came out okay, although the cookies were a little puffy this year, so it looked like the lamp was retaining water.) I’ve taken part in this tradition since I was a tiny person, although my brother has long since quit. My sister-in-law joined my aunt, niece and nephew, and me this year. There was much baking and many bad jokes, along with a little wine. A good time was had by all.
I’m not generally a big fan of Christmas music; I tend to be very selective. But the songs I like, I really like. I mean, I tend to get weepy listening to them. ”Frosty the Snowman” is one of those tunes for me. Now I grew up listening to the Jimmy Durante version of the song from the Rankin-Bass cartoon, and that’s generally the version that gets me a little choked up. (I keep seeing poor little Karen crying over the puddle that used to be Frosty, and the joy when Santa used his magic to bring Frosty back. Yeah, I am a total marshmallow.) ”But he waved good-bye, saying ‘Don’t you cry. I’ll be back again someday.’”
This version is almost as awesome as Jimmy Durante’s. Leon Redbone and Dr. John are two of the most distinctive voices in popular music. They were both more popular in the 70s, although neither one was exactly mainstream. They were niche artists, playing well to a certain kind of audience. My family has always fit nicely into that niche, so I’ve always known who they both were. I actually bought Redbone’s Christmas Island just for this song, although I don’t know if it’s still available.
I won’t be inundating y’all with Christmas music between now and the big day, but I’ll probably do a few more songs that I think are pretty special. And considering the news lately, we could all do with a little Christmas cheer.
I like songs. That should be obvious by now. And a lot of songs are by artists known as one-hit wonders, as in, they had one hit and disappeared from popular view.
Now, one-hit wonders have always been prevalent. Back in the 1950s, when Rock was born, the cheapest mode of releasing a song was the 45 RPM single–a tiny (comparatively speaking) piece of vinyl with a large hole in the middle that required a plastic adapter to be played on most record players (just in case you were born anytime after 1990). I began my musical journey right at the tail end of 45s. For a while, singles were released on cassette and CD, but neither format ever caught on the same way 45s did. For a brief dark period, post 45s and pre itunes, it was virtually impossible to find a single of songs you liked. If you wanted something by a one-hit wonder, you were gonna have to buy the whole album.
That’s how I ended up with Nine Days’ The Madding Crowd. I usually regretted buying CDs for one song, but this wasn’t one of those. Besides having a title inspired by Thomas Hardy, there were some pretty good songs on the album. I enjoyed listening to it. And the one hit, the reason I wanted the album in the first place, was downright terrific.
The video makes about as much sense as a fish with a bicycle, and the song really isn’t that much more comprehensible. The status of the relationship in this song seems a little murky, but he “absolutely” loves her, so I guess it’s okay. I just like this tune. There’s nothing remarkable about the song; they sound like everything else released in the late 90s-early 2000s. Just better.
Follow-up success for Nine Days was hampered by trouble with their label, and they went back to releasing their own music after 2006. Their website even has free music available for download. Unfortunately, I don’t think they would’ve repeated the success of “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” even if business had gone smoothly. That song seems to be their one standout.
The last lines of this song are some of the finest, most profound words any popular songwriter has ever written. They’re what make the song matter to me. They shape the sadness, resignation, and anger in the rest of the words into pure hope. They take the weird, syncopated rhythm and turn it into a beating heart.
And these streets, quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to Heaven.
For the mother’s restless son.
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run.
Who says, “Hard times? I’m used to them.
The speeding planet burns, I’m used to that
My life’s so common it disappears.
And sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”
Read more: Paul Simon – The Cool, Cool River Lyrics | MetroLyrics (with my added punctuation for grammatical correctness)
Tonight’s post is a quickie, because in just about 15 minutes, Santa Claus is Coming to Town is on. Yeah, I’m recording it on the DVR, but I love these old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. I haven’t seen this one in many, many years. But I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday.
It’s pretty good advice when you think about. Put one foot in front of the other. Get up, get moving. You’re only stuck if you let yourself be.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a few steps backward and relive my childhood for about an hour.
Today’s the anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination. As we remember his vision of a world at peace, we also continue to mourn the death of a leader who did everything he could to bring that vision into reality.
The holiday season is filled with both great love and generosity, and great consumerism and waste. If you’re buying gifts, try to buy things people will use. Things that might not be necessary, but that will be loved. If you have a little extra, give some of it to someone who doesn’t. Be kind not just to everyone else, but to yourself. If you’re alone, maybe you can give the gift of life to a shelter animal (and the gift of companionship to yourself). Do something that makes someone smile. And be sure to put some change in the red buckets of the Salvation Army. The good you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold.
Imagine a world that is a better than it was yesterday.
Johnny Clegg & Savuka are a longtime favorite of mine. With Savuka, and his earlier band Juluka, Clegg was at the forefront of the artistic struggle of South African artists and performers against Apartheid. The simple fact that they were multiracial was somewhat revolutionary at the time, and their music reflected their political activism.
“Asimbonanga” translates to “We haven’t seen him.”
The world is a much poorer place today.
I could prattle on about my feelings, but really, I’m just sad. I’m probably not going to do much musical musing for the next couple of days, but a man that great should be honored somehow. So here’s a performance by the incomparable South African ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The song doesn’t have anything to do with Mandela, but it is music from his home, sung with the same grace and power he had.
No song today.
Just a few months ago, I was posting about Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. Now he is dead. It’s not as devastating as losing my father was, but it’s pretty damn close.
I admired Mandela more than just about anybody. I admired the dignity and grace and graciousness in the way he lived his life, especially after his release from prison. He was a hero to millions, including me, and a symbol of peace and freedom.
I believe in the freedom he fought so hard for. And I can only hope that someday, everyone will have that freedom.
Note: I know I said this last year, at about this same time, but I’m planning some changes for the blog. Hopefully, things won’t go to hell in a handbasket this time. Stay tuned for updates.
I love the Monkees, and Mike Nesmith is my personal favorite Monkee. I’m only thinking about him because of this post from Dangerous Minds (which has me rethinking my future music purchases, btw). He was their best songwriter and probably their most accomplished musician, but because of the manufactured nature of the Monkees, he was never really allowed to blossom as an artist with the group.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t make some awesome music with them.
This song just makes me happy, although I’ve got no idea why it’s called “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Maybe it’s some kind of off-kilter reference to the Mamas & the Papas. Maybe it’s based on some guy named Gene. Maybe Mike just thought it sounded cool. Who cares? It’s a sunny, cheerful little love song that helped set the stage for the Country Rock revolution of the late 60s (it’s one of the earliest examples, after all).
“Play, magic fingers!”
For all my love of the shuffle setting on itunes and radio in its various forms, I don’t particularly like streaming music services. I guess they just seem kind of superfluous to me.
Pandora is the only one I’ve had very much experience with up to this point, and I’ve always found it to be too much work. Back when it was still new (read: totally free), I tried it out. I wanted to hear Jackson Browne at that particular moment, so I entered his name. Except that’s not how Pandora works. You enter an artist, and they give you something similar. Of course, similar can mean a lot of different things to these guys. Similar in style. Similar in theme. Similar in rhythm. That last one is especially specious, since you can get a song with the same rhythm as, say, “The Pretender” that has absolutely nothing else in common with that song. It’s kind of disappointing if all you wanted was a Jackson Browne song.
So when I read about Songza a few weeks ago, I was a bit skeptical. But the Slate article said Songza was different, because the music was chosen by people, not computers. ”Curated” is the term Songza uses. You go to the site, and choose a playlist based on your mood or the time of day or what you’re doing. It seemed intriguing enough, but I didn’t do anything with that information until now.
I’ve been listening to “Today’s Indie Folk and Americana” for the last little while, and it’s not half bad. I haven’t heard anything I really love, yet—but I haven’t heard anything I hated enough to skip, either. The point is that they’re creating playlists so you don’t have to. I’ve been enjoying 100.3, but it’s just Classic Rock. Songza might be a good place to hear some new music. I’ve found that relying on Rolling Stone reviews and podcasts is less than efficient, so I need a new system. This just might work.