Yes, Mr. Capra, You Are Correct*

December 18, 2010

Tonight is being forecast to be one of the coldest of the season so far, but the central heat is keeping the chill of the outside world at bay and its steady hum is soothing.

The only light radiating – other than that from the television’s glow – is from several strands of white bulbs which Paloma has put up along with several other trinkets of the season.

On the television screen is Bedford Falls and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Unlike The Wizard Of Oz, which is aired several times each Thanksgiving, there’s one chance to see the Frank Capra classic each year and tonight is it.

I didn’t grow up with viewings of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is odd I suppose as I was a kid in the ’70s.

It was during that decade that the copyright on the film lapsed. Suddenly, the movie was being aired repeatedly during the holiday season on independent television stations and was rediscovered, becoming a beloved, Christmas staple.

Somehow, I never watched the movie.

I didn’t see It’s A Wonderful Life until I was in my early twenties and rented it from the video store next to the record store where I worked.

I had two days off, was broke, and wanted to veg. There was It’s A Wonderful Life. I shrugged and figured I was due.

It was the middle of July.

Now, an annual viewing, seasonally adjusted, is a bit of a tradition. So, I’m stretched out on the couch and watching as the plans of Jimmy Stewart get laid to waste one by one – no travel, no college, no life in the dirty city.

(and, as I think about it, I’ve been fortunate to do all of those things he’d set out to do)

Paloma was up very early this morning, so she’s not watching. She’d likely have passed anyhow as she finds the flick to be depressing.

It is a bit of a grim slog to Jimmy Stewart’s epiphany.

A lot of folks watching tonight likely identify with the struggles of the working class citizens of Bedford Falls.

There is a dreary rain falling outside and gusts of wind. I can feel by touching the window that the temperature is dropping.

My eyes kept catching snatches of items about the living room in the firefly flickers from the black and white images on the screen.

Bob Marley is smiling from some odd print that has him juxtaposed against stars and stripes. Godzilla battles the Smog Monster on a framed Japanese poster – a very nifty gift from Paloma.

There’s some of Paloma’s artwork on the wall as well as a cattle skull painted metallic silver, a British Union Jack and a Singaporean flag, a subway poster for The Boomtown Rats, a clock with The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft’s face, and numerous other unusual artifacts.

There are a thousand or so CDs we’ve kept on one wall; a thousand or so vinyl albums filed against another wall.

We have creature comforts.

Ravi is asleep on a large chair, curled into a small ball of black furr and Ju Ju sits on the back of the couch staring out the window behind me.

Pizza and Sam are most certainly curled up with Paloma, sleeping in the next room.

We have a home.

It’s peaceful, it’s comforting, and, to have what we have, it is quite wonderful.

Here are four modern songs of the season that I must hear each Christmas…

Wendy & Lisa – The Closing Of The Year
from Just Say Noel

Wendy & Lisa were integral parts of Prince’s band The Revolution and, since the purple one split up that outfit, have made some fine work on their own and as The Girl Brothers. The Closing Of The Year appeared on the soundtrack to the Robin Williams’ flick Toys (which I seem to remember enjoying far more than the average critic).

I simply love the lyric “If I cannot bring you comfort then at least I bring you hope” and, yes, that’s Seal lending his distinctive vocals to the affair.

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York
from If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Gritty and gorgeous – how can anyone not be charmed by Fairytale Of New York?

Band Aid – Do The Know It’s Christmas? (12″ version)

Band Aid’s charity single from 1984 has been pretty maligned and, granted, it might not be a stellar musical effort, but, if you were a young music fan at the time, it had a certain charm that it likely retains to this day. It featured some of the superstar acts of the early MTV era and it was one of the first musical events I had lived through.

And, if you were a kid at the time, it very well was one of the first times you realized that as big as the world might be, it was one world. And, maybe it made you stop and think that there are a lot of people in the world who might not have the simplest things which we take for granted, not just at Christmas, but each and every day.

At least it did for me.

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
from I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts

The Waitresses only released one full-length album and an EP of their quirky, New Wave rock. But, despite their scant output, the group notched two, enduring classics – the sassy I Know What Boys Like and their modern holiday classic Christmas Wrapping.

I’m sure that I first heard the song on 97X during Christmas ’83 as I was discovering modern rock and it was immediately memorable.

Years later, I’d much better relate to the story within the song, and, somehow, despite how many times I’ve heard it, the ending is still a surprise that makes me smile.

*reimagined last week from the posts of Christmases past


Suicide Hill

December 15, 2010

Like a good portion of the States, our region was smacked with the first snowstorm of the season.

The cover of white that we awoke to this morning, though, had largely disappeared by the time I faced the evening’s rush hour hell. Nothing makes the trip as potentially as treacherous as when a wintery mix is added to the commute.

Yeah, the cast of Ice Road Truckers might brave the elements, but they don’t do it with thousands of other vehicles driven by oh-so attentive folks who – aside from a couple days a year – have little experience with such conditions.

I exited the interstate and headed home along a frontage road, From the road, I could see several kids were making use of the conditions and gravity, hurtling down a good-sized hill on various crafts.

Though it’s fortunate for me that we get little snow and it’s rarely on the ground for more than a few days, it’s the children who suffer. The snow on that hill already had wide swaths that was revealed the grass.

Those kids were sledding on borrowed time.

Growing up in the Midwest, me and my friends could usually expect ample oppotunities to hit the slopes each winter.

Several of us lived along a country road that bisected a subdivision and farmland. As soon as there was snow, we would jump the fence across the road and drag our sleds up a small hill.

If there was enough snow, we would eventually create rudimentry bobsled runs, piling the snow and creating a half pipe. If the weather held, over the course of a week or so, the run would pack – smooth and slick – and become more delightfully lethal.

As we grew older, we would head for Suicide Hill with most of the other kids in our hometown. From the top, we’d stare down at the state road in the distance. The busy road posed no danger as it was unreachable, separated from us by a drop into a small creek.

To get to the bottom, you navigated a path that took you between the 11th and 18th holes on a golf course. And, if you managed to make the run cleanly – avoiding trees and such – you still had to contend with that water hazard.

We lived for the rare spectacle of someone plunging into the drink.

As Christmas approached in 1980, my friends and I were halfway through our middle year of junior high. It was beginning to dawn on us that it might be better to be inside on winter days – somewhere where there might be music and girls – then outside risking hypothermia.

But, in December of ’80, Suicide Hill was still a siren’s song to which we had to respond. Music was still mostly incidental to me, but, over the next six months or so, I’d be hooked.

Here are four songs that were on the chart in Billboard thirty years ago…

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
from The River

Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release in late 1980 and, though I was just discovering radio, I was familiar with this song as well as Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track.

It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska , but I was on board for the long haul.

Blondie – The Tide Is High
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one band that had caught my attention in 1980. Songs like Heart Of Glass and Call Me were such mammoth hits that you would have had to have made an effort to not hear them at the time even if, like me, the radio was nothing more than an occasional companion.

(lead singer Debbie Harry also gave the band a visual component that did not go unnoticed)

I vividly remember hearing the breezy, island groove of The Tide Is High blasting from the radio when someone’s older sister gave us a ride home after one of those afternoons spent sledding. It was a wonderful antidote to the winter weather then and it still is.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
from Dumb Waiters

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the lone US hit by The Korgis on the radio. I certainly don’t recall hearing it thirty years ago when it was a hit.

The first time I do know I heard Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime was when The Dream Academy covered the song in the late ’80s. And, I also heard Beck perform a version of it on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind before I heard the original.

There really was no need for the song to be covered, though. The Korgis’ version is lovely – wispy and fragile – and flawless.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both acts’ work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.


Happy Trails, Dandy Don

December 11, 2010

From the time I was ten until I had turned sixteen, one of the highlights of Monday Night Football was – at some point late in the game with the outcome no longer in doubt – hearing commentator Don Meredith croon, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

So, I was a bit bummed to hear of his death this past week.

I missed the first four seasons during which Meredith was one of the original Monday Night Football announcers. When he returned to the booth in 1977, I was becoming a devoted football fan and – finally – old enough to stay up to watch each week with greater frequency.

It was a world with a mere three television networks and no such thing as ESPN.

Monday Night Football was an event.

In junior high, Monday morning was spent discussing the previous day’s games, but, by afternoon, the conversation between (and sometimes during) classes was often about that evening’s Monday Night Football match-up.

Thus, on Tuesday, the banter amongst me and my friends was regarding Monday night’s events.

And, more weeks than not, the antics of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith would prove to be as compelling to us as the game.

(especially the latter)

We had been too young to see Meredith quarterback the Dallas Cowboys of the ’60s, but we delighted in the affable Texan and his folksy needling of Cosell. He was a constant presence in our lives during those early years of the ’80s be it announcing the games or selling Lipton tea.

Oh, as a fan of the game, I eventually learned more about Meredith’s place in its history which included him under center for the Cowboys when they lost the fabled Ice Bowl – and a trip to the Super Bowl – to the Green Bay Packers in ’67.

Then, following the 1984 season, Meredith was gone, leaving Monday Night Football and retiring to New Mexico.

“Meredith was the guy who sang in huddles, read Hemingway, shot mid-70s in golf and strummed and sipped with Willie Nelson,” wrote Brad Townsend from the Dallas Morning News in a fantastic piece on the man in retirement.

Another sportswriter noted that, though a lot of football fans might have hated the Dallas Cowboys, he knew of no one that wasn’t a fan of Don Meredith.

Happy trails, Dandy Don.

Here are four cowboy songs for the man known as the original Dallas Cowboy…

Kirsty MacColl – Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim
from Galore

The late, great Kirsty MacColl never was able to attain more than a fringe following in the States and her best-known song here would be Tracey Ullman’s cover of MacColl’s They Don’t Know which the comedienne took into the Top Ten in 1984.

It’s unfortunate that MacColl isn’t better known as she not only possessed a lovely voice, but her material was quirky, ecclectic, and usually catchy as anything out there. The lilting Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim added a bit of south of the border twang as MacColl lays down the law with an uncommitted paramour.

Willie Nelson – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
from The Essential Willie Nelson

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.

Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy
from I Wanna Be A Cowboy

My friends and I were greatly amused when we first heard I Wanna Be A Cowboy during the winter of our senior year of high school. It popped up now and then on the rock station we’d be listening to as we hung out on weekend nights, searching for something to do.

Then, the song was everywhere and it grew a bit tiresome.

However, listening to it again after rarely hearing it over the past twenty-five years, it’s easy to understand how we were charmed by the quirky techno-pop track that touted the joys of riding the range on a horse named Trigger (of course).

Kitchens Of Distinction – Cowboys And Aliens
from Cowboys And Aliens

The British trio Kitchens Of Distinction released a quartet of albums filled with dense, swirling walls of guitar often drenched in reverb before splitting after their swan song Cowboys And Aliens in 1995.

Paloma and I spent plenty of hours listening to both the band’s The Death Of Cool and Cowboys And Aliens. The title track of the latter expressing a longing for extraterrestrials to whisk the less accepted of this world to a more caring place.