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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Monday, December 24, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Blue Christmas

I’m cheating here a bit because this is an album rather than a specific song, but I can’t help myself – it is one of my very favourite things about Christmas. I’ll play this CD to death between December 1 and January 1 (when I’m forced by everyone around me to give it up) and will be either humming or singing it if I’m not at home.

Why do I like it so much?

Partly because it’s one of those albums that works perfectly. There’s no place where you feel jarred from one song to another, no place where you wonder why in the heck did they include that song?, no place where you get bored. Part of that is because it’s from another time, when songs were shorter, albums were shorter. Part of it is because I know the words to all of the songs. But most of it is because I love the way Elvis’s sweet tenor makes all these songs so sweet and almost sad.

And honestly? My favorite song is the saddest Christmas song ever – and maybe that’s why I play it over and over again. It makes me think of all the people I’ll miss over the holidays, people who are gone, people I’ve lost touch with, people who are simply somewhere other than Vancouver for the holidays. 

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me

I didn’t have to look up those lyrics, I know them off by heart – and just typing them here brought tears to my eyes. Because I can’t think of this song without thinking of the people I’ll miss. This year, it’s my mom, even though she’s been gone for almost fifteen years.

It’s funny (funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha, as my mom would say) how we go through waves of longing, of missing someone – and I suspect for all of us, Christmas is one of the worst times. 

So what I wish for you for the holidays is that you keep the ones you’re missing this year close to your heart, that you can remember the wonderful, happy times you spent with them, and that you have a perfect Christmas song of your own.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Laura Drewry

I’m so happy Kate invited me here to talk about Christmas music.  Who doesn’t love a good carol or hymn?  The problem, of course, is picking just one, so sorry, Kate, I picked three.  I figured that was pretty good considering how many I had to choose from.

When I was growing up, Mr. Pontini and the church choir would sing O Holy Night on Christmas Eve, and. . .well. . .wow.  Turn it up loud and sing with everything you’ve got.

Do They Know it’s Christmas – such an amazing concept, song and event.  Here we are, almost thirty years later, and I still cry every time Bono sings “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”  If for some reason, you’ve never heard the song or seen the video, here’s the link.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkP2LkWc6lc

Halleluja He is Born – anyone who’s listened to country music as long as I have will know and love this song.  Sawyer Brown knows how to have fun when they sing, and this song, recorded with Mark Miller’s own church choir, is one of their best.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on Kenny & Dolly, Elvis, Anne Murray, Toby Keith, Springsteen, Vince Gill, George Strait, Bing Crosby. . .well, you see where I’m going with this.  There’s just something about Christmas music, whether hymns or carols, that make the season what it is and makes our hearts a little happier, a little lighter.

**  **  **

In the spirit of making our hearts a little lighter, I found this snippet from CHARMING JO where Levi Travers is getting his first good look at Joanna (Jo) McCaine in action.

**  **  **
“Your Pa wouldn’t want this, Joey.  You know how he felt about fencing in the land.”
Joanna’s face turned the deepest shade of red Levi had ever seen.  Almost bordered on purple. She wrapped her fingers around her horse’s reins and turned to face her uncle.
“Yes, well, Pa’s not here anymore, is he?  If he was, I wouldn’t be standing here in his clothes making decisions like this. And you wouldn’t be all in a tizzy because I had to go and hire someone like Travers.”  She jerked her head toward Levi, sending her braid swishing from shoulder to shoulder.
If she wasn’t such a sight when she was mad, Levi might have been insulted.
“Jo.” Mac’s tone held more than just a little warning, but she stopped him with a raised hand. 
Maybe the stories of Joanna McCaine were true – maybe she did rule with an iron fist.  Because from the look falling over Mac’s face, this argument was long over.  Mac McCaine didn’t lose arguments; it just wasn’t done.  Yet there he stood, facing down his niece and losing – badly.
“He’s the only available body we can find to work and having him here will get you back where you belong – out from under foot and back with the herd.”
“But. . .”
“I’ve made my decision, Mac.”  Then, as he’d seen her do earlier, Joanna mounted her horse in one graceful motion. 
“Where are you going?” Mac asked, his voice still tight.
“Check on Clay.  Put Travers to work and I’ll see you at supper. He can do Walt’s job until Chuck delivers the wire for the fence.  Should be here in a couple days.”
She shot a final warning look at both of them before kneeing her animal forward.  “Try not to kill each other while I’m gone.”
She rode off in the same direction as Clay while Levi stood watching her go.  
“Is she always like that?” he asked, more to himself than Mac, since the only response he expected from Mac was a bullet between the eyes.
With a defeated sigh, Mac swiped the back of his hand over his mouth and shot a final glare at his niece’s back before turning to Levi.  “You mean stubborn?”
“Yeah, but. . .”
“Yeah. . .”
Levi snickered.  “There’s just something about her – what the hell is it?”
Mac jabbed a gloved finger at him.  “You keep the hell away from her, Travers.  She’ll have you for breakfast.  And if she doesn’t, I will!”  His voice lowered, but the warning remained.  “Jo isn’t like other girls.”
Levi chuckled.  “I noticed.”
“Well stop noticing!  That there’s one woman you’d do well to leave alone.”  Mac spat on the ground and turned toward the barn, mumbling to himself.  “Don’t know why I let her grind me - she’s never gonna change.”
A low whistle escaped Levi’s lips.  “Why would you want her to?”

**  **  **

Thanks again, Kate, for inviting me here today.  To celebrate Christmas and the fabulous music it brings, I’ll be giving away a free copy of Charming Jo (paper or ebook) to one random commenter.  I hope you all have a safe and joyous season and that the New Year brings us all peace and a greater love for the world over.

Friday, December 21, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Hedda Armour

First, full disclosure:  I love Kate Austin.  If anyone other than Kate had asked me to talk about Christmas music I would have donned my most grinchy of Grinch faces and held forth about how I loathe Christmas music, particularly by the last week of November when the assault has been going on since the Halloween decorations came down.  I’d go on about how tired I am of seeing store clerks’ faces weary from exposure to endless loops of Blue Christmas and I’ll Be Home For Christmas and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.  I’m equally tired of desperate-looking shoppers, cheesy tinsel-and-bows decorating every tree and lamp post, of newspapers and magazines and flyers all exhorting us to buy buy buy.  Each day finds me with my scowl intact, my chin tucked deeper into my collar, counting the days when I don’t have to worry about hearing another version of White Christmas while I’m picking up milk and bread in the corner store.

But it was Kate who asked me so I decided to make it an opportunity to re-examine my stock response to Christmas music and sort through a few songs both secular and non- to see if it’s really true.

To my surprise, I found a few – quite a few in fact – that I really like and at the top of the list is The Chipmunk Song, both for its enduring novelty and frivolousness and its incredibly good harmonies.  I like Alvin’s O KAY! in response to Dave’s scolding to pay attention and focus on the song.  A little attitude is refreshing for me at this time of year, particularly from a singing rodent.  I was curious about the singers; in the days that recording was made technology was more primitive and I wondered how they did it.   Who were “The Chipmunks” and where they are now?

It turns out that The Chipmunk Song was written and all parts sung by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. aka David Seville.  His is an interesting story and includes the fact that his first cousin was William Saroyan with whom he wrote C’mon-a My House made a hit by Rosemary Clooney.  Every time I hear Alvin sing “I still want a hula hoop” I am transported and a smile breaks out, I can’t help it.  Gone the Grinch!

Next on my list is Oh Holy Night – you can’t get much more non-secular than that – which, regardless of who covers it (and it has been sung by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Joan Baez, Sufjan Stevens, Mariah Carey …) never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck as the voices swell to the chorus … “Fall on your knees…”  Just gorgeous.   Unfortunately it’s seldom played loud enough in the malls and stores, probably because it demands you stop and listen, which means you’re not shopping hard enough.

There’s a bunch of Christmas songs I like because they’re a bit saucy or witty and make me wish for a time when movies had snappier dialogue, or perhaps when my life had snappier dialogue.  At any rate, and in no particular order: Santa Baby (who writes lyrics like “slip some sable under the tree for me” anymore); I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which is just plain cute and innocent and perhaps a bit sly; and All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, the kind of secular Christmas song that invites a family sing-along, especially if there are children who are near or slightly past the age when they believe in Santa Claus, are losing baby teeth but still want to join in the magic and wistfulness.  Frosty the Snowman could almost be on this list but it’s been overexposed.  There is a cartoon - a four panel - with a classic snowman, decked out in top hat, scarf, carrot nose and coal eyes and mouth.  He’s singing “Zippity Doo Dah …” and slowly melting.  By the time he reaches the line “…plenty of sunshine…” he’s almost a pool of water with the aforementioned accoutrements floating around him.  It’s a bit dark but makes me laugh all the same.  And “Zippity Doo Dah” does not qualify as a Christmas song though the visuals bring to mind Frosty the Snowman.

One of my favourite romantic Christmas songs is Baby It’s Cold Outside.  It speaks of a time when restraint was the order of the day (“I really can’t stay…”) right alongside desire and persuasion.  The song leaves us believing the couple’s back-and-forth continues long into the night.  It’s cozy and cinematic because it takes us from their warm embrace to the storm outside and back again.

How about those wonderful Christmas songs we learned as children?  Good King Wences Last Looked Out, or We Three Kings of Orrie and Tar?

I’ve noticed that the lyrics to Santa Claus is Coming to Town  have changed slightly.  There was always something a bit creepy and stalkerish about a benevolent gift-giver like Santa turning into a guy who “sees you when you’re sleeping …”   Now he merely “knows IF you’ve been sleeping”.
The Little Drummer Boy is one Christmas song I can tolerate no matter where I hear it; it’s touching, melodic, structurally sophisticated and appeals to children and adults alike.  Pah Ruppa Pup Pum.
Then there are the songs I wish weren’t played in public places, not because they’re banal and repetitive – they’re not - but because they’re overly sentimental and isn’t the Christmas season fraught with expectations and sentimentality enough?  So please spare me I’ll Be Home For Christmas or Blue Christmas.  I just hate weeping in Toys “R” Us or Shoppers or … well, maybe Shoppers is a good place to hear these songs – at least I’m close to the tissues!

Last, I’d like to celebrate The Twelve Days of Christmas.  It’s fun to sing with people of any age or persuasion.  We can all take turns singing the “five golden rings” part.  And for older folk - that is anyone over 12 - it’s right up there with crosswords for exercising that flabby cerebellum.  The imagery is beautiful and encourages painting, cutting and pasting, dancing, working with clay, making cookies – in short, anything creative that is informed by the lyrics.

So thanks, Kate.  I guess Christmas music, like any music, has its favoured and not so loved tunes.  Now I can erase the scowl, lift my chin(s) and march through the season like a good citizen, loving and loathing in equal measure.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Hedda Armour