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    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    A Holiday Break: The kids and I spent most of yesterday doing holiday things - buying Christmas presents, wrapping paper, and baking cookies. We made Nestle Toll House cookies with Santa chips, though once the cookies were finished we could no longer identify Santa. His shape was there, but his face was blurred and buried in the cookie.

    We also dug out our Christmas music for the first time this year. Everyone's familiar with Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song and Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, but how about some, ah, more unconventional Chrismtas songs?

    Phil Specter's rock-and-roll doo-wop album A Christmas Gift for You is as standard as Nat and Bing these days, but A Very Cherry Christmas has more in the way of contemporary untraditional Christmas music, such as Otis Redding's bluesy rendition of White Christmas, a Jamaican-beat version of Mary's Boy Child by Boney M., and the seductive "Make Me a Present of You" by Dinah Washington.

    For more Christmas seduction, there's Dean Martin's duet with a chorus of women, Baby, It's Cold Outside, in which Dean tries to talk them into staying inside with him against their protestations. Hear it and understand why the man who was really a down-to-earth family guy had the public image of a smooth womanizer.

    A more uncoventional duet ("Merry Christmas my arse, I think glad it's our last!"), the Pogues' Fairytale of New York is, like Specter's Christmas Album, well known these days, but how about the Irish Tenors' version? Three men singing "You were handsome, You were pretty, Queen of New York City" to each other easily makes it the gayest Christmas song ever.

    And keeping to the great tradition of family Christmas acrimony - there's the Chieftan's St. Stephen's Day Murders, a collaboration with Elvis Costello which, as near as I can tell, is about wishing your family dead. The tune's catchy, though.

    Although don't have too many drunken-family Christmas memories like those in the above songs, I do have memories of my relatives trying to out-poor each other with stories of Christmas past - "We were so poor we....Never had books....Nor crayons, neither.... Slept eight to a bed.....Had crackers and milk for Christmas dinner - and liked it!" In that fine tradition, there's Johnny Cash's Christmas As I Remember It with Cash telling of one spare Christmas in his basso profundo while a choir hums "Away in a Manger" in the background. It brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it, until he got to the part about his father killing a squirrel for dinner. It brought up an image of a family of ten gathered around a trussed up squirrel carcass that just made me laugh out loud. Try to out-poor that, family!

    And finally, the most unconventional Christmas fare of all. Tucked into the old-timey Gospel CD collection, Goodbye, Babylon are two Christmas sermons - or "lectures" by the Reverend J.M. Gates that serve as an admonition against our distorted seasonal priorities. My favorite is "Death Might Be Your Santa Claus" recorded in 1923:

    While we think on the 25th of December, we are expecting a great day. But on that day it is said that Jesus was born, but we celebrate Christmas wrong. From the way I look at this matter, shooting fireworks, cursing, and dancing. Raising all other kind of sand, ah, but death may be your Santa Claus.

    Those of you who are speaking to the little folks and telling them that Santa Claus coming to see 'em, and the little boys telling mother and father, "Tell old Santa to bring me a little pistol," that same litttle gun may be, ah, death in that boy's hame. Death may be his Santa Claus. That little old girl is saying to mother and to father, "Tell old Santa Claus to bring me a little deck of cards that I may play five-up in the park." While the child play, death may be her Santa Claus. Those of you that has prepared to take your automobiles and now fixing up the old tires, an' getting your spares ready and overhauling your automobile, death may be your Santa Claus. You is decorating your room and getting ready for all night dance, death may be your Santa Claus. Death is on your track and gonna overtake you after while. Death may be your Santa Claus. That same revolver that that boy is toting in his pocket now may bring down somebody's son, somebody's dauagher; death may be your Santa Claus. Oh, man, oh, woman, oh, boy, oh, girl, if I were you, I would be worrying , ah, of this morning and would search deep down in my heart. (Congregation: Preach the word!) For God I live and for God I'll die.

    If I were you, I'd turn around this morning. Death may be your Santa Claus. Death been on your track ever since you was born, ever since you been in the world. Death winked at your mother three times before you was born into this sinful world. Death is gonna bring you down after while, after while; Death may be your Santa Claus

    Imagine it delivered in the sing-songy cadences of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. According to the liner notes, it was his most successful sermon. Enjoy!

    posted by Sydney on 12/04/2005 01:03:00 PM 1 comments


    I have a recording of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton, and it's as charming as can be. She: "Papa will be pacing the floor". He: "When he's gotta go, he's gotta go!"

    By Anonymous Paul Power, at 8:29 AM  

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