Tag Archives: holiday

Treed

 

I decided to run a not-entirely-necessary errand in the city yesterday. I could have put it off until next week but I wanted an excuse to see the lights and the city tree — or at least a tree in the city of Boston — before Christmas.

This here is my kind of Christmas tree. It’s just a little bit lopsided, and the lights were hung with care, but not with obsessive precision. It’s charming and human and analog and friendly and 100% in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Sometimes, I look at holiday decorations and I can only imagine the sorts of arguments that broke out at every step of the process. It’s definitely the result of two or three highly-fussy people butting heads all day, with each one repeatedly insisting that the others were “doing it wrong” and sighing that “it’s up to me, alone, as always, isn’t it?”

Result: a very pretty house. And a catalogue of petty resentments that have almost, but not really, blown over when it’s time to decorate again next year.

(“Mom? It’s almost time to open gifts. Is Uncle Dave coming to Grampa and Gramma’s Christmas party?” “Shut up. But tell me: doesn’t Grampa’s inflatable Santa totally make much more sense there in the front yard, next to the mailbox? You’re not opening any presents until you agree that putting it close to the house, by the walk, would have been completely insane.“)

 

This was a Three-Tree Holiday Season for me. I seemed to be campaigning my way up the Eastern seaboard and checking off big city trees as I went. I saw the National Christmas Tree in DC. It was a perfect cone with such a precisely-laid grid of LEDs that I was a little disappointed that it didn’t blink over into a conical video ad for LG 4K HDTVs every six minutes. The Rockefeller Center tree is somewhere on the “amazing” spectrum, for sure. But it’s huge, and up on something that looks uncannily like an altar, and it seems to demand that you bow down before it. The fact that the approach is preceded by trumpeting angels and terminated by a huge golden man grasping fire adds to this off-putting “LAY THE BODY OF YOUR FIRSTBORN BEFORE ME AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE CAROLS” vibe.

The tree in Boston Common hits it right on the nose. Tall and proud, bright and beautiful, well worth the trip, and at no point is any reasonable person inspired to wonder how many additional teachers’ salaries could have been paid with the budget for that thing.

It was colder last night than I imagined it would be, and the steady drizzle made me regret using my daypack’s umbrella pouch to hold a camera monopod instead of the item the good people at Osprey Bags intended. I walked from Copley Square to South Station, spending time at the library, the Public Garden, the Common, and the shop windows at Downtown Crossing.

I found myself in a rather prayerful mood as I strolled through the evening mist, my hands clasped behind me. I was aided by the weather, I suppose. But I gave thanks for the people in my life, and I thought pleasant, comforting thoughts and enjoyed many fine memories of those people I’ve lost.

Plus, I arrived at South Station early enough to get a burrito at Chipotle before my train. All in all, it was a very good day.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Amazon Advent Calendar 2011: The Preamble

And so, this is Christmas…and what have you done?

I can only speak for myself. I’ve done a little advance gift shopping. I’ve given a smidgen of thought to making photo cards this year (but if I were to actually follow through on that, I’d be breaking a beloved holiday tradition that I’ve kept up my whole life). Let’s see. I also gave the kitchen a good cleaning, though that was really just something I would have, and should have, been doing anyway.

And I’ve assembled a new iTunes playlist entitled “2011 Advent Calendar Candidates.” This is the time of year when I look through all of the music I bought since last November and think “Holy mother of Great Zarquon! Did I honestly buy nothing but zither music and Tin Pan Alley songs that in one way or another attack every flavor of immigrant known to angry, simple-minded men of the 1910’s and Twenties?”

Which then sends me off to buy some new music. Because although my annual Musical Advent Calendar is unabashedly and unapologetically a showcase of my taste and music and mine alone…well, why pass up an opportunity for a little spin control.

“Look at some of these selections!” one will hopefully marvel. “Such breadth! This Ihnatko fellow has a hunger for discovery and an enthusiasm for all kinds of music…not just the stuff that he liked when he was a kid!”

(Which is a pretty ambitious lie. Whenever I need to create the impression that I have any clue about current popular music, I just download the latest “Weird Al” Yankovic album and check out the source tracks for his latest parodies. Mark my words, children: twenty years from now, Al will still be doing song parodies and you will use that tip.)

Anyway. Yes: Advent Calendar time. Every day between now and Christmas, I’ll be recommending a new track that’s available for download on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Why Amazon MP3? Because at the moment, it’s still — marginally — the best store from which to make purchases. The selection and prices are damned-near identical to what you’ll find in the iTunes Store. With the Amazon MP3 Downloader app installed, your purchases automatically land straight into your iTunes library, just like an iTunes purchases.

And here’s the kicker: iTunes Match doesn’t care where a track comes from. If you’ve subscribed, iTunes simply notes that a copy of The Captain And Tennille’s “Muskrat Love” has appeared in your library, noted to its own shock and horror that this same track is also available via iTunes, and presto, it’s instantly available for play on your iOS devices with no syncing necessary.

Meanwhile, your purchases also appear in Amazon’s cloud locker and you can play ’em through a webapp or an Android app. So you get two additional wins over buying stuff from iTunes.

Oh, yes, and then there’s the fact that all of my recommendations are quietly embroidered with my Amazon Associates ID. Now that you mention it, I suppose that I will get a small kickback from all of your Amazon purchases during that visit. Couldn’t have been further from my mind, honestly.

Mmm…yes, I probably had your indulgence up until the point where I unwisely chose to end that sentence with the word “Honestly.” Please strike that from the record.

Let’s just put that unpleasantness behind us. I should simply say that I sincerely believe two things: first, that Amazon is the best place to buy music from at the moment, for the reasons I’ve already stated; and second, that by the time the holidays are over I’d really, really like to have earned enough credits for an iPad 3.

Onward!

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 22: “Fairytale Of New York”

Fairytale Of New York

The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

The Best Of The Pogues

Genre: Alternative

Amazon MP3: Fairytale Of New York

There’s just a narrow window during which I can sling “Fairytale Of New York” into the Advent Calendar and I keep missing it, year after year.

To those of you who have asked: no, I don’t start putting a list together weeks in advance. I don’t have a list at all; I write it daily, “live” as it were, as a play in three acts:

Act I: Superawesome songs in general. I head straight for an iTunes Smart Playlist that automatically maintains my personal Billboard Hot 100 of high-rated, high-playcount tracks and look for likely candidates. I keep a particular eye peeled for tracks that I bought this year and which folks aren’t terribly likely to have heard before.

Act 2: (Let’s return to this in a moment.)

Act 3: Actual holiday-themed songs. As Christmas draws nearer, the tracks have to start passing an important test. If I were playing this on the Apple TV while trimming the tree, and neighbors stopped by unexpectedly with a festive bundt cake, would I immediately think “Oh, ****…how long have they been at the door hearing this song?” If I’d suddenly dive for the remote and desperately click forward to another song, dear God, any other song…then I prolly don’t want to include it in the Advent calendar. Not so close to the actual holiday, anyway.

The Advent Calendar always officially ends with my favorite Christmas song, presented without irony or smirk.

Act 2 is that brief period when I’m in the mood for real holiday-themed tunes, and there’s still enough air between today and December 25 that I don’t mind talking about a drunk in jail on Christmas Eve musing about how, hell, his alcoholism will probably kill him before New Year’s, let alone the next Christmas Eve.

But a Twitterer reminded me about this classic Pogues tune and I was instantly filled with regret. Yes, for failing to use this song year after year. And at least because at the time of that important Tweet, the next song was going to be one from the soundtrack to “The Christmas Shoes,” which is utterly the sappiest Christmas movie ever made. I’m not wrong in thinking the reason why the protagonist in “”Fairytale” got so violently drunk was because he saw parts of this Hallmark special.

No, wait: I must be wrong. Because if he’d just seen that show, he would quite simply have drunk himself straight into the grave and wouldn’t have survived to sing the song.

Check that. Sorry, wrong again: there isn’t enough alcohol to scrub away the stain left behind by “The Christmas Shoes.”

(Later, my sweeties…later.)

I’m not sure that most fans of “Fairytale” really get this song, due to the peculiar romanticism associated with a literate inebriate. Like the old man at the pub who’s wrapped in wool and sitting by the fire, making his stately way through a whiskey bottle, and telling you about lost loves, pages not yet written, opportunities lost, making it through to live another day and drink another night, et cetera.

Ah, but you see, the next morning, you’ll be at work, or with your family and friends, thinking about what a pleasant time you had listening to the man’s lyrical wisdom. At that same moment, the old man is still drunk somewhere, or he’s setting into motion the chain of events necessary for him to get drunk again. Maybe he’s even even planning a setlist of the stories he’ll tell at the tonight’s bar, to charm someone else into buying him a grade of alcohol that he hasn’t been able to afford since the days when he had a job and a family and friends.

“Fairytale Of New York” is a charming song. It becomes a powerful song when you really focus on the lyrics. Which isn’t easy, I admit. Shane McGowan has selfishly chosen to sing them in his natural voice. That’s fine for the Irish and the English, but isn’t it about time the needs of Americans were met, just once?

I urge you to head on over to the Pogues’ site and read the words. There is no joy in Poguesville; Mighty Casey has passed out. This isn’t a case of a man who spends a Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, thinking about failed relationships and missed opportunities, convinced that this is the last one he’ll spend aboveground.

No, clearly, this is a man who spends every Christmas Eve this way. Maybe even every day. He’s locked in a cycle and will never break out of it. His life is a series of wounds that have scarred over themselves so thickly that he’s barely even aware of that he keeps cutting himself in the exact same places day after day.

But that’s not us.

I hope that’s not us.

If it’s us, I hope we get some help.

When you don’t focus on the lyrics, you wind up dismissing “Fairytale Of New York” as merely a charming Irish song that serves as an edgy counterpoint to the vacuous jingle bells being rung at every mall. That denies the Pogues their due. “Fairytale” is a satisfying essay which presents a series of basic observations, while having enough respect for the listener to leave the final lessons unsaid.

And just like the drunken old man in the pub, the lyrics are…well, lyrical. I call your attention to the ending:

He: I could have been someone

She: Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you

He: I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

I wonder what became of that girlfriend. Is she spending that same Christmas Eve in another drunk tank somewhere? Is she dead? Or did she have a transformative moment of shocking self-awareness that set her free?

Hmm. See, the trouble goes beyond a simple lack of self-awareness. It’s important to be able to observe yourself and your choices dispassionately but I’m certain that most drunks are perfectly aware of what their drinking has cost them. The missing factor is usually Hope…an utterly irrational but critically-important belief that things can get better.

Which is why I rather enjoy Act Three of the Advent Calendar.

Hope is generally a bear market, both in its practice and its promotion. It’s quite a relief to be able to spend a few weeks talking about peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind without having to follow it up with a YouTube of some skateboarder getting hit in the nuts by a parking meter, just to make sure people don’t think you’re all sappy.

Even in the Holiday season, I’m not such a sap that I won’t encourage you to buy this track via Amazon MP3, which will put a few pennies in my pocket:

Amazon MP3: Fairytale Of New York

And yet I still offer you the iTunes Store link as an alternative. I guess I really am just an old softie at heart.