Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, and I heard this on the radio when I was returning from picking up the last of bits we need for tonight and tomorrow. It made me think of my mother, who loved Christmas.

Our family Christmas traditions, as I’ve mentioned before, are Swedish, so Christmas Eve has always been more meaningful to me than Christmas Day. It’s the night of our family’s traditional Swedish dinner, and it was the night growing up that our church had the children’s pageant, the carols, the service. It’s the night that’s not about things.

My mother was the kindest, smartest, most talented person I ever knew. Also very strong-willed and certain. Our personalities and interests were quite different, so I was something of a trial for her. I was always doing things my way. She eventually learned that I was probably the one thing she couldn’t fix. I was the recipe that turned out all whacked.

But there were good ingredients in there. And at least I always made her laugh. So she came to bear my foibles with a resignation that was entirely unusual for her. I like to think that she came to appreciate individuality and difference. But now that I’m a mother, I think it’s more likely that she adopted the, “Don’t look at me; it’s not my fault” shrug that comes in handy for us all.

I love my mother, and I’ll probably always strive to be worthy of her. She was the best person I ever knew. She passed away after a long and difficult illness days before Christmas two years ago, so she’s especially in my thoughts this time of year. I know she wouldn’t love this version of Silent Night. I guess I’m still doing things my way. But this does remind me of her. I remember the crunch of the snow as we walked home from church in the dark of night on Christmas Eve, in the sharp and bitter cold. I like to think of my mother now sleeping in heavenly peace, in the dawn of redeeming grace.

So I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy Hanukkah and a peaceful and happy end of the year with those you love.

The Naughty List, In Song

Well, I love a good Christmas song as much as anyone, probably more than most people, but I guess good songs must cost more, because my shopping trips this year have been the stuff of musical nightmares. What is going on in American malls this year?

I actually walked around Barnes & Noble with my hands over my ears for ten minutes. (Then I stood in front of the science books and loudly exclaimed, “Boy these look nerdy,” before realizing (a) I was actually there to buy a science book as a gift, and (b) the guys browsing these books would hear me. And edge away, crushed.) I am quite certain I’m on Barnes & Noble’s naughty list.

But because I practically needed to bleach out my poor brain after these trips, I’ve put together a playlist for people like me. Those who need a little un-Christmas, right this very minute. A list for my fellow naughty-listers, if you will.

Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart: Just the greatest song ever recorded. That’s all.

 

Car Seat Headrest, Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales: A little mopey at first, but it’s got a beat that builds in a killer way. This is my second favorite song of 2016. Your mother will be disappointed in some of the lyrics. Which are helpfully printed right there.

 

Flaming Lips, Yoshimi: A fairly gross video to play for your young nephews, to enliven your holiday gathering. I neither admit nor deny having done this myself.

 

The B-52s, Roam: Pure fun from the 80s. But also words to live by. Your mother should like this one.

 

The Weather Girls, It’s Raining Men: Pure fun from the 80s, part two. Put some camp in your Christmas or Hanukkah. Just made for moms.

 

A Tribe Called Quest, Bonita Applebum: We are rolling forward into 1990, when A Tribe Called Quest ambled onto the scene. If she listens to the lyrics, your mother will definitely not like this song. Unless your mother is me, which I’m afraid only works for three of you. Play this for your young nephews, however, and you’ll never have to attend another family dinner. Because you will never again be invited.

 

Lauryn Hill, Doo-Wop (That Thing): Very occasionally, someone makes something, and it’s perfect. Here you go.

 

A Tribe Called Quest, We the People: Extreme bad-language alert. Plus, this expresses a point of view that isn’t popular with everyone. So if you don’t already know this group, don’t click. But it’s my favorite song of 2016. So it’s gonna make my list. Also, RIP Phife.

The “Sorry, We’re Watching the Gilmore Girls Reunion” Music Break

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the US, and Black Friday for shoppers. But my girls and I (and most of my female friends) will be watching the new Gilmore Girls reunion episodes. Thank you Netflix.

(By the way, have you taken the “Which Gilmore Girl are you” quiz? I got Lorelei, which is obvious, if only because I talk all the time and drink a lot of coffee. Also I’m slightly unhinged, but not in a dangerous way. (It’s the coffee that does it.) My younger daughter was delighted to be told she’s Rory, the goody-two-shoes. I personally think she’s also got some Emily mixed in. My older daughter, self-protectively, won’t take the quiz. So we tell her she’s probably Kirk. Heh heh.)

Sadly, it won’t take all day to watch the Gilmore reunion. So up there is something else to enjoy. This is the first single from the upcoming album by the wonderful Mary J. Blige. It’s a song that someone accurately described as the most Mary J. Blige song possible. And truly, it is. It’s so Mary J. Blige, it’s almost meta-Mary J. Blige. And I love it.

Also, I want her lipstick. I really do.

The “I’m Cooking While I Croon” Day-Before-Thanksgiving Music Break

Pie crust, whipped sweet potatoes and stuffing are on the docket for today. I like to knock some things off early, but there’s only so much space in our fridge.

The only good thing about cooking, if you ask me, is that I’ve got speakers in the kitchen, so it’s jukebox city in there. And here’s an oldie but goodie. I’ve been a little worried about Kanye West, since he seems to be having a hard time right now. So I’m sending out good thoughts. Also, this is just a good song. (And more blog-friendly than most of his songs.) Be well, Kanye.

Nobel Prize in Awesome

This is so cool: Bob Dylan was just awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Wow.

Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (a freezing cold, very small city on the shores of Lake Superior), and raised in the Iron Range of Minnesota. Only a year of college at the University of Minnesota before he moved to New York City. Singer-songwriter. Nobel Prize in Literature winner for 2016.

I think this is fantastic, energizing, out-of-the-box thinking by the Nobel committee, who picked the perfect recipient if they were going to pick a musician. Dylan is a genius at what he does, and he’s always forged his own path as musician and lyricist. Ironically he’s been a huge influence on other artists, but many times he’s had to drag the befuddled and protesting audience behind him.

Look up what happened when Dylan “went electric”: the “don’t change things on me” folk crowd went ballistic. Or when he made his (great) country-influenced album. The rock crowd groaned. Dylan didn’t care. He just went on making some of the greatest and most influential popular music of the 20th Century.

Now the complainers are fuddy-duddy “serious literature” snobs who somehow have missed one true thing that’s all around them. Popular music is an art form. And over the last six decades it has mattered as much to worldwide culture as traditional literature.

So, yes, I think the Dylan choice is right and deserved. But it’s also a shot across the bow and a wake-up call. Like literature itself can be.

And I bet more people will talk about the Nobel Prize for Literature today than they did in years past, when the winner was the brilliant J.M. Coetzee or the sublime Alice Munro or even the wonderful Gabriel García Márquez.

By all means go read one of those. Or your favorite Nobelist. Or your favorite non-Nobelist: I nominate the great Jorge Luis Borges. Or  even a future Nobel candidate: I like Murakami.

But this is also great.