I’m finally coming back down to Earth—this last holiday was the nicest time anyone has ever had—I got to meet our new granddaughter and visit with her and her Mom and Dad—a nice long visit, but not long enough by half. And, in the confusion, I have neglected to post any YouTube videos for the longest dry-patch my channel has ever gone through.
It isn’t that I haven’t been playing the piano. In fact, some of my best performances ever went unrecorded—played, for once, for the people in the room instead of to the camera.
The baby enjoyed my piano-playing in three different ways—she was charmed when I sang a song to her, she went to sleep faster when I softly improvised, and she loved to sit on my lap at the keyboard and play the piano with me. Had I been in my right mind there would be a bunch of video documenting all this—but I have nothing to show, since the camera was never on my mind—never turned on—it’s a shame, but nothing new—all my best work inevitably happens when the camera is not on.
I miss the baby. She’s the sweetest thing that ever drew breath. And a baby is a fitness regimen—not even having a baby, but just hanging out with a baby—involves all kinds of rolling about and lifting and holding—it’s a lot of work for someone who lies in bed all day. If they didn’t need caring for, babies would make great fitness-coaches for the infirm.
Anyway, it’s back to normal, here at the Dunn’s. Part of this extended hiatus was due to the hundreds of photos and the handfuls of baby videos I’ve been processing, in preparation for including them in the piano YouTube videos. Today, I’ve finally posted four new videos—part of the harvest from my ongoing processing of the visit’s photographic record. And, as a special bonus, I’ve included a cover of Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me”, which Bear and I sang to the baby.
Considering the time of year, I guess we can’t really criticize the UK for Brexit—there were a lot of naysayers back on that first Independence Day. In fact, we rarely talk about the Tories—early Americans who took exception to the colonists’ decision to flip George III the bird. Back in the day, their lives weren’t worth a plugged nickel—especially once the Revolutionary War really got started. It must have been strange to move so far while standing still—one day they are patriots—good citizens of His Majesty—and the next day, traitors—dirty turncoats who sided with the lousy Redcoats.
We can never tell how history will paint our portraits. Benedict Arnold, a much maligned figure in our history, was one of our greatest military officers—a fierce fighter and brilliant tactician—he found the Continental Congress of his day just as useless and frustrating as we do ours today. He saw them being negligent and inept, more concerned with their own well-being than with the fate of the young country. The rebels were suing the French government for military aid and financial backing—and Arnold felt that we were better off sticking with the British, bad as they were, than turning our country over to the French. So he turned spy—but with the best intentions. History, however, was definitely not on his side.
And ever since, we have had historical figures who, at first blush, were labelled traitors, troublemakers, and insurgents—anyone who tried to see things from the Native Americans’ point of view, anyone who condemned slavery, anyone who worked towards votes for women—were all roundly booed, sometimes until long after the injustices were irreversible. There are even people today, over two hundred years later, whose parents have raised them still to belittle Native Americans, African Americans, and women of any type. More recently, the late Muhammad Ali was branded a traitor for refusing the draft, as were many anti-war protestors. Good isn’t ‘good’ until it wins the PR war and gets the imprimatur of history. It is not so much that history is written by the winners as that history is written by the winning.
Like religion—source of humanity’s greatest comfort and engine of its worst atrocities—America has a wonderful, idealistic side which we use to block out the memory of all the horrendous reality that we’ve chalked up since we first gave out those poxy blankets, long before we decided to write declarations about human rights. We like to get on our high horse about the great American Experiment—but the nation that invented Public Education celebrates its big day by having the ill-educated go out and blow off their extremities with explosives—if they survived the car trip to the picnic area, that is.
It’s lucky I’m gonna be a grandpa soon—here I am grumbling about firecrackers on Fourth of July Weekend—what kind of American am I, anyway? I still approve of barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs—even though I can’t decide which has more carcinogens—lighter fluid or maple wood chips. And I still like the flag—even though I can’t fly ours because a tree branch grew across the flagpole and the powerlines are too close (I think it’s a really old flag pole, so it would probably fall down with a flag on it anyway).
Plus, I’m retired—holidays suck once you’re retired—what good’s a day off if you don’t have any days on? The biggest change for me during holidays is the theme that Turner Classic Movies uses to mark the occasion in their day’s programming.
It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.
It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.
Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.
I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.
Sunday, November 29, 2015 9:55 AM
Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.
The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.
I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.
Saturday, November 28, 2015 11:25 AM
Treacly Ever After (2015Nov28)
Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.
Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.
It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?
Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.