Each year I condense my twelve hours of Christmas/winter music into a playlist of two, for cooking time, etc. If I had to listen only to a few artists for Christmas, I’d choose Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Vince Guaraldi. Probably. But fortunately, that is not required.
This year I decided to do a sort of theme: “definitive” versions of most famous songs. It’s not concrete. I can’t do concrete. But semi-solid, anyway.
I would wish for a really good vocal recording of “Carol of the Bells,” if I were to change one thing. Otherwise, this is a fine compendium of what I’ve got on the ol’ iPod. I chose three different versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” though, because I am very in the mood for that, and because I can’t decide on only one. Usually one voice gets it better than the other. My newest version with Lee Ann Womack and Harry Connick, Jr. is not my favorite arrangement, but it sure is nicely balanced vocally and other ways...
Willie Nelson and Lady Gaga both do it so well, they really ought to record one together. She’s worked with his son, but it isn’t the same sort of thing.
So next, I have to put these in the correct listening order! And if I had infinite energy, I’d make a YouTube playlist of them to share, but I do not. Here I have shown both the album the song is on, and the original recording year for the older ones in case you want to look up a few.
I'm so glad I finally got all my blog pages switched to new flexible designs. I just had a look on the phone, and wow, the difference is terrific. I hadn't done it before because of a specific concern, but the Typepad people helped me understand how to handle that.
And now to start fresh. I saw, as one does every year, a few people online yawning in jaded satisfaction about how they aren't going to bother "celebrating" an arbitrary change of the calendar. Precious. It isn't arbitrary, though, not to the greatest number of humans who have lived according to clock time and calendar time since they were still incubating in their mothers' wombs. There isn't an occasional random news article alerting us to a semi-periodic change. It's not whimsical. It's instead quite precise and regular within our short lifespans. And we celebrate it because we all need to turn to a fresh sheet of paper now and then, and begin again.
Today might be mostly the same as yesterday, for most of us, but we get to say, if we like, that it is not. Often, we need to be able to say it. New Year's Eve is the permission we give ourselves to do so, and as we do it collectively, we imbue it with some enhanced meaning. It's a Declaration. We are looking forward to new, and letting go of old.
Of course most of us aren't very good at it. But we need to try, anyway, and for most of us the trying occurs at the darkest part of the year, so that has import; yes, we're getting through it, and for the rest of the world it occurs at the brightest time of year, and there's energy in that, isn't there?
Time as a concept is difficult to grasp. I like thinking of it as Madeleine L'Engle sometimes wrote; forming overlapping circles. That makes a kind of sense if you think about how we're seeing the past when we look at stars in the night sky. Of course, there's a lot of complexity to this for which I don't possess the vocabulary. But time as something we use to manage our dark and light sun cycles is not really difficult to grasp at all. It's a map tool, and on the first day of the year, we get out a new pen so we can mark the new blank squares with fresh bright ink. Happy New Year. May your New Year dreams come true.
I posted this a year ago today at the previous version of this blog, just made a few slight tweaks for reposting. This is partly a "best" list, but I will concede there are some good ones I left out, because they aren't personal favorites. If I were to make a true "best" list, I'd make it longer, to include a few more usual suspects. Hover over the links to see which are video and which are text. Also, at least half of these are available complete on YouTube.
Perennial favorites I never miss:
It’s a Wonderful Life 1946: I've never not loved this movie, and I could watch it several times a year. I have it on DVD now, because I wanted to always see it without commercial breaks. We watch it every year on Christmas Eve while drinking eggnog and eating cookies. I think it's kind of a perfect movie.
Holiday 1938: I first saw this as a teenager as part of a double feature with Bringing Up Baby, but to me, it pairs better with The Awful Truth, one of the funniest movies ever made. Holiday has more pathos and tension, and is not a perfect movie, but it is still very funny, and one to hug and adore.
The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942: has a wonderful cast and lots of funny moments. It's staged very much like a play, which is enjoyable. And it has a lot of in-jokes that are extra funny if you know the references, but are still funny if you don't. It was written by Kaufman and Hart, who also wrote the hilarious You Can't Take It With You, which was adapted for the screen in 1938.
Desk Set 1957: This movie is gorgeous. It teams Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, a pairing I'm not overly fond of, but I like the offbeat nature of it, and all the supporting cast. As not a Tracy fan, this is my favorite role of his. It looks like one kind of movie, but behaves like another. I have this one on DVD as well, and watch it a couple times a year.
The Bishop’s Wife 1947: This is more of a true Christmas film than the previous entries, and I think it's one of the best, because of the cast and the nearly gross sentimentality. It's tender and meaningful, but also humorous. Monty Wooley has a sweet role, completely opposite his role in The Man Who Came to Dinner.
The Shop Around the Corner 1940: I love the setting of this film, and the real caring nature of it. It also feels like a play, and could have been too stagey if not done just right, which it was. When I was younger, I really disliked Margaret Sullavan's character, but I appreciate her more now. I always appreciate Jimmy Stewart. Deeply.
I like these next four, but only in the right mood, because I'm terrible at watching certainmany most kinds of tension. I'm aware it's mostly me. I've watched them all with other people who don't feel the same gnawing sensation (horror,) and I still make sure to see them each year, because, well, because they complete the picture.
It Happened on 5th Avenue 1947: In this movie, people without homes for various reasons all end up in a mansion together for the winter. Don't look up too much about it; the story is really fun if you don't know how it will go. I always have this "fear of discovery," but of course, it's a comedy. You know it will eventually all come right for every one. It's got kind of a ham-handed message, but that's part of its charm.
Holiday Affair 1949: This is really good; I'm just never a fan of Robert Mitchum. It's a charming light romance in which a woman ends up choosing the man I would turn down, but that's how these things go, and everyone else is happy in the end. The mother and child scenes are really very good.
Bachelor Mother 1939: David Niven and Charles Coburn are in this film, and I love them both. Ginger Rogers plays the woman mistaken for a single mother, and finds herself going along with the narrative assigned her. I don't generally enjoy stories which go that way, but she's so good and they're so good, and if you've never seen it, you'll laugh.
Remember the Night 1940: This stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who are devastating together in Double Indemnity, which was released a few years later. This one's mostly light-hearted, and they have real chemistry between them, which is why, I suppose, they did three more films together. But it's another thing wherein someone has to pretend to be someone they aren't, and a little of that goes a long way with me (which is why I hardly ever watch Christmas in Connecticut.) There's a fairly recent remake of this story, but I don't recall the name because I didn't like it.
You thought it would be Sinatra, didn't you? But you can see all that here.
Here are four currently rotating TV Christmas movies I watch and rewatch, and one that is my current arch-nemesis. I might do another list later on of specifically high quality ones. This is not that list. All of these will be on TV several times this month.
A Golden Christmas (ION, 2009) please ignore the reviews. For all of them. Reviewers have little business reviewing TV Christmas movies. Sure, this isn't a great movie, but that doesn't stop me from watching it every year. I watch it hoping poor Nicholas Brendon will pull himself together for good and also because of the dogs. And it's sweet.
The Road To Christmas(Lifetime, 2006) starring adorable husband-and-wife team Jennifer Grey and Clark Gregg. This is when I discovered Clark Gregg. I admire him. It's the kind in which she's irritable and high-maintenance and he's laid back and cool and they learn to love each other. Frankly, I think it's the best one of that sub-genre, despite what I said before about the quality of this list. Don't go reading the details, it'll ruin the fun. I think this one is on Hulu.
A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark, 2011) one of the best in the "becoming Royal" at Christmas time sub-genre. Yes, that's a thing. It has people in it you can care about, and the disagreeable ones are enough cartoony to not matter. Plus, Roger Moore is in it.
Love at the Christmas Table (Lifetime, 2012) is a very funny movie that is fun from beginning to end, with just enough plot to keep it going. It stars Danica McKellar, which you know if you already clicked on the link, and who should be in more of these things. She's in a new decent one with Rupert Penry-Jones, called Crown for Christmas, which will go on my rewatch list for next year. I think this is also on Hulu.
That brings us to last year's Teri Polo entry which I saw half of last night, A Christmas Shepherd. Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Hate. Seven of the eight people who've reviewed it on IMdB at least partially agree with me. I can't talk about it. Ugh. The review called ridiculous premise says most of what I can't anger-type, except he leaves out the fact that I'm sure they all end up together. I wrote my own idea for an ending, instead:
I'm posting 30 lists of various types, one every day this month except Christmas Day, most of which will be utterly shallow, but not all, and some of which will have little to no context or reason, because actually I came up with only about 15, and then had to just make up things for the rest.
But tonight I have a sinus headache, because I appear to be allergic to something the Singulair doesn’t cover, in addition to cat ammonia, and so anyway. I’m starting with the easy one. Here are five things I’d put on a Christmas list if I were to make one of those with any reasonable expectation or extreme desire of seeing it fulfilled. (It was meant to be six, because I really want this nice brushed stainless steel egg cup and spoon that I forgot to add here.) In comparing it to my 2003 one (undoubtedly most of the links are dead,) I can only note that I’ve kind of aged a lot. That’s cool. I still have always wanted a Lego set for Christmas, though. My parents never got me one, so one or more of my kids have received one every year they were old enough, including this year, because hello, Doctor Who! (if it's available, that is.)
At first I wasn't going to add links, because I hated to imply I wish anyone reading this to purchase me these things. But then I decided someone might just like to look at them retail-wise, anyway.
Wusthof 8 inch Panini/Deli Knife. If I had this thing, I'd have all the knives I might ever want, because I have four other Wusthof knives that do all the things I want except cut bread loaves with thick crust, and things that would also like the same sort of knife.
Part one of shopping done; indigenous foods, check. I didn't prepare fresh pumpkin this year as I sometimes do, but it's one product that is completely fine bought in cans. Good for babies, too, as I've mentioned before.
Of course, we always have these foods because they're truly American, as is maple syrup, which I add in small measure to the sweet potatoes. So are pecans, and this year I'll probably make a second pumpkin pie with a pecan topping, rather than pecan pie on its own. I'd rather make pecan tarts at Christmas. Anyway, what I mean is, these are the most important usual Thanksgiving foods to me, but I don't prepare most of them in the ways many other people think of as traditional, because I really never liked them that way, and I'm in charge of things, since 1990. Mostly. (If you are also in charge and don't like a lot of mushy or sticky or etc., you are free! Let it go! Cook the things as you like them best.)
Sometimes we have cherry pie instead of blueberry, but when we do, I like to still include blueberries in another way. This year it'll be pie, though.
Besides the indigenous foods, there'll be sweet potatoes, of course, mashed with holiday maple syrup sweetness, and a little butter and zest from the orange that goes into the turkey, and we'll go on Wednesday to pick out our green vegetables. Most commonly I steam fresh green beans in a pan with very simple seasonings. But we might do different things this year.
Also to buy on Wednesday, sherry for the turkey gravy, Zinfandel for the table, and bourbon for the pecan topping. The bourbon is indigenous, too, of course!
You might have noticed my turkey is not frozen. It costs a whopping $1.99 that way, but that is still definitely bargain meat. If I bought a frozen one for less, chances are I'd have to buy a larger one than I like to cook. So, 18-20 dollars for giant unwieldy turkey we'll never finish, or $27 for the size I prefer to prepare and fit into a pan in my oven. No contest; there are still weekend leftovers, a good carcass and neck for broth, and giblets for the dog and cat.
When I know there'll be more than six to give dinner to, I'll add duck or another meat dish, rather than buy a much larger turkey.
Finally, exciting dressing news this year. I get to make most of it mostly fruity, to suit my taste and my visiting daughter's dietary needs, and I'll just leave a section of it quite plain and bready for the son who kind of demands it that way. But with indigenous sage, of course!
I thought this was funny. My turkey has a special wrapper, and printing to inform me that it is.
(edited to reflect an updated lyric.) Could you write this song now instead of the 40s (50s, 60s, 70s?) No, not with the same cheeky sense of fun. (Which is why, I suppose, people like me cling so fervently to the nice parts of the past.) And of course that might not be a bad thing in our world in which people must be suspicious of each other at all times, but it doesn’t make the meaning of it as it was created in the past no good now. Judging the hundreds of people who've recorded this song as if they've got no sense until you come along and straighten them out is just foolish.
This has upset me so much because it means much more than just getting it technically wrong. It means all of our recent past is subject to revision, to the point where everything I knew growing up is now “for all intensive purposes” to someone who doesn't see it in perspective.
We are better at a lot of stuff than they were 80 years ago when this song was written, yet that doesn’t mean they didn’t know how life worked. We can do Earth and universal goodwill and women getting great jobs in a way they didn’t do just then. But to take what they made and enjoyed and interpret it as something different now is doing them a disservice. You can never understand any history if you look at it only through your own current view. History revisionists are all on the wrong sides of things; don’t be one of them.
People who have no solid view of history, perspective, context, or songwriting style are interpreting this song as he says/she says, and also don’t even know how people used to talk before the 90s. But it isn’t like that. Each pair of lines works together.
(I really can't stay) But, baby, it's cold outside (I've got to go away) But, baby, it's cold outside (This evening has been) Been hoping that you'd drop in (So very nice) I'll hold your hands they're just like ice
This verse means she went to the man’s apartment and has been having a good time. Now it’s both a little late and getting on toward clutch time. You probably don’t remember life before Britney and Justin were briefly a couple, but back when our parents (your grandparents) were young, and he’d just gotten back from his tour in Germany or Korea, they were celebrating the free world like you didn’t know they knew how.
(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful, what's your hurry (My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar (So really I'd better scurry) Beautiful, please don't hurry (Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour
Look at what’s been going on. They’ve been sitting here talking in front of the fireplace. You might not remember that, either, unless you live in a cool old building, but apartments had fireplaces if they were big enough and in the north. She sat and watched while he made one, or maybe she made the first round of drinks, only her round was a little weak, because it’s maybe 1949, and she’s a girl like that. Why would she sit and watch him build a fire? Is she stupid and doesn’t know he’s setting a comfortable scene? No, people born before you knew the score. They just liked to pretend they didn’t. So now he’s freshened her drink, and she has put on a record. It was probably a ten inch long-playing record; twelve-inchers ended up taking over, but not just yet. Know how I can say that? Because I know stuff about before now that I didn’t get from a CBS crime procedural marathon or a Tumblr page. All these details add up to a more complete picture than the one you've got in your head.
(The neighbors might think) Baby, it's bad out there (Say what's in this drink) No cabs to be had out there (I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now (To break this spell) I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell
Are you thinking she’s been sitting there in front of the fire with her second drink but has a woolen toque on her head like she’s about to fight with the storm? No. It’s a cute hat perched on her head to match her outfit. Her coat might have had a big hood that fit over it, or it might have been super impractical in order to look nice. (You might have wondered why hoods on women’s coats were and sometimes are still gigantic. It was to accommodate hairstyles and hats.) And all she notices about the drink is that the bourbon to soda ratio is narrower than hers was. It was a running joke before it got ruined by a few creepers. Not just women to men, but any old body takes a drink and says, “Wow, what’d you put in here? Everything?” That kind of thing. Maybe she set it down, maybe she kept sipping. We don’t know, but we also know the next line wasn’t “Shh, I demand you toss it back.” But did you think she never had a drink before? That’s no good, either. This isn’t the watered-wine and rataffia era, after all.
(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer (At least I'm gonna say that I tried) What's the sense of hurting my pride (I really can't stay) Baby, don't hold out [Both] Baby, it's cold outside
Her hat is now off. Know how I know? Because she isn’t saying no. She’s saying “she ought to.” People say ought to about things they really don’t want to do. “I really ought to get on that, clean that up, make that call, get to bed.” They’re trying to talk themselves into doing something when they would rather not just now, thanks. It’s a way of appearing diligent without having to be so, like if you see your neighbor is coming over and you haven’t cleaned yet, so you set the vacuum cleaner in the hallway. At the same time, she’s feeling him out. Will he give her a good reason to not have to say no?
Know how I know that? Because it’s basic human nature, and I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know that. She’s going to say she tried? Not really, but if she did, nobody would be screaming at her that he took advantage of her. They’re gonna shake their heads a little, grinning, and saying things like, “Sister, what are you up to?”
And then both of them sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” together, because they are in this together. She doesn’t want to go out there yet, but is keeping up a pretense because she’s supposed to, and so he’ll know they can carry on, but maybe not all the way. It’s code, which people have always used, only it’s a little different in each era.
(I simply must go) Baby, it's cold outside (The answer is no) Baby, it's cold outside (The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in (So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm
Now here she says no, but it’s the kind of no he understands, not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s set a boundary. He was going too fast. But does she get up? No. She’s pressed up against him, that’s why, still performing her ought tos. She doesn’t stand up so he’ll stop kissing her, and he hasn’t pinned her down so she can’t move, because they are singing this thing together. Remember, this was written by a married couple, who performed it at a party for their friends. Their friends laughed because they understood it like you don’t. They knew the score.
(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious (My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore (My maiden aunt's mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious (But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before
This is the verse that tells you the truth you don’t wish to know. He moves in for a kiss. She’s murmuring at this point, as their faces meet, and then when they do kiss, she decides maybe she can hang around a little longer, timing it with however long it takes to smoke an unfiltered cigarette. The cigarette was important, even though it seems really grosstastic now. She can sit up and he’ll light one, but at the same time, she can let him know that kiss was so good, she’ll be around for a few more. It’s another piece of cultural code. And the sister, the brother, the aunt? Now she’s just making up stuff. It isn’t a firmer defense, it’s a weaker one, but she is required to make it in this game.
(I got to get home) But, baby, you'd freeze out there (Say lend me a comb) It's up to your knees out there (You've really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand (But don't you see) How can you do this thing to me
Do you borrow a comb* from a man who creeps you out? And she put her hand on his when she asked. Why is she touching him and asking to put something in her hair that he has had in his hair? Because she likes him, that’s why, not because rohypnol is taking over.
*It isn't coat, it's comb. Her hair got messy while they were "necking," which they were totally doing.
She knows he knows she’s into him, and he also knows she’s not taking him too seriously, and so he’ll ask again, because she’s not offended, she’s just going by the rules she’s set for herself, which are more about pacing than anything else. She’s indicating to him that she’s got people looking out for her, but at the same time, is making her own choice about what position she is taking with him on the couch.
(There's bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow (At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died (I really can't stay) Get over that old doubt [Both] Baby, it's cold [Both] Baby, it's cold outside (Sung together again)
That was the truth about 1949 or so, and is sometimes still the truth now. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You draw your own line, but everyone else reads it according to their own, though sometimes they’re hypocrites about it, making their own decisions while judging others for making the same one.
You know how “they” say everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver? It is a truth not universally acknowledged that people think everyone else but them is dumber and needs life explained to them. The internet has made this worse. You Google a thing and learn a few talking points, and it never crosses your mind that the person you’re explaining it all to has maybe actually read whole books on the subject or has first-hand experience at it. Your insular confirmation bias bubble leads you to believe you’re the one who uncovered the truth, only actually, not only has it been there a lot longer than you knew, you have only a few pieces of the picture in the frame, and not the whole thing. Sometimes you don't even understand the frame, like when I first saw Impressionist paintings in a museum, and wondered why they were in big ornate gilded things, until someone explained to me that those frames were correct for the period, even though they didn't match the new painting style. That taught me something.
People take old texts like the Bible, and they translate them into modern languages. But they can’t make direct one-to-one translations without knowing what the writers meant by certain words (and phrases, since a word could mean something different when used with another,) because they aren’t what they mean now. Shakespeare is the same way. People who study the language of Shakespeare must decode it according to how he used words and how they’d be taken then, not how they wish for them to be taken now. We put on a play with Shakespeare’s intent, by understanding the context in which he wrote. We don't say, "Sorry, Hamlet doesn't get to mean that anymore; we changed what his words meant."
We can play with it a little, though, without ruining it.
This is from a Google Plus post, December 24, 2013.
Troll some ancient yuletide carols, rest you merry if you can, and embrace history, which has the wonderful word "story" in it. Life, the universe and every little thing is a story. In the northern hemisphere, especially in the areas where it is cold at this time of year, the season of holidays is a season of lighting lights and creating warmth, shutting out the long dark cold nights. In the U.S., the holiday season lasts about six weeks, and is a combination of many stories and traditions passed along over the centuries. It's a weird and wonderful thing.
Six weeks later, we reach the mid-point of winter, and six weeks after that, our axial tilt starts pulling its downward shift as the sun rises higher in the sky overhead.
These are the things to embrace, even in our artificial environments. These are things still worth noting and celebrating. No matter whatever else changes, the seasons are bound by our position in the sky, and they were so before we populated the land; thus, the very idea that they are subject to this or that narrow band of thinking is absurd! It is just as personally meaningful or meaningless as we each choose, but it remains what it is regardless of that. It's the star stuff of which we are all composed.
Life is mystery, magic, physics, and wonders still to behold: a rich tapestry of history to which we are always adding. The dictionary of the universe, and of God as you like, is so much bigger and broader than the one in all our heads. It's limitless, unbound by any one person's or single group's petty definition or understanding of How Things Are. No matter how much we seek to understand it, and how much we learn, it's still more than we can ever grasp. So let's have some fun while we're at it.