Bing Christmas

If you like popular Christmas music, you probably like Bing Crosby.  It’s hard to think of a performer who is more identified with the holiday than Der Bingle.

Everyone knows about the Crosby version of White Christmas.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, his 1942 recording of the song remains the biggest selling record of all time, having sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.  And if you grew up during the ’50s and ’60s, you remember the family getting together to watch Crosby’s annual Christmas show, in which the Old Groaner — whose actual first name was Harry — and his family and friends sang traditional carols and encouraged those at home to sing along.  But Crosby had a series of big hits with Christmas songs, including a classic swing version of Jingle Bells recorded with the Andrews Sisters, above, and the irresistible Mele Kalikimaka (The Hawaiian Christmas Song), below.  And that’s not even including the definitive Crosby treatment of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, either.

During this baking weekend, I’ve got my holiday music playlist on the iPod to keep me going as I mix, cut, and bake.  It just wouldn’t be the same without the offerings of the crooner from Tacoma, Washington.

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Saturday Night/Sunday Morning Fire Pit

  

I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of our backyard fire pit.  I like the zen of it, and the minute adjustments that make up tending a fire.  As I listen to my Empty Nest playlist and watch the fire consume logs and make them vanish into smoke and embers, I am struck by the beauty and violence and mystery of it.

I feel like I could sit out here and watch it for hours.

From a-Ha To ZZ Top

After months of painful work, my careful reconstruction of my failed iPod is coming to an end.  I started with a-Ha, worked my way through the Beach Boys and Beatles, through Elton John and Veruca Salt and Yo-yo Ma, compiling dozens of different playlists along the way, and have finally hit Zuilli Bailey and ZZ Top.  After that end-of-the-alphabet omega point, there are some random Japanese characters and numbers — .38 Special and the 5h Dimension figure prominently, for example  — but we’re basically done with the project.

What does it all mean?  I’m not sure, except for this:  there are a ridiculous number of talented musicians out there, and an even more ridiculous number of great songs,, and I desperately want to have them all.  What surprises me in my effort is that there is so much great music that I want to have on my iPod, just in case — and also how much fun it can be trying to organize it into playlists.  My musical tastes are broad, and if someone tells me I’m going to need to choose among the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, George Jones, John Coltrane, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and countless other artists, I’m not going to be a happy camper.

Fortunately, the old iPod has sufficient storage capacity that I don’t have to make such choices.  I can winnow things down without cutting crucial things out — and that is a great luxury of the modern world.  We are lucky we live in times of such technological advances.

The iPod At Technology’s End

Earlier this month I went to the Apple store at Easton Town Center and bought a second iPod — now called an iPod classic — because I wanted a spare I could use in my car and at the office on weekends.  Little did I know that I was buying one of the last iPods to be sold in an Apple store.

IMG_3056This week, after Apple announced its rollout of two new iPhones and the Apple Watch, the iPod classic was removed from the Apple on-line storePopular Mechanics reports that the iPod classic has been removed from Apple stores, too.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001, which means it’s ridiculously ancient by modern technology standards.  Technostuds view it as a kind of quaint antique, with its buttons rather than a touch screen and its single-purpose design and its internal spinning hard drive storage unit.  Sales of iPods of all kinds have dropped off, from a high of more than 54 million in 2009 to less than 12 million in 2012.  Obviously, consumers are focused more on multi-purpose functionality and would rather have an iPod app on their smartphone than carry around multiple devices.

All of that’s true, of course, but I love my iPod anyway.  It may be outdated, but the iPod has a certain timeless quality to it.  iPod classic is a good name for it, too, because it is a classic, like a gleaming 1930s sedan or a gorgeous art deco building.  With its crisp lines and sleek appearance, the iPod is simply a beautiful device — in my view, much more attractive than an iPhone or other substitutes.  And I like tinkering with it, creating playlists and shifting songs from here to there.  I like the raw storage capacity that allows me to store 40,000 songs — 40,000 songs! — and listen to any one of them when I’m taking my morning walk.  I don’t care that it only performs that one function when it performs it so well, and in such a cool package.  I’ll use it, proudly and happily, until the spinning hard drive finally gives up the ghost.

I’m glad I bought one of the last iPods to be sold at an Apple store.  I’ll almost hate to take it out of the box.

In Praise Of Vince Guaraldi

If you’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, you’ve enjoyed the music of Vince Guaraldi.

Guaraldi’s jazz-flavored interpretations of holiday classics like O Tannenbaum, What Child Is This?, and Greensleeves, played by a trio with Guaraldi on piano, Jerry Granelli on drums, and Puzzy Firth on bass, were perfectly suited to Charles Schulz’s beautiful tale of Charlie Brown’s search for the meaning of Christmas.  I long ago bought the soundtrack CD at a bargain bin, and Guaraldi’s songs have been a key part of the holidays at the Webner household ever since.  I really can’t imagine what the holidays would be like without that music.

On a soundtrack album that is filled with gem after gem, my favorite track is the the instrumental version of Christmas Time Is Here — spare, shuffling, deeply melodic, with each note heartfelt and moving.  It’s the first song on my holiday mix iPod playlist and it inevitably puts me in the holiday mood.  It’s perfect music for a wintry day.

Although I will always associate Vince Guaraldi with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi wasn’t a one-hit wonder.  With his trademark glasses and thick handlebar moustache, he was a staple of the jazz scene for two decades.  He recorded lots of excellent music, including the memorable Cast Your Fate to the Wind.  His career was cut short by his untimely death, of an apparent heart attack, in 1976, when he was only 47 years old.  You can learn a little bit more about Guaraldi and his music here.  It’s worth a few moments to know more about a man who helped to provide a soundtrack for our holidays.

Inadvertent IPod Wipeout

I am of the generation that views every electronic device with wary trepidation.  Raised during a time when computers crashed even more frequently than the healthcare.gov website, I firmly believe — despite the bland assurances of sons and IT nerds alike — that I can bring any system down with one false keystroke.

IMG_5424Saturday morning, it happened.  I had my iPod attached to the computer and was listening to music when I decided to remove the iPod.  It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times, but this time the outcome was different.  Suddenly a wavy line appeared on the screen, the mouse became unresponsive, and before I knew it the computer was telling me that did not recognize its old pal, my iPod.  When I removed the iPod, with sinking feeling, I found that all of my music and my carefully constructed playlists had been removed.  And, because I’ve been lazy about it, I don’t have any remotely current back-up on the computer itself.

So I went through the seven stages of reaction to technology disaster.  First, shock that my faithful iPod had deserted me, then denial that I could wreak such havoc with one inadvertent mouse click.  Next, I raged at the capricious electronic device gods for punishing me so grievously for one little mistake.  Then, false hope and bargaining.  Surely, the music still had to be on my iPod somewhere!   I’ll do a google search and find out how to retrieve it!  But google gave no answer, and when google gives no answer you are truly screwed.  My hope gone, I accepted responsibility for the disaster, then wrestled with the devastating realization that, although every other American under the age of 80 happily uses their iPod without incident, I am an idiot who can somehow evade all of the safety protections Apple has built into one of its signature products.

Those stages are behind me now, and I’ve moved, finally, to acceptance and hope.  I now welcome the chance to change things around, to shift the order of songs and maybe be a bit more selective in what goes on the iPod in the first place.  (The Telemann piece with the hunting horns probably will hit the cutting room floor this time.)  I’ll rebuild my iPod, with new and better playlists!  This time, I’ll back things up!  This time, I’ll do things the way Apple wants them done!

Oh, and I’ll be a bit more careful when removing my iPod from the computer.

Magic Of A Smile

On this morning’s walk I was listening to my iPod when The Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra came up on the playlist.  Without conscious thought, a big smile broke across my face as I listened to the silly lyrics — which are not exactly like poetry.  (“Abra, Abracadabra . . . I want to reach out and grab ya.“)

A stranger happened to be walking by in the opposite direction, and when he saw my grin he smiled right back.  His reaction, in turn, made my smile a bit wider.

Genuine smiles are contagious.  We all know that from personal experience, and scientific studies of the phenomenon prove its existence.  Whether it is due to the existence of “mirror neurons” in our brains, or social conditioning, or a combination of factors, humans are programmed to meet a smile with a smile.  And when we provoke that expression of delight, and see the face of a loved one turn sunny as a result of our comment or conduct, it is a wonderful thing.

I don’t know if Steve Miller anticipated all of this when he wrote Abracadabra — but he worked a little bit of magic on a New Albany walking path this morning.