“what are you doing new year’s eve?” – nancy wilson (1963)

Yesterday's_Love_SongsToday's_Blues

There is so much optimism surrounding the New Year holiday.  For many, January 1st is a day of significance that serves as the launching point to embrace life more fully by trying something new, rediscovering lost treasure, or accepting the unknown.  It serves as a symbolic representation for rebirth and starting over that inspires us in ways other holidays do not.

For many cynics, New Years Day is just another day.  Why should this day be more important than any for making resolutions and promises to lead a better life?  I don’t share that sentiment, but I see the point. Life is fluid and comes in waves.  Events and situations come up at any given point.  We should be open to the idea of improving our value and self-worth throughout the whole year.  The optimism around New Years is great, but optimism only works if it creates an action.

Beyond the resolutions, New Years Eve serves as the bookend for the holiday season.  Coming a week after Christmas, New Years Eve is the holiday where champagne flows and send off the old while being surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones.  People are still on holiday from work and this last hurrah is the nightcap before the year finally rests.

I’ve never put much stock into New Year’s resolutions.  I think about things I need to approve, start, finish, etc.  However, I know I have to plan those out accordingly as hardly anything stops and starts with each new year.  So, I choose to see New Years as a holiday to spend time with friends and family.  One last party.  One last round of drinks.  One last gathering that embodies the spirit and goodwill of the season.

The 1947 Frank Loesser classic “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is the perfect song for the spirit of the holiday.  In it, an admirer longingly asks the object of their desire to join them for a New Year’s celebration.  With promises of tender embraces, the singer anxiously awaits to hear that they will not be alone on New Years.  Fighting against doubt and the come-ons from other suitors, the courage to ask is found.

Nancy Wilson covered the song for a single in 1963.  This jazzy ballad with a delicate piano, soft drumming, and hopeful orchestra sets the tone for an elegant black tie affair. I believe this version to the best among all of the different arrangements over the decades.  Wilson’s lilting voice is breathy and flows well.  She runs through all the emotions that go with asking someone out.  The character she adds to the song feels real.

Regardless of your thoughts on the meaning of New Years Eve, reconsider it as a time to celebrate life and love with those around you.  Have some sparkling wine, don your best attire, and live like there is no tomorrow.

Advertisements

“i believe in father Christmas” – greg lake (1977)

21. Works Volume 2

Christmas is here. All around the world, friends and family are gathering to celebrate love and being together. It really is a magical time of year. There is something intangible in the air and even the biggest Scrooge can feel the spirit of Christmas. That unified bond amongst all people and the shared love is the true meaning of Christmas.

Although, it is easy to be cynical about Christmas and the feeling is not entirely unjustifiable. With each new year, it does appear that the true meaning of Christmas is diminishing. In its place, there is rampant commercialization, debt, and a manufactured holiday that is merely a husk of what Christmas really is. I try not to subscribe to this point of view, but it does get increasingly difficult.

One of my favorite aspects of Christmas, other than being with family, is the music. I absolutely love Christmas music. Everything from the traditional carols to the contemporary pop songs, there is very little I do not like. Recently, I was invited to a friend’s Christmas party where we were set to record a Christmas album. Everyone brought an instrument and a song that they wanted to perform. The idea was that people could perform individually, or have the song turn into one festive jam session.

The song I came prepared with was “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I’ve known this song for years and I truly appreciate the composition and meaning behind the song. I thought it would’ve been an appropriate choice for a crowd of alternative, indie, and punk loving millennials. However, when it was my turn to propose a song, no one at the party knew the song. Not a single person.

I was a bit surprised by that, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. Emerson, Lake & Palmer doesn’t have a strong presence in the U.S., the Americans refer to the jolly gift-giving figure as Santa Claus as opposed to Father Christmas, and the song doesn’t fit in with the Christmas narrative that is so popular in the U.S.

“I Believe in Father Christmas” is the ultimate song about the cynicism one could feel about the holiday season. It is a song about being disillusioned by the idolization of Father Christmas and the lies surrounding the myth of the holidays. In it, Lake has fully realized everything he was told about Christmas wasn’t true and that these lies were manufactured by the department stores and advertising agencies. Lake was told there would be snow on Christmas and peace on earth, but all he see when he looks out his window is rain. This Christmas, there would be no silent night. He was sold a fairy story that he believed to be true. Where was the Christmas he had read about in story books and had seen in the department store windows?

Despite his cynicism and being disillusioned by Christmas, Lake still wants the listener to get the Christmas they deserve. He tosses away the distracting elements of Christmas and wishes you a hopeful Christmas and a brave new year. Those sentiments are what Christmas is really about, but they are ideas that seem to have been lost in time.

“I Believe in Father Christmas” was never meant to be a Christmas classic. Lake had no intention to write a Christmas song. He wanted to write a song about the loss of innocence and the childlike belief we have during the holiday season. However, it has now entered the Christmas music lexicon. I don’t find this ironic, but rather quite appropriate. As much as I love Christmas, the commercialization and phony nostalgia has gotten out of hand.

I think the reason why Lake’s song has continued to be popular is that the song is more relevant now than ever before. We need more songs like “I Believe in Father Christmas.” Songs that remind us the true meaning of Christmas and that we must stay grounded. Christmas is not about how much you can spend on someone, it is about how much time and love you can spend with the people close to you.

I hope “I Believe in Father Christmas” becomes more popular in America. It seems Americans are the ones most vocal about the deadening spirit of Christmas while also simultaneously contributing to the death of it. Beyond the meaning the song, it is an incredibly beautiful song with an elegant guitar. It continues to be one of my favorites along with the grand cover by U2. Most of my friends love putting together Christmas mixes for the holidays. I hope they will consider this one because it is the one song that perfectly encapsulates what Christmas is and what it will continue to be.

“groove master” – arrow (1988)

R-499003-1302546175.jpeg

Winter in Chicago has been incredibly strange lately. Due to the El Niño weather system that has hit the United States, December has been unseasonably warm and rainy. Everything has been just been gray and wet. Sometimes, this type of weather works really well in the city. It creates a film noir appeal and adds a level of mystery to the buildings and cityscape. I can dig that, but it is December after all. That means Christmas is coming. While snow can really be a burden in Chicago, I want my holiday season to be white. Fresh snow for Christmas, a new blanket for New Years, and then it can all melt away for all I care.

Considering how brutal the last two winters were with their dreaded polar vortexes, I didn’t think I would miss winter this time around. All fall, I was dreading the temperatures dropping. I knew, eventually, it would result in blizzards and my face numbing in the below zero conditions. I wanted none of that. However, when I think there may be the possibility I will not have snow on Christmas, I reorganize my priorities.

This time last year, I was thinking of warmer air, sandy beaches, and crystal clear waters. I would have given anything to be on a tropical island sipping rum and listening to tide and birds in the distance. This year, my fantasy of escaping to the Caribbean hasn’t been as prominent as years before.

Part of these fantasies included indulging in the local music. One of my favorite Caribbean staples is the legendary calypso artist Arrow. Arrow was a pioneer in the style of soca; a subgenre of calypso characterized by additional funk and soul elements. Everything about soca music is so positive. It is about having a good time and dancing. So simple.

Arrow’s 1988 soca hit “Groove Master” is one of the finest soca tracks ever recorded. The calypso roots are clearly present, but Arrow’s delivery and the additional horns set it apart as a musical force that is purely soca. Arrow’s cadence and the backing vocals create a fun, free-form party atmosphere. The words are loose and flow freely without inhibition. The backing track is incredibly fun and very danceable. The island percussion and subtle synth inspire a rhythm within the listener. It is almost impossible to not want to dance. With the inclusion of a rap interlude and understated guitar solo, “Groove Master” creates a fun and complete party soundtrack experience.

Though the weather has been warm, rainy, and gray, the real heart of winter will come soon. And when it does, I’ll pop on some Arrow and lose myself in the Caribbean soca sound. Recently, my boss had me run some numbers on what it would cost to send our team to Berlin, Germany and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The team would only go to one place and the numbers didn’t even come close. It would be cheaper to send our team to Berlin by over $20K, so I do not think a company trip to St. Croix will be in my future. But, that’s OK. I’ll always have Arrow.

“i love you all the time” – eagles of death metal (2015)

Zipper_Down

On Friday, November 13th, the city of Paris, France experienced the worst night of carnage since World War II. Through a series of coordinated terrorist attacks committed by radicalized Islamists acting on behalf the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), 130 people lost their lives. These attacks included three separate bombings near the Stade de France, several shootings, and a mass shooting at the Bataclan, a famous concert hall. The Bataclan was the site of the largest number of lives lost during the November 13th attacks. It was there that the Eagles of Death Metal were performing.

U2 were scheduled to perform at a nearby venue on the night of the shootings and were preparing to shoot a concert film the next day, U2: iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE: Live in Paris, to be aired live on HBO a few hours later. The concert and the taping were subsequently cancelled and would be rescheduled at a later date. Though I was eagerly awaiting the premiere of the concert, I understood the decision made by French authorities to cancel the concert.

In the days and weeks following the attacks, information was released about the attackers and bombing raids were carried out in Syria. The cowards who committed these atrocities were identified and dealt with accordingly. During that time, the world stood in solidarity with Paris. The French people bravely carried on and refused to be afraid. The world must move on and cannot be stopped as long as the resolve of its people remains strong.

U2’s concerts were rescheduled for December 6th and December 7th with the taping taking place during the latter performance and airing on HBO later that night. December 7th was my birthday. Being able to see that film on my birthday was welcomed, though a bittersweet gift. Bono, being a political and idealistic hurricane, stated that all previous preparations were cast aside in order to make the December 7th taping a symbolic gesture to express solidarity with Paris and the victims of the attack. Such a powerful gesture from an elder statesman of rock. Bono’s passion was coming through and, I knew, would result in a memorable performance.

I attended two performances in Chicago from the iNNOCENCE + experience tour during the summer. For the most part, the production design and musician blocking remained the same. A spirited performance of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” provided the backdrop to a touching tribute to the victims of the attack including their names appearing on the large screen in the center of the arena. A solemn and appropriate tribute, but that was the just the beginning.

Towards the end of the concert, Bono introduced the Eagles of Death Metal to the stage. “They were robbed of their stage three weeks ago,” Bono said. “We would like to offer them ours tonight.” Then, every member of each band powered through a spirited performance of Patti Smith’s classic “People Have the Power.” However, that was not the end. U2 quietly left the stage and it was only the Eagles of Death Metal that remained. Jesse Hughes, the band’s lead singer, enthusiastically addressed the audience and was on the verge of tears.

Closing out the film, the Eagles of Death Metal performed “I Love You All the Time,” a track from their latest release Zipper Down. It was the first time they had performed since the shooting during their show at the Bataclan. The band was one I had heard of, but I was unaware of their music. The name floated around and would come up at various points, but they never fully landed on my radar until the Paris attacks. Even then, I didn’t seek out their music. I’m not sure why when I look back on it. So, their performance during this concert was my first proper introduction to the band. Watching them perform, I loved their spirit and tenacity. The energy was palpable, and I wasn’t even at the concert. The band was fully embracing the moment as if they were never going to let go. That was the most touching part of the night.

The attacks in Paris were more than just an attack on the French people. It was an attack on expression. It was an attack on brotherhood. It was an attack on the world. To stand strong and carry on in the darkest of moments exclaiming “I love you all the time” represents everything that is good in humanity. That when evil rears its ugly head, the light shining from our collective love destroys all shadows.

While the track is a bit dark and the classic story of unrequited love, it took on a different meaning on December 7th. To everyone who stands for people and not for chaos, I say to you “I love you all the time.”

 

“jungle drum” – emilíana torrini (2008)

R-1985770-1272350198.jpeg

Musical earworms can be touchy subject for those who appreciate music. For some people, it is the worst songs that get stuck in their head. They could just be going through their day running errands and then BAM! That song from that commercial they saw last week or, worse, LMFAO is stuck in their head. The problem is that there is no way to get it out. Each irritating note just has to run its course as the song turns your brain into Swiss cheese.

Earworms don’t bother me much. I like a lot of really good music, so I’m comfortable with myself when something terrible takes up residence in my mind for a few hours (or days). Though these types of things don’t irk me the way they do others, I do relish in the moments when said earworm is actually really enjoyable.

For some strange reason, Emilíana Torrini’s 2008 album Me and Armini was below my radar upon it’s release. When the album was released, I was at the tail end of my sophomore year of college and incredibly active in college radio. I have no memory of this album being put into rotation. It certainly may have but if it was, it was probably in light rotation as opposed to heavy where it certainly belonged. I hope the music director at the time had a good explanation for why they didn’t push this album harder.

I heard the single “Jungle Drum” after graduating college in 2010. I cannot remember in what context I first heard the song, but it has stuck with me ever since randomly entering into my consciousness throughout the years. How fitting is that? With most of my musical earworms, I never really remember where I first encounter them. They just sort of appear out of nowhere. They’re so sneaky!

“Jungle Drum” makes for an excellent earworm because it is irresistibly catchy. A briskly-paced backing track featuring a bouncy bass and subtle snare drum set the tone for the song. It makes the feet start tapping and before you know it, you’re in full room dancing mode by the first chorus driven by Torrini’s percussive vocals. “Jungle Drum” wastes no time once the track starts. Torrini is on a mission with this song.

Musical earworms can certainly create a mood within the mind of the listener. Earworms are typically characterized as being really annoying and drive people to complain. I get that, but I don’t find much use in complaining about it. Then again, if we had more songs like “Jungle Drum,” I doubt I would be annoyed when a musical earworm roots itself in my head. I would rather dance through my day then bash my skull in any time.