Sunday, December 27, 2009

"A Timely Suggestion..."

On the eighth day of Christmas....

It's New Year's Day.

And we observe New Year's Day, in part, because we follow the Gregorian calendar which was decreed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

I found all of that out in about two minutes of clicking and Googling and Wilkipedia-ing.

Pretty cool.

Encouraged and energized by the ease with which I was able to unearth those interesting factoids, I moved ahead to the question which has become as much a holiday tradition to me as untangling gnarly balls of lights and watching Ralphie lobby for the Red Ryder.

Why do we sing "Auld Lang Syne"?

This is what I found with a little clicking, Googling and Wilkipedia-ing...

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788[2] and set to the tune of a traditional folk song .It is well known in many English-speaking (and other) countries and is often sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, its use has also become common at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

The song's Scots title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago"or "days gone by".

Well, as the folks at Staples would say, that was easy.

Oh... and as to how it ended up in our collective consciousness as the song we automatically sing when Pavlov rings the New Year's bell...

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularising the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and television, beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark. In addition to his live broadcasts, Lombardo recorded the song more than once. His first recording was in 1939. A later recording on September 29, 1947 was issued as a single by Decca Records

So, it turns out that, after eighty years, the answer to the question "why do we sing Auld Lang Syne" is...

Because we do.

Traditions are funny like that. If you're like me, you sometimes just assume that most traditions have some deep rooted, long standing, fascinating, intrinsically historic, possibly even sacred, origin.

Yeah, I suppose some do.

On the other hand, it's also probable a lot of traditions become traditions simply because something happens, it gets repeated by someone, the word gets out, everybody starts doing it and, next thing you know...


Like singing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's.

Even though few know what it means, how it relates to the occasion or even sing it correctly, for that matter.

It's "auld", not "old".

And "syne", not "sign".

But sing it we do and sing it we must.

Because it's traditional.

Then again...

I'm old fashioned enough to respect that some traditions need to be left alone. But I don't have any problem suggesting that others might benefit from a refurb.

For example, I, like many of you, believe that "America The Beautiful" would be a national anthem far superior to "The Star Spangled Banner."

And I'm fairly sure I wouldn't miss "Auld Lang Syne" if it went "au revoir".

Always willing to be a part of the solution, though (not to mention the chance to throw in my two cents), here's a few suggestions for songs to possibly shore up the musical part of the celebration of each change of calendar:

"Reelin In The Years"-Steely Dan...probably too hardcore for some and the lyrics are a little hard to decipher, but certainly no more so obscure than "in days of auld lang syne"...

"Seven Year Ache"-Rosanne Cash...naahh...too morose...and it would only be good for seven years...

"Time Has Come Today"-The Chambers, that's a little more like it...comes complete with dance groove and the cowbell/woodblock tick tock a little hard to do the romantic smoochy thing, though, with that guy yelling out "TIME!" over and over again...

"In The Year 2525"- Zaeger and Evans...well, hell, let's cancel the party, slash our wrists and be done with it...

"It Was A Very Good Year"-Frank Sinatra...a lovely and introspective piece that would very nicely set the mood for looking back poignantly...can't quite hear the piercing kazoo like sound of the noisemaker jiving with "when I was seventeen..", though...

"Time In A Bottle"-Jim Croce...again, poignant and folky, but picture those guys in The Poseidon Adventure standing in a circle, hands locked together, rocking back and forth, singing loud and proud 'IF I COULD PUT TIME IN A BOTTLE....!".....doesn't quite fly...

"No Time"-The Guess Who...uh, probably only really appropriate at the very last New Year's Eve Celebration...

"Feels Like The First Time"- Foreigner...a lot of people would confuse this one with "Like A Virgin" and the last thing you want to draw attention to at a drunken gathering of hotties is virginity...

"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"-Chicago...this one comes pretty's singalong-able and it includes a happy go lucky attitude (" does anybody really care...abouhhhht tiiiiime...")...doesn't really work without the big brass section, though, and the terms "New Year's" and "spit valve" just don't go together all that well...

Along the way, it occurred to me that maybe some traditions stay put because it's simply too much work to find an alternative.

If it ain't broke and all that.

But, finally, I came up with the song I think would be a lot more heartfelt, relatable and poignant as we close the book on one year and open the book on another...

Catchy. Romantic. Familiar. Poignant. Danceable.

And, arguably, able to withstand the addition of a couple hundred kazoo like noisemakers.

At the very least, the damn words make sense.

It's a whole lot easier to explain "when two lovers woo" than to explain "drink a cup of kindness yet, in auld lang syne", not to mention that the song acutally mentions kissing.

And a whole new batch of offspring traditions could follow.

Like TBS doing a New Year's Day all day marathon of back to back to back to back showings of "Casablanca".

Bogie and Bergman could replace the old man handing off the new year to the baby.

Bars named "Rick's Cafe Americain" would pack 'em in every Dec 31st.

Inviting folks to your party would become "rounding up the usual suspects..".

And the blatantly obvious champagne toast at midnight...?

"Here's lookin at you, kid..."

Inevitably, naysayers will offer up that well enough should be left alone.

But leaving well enough alone really isn't what I do.


Friday, December 25, 2009

"Angels We Have Heard On High...and Higher...and Higher...and..."

Twelve hours to go.

Give or take.

Twelve more hours of listening, enjoying, cherishing and/or enduring Christmas music.

Depending, of course, on your personal tastes, personality and/or thresholds.

I readily admit that there is some Christmas music that moves me to tears.

And some that moves me out from whatever room it plays.

But, as a writer and composer who understands the basic tenets of the subjectivity of any art form, I long ago stopped passing judgement on people for their inexplicable enjoyment of certain musical works.

There really are, it turns out, people who can listen to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" for three straight months and not head for the roof with the sniper rifle to start killing innocent bystanders.

Waterboarding, my a**...that's some folks who can be tortured and deal with it.

Allowances for taste aside, I really do love Christmas music. Secular and non.

And there are certain pieces that, to my ear, cannot be improved upon.

Usually the non-secular, ie; "The Lord's Prayer", "Ave Maria", "O Come O Come Emmanuel", et al.

Provided, of course, that the interpretation of said non-secs remains reasonably true to the composer's original vision.

"O Come All Ye Faithful" as rendered by The Sex Pistols, for example, might bring the envelope pushing to shove.

That said, I'm one of those folks who isn't sorry to see Christmas music get packed up and put away with the diligently rolled tree lights (which will come out of the box next November in a gnarly mess in spite of the about your holiday wonders...).

Because there are times, during the season, when the sounds of the season conjure up, simutaneously, visions of sugar plums and dreams of taking a ballpeen hammer to the CD player.

And for that, I pin the blame on Sam Harris.

Sam was the uber talented wunderkind who upped the ante, big time, on winning the vocal wars on Star Search, the 80's talent show that was American Idol before there was American Idol.

There ain't no question that the kid had game.

Give him a listen and you'll see/hear.

Serious chops, n'cest pas?

But just as Pandora ooopsed when she de-boxed the previously boxed, Sam, inadvertantly, not only set the bar for vocal peformance higher, he unleashed that which had previously been leashed.

Yes, I'm talking about...

The Sam Harris Lick.

The insertion, at some point in the song, of a single note that encompassed all other notes in the known, and unknown, musical scale, starting low and gliding, seamlessly if executed flawlessly, up, up and up to a vocal moment that was part climax, part plaintive wail while teetering periously close to the sound of an adorable, but clearly wounded, small animal.

Admittedly, used sparingly by the right talent, a hair raising, chill down the spine moment.

A sincere sensory stimulation.

Used frequently by the wrong talent...

Musical masturbation.

And the thing about singers who make things look easy on national TV?

They make it look easy.

And the next thing you know....

...what started out as an earnest attempt to create a signature sound, to put a personal stamp on a style flows like a virus through the vocalist mainstream and starts to show up at any time, in any place, in any voice.

The sweet simplicity of the human voice now includes bells and whistles as standard equipment.

And bells and whistles start to get in the way of the sound of the music.

The "lick" eventually mutated into a variety of forms, scattered throughout the presentation sugar frosting on the flakes, sometimes to the point where the vocal gymnastics start from moment one of the song.

Sam Harris always came off as a nice guy.

I have no reason to doubt that he was/is.

I'm pretty sure, too, that no matter how many people forget who he was/is, he will always be in my thoughts at Christmas time.

If, at no other time, when I hear Mariah and her fellow licksters take me walkin in a wailin wonderland.

Merry Christmas, Sam.


Twelve hours to go.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"...25% of the Fab Four is Batting .666..."

This one comes out of the "...other than that, Mrs. Kennedy, how was the motorcade?" folder.

(CNN)- Anyone who followed the nasty divorce between Paul McCartney and Heather Mills shouldn't be surprised that the former Beatle believes his last marriage to be one of his biggest mistakes of the past decade.

No one could look back on how the six-year union ended between the singer-songwriter and the former model last year, with tears, name-calling and a massive divorce settlement and think on it fondly.

But now for the first time, McCartney is telling Q magazine that it indeed was not the best of times. Asked whether the wedding was one of his worst decisions in the last decade, the music legend said it was a "prime contender".

Sir Paul told Q magazine: "OK, yeah, I suppose that has to be the prime contender – but I don't wanna down anyone, these things happen, y'know?"

But the one thing McCartney is grateful for out of his union with Heather Mills is his six-year old daughter Beatrice.

"I tend to look at the positive side, which is that I have another beautiful daughter out of it," McCartney told the magazine.

Another bright point for McCartney has been finding love again with American divorcee Nancy Shevell, which McCartney said was once of the nicest things about the past decade. He also dismissed reports that he was planning to retire, saying, "I have too much fun. Why would I retire? Sit at home and watch telly? No thanks. I'd rather be out playing."

I think one reason people have always been drawn to Paul is the intriguing combination of sunny disposition and stiff upper lip that fosters no suspicion of insincerity.

Since the day we started reading/hearing interviews with the guy back in 1964, he has always maintained a firm footing on the high road.

And though we all have, thanks to the times in which we live, an almost innate sense of skepticism when it comes to these things, even the most jaded among us (of which I readily confess a charter membership) would be hard pressed to make a case against what seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Paul McCartney is a nice guy.

I mean, honestly, have you ever known of anyone else who could essentially endorse the conventional wisdom that Heather Mills is hell on (as opposed to Helen) wheels and still come off sounding gracious?

And let's don't even get started on his tiptoeing around the "Yoko is the Anti-Christ" sentiment that has permeated pop culture since 68.

Now, lest this piece be misunderstood as an uncharacteristic love letter, make no mistake I have no stars in my eyes and can easily see the feet of clay that once filled cuban heeled boots.

I mean he's certainly not perfect.

For example, he's obviously been married more than once.

Actually, three times, if you expand the def.




And when it comes to getting things right in this life...

Two out of three ain't bad.