Christmas Comes Early in America

menorah tree

When my niece and her friend walked in the door a couple of nights ago, I could tell these young ladies were all giggly about something.  Turns out the friend had spontaneously started singing a Christmas carol, which got them all exuberant about the upcoming holiday season.  I expressed approval of such positive thoughts, but what stuck in my mind is:  We still have a couple of weeks to go until Halloween; isn’t it a bit early to be thinking about Christmas?

Apparently not.

cornucopia

Traditionally, the holiday season in the United States kicks off the day after Thanksgiving (known to retailers as Black Friday), the biggest shopping day of the year.  Just after midnight, the “door buster” sales begin, the success of which determines whether many businesses make it or break it for the entire year.  I never cease to be amused at the lines of people extending out from the doors of the big box stores, (im)patiently waiting all night (and sometimes comically consuming their Thanksgiving dinners) in their lawn chairs and sleeping bags.

As the years go by, however, it seems that the holiday season begins earlier and earlier, the rotten economy notwithstanding.  After all, the survival of retail sales is at stake, so every store will be sure to do its utmost to let the public know that Christmas is just around the corner, by golly.  Let’s get the children in a parent-annoying frenzy as early as possible.  All you kids out there, get off the freakin’ PlayStation and write your wanna-wanna and gotta-have lists for Santa immediately.  This will give you plenty of time to add to and lengthen your lists so that your parents and assorted relatives will have no choice but to buy, buy, buy and thereby save the American economy from going to wrack and ruin.

To me, the holiday season begins whenever I hear the first Christmas song while out in public.  Some years this happens over my car radio when some zealous DJ is suddenly overcome with a burst of holiday feeling.  One year it happened right after we sat down to eat at Outback Steakhouse, when the grating rock music they tend to play suddenly switched over to Madonna performing her version of “Santa Baby.”  Another year it happened while I was taking a dump in a Burger King men’s room and what should I hear over the public address system but the opening notes of “Silent Night” being crooned by Bing Crosby.

You never know where it will happen, but one thing is constant:  It always takes me by surprise.  And my first thought is always the same:  No, no, not yet!  It’s only October!  Can’t you people at least wait until November
1?  You know, the day after Halloween?

jack

And so, two days after my niece and her friend brought the issue to my attention, it happened.  The 2013 holiday season officially began on October 16 as I pushed a shopping cart through Wal-Mart.  This had nothing to do with the store’s choice of music-to-buy-by, either.  No, my wife and I were in the baby aisles looking for diapers for my grandniece when I had the bad luck to hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” blaring out of a Fisher-Price display.  Tag, I’m it!

Sigh.

You know what they say:  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

And so, conceding to the inevitable, I have Michael Bublé singing a jaunty version of “Holly Jolly Christmas” through my late night headphones.

Luckily for me, music closer to the holiday traditions of my own faith are more readily available now than ever.  And so I am thrilled and delighted to have discovered Matisyahu (the singing Chasid from Brooklyn) performing “Happy Hanukkah (I Wanna Give a Gift to You)” in his wonderful reggae style.  Thanks, Spotify (and YouTube).

And to you, all my readers, I say merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and, uh, trick or treat!  And to all a good night.

 

My American Idol

mike

Let me tell you a little about my nephew (exercising uncle’s bragging rights today).  This country boy, a good-looking single guy in his early twenties, shares a small house with a roommate and a menagerie of dogs and cats.  Lately, he has been doing things such as:

  • Helping to dig trenches and lay pipe at his grandmother’s house
  • Babysitting his little niece all week so his sister can attend her college classes
  • Running errands and making deliveries for his mother

I am very proud of his dedication to his extended family, and it should come as no surprise that he has had some good things come into his life recently:

  • Following an extended period of unemployment, he was just hired for an excellent job.
  • He has advanced through the first two rounds of the Tri-Counties Talent Search and will be a contestant in the sing-off finale for a $1000 prize on November 2.
  • One of his dogs recently blessed him with a litter of 7 puppies.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t such a great thing.  Particularly since one of his other dogs summarily killed two of the puppies in a fit of canine jealousy.  And also since he returned home today to find that mama had pooped everywhere and that the five puppies were covered in it.  When I last left him, he was searching for something gentle enough to be used for shampoo on two-week old puppy fur.

I am particularly impressed by my nephew’s talents as a country singer.  In the first round of the competition, he performed Craig Morgan’s “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”  The three judges loved his voice but quibbled about his outfit.  The crotchety one, reminiscent of Simon Cowell, griped that my nephew “sounded like Sunday but looked like Monday.”  Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to look like a country boy singing a country song.  I suppose he should have worn a suit to show that it was Sunday and he was going to church.  (Who wears a suit to church anymore anyway?)

I wish I had been there to serve up a good ol’ Bronx cheer to that judge.  For the second round of the competition, however, I was there.  There were about 30 singers, some as young as twelve years old, performing in front of the judges.  This shindig took place in the gymnasium of a local church school, with the audience paying a dollar for the privilege of sitting in the bleachers or on hard plastic chairs for four hours or so.

My nephew sat down next to me while I went to the snack stand to get a hot dog for him and popcorn for me.  Several of his friends from high school were there competing; some took photos with him and others just clapped him on the back, shook his hand and wished him good luck.  All of them know how talented Steven is.

He wore a number, just like the contestants on all the TV talent shows.  We had barely settled in when his number was called, the second act of the day.  He had brought a backing track with him, purchased online and burned onto a CD.  As he confidently walked to the stage, I could tell he was a pro.  This dude was ready.

After soliciting suggestions from everyone he knows, my nephew decided on performing Blake Shelton’s “The More I Drink.”  He knocked it out of the park.  It’s hard to remain objective about the talent of a family member, but I tell you, friends, he was good.

The judges agreed with my assessment.  Mr. Simon-Cowell-wannabe had to find something to complain about, and we already know that a singer’s outfit is particularly important to this guy for some perverted reason.  So he faulted my nephew for not wearing a Stetson.

Oh, please.  I suppose he should have laid out the dough for a pair of leather shit-kicking boots, too.  Or perhaps a full equestrian outfit would have better suited this judge’s taste?

The important thing is that my nephew made it through to the finals.  Now he has the task of choosing a song and learning it.  And, apparently, of choosing a wardrobe that will please this yahoo of a judge.

First, he told me that he will wear what he wants and doesn’t give a hoot about what the judges think of his outfit.  Then he said that he didn’t have a cowboy hat in any event.  Finally, he conceded that he could borrow one from a friend.

Now that’s the guy that I know and love.  I’m sure there’s a life lesson in this somewhere.  Maybe it’s that you sometimes have to give a little on the stupid small stuff to get what you really want?  Perhaps it’s that there are times when we have to suffer fools?

Be that as it may, I am proud of my nephew’s accomplishments and I know he will be a force to be reckoned with at the finale.  I look forward to watching him kick some butt.

The only question remaining is where he should go from here.  Personally, I think he has at least three good opportunities to choose from:  The X-Factor, America’s Got Talent or American Idol.

Coming soon to a TV near you.

 

A Resurgence of Oldies

45 records

BUTTONWILLOW

Three days after stopping at this tiny Kern County crossroads on our way north, we find ourselves overnighting in the same motel on our way south.  It’s all about convenience; this place is about halfway.

It would be hard to do much driving on the interstate highway system without experiencing a ubiquitous piece of Americana:  The truck stop.  Large or small, they’re all pretty much the same.  There are the showers, the convenience store, the video games and the restaurant.

Characteristic of the truck stop restaurant is uniformly bad food, good coffee and questionable taste in piped-in music.  In regard to the latter, it seems that every truck stop we visit is playing an endless loop of recorded “oldies.”  So whether we stop at Wheeler Ridge on the Grapevine, Coachella in the desert, Santa Nella in Merced County or here in Buttonwillow, we can guarantee that we will be regaled by the hits of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Platters.  Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Dion. The Chiffons.  From doo-wop to The Beatles and The Beach Boys.  At one truck stop we will hear The Shirelles performing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”; at the next truck stop two hours down the road, they will be doing “Soldier Boy.”  In the rest room, it will be Rosie and the Originals on “Angel Baby”; at the coffee station, The Silhouettes will be kip-kip-kipping and boom-boom-booming their way through “Get a Job.”

Could it be that the aging baby boomer crowd, of which I am most assuredly a member, has taken up a nostalgic fondness for the kitschy pop music of days gone by?  I hadn’t heard of such a movement, so I initially wrote off this phenomenon to cheap canned music track loops, the truck stop equivalent of the strained mush we call “elevator music.”

So, hanging out with my niece and nephews (ages 16 to 21), I was shocked to find them singing along to the same crap I was hearing at the truck stops along the interstate!

Here I was thinking that those of my generation were harking back to the halcyon days of our youths, when my 16 year old niece walks into the room belting out the lyrics to “Runaround Sue.”  When the three of them started putting You Tube music videos up on their big screen TV, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry at “Mr. Lonely.”  And when they put on Bobby Vinton singing “My Melody of Love,” you could have knocked me over with a feather.  I recommended The Duprees’ cover of “You Belong to Me,” which they dutifully brought up on the screen.  What I didn’t tell them is that, long after their lead singer had died, I used to follow the rest of the crew around to their gigs all over New Jersey.  I’m not sure I’m quite ready to confess all the sins of my misspent youth to them.

Could it be that the younger generation is discovering the music that we once “made out” to?  My niece started singing “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and my eyes turned misty.  She’d discovered Paul Anka!

i’d better not tell her about “Diana.”  Because then I might have to fess up about a certain girl who, despite my best efforts, I never could seem to get, and a certain 45 rpm record that I would play over and over. . .

I won’t tell if you won’t, okay?