Tag Archives: Darlene Love

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.

Programming Note For Those With Taste

The David Letterman Christmas Spectacular — which isn’t the official title of the last new Letterman show before Christmas but absolutely ought to be — is airing this Friday night. Please check your calendar, set your DVR, wind your watches, block your hats, and nog any eggs whose palatability could be improved by such a procedure.

This show is a beloved holiday tradition in my house. For decades, the show’s followed this same template:

Paul Shaffer tells the story of a Cher Christmas special that aired in the 70s, and then does his impression of Cher singing “O Holy Night”:

Jay Thomas comes on and goes into what Dave has endorsed as The Greatest Talk Show Guest Story Ever Told:

And then Jay and Dave compete in the Late Show Holiday Quarterback Challenge. They take turns chucking footballs at the meatball on top of the Late Show Christmas tree until one of them knocks it off.

“Why is there a meatball on the top of the tree?” you may well ask. You may also ask why it’s on top of a souvenir Empire State Building that’s on top of a large cheese pizza. The original reason for it is no longer relevant because, like all family traditions, the correct answer is now “Because it’s Christmas. And at Christmastime, we always put a cheese pizza on top of the tree, and then cover the top spiky branch with a souvenir of the Empire State Building, and then plop a giant meatball on top of the whole thing.”

Then there’s a guest, and then there’s the moment the whole show has been building towards: Darlene Love sings “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)”.

There’s such obvious joy on every square foot of that stage. Chorus, strings, extra horns, the blonde curly-haired keyboardist who supplements Paul in the keyboard pit every time an arrangement on the show calls for four hands (I can’t believe I couldn’t find her name on Google), the fake snow, the special lighting…it’s obvious that the whole show derives enormous pride and pleasure in these three or four minutes. As well they should!

[Edited to add: reader Tim Schwab suggests that the band’s second keyboardist is Bette Sussman. Yup.]

Am I spoiling it for you by embedding all of these clips? Of course not. Is it spoiling your family Christmas party to know in advance that your Aunt is going to play “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” on a concertina, that your grandfather will wear the same Santa tie that he wears every year, and that your Mom will be bringing those mini pecan pies that she bakes inside muffin tins? Of course not. I look forward to this for weeks for the same reason why I usually order the same sandwich at my favorite diner. I loved it the last time and I know I’m going to love it the next time.

I’m informed that Jay Thomas won’t be telling his story or hurling a pig product at a cow product this year. Dash it. Well, I’m sure that they’ll find a way to use that time that will provoke Letterman fans to say “Hey, remember that one Christmas when they…” for many years to come.

I’ve always felt some sympathy for the one “normal” guest booked for that show. Everyone else on that stage has an established, eagerly-anticipated part to play. The guest probably feels like they’re joining their boyfriend or girlfriend’s family Christmas dinner for the first party. Should they join in on the traditions, or wait until they feel entitled?

This year, they’ve got Kristen Wiig, who clearly knows how to make some funny in any situation. Actually, by this time in the “Anchorman 2” promotional campaign, I reckon she can make some funny and plug the movie in any situation up to and partially through the Biblical apocalypse. If Dave got raptured during the interview, she’d probably slide into the empty chair and use some of her anchordesk material, barely even noticing the angels as they cleave their way through the audience with swords of purifying fire.

(You have to admit: we’ve been hearing an awful lot about this movie for a very long time.)

When Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” he intended to document and popularize ways to celebrate the holiday. It was like one of those Martha Stewart Christmas magazines, only the polar opposite of smug and insufferable. The sole downside of that book is that it’s probably guilted a lot of people into trying to honor the Dickens tradition instead of anticipating and enjoying events and celebrations that have some personal relevance.

I do not go caroling, I don’t cook a goose, and though I’ve attended lots of Christmas parties, I’ve never polished and buffed my calves in advance in hopes that they would “shine like moons”, as Old Mr. Fezziwig’s did.

But I do watch the David Letterman Christmas Show. I’m keeping Christmas my own way and am made quite glad of it.

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) by Darlene Love (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 21)

Album Art

Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)

Darlene Love

The Concert Of Love

Genre: Rock

Yesterday, I thrilled you all with an English paper I wrote during the second semester of my third Sophomore year in high school. I got a solid “B” on it and I’m real pleased with how it turned out. I think this essay heralded to my teachers and parents that I’d finally turned an intellectual corner and that I’d probably graduate sometime before I hit my 30’s, despite the premonitions of my guidance counselor and the unofficial motto of the school.

Listening to yesterday’s selection (Patrick Stewart’s one-man adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”) is indeed one of my Most Cherished Holiday Traditions. Tonight’s edition of the Letterman show is another. They’ve never titled the last show before Christmas as “The Dave Letterman Christmas Special” but yeah, that’s clearly what it is.

You could even say that the Dave Letterman Christmas Special is more organic than any overtly-declared Christmas Special starring Andy Williams or He-Man And She-Ra. Every Dave Letterman Christmas Special consists of several reliable highlights:

  • Darlene Love sings “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home) accompanied by a chorus and enough additions to the CBS Orchestra to make the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater look like the final party scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life”;
  • Jay Thomas tells his Lone Ranger story;
  • The Holiday Quarterback Challenge, in which Dave and Jay (Thomas) take turns hurling footballs at the Late Show Christmas Tree until one of them knocks the giant calcified meatball off the top off the Empire State Building that serves as the tree’s angel for the week of the holiday;
  • Paul Shaffer does his impression of Cher singing “O Holy Night” during one of her Seventies TV specials.

Dave might also tell the story about the time a stagehand cursed out Tom Brokaw during a staff holiday party, though this seems to have become more of a “Christmas week” tradition. Like the appearance of a fresh-cut tree in the living room, Dave saying “Why don’t you go **** yourself?” in a gruff voice is a giddiness-inducing sign that Christmas is near.

The cursing is just another data point supporting the argument that the Dave Letterman Undeclared Christmas Special is more like a family holiday party than a network holiday show. A good family Holiday party where the rundown of elements grew over time through an eager unspoken mutual consent, as opposed to someone reading some damned article in some damned magazine fronted by some damned lady with her own talk show and then forcing the whole family to bend to this madwoman’s insane will.

Why, exactly, is it important to celebrate the season by knocking a softball-sized meatball from the top of a Christmas tree? Well, why was it important in our house that my Dad hang up an old “Happy Halloween” decoration with the word “Halloween” covered up with a bit of paper with “Christmas” scrawled on it? He did it for a laugh one year, then he did it again the next year…and then it became so closely-associated with this time of year that it came into its own. Dave and Jay knock the meatball off the tree because it’s the Christmas show. No further explanation is required.

The second reason why you could describe The Dave Letterman Undeclared Christmas Special as “organic” is because the term is so carelessly-defined and its usage is so sloppily-enforced by government regulators. It can be applied to just about anything, regardless of its content or how it’s produced.

Anyone would agree that “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” is the high point of the show and possibly the highlight of the whole year. Here’s a great behind-the-scenes video (made by Letterman staffers Jay Johnson and Walter Kim) of all the work and pride that goes into this part of the show:

The highlight of the video is a full presentation of the number, assembled as a seamless montage of annual performances. Take some time to look at the faces of the performers. Look for Paul Shaffer in particular, pounding away at the baby grand with an expression akin to a silent shriek of absolute glee.

When I say “Every year, I’m at the edge of my seat when the song starts and I have goosebumps by the end,” I’m telling the literal truth. When I say “Every year, there’s nothing that will keep me from being home from 11:35 to 12:35 to watch it as it airs,” ok, that’s kind of a lie because my DVR is exceptionally reliable and unlike dinner with friends, it’s just as good when you’re watching it on video instead of experiencing it at the same time as everybody else.

But it’s true that the Letterman Undeclared Christmas Special is a genuine beloved holiday tradition. It’s just a TV show and yet it’s not just a TV show. Watching it is part of a process that connects me to a mood and a spirit that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life at around this time. It’s a reminder that this species has an exceptionally good core, despite occasional discouragements to the contrary, and overall it leaves me quite favorably-inclined towards recommending to my superiors that we keep your planet around for at least another couple of dozen years.

Buy or try “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on the Amazon MP3 Store. You don’t need to guess why I prefer this live version to the original recording. I’ve embedded my Amazon Associates ID in the link; anything you buy on Amazon after clicking it results in a small kickback to me in the form of store credits, which I will then spend on gloriously foolish things.

(In the spirit of the season, of course.)

(“In the spirit of the season” is yet another one of those poorly-regulated phrases that can be used almost anywhere.)