The Warming Holiday Glow Of Retina

You missed Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)” on Friday despite my explicit command to watch it?

I am displeased. But the holiday season has left me in an indulgent mood, so here it is, courtesy of YouTube.

I place this one in the top three of all time. Easily. Putting Paul in the middle of the stage was a terrific move. Among my favorite details of this performance, year after year, is seeing the absolute glee with which Paul Shaffer performs. It’s the same sort of facial expressions you see in the dogpile at home plate when a team wins the World Series. You’re seeing experienced, professional adults suddenly reverting to who they were at ten years old. Little Leaguers fantasized about the World Series and in 1963 14-year-old musicians listening to transistor radios fantasied about playing on a Phil Spector-produced Darlene Love record.

Enjoy this Late Show-produced supercut of her performances over the years:

I wonder if they’ve ever considered closing down 53rd Street and making it a big, open-air performance? They’ve done it a few times for other musical acts. Boy, I’d definitely jump on an Amtrak train to see that one. With the Macy’s Parade and the Rockefeller Center tree lighting, it’d be a great complement to NYC’s other public holiday events.

How did the show solve the “No Jay Thomas” problem? By having John McEnroe tell the Lone Ranger story:

…And then they had him try to knock the meatball off of the tree by serving tennis balls at it.

He eventually got the job done by charging the tree like it was the umpire chair and the meatball had just made a call McEnroe didn’t like. I’m surprised that the show didn’t have a tennis ball serving machine standing by.

All in all another fabulous show. The only missing element was Paul Shaffer singing “O Holy Night,” though it’s possible that this part of the show is going the way of the “Viewer Mail” segment, if it hasn’t already.

While I’m sharing holiday music videos, get a load of this one of “O Holy Night,” performed at Boston’s Museum Of Fine Arts last weekend.

“O Holy Night” is far and away my favorite Christmas song. A good one will get me tearing up. A great one will unleash the waterworks. This is a great one. The vocal performance, the arrangement, the presentation…this, to me, is a perfect encapsulation of the meaning of Christmas for people of the Christian faith. If you’re not Christian, I think it represents a perfect expression of peace and joy.

The video’s title describes it as a “flash mob,” which is why I clicked the link with a certain cynical sense of weariness. It wasn’t a flash mob at all. In truth, the organizers had solved the problem of beginning a public performance. The music chairs and stands and mics had been set up in this public space. How to get the crowd to quiet down and pay attention? Well, you just have the cellist take his seat and hold a note for a long time. People will get the picture. When the crowd is ready, the rest of the musicians drift in and add to the music.

Speaking of “getting the picture”…I hope that if I were ever to stumble across such a fine performance, I’d have enough self-discipline to keep my phone or my camera stowed.

I’m not even criticizing the dozens of people who held up devices. It’s not totally a bad instinct. Nobody could have foreseen how significant these little devices would become after they started shipping with halfway decent cameras. Anyone could have guessed that folks would take more photos and share them readily with friends and family. That’s only the most obvious impact, however.

Our phones become digital storehouses for our experiences. Like the mausoleum of an ancient Egyptian king, we’re surrounded by the artifacts of our lives. Whenever we tap a button, open the “Pictures” roll, and flick our thumbs over the screen, we relive all of these casual moments we’ve collected since the last time we switched phones. If you set up your new phone by doing a full restore from your own phone, you’re carrying your lifetime with you.

So I understand the impulse to come away from this most joyous and unexpected performance with some sort of tangible memento. I know I couldn’t have resisted firing off a few shots. But it’s so much better to watch it live and in 3D, instead of through a little LCD or LED screen.

I imagine if I had been there, I wouldn’t even been watching it live at all. Music this beautiful is enhanced when you close your eyes and devote all of your CPU cores to processing the sound. I would have been standing there with my eyes shut and with the biggest grin on my face you’ve ever seen.

This is a clumsy compliment but it’s genuine: my sole disappointment with this video is that there isn’t a “Buy It Now” button anywhere nearby. If the audio recording is for sale anywhere, I haven’t found it…and I spent twenty minutes searching.

Thankfully, there are YouTube downloader apps, and a feature in QuickTime Player that allows you to save just the audio of a movie file. But rest assured that the moment I’m presented with the opportunity to give these people money, I will.