Christmas Jams: Where’s that Spirit at?

Bootsy Collins of James Brown and the  JB’s and Parliament Funkadelic fame can make anything funky and nails this yuletide jam right on the head. How have I lived 28 years and missed that this album was created? Lucky for me,  I have a cool new friend who teaches science where I work and he illuminated me after lunch one day last week.

As much as I tell everyone who will listen that I hate Christmas music, this year I have spent more time than ever seeking out holiday jams I can endure in a season I really don’t like in general. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been a time I wish I could avoid completely since the passing on of my father three years ago this January.  The few Christmases after college and my post college break-up spent with just my parents  (while my siblings lived too far away), left me with some great memories.

My father hated Christmas and always acted like a jerk because his own father died decades ago in the winter time under some very traumatic circumstances. I don’t think that mourning ever really left him during those months and I now know exactly why he was so evil on Christmas mornings. Oddly enough, I actually look back at some of his temper tantrums about the trash caused by opening presents with a laugh because it was such absurd behavior. He’d circle with his giant black garbage bag wearing a frown/grimace hurrying us to unwrap presents so he could take away the leavings.  We all handle grief different ways and the loss of his Grinch imitation is polarized every Christmas morning.

I picked this record up at  a Goodwill when I first moved home and wanted my parents to embrace my record player and all the space it took up in their dining room. This makes a classic song really sing with the crisp lazy sounds of the slide, adding a blues feel to what is for many a very depressing time of year. This one works the opposite for me though, perking me up each time I play it. He was a legendary neo-classical guitar player who actually signed Leo Kottke to his first record deal. 

I’m thankful my brother and his family came home for Thanksgiving and my sister’s family also made the trek, but it looks like both will not be making the trip back for Christmas for a myriad of logistical reasons that are a bummer but a reality of the adult lives we have chosen. So that also makes the holidays a little worse to bear as well, with the further fact that this time of year always makes you take stock of where you are in life.

I should be ecstatic because I have come a long way this year, finding a job I love that is going well, a band that continues to improve and a wide circle of friends whose holiday gatherings I can crash without feeling like a third wheel to anyone’s family time. But I seem to focus on another Christmas missing my father and wondering why I haven’t settled down and had kids like so many around me have. My general malaise probably has as much to do with lack of Vitamin D as anything else. So, in an attempt to change my mindset, I have thrown myself into decorating for Christmas and discovering new holiday jams.

This is like a sure-fire smile right here. I’ve spun this record an endless amount of times at this point, predominantly while doing Christmas activities ranging from trimming to the tree to making cookies to having an eggnog with friends. I love the vibraphone in this. Most of the album’s tracks sound similar and that’s not a bad thing.

After going out with some fellow teachers Friday night, I picked up a six-pack of local beer and went home to spend the next several hours decorating my house with my mother. For two years now, I’ve stalled putting up such things until it was almost too late but this year I was inspired to get everyone in the mood for this holiday season. Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass band really gets everyone upbeat and a beer or two doesn’t hurt. I was so enthusiastic that the next day, I decided to walk through the woods where we grew up in Maine and cut my own Christmas tree down. We never did this as children, but I really liked the idea and I know my Dad would have as long as he didn’t have to do anything.

Buck Owens did Christmas songs? This is great, you can put pedal steel guitar on anything and I’ll like it. Also, the whole blue Christmas thing is a vibe I know far too well and this is cathartic to hear.

We had to hike almost a mile into the woods to find anything remotely acceptable because it comes to find out that Christmas trees are actually pruned in a specific way to foster that appearance and it rarely occurs naturally in the wild. We ended up cutting down a 40 foot balsam fir halfway down with a buck saw and then cutting 8 feet of the top of that piece. It still took both of us to bring it the whole way out and not have it become covered in mud and it only took a minute to realize the stand we put it into had a giant leak which soaked my carpet.

We got a new stand and put it up and no tree has given me as much happiness as this tree. Sure, its funny looking and closer to Charlie Brown than Martha Stewart, but I cut that tree and lugged it in. I need to focus on a steady girlfriend first, but if I ever have kids, we are doing it the old fashioned way because it feels a whole lot better every time you lay eyes on it.

Also very cathartic for those moments when you just wish the entire Christmas season never existed. 

The house is looking pretty Christmassy and I have made come cool plans for Christmas day beyond the regular viewing of Die Hard which we have had in place for some time. I have got a few Christmas presents, one of which is the promise to my 90 year-old Grandma that I will shave my horrendous mustache prior to the Christmas Eve church service, and this is also improving my spirits. We have tried to make a family rule of no one buying presents for each other this year so we can all save money so I hope everyone is actually doing that because I sure am.

As difficult as this time of year is for me and for so many else out there in the world, I know I feel better after trying to get into that Christmas spirit.  Whenever life gets hard for me, I find that baring down and working through it is the best solution. It’s always best to try to focus on the positive no matter how down you get which is often way harder than it sounds.  Holidays are really a minor thing and what you really want is a whole year of quality family, friend and life experiences. I know I’m getting closer to that every year so from the bottom of my heart, have a great holiday and a happy new year!

I cheated on this one and googled “funky Christmas songs” and wound up with this gem. I could not think of a better funk name than The Jive Turkeys, what a score!  I will for sure be dancing around the tree to this for many years to come.  I sure hope my nieces and nephews like funk music when they grow up!

Waiting is the Hardest part

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I thought this connected well to my brother’s post about “November Rain”. Guns and Roses are great, but this song is far better in my book now then the former. I did love Slash‘s guitar solo in the desert in the “November Rain” video though and the cinematic sequences were cool.

We have written on this blog before about the love we have for our pets and how much of this love comes from our father who seemed to have gotten along better with creatures of the four legged variety.  We have always had pets and when our father passed away, I inherited both his cat and dog, Henry and Remy respectively. Last Sunday, Henry the cat disappeared and has not been seen or heard from since. Using his past behavior as a clue, my gut feeling is that he has gone on to the great big litter box in the sky by way of a coyote, fisher cat or some other critter. He’s not one to wander off for days at a time and I just get the feeling he’s not coming back.

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Songs for Dad

Note: Our father passed away unexpectedly a year ago. We wrote about him as part of developing the idea of this blog. He is responsible in no small part for both of us and everything we do. We miss him greatly.

Long before my Dad actually died, when we first came up for the idea of a doing a music blog as two brothers, one of our first topics was songs we’d play at our father’s funeral. It was supposed to be a joke as my father, the Elder, and I have always shared a morbid sense of humor.

Examples include: my father making us promise that we’d suffocate him with a pillow if he ever became what he called a “vegetable”; Dad daring my sister to touch our deceased step-grandfather at his wake; asking us to stuff his beloved golden retriever so he’d always be there with him. The retriever, now mine by default, is staring at me as I write this and I can assure you it would be funny, albeit very creepy.

My father died probably exactly the way he wanted except far too soon–but I’d imagine that’s the same for everyone. He didn’t suffer long. He was never a “vegetable” and there wasn’t a huge fuss over him because no one had any clue how sick he was until it was too late.

This is turning too much into a eulogy and I have already done that. Let’s shift to the actual topic of the day, songs for my father. I want to talk about songs I remember him really liking as well as some songs that were actually used at his funeral and his wake which was really more of a party (what he wanted when he died).

Before I launch into the songs and why, I need to emphasize that the man was deaf from a young age–so deaf at the end that there was no existing technology to improve his hearing. They somehow fucked up in the incubator and pumped in too much oxygen and it blew one of his ears out and left the other severely damaged. I had a friend who sells hearing aids test him last fall and he was 90% deaf at 61. Many people didn’t realize how deaf he was because he was crazy skilled at reading lips; talking with him one on one seemed no different from conversing with anyone else.

I was lucky to have a best friend for a father and this was hard fought.  It wasn’t until circumstances dropped me in the parents’ house after grad school that we really solidified our relationship. I wouldn’t trade the last year and a half I got to spend with him for anything and I hope in some way this piece of writing will spurn people to get to know their parents if they don’t already.. Lastly and most selfishly, I need to write this as I am still having great trouble dealing with the loss and although I am crying as I write, I think it will be cathartic in the long run.

He once told me of seeing Jimi Hendrix during his opening slot for the Monkees in the Midwest sometime in the late 1960’s. Even with a head full of acid, he described the music to me as “a bunch of monkeys banging on trash cans in the jungle”. He couldn’t hear anything above the distortion.

Needless to say, he wasn’t into the jam like I was. He liked tight song structure and succinct lyrics like all of the folk songs he loved . That being said, I think one will see the amusement in some of the songs he enjoyed as it was very unlikely he ever had any idea what the lyrics were saying. He never explained why he liked songs the way the Elder and I will spend endless hours discussing minute details of long dead musical artists and this is one of the many small parts that made him who he was. He liked stuff and the reasons why either didn’t exist or not for us to know.

1. “What a Friend we have in Jesus/ Swing low Sweet Chariot”-Traditional

Christian Hymns: Both of these songs were played at the services for my father and for good reason. He loved the old spirituals and would always tell people that he and I had a Sunday morning choir group, followed by an off key hum before launching into either one of these tunes in his perceptably terrible singing voice. The man was very good at a lot of things but singing was never one of them. Hell, he was almost completely deaf, cut him a break. I sometimes sang with him because he found great amusement in it even if no one else did; other times, I just laughed because it never ceased to be funny to me.

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