This is actually an episode of ‘One Hit Wonderland’ – an internet series done by pop music reviewer Todd in the Shadows. It explores the careers of people known only for one hit son, as well as the song that made them famous. In this episode, he reviews the perennial classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Hilarity ensues.
So … surprise! Technically, there is no need for a “holiday” song to be wholesome or happy, so I feel entitled to include this, if only on a technicality. After all, there are plenty of people whose holidays are actually downright depressing. Don’t worry – despite the word “hooker” being in the title, the lyrics are more or less innocent.
I love Tom Waits’s work. He is a genius both musically and lyrically. This song sort of has spoilers, so I am going to put the video and lyrics right below this paragraph, and then after the video I will tell you why I think that this song is so great.
Hey Charley I’m pregnant
And living on 9th Street
Right above a dirty bookstore
Off Euclid avenue
And I stopped taking dope
And I quit drinking whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone
And works out at the track.
And he says that he loves me
Even though its not his baby
And he says that he’ll raise him up
Like he would his own son
And he gave me a ring
That was worn by his mother
And he takes me out dancin’
Every Saturday night
And hey Charley I think about you
Every time I pass a fillin’ station
On account of all the grease
You used to wear in your hair
And I still have that record
Of Little Anthony and The Imperials
But someone stole my record player
How do you like that?
Hey Charley I almost went crazy
After Mario got busted
So I went back to Omaha to
Live with my folks
But everyone I used to know
Was either dead or in prison
So I came back in Minneapolis
This time I think I’m gonna stay.
Hey Charley I think I’m happy
For the first time since my accident
And I wish I had all the money
That we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
And I wouldn’t sell any of em
I’d just drive a different car
Every day dependin’ on how
Do you want to know
The truth of it?
I don’t have a husband
He don’t play the trombone
And I need to borrow money
To pay this lawyer
And Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
Come valentines day.
Tom Waits is truly one-of-a-kind. His music is influenced by Jazz, Blues, and other pre-rock styles, and can also be somewhat experimental. Tom Waits’s music sounds like that of a lot of other people mashed together, but there is absolutely nobody who writes music like his. Perhaps even more importantly, he is a poet and lyricist on the level of Bob Dylan. Sometimes (such as here) he puts together a fairly cohesive story – almost a monologue given by a character. Other times his lyrics seem very profound, but their meaning is not made apparent, and the listener is made to project upon it their own interpretation. In either case, his masterful use of wordplay and musical styles come together to paint an incredible mental picture – almost a tableau – of the subject of the song (who is often – but not always – a shady character down on their luck).
Just as the title indicates, these lyrics are supposed to be written on a Christmas card, written by a prostitute in (of all places) Minneapolis, to a guy named Charlie. The first two verses are spent telling Charlie about the positive developments in her life – developments that conform to what is probably her own idea of domestic bliss (but really just tell us more about the sort of life this woman has led).
In the third verse, she brings the subject back around to Charlie (an odd thing for her to do, considering that she had just talked about how excited she was about this guy she is to marry). “And hey Charley I think about you/Every time I pass a fillin’ station/On account of all the grease/You used to wear in your hair/And I still have that record/Of Little Anthony and The Imperials.” This isn’t something that an engaged woman says to a ne’er do well from her past. No. She likes Charlie.
The following two verses discuss how she is truly happy, how she wishes that she had all the money back that she and Charlie used to spend on ‘dope’ (again bringing the topic back to whatever past she and Charlie share). Throughout the song, the listener sees no reason that they should not take the protagonist at her word. It is the final verse that turns the song on its head. After writing everything before it, she confesses that everything had been a lie, that she is doing time in jail, needs money to pay her lawyer, but she will be eligible for parole on Valentines Day.
So, first, remember that she is writing this down. If she had started out lying and decided to tell charlie the truth instead, she could have started over. But she didn’t. She WANTED Charlie to see that long lie about her idealized living situation. But why? And why is she writing to Charlie at all? She can write to anybody and ask for money. She can write to anybody and tell them a lie about her life. If she only wanted money from Charlie, what was the purpose of the long fake life story?
The song paints a picture of a woman who has led a very hard life. She has been on drugs, she has prostituted herself, probably came from an undesirable familial situation (though she does mention her folks in Omaha). It is very likely that Charlie is the only man that she has ever had in her life who treated her like a human being. “And Charley, hey/I’ll be eligible for parole/Come valentines day.” Closing a Christmas song with ‘Valentines Day’ is, first and foremost, a brilliant juxtaposition. And it begins to become clear as to why she concocted that fantasy life to tell Charlie. She wants Charlie to come into her life. She wants Charlie to know that all those things she said about her fantasy man – that could be him. She is in Jail, at Christmas, writing to a man she hasn’t seen in years, because from what she can see, he is her last, desperate hope to ever live that ideal.
Okay. This particular post almost didn’t happen. Let me share with you my frustration …. well, first, let me give you my detailed analysis of this particular musical selection:
This is a musical segment from an episode that aired during the December 12th, 1998 broadcast of Saturday Night Live. It is an all too rare example of SNL showing some modicum of class when scheduling their musical guests (especially around the holidays). It features Vanessa Williams, the late Luciano Pavarotti, the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir and an orchestra, and is very, very nice. Watch it. You will like it.
So, anyhow, the reason for my travails in publishing this particular entry? NBC seems to have, for whatever reason, decided to remove all of their officially hosted video clips of this performance. Which makes absolutely no sense. Adeste Fideles is in the public domain, Luciano Pavarotti is no longer with us, and I doubt that Vanessa Williams would, after 15 years, suddenly decide that NBC needs to pony up some cash or take the video down. So, NBC and Hulu just couldn’t be bothered to spare any more bandwidth to let people watch this video, it seems.
So, I was able to find one and only one source of this video clip – hosted by Yahoo. BUT, it turns out, Yahoo will only provide iFrame embed codes for their video. Which is a problem, because when you try to use an iFrame code, WordPress.com is all like:
So, after two stinking hours of trying to figure out how to put an embedded video player here, I was feeling like this:
Prepared to just give up and go to bed, I decided that I would go ahead and simply post a picture linked to the Yahoo page that has the video. Like a rank amateur. Like an animal.
So, click on this 15-year-old picture of two smiling people, and you will be transported to a garrish Yahoo page where you can watch the awesome video:
Coming tomorrow: A selection that is hosted on YouTube, which will NOT take me two-and-a-half-hours to write.
Okay, this one is really just for fun. The Royal Guardsmen was a group of 6 guys from Florida who – in the late 60s – released four songs about Snoopy (yes, from the Peanuts cartoons). The first was ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Barron’ (which is also a really fun song) and was followed the following year with this Christmas themed ditty. One interesting thing about this song is its reference to the ‘Christmas Truce‘ of 1914 – which was a real and awesome thing that happened between the trenches of what was otherwise a very bloody war. Musically, there is not much on which to comment, aside from the fact that it has a fun beat and catchy chorus. It’s one striking feature is the use of a 4-3 suspension in the vocal harmony at the end of each chorus, which – after resolving like you would expect- then moves downward to an escape tone on the second scale degree before resolving back upward to the mediant. Perhaps somebody will come along and cite a number of examples that I have neglected, but you don’t hear that very often, and you certainly don’t come across it in popular music of the latter half of the 20th century.
If you haven’t checked out yesterday’s song, you can do so here. Now, given the notoriety of that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet, it is little wonder that the song has been covered, copied, parodied and paid homage to many times over the years, including several done by comedians in 2010. Some of the covers were very bad (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly). The one below, on the other hand, is my personal favorite. It was done by Jason Segel and Jack Black for CollegeHumor. I like it because they didn’t just copy the song, but put their own style to it and – it can be argued – actually improved on it. The animation is also really fun.
If you know me, you know that I am a big fan of Bing Crosby and historical oddities, so it only makes sense that this would show up on day 1. For those who don’t know, Bing Crosby was what they called a ‘crooner’. See, before the advent of the microphone, singers had to project their voices loudly enough to be heard throughout an entire auditorium or concert venue. With the advent of the microphone, however, singers were free to sing more softly, resulting in a more intimate sort of sound – especially when done by men with a baritone voice (which most crooners are/were). At its heyday, the style was applied to such big names as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Andy Williams, and is continued today by performers such as Frank Ocean, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble.
So, Bing Crosby emerged in the 1930s as a radio star, recording artist, and began appearing in movies in the 1940s, such as some of my personal favorites – “Going My Way”, “The Bells of St. Marys” and “White Christmas”. This video, however, is from a 1977 Christmas special. By 1977, Bing was a wholesome favorite of … well, mostly older people – specifically the then middle-aged World War II generation and their elders. David Bowie, in contrast, has been a controversial figure through his entire career, partly because of his music (which was very cutting edge for its time), partly because of his public persona (he had come out of the closet several years before and performed as an androgynous alter-ego named Ziggy Stardust – remember that this was 1977), and also because he was sometimes prone to making really radical political statements.
Some have described seeing Bing Crosby and David Bowie on screen together as a very surreal moment, and who can blame them, really? Try as I might, I really can not come up with an accurate modern allegory. I suppose that it might be like seeing Paul McCartney sing a duet of Silent Night with Kanye West or Eminem, with the obvious flaw being that Bowie is more talented than both of those guys put together.
This was done at a time when Bowie was trying to become a bit more mainstream, and for his part has said that he only did the special because his mother was a fan of Bing Crosby. Indeed, both men seem very, very uncomfortable through the entire performance, which manages to sort of work regardless, due to the talent of both performers. David Bowie disliked “Little Drummer Boy” and refused to sing it, leading to the special’s music director, producer and scriptwriter coming up with the “Peace on Earth” counter-melody on the fly for Bowie to sing.
Also noteworthy is that this special was recorded in England only a few weeks before Bing Crosby’s death, and due to post-production actually aired some 2 weeks after his passing, increasing the viewership of the television special and launching this particular bit into our historical consciousness.
…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government…” –The United States Declaration of Independence, ratified July 4, 1776 (emphasis added)
I feel like we live in a superficial time and place. When we look at history or ideas or ideas of history, we tend to take a very narrow, myopic view of people or events, historical figures’ motivations and the ideas that they represented. Our short attention span causes us to gloss over the bigger picture of history. Often, that gloss becomes so thick that we simply see a distorted image of ourselves reflected back upon us.
The first line of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence may be one of the most famous sentinces of any correspondance in modern history. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And yet this is only a very small part of a much longer document (which I would encourage you to read in its entirety here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html). Taken out of context (as it almost always is), you could use it to justify just about anything – the right to own a fully operational Sherman Tank and keep it in your backyard, the right to hunt endangered bald eagles, check kiting – you know, all kinds of things. You can even try to argue semantics of those words – say that ‘men’ only means straight white men and not women or minorities – say that the use of the word ‘creator’ means that our nation is supposed to be a Christian theocracy. If you take the time to read these words in context, however, things begin to come into focus.
I think that those who are in power in our country could certainly do to take a read of the passage above. We have come to think of our government as a monolithic entity, separate from those of us who are governed. Rather than a collaborative entity existing to do work at our behest, it has become a giant secretive corporation that exists simply to do stuff TO us. It seems that there is an ever-expanding conglomorate of people in this country who are taking this worldview – that the government is hard to understand and malevolent and scarry and we need to do away with it as much as possible.
These people, too, fail to realize that the government exists to meet our needs – to facilitate a just and prosperous society, which is capable of meeting the basic needs of its citizenry. “..to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The government should not work against, but rather FOR us. Does it, right now? Not very effectively. It likes to think that it does, but we are in the middle of at least the second consecutive do-nothing congress. Student loan interest rates are skyrocketing because of legislative inaction. The NSA is spying on all of us.
Should it be this way? No, it should not. Is it broken? Yes, it is. But, when something is broken, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You fix the problem.
Perhaps most most distressing phenomenon is that of some people hoarding weapons and emergency rations – preparing to take up arms against the government. If we take a moment to think about it – the government IS The United States of America. I am the United States of America, and probably most of the people reading this (all four of you) are also the United States of America. So we have the United States wanting to take up arms against the United States because the United States has issues with the United States.
Note the bit that I have made blue in the text at the beginning. The Founding Fathers were not, as some people assert, radicals. They made sure to place in the Declaration that they were revolting against the Crown only after exhausting every possible means of ambiable resolution. “…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.“
Less than a century ago, the American Civil War was fought at the orders of men who failed to yield to this advice. The result was a series of bloody battles, during which more Americans were killed than in all other American wars COMBINED. Somewhat distressingly, the embers of this conflict continue to burn in some of the backwaters of the Deep South.
The thing that people seem to dismiss is that the power for change lies not in the barrel of a gun, or in a violent revolution – nor is our case hopeless. The history of our nation is short, and in that time we have faced many travails and existential threats. I refuse to accept that the impetus of our downfall will be our own ignorance and greed.
The power to affect change does not start in Washington – it lies in us – the People – with a capital ‘P’. In America, the people have the power to completely change their government, if they so desire, without the need for bloodshed. If you think about it, it is possible for us to completely replace all 535 members of congress within 6 years. Even if we wanted to change the very structure of our government, we can do that. If two-thirds of the states request a constitutional convention, then congress has to call delegates from each state. They will make whatever changes to the constitution they think are needed, and each of those changes will be made if they are ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures.
I am not – by any means – saying that we need to rewrite the constitution or do a complete flush-dump of Congress (although, I am not really sure that I would miss any of them). I am simply attempting to illustrate what is possible. The only way to weather this and the next few decades is if we can stop being so very polaraized. We need to stop dividing ourselves based on superficial issues. We need to stop looking at politics like a sporting event. We need to stop seeing ourselves as Democrats or as Republicans or as rich or poor. We need to see ourselves as one America. One Nation. We need to learn that when people go hungry or uneducated or jobless it doesn’t just affect them – it affects all of us. We need to remember how to have hope. Otherwise we really are irredemable.
I mean, we live in this irreparably broken world, and I don’t wish to deny reality, but the amazing thing to me is not that we refuse to relinquish hope as a species. The amazing thing is that we’re right to hold onto hope.
The world may be broken, but hope is not crazy.” – John Green (Author)
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that a couple weeks ago, it was revealed that the NSA is compelling the many and sundry mobile phone carriers to track their customers’ call records and submit them in daily reports to the government. When this came out, tons of people from coast-to-coast were shocked – SHOCKED – that this sort of thing could go on in these United States. Personally, I was not even surprised by it. My general response was along the lines of “Yes …… and?’. Many on Facebook thought that I was making light of the situation or giving tacit approval of it. That is not the case. I simply thought that it was common knowledge that this sort of thing was most likely going on.
Let me back up a bit. In 2007, during the waning months of the administration of Bush-43, Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007. They followed this with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008. These two laws retooled and beefed-up an existing Cold War-era law (FISA). Along with the infamous PATRIOT Act, these laws gave the government the authority to not only do what they are doing in the recently-leaked PRISM program, but things that are really a lot worse in terms of domestic data collection. Under these laws, they can actually listen to our phone calls, read our emails, and any number of other things with only a warrant from a secret court (called a FISA court) that operates outside any type of public oversight. These laws were discussed somewhat in the media in 2007 and 2008 (largely on more liberal outlets such as MSNBC and the Huffington Post [which was still a liberal news outlet at the time]), but by and large the vast majority of Americans ignored what was going on. It upsets me so much that I feel it bears repeating: The public ignored the fact that the government was giving itself the powers to effectively spy on said public, but is now screaming bloody murder when it turns out that the government is actually USING those powers. WHERE was the outrage back when there was a chance to actually keep the government from granting itself this authority? What is different now?
As you might imagine, I have a cynical theory. See, here in these United States, we love our celebrities. We idolize people. In fact, I would contend that celebrities are the only people who can get the attention of the broader populace on any issue … ever. We especially love NEW celebrities, when they are shiny and enigmatic and we don’t see their whole person, yet. As it turns out, there was a guy with some information who wanted to be a celebrity!
Yes. Enter Edward Snowden. Wannabe whistle-blower. Highly educated, very intelligent, well-spoken and geek-chic. Former NSA contractor. Sort of nerdy, but still handsome and good-looking. It is like he was MADE for the part. If only he had a manic-pixie-dreamgirl-model-dancer girlfriend that he abandoned to go on the lam, it would be perfect …….
Wait … He has a manic-pixie-dreamgirl-model-dancer girlfriend that he abandoned to go on the lam? Well, this is awkward…
Snowden left his conventionally-attractive girlfriend behind in Hawaii to flee the country, make his disclosure to the press, and then hide out – presumably in Hong Kong, where he is seeking asylum. Seriously, it is like something out of a Tom Clancy novel or a mediocre spy movie.
Now, I want to make it clear – I am not criticizing Edward Snowden per se. There is nothing wrong with having a manic-pixie-dreamgirl-model-dancer ex-girlfriend – in fact if that is what you want, and you can make that happen for yourself, than for goodness sake – go to town, bro. And if you want to blow the whistle on a government that secretly spies on its citizens and then flee to a country that BLATANTLY spies on its citizens, then have at it. Don’t worry about the irony – it will be lost on most of us. I don’t think that you can argue with the statement that Edward Snowden is a very courageous fellow. He fervently believes that he is doing the right thing – and I think there is a good chance that he is.
And I am CERTAINLY not saying that what the NSA is doing is right. I don’t think that it is.
My problem – the thing that really annoys me to no end – is that the mainstream media and the American people only cared about this issue when it was attached to a pretty poster-boy, in a story and a situation that may as well be written and packaged for prime-time. This thing has been practically out in the open for a half-decade. If you want to defend freedom and liberty, it requires constant vigilance. You have to PAY ATTENTION all of the time. You can’t ignore your government most of the time, expect it to behave itself, and only look at it when issues are wrapped in a dramatic, sexy tableaux. You can’t. You can’t. Really, you can’t.
Am I wrong on this? Let me know in the comments.
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As always, thank you for reading, and stay strong.