Christmas Is Nice (2016Dec05)


Sunday, December 04, 2016                                                       2:57 PM

I have to write something nice to post. I’ve started to get some conflict between my gruesome, acidic rants and the videos (of baby-granddaughter and the Xmas-carols) that go with them. I don’t want cute photos of our little Seneca to be stuck beside my venomous diatribes and gloomy Eeyore-isms. So, if I don’t write something pleasant, I have no post to put the new videos in.

Monday, December 05, 2016                                                     8:46 PM

Christmas Music sweeps a broad path—it isn’t a genre—it’s more of a filter applied to every genre. It has the sanctity of church music and the jollity of Santa Claus, the grandeur of Hallelujah and the intimacy of a newborn’s cradle, it has angels in heaven and Elvis in a Blue Hawaii—there are very few things that can’t be squooshed into a Christmas Song, when you get right down to it—including silver bells, one’s two front teeth, and Grandma’s vehicular demise.

I like to be chronological about my annual return to the Christmas-music pile. (When we were younger, I made a point of putting them back in the library bookshelf every January, but lately, they just sit in a dusty pile by the piano until December comes round again—it’s like: why make your bed, if you’re just going to sing it again next December?)

So I start with the carol books—songbooks that focus on the ancient and traditional standards. By the time I work my way up to Irving Berlin and Jose Feliciano, that stuff sounds downright snappy, compared to stuff that was written contemporaneously with Gregorian Chants—or hymns written by Martin Luther himself (does that guy have to do everything for you Protestants? Write a hymn, dammit.)

This year, I’m recording Christmas Carols for YouTube videos like it was my job or something. I guess I hear a skull chuckling at my elbow—and this is my way of setting myself up for absent Xmases. But it’s a good thing I started early this year, in November—here it is December 5th and I’m only half-way through the first book of songs.

I have about five different caroling books—and if I get that far, I have some George Winston sheet music, too. I feel like Winston’s “December” Album is the last modern-day addition to the Xmas-music repertoire. That, and Lennon’s “War Is Over”, and Joni Mitchell’s “River”, represent the furthest reaches of Xmas-music evolution for my generation—younger people could probably cite more recent ‘classics’, but such would be dross to these fuddy-duddy ears.

The rare instrumental Xmas-tunes are my favorites—but they are unanimously difficult on the piano—Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker excerpts, Handel’s Messiah excerpts, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Bells”, March of the Wooden Soldiers—you name it: if it has no lyrics, it’s a bitch to play. But I get a little better every year. Come to think of it, if my other musical efforts were seasonal, I’d probably be making better progress with them as well. I should have an era a month, from Elizabethan to Swing—that would probably be fun. Hmmm.

But December is taken—and I am on a mission. In future years my carol-playing may become worse, but it’s highly unlikely that it will ever get better than it is now—so the video archive of all of it will make a repeat of the same thing unnecessary next year and in years to come. Maybe next year I can try for the whole Nutcracker, or the entire Messiah (which would be tricky without a full chorus, but there are arrangements…)

Someday, I’d also like to do a good recording of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, all twelve months—it’s not official Christmas music, but there’s something about the winter months that’s very seasonal—and it does end with December, after a November ‘sleigh-ride’. Plus the fact that it ‘circumnavigates’ the year makes it kind of New-Years-ey, too. It’s Xmas-ey to me, anyhow.

I’m reminded of my good fortune in being an amateur musician—while doing these books from front to back, I find some of the fun is fading and it’s becoming a bit of a chore. Music is all fun and games until you’re committed to doing a pre-determined set-list, one after the other, easy or hard, like it or not. It’s a whole different animal—and I’m not even performing.

Friday, December 02, 2016                                               9:21 AM

Living Today   (2016Dec02)

If my health were a small child, I would give it my sternest look and say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” Our bodies are a miracle of moving parts, of chemical balance, of evolutionary design—I should be grateful that mine works at all. Bodies are fancy British sports-cars—genius engineering, incredible performance—but get some moisture in the fuel line, a little air in the brake line, a slight under-pressure in the tires—and, suddenly, it’s all hobbled, wobbly and life-threatening.

I’m feeling tremendously empowered today—for a rarity, my body is mobile and my mind relatively clear. That is a glaring contrast to the last few days, when I had so-many-more-than-usual pings and ratchets, I felt ready for the junkyard. But this is something healthy people (and I remember, once, being one) do not have the capacity to appreciate—to wake up in the morning with a clear mind and a body that does what you tell it to—such incredible power—such potential for this day.

I love to write. I bitch about ‘who cares?’; ‘is anyone listening?’; ‘do I have anything to say?’; and so forth, but the truth is I do this because it feels good. Sometimes I go off the rails—but I don’t post everything I type—I give myself liberty to write whatever-the-hell, and then I decide whether it’s fit for public exposure. Like most people, my privacy is important to me—and I try to respect the privacy of others—but that means I’ll never be good writer. Actually, the desire to keep myself to myself is just half of it—I’m also a lousy liar—and a good story-teller has to be comfortable telling stories.

But I don’t need to be good at something to enjoy the hell out of it—take my piano-playing for example—horrible stuff—but you can see that I’m very into it. And I write the same way. I’ll just be sitting around or watching TV and I’ll be struck, out of nowhere, by a notion that propels me to the keyboard—it’s almost inconvenient, except that there’s a thrill that comes with the compulsion.

I suppose it’s an obvious adaptation to the lack of people to talk to—or maybe it simply reveals that I prefer to do all the talking. You have to admit, I do have plenty to say—whether or not it’s worth saying, aside—I really crank it out—I can’t shut up. But there are people wandering the street-corners of New York City that could make the same claim—and they’re actually collecting change—maybe they’ve got more on the ball than I do.

The trouble is that writing is an industry, music is an industry. It is virtually impossible for me to enjoy my hobbies without the thought sneaking in, unwelcome, that other people make money this way—it’s like trying not to think of a purple elephant. I fucking hate money. I’m lucky my wife handles all of it—it makes my skin crawl. But whose head would not be turned by the thought of all the glittering prizes, the fabulous wealth, of the successful—rarer than power-ball winners though they may be?

Shows like American Idol or America’s Got Talent whisper to us that the point of enjoying the arts is to win. Better that more people enjoyed the arts as I do, for their own sake. The talented would still shine out, would still be plucked into the heavens—but the rest of us could just be comfortable with the immense pleasure that amateur artistic pursuits offer us.

To be of less-than-professional training and ability is a very modern concept—a few generations ago, gathering around the piano and singing was as natural as sitting down to watch TV together. And writing correspondence was as much a part of an evening as saying one’s bedtime prayers—volumes of such source material inform our historians. Maybe that’s why we bloggers are so legion—letter-writing is gone out of style—and we’ve all taken to writing letters to Ulysses’ ‘Noman’.

It’s an ironic concept—I’ve learned to use all these social-media apps, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube—and all these graphics and audio editing software suites—just so I can approximate the 19th century habit of playing piano in the living room and writing letters to distant friends.

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