229 Days to Go: The Magnetism of Mariah

Whenever I peruse through the vinyl section of a record store (and by "record store" I mean any store that will stock records, be it Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, or The Salvation Army) I always skip on over to the "Holiday" section and gorge. My kindred spirit, Mitchell Kezin, demonstrates this practice in the opening scene of his masterpiece of a movie, Jingle Bell Rocks!  (God bless that exclamation mark at the end of the title.) 

In larger chain stores I mostly encounter deluxe Christmas vinyl reissues. 90% of them are reissued on red or green (sometimes white) vinyl. (Get it? Those are the colors of the holiday!) But the red ones always catch my eye, especially a slender vixen by the name of Mariah Carey. Clad in a saran-wrap tight elf outfit (minus the hat) Mariah is a shock of red amidst a backdrop of snow. The album's title is understandably no-frills: Merry Christmas. There's no time for text anyway; not when Mimi is staring you down with that unwrappable come-hither look. The holidays may be pious but they can be sexy, too. 

Confession time: I've never listened to this album from start to finish. But two days ago I almost bought it for that simple fact. I've never listened to the whole thing and, as an avowed lover of Christmas music, I feel as if this is a cardinal sin. (Also, cardinals are red just like the color of...nevermind, you get it.) I held back by the smallest of strings but I made it my mission to listen to this album from beginning to end very, very soon. Mariah's magnetism calls to me. I'm coming Mimi, I'm coming home for Christmas...

Mariah or Ms Carey if you're nasty. Which we are not. So put that thought out of your mind. 

Mariah or Ms Carey if you're nasty. Which we are not. So put that thought out of your mind. 

234 Days To Go: Versed in Country Things

In spite of his ubiquitous popularity, I will always lay claim to Robert Frost as my favorite poet. I can hear the snickering from every dark corner of the internet--especially all the Redditers. "After Apple Picking" may be one of the finest string of words ever assembled and if you disagree than I'm not sure that your soul is worth saving. 

Frost's poems are an instant portal into a younger me. You know when cynicism was just difficult to spell and irony was something your Mom did for you on Sunday evenings? And speaking of Moms, one year for Christmas mine gave me a book of Frost's poetry aided by a collection of New England-subject photographs from photographer B.A. King. It's a staple of my Christmas reading collection and one of the more successful combinations of poetry + black and white photography. Titled "Versed In Country Things," it is rife with farmhouses, rural fields, and, yes, images of the woods covered in snow. 

We don't get much snow here in Charleston. Almost zero snow to be exact. So these images have always been a window to another world that I'll never know. And as long as I can pick up the book and zip through that memory tunnel to Christmas long long ago, I'll never mind being versed in country things. Even if the literati will make fun of me. 

I have never seen snow that deep. How do you walk in it? 

I have never seen snow that deep. How do you walk in it? 

235 Days to Go: Comparative Religion

My wife and I are have started watching Community from the very simple and enduring beginning. I believe we've seen almost all of Seasons 1-4 but have more than a few gaps in Season 5. Season 6, a Yahoo-produced venture that really just smacks of the company vying hard for indie-cred among an unimpressed audience. (Remember when they bought Tumblr? Good times.)

Anyway, last night was the series' first "Christmas" episode, "Comparative Religion." "Christmas" is in quotes because...well, that's the whole premise of the episode. The Dean is trying so hard to make "Christmas" unoffensive and non-denominational that is ends up insulting everyone...in the most hilarious of ways, of course. Shirley does the same, only her Christmas spirit runs so hard and high that she is unwilling to believe that she can tolerate other religions and faiths. 

Get it? It's a spoof on the whole faux-"War On Christmas" phenomenon. Oh, and Anthony Michael Hall is in it playing a meathead bully.

I won't lie. After the episode wrapped I felt a dose of Christmas spirit in my cold, tiny heart.  

Welcome Mr. Winter -- "Sup?"

Welcome Mr. Winter -- "Sup?"

237 Days To Go: Guaraldi, Dylan, and Brown

Two hundred thirty seven days until Christmas. More than 1/3 left; not quite half. 

I loaded up on Christmas music CDs last November/December and some of them are still riding around in my car. I'm pretty certain I always keep a copy of Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas with me at all times but I also have a copy of James Brown's Soulful Christmas and Bob Dylan's Christmas In the Heart. The Dylan album is the deluxe edition that comes with five or six Christmas cards and envelopes. (Because nothing says "Merry Christmas!" quite like a Bob Dylan album cover.) The James Brown album is not what I would call deluxe. By any means. 

I'm pretty certain that the James Brown album is just a tossed together collection of some of his Christmas songs in a horrendous looking CD jewel case. There is little to no sequencing of the tracks and it was manufactured by some label called Icon. 

In a lot of ways, it cheapens James Brown's Christmas merriment and it clearly was just slapped together for a quick Christmas dollar. But, in other ways, it is damn near impossible to cheapen anything James Brown does. That's how deep his Christmas soul is. Say it loud, his Santa Claus is black and proud. 

James Brown loves you...all good cheer:  Soulful Christmas and a Happy New Year. Good God.

James Brown loves you...all good cheer: Soulful Christmas and a Happy New Year. Good God.

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