Tag Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2012

Amazon Advent 04 – “Artistic Roll Call” (Bill Hicks)

Album Art

Artistic Roll Call

Bill Hicks

Rant In E-Minor

Genre: Comedy

I’m going to wind down my “Comedy (But Let’s Acknowledge Them For Something Other Than Their Comedy)” thread by dropping the parenthetical. Bill Hicks died in 1994 at age 32 and he still looms large. His comedy was so very intense. But his anger wasn’t just a prop; it was a lens that brought a clarity to every thought he expressed and intensified the light he was shining on an idea.

“Artistic Roll Call” is…really something. Mr. Hicks has some rather strong opinions on Jay Leno and the direction that he chose for himself and his comedy. Yes, I know: the thought “Jay Leno is to comedy what Olive Garden is to dining out” is as overplayed today as “Hey, what’s the deal with those tiny packets of peanuts they give you on airplanes?”

It’s noteworthy for two reasons: first, this was recorded sometime just after Leno had taken over the Tonight Show. At the time, he was talking about something that was very much on his mind, as opposed to going to a cheap and easy putdown.

Secondly…oh, wow. Just listen to him. This is an outpouring of genuine anger. Anger that a once-great comedian had chosen to change his comedic voice into a marketable product. Disappointment that Leno had seen any value whatsoever in doing commercials.

And it went even deeper than that! The rest of Hicks’ work makes it clear that this bit also reflected his frustration in our national character. Why did Leno make these choices? Because they work. Broad, harmless humor entertains way more people than the stuff that’s targeted and meant to bruise. Why was Leno shilling Doritos? It was a Sound Business Decision. A big check for not a whole lot of his time, and all the while, it got his face out there in front of people.

I don’t agree with everything Hicks says on the CDs and videos of his standup. He also had a great bit about the JFK assassination: “If you go to Dealey Plaza, there’s a museum on the sixth floor,” he says. “They’ve recreated the so-called ‘sniper’s nest’ exactly the way it was on the day of the assassination. And you know it’s completely accurate because…Oswald isn’t in it.

I’ll go ahead and embed this clip. Warning: The audio isn’t work-safe.

Let’s not get into a long digression about the assassination. To conspiracists, I will just ask “What about the long, skinny package wrapped in brown paper that Oswald brought in to work that morning?” (yes, that really happened) and move on.

I’m also not 100% on board with bashing Leno at least not (holy mother of God) this savagely. True, I haven’t had any use for his comedy since he stopped doing the Letterman show. But being a comedian isn’t like being a company CEO, where you’re well-insulated from the fallout from your decisions. Leno appears to be happy. He gets to work on cars, tell jokes at 11:30 PM, and also do several standup gigs a week. I think the canonical line on Jay’s career comes from Bill Carter’s terrific book about the Late Night Wars II, quoting a producer who acknowledges Jay’s ratings but then says “at the end of the day, though, who would you rather be? Jay Leno…or David Letterman?”

Yes, his material is about offering audiences some distraction, not depth. But Leno doesn’t seem to care about that. So…shrug.

I’m fascinated by the construction of this rant, though. It’s utterly brutal. There aren’t even many jokes in this bit. He just keeps expressing his anger and his disappointment in different and novel ways. We shouldn’t call it a rant. It’s not unfocused, out-of-control rage; the bit works because Hicks is in full control throughout. A great standup comic is just like a great magician. It’s all about maintaining control of the audience. Hicks proceeds through his material, but always with his antennae fully extended and maintaining a sharp, moment-my-moment read on where their perceptions are, and how best to manipulate those perceptions.

And that’s how he avoids turning anger and frustration into a tool towards uncovering greater truth, instead of a catchphrase that lets the audience and himself avoid it entirely. Sam Kinison was funny as hell, but he asked so little of an audience. When he screamed into the microphone, the audience was relieved, almost; it was his signature, on the level of Steve Martin yelling “Well, ex-cuuuuuuusssseeeee meeeeeeee!!!” Late in his career, the scream was a welcome sign that this was all stagecraft. The knives onstage are all made out of rubber and that soon, the curtain will rise again and Caesar will be alive to take his bows.

No such luck with Hicks. I enjoy his performances for the sounds from the audiences as much as anything else. Unified cheers and laughter are rare; usually, the laughter is mixed with discomfort, and there are many nervous silences. During the “JFK” bit, I feel as though Hicks is angry at me. I want to clear my throat and stammer and say “Well, all right, I believe what the government is telling me about the JFK assassination, but I don’t believe everything they tell me. Except when they tell me what kinds of food are safe to eat. And what level of regular maintenance is OK for an airplane. And…”

(Oh, crap.)

“Don’t worry,” he reassures the audience, when he senses that he’s dug himself into a deep hole. “I’ll start telling d*** jokes soon.”

I mentioned earlier that I respect the fact that Leno made his choices and accepted the consequences. The same’s true of Hicks. Leno wanted an audience, to the extreme of completely desaturating his act to an institutional shade of beige. Hicks wanted authenticity, to the extreme of making it hard to create material that would fill every seat in a US theater. Or, pursue any source of income away from the stage of a comedy club. Barring an absolutely stunning statement of theological reversal, Hicks couldn’t have pursued TV (unless it was unsponsored, and aired on a network owned by an independent company).

If he’d lived, I think his decades of onstage sincerity and integrity would have finally paid off. Not because American audience are any more enlightened today. Oh, wow, my head spins just thinking about what he’d be saying about our “Hope And Change” President’s use of drone strikes!

This is an age when you can do almost as well with a small audience of people who absolutely love you as you can with a large audience of people who think you’re marginally less objectionable than whoever’s on the other channel. His access to his audience wouldn’t have been controlled by any large company (a network, a promoter, a record label). He could sell tickets, audio, and video directly to his fans.

And the power of social networks to spread something around to millions of people isn’t compatible with “bland and populist” material When was the last time someone Tweeted a link and said “Oh, wow, you HAVE to see what Leno said in his monologue last night!”?

Hicks seems like a reminder that you often have to keep the faith that a longterm equity investment will eventually pay off. All of the Hicks standup material we have is, alas, all of the material we’ll ever have. The point of view and the voice he had built after 15 years was amazing. And it was strong footing for whatever he would have built on top of it.

32 seems to be an age when many successful creative people get a little antsy and bored, and they start questioning what’s been working so far. They’ve built up a hell of a lot of knowledge and experience. What do they want to do with it? Often, they either try to use those same skills in different ways, or they try to augment what they have by developing a different set of skills.

When you listen to a few hours of Hicks’ released standup, you come away (a) hoarse from laughter, (b) profoundly impressed, and (c) aware that there was some distance between Hicks and the audience. He feels a frustration with the world, and the people in those seats are part of the problem.

Richard Pryor, at the height of his powers, often found a way to quietly suggest — so subtly that you didn’t even think of it until long after — that you and he were there in the room to start working on a solution. Parts of his standup films are genuinely cathartic.

So I wonder what he would have built by age 50. The knowledge that you have an audience can drive you to narcissism. Or, it can drive you towards introspection. Here you have 1000 people who will be hanging on your every word for 70 minutes. What should you do with their attention? What would you like them to be thinking about the next morning?

It’s perfectly fine to send an audience away thinking nothing more substantive than “I definitely got $75 worth of entertainment for my $50 ticket.” One might even make a credible case that people pay $50 to attend a comedy show with a view towards laughing hard. I’m fascinated by Bill Hicks, but the fact that most of the other comedians I love “merely” entertain me shouldn’t be considered a mark against them.

And of course, dying young is the ultimate rose-colored filter. Every brave person becomes a colossus and every talented performer becomes a genius. All because of the feats they never had a chance to achieve, and the works they never had a chance to create. The bizarre dementia of a fan is that we keep expecting great things from the ones we worship, even long after they’ve died.

Preview “Artistic Roll Call” on the Amazon MP3 Store. Anything you buy from Amazon after clicking that link will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of store credits, which I will then spend on silly and wonderful things.

And yes, I’m quite aware of the dissonance of praising Bill Hicks and then encouraging you to buy things from large corporations. I’m not willing to sell my artistic soul like Jay Leno. But I’m willing to rent out parts of it in exchange for camera equipment.

Amazon Advent 03 – “White Wine In The Sun” (Tim Minchin)

Album Art

White Wine In The Sun

Tim Minchin

Ready For This? (Live)

Genre: Miscellaneous

Continuing my kickoff theme of “Comedians, And Please Give Them Their Full Due As Musicians,” we have this triply-appropriate and hugely wonderful track from Tim Minchin. (1) The album is filled with clever, funny songs; (2) but “White Wine In The Sun” is just a flat-out beautiful piece of music; and (3) as a bonus…it’s actually a Christmas song.

Add Tim to my growing list of “whiplash musicians.” I went from not having the slightest inkling that he existed, to hearing my first Tim Minchin song, to owning everything of his that was available in the Amazon MP3 Store, to being very sad that I then had to wait for him to release his next album just like every other Tim Minchin fan…all in the space of about an hour.

I absolutely freakin’ love Tim Minchin. My first Tim Minchin song was “Prejudice.” It’s catchy, and funny, and thus it’s exactly the sort of link you’d receive as an IM on a slow weekday mid-afternoon. Mr. Minchin was nice enough to post a video of the song to his YouTube channel, so I’ll just go ahead and embed it right here-ish:

That’s, like, nine pounds of clever in a five pound bag. I had gone my entire life without realizing that “Ginger” was an anagram of a highly offensive word. And now, it’s difficult for me to think of it as anything else. It serves as a valuable reminder that wordplay, like all active sports, often leads to careless injury. So if you’re going to let your son or daughter go out and spoonerize with other children, make sure they’re wearing protection.

(Aside: I had no idea until very recently that “ginger” is used as a derogatory term for redheads. Is that a European thing? [Edited: or an Australian thing?] It isn’t an American thing, right? We had red-headed kids in my school and yeah, I think many of them got teased. But only under the eternal rubric of “we’re 284 children plucked from our safe and familiar surroundings; we’re hoping that if we ruthlessly tease any kid who’s in any way different, maybe nobody will sense how terrified we all are.”

I never even heard of that use of “ginger” until a few years ago…and I had thought that my experiences with the Mean Kids faction of my junior high school had left me with an exhaustive database of derogatory insults. True, I didn’t have red hair. But I also had no developmental disabilities nor any desire to kiss boys, and the Mean Kids sure didn’t let those details stop them.

In a way, this fresh use of “Ginger” is reassuring. It’s additional evidence that butt-headed prejudice has no rhyme or reason. It’s just a kind of free-flailing tendril of idiocy that doesn’t really care what it latches onto. Now that I know I can’t do anything to personally eradicate prejudice on a worldwide scale, the pressure’s kind of off, isn’t it? End of aside.)

When you’re done laughing at “Prejudice,” switch off the part of your brain that understands English and listen to the song again, solely as a piece of music. That’s some powerful late-Seventies arena-style singer-songwriting, isn’t it? Most of Minchin’s songs remind me of one of Jeff Koons’ monumental-scale balloon animals. It’s a colorful item of obvious whimsy. But the thing’s twenty feet tall and it’s made out of stainless steel. The thing is structurally-sound, thanks to the impressive amount of engineering and fabrication work that went into its production.

“White Wine In The Sun” is a pretty, pretty song. It packs a punch, too. The best way to describe it is as “A Christmas song for nice people who happen to be atheists.”

I hope my atheist friends aren’t offended by that turn of phrase, which I’ve been in love with from the moment I first encountered it. I saw it in a post by an atheist, who used it to describe his default appraisal of religious folk: “Nice people who happen to believe in God.” It’s perfect. I think this basic form describes the vast majority of people.

First and foremost: “Nice People.” Regardless of what sort of jewelry we wear around our necks or what kind of bumper sticker we put on our cars, we know that we all agreed to at least try to be nice to each other, as one of the simple Terms And Conditions associated with the license for human DNA. If you’re upset about that, then you should have read the whole document before clicking the “I have read and agree to all of these terms” and then hitting “Install.”

Then comes the “…who happen to…” bit. However you choose to perceive the big picture of our reality, primarily you’d like to be define yourself as a Nice Person, instead of being perceived through the weird veil of a clumsy adjective. Further, there’s no need to describe atheism or religion in anything other than a neutral tone.

At its core, though, this construct underscores the premise that a nice person is a nice person because of who they are and how they treat people. Maybe their nature has been positively shaped by religion, maybe it’s been positively shaped by rational influences (again, going solely from a non-judgmental dictionary definition of “rational”). So long as they’re nice people, what does it matter?

The singer of “White Wine In The Sun” kicks the song off by saying “I really like Christmas.” Then he calmly states his objections to religious holidays. And although he makes several valid points against religion specifically, they’re gentle and subtle ones, and he’s only mentioning them in passing.

He saves his intense emotions for the main bit, where he explains why he treasures this holiday: he gets to spend time with his parents, his brothers and sisters, and his Gran, all together in the same place. He’s filled with gratitude for this regularly-scheduled day filled with warm feelings of love and support and family and belonging.

What a marvelous sense of perspective. An airliner pumps tons of greenhouse gases into the air as it crisscrosses the country. But it brings you home. On that basis, you can only be grateful that it exists.

“White Wine In The Sun” is a live recording and the song cast an obvious spell on the audience. The audience had heard a dozen funny songs before this one. During the beginning of “White Wine,” they chuckled at all of the right parts. Those who had never heard the song before, however, seemed to grow a bit uneasy; the funny bits were more like clever observations than actual jokes. And soon, the funny bits disappeared entirely. You can almost hear the thoughts going through their heads: “Is Tim…being sincere? Is he trying to make me feel a genuine, cathartic emotion? Hey, where’s that crying sound coming from? Crap! It’s me!

Sure, I’ll admit it: I was powerfully moved when I reached the core of the song, and he started singing about his family. I’m very sad to say that I’ve shared my last Christmas ever with some of the people on that list of “Dad and brothers and sisters and Gram and Mom.” I still miss those people a lot, even years after losing them.

Just when I was thinking “I can’t believe I got through that without crying,” he started singing about his daughter. And that, dear readers, was when I was very, very glad that I was alone in the room.

I absolutely freakin’ love Tim Minchin.

Sample “White Wine In The Sun” on the Amazon MP3 store. Everything you buy on Amazon after clicking that link, whether it’s a 99-cent music track of a $7000 wristwatch, will result in my receiving a kickback in the form of Amazon store credits…which I promise to spend on foolish and wonderful things.

Amazon Advent 02 – “Mr. Fancy Pants” by Jonathan Coulton

Album Art

Mr. Fancy Pants

Jonathan Coulton

JoCo Looks Back

Genre: Pop

“Not many people know this…but the Führer was a terrific dancer.”

So wrote no less an authority on European history than Dr. Melvin James Kaminsky, in his seminal work, “The Producers.” It goes to show you that typecasting is a widespread problem that extends far, far beyond the fields of entertainment. The public, and the media in particular, like to lock a notable person into a single, oversimplified container. Apparently, there just isn’t enough bandwidth in the zeitgeist for “He led a nation into madness, a world into a bloody, extended war, and 11,000,000 souls to extermination” and “He understudied the role of Billy Crocker in the original 1934 New Haven out-of-town tryout of ‘Anything Goes’.”

Jonathan Coulton is much like Hitler, in this (sole) (as far as we know) respect. The Amazon MP3 Store and iTunes have both chosen to categorize him in the overly-nondenominational but entirely reasonable category of “Pop.” But mainstream commentators often try to narrow that down. They usually fail. Is he…a musical comedian? A satirist? Is he a narrowcaster of “nerd folk music”?

Hmph. Honestly. Why not just call him a musician, and leave it at that? Pigeonholing him is pointedly unnecessary, as demonstrated by…well, pretty much every Jonathan Coulton track available.

He has a remarkable felicity with lyrics, clicking words together as though that’s the way they should have appeared to begin with. I have to believe that when I plucked “Anything Goes” out of the air for a cheap joke, it was a case of divine ordinance. Coulton seems to inject the same kind of playful, effortless flavor into his lyrics as Cole Porter.

(It was either Divine Ordinance or an expression of my offhand genius. But surely that’s for future generations to confirm.)

And to anyone who disagrees with my high opinion of Coulton as a composer: I challenge you to listen to “Mr. Fancy Pants” and not be humming the tune for the whole rest of the week. We speak of “earworms.” Well, a Coulton melody is more like a Babel Fish. Yup, it winds its way through the ear canal and won’t leave, and it might creep you out a little at first. But soon, and forever after, you’re glad it’s in there.

His tunes and lyrics play together so well. There’s an construction in “The Future Soon” that I adore. Viz:

Last week I left a note on Laura’s desk
It said I love you, signed, anonymous friend
Turns out she’s smarter than I thought she was
She knows I wrote it, now the whole class does too

In the last line, “does” completes the rhyme with “was.” But there’s still that next word after it. As sung, it’s like that moment of weightlessness when a ball thrown in the air has arrived at the apex of its trajectory and is about to start its fall.

I’m sure there’s some sort of musicological terminology for that kind of thing, but it doesn’t matter and I can’t be bothered to look it up. I just think it’s great.

Above the technical stuff about his songs, there’s the fact that Jonathan Coulton does what every great songwriter does: he figures out how to use a song to underscore a simple, shared truth of the human experience.

In his live show, Coulton introduces “The Future Soon” as the thoughts of a 12 year old boy during the Eighties, lying in his bedroom and reading “Omni” magazine and thinking of the future. It’s a time when you’ve yet to figure out how to wield any power over your own destiny. At the same time, you can’t stop thinking about the future. The kid in this song is eager for what his life will be, when technology will have magically eliminated all of the unsolveable problems that stand between himself and what he wants.

(And then it gets a little out of hand and he starts describing what would probably make for an awesome epic doodle on his homeroom desk.)

The next developmental step for this kid is a (hopefully brief) period of impatient teenage anger. After that, a sense of entitlement will be replaced by one of enlightenment. It’s a wonderful moment of discovery when a young adult realizes he can set his goals even higher and go out and get everything he wants, without the need for bionic implants and a robot army.

But I didn’t choose “The Future Soon” as today’s song.


Um…okay: there’s this electronic beeping that starts around the bridge and repeats until the fade-out. It’s like the flashing lights in that one “Pokemon” cartoon. It triggers some kind of epileptic seizure in the part of my brain that controls my irritation; by the end, I find myself loading the song into Garage Band and seeing if there isn’t some EQ or filter I can apply to this awesome song to make the beeping less noticeable.

Instead, I chose “Mr. Fancy Pants,” which has much to recommend it. It has a bouncy melody. It has the word “Pants” in the title. And there’s a subtle, important point lurking within its brief tale of a man who is driven to be publicly acknowledged as the owner of the fanciest pair of pants in town.

Say a little prayer for Mr. Fancy Pants
The whole world knows
They’re only clothes
And deep inside
He’s sad

The first time I heard this song, I couldn’t help but think about the many times I’ve been on some kind of fan message board or another and saw a photo of a collector’s room that made me a little sad. Most of them don’t. But there are some that fill me with some small measure of pity.

Usually it’s a spare bedroom, filled with IKEA bookcases. Each bookcase has a half a dozen shelves, and each shelf is stuffed with “Star Wars” toys. Multiple copies of them, each in their original boxes and covered with a certain amount of dust that serves as the collection’s sole cataloguing system.

Or, it’s a room dedicated to comic book action figures and statues. I can imagine that this room was once a cheery museum of a productive hobby, way back when it was filled to about 20% of its current capacity. A chair, a sofa, and the ability read and watch TV surrounded by nifty things. But by the time the photo was taken, the collection was at the advanced stage where the room looks like the excavation of the terra-cotta army of Emperor Qin. Rows upon rows upon rows of figues and statues, packed so densely that they can only be perceived as a single crowd. How can any one of these objects deliver any pleasure to its owner?

Thus speaks a man whose house contains a decidedly nonzero number of Cold-Cast Porcelain Limited-Edition Collectible Statues. I, um, might be standing on shaky ground.

But, look: it’s a manageable number. When I see my Jim Lee “Batman” statue on the shelf, it holds my attention and gives me some joy. Ditto for my Artoo Detoo Cookie Jar (shelf above), my Death of The Endless statue (opposite set of shelves) and my California Originals Chewbacca stein (mantle). They sit in places in the office and living room where I might look up from my book or my keyboard. I see something pretty, and it makes me happy. Or it reminds me of a great story or a favorite creator, and it inspires me.

So those things are fine, I reckon. I feel like I can defend them. They’re evidence of a person who has hobbies and interests, and pursues those interests as part of a healthy, balanced life.

Once, my collecting…probably wasn’t Fine. For a year or two, I was so excited that there were new Star Wars action figures available for the first time since my childhood that I went slightly nuts. From that moment, we now fast-forward several years to the scene where I remove a dozen huge Toys-R-Us bags from a storage locker. Each one was filled with unopened toys and a certain kind of numb, remote shame.

As I was acquiring these toys, they gave me a temporary jolt of Happy Brain Chemicals. Almost immediately after, however, the Happy part was over for good and they became just a source of clutter. I didn’t look at them again and I wasn’t even particularly aware that I owned them.

I took those bags to my friendly local comic book retailer and swapped them for a boatload of store credit…which I drew upon for a mighty long time. I bought a whole bunch of terrific comics and trade paperbacks. They give me new joy every time I pick one up off the shelf and read it again.

I hope I’m not judging these kinds of collectors. Manic acquisition seems sad, that’s all. The things you own should mean something to you. I see the fantastic Brian Bolland-inspired “Wonder Woman” statue in Terra Cotta Warrior formation as part of someone’s immense collection and it just seems like such a waste. All by itself, the statue is a lovely object and it’d be a highlight in the room of any Wonder Woman fan. As part of a huge crowd, it’s meaningless, except as a show of force. “Look at all these statues I own! Come back in a month…I’ll own even more!”

Material things (even things designed specifically for acquisition and collecting) aren’t the problem. The problem comes when there’s a glaring divot in your life and you fill it with those material things, or a new habit, or with an empty goal such as “Get More Stuff.”

It sneaks up on you. There might come a time when your collection is no longer a solution to a small problem (“I need a hobby that allows me to relax and decompresss”)…but a distraction from a very large one.

I suspect that I was buying action figures because there was something missing from my life at that time. When that time passed, the action figures went into storage and I was glad for the extra space. I didn’t miss them a bit. Even during the height of my collecting, I could have lost them all in a fire and not really felt anything.

By contrast, if my 1977 Chewbacca tankard were to fall off the mantle and smash into smithereens, I’d be bummed. Supposedly, this tankard was a product that George Lucas wanted for his own use. It’s a beautiful thing and it makes me think of a movie that gave me a hell of a lot of joy during my childhood, and of a creator whom I greatly admire.

When I see some of these out-of-control collections (or a super-crazy-intense love of a movie or TV series) I worry about what happens to these people when the distractions are gone. It’s only when the room is completely empty that you finally can see the cracks in the walls and the gaps between the floorboards.

The whole world knows, it’s only clothes…and deep inside, he’s sad.

Okay, well, reading back, I must acknowledge the possibility that none of this was on Mr. Coulton’s mind when he wrote “Mr. Fancy Pants.”

But that’s kind of the point. Art that speaks to something fundamental doesn’t usually need to spell it right out. Usually, it’s the product of an artist making an observation about nothing in particular. But because the thing is of this world, and the creator is both an artist and a human, significances seep in.

I’ll conclude by shifting the tone and acknowledging that if I moved to a new town and saw posters for their annual Fancy Pants Parade, I’d feel as though I’d made a shrewd choice. The first year, I’d chuckle about it and I probably wouldn’t go to see the parade, though I would have entered the date into my calendar. I’d go see it the second year and snap photos.

Sometime before the third one, maybe I’d be in Dallas on business and I’d be walking around the outskirts and I’d happen along a costume rental shop that was closing its doors after 90 years in business and selling all of its stock. I’d chance across a pair of trousers that began its life as a pair of riding breeches in 1930 but which had been repurposed once every twenty years until it had become a dazzling layer cake of velvet and satin and sequins.

“If these people are asking anything less than $100 for these,” I would think, “Then this year’s trophy will, no doubt, be mine…Mr. Fancy Pants be damned.”

Is the Fancy Pants Parade followed by a Fancy Pants Dance at the VFW hall later? I hope so. I’ve been working on my dance steps for it since the first time I played this song in the privacy of my home.

I told you: it’s a damned catchy song.

As I’m sure you’ll agree once you click this link and sample it on the Amazon MP3 Store. Everything you buy on Amazon after following that link will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of Amazon store credits.

Which I promise to spend on foolish things.

Maybe fancy pants. Maybe a “Superman” statue.

Amazon Advent Calendar 2012: The Preamble

This can’t possibly be the first day of my annual Musical Advent Calendar, can it?

First objection: “The Advent season doesn’t begin until Sunday, December 2.” I’m not sure why this is your first objection.

If you’ve been sent here expecting additional guidance and insight about how to prepare yourself and your family for Celebration of the Nativity…wow, you have a terrible, terrible pastor. Does he drink? Or did you happen to hit him up for a recommendation just as he was about to hit up a recently widowed and always turbo-hot Zumba instructor?

Second objection: “You normally don’t start this until a few days before or after Thanksgiving.”

I suppose that’s true enough. I try very hard to maintain the illusion that this is all about offering you, the reader, a daily piece of music that’s eminently worth your attention, a glimmer of unexpected tonal beauty in what might otherwise be a dreary winter day. I’m so very eager to distract you from the realization that this is all about tricking you into clicking one of my Amazon affiliate links just before you were about to do some high-ticket holiday shopping. So eager, in fact, that some years I’m even willing to start the Advent Calendar several days after the highest-volume shopping period is long-gone.

And with that previous explanation, I’m trying to distract you from the realization that I often start the Advent Calendar late because other work gets in the way, and/or I skip a few days because I’m distracted by bright, shiny objects.

So this year, I’m trying something new: instead of tackling the Advent Calendar as a daily diary, I’ve started writing these entries months in advance. It’s August and I’m sitting in a Dunkin Donuts. As I write this, I can look across the store towards the racks of baked goods and I don’t see any novelty donuts frosted in autumn oranges or yellows, let alone holiday tones of bright red and green. All I can see are a lone rack that’s been topped with crumbled Oreo cookies. Does that ring a bell with any of you?

Yes, instead of tackling the Advent Calendar as a daily diary, I’ve decided to tackle it as…a daily diary.

I’m using Bloom Built’s rather awesome calendar-based journaling app “Day One” as my writing tool. It’s brilliant for this kind of thing. I pull up the calendar (which at the moment is a canvas of blank tiles), then I click on a date on the calendar, and then I start typing. When I go back to the calendar, that date has been colored in. Which means that I’ve completed my duty to God, country, and readership for that day.

(Excuse me, please. I’ve been thinking about those Oreo donuts nonstop for the past five sentences.)

(YUM. I very much recommend talking Superman into spinning the Earth backwards a couple of months and picking up a half dozen of these for you.)

(Licking fingers.)


This might be your first exposure to my annual Musical Advent Calendar, so I’ll kick things off with some background. Every day until Christmas, I select a different track and write about it. Most of these will be songs available from the Amazon MP3 Store, but I’ll also salt and pepper the list with some choice freebies. There isn’t much of a rhyme or reason to these picks. Each one is just something I really like, or at least something that can inspire a few hundred words of typing.

The Advent Calendar is my annual audit of the music I’d discovered during the previous year. It’s a form of archaeology and personal anthropology. I start by examining the three or four manually-assembled playlists that feed most of my casual listening. A couple of clicks quickly narrows it down to the songs that I added in 2012. Another sort of the list, based on number of plays and the number of times I skipped past the track during playback, identifies the true stars among this list of favorites.

It’s also the time when I try to spot obvious trends in my buying, and the obvious gaps in my musical tastes. I sure bought a lot of Old Country this year. Why did I only bought two or three tracks that anybody would broadly call “current”? I make a note to try to be a little more adventuresome, and try to buy some music that was released this decade.

(Let’s not go crazy. Let’s start with “this millennium” and see how that goes.)

Part of this archaeology project is the challenge of explaining and defending my choices. I don’t actually need to do either, of course. All one ever needs to do is love something sincerely.

But…well, take this track from the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. Why am I slightly ashamed to have it in my library? Hmm. This hesitance points out a disconnect between the person I am and the person I want everyone to perceive me to be. An Elevated individual tries to keep those two things closely synced. When the second gets irresponsibly ahead of the first, it only leads to stress, lies, bad decisions, and overall unhappiness.

Here we are at the end of Day One and Musical Advent Calendar 2012 is already a roaring success. In the sense that I’ve had a Diet Pepsi, a donut that was thoroughly shrapneled with jagged Oreo bits, and now I have a blue box over the first day in the calendar. Excellent, excellent.

The only thing missing today is an actual song recommendation. This would usually be the spot in the proceedings where I’d paste in a link to the track on the Amazon MP3 Store. These links (including that one) are embedded with my affiliate code and any purchases of any kind that you make after you click it will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of Amazon store credits.

I often spend these credits on things that help me with a column. When I reviewed the Google Nexus 7 tablet over the summer, for example, I bought nearly a hundred bucks’ worth of different USB accessories, trying to see exactly how far I could go in treating this little pocket-sized tablet like a full PC. The answer: very far! Keyboards, mouses, Ethernet adapters, USB adapters, everything. Cool. It’s always nice when I can do that without going deeply out-of-pocket.

I also use those credits to buy silly things that please me. The other day I wondered what I’d look like in a bowler hat. I checked Amazon. They sell bowler hats and they aren’t even all that expensive.

No, I didn’t buy myself a bowler hat. But I could have. And if I had, I would have had you people to thank for it.

(Now I’m thinking about that hat again.)

(Would it make me look interesting and dashing? You know, if I had a bowler hat, I could answer the door as the Mad Painter from “Sesame Street” this Halloween.)

I should probably end this and distract myself with a different project before I do something impulsive. See you tomorrow. In the meantime, check out previous years’ Advent Calendars:





And hey…Happy Labor Day!