Christmas Carol Curmudgeon

By this point in the year, I’m already pretty sick of Christmas songs as it is. (One our of local radio stations actually starts their all-Christmas format in October.) But I now work at a convenience store where they play 18 different cover versions of the same 12 Christmas songs ad nauseum. If you were trying to think of the best way to torture me, you couldn’t do much better than making me stand in the same spot for eight hours and listen to Christmas music incessantly.

By hearing the same songs over and over, though, I find that some of them have very mixed messages, which I think are worth addressing here.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – I already wrote a detailed blog about this song years ago (which you can read here). I actually adore this song — but only when it is sung by Judy Garland, who seemed to be the only singer who understood the song’s inherently downbeat message. (In the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, she’s trying to lift the spirits of her downhearted younger sister, but you can tell that Garland isn’t very convinced of the song’s encouraging words herself.) Unfortunately, once Frank Sinatra got hold of the song, he used his clout to screw around with a couple of the lyrics in order to make the song more upbeat, thus killing its original point. After that, nobody sang it right. Ella Fitzgerald sings the original lyrics which a wrongheaded jazzy spin, and every other cover version is so saccharine as to be nauseating. Just leave the song alone and let Judy sing it.

“Winter Wonderland” – Ever since I was a kid, I’ve questioned the ambiguity of this song’s lyrics. The premise is that the singer and his or her Significant Other build a snowman in the woods and pretend that the snowman is a parson who can marry them later. Then the song continues, “Later on, we’ll conspire/As we dream by the fire/To face unafraid the plans that we made…” Conspire? Face unafraid? Such hostile words have an inherently male tone, which make me think that the man in the story is getting lured into a shotgun wedding. “Now, c’mon, baby, you know we was just talkin’ to a snowman, right?”

“Snowfall” – I’d never heard this song in my life until just a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded ghastly to me. I did some Internet surfing and discovered that the song is actually a Tony Bennett standard, and Bennett sings the song pretty well. Unfortunately, the cover version I heard is sung by Johnny Mathis, who overdid it the way he overdoes everything; the opening instrumental sounds like the soundtrack to a seance. (You should hear Mathis blast out the already overwrought hit “We Need a Little Christmas.”) If you’re not Tony Bennett, don’t sing this song.

“All I Want for Christmas” – My late wife and my daughter loved this song. Personally, I’m not a fan of Mariah Carey’s vocal gymnastics; every time she sings a song, she feels as though she has to try and hit every note in the vocal register. Compound with the umpteen cover versions of this song, and you end up thinking, “All I want for Christmas is for you to shut up.”

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – I demand two minutes for a rebuttal.

“Last Christmas” – Whenever I hear “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart,” I envision some naive woman on a blind date with Hannibal Lecter.

“Santa Baby” – I know I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t think Eartha Kitt is nearly as sexy as she thinks she is. Ditto Madonna’s cover version.

“White Christmas” – Generally, I like this song. But our store plays a cover version by some unknown woman who thinks she’s Frank Sinatra, singing, “…to hear sleigh bells in the snow, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.” Then she adds her own lyric to the song: “I’m dreaming of a white snowman,” etc., etc. It takes some brass balls to think you can improve upon Irving Berlin.

And no list of dreaded Christmas songs is complete without:

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Years ago, the humor website did a superb deconstruction of this song (actually of the TV special, but it still fits), pointing out how condescending everyone (including Santa Claus) was to Rudolph just because he had a unique nose. I can’t state my case any better than did, so read their blog about it here.

Oh, and…Merry Christmas, everybody!


Time for a rant

It’s time for a rant, so get ready. I’m not presumptuous enough to think that I’m the only person in America who has suffered gravely this year. But I’m widowed and have nobody to vent to, so here you are.

In May of last year, I lost the best job I ever had — best in terms of money, respect, and allowing me to write and create — just so that the company could tell its shareholders that they were beheading the employees who had the most tenure and salaries.

Months of job-hunting led to, at best, a few “pre-interviews” that went nowhere. Then my wife started the year by going into the hospital one more time for the many maladies she suffered.

We thought it would be just another of her inconvenient hospital stays. She remained in the hospital for two months and then died, just two days prior to our 31st wedding anniversary. She left behind a small business that my daughter has had to maintain, and little else.

Job-wise, the best I could do since then was my current job, as a cashier at a local convenience store. A monkey could do my job. Yesterday, my daughter tested positive for COVID-19. I just had a test done myself today, and it was “indeterminate.”

That means I should be safe rather than sorry and, at the very least, not leave the house for two days before I get another test. I am sick and tired of this effin’ year.

I have always despised politicians who use their office to hoard more power and money, rather than helping their constituents. You can imagine how I feel in this, the year of Trump & McConnell.

Yes, I know I sound like a self-pitying Job. But for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve done everything I can to keep things going, only to be kicked further down the hill like the proverbial can. I DESERVE AN EFFIN’ BREAK.

R.I.P., Alex Trebek

So sorry to hear about the death of Alex Trebek after his long-running battle with pancreatic cancer. My late wife and I always made a point of sitting together to watch “Jeopardy!” every evening. He was about as comforting a TV host as you could ask for.

“Jeopardy!” was only one of his many game-show triumphs, having hosted several other shows in the 1970’s and ’80s. One of those was “High Rollers,” a “rolling the dice”-based game which he co-hosted with actress Ruta Lee. Just as my wife watched “Jeopardy!” with me, my otherwise crusty stepmother enjoyed watching “High Rollers” with me in the 1970’s. She said she thought Ms. Lee was very kind and helpful to the contestants.

A few years ago, I discovered that Ruta Lee was a member of Facebook. I wrote her a short IM/fan letter in which how much my stepmom and I enjoyed her on “High Rollers.” She replied to me that she and that show were once a “Jeopardy!” clue, and all of the contestants were too young to remember the show, so they didn’t even try to guess the clue. I wonder what Ms. Lee is thinking tonight.

Arthritic Tom & Jerry

(C) 1975, Turner Entertainment

For Tom & Jerry fans in the 1970’s, Sept. 6, 1975 was the day the music died.

That date marked ABC’s premiere broadcast of an animation abomination titled The Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape Show. If you do remember this painful entry in the Saturday-morning TV kiddie fest, you probably don’t want to.

The story goes that in the ’70s, Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera — whose Hanna-Barbera company was by then the go-to source for Saturday morning cartoons — purchased the rights to produce TV cartoons starring Tom & Jerry, the cat-and-mouse duo that had earned them countless Academy Awards in the 1940’s and ’50s. Hanna and Barbera screened several of their classic T&J cartoons for executives at M-G-M (the movie studio that owned the rights to the characters). The execs laughed heartily at the cartoons, then did an about-face and said that T&J’s “violence” would never pass muster with Network Standards and Practices (who were then being hounded by parents’ groups who leaned heavily on sponsors to pressure networks into broadcasting more “uplifting” fare on Saturday mornings).

Given little choice in the matter, Hanna-Barbera proceeded to homogenize Tom & Jerry to the point of unrecognizability. The once-dueling duo was turned into a pair of friends (a la Laurel & Hardy, minus the comedy) who engaged in pointless “adventures.” And Jerry now sported a bow tie that enabled H-B’s animators to “split up” his movements (so that his head and his body could move separately), saving money for the cost-cutting H-B unit.

Initially, the T&J cartoons were paired (in an hour-long format) with the cartoons of an equally witless character named the Great Grape Ape. This was a benign but moronic purple gorilla with a fast-talking sidekick, improbably named Beegle-Beagle (I guess as a salute to the character Nicely-Nicely from the Broadway hit Guys & Dolls. I’m sure that reference got a big laugh from Saturday-morning cereal-crunchers).

After a year, apparently ABC decided to air the characters in slightly more palatable formats. Each set of characters got their own show, which quietly died until Cartoon Network was formed in 1992 and Ted Turner used the Grape Ape segments to fill up his schedule.

In any case, everything that Hanna-Barbera ever learned about gags and comic timing seemed to have been forgotten in these TV-made forgeries. One lyric in the TV show’s theme (about the only enjoyable asset of the series) goes, “You’ll begin with a grin when you first tune us in.” But there’s nothing in the TV Tom & Jerry that ever takes you beyond the grinning stage. H-B went from great comedy routines to which you had to pay attention to get all the jokes, to getting everything telegraphed to the dumbest yahoo in the audience. It’s as though people who never really “got” Tom & Jerry’s comedy were trying to write it.

Amazingly, there appear to be viewers who actually prefer this dumbed-down TV series to the beautifully animated cartoons that inspired it. There is even an entire website devoted to this show. (Click here to view it. The site also provides one example of the Sat.-morning show’s six-minute T&J segments; watch it, and see how long you can tolerate it before moving along to somewhere else on the Internet.)

The TV T&J cartoons are bad enough on their own. What really gets my goat is that they were made by the same guys who worked on these cartoons (in full-animation mode) for 17 years. Somewhere in their heart of hearts, Hanna and Barbera must have felt at least a pang of guilt for taking the fun out of their own creations just for a quick buck.

The “Love Goes On” Blogathon – Day 2

Our tribute to movies about love after death continues apace! Click here if you missed Day 1’s entries, and click on each of the blogs’ names below for more terrific critiques.

The Midnite Drive-in details how Lily Tomlin gets under Steve Martin’s skin in more ways than one, in the outrageous physical comedy All of Me.

Warren Beatty is a reincarnated football player, and Julie Christie helps him get back in the game in Heaven Can Wait, as reported by Dubsism.

Love isn’t just for the living, as Taking Up Room demonstrates with Tim Burton’s darkly animated Corpse Bride.

Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy remain together even after Cronyn’s death in the thoughtful TV-movie Foxfire, the choice of fare for Diary of a Movie Maniac.

And finally, check out 18 Cinema Lane‘s unique love letter to Brandon Lee’s The Crow.

We have one more day of great blogathon entries to go, so don’t go anywhere!