Saturday, December 22, 2007

#4. The Saddest Christmas Song in the World.

Judy Garland met Vincent Minnelli -- her first homosexual husband -- when he directed Meet Me in St. Louis, the movie this song is from. (So you could say that we have this film to thank for Liza Minnelli.)

Apparently the original lyrics were even darker and changes were made to brighten it up a little for the film. But the most egregious change -- "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough" -- was made later, for a Frank Sinatra Christmas album, and now you hardly ever hear the earlier version sung.

The wikipedia entry for the film is worth a read. The very dry plot summary cracked me up. Here's a sample (Tootie is the little girl, played by Margaret O'Brien): "The emotional climax of the movie occurs when Tootie cannot cope with the disruption of her social world, and experiences a violent breakdown in a yard full of snowmen."

Friday, December 21, 2007

#5. It's the Most Wonderful Humbug of the Year.

If you love a good tirade about American Christianity, you can't beat December and you can't beat Christopher Hitchens. He reminds me that I hate what Christmas has become not only because it's evil, but because it's stupid.

I don't agree with a lot of what he writes about other stuff, and, even when he's writing about religion, he tends to overlook the fact that there are some Christians for whom Christ is something other than a passive-aggressive imaginary friend. But, even though I appreciate that there are many people who practice a contemplative Christianity that is worlds different from the born-again shopping mall religion constantly bleating in our faces -- in fact, probably pretty close to my own beliefs and practice -- even those more thoughtful Christians have some explaining to do about that Bible.

Oh, he loves Hanukkah too.

Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

#7. I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On.

(You don't need to watch the video -- nothing happens, this is just the only version of the song I could find to post.)

The last time I saw Richard was Oxford, Ohio in '81.

Until I was 19, I used to say that I didn't like Joni Mitchell because all her songs sounded the same. My sophomore year of college, when I was home for Christmas break, I met a boy. There was a small college in my hometown, and, through high school friends who were going to school there instead of leaving like I did, I met a group of music and theater students who lived off campus, and I would spend most of my evenings with them whenever I was home for breaks. This boy's name was Richard. He was a voice major, smart and funny and effeminate. He wore a bright yellow crewneck pullover sweater.

The two of us ended up alone together after a couple of parties in his room, drunk and stoned, and he played Blue for me. It may have been the first time I'd ever heard it. It was the first time I'd ever heard it. I had never heard anything so beautiful as those songs. I still haven't. Richard and I sat on chairs facing each other and caressed each other's stocking feet (winters are cold in Indiana) and I fell in love -- with Joni Mitchell.

A week or so later, Richard drove to Oxford, Ohio, where I was back at school, about a three hour drive. It was different. Most of that year, my best friend and I (we were also roommates) struggled painfully with whether or not our relationship was sexual, so Richard suddenly in the middle of that was emotionally too complicated, and I couldn't handle it. I snuck off to bed that night, and, when Richard joined me, I pretended to be asleep. He got out of bed and kept my friends up for hours with stories of men who'd mistreated him. He was gone when I got up in the morning.

That was the first time I was passively cruel to a man who didn't deserve it. Not the last, though.

Monday, December 17, 2007

#8. Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.

I'm convinced that people who say they hate fruitcake have never actually eaten fruitcake. It's like people saying they don't like Italian food because Spaghetti-O's are gross. If you've never had a fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery, you've never had fruitcake.

I think it was my grandma that used to order fruitcakes from Collin Street Bakery and send them to us at Christmastime or bring them with her in her suitcase, but I could be mixing up my Christmas memories. It's been known to happen. I do remember the tin they came in with the cowboy superimposed on the Currier & Ives-ish scene on the lid, because my mom kept them and used them for other things, cookies, etc. They still come in those tins.

I didn't get to Texas until I was almost 40 and J and I were touring down here so much and visiting his family. We stopped at the Dr. Pepper plant in Waco and the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, just off I-45 about an hour south of Dallas. We sampled everything and bought an apricot pecan cake. I highly recommend it. If you like sweet things -- if you don't, well, then, you're a lost cause, and besides I don't believe you -- you will like this fruitcake. It's tender and very flavorful and something like 25% pecans.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

#9. Auntie Mame.

From the late eighties to the mid-nineties, I worked the graveyard shift proofreading and word processing in corporate law firms in New York. At one of the firms, I worked with a man named Silvio. He was a native New Yorker, second generation Italian-American, and a bit of a bitchy queen in the old style -- half Sylvester Stallone, half Estelle Getty in Golden Girls. He was sarcastic, very very funny, a great cook, and good to the marrow.

When I met him, his partner (he would have called him his "lover") of many years had just died of AIDS, and we worked together for only a year or so, so I never knew him except as someone who was tender with grief. Most of the time it didn't show, but every once in a while, I'd look over and he'd be staring at the air in front of his face, his eyes wet, utterly lost. Even after you've been working the graveyard shift for years, and your dinner is breakfast, the long night still has the quality of a vigil. In those cramped and smoky -- this was before New York outlawed smoking and before I quit -- proofreading rooms, we might reveal things, laugh harder than our daytime laugh, feel close for a few hours like drunk people and slightly embarrassed when the sun came up.

I had just discovered Auntie Mame -- who turned us on to it? J might remember -- but Silvio knew it by heart. We would recite whole scenes together; well, he would recite them, and I would try to keep up, laughing till my throat hurt. His favorite was the scene when Mame meets Patrick's debutante girlfriend, Glory, who tells the story about the ill-fated ping pong game. It's hilarious. He also loved to do the southern matriarch ("My bougainvilleas!"), who appears in this clip. Silvio did all the voices to a tee, especially, of course, the great Rosalind Russell.

#10. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

In the spirit of my resolution to complain less, and since there are 10 more days till Christmas (rather than shopping days, I like to think of them as "hiding days"), and since I'm done with school for a few weeks and have more time to blog, and above all because scoffing gets old fast, I thought I would do a countdown of the good things about Christmas. Maybe I should have saved this one for last, because it might be the very best thing ever about Christmas, but I can't wait, and besides, this is not meant to be a hierarchical list, but just some things to get us through December. I listened this morning and had a good cry:

The Fairy Tale of New York

by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The rare old mountain tune
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last


I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you