Saturday, December 19, 2015

Non-Christmas Holiday Songs: A Long December

Watch/Listen: A Long December 

Just a quick note this month, as the Christmas season revs up, the weather gets chill and my students save their very worst writing for their final exams…thanks guys.

I live overseas, so I get to watch the Christmas wars a safe distance from the fire zone. I don’t quite have my finger on the pulse of home in the way I’d like, but from all the reading I’ve been doing, I would venture that the whole who can say what and to whom and when has gone a bit out of control—I’m looking at you, Yale University… Seems a little silly to be afraid to say “Merry Christmas” to someone because you’re afraid of causing offense. Seems a little silly to be worried about almost anything that comes out of your mouth that’s not outright hostile or explicitly directed to cause harm or hurt—I’m talking about ‘micro-aggressions,' you guys. Seems like this year, 2015, has been the year of hurt feelings, where the retort of “you can’t say that!” is enough to ruin someone for speaking their minds—I’d never defend abusive or offensive intentions. Mean people can go spin, no matter what they look like, as far as I’m concerned. But, from my vantage, which is safely out of range of the people I most fear, the state of the free world appears to be pretty…unfree.

Where I dwell, they celebrate New Years in the same way we Christians celebrate Christmas—lights, trees, gifts, parties and booze. They celebrate Ramazan here (Ramadan to you), and I get the ‘iyi bayram lar’ all time, which is Turkish for have a holly, jolly…holiday. It’s nice—being included in another culture’s religious celebrations. It proves modern holiday and merry making has very little to do with religion for most of us. It’s about family, its about celebrating the things that make us happy—despite which god we choose to open our wallets to…I mean, pray to. Sorry.  This insistence on removing the offense from the season is so counter to what the season is really about, and that is finding the value in fellowship and remembering the outstanding benefit one gets from being overtly and studiously kind to his—or her, or it’s—fellow man, woman or other.

Reveling in the better parts of our nature should be what we most celebrate at this time of year—worrying about offending others as we do so…seems a little silly/stupid, don’t it?

Anywho…let’s get back to the music, the real reason we’re all here.

Music is always part of that merry making at Christmas time, and that, at least, should be reserved from judgment and above the realm of offense. Here’s the thing you need to remember: when you think about it, most of the tunes we hum along to really aren’t about Christmas at all…funny. “Let it Snow”, “Walking in a Winter Wonder Land”, “Jingle Bells”, just to name a few, have nothing at all to do with the reason for the season.  Seems to me, if people were willing to let go of the angst that makes them so comfortable in their misery, the ‘holiday’ season might actually be able to accomplish its most important objective: to make you happy.

And, then there’s this: To eat too much. To forget about the past year and look forward to the next. To reset goals, to forgive yourself for failing in the goals you set exactly one year before. To be nicer to other people. To realize this spinning bit of rock and water and air we call home is a miraculous place and could be even better if we all took just a little bit of responsibility for each other’s happiness. Christmas wishes, I suppose…let’s get to the music.

The tune I’ve chosen this month is a winter-themed song, not a holiday. The Counting Crows, a band I’ve written about before, do downcast as well as they do upbeat, and one of their most popular songs (for all the right reasons), is the winter ballad, “A Long December”—a rather dark look back on a year gone awry.

You know the song—I don’t need to try to find the words to describe the traditional piano figures and crescendo choruses that work so well to draw out a sense of sadness and belief in something better to come. I love this track for its barroom sorrow and its rousing encouragement to ‘na na na” along to. The melody speaks for itself, striding but still shadow and sadness. It’s a unhappy song, about endings, about failings, but it rises to a hopeful continuance, knowing that maybe “this year will be better than the last.” That’s a good enough Christmas gift for me, this year, and all the ones to come. 

This is video I shot of The Counting Crows doing "A Long December" this past August in Pittsburgh, Pa. It was my third show on their glorious "Somewhere Under Wonderland" about things to be thankful for...and speaking of's a shot of the best moment I've ever had at a Counting Crows show, aside from getting to meet them...

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