(You Know When I Said I Had Posted The Last Christmas Music Post Of 2019? Oops!) Reconsidering “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”….

The post last week about “definitive” recordings of Christmas songs sparked some excellent comments. An epic was Jeffrey Valentine’s own list, which I recommend highly. One comment, however, churned around in my brain: it was from periodic commenter Patrice, a singer and musician herself as well as an expert in sacred music, who wrote in part,

A beautiful Christmas song you didn’t include is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (which I think was covered by Bing) with its lyrics by Longfellow after the loss of his son in the war.

As I said in my reply to Patrice, I had thought about the song, but didn’t include it on the list for three reasons: 1. It seems to have declined in popularity 2. There weren’t many recordings to choose from, and the two versions I was most familiar (by Bing and Johnny Cash)  with had different melodies. 3. If i was going to pick a “definitive” version, it would be Crosby’s, and I have a pro Crosby bias. This was one of those times when correcting for bias creates a bias.

So the song went around and around in my brain for days, and kept me awake at night. Finally, I researched it. Continue reading

The Last Christmas Music Post Of 2019: Regarding The “Definitive” List [UPDATED and CORRECTED]

Over at Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” someone named Chris Field offered what was audaciously headlined “These are the definitive recordings of 35 favorite Christmas carols: Don’t argue, just listen: A perfect list.”

Is it still clickbait when a link virtually screams “CLICKBAIT!”? Maybe, but if someone is going to claim that they have made a “perfect list,” he had better do a better job than  this. My earlier comments today about Pauline Kael apply: some of this guy’s assessments of what is “definitive” disqualify him as a useful or credible authority. For example, Field, who reveals himself as an Ella Fitzgerald fan boy, chooses Ella’s rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” as ‘the best, saying, “If you think Garland’s rendition is better than Ella’s, you’re probably also a Liza Minnelli fan.” Well, I’m not a Liza fan; she sounded nothing like her mother, and Garland’s rendition is better, indeed the “definitive” version. Old Blue Eyes’ rendition finishes second for sure, but Judy’s tumbling scales were never more affecting or emotionally eloquent, and this is her song. Similarly, Field picks Andy Williams’ version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” as “the best.” That’s ridiculous. I know this song especially well: I watched “The Hollywood Palace” as a kid the night Bing Crosby introduced it. I’ve written about it on Ethics Alarms, researched it, put it into a Christmas revue and staged it. Crosby’s version is the only one that manages to give the song sufficient heft and gravity: he shifts deep into his chest baritone in the final verse, and decades after hearing the song for the first time, Bing still gives me chills. Lots of male singers, including Williams, have done respectable covers, but they are all chasing Bing.

Look, anyone can have a preference for any professional version of any of the Christmas standards and carols, and there is no point arguing about it. However, if one is going to use the descriptor “definitive,” it has to involve more than personal taste. What is the singer’s connection to the song? Why is it identified with him or her, or is it? Do other singers obviously evoke that singers’ performance? Generational familiarity aside, is the version generally recognized as being definitive? Has the singer’s version become iconic? If one were describing the singer, would the song immediately come to mind?

Here’s my definitive list of the definitive versions of Christmas standards: Continue reading

High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2019: Laser Eyes And Science Trees

Yyyyup!

Sirius XM already has two Christmas stations operating, emulating Hallmark, which is showing nothing but cheesy Christmas movies starring B and C list actors (Candace Cameron Bure is one of the better known ones) all day long. Is there some significance to this rush to get to Christmas? Is it because everyone is so nasty and hostile that there is some kind of collective yearning for peace on earth and good will toward men, womyn and non-binary trans-pan-sexuals to arrive by cultural fiat? My wife is betting that the effort will just make everyone thoroughly sick of Christmas by the time we get there. Elmo learned, in a Sesame Street Christmas Special, that if every day is Christmas, nothing is.

But I digress…The reason I noted this was that I just heard Kelly Clarkson’s “My Grown-Up Christmas List” on the “Holiday Traditions” channel (I deemed it a better bet than The Doors, and “:Please Mister Custer”) and finally listened to the lyrics:

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list.

Yeesh. Those are grown-up wishes? They are if “grown up” means ten-years-old.

Or you’re John Lennon.

I. One more ominous example of the Left channeling old fashioned totalitarianism..I knew that San Francisco was erecting a mural dedicated to the Climate Change Bullies’ own  Joan of Arc, creepy Greta Thunberg, but I didn’t realize how huge it was going to be. The conservative satire site the Babylon Bee joked that her eyes would be equipped with lasers to zap SUVs, at least I thought it was a joke. Legal Insurrection writes, 

Instead of focusing on issues of sanitation, job creation, or at least ensuring there are more high school students than drug addicts in the city, activists have chosen to honor Swedish “climate crisis” activist Greta Thunberg with a giant mural that will grace the skyline.

Andres “Cobre” Petreselli, an internationally renowned artist, is painting the activist teen with big blue eyes and a Mona Lisa smile.

The mural is still a work in progress, as Cobre is spending his days hoisted high up on a platform about 10 stories above Mason street, on the side of the Native Sons building near Union Square.

Thunberg is the 16-year old from Sweden who has inspired young people all over the world to take to the streets and let older people know they want climate change to be taken seriously.

“What I want from people is to realize have to do something for the world,” Cobre said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be the beginning of our extinction.”

Yikes. Continue reading

The Story Of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” [Updated And Corrected]

Bing Crosby memorably introduced this last of the popular Christmas songs to have a religious theme to most Americans in 1963, on this live broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace.”  It  was written in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by a married songwriting team that  wondered at the time if it would be the last thing they ever did.

Noel Regney, who wrote the lyrics, was born in France and had studied music at the Strasbourg Conservatory and at the Conservatoire National de Paris. When France was overwhelmed by Hitler’s troops in 1940, he was conscripted into the German army. As a Nazi soldier, he secretly joined the French underground and served as a spy, passing information along to the resistance. Once he led German soldiers into a trap where they were massacred by French fighters who cut them down in a crossfire. He was shot too, but survived.

After that traumatic encounter, Regney deserted and worked with the French underground until the end of the war. Continue reading

Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/3/2018: Christmas Song Banned! Ethics Alarms De-Faced! Sharpton Cashes In!

Good afternoon!

1. Well, is it good to be a patrician President or isn’t it? It depends, obviously, on who you want to bash. Simultaneously with sidelong sneers from the peasant-shirted left about the Bush family’s wealth and isolated status as rich, privileged, white, WASPS for generations, there have been multiple salutes to the same family, and the late George H.W. Bush in particular, for his grace, class, and dignity in office. These things go hand in hand, you know: wealth, privilege, prep schools, “breeding,” and impeccable manners. John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Truman, LBJ, Clinton, and now Trump, all from “lesser” stock, all had their moments when their behavior was attacked as beneath the office they held. Well, all of them were middle class or lower (you can’t get any lower than Andrew Johnson). Ideally, we want our Presidents to arise from the common clay, but to act like aristocrats in all things public.

Of course, many of our “aristocrats” were low-lives of the soul, but adept at keeping their worst conduct hidden from view. Aristocrats have bad habits too, especially as they relate to women. (See: “David Cop-A-Feel.” I’m sorry, I’ll never get over that…)

2. The President will not eulogize George H.W. Bush. Good. If he reads a nice eulogy written by someone else, it will be flat and awkward. If he extemporizes, God knows what he might say. If he extemporizes and is brilliant, witty, moving and inspiring, it will be attacked anyway.

And by the way, I like the red trees.

Anyone who says that the same decorations put up by Michelle Obama or Jackie Kennedy (EVERYONE had weird colored trees in the early Sixties) wouldn’t be hailed as bold, dashing examples of a modern First Lady’s impeccable sense of style is lying, or hasn’t been paying attention the past two years.

3. Nah, there’s no social media platform bias! Apparently Facebook is now censoring Ethics Alarms posts. Over the weekend I heard from several readers whose links to EA posts were taken down because they didn’t comply with “community standards.” None of the posts were extreme, and all employed consistent ethics analysis, but then the “community” on Facebook, including a majority of my Facebook Friends, is politically intolerant, narrow-minded, ideologically rigid and intent upon driving down that nail that sticks out.

4. From the Ethics Alarms “Appearance of Impropriety” Files. Rev. Al Sharpton sold the rights to his life story to his own charity. From the New York Post:

The National Action Network agreed to pay the activist preacher $531,000 for his “life story rights for a 10-year period,” according to the non-profit’s latest tax filing,…NAN can apparently turn around and sell those rights to Hollywood or other takers at a profit, but neither the reverend nor the charity would identify what producers are waiting for such Sharpton content.

The document does not indicate when Sharpton, who is president of NAN, gets the cash, which is above and beyond the $244,661 he already pulled down in compensation from the group in 2017.

This is clever–slimy, but clever. Why didn’t the Clintons think of it?

5. Baby, It’s Stupid Outside.”   WDOK Christmas 102.1 in Cleveland, Ohio pulled “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”  from its 24-hour Christmas rotation this week, citing listener complaints. #MeToo, you know.

Morons.

I wrote about the complaints last year, and I’m not a fan of the song:

Here is an article protesting the movement to “ban” (figuratively, not literally), the seasonal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”  for “being insufficiently PC in the sexual assault/harassment realm.” Ethics Alarms called the song “date-rapey” two years ago, so while I don’t exactly want to ban the thing, I am sick of hearing it on Christmas playlists. On Sirius-XM’s “Holly” station, I’d estimate that over 50% of the “Holiday songs” have to do with sex (none have to do with the religious holiday, by design), and I blame “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which on the alternative Christmas channel, “Traditions” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is played every hour, sometimes more than once. …Writes the blogger,

“But if you actually look at the lyrics, it’s clear that the woman wants to stay, and that her protests are merely for the sake of propriety, and that the whole thing is a flirtatious little game of seduction. In her objections she keeps mentioning what other people will think, not her own feelings. So you might say she’s striking a blow for autonomy and throwing off fusty old custom when she acquiesces at the end.”

It depends on how the song is sung, of course. Dean Martin’s version sounds like a seduction, but then, that was Dean. Actually banning the song, however, with so much far more blatant sexual innuendo infecting Christmas music and other aspects of the holiday, is bats.

Related: Last night I saw the 1949 Christmas film “Holiday Affair,” starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. It’s low key but fun and well acted. It also has a scene where Mitchum walks into the kitchen as single mother Leigh is doing dishes, grabs her without warning or consent and gives her a long, hard kiss on the mouth as her arms flail helplessly.

Sexual assault.

6. Related to that: Boy, studios had no scruples and no shame back then! The story is about as chaste a romance as you could imagine, with Leigh, who was a true sex-bomb when she wanted to be, playing a devoted mother who dressed and acted like a mother should. Yet here was the original poster:

…which misrepresents the movie entirely, especially Leigh, who is never seen in such a pose. That’s nothin’, though. When the movie was a box-office bomb, they decided that it was because nobody wanted to see film noir tough guy Mitchum being nice, charming and polite (his character resembles John Payne in “Miracle on 24th Street”). So they put out this poster, which is outright misrepresentation:

Now THAT’S an unethical movie poster!

 

 

 

 

Noonish Ethics Warm-Up, 11/30/18: The Trouble With Sloth, Bing Misplaced, And Reader Pointers

Hi there…

1. Thank you to the readers who immediately took my call for tips and links to heart. This post ends with three of them, and there are more on the way.

 2. Can we have a little Christmas music station integrity, please? There are currently three holiday music channels on Sirius-XM: an all instrumental channel, aka. department store muzak; “Holly,” which is supposedly “contemporary” Christmas music, meaning either bad songs, endless covers of “Last Christmas,” or horrific versions of classics so stylized that they are unrecognizable, like Destiny’s Child’s jarring version of “O Holy Night;” and “Traditions,” which is the all-dead people channel, with actual tunes, occasional references to Jesus, angels, and Bethlehem, and only a couple of songs written before 1963.

But it’s complicated. John Lennon is dead, but his awful Christmas song shows up on “Holly.” Paul NcCartney’s awful Christmas song has been on both channels: he’s alive, BUT the song is crap. However, I nearly drove off the road just now when Holly featured Bing Crosby singing “Mele kalikimaka” with the Andrews Sisters, whose recording of the same sone without Der Bingle turned up yesterday on Traditions. I don’t get it.

3. This is a good test as to whether the public is smart enough to know when it’s being manipulated. Paul Manfort’s plea deal about his dealings with the Ukraine and other questionable machinations unrelated to his time with the Trump campaign has nothing to do with the Russian 2016 election meddling. Michael Cohen admitting that he lies about his activities connected to the Trump organization building a hotel in Moscow also has no connection to the Left’s Russian collusion fantasies. So why is the news media hyperventilating about “big breaks” in the Mueller investigation? I’d say a) confirmation bias b) they aren’t very bright c) they don’t think the public is very bright, and d) they think they can continue to undermine the public trust by flogging this narrative. This is a fact: there was and is nothing illegal about Donald Trump pursuing a business project in Russia while running for President. It does not suggest or constitute collusion, and the fact that his ridiculous ex-lawyer lied about it is irrelevant to the Trump Presidency.

Nonetheless, here’s CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin yesterday: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

christmas-hero-h

In addition to honoring his Comment of the Day, I also have to thank texagg04 for his timely comment to last year’s lament here, “Christmas Blues,” about the state of Christmas music as presented by the media. Christmas and holiday music is a useful, if depressing, window into the state of U.S. culture, and if he hasn’t written this commentary, I would have had to. Unfortunately, the tex’s list is res ipsa loquitur, and what it speaks of isn’t good. Christmas, the most ethical of holidays, has been substantially stripped of its ethical foundations by pop culture.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post “Christmas Music Blues.” For added perspective, you may also want to revue last year’s post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide.

As of noon today (Monday, 28 Nov), I ran a quick survey of songs played on our local “Christmas” station since the start of last Monday.

95 songs played (though 161 if you separate them by Artist and Version of the song) for a total of 1,893 times.

Here’s the list and how many times they were played (Down on the list are some weird outliers involving the Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice soundtrack. I have no clue how those landed on the station’s playlist archive…but they were there, so I’ve included them): Continue reading

Christmas Music Blues

Who are those guys?

Who are those guys?

At the rate things are going, I am certain that before long no pop vocal interpretations of traditional Christmas music will be easily accessible on the radio. This is a cultural loss—it’s a large body of beautiful and evocative music—and someone should have, one would think, the obligation of preventing it. But I have no idea who.

I realized this when I felt myself getting nostalgic and sad as I listened to a series of “Christmas classics.” For one thing, they all reminded me of my parents, whose absence beginning in 2011 permanently kicked my enjoyment of the season in the groin. For another, all the artists were dead. Bing: dead. Frank: dead. Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, Elvis, John Denver–dead. Long dead, in most cases. Christmas has become a serenade of dead artists. Except for the narrow range of country music stars for those who enjoy “O Holy Night” with a twang, living pop artists don’t sing these songs. OK, Mariah Carey and Michael Buble. Not many others. Sirius-AM was desperate to find living artists that it has been playing the Seth McFarland Christmas album. Seth can sing, but I’m sorry, but it’s hard to enjoy “Silent Night” while picturing “The Family Guy.”

Current pop stars are, understandably, looking for new Christmas hits that will be identified with them, and those have always been hard to come by. Bing Crosby made annual recordings of terrible entries in the Christmas song market—I just heard a station play a few of them. Gene Autry too: many of his efforts were bombs, though I rather like this weird one:

Continue reading

Remembering Christmas Music

nativity

It is slowly dawning on me that Christmas music, one of the annual joys of my childhood and perhaps yours, is in a perilous state, both culturally and aesthetically. The best of the songs musically are religious in nature, which means that schools won’t pass them along to their charges as happened routinely when I was a child, and even playing them on the radio is likely to be regarded as a religious statement. I just loved the music, as I think most kids would if they ever got the chance before they were brainwashed into believing the ancient songs were subversive.

A full court cultural press is underway to make those songs as rarely heard outside of church as hymns, and I don’t see the trend as reversible. One obvious bar to a comeback: current pop stars don’t have the pipes to sing most of them without causing a sound pollution emergency. Or, if one of the few singers who could actually hit the notes dared to cover a carol like “O Holy Night,” he or she would feel required to apply flourishes of the sort that make every rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a major sports event an invitation to PTSD.

Even for the more secular Christmas repertoire, the clock is running out. The most listenable versions, and the definitive ones in most cases, are by performers of the past who are not just dead, but also long forgotten by the current culture. An hour of classic Christmas recordings on the radio is now a reminder of how old I am and close to joining great singers like Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis—dead, dead, dead. I guess Brenda Lee is still alive, so “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is a little less depressing, but it’s a minor classic at best. It’s gotten so bad that when I hear “The Little Drummer Boy,” I find myself wondering if the whole Harry Simeone Chorale is dead too—Harry died in 2005, and the recording is 56 years old, after all.

Meanwhile, our post-modern culture is sneering at the whole idea of Christmas songs, and Christmas itself. Most modern Christmas songs either are making fun of Christmas, about sex, or just lousy. The tradition is being undermined in more creative ways, too: this week I watched a 2012 straight-to-video movie called “12 Disasters of Christmas,” based on the loopy premise that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was really a coded recipe for stopping the 2012 apocalypse predicted by the Mayan calendar. “The Mayans knew that the knowledge would have to be preserved for centuries, so they devised a song that would carry the secret and would be passed on and learned by children for generations,” explains the old codger who’s figured it all out. (But why would they choose such a monotonous and stupid song?) Come on, guess: How does the “Chosen One” stop the end of the world? [Answer below.]*

The movie is on to something, though. The Christmas songs that have the best chance of persevering though this age of  cynicism and cultural illiteracy may be those that either tell a story  or that have an interesting one related to their creation. The simple and beautiful tune of “Silent Night,” for example, as one of those films they used to show in school assemblies every year before some anti-religious hysteric sued, was composed for guitar in response to a Christmas Eve crisis for a small church in the Austrian alps in 1818: the church organ wasn’t working.  I have found that Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”  affects me far more deeply since I learned that the Berlins’ infant son died on Christmas day, and that while his children celebrated Christmas as a cultural holiday, Berlin and his wife did not. They spent each Christmas after their son’s death in mourning. The song is a wistful remembrance of a happier time that the composer will never experience again.

Maybe another Christmas song will persevere if its origins are remembered; I was reminded of its history this week as a result of the thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba. Though my wife hates it, the song is one of my favorites, perhaps because it brings back warm memories: I watched the song’s first national broadcast with my sister and parents, and the Marshalls bought the recording the next day.

It was 1962. Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne were a husband and wife songwriting team of modest success. They were saddened by the lack of any spiritual content in popular Christmas songs then; imagine what they would think today.

Like all Americans, they were petrified during the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation. As the crisis intensified, Regney found himself inspired to write down a simple poem with a Christmas theme. (Later, the couple would say that neither of them could ever sing the song through, because of the strong emotions it recalled.) When the nation could finally take a deep breath of relief as the threat ended,  Gloria devised a melody for her husband’s words, though he had always been the composer when he and wife wrote songs together.

The result of this unique variation on their collaboration was recorded before the end of 1962, but it wasn’t until the following year, when Bing Crosby sang the team’s creation live on ABC’s  “Hollywood Palace,”  that it became widely known. The song written during the Cuban Missile Crisis became a best-seller, Crosby’s last hit Christmas record, and also the last popular Christmas song to have a religious theme.

It was, and remains, a prayer for peace.

____________________________

* By finding and wearing FIVE GOLDEN RINGS, of course!

Seeking Justice And Fairness in Topeka, And Arriving At Stupid

With a song!

With a song!

In Topeka, Kansas, Judge Mark Braun was confronted with a legal and ethical dilemma, thought hard, and arrived at ridiculous decision, with the of best intentions.

Defendant Lance Franklin was in the fourth day of his trial for rape when he decided that he didn’t like his lawyer’s face or something and thus sucker-punched him in open court. Franklin is  is six-feet, three-inches tall and weighs at least 260 pounds; he devoted attorney weighs about 170 pounds and is considerably shorter. This sort of thing happens now and then (it happened in Kansas earlier this year) does not go over well with juries. Imagine, for example, if Mike Brown hadn’t been killed and was being tried for assaulting an officer, and he did this to his lawyer right after his mother had told the jury what a gentle, promising child he was. The display would, one would think, undermine his credibility when he swore he was just meekly surrendering….well, with the racist jurors, anyway.

Thus, when this happens, judges declare mistrials because a fair trial is no longer possible. Ah, but Judge Braun has seen it all: you can’t trick him. He knows that if Kansas defendants see one accused criminal get to start all over because he cold-cocks his lawyer, they’ll all do it if the trial is going badly. So after senior assistant district attorney Dustin Curry begged him not to reward Franklin for his unmannerly gesture, Braun ruled that declaring a mistrial would “essentially put a target on any defense attorney’s back.”

The trial goes on, presumably with a new lawyer. And, when Franklin is found guilty, a successful appeal and new trial is virtually guaranteed, because a fair trial after something like this is impossible.

The judge was trying to be careful and considerate; he should be commended for not making an automatic decision to call a mistrial just because that’s what every other judge has done. He kept an open mind, and listened to a novel argument. Sometimes, however, an open mind lets stuff in causes havoc. In his effort to prevent lawyers from becoming in-trial punching bags, he guaranteed one defendant a second trial, and just moved that target somewhere else.

For example, I’m pretty sure attacking the jury mid-trial is a sure-fire recipe for a mistrial if battering one’s lawyer won’t work.

Or better yet, deck the judge!

Deck the Judge to get a mistrial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Punching lawyers s’not for this trial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
If your trial is going badly
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Rush the bench while swinging madly.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

____________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Capital-Journal