A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Consistent readers of this column (both of them) know that I am an audiophile, and some of my most enjoyable columns to write address the subject of great music, and the people that make it. And one of my favorite things about the season of Christmas is its music.
On a spiritual level the meaning of Christmas is determined by one's faith. On a personal level, Christmas has always been about traditions and memory. And music has always been at the center of both of those for me.
My favorite hymn is Oh Holy Night, with its beautiful ascent and simple, clear telling of the Gospel story. High on my list of carols is Silver Bells, first sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the 1951 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid. But with all due respect to Hope and Maxwell, a far better version of this song was offerred by Tanya Tucker, the beautiful but troubled country western star of the 1970's and 80's. Her rendering is slower paced, giving the song an entirely different characterization; her rich and redolant southern alto investing the lyrics with an almost tangible texture, wrapping the listener in a cocoon of sound and imagery.
But the most poignant and piercing song is Bing Crosby's, I'll Be Home for Christmas. I always think of my Dad and my father in-law when I hear that song, and how they must have felt serving in World War Two - thousands of miles away from their homes and loved ones. I think of the men of the U.S. Army trudging through the snows of Belgium in that December of 1944, not knowing if they would see the next day, much less the next Christmas. And of course I think of our men and women in the Armed Services today; far away and in hostile lands, sourrounded not by comfort and loved ones, but by hostile elements and danger. I cannot imagine the longing in their hearts; their only chance to be home for Christmas captured by Crosby as he crooned, "if only in my dreams"..................
Another favorite Christmas song is Two Thousand Miles, by Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders. Hynde is a great rarity - a woman in the rough and tumble world of rock, who founded, led, and managed a successful, long-running band. The second date I had with Barb was a Pretenders concert at Detroit's fabulous Fox Theater. Seated in the fourth row, we saw the sweat fly and heard the chatter of the band members between sets. I will never forget Hynde's mesmorizing stage presence and richly powerful voice; velvet-smooth and lilting one moment; snarling and defiant the next. One of my proverbial "desert island" CD's is The Pretenders' Isle of View. In this un-plugged recording session, Hynde displayed the breadth of her talent, re-arranging fourteen of her hits and adding a string quartet as background. The disc is an intimate dance between the strings and her incomparable voice, combining for a wonderful presentation of contemporary music, wrapped in the cozy blanket of a classical backdrop. Two Thousand Miles is one of those songs, depicting the heartache of separation during this season, and displays a tenderness that belies her outwardly tough and butch exterior.
What are some of your favorite Christmas songs? Whatever they are, and no matter how full your schedule, carve out some time to listen to them. And ask your kids to join - both to enjoy their company and to expand their musical horizons. Ask them what songs they like best, and why. It's a great way to nurture a family tradition.
And whatever we do this Christmas and Holiday Season, may the words of Charles Dickens, spoken through his diminutive but mighty character Tiny Tim, be in on our lips and in our hearts:
"Merry Christmas - God Bless us, every one".