Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Norms reestablished

And so we bid a sad adieu for another year to dear old Scrooge Picard, thereby reluctantly relenquishing CF’s grip on the Christmas season. Not to worry, Angry Guy is back in his accustomed spot, where his own fierce glower will continue to watch over all and sundry here as always. My, but the time sure does go by quick, don’t it?

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Fighting words!

The meaning of (It’s A Wonderful) Life.

Having dismissed “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a technical level with a single ill-informed paragraph, he proceeds to tackle the film’s message. Graham’s position is that George’s life is “pretty awful” because he endures a lot of suffering, is unable to go to college or even on his honeymoon, and “his kids wear second-hand clothes and get sick from the cold…because George can’t afford nice things for his family.” Graham then claims the film’s vindication of George’s life “fails” because “his life still stinks. He’s not, in fact, rich or even financially secure…and on top of that, Potter gets to keep the eight grand!”

Umm, correct me if I’m wrong and all, but doesn’t Potter give back the eight grand at the end?

Thus, apparently, Graham’s definition of a good life is one in which we are “rich, or even financially secure,” able to do what we like, able to avoid suffering as much as possible, and perhaps one in which evil people are punished as well. He then rather absurdly goes on to claim that “It’s a Wonderful Life” represents socialist, New Deal-style economics, and that it was intended for “the workers at a Soviet collective circa 1949,” with the message “who cares that you have no shoes? Back to the factory for Mother Russia.”

Ironically, Graham’s view of the good life as defined primarily by material security and wellbeing is far closer to a socialist perspective than anything in the film. The foundational idea of Marxism is that the world is purely material, and therefore creating material security and equality for the most people is the highest good.

Judging by this op-ed, Graham would agree, but only dispute with a Marxist whether socialism or capitalism creates the most good for the most people. One thing with which a Marxist would never agree is that a man’s happiness is far more dependent on family, community, virtue, and so on than by his material well being.

This is a fundamental flaw in modern discourse for both conservatives and liberals: we focus so much on material issues, trying to work out a system that will make, as Graham says, “the best world for the most people,” that we don’t stop to ask what we mean by “the best world” or a “good life.” Both sides are making the exact same mistake even as they draw different conclusions: both accept the same basic philosophy, but disagree on its application.

Aristotle recognized this mistake 2,000 years ago, and so has every competent philosopher since. Yes, we need a certain baseline of material wellbeing to live, but that is not what makes a good life. A good life means living well— individual virtue, familial and communal harmony, meaningful occupation, and religious worship are the main points.

This is traditional, Christian morality, and once upon a time it was this that was set in opposition to Marxism (as well as to the “Darwinist” form of capitalism espoused by Potter). This is the philosophy of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and indeed of all Capra’s films. It’s also the philosophy that conservatives ought to be advocating. Our focus on economic and material matters obscures our fundamental philosophical dispute with leftism, and it is precisely on the point that immaterial matters are far more important to a man’s life than his material wellbeing or social status.

Is it just me, or does Wonderful Life seem to bring out the best in some writers?

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Santa is real

Porter wins the award for Best Christmas Post this year, in a walk. Apologies to him for just swiping the whole thing and reposting it here, but once you’ve read it you’ll understand.

Christmas has always been a time for happy memories. In the case of my own good fortune, the season has almost always yielded a fond harvest. As a boy, Christmas Eve featured what was probably a common theme among children of my age: waiting for Santa Claus.

After all of the larger family activities had subsided, my siblings and I dutifully took our posts as per tradition. We each had rocking chairs, sorted by age and size with no debates over which was assigned to whom. The room was always darkened, thus casting the scene of our ambush under a colorful camouflage of winking tree lights.

As an additional lure, the record player was carefully configured to play a series of traditional big game Christmas songs. The most effective, we were told, included Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Burl Ives, and the Ray Conniff singers. These were the ones most likely to draw our quarry.

And so the trap was meticulously arranged. There was the irresistible siren of Christmas crooners and easy chimney ingress to a darkened room. There the obese crimson interloper would be dazzled by blinking strobe effects long enough to be apprehended for questioning (and begging) by an elite sentry unit primed with cookies and eggnog.

Though Santa was certainly not careless prey. All of us knew our vigil would not end quickly. Thus there was no cause to deny ourselves good cheer in waiting. So we rocked in front of the Christmas tree, listening to the same old songs every year, and telling stories about the past while eagerly anticipating what gifts our welcomed burglar might bear.

We talked, smiled, laughed, and listened. Then one by one we fell asleep, to wake Christmas morning in our own beds having been brazenly bested by the stealthy old imp again. We always planned to catch Santa in our footied pajamas. That’s what we told ourselves and what we told each other.

But Santa exists in more places than just reindeer sleighs and presents under the tree. The Santa I really caught all those Christmas Eves ago lingered quite a bit longer than any forgotten toy. That Santa showed-up right in front of us every year in a disguise so effective we didn’t even recognize him until years later. The gifts he brought were family, tradition, love, and commitment to a larger whole than just the lone body in our own little rocking chair.

In a way I view modest enterprises like this blog as the Christmas Eve tradition of our civilization in its current bitter malaise. A little place to watch the blinking lights and tell stories about what may await tomorrow. I don’t know that we’ll ever catch Santa. I don’t know that Santa will actually ever come. We may not immediately recognize his gifts if he does. Though maybe he doesn’t have to be obvious for our watch to still be worthwhile. There’s real comfort in simply waiting with friends. And real strength in knowing you’re not waiting alone.

So to all those friends unmet, thanks for stopping by to listen to the music together. May you find happiness at home tonight in those gifts rocking through life with you. Merry Christmas.

Beautiful, simply beautiful. I only wish I had seen it on Christmas Eve, and shared it with y’all then. Not that my tardiness diminishes the sentiment expressed in any way, mind.

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The personal EVERYTHING is political

My, but she really IS the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t she?

On Christmas Day, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) repeated the old liberal canard that because Jesus was a refugee, attempts to secure the U.S. border and limit illegal immigration are anti-Christmas. While Jesus was a refugee, Christmas has nothing to do with immigration policy. Furthermore, the very baby-killing event Jesus was fleeing has a tragic echo in abortion clinics today.

“Joy to the World! Merry Christmas everyone – here’s to a holiday filled with happiness, family, and love for all people (Including refugee babies in mangers + their parents.),” socialist darling Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Contrary to another beloved Christianity-hating-liberal shibboleth, Joseph and Mary weren’t homeless, either. But hey, even the birth of Christ isn’t exempt from being used by Progtard scum as a tool to score dishonest political points, I guess. As Warner Todd Huston so pithily puts it: “It all amounts to fake news that is over 2,000 years old.

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The man who invented Christmas

How we got here.

In his wonderful 2008 book The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford reveals how the triumphant success of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843 placed December 25 at the center of Anglo-American bourgeois life. Before A Christmas Carol, according to Standiford, “the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter,” which is understandable, once you think about it, since Easter commemorates the unsurpassed miracle of the resurrection. Indeed, he says, the Anglican church felt that the enterprise “smacked vaguely of paganism.” The Puritans believed this, too. The Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law in 1659 that “forbade the practice and levied a fine of five shillings upon anyone caught in the act.”

Thereby establishing for all time that those grim, rigid Puritans were actually the forerunners of our present-day Progressivist Scrooges and Grinches. If you think about it, aside from religion itself the similarities are legion.

And so “there were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys,” Standiford writes, “no outpouring of ‘Yuletide greetings,’ no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no overblown gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior.” But there was a tradition of decorating for the holiday, and the playing of games and the staging of amateur theatricals on Christmas Day. And these were things Dickens loved as a child and summoned into his art as an adult.

By 1900, the readership of A Christmas Carol was said “to be second only to the Bible’s.” And Christmas had already become the most important holiday in the Anglo-American world – a position it retains, as we move inexorably toward the middle decades of the 21st century. It appears what Dickens did, without knowing it, was create the world’s first ecumenical religious holiday. Just as the old ad line insisted, “you don’t need to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” you don’t need to be a full-throated believer in the divinity of Christ the Savior to love Christmas and to “keep it.” As Dickens describes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us!”

Keeping Christmas means being open-hearted, and thoughtful, and generous, and loving, not only to one’s own but to all of humanity. It means putting up wreaths and trees, garlanding them with lights and ornaments, buying gifts for loved ones and providing charity for the less fortunate, and gathering as family. Who could object to such a message? What logic-mad atheist could find fault with it? What Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Zoroastrian could feel all that alienated from it? We may not participate in Christmas if we are believers in another faith, but the way it has been celebrated since Dickens established its message has little or nothing exclusionary about it. That’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas season without irony or a sense of discomfort.

I may love it even more than those who keep the day precisely because I don’t. The difficulties of Christmas are unknown to me as a Jew. I haven’t had a horrible family argument under the tree or at the Christmas table, and I have never felt compelled to eat a piece of fruitcake to satisfy a deranged relative who made or brought one.

Couldn’t agree more with ol’ J-Pod about those abominable things. Ugh.

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Late merry Christmas!

So there I was nestled all snug in my bed bright and early Christmas morn, with not a creature stirring all through the house. Visions of potential posts danced in my head instead of the de rigeur sugarplums and such. Suddenly, it hit me like a flash: why not take a couple of days off from the innarnuts entirely? What better day than Christmas for a recharging of the ol’ batteries via a little vacation from all that wearisome, neverending political struggle and strife?

So that’s just what I did. Which doesn’t mean I don’t sincerely hope all you fine folks had yourselves a most joyful Christmas, filled with all the good things that go along with what truly is the most wonderful time of the year.




There’s still a lot of Christmas left as far as I’m concerned, whatever the Grinch of a calendar may aver. Ever since I’ve been out on my own, I’ve always strictly observed the Elvis Presley rule about the tree and decorations: they stay up till January 8th (E’s birthday), and even then are taken down with not a little reluctance and sadness. So anyways, yeah, got a few good Christmas topics to cover yet here, and I’m a-gonna cover ’em. So ho ho ho, away we go!

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A different take on Wonderful Life

At the HQ, and it’s a good ‘un, with a focus that’s a bit…well, different from my own.

Even if you hate Frank Capra’s post-war flop about a man who finds value in his life by seeing it undone, it can be startling how starkly it reveals why good human drama can no longer be made in America. And watching it this time, I realized what The Boy and I get out of the classics and new Asian movies we’ve seen this year.

I’ve probably seen this It’s A Wonderful Life more than any other movie, and I’ve certainly written about it more than any other. The noir photography, the depths of depression it plumbs, the libertarian Pottersville-is-better-than-Bedford-Falls nonsense, and most recently, the weird stuff on Potter’s desk. The Flower, who saw it for the first time in 2016, wanted to see it last year and again this year.

What struck me this time was how deeply flawed all the characters were, with the possible exception of Mary (Donna Reed, From Here To Eternity), and yet how George’s little acts of grace (however begrudingly he accept his role) gave them the room to express the better angels of their nature.

Well, of COURSE Donna Reed is without flaw and way above reproach. I mean, damn, y’all know how I feel about that alluring, luscious woman. Follows, a list examining all the characters’ flaws and foibles, which if you never really thought of things in those terms is kind of depressing. But then we get to the meat of the thing:

One is supposed to like these people. And, shockingly enough, one does. Mr. Gower buys George his getaway luggage (that he never gets to use) but is also seen leading the bond effort to support the war at home. Sam, once he’s contacted, is ready to float George a $25K loan. Violet sticks around to help George, and apparently to brave out rehabilitating her reputation.

In other words, these people are good in spite of their occasional (or even frequent) sins. They’re real people. For all the broad stereotyping here, there’s more life in each character who passes through Bedford Falls than in any big-ticket modern Hollywood movies. They’ve all sinned, sometimes gravely, yet all are shown to be worthy of redemption.

The thing is, to have a character arc, you have to have a character who can change. The change has to be personal and material, and it has to reflect a reinterpretation of how the world works—generally the admission that one’s previous view was wrong somehow. (You can have the character change badly, of course, but that’s more a horror trope or ultra-edgy indie drama conceit.) But if there’s only one correct way to think ever, only one correct way to be, there can be no meaningful change.

And if there can be no forgiveness, a character who was wrong once can never re-enter the ranks of good guys: Old Man Gower and Uncle Billy can’t sell war bonds, Mr. Welch should be sent to jail for punching George, Violet deserves to be slut-shamed (or shamed for thinking she should be slut-shamed?) and Clarence may as well have let George jump.

You don’t have to like this movie to see that it deals more with genuine human issues than anything turned out of Hollywood in 2018.

Egg-zackly. That’s what makes the movie so danged powerful. These are real, everyday people; if you grew up in small-town America in a certain era, you know them. You’ve met them. You’ve lived among them. And if you have the least bit of wisdom about you, you acknowledge those flaws without making a big deal out of it as the citizens of Bedford Falls did, in a spirit of tolerance, humility, forgiveness, and love.

For instance, the final item in OM’s list:

The people of the town, when we see them, are quick to be manipulated by Potter. Although it is they, ultimately, who save the day, they are easily scared, gossipy, and overly-reliant on George’s good nature.

Yep. Any small-town resident of a certain age will recognize the people of Capra’s Bedford Falls immediately. Timid, easily herded by the local powers that be, many of them not just gossipy but annoyingly nosy, priggish and sanctimonious—these are all pretty standard characters found in any group of humans. I knew plenty of ’em growing up in Mt Holly, NC, and as an impatient teenage know-it-all I had little to no patience with them, even resented some of them quite bitterly. But…

BUT. The truth, in Bedford Falls and Mt Holly both, is that they were also loving, concerned, and compassionate, ready and willing to help a neighbor out any time it was needed, with anything at all, in both trivial and disastrous situations.

I remember my neighbors a few doors down, a large-ish family, a bit white-trashier than the generally upstanding, middle-class standard typical of the rest of the neighborhood. Their house was a little more run-down and sloppy than the others; the kids were always dirtier and wore more battered and patched-up clothes than most of us. The family clearly had serious problems making ends meet.

They weren’t ostracized or anything like that, they were just…well, different, and even us kids felt it, although it never bothered any of us. But here’s the thing: now and then, our parents would gather up a bunch of food—canned goods, dried beans, bags of rice, maybe some hand-me-down clothes or shoes still in good shape, whatever—put it all in a box, and quietly leave it on their front porch at night.

See, the dad was terribly embarrassed about accepting charity from anybody. Our parents knew this, and respected it. At the same time, they also knew a little occasional help was needed, and they weren’t going to let the father’s admirable pride stand in the way of giving him the assistance to keep his family going. They didn’t want to shame the guy, and they didn’t want thanks; they wanted only to help, in a way carefully calculated to avoid needlessly humbling an already humble, decent man who was struggling.

There was no neighborhood meeting about any of this; I never once heard any of our elders discuss any aspect of it, although I’m sure they must have in some fashion or other. They just did it, without looking down their noses at anybody or congratulating themselves for their generosity. The guy never knew who his benefactor had been the morning after another delivery, and that was just fine with all concerned.

I could tell you a million stories like that one about my old hometown: the time I got run over by a car on my way home from school on Valentine’s Day, when the cop who took the trouble to gather up all the valentine cards that had gone flying when I got hit and bringing them to me at my aunt’s house where I was being pampered and fussed over by pretty much the whole neighborhood. The doctor who made who knows how many house calls in the middle of the night to give me a shot for the terrible asthma I had as kid. My uncle Gene, who ran the drugstore downtown, showing up on Sundays after church even though the store was closed to fill prescriptions for those who needed them, and who kept a small pad with the ongoing arrears to be paid whenever possible, in drabs and drabs, by people who chronically found themselves a little short but still needed their medicine.

I was very happy growing up where I did…and when I hit my rebellious teen years, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It all of a sudden felt constricting to a kid who intended to see a whole heck of a lot more of the world than he ever would from within its boundaries. When I finally moved off to NYC later, it didn’t feel so much like a migration as it did a jailbreak. It was not until much later in my life that I came to accept, appreciate, and love my small-town neighbors, warts and all, as Wonderful Life so brilliantly portrayed—and to understand what my small town really was.

See, life in small-town America didn’t happen by accident, and its existence wasn’t defended and maintained without thought or intent. Small towns didn’t just happen; they were created. The people in my town, and I suspect most others, set their communities up the way they did consciously, on purpose. They believed that the old American values—religion, charity, respect for others, a determination to work hard in order to provide for their families, own their own homes, and gradually improve their lot in life—were the right ones, the best ones, the ones proven to properly uphold liberty and self-respect. They established communities wherein the father worked outside the home and the mom maintained the household and minded the young ‘uns not out of any villainous patriarchal urge to oppress women and glom all the power for themselves, but because that was the best way to raise healthy, strong, secure children to be stable and productive adults, instead of the weak, weepy, spoiled-rotten, dependent trainwrecks we see all around us today.

And they were right about all that, too. The sad decline of those communities is a HUGE factor in the dysfunction and decline of the country as a whole. That decline didn’t just happen as part of some inevitable, natural process either; it was a willful act of destruction, committed by people who knew just what they were doing, and why. It wasn’t evolution in action—it was devolution, forced upon us by Leftists with insidious intent whose plan from the start was to sow distrust, loss of belief, and shame over those wholesome, all-American values via which America had flourished for generations. Beginning in the mid-60s, the Left twisted the perception of those values and the nuclear families sustained by them from being the vital foundation necessary to a happy and fruitful life to being oppressive, inhibiting, unfulfilling, and destructive.

The success of their campaign to smear, sully, and degrade the cornerstone of American prosperity and stability is all too evident, as is the misery and destruction it has wrought on both individuals and the nation as a whole. I don’t see how we can possibly undo the damage and restore that beneficent prescription for a well-lived life to its proper place in our societal fabric. Maybe that’s just a failure of vision on my own part, I dunno. In any event, can it be the least bit surprising to any of us that the hipster-douchebag Left has for so long denigrated It’s A Wonderful Life as tedious, saccharine smarm, entirely unworthy of serious regard?

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Another Christmas song repop

Another Christmas repost from the CF archives, this one from 2016.

Okay, while I’m hipping y’all to some good Christmas tunes, might as well share one of my all-time favorites:




From 1939, Kay Kaiser. Can’t explain just why, but I totally love this song. Maybe it’s all those ting-a-ling-a-lings. I mean, come on, what’s not to like?

But I tell you folks, if I have to hear limousine liberal Bruce Springsteen moaning and groaning his way through Santa Claus Is Coming To Town one more time like a sick hound, I am gonna kill something. There’s a tune in there somewhere, Bruce; please do us all a favor and find it, all right? Lord knows you’ve meandered around it enough. Ugh.

Look for this post to be updated for the next little while, until I get tired and go to bed. I’ma go find you guys some good Christmas music, I promise I am.

Update the First! The greatest of all possible versions of this one, which is also one of my favorites.




Just classic. Shall I play for you? Why yes. Yes, you shall.

Update the Second! Another favorite of mine, and the most perfect version I know of. Don’t say I never gave y’all nothing.



Update the Third! One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in my life, from wonderfully eccentric guitar genius John Fahey. I can’t find a version of this to embed that even comes close to this one, so you’ll just have to trust me and hit the link. I promise you won’t regret it. I attempted this one once onstage in New York, and failed miserably. But I play it at home all the time, and every once in a rare while I get it very nearly right.

Update the Fourth! Another of my favorites. And I mean, come on guys. It’s Sinatra.




Nicely done, Frank. Would that all these present-day hacks had the good taste to just sing the damned song straight, without all the warbling, meandering, self-indulgent discant crap they’re apparently compelled to throw in for some reason.

Update the Fifth! Pretty sure I’ve presented this one here before, but what the hell. How do you go wrong with Canadian Brass? You can’t, that’s how. If this one doesn’t make you smile, well dammit, I can’t help you.




And one more from Canadian Brass. Because, that’s why.



Finally, probably my most-loved Christmas carol of them all: Silent Night, impeccably done by Chanticleer. Just gorgeous. Again: if you don’t like this, well, I can’t help you.


So far past gorgeous you can’t even see gorgeous from here.

One last update! Oh, and I don’t care a whit what Rush may say: Mannheim Steamroller? Trans-Siberian Orchestra? No. Just…NO. Not now, not ever. Call me old-fashioned, call me a stick in the mud, but I prefer my Christmas music way less sinister-sounding and without synthesizers and laser light shows, thanks.

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Twelve, count ’em, twelve

Today’s Christmas tune is a takeoff on an oldie but not necessarily goodie: Jeff Tyzik’s “The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas.” Now, I am aware that many of you don’t much care for the original “Twelve Days Of Christmas,” and I share your disdain for it myself, believe me. But back in the early 60s, Allen Sherman (of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” fame) rejiggered TDOC as “Twelve Gifts” etc, in his inimitable comedic style. Then along came a guy named Jeff Tyzik, conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, with sort of a spoof of Sherman’s spoof.

And lo, it’s actually quite good. Near as I can tell, the original TDOC would make exactly nobody’s list of favorite Christmas tunes. It’s facile and repetitive, and goes on way too damned long to suit most of us—just the same danged cloying melody over and over and over, verse after verse with nary a chorus or bridge in sight. Arrangers here and there over the years have tried to alleviate the ennui somewhat by working in modulations as the verses advance, changing key up with each successive one. To little avail if you ask me; it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for spicing up an aimless or otherwise lackluster tune, especially since the dawn of the rock and roll era. And it doesn’t work with this song any better than it usually does.

Tyzik employs the old modulation sleight-of-hand too, but in an unusual way: with this arrangement, the key signature changes both up AND down. In most cases, the pitch only goes up, with rock and roll songs usually a step or half-step. The theme of the lyrics is modified to reference neither bizarre gifts like the green polka-dot pajamas and indoor bird baths of the Sherman version, nor the baffling and archaic lords-a-leaping and pipers-piping of the original. Tyzik, being conductor of a symphony and all, instead decided to indulge his passion for classical music by running down a list of orchestral instruments as his “gifts.”

That’s all well and good, but it probably wouldn’t have sufficed by itself to spark any more interest than the somnolent original does. No, what brings Tyzik’s version to life is what he does with those instruments. Each of them in its turn is called on to recite a brief snippet of a well-known favorite from the classical repertoire featuring that instrument. Some of the lyrics naming each “gift” are clever and funny, too: “five golden strings,” “six mellow cellos,” “seven brass a-swinging,” etc.

Anyway, what it all adds up to is a fresh, lilting, amusing take on a song that never really was any of those things before. The arrangement shifts itself just when you want it to without actually expecting it, and the classical (and, in the case of the brass, jazzy) bits enliven things nicely. All in all, although still necessarily lengthy, this one moves right along; speaking purely for myself, when I first heard the piece I found myself actually looking forward to the next verse just to see what he threw into the mix next. And I had NEVER done any such thing with either the original or the Sherman version. I just wanted to be put out of my misery, mostly.

I dunno, watch it through if you haven’t run across it before and see what you think. You may or may not dig the thing, depending on how you feel about classical and/or Christmas music, I guess. But I like it; it ain’t necessarily one of my favorites, but it does make me smile. When I hear it on the local classical-music radio station I usually stick with it to the end instead of diving for the channel-switcher button like I’ll always and forever do when I hear that sour old commie dirge of John Lennon’s, or his erstwhile partner’s godawful “Wonderful Christmas Time.” And really, isn’t that the proof of the pudding?



Update! Sometimes, the arrangement is everything.

Doye O’Dell was a second-tier singing cowboy who, upon America’s entry into the Second World War, found himself being groomed to step into Roy Rogers’ chaps, on the assumption by Hollywood that Roy would be drafted. When word came that Roy wouldn’t be, Doye went off to join the Marines and the big break never happened. He had small acting roles in the sort of films you expect to find singing cowboys in – The Gay Ranchero, Along the Navajo Trail – but also a few films you don’t: Auntie Mame, Days of Wine and Roses, Irma La Douce. Nevertheless, he puts a real twang in your twig of mistletoe, and decks your hall with boughs of tumbleweed and sagebrush. So you’d be for forgiven for thinking that “Blue Christmas” started out as a country-&-western song.

In fact, it’s a suburb-&-eastern song – born in Connecticut commuter-land seven decades ago. I was complaining re “Orange Colored Sky” that it’s always a disappointment when a memorable song doesn’t have an equally memorable and-then-I-wrote anecdote behind it. In the case of “Blue Christmas”, the and-then-I-wrote story is almost too good, but I was assured a couple of decades back that this is exactly how it happened. So here goes…

…There are varying accounts of what happened that day. One of them has it that Steve Sholes, the RCA man who’d signed the singer, had ordered up a bland arrangement of the song, like the pop standard “Blue Christmas” should have been but never was. It was nothing like the Ernest Tubb record, without which Presley would never ever have heard the song or had the least interest in recording it. And, as “Blue Christmas” was first up on that day’s session rundown, the dullsville chart immediately put Elvis in a bad mood. And he told the band and backing singers, the Jordanaires, that they were going to punish RCA by making a version of “Blue Christmas” so bad the company could never release it. I can’t say I entirely buy that, but it does explain those melodramatically slowed down pick-up notes – “I-I’ll ha-ave a-a” – and then the banshee-like howls of Millie Kirkham behind “blue Christmas without you”. Miss Kirkham, who was pregnant and singing from a chair, told friends she was worried that her wailing soprano obligato sounded “ridiculous”. Which suggests that, if Elvis was seriously striving to wreck the number, she wasn’t in on the joke.

But it’s harder to make a total stinkeroo of a record than you might think. Especially if you’re really good. And, if you’re as good as Elvis and Millie and Scotty Moore and Bill Black and D J Fontana and Dudley Brooks and the Jordanaires, even when you’re trying to sound bad you tend to do it really well. So, for example, on those bansee-howl backing vocals, Millie Kirkham and the boys replaced the major and minor thirds with neutral and sub-minor.

And thus for the first time in its nine-year history “Blue Christmas”, a song about feeling blue, actually felt bluesy. And what had hitherto been an insipid pop tune became a far more effective rhythm’n’blues ballad. The Presley version isn’t in fact that slow (approx 96 beats per minute, which is faster than many earlier recordings) but it feels ballad-esque because of the way he slurs and slides his words across the rhythm. And, ever since, almost everybody’s pretty much done it that way.

Yep, it’s another fascinating Steyn music post, with lots more good stuff tucked between my ellipses.

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Rudolph, running

A, umm, unique take on our annual War On Christmas battle against the Destroyer Left.

Everyone’s talking about the article in the Huffington Post that has shown us the racism, homophobia, child abuse, bullying, sexism, and exploitation of the handicapped that lie at the bigoted heart of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

It’s time we got rid of every holiday tradition that originated in the Dark Ages of a united grievance-free country.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as I will shortly prove, is not just outdated, it’s a Communist attempt to turn our children into substance-abusing sex slaves.

I now ask a simple question:

What are Reindeer Games anyway?

Has anyone ever seen a reindeer playing a game? I suppose we could ask a Laplander, but I’m guessing no.

All those horns, all those hooves, the mixing of genders, the supple skin of the sleek does, the implied sadomasochism when they lock their antlers and toss each other around—Rudolph is obviously being told he’s not kinky enough for the big leagues, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

The story is an elaborate grooming technique, full of hints of forbidden pleasures that, because you’re socially awkward and wear glasses, you’re not allowed to experience.

Until…Santa tells you how much he loves your nose.

And merry old Joe Bob is just getting started. And now that he mentions all this, isn’t “merry” really just a synonym for “gay”? JUST SAYIN’…

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Miracle On 34th Street repop

A few of y’all recommended Miracle On 34th Street in response to my Wonderful Life repost, to which I say: hey, hey, keep your shirts on, gang. I was getting to it.

So I had intended to do my next Christmas-themed post on another wonderful old classic movie, but damned if Eskiman didn’t beat me to it in the comments to the Wonderful Life post. Did a very good job of it too, thereby saving me a lot of labor, so I’m just gonna swipe it and bring it right on out here.

Another wonderful film from that era (1947) I just re-watched last night: Miracle on 34th Street with Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and a very young Natalie Wood as Susan. Do please watch it, but –SPOILERS– do follow!

It was delightful, and better by far than the much more modern version produced in 1994, though the newer one’s Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle was excellent; in fact he was so good that the other actors’ performances appeared mediocre, which is as much as could be said. I saw this version the night before last, which is why I had to find the original; this new one left a bad taste in my mouth, which was dispelled by the beautiful Maureen O’Hara.

The original film, made in 1947, is in black & white, and reflected values of that time. Unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, it was actually bitterly cold when it was filmed; I understand that some of the cameras froze during the shoot! But the real reason it was remade wasn’t just because someone wanted to make the film in color- it was to “sanitize” it. The later version is much more PC: it has no black housekeepers and women are more than equal. For some reason I don’t know, even the department stores’ names had to be changed: the old version had Macy’s versus Gimble’s, but the new one had Coles versus Holiday Express (is there actually such a store?) The 1994 version toward the end has Fred and Doris getting married late at night in an empty church, for no particular reason. I was not impressed; the entire ending sucked in this version.

The original script was re-written, but not improved. Many changes seemed to be made just to make it different, but the changes didn’t make it better, and most made the newer film much worse. In the original, Kris Kringle’s cane was a simple wooden cane, not very heavy. Its replacement was a fancy silver-headed cane that looked like a club; someone could easily be killed with such a cane. This didn’t improve the plot, nor did other changes which made the original drunken Santa into a real bad guy and Holiday Express a viper’s den instead of honest competitors.

The original was much more light-hearted, made more sense, and the ending was much, much better: the unmarried (but very sweet on each other) couple were sent on a “short-cut” and Susan saw the house of her dreams when they arrived at a cul-de-sac; she was thrilled, and ran into the house, with Doris and Fred in hot pursuit; inside, it was just an empty house which was for sale- with a swing in the back yard! Susan knew who had arranged it all!

And Kris Kringle’s cane was propped against the fireplace.

I highly recommend the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street; accept no substitutes (because there really isn’t one.)

I couldn’t agree more; the original is another great movie of the Wonderful Life stripe, made to a standard that present-day Hollywood can’t even approach anymore and seems indifferent to at best anyway. More light-hearted than Wonderful Life (which is not necessarily to say frivolous), certainly; you won’t find much examination of weighty existential issues here, which is just fine, and shouldn’t really be scored against it.

One caveat, though: it aired on the teewee earlier today, and to my horror and disgust, it was *ULP* the colorized version. Gag me with a maggot. What a revoltin’ development.

Leaving his commie predilections and Jane Fonda out of our consideration, Ted Turner should have had his skinny ass kicked up between his shoulder blades twice daily in perpetuity for coming up with the wholly rotten idea of desecrating carefully-conceived and meticulously executed black and white films—which were framed, lit, and shot with black and white film in mind, remember—by painting over them with washed out, drab, sickly looking colors, supposedly to heighten their appeal to modern audiences anesthetized by color TV.

It kicked up quite the little controversy at the time, as I recollect, which Turner dismissed in his trademark high-handed, arrogantly ignorant fashion (“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we’re in the process of colorizing…I can do whatever I want with them, and if they’re going to be shown on television, they’re going to be in color“).

The filmmakers of the day did not consider black and white to be any sort of limitation or handicap. To the contrary: it was their palette, and the best among them were quite skilled at its use, thanks. To vandalize their purposeful art by the rough equivalent of scribbling over it with crayons is a perfect example of the sort of arrogant application of present-day standards to a long-gone era we see all over the place nowadays. Hey, given modern advances in the production of pigments, maybe somebody should go back and paint over all those Rembrandts too.

Thankfully, you don’t see those colorized obscenities nearly as much as you once did, which amounts to pretty righteous repudiation of Turner’s smug assertion that “once people start watching the colored version, they won’t bother with the original.” But having to endure Miracle On 34th Street sullied by the annoying, ugly travesty of colorization is reason enough to suspect there must have been a special place in Hell waiting for Turner upon his death all the same…and that the jerk had it coming, too.

Oh, and one more thing: if Donna Reed had any real competition as America’s loveliest woman, the magnificent Natalie Wood would have been it—with Maureen O’Hara making a credible bid herself.

Thanks to Eskyman for sharing his thoughts with us, and to Donna Reed too, because…reasons.

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Christmas songs: the good, the bad, and the ugly

A list of some obscurities.

Posterity has an excellent ear for popular music. Setting aside gold records and Grammys, posterity smiles on kings (Elvis) and commoners (Sam Sham and the Pharoahs), with quality its only standard.

But Christmas is posterity’s weak spot. When December comes around, posterity is a sentimental fool, rewarding the good and the bad in equal measure. As a result, classics such as The Drifters’s “White Christmas” are forced to share the Yuletide spotlight with “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Posterity just isn’t doing its job at Christmas time. That’s where this list come in. What follows are 16 of the coolest and most underplayed Christmas songs ever, songs that deserve at least as much airtime as John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

I gotta grumble a little here: this list is a bit heavy on the more modern stuff to suit me. Sorry, but I do NOT want to hear John Cougar Mellonhead groaning about working-class Christmas in Indiana. Nor am I interested in having Springsteen bellow at me about how Santa Claus is coming to New Jersey. When it comes to Christmas music, I want Mel Torme. I want Nat King Cole. I want Sinatra and Dino. I want Der Bingle. God help me, I want Andy Williams.

I sure don’t want Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or Peabo Bryson doing that warbling-wandering contemporary-R&B singer thing of meandering all over the scale in contempt of the actual damned melody, trying to “make it their own,” along the lines of those gut-curdling sportsball Star Spangled Banner butcherings we’re all way too familiar with by now. JUST SING THE DAMNED SONG ALREADY, DAMMIT. It ain’t “your own,” and it ain’t ever gonna be. Christmas music belongs to everyone, and if you can’t just leave a beloved traditional Christmas classic alone and sing it more or less straight, then write one of your own and sing it any damned way you like.

That said, though, there are instances of modern-era artists jazzing up a classic which yield some good results, mostly because the remake is done tastefully, artfully, and respectfully rather than as an exercise in self-indulgence by an artist bereft of the faintest clue as to how the thing might properly be done. In amongst the pointless dreck the author digs up some gold:

1. “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” – Elvis Presley (1957)
“Santa Claus” isn’t just Elvis’s best Christmas song, it’s one of the most powerful recordings of his career. Released by RCA, “Santa Claus” exhibits all the virile recklessness that characterized Elvis’s earlier work for Sun Records. The track plays like a spontaneous recording, as if Elvis and the band were playing the song for fun, and someone just happened to tape the session.

Actually, that’s how a LOT of Elvis’s music got recorded: Elvis would be just noodling around on piano, the band would pick it up, and the tape would roll. Or it’d be vice the versa, with the band leading the way and Elvis getting inspired to jump in. And he’s right, this is a good ‘un. In truth, Elvis did a fine job with the whole album it comes from. But, I mean, come ON: it’s Elvis, man. Early Elvis too, before he shit the bed and became a bizarre parody of himself, and an object lesson on the perils of excess celebrity and wealth.

The author goes on to echo the now-de rigeur gripe about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (it’s “creepy”), which for the life of me I still just don’t get, and don’t really want to. He saves himself by recommending Sonny Boy Williamson, Los Straitjackets, and even The Youngsters’ hilarious “Christmas In Jail.” For myself, I’ll commend to your attention the Christmas albums of John Fahey, The Ventures, Canadian Brass, and of course Cantus and Chanticleer.

As for new original Christmas music, earlier this evening I chanced to hear this NPR interview with JD McPherson featuring in-studio live perfomances of a few tunes from his newly-released Christmas album:

McPherson is a songwriter, singer and guitarist who is described by music critic Ann Powers as a supreme rock reinventor. McPherson grew up far away from the hubs of the music world on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. His father runs the ranch. His mother is a preacher. Before becoming a full-time musician, McPherson taught art for four years to students in middle school. His Christmas album “Socks” is his fourth album.

Welcome all of you to FRESH AIR. It’s so exciting to have you here, and the new Christmas album is great. JD, I’m going to ask you to introduce the first song and to introduce the members of the band.

JD MCPHERSON: Certainly. So my name’s JD McPherson, and over to my left is everybody else. That’s Doug Corcoran, the utility guy who plays everything. Jimmy Sutton on bass. Ray Jacildo plays keys with background vocals, and our friend Jason Smay on drums.

Now as it happens, the above-mentioned Jimmy Sutton is an old friend of mine. Back when the Playboys were just getting established as a for-real touring band we did shows with Jimmy’s old outfit, the Moondogs. We also stayed at his house a few times when we were passing through Chicago; he’s a great guy, and an enormously talented musician. Haven’t seen him in a good few years, unfortunately, so it was great to hear him on the radio yakking away with the Fresh Air host.

As for JD’s Christmas rekkid: although it’s by no means what anybody would call traditional holiday fare, I liked what I heard of it. Here, have yourself a taste:




Not bad, eh? And thus does this old dog learn himself a new trick.

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Christmas repop

So I believe I mentioned that I was considering doing a deep dive through the CF archives for some classic Christmas posts for y’all this year. Here’s the first, from…uhh, wait, 2017? Seriously? Jeez, more recent than I woulda thought—probably too recent to be authentically “classic,” I guess, but what the hell. Original item here.

It’s a wonderful movie
Can’t recall offhand if I’ve written about It’s A Wonderful Life here before; most likely I have, not least because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I know I did mention the wonderful Donna Reed, the loveliest human female ever to grace the Earth, in this old post. And I’m quite sure I’ve expressed my contempt for the tiresome hipster douchebaggery that had every snotty twerp in hearing distance caviling about the movie as a lightweight, manipulative, sappy piece of schmaltz—little more than a standard-issue three-hanky weeper cranked out by the Frank Capra factory, noted for producing thinly-disguised propaganda flicks promoting those wretched, repressive old American values we’ve thankfully left in the dustbin of history.

Trust me: if you feel that way about this movie, you will NOT enjoy the rest of this post, which I will tuck below the fold to spare your finely-honed artistic sensibilities until such time as you grow the fuck up and cultivate a proper appreciation for Capra’s masterwork, a film that will far outlive anybody’s jejune cynicism towards it.

First, the bare facts:

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift”, which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote in 1939 and published privately in 1945. The film is considered one of the most loved films in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.

The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.

Despite initially performing poorly at the box office because of high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, the film has come to be regarded as a classic and is a staple of Christmas television around the world. Theatrically, the film’s break-even point was $6.3 million, approximately twice the production cost, a figure it never came close to achieving in its initial release. An appraisal in 2006 reported: “Although it was not the complete box office failure that today everyone believes…it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were.”

It’s a Wonderful Life is considered one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. It was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made placing number 11 on its initial 1998 greatest movie list, and would also place number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time. Capra revealed that this was his personal favorite among the films he directed and that he screened it for his family every Christmas season.

Some more interesting trivia: the movie was shot over the spring and summer of ’46 on RKO’s Culver City studio and movie ranch, and it was HOT that year. I read someplace long ago that temps went well into the 90s routinely that year, doubtless an effect of the early stages of Global Wormening™, and the filming was a miserably uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. I thought this was kinda interesting, too:

RKO created “chemical snow” for the film in order to avoid the need for dubbed dialogue when actors walked across the earlier type of movie snow, made up of crushed cornflakes.

Some more great trivia, from IMDB:

For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Reed broke the window by herself. She’d played baseball in high school, and had a strong throwing arm.

The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real. It was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.

It’s still there, too, and still in use.

As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised “I’m alright, I’m okay!” Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

If that sounds paltry to the point of insulting, just remember that those ten 1946 bucks would amount to, what, about thirty grand or so today. Ahem.

James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra’s watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.

And oh, what a beautiful moment it is, too. “It’s the chance of a lifetime…” Puddles me up right quick every time I see it, and I’ve been watching this flick for years and years now.

While filming the scene in which George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob. Frank Capra later re-framed and blew up the shot because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart’s face. That’s why the shot looks so grainy compared with the rest of the film.

Another golden moment as far as I’m concerned, and profoundly affecting, at least for me. A bit more detail on that snow:

Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Caprawanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow.

And here’s more on the heat:

Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.

This one is…well, kinda ugly:

According to Robert J. Anderson, H.B. Warner really was drunk during the scene in which Mr. Gower slaps young George. Warner’s slaps were real and caused real blood to come from Anderson’s ear. After the scene was finished, Warner hugged and comforted Anderson.

Um. Okay then. This one I did not know until now:

In the scene at the dance in the high school gym, when George Bailey first sees Mary and approaches her, the young man talking to Mary is “Alfalfa” of Little Rascals fame in the uncredited role of Freddie Othelo. He is also in the scene where he turns the key that opens the gym floor to reveal the swimming pool.

And this one I did:

Both James Stewart and Donna Reed came from small towns; Stewart from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Reed from Denison, Iowa. She demonstrated her rural roots by winning an impromptu bet with Lionel Barrymore when he challenged her to milk a cow on-set.

GOD, I love that woman.

When all’s said and done, anyone who can watch the whole movie up to the climactic, stirring final scene when George’s friends all show up to donate their little all to help out in his most trying hour (even old Potter returning the 8 grand Uncle Billy had left in his vile clutches!), and Harry offers a toast “To my brother George—the luckiest guy in town” and not choke up at least a little is just not someone I really want to know, dammit. It’s a damned character flaw is what it is, indicative of a possibly dangerous derangement at the very least.

But that ain’t the only deeply moving scene, not by yards and yards. Another of my all-time favorite moments is when Bert and Ernie bring George home to the “leaky, drafty old barn of a house” at 320 Sycamore and usher him inside. George is flabbergasted by Mary’s transformation of a couple of run-down rooms into a serviceable kitchen and bedroom, and just stands there, hands on hips, smiling at her in stunned surprise. The look she gives him back is the one every man on Earth wants to see on his woman’s face when she looks at him: nearly beatific, eyes shining, the love in her a nearly palpable thing, a presence in the room in its own right. Uncontainable; warm; deep and joyous; enveloping but not smothering, just a thing of perfect natural beauty.

Oh, and did you know that they named Sesame Street’s famous Bert and Ernie after the characters in the movie? Of course you did. (Some of Henson’s colleagues adamantly deny this, though).

So go watch it again without guilt or shame if it hasn’t aired yet in your area. Myself, I watched it last night when it aired on USA Network, and will very likely watch it again before Christmas is upon us; I bought the DVD almost the moment it came out, see, and I treasure it. They just ain’t making them like It’s A Wonderful Life anymore. In truth, I doubt they even can, and I’m near certain they wouldn’t want to. Either way, that’s a damned shame. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it, as far as I’m concerned.

So there you have it, folks. And yes, I do still feel the same way about this truly timeless film, all these…umm, this…okay, okay, one year later. A new category for this year’s Christmas posts; it’s baffling why I didn’t establish the thing years ago, considering all the Christmas posts I’ve done over lo, these many years. It woulda made it one hell of a lot easier to round ’em all up for review, that’s for sure.

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"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

"To put it simply, the Left is the stupid and the insane, led by the evil. You can’t persuade the stupid or the insane and you had damn well better fight the evil." - Skeptic

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