Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Top 5 Christmas Songs

Every year for the past oh, five years or so, I create a CD of Christmas music for the folks I work with. The first couple of years I solicited my coworkers for their favorite Christmas songs and this, of course, lead to me completely hating the CDs I was burning...this is because most people have wretched taste when it comes to Christmas music. Too many people claimed that Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas' was their favorite song, and that is just WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! Therefore, three Christmas seasons ago I decided to just give people CDs of Christmas songs I thought they should like. This worked out because:

A - I had a much better time creating the CDs because I was able to avoid listening to absolute shite selections from Mannheim Steamroller and the aforementioned Mariah Carey.

B - I wasn't tempted to fling the CDs in utter disdain into the faces of the recipients...that just isn't Christmas like, now is it?

C - I have impeccable taste and this not only makes me an internet and teen sensation, but also a fine creator of Christmas CDs.

So, now you are wondering just what are my favorite Christmas songs...I know I'd be losing sleep if I were on the other end of this fascinating blog post. I won't trouble you with the complete Christmas 2010 play list and will winnow this down to my top five. This list may look familiar to the nine readers of my last blog, it hasn't changed much...and number 1 may require its own post altogether. We'll just see how this works out...

5. 'Do You Hear What I Hear?' - Vince Gill: Ya know, Vince Gill is kind of a tool...and a home wrecker as well (see: Grant, Amy), but he has an amazing voice and something great always happens when he picks up a guitar. I adore his version of this's sweet and pure and his voice fits the arrangement perfectly. He has complete and total respect for the sentiment and meaning of the lyrics...which is a complete 180 from the total disrespect he had for his and Amy Grant's wedding vows to their previous spouses. Zing!

4. 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' -Tom Jones & Cerys: This is probably the only Christmas song where the female character is slipped a mickey or a roofie in her drink. In fact, all of the words attributed to the male character read as if they were cribbed from the Date Rape Playbook...and it just wouldn't be Christmas without Tom Jones forcing himself on someone. Oh, I kid...a little. With that said, this is a fantastic version of this song. Tom Jones is in full blown swingin' Sixties mode, the horns are blaring in the background, and Cerys's smokey growl of a voice has just enough playful kitten in it to make the listener understand how a good girl wound up in Tom's bachelor lair.

3. 'Christmas Wrapping' - The Waitresses: I remember first hearing this song in my craptacular bedroom in my house up on Mile Hill Road in Port Orchard. I loved it the moment that rollicking bass line kicked in and Patty Donahue's voice laid over the top of it like marmalade on wheat toast. What I especially dug about it was the way the song told a story that met up with a happy and ironic conclusion at an all night grocery store. Forgetting the cranberries had never been so fortuitous. It took me forever to find the EP this song was on, in fact, I was in my early 20's before I tracked it down. Before that I was at the mercy of radio stations and a horrible cassette recording I made the same winter I heard this song.

2. 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' - Band Aid: I could probably write 2,000 words about why I love this song, and that excludes the whiskey fueled episode at a company Christmas party in 1998. You know, the one I reenacted the video and sang this entire song while white-knuckling a fifth of Jack Daniels like Jimmy Page in '73 before Led Zeppelin took the stage at Madison Square Garden. Ah, good times. Anyhoo, to boil it down to it's essence, this is just a great song that completely holds up over time. While the artists behind this read like a who's who of 80's pop stars in the 'Where Are They Now?' file, the song and the heartfelt conviction behind it can still be heard today. Every time I hear this song I feel like digging through the boxes of magazines in my garage for my collection of Smash Hits. 'Do They Know It's Christmas' is the greatest contemporary Christmas song ever recorded.

1. 'The Little Drummer Boy' - Lou Rawls: Okay, I think I can plow through this without getting too emotional about it. There was a stretch of time after my father and mother divorced where me, my brother, and mom were poor....we are talking Dickensesque poor. We weren't quite beggers, but I tell ya, it was close. My father cut a deal with my mom - he would shell out the bare minimum in child support for two kids ($34 a month for each of us) in exchange for paying for my mom to fly to Texas with me and my brother. She either took the deal or she would be stuck in Michigan with no family or friends to lean on after the divorce was final. My mom agreed to the deal because she literally had no one in Michigan that would help her out and she wasn't all that great when it came to speaking the King's English. Michigan didn't really have a thriving Hispanic community in the early 70's. So, one day I went from living in a house with my mom, dad, and brother to living in a rank welfare hotel downtown El Paso. And it was rank. We had to share the only bathroom with four other families and there was nothing but a hot plate to cook on...not that we had much food. Everyday my mom would wake us up and take me and my brother to the welfare daycare while she tried to find work. My breakfast for the next 13 months was a bowl of oatmeal mush. Lunch was always one graham cracker and a steamed hot dog with no bun. Every other day we were given a dixie cup of Kool Aid, otherwise it was powdered milk from a pitcher that may have been cobbled together from petri dishes. I don't know if 4 year old kids can be depressed, but I seriously hated my life. I missed my father and didn't understand why we had to leave our house and most of our clothes and all of our toys behind. On top of that, we were living in a welfare hotel with parolees and other miscreants.

By the time Christmas rolled around I was about as close to suicidal as a 4 year old could get and I just felt worse the closer we got to Christmas Day as there was not much to look forward to. We were broke and my mom did not even have enough money to buy my brother (he was two at the time) proper diapers. Mom had to get real creative to stretch what little money we had when it came to a lot of stuff. Suffice it to say, I wasn't much in the Christmas mood. I just wanted my family back together and to go back home. (Sidenote: Back in the early to mid-70's a bunch of studies were released that stated divorce didn't hit kids as hard as it did adults. I'd like to find those super geniuses and punch them in the throat. Divorce effed me up in all kinds of ways and that event had an obvious impact on my entire life. In fact, every person I knew growing up with divorced parents were scarred emotionally.)

Then on Christmas Eve something spectacular happened. All of the kids at the daycare were shuffled over to the church next door where we were served a proper lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk. Chocolate milk!!! It tasted like pure unconditional love after weeks of the powdered milk we usually received. We also received a sliver of pumpkin pie for was like the loaves and the fishes, it was a minor miracle to have real food. After lunch the nuns rolled out a projector and we watched 'The Little Drummer Boy'. Now, I don't know if the church purposely chose the story of a poor boy to show to a bunch of tatty welfare kids, but it worked out pretty well. The tale really stayed with me, and so did the song...especially the line about being a poor boy too and having no gifts for baby he played his drum for Him. I was the happiest I had been in months....and then it got even better. Santa showed up, and he had gifts! One by one our names were read off and were escorted up to Santa by one of the nuns. When it was my turn I was nervous and excited and happy and giddy...I was handed a wrapped present that I carefully carried back to my seat. I studied the wrapping paper, which was only red tissue paper, but it was the most beautiful paper I had ever seen in my life...I peeled it away to the boxed toy it concealed...a Fisher Price Little People School Bus. It was magnificent. I cradled the bus in my arms the rest of the day and all the way home. My brother received a bunch of plastic dinosaurs, which probably wasn't the best gift for a 2 year old, but still....when we got back to our sh*tty hotel room with one bed and a malfunctioning hot plate, I played with my school bus for hours while my brother chewed on his plastic dinosaurs. That bus was and always will be the greatest Christmas present I have ever received.

I relive that day every time I hear 'The Little Drummer Boy'. That was the day that I learned that there are kind people out there, strangers that took the time to make a very sad little boy happy....and I have to be honest, there are times when I look around at all that I have today, when I look at my daughters and my heart literally aches from all of the love I feel for them that I wonder if maybe, just maybe, that Christmas Eve 36 years ago made all of this possible. I would like to think so.

My daughters don't know this story yet, my middle girl is the same age I was when it youngest the same age as my brother. Sometime soon, before Christmas this year, I am going to play 'The Little Drummer Boy' and tell my oldest daughter why that song means so much to me...and I am going to thank the kind and thoughtful souls that shined some light into my life that day.

I am also going to thank my mom for working and sacrificing so much to make sure we escaped the prison that is the welfare system. She could have given up, but she wanted us to have more. So she worked horrible jobs and saved enough money to get us to California where there was more opportunity and where she met my step dad...and things worked out pretty well for all of us...except for those dinosaurs my brother got, he chewed the tails off of all of them.

Merry Christmas to all 7 of my readers...if you are still around!


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  2. Jesse,
    Any chance you will re-create your Band-Aid rendition for us sometime? :P Seriously, thank you for sharing your story. Brought a tear to my eye it did.

    (edited to correct my crappy grammar - damn you teary eyes!)

  3. oh my GOD I am reading this crying my eyes out, Aaron thinks I am going crazy, and the boys are upset that mama is crying...Jesse. In 33 years, I NEVER HEARD ABOUT THIS.... WOW, I am so touched, and humbled.. I love you so much

    Your sister.... Michelle