Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

they couldn't get to sleep at all last night.

Eight, nine, ten years old, I started becoming conscious of loving particular songs on pop radio; or, more specifically, the soft-pop hits they played on the station my parents listened to, which was the one that carried the Tigers and had a farm report in the morning, and the disc jockeys joked about how beautiful Olivia Newton-John was.

"Hitchin' a Ride" -- could anything be cooler?

"Last Night I Couldn't Get to Sleep at All" -- could anything sound more voluptuous?

Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" from
The Sting -- it sounded like liquid gold to me.

"Mandy" -- how beautifully sad!

I had piano lessons, and there was music around the house -- my mother and grandmother played the piano, my grandpa sang old, old songs in a garrish joyful voice. A favorite of the grandchildren's had these words:
Oh my sweet Hortense
She ain't good lookin' but she got a lotta sense
She's got two teeth in her mouth
One faces east and the other faces south
Music in itself wasn't mysterious, but the beauty of these records remains so.

* * *

Last summer I got a box of my mom's old records that she didn't want any more. Have been slowly going through them. Johnny Mathis with two guitars and a bass, which Mom got in college (she wrote her maiden name on the front cover) -- pretty darn gorgeous. Great title too -- Open Fire, Two Guitars -- with a picture of a sweater-clad Johnny squatting in front of a living room's fireplace. So cozy and intimate!

* * *

Which reminds me -- Jody Rosen has mentioned how few Christmas standards have emerged since the '50s or maybe '60s (Guaraldi's Peanuts music generated two standards), but there's been at least one -- and it's a doozy -- Donny Hathaway's sexy '70s Xmas tune "This Christmas" has been covered many many times now.
Hang all the mistletoe,
I'm gonna get to know you better, THIS CHRISTMAS.
And as we trim the tree,
How much fun it's gonna be together, THIS CHRISTMAS.

Fireside is blazing bright,
We're caroling through the night.
And it has the funniest euphemism for fucking in any song ever -- "caroling." The word gets the climactic moment of the song, quite ecstatic in most versions -- "we're caroling through the night." Dude! Nothing stirs my blood like the prospect of caroling! Seriously -- you don't think Donny's all pumped up about "Hark the Herald," do you? ("Oh Come All Ye Faithful," maybe. Joyful and Triumphant. Oh come ye oh come ye . . . )

* * *

This Christmas in our house was nice & mellow. Music parties Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at different friends' houses -- and a party animal of an almost-4-year-old allowing us to stay out both nights till 10:30 -- woo woo! Christmas Eve was an amazing dinner at the house of friends with a big crowd of people. I knew Dave played guitar but I'd never heard him play, so after dinner I hauled one of his guitars off the wall and started singing and trading songs with another songwriter there, a young single mother whose 5-year-old played very nicely with our almost-4-year-old for a few hours, and we finally talked Dave, the host, into playing some, and it was great. He brought out a stack of Bert Jansch LPs for me to admire first -- and admire them I did. (Love the way that guy
claws the strings -- he snaps them -- grrrr!) And Dave finger-picked swell.

I tested out two songs I wrote for the abandoned November Album Project, and I tested one of them again at the next night's party, an annual Christmas hootenanny hosted by the accordianist and guitarist in the trad. Irish band
Claypipe, Wayne, and his wife Joanne. I worked with Wayne at a homeless shelter 15 years ago, and I know the bodhran player, harmonica player, and singer extraordinaire Joe from housing activism. My new song didn't go over as well as I would have hoped -- ah well. I revised the lyrics the next day -- part of the point, I suppose. Claypipe rocked -- such good musicians.

For a long time I'd been mildly envious of a type of group singing that the Klezmatics achieve on some of their trad. Yiddish numbers -- a cappella singing with almost chthonic force. It turns out trad. Irish tunes trade in some of the same forces sometimes -- the whole room full of people shook the house singing with Claypipe on the choruses of the old song
Johnny Jump Up. Joe sang the verses (and I don't know if they're the same as the ones I just linked to, but he sang a lot of them) and everybody wailed on the choruses, to the accompaniment of two galloping bodhrans in 3/4 time -- ONE-two-and-three-and-ONE-two-and-three-and-ONE.
Oh never oh never oh never again
If I live to be a hundred or a hundred and ten
I fell to the floor, I couldn't get up
After a drinking a quart of that Johnny Jump Up
Really a blast.

Later that night I remembered that "Johnny Jump Up" was one of my mom's nicknames for me when I was a little kid -- and so of course I think this is the best song in the world.

I once asked Joe how many songs he "has" -- as in, "memorized."

He smiled. "Oh, about 300."
And most of these are looooong songs. Irish songs of historical woe and/or drinking.

Me, astounded: "How do you remember so many?"

He gesticulated, oh-so-faux-nonchalantly, and smiled again, "It's like a Shakespearean actor . . . "

Fingers Hilarity, the party kid, had another great time, and he danced up a storm as Claypipe played. Danced and danced and danced. After a long spell of dancing he told something to my beloved spouse. In her words:
After fifteen minutes or so of this, Nat came to me with a smile and whispered in my ear: "I was pretending that I was dancing in my house I runned and runned and runned and the parachute landed and I runned the parachute and it landed right to a house and I ate all the candy canes in all the houses in the whole world." He remembered this vision clearly the next day.
* * *

In the run-up to Christmas, I was missing my dad. Ever since I can remember, he made fudge every Christmas Season, to give to friends and to eat at home. I've been doing it for years now too, and I missed calling him up and talking about it. And he always cooked Christmas brunch at home, scrambled eggs and sausages -- and even though I had missed more than half of the Christmases of the last 15 years, I missed the idea of calling home and hearing about the scrambled eggs. This year my sister, as she did for Thanksgiving, organized the back-home-local family into a Different Pattern, and had our mother and brother to her house in Chicago for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I was glad that they did that, grateful for my sister's organizational capacity, when I remembered that for the last 20 years or so the family minister had come over for Christmas brunch as well. I knew he would have no trouble finding an alternative plan, but I wanted to let him know that I hadn't forgotten (even though I wouldn't have been there anyway) and called him a few nights before Christmas, leaving him a message wishing him a Merry one. Christmas night, before we went to the Christmas hootenanny, he called and said he'd had a very nice Christmas with another church family I've known for decades. In tribute to my late father's habits as a host, he told me, jocularly, "I didn't get my Bloody Mary out of it though."

I hadn't remembered the Bloody Marys. I'll have to have one next year.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?