Cheerful Thoughts About Christmas. Enough, Already!
By Richard Flohil.
As I’m writing this, it’s November 30.
One of our sad commercial radio stations in Toronto is already playing “Christmas music” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The shopping malls have already installed their massive holiday decorations. The downtown department stores have already spent more on Christmas window displays than they plan to spend on sales staff. Large fat men are gluing white beards to their faces so they can play Santa at the local mall. Michael Bublé is on top of the charts, again, with a seasonal album that he launched several years back. And we’ve already had our first snow storm; lovely for ten minutes, and wet, brown, salt-soaked shoe-rotting slush immediately.
That’s the premature holiday picture in Canada. If you’re reading this in Australia it’s mid-summer, and Santa is probably wearing shorts. If you’re in the UK, it’s probably raining.
And my rent was due yesterday…
My dyspeptic view of Christmas and other holidays that occur in late December (Kwanzaa, and, usually Hanukkah, celebrated early this year) is that they all seem to start way too soon. First we get Thanksgiving (earlier in Canada than it’s celebrated in the U.S.), then we get Hallowe’en, and in Britain Guy Fawke’s Day (November 5) and before November’s finished we get “Black Friday” which is a several-day excuse for retailers to flog a lot of merchandise at discounted prices.
And the minute Hallowe’en and Black Friday are done, the Christmas onslaught begins in earnest. No hope for us – we will tap our credit and debit cards, aware that we are all going into hock, to be wakened in January when the credit card bills come in.
If Christmas was originally a religious celebration it isn’t now; it’s just the most important holiday to be celebrated with the excessive expenditure of money — and most of us have a limited amount of that to spend.
All that said, here are some ideas — with modest price-tags — of things with which will help bring the joys of the season to you.
First up, some YouTube links that will get you in the mood.
Leon Redbone/Dr. John:
The Tractors (with the Canadian Pacific holiday train):
Robert Earl Keen
Next, some music related books:
RICHARD THOMPSON Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding my Voice 1957-1975
Thompson was a founding member, while still a teenager, of the seminal British folk group, Fairport Convention. This autobiography is alternatively funny, sad, frank, elusive, informative and an excuse to discover (or rediscover) one of the best bands ever to come out of Britain.
WILLIAM KING Talk! Conversations In All Keys This is the second of three fascinating books of transcribed interviews King (Toronto-based journalist, pianist, and radio host) has done with Canadian and international music people — in this case, mostly business folk. (Disclaimer: one of more than 90 interviews in this 570-page book is with this writer.)
PETER GURALNICK Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music & Writing
Guralnick’s biographies of Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips are all superb volumes; his books with shorter pieces on a wide variety of “Americana” artists are equally fine, Here he writes about his personal relationships with his subjects, including Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard, Howling Wolf, Tammy Wynette, Ray Charles and many more.
KAT GOLDMAN Off the Charts: What I Learned From my Almost Fabulous Life in Music
This Toronto singer and songwriter has had a couple of breaks, but hasn’t made a sustainable career in music. This is a short, snappy, 101 basic course in what can go right and wrong in a music career. If you know someone who wants to start a music career — your son or daughter, perhaps? — you should give them this book.
Next, chilling with Netflix
That phrase, “chilling with Netflix,” is teenage-speak for making out in their room with some TV on in the background while the grownups have gone off to some party. So here are some shows you might care to chill out to when the kids have got more important things to do, like homework…
THE BEATLES Get Back (Disney channel).
The most hyped music documentary of all time — and certainly the longest at a little short of nine hours — is a must-watch for anyone who is involved with pop music as a player, a business person or as a fan. I’ve only seen the first two hours so far, and it’s fascinating to watch four musicians, at he height of their fame, create and recreate some of the most memorable songs in history.
AMERICAN MASTERS Inventing David Geffen (Netflix).
Geffen is one of the very few music business people who is a billionaire. Tough, ruthless, gay, something of a bullshit artist and a fascinating human being. A revealing, fascinating story of a kid who wangled a job in a music agency’s mail room — and who went on to work with a who’s-who gathering of superstars, including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Jackson Browne and dozens more.
SUMMER OF SOUL (Hulu).
Astonishing footage of a series of a series of concerts held in Harlem in 1969, featuring (among many, many others), Sly & The Family Stone, B.B. King, The Staples Singers, Nina Simone, The Fifth Dimension…. Gladys Knight and the Pips would have stolen the film, but for the utterly astonishing duet between Mahalia Jackson and a 20-year-old Mavis Staples.
AMERICAN MASTERS Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (Netflix).
The brilliant, confusing, elusive, strange artist has rarely been “explained” as well in this affectionate documentary by Martin Scorsese. If you ever hummed a Dylan song, quoted a Dylan line in a conversation, or bought one of his records, you have to watch this film.
And one more thing:
Starting on December 15, begin wishing friends, family, strangers Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays. Then, and only then, start making a Christmas list and figuring a budget; when you’ve done that, cut the list and the budget in half.
And join the fray. It’ll only last 10 days — and then you can figure out what 2022 is going to turn out like.
Better than 2021, I fervently hope.
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Richard Flohil is a semi-retired Canadian music business veteran, who tries to write something interesting every month for The Sound Cafe…