An Evocation of Christmas: "The First Song"

You may have noticed that I'm in the "lean times" of trying to keep up the thrill and excitement of Christmas music. We barely have a winter here in Charleston and as May comes upon us it is growing warmer and warmer. Soon it will be almost unbearably hot. 

Nighttime or early AM are the best times to indulge in some Christmas listening but there has to be some sort of substitute to fill the spaces in between. Typically, I turn to songs that mention Christmas or winter offhandedly or albums that offer an evocation of Winter or Fall. Again, the Resistance is strong but I soldier on. 

One of those songs that I was thinking about this morning was "The First Song" by Band of Horses. In addition to it's inconceivably gorgeous opening chord structure, singer Ben Bridwell takes a slow, delicate path that unfolds lyrics only partially and after repeat listens. For the most part, it was (and still is) difficult for me to understand the arc of the song. (There are dozens of lyric "translations" online that are clearly incorrect and laughable.) At the core, it's just a few activities that take precedence: there are people to see, overcoats to put on, and glasses of wine to drink.

"It's Christmastime, I'm coming over" always stuck out as a phrase that captured the essence of "The First Song." It's a celebration, this song. It's a cold evening that's just right for some kind of fire; companions are needed for the celebration and hand-wrapped gifts will be offered soon. Whatever else happens inbetween doesn't really matter because we can go anywhere, as long as we've got an overcoat. 

  

A staple among indie rock kids everywhere, Band of Horses, Everything All the Time

A staple among indie rock kids everywhere, Band of Horses, Everything All the Time

Blue Xmas

Like everyone else, I have a set of Christmas traditions. I have a neat stack of records I must listen to before December 25 or else the holiday will be incomplete and lacking in totality. (At least from my personal standard.) 

One of my traditions is watching Mitchell Kezin's engrossing documentary Jingle Bell Rocks! (With a completely unnecessary exclamation mark at the end of it.) It was really only through JBR! that I discovered the brilliance of Bob Dorough, jazz pianist, composer, and songwriter. The first time I watched JBR! my daughter was consumed with Schoolhouse Rock! (Yet, another unnecessary exclamation mark!) And I'll admit to having several of those tunes stuck in my head for weeks. 

But the discovery that JBR! lead me to was Dorough's collaboration with Miles Davis on the track, "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)" I've been consumed with the music of Miles Davis recently and I'm always surprised to see how many jazz artists celebrated Christmas with music of their own. Miles never was one to include any kind of vocalist on his tracks. Besides "Blue Xmas" where Dorough does the singing/scatting, I can only think of one other Miles track with a vocalist, "Darn That Dream" off Birth of the Cool. But Dorough snatches the spotlight away from Miles for a curmudgeonly take on the crass business of "Xmas." The word doesn't even deserve it's proper nomenclature, you see. It's insufferable--the holiday and the human race. It's all just that much "folderol." 

It's a gem of song that should be a staple on everyone's "Xmas" playlist. 

Miles Davis, "Blue Xmas" 7 inch single was released for Black Friday, 2014--very fitting

Miles Davis, "Blue Xmas" 7 inch single was released for Black Friday, 2014--very fitting

The Resistance

Very tough to keep the Christmas spirit with you throughout the year--especially as it gets warmer. Taking a note from Steven Pressfield and naming the inability to keep Christmas alive year-round, "The Resistance." 

For me keeping Christmas alive with music throughout the year is just as much a spiritual journey as it is a mental and social one. It mirrors the struggle of the Christian commandment in Mark 12:28-32 to "love thy neighbor as thyself." It's incredibly easy to falter and let slip. 

Still have not located a copy of John Denver and the Muppets TV special. Haven't really been looking very hard either. But I did pick up a used copy of Kylie Minogue's Kylie Christmas just based on the inclusion of a duet with Iggy Pop. It didn't do much for reviving the Christmas spirit because the Resistance is strong. However, I continue on.

Kylie Minogue, Kylie Christmas

Kylie Minogue, Kylie Christmas

On the Hunt for A Christmas Together

Summer greetings, Christmas fans.

I'm on the hunt for a copy of John Denver and the Muppets' "A Christmas Together." I want to submit a proposal to the 33 1/3 Series on this particular Christmas album and figured a good place to start would be trying to find a copy of the long-out-of-print Christmas special.

Likely the proposal will be rejected (I'm 0 for 2 with them). But even if it doesn't work out, it will become a chapter in my book on the history of popular Christmas music.

The hunt begins. Updates to follow.

In the meantime, some personal musings on music, baseball, and politics (often at the same time) over at my personal blog.

The full LP cover of A Christmas Together.

The Guitar: Will Oldham Interviews Sir Richard Bishop

I read and listen to most anything Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) puts his name to, and this interview was no different. From the Oxford American (one of the best print magazines published today), Oldham speaks to Bishop about his newest acquisition: a travel guitar with mystical qualities. Sir Richard Bishop was unknown to me, but his latest album, but his latest album, The Tangier Sessions, is out on Drag City

Sir Richard Bishop, "Bound in Morocco"