Yesterday I was at the dentist’s office, getting my teeth cleaned. As I was reclining in the chair, with the dental hygienist sand-blasting my teeth in a desperate attempt to make them slightly less dingy, she groaned. “Oh no! They’re playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again!” she said.
Sure enough, some uninspired, generic version of Rudolph had just begun to play over the office sound system. I hadn’t really noticed until she mentioned it, but the sound system at the dentist’s office was tuned to a local pop music station that starts playing a steady diet of Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is in the rear view mirror. It was only Wednesday of the first week of the Christmas music marathon, and already the hygienist was feeling the pain of the relentless carol barrage. I said, “Well, you’ve only got four weeks to go” when she removed the scraper and saliva-sucking tube from my mouth. She smiled bravely behind her mask but responded, “I’m not sure I can make it.”
I like holiday music, particularly the classic versions of carols and pop hits like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree or Blue Christmas, and I’ve got a playlist of Christmas music on my iPod that I listen to while doing my holiday baking. I could probably listen to an endless loop of the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack for hours and be perfectly content. But the generic stuff, like a version of Do You Hear What I Hear by the latest one-hit wonder pop star, is nothing but grating. I can’t imagine being forced to listen to instantly forgettable renditions of holiday music all day, every workday, and I’m grateful that I work at a job where that isn’t part of the performance expectations.
Employers should consider whether it’s only fair to their employees, and their sanity, to take an occasional break from the Christmas music every now and then. Who knows what a dental hygienist, armed with hooks and scrapers and sand-blasting implements, might do after being driven around the bend by the 25th playing of Celine Dion’s version of Feliz Navidad?
I was never a huge Tom Petty fan, but he wrote at least one perfect song: Free Fallin’. It’s an anthem, and one of those songs that perfectly captures the modern world, where things are just . . . adrift. Here’s hoping, against hope, that the reports are wrong.
We’re staying in a VRBO rental in the French Quarter, about halfway between Bourbon Street and Louis Armstrong Park. This morning at about 8:30 a.m., with the temperature already about 90 degrees and the humidity approximately 1000 percent, we walked to the park and checked out the statue of the legendary jazz trumpeter. We’re traveling with two long-time music educators, so we also got an interesting tutorial on how Armstrong started off on the coronet, and how the coronet and the trumpet are different.
We can’t get enough of the live music in New Orleans. Last night we hit multiple venues on Frenchman Street, which has just about the best collection of live music venues within a small geographical area that you’ll find anywhere. We started at one of our favorites, the Spotted Cat Music Club, where this band deftly covered some classic selections from the Great American Songbook.
As always on Frenchman Street, the music options are diverse — from torch songs at the Spotted Cat to roots blues music at the Apple Barrel to a kick out the jams, move your feet horn band at Cafe Negril. We enjoyed every one of them, and tonight we’ll be back for more.
The clip above from the old rock TV show The Midnight Special — where the band is jarringly introduced by a mustachioed Bill Cosby — captures the group performing live in 1973, which is about the same time I first heard their music. The song they performed live on that show, Reelin’ In The Years, is a guitar-driven classic that was one of the first Steely Dan songs that caused me to buy their albums. It was perfect for those high school days, allowing the boys with the bad ’70s haircuts and monster bellbottoms and tight polyester shirts to play some air guitar when the song came on the radio in the car before belting out lyrics that didn’t really make a lot of sense but were great to sing, anyway.
Becker and Fagen were genuises at coming up with the riffs and the obscure, tantalizing lyrics that wormed their way into your head. Like Neil Young in that same time period, they kept reinventing themselves. When you bought a Steely Dan album, whether it was Katy Lied or Can’t Buy A Thrill or Aja, or any of the other great albums they put out in the ’70s, you never were quite sure what you were going to get — but you knew it would be interesting. And you could spend hours debating what the hell the lyrics to songs like Black Cow or Bodhisattva or Deacon Blues were all about, too. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, I think of Steely Dan’s Black Friday, and as it plays back in miy mind it stills sounds as great as it did when I first heard it, back in college.
Farewell, Walter Becker, and thank you for adding a little bit of richness and mystery to our lives. (And 67 seems like a pretty young age to go, by the way.)