Thursday, December 24, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Why You've Been Gone So Long

purchase [ Silver Meteor ]

This is a year where Christmas is very much what you and you alone make of it.

Yeah, I managed to get the tree and lights up. I even managed a couple of wrapped gifts under it. No mean feat. We are under some serious restrictions over here: No one is allowed out all weekend. It's been this way all December and for New Years, the lockdown runs from Thursday through Monday morning. I'm also in the "over 65" category, which means that even Monday-Friday, I am only allowed out on the streets between 10AM and 1PM. Makes it hard to shop for gifts.

Add to that the fact that Christmas is not much of a thing in this Moslem majority country. So... Christmas music? Not much. Even in the best of years (which this has most certainly not been).

But that's fine. We've called the theme Pandemic Holiday Songs for a reason. And as I said, Christmas is what you make of it. That goes for my music choice here as well: a song that I find myself listening to again and again, kinda like I might have been doing with the Christmas favorites. Maybe I'll get to those on the day itself.

But for now: a pandemic holiday song (instead of the usual). It really has absolutely nothing to do with End of the Year Holiday - except in my current frame of mind (allowed under the "whatever fits this season"):

As you saw last week, I've been on a Clarence White binge. Digging around I found that session at the top that he recorded with Ry Cooder (and you know that Ry's my #1) It appears to have been one of the last recordings Clarence made (Summer, 1973), part of a solo album. It appears to be his brother Roland doing the backup vocals and although I'm sure I hear a pedal steel in addition to Ry's slide (could it be Sneaky Pete?)

And then I came across this "cover" of the song that - to me - equals the vibe of Clarence and Ry's version. They are more or less my neighbors!!

Christmas? Not really - unless you consider the lyrics: a time where we can't go home to our families (gone so long). And of course, there are lots of other versions of this song credited to Mickey Newbury: Tony Rice, Carl Perkins and more if you do a Youtube search for the title.

As I said, not Christmas, but hey ... it brings me some holiday cheer and hopefully to you, too.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: If We Make It Through December

Merle Haggard: If We Make It Through December
[purchase the original]
[purchase Phoebe Bridgers’ cover

Despite having amassed a large number of holiday songs in various formats over the past few years, I was not familiar with this song until I heard Phoebe Bridgers’ recent version of it back in November. I’ve put the Bandcamp link to her version above, so you can buy it, if you’d like, with proceeds going to Los Angeles’ Downtown Women’s Center. 

What I found out, though, is that the song was written by Merle Haggard, and he originally released it in 1973. And before Bridgers covered it, other musicians, mostly from the country music world, released versions. Despite its age, it is, in many ways, a perfect song for this year, and I suspect that’s why Bridgers thought to record it.

On its face, it's a sad song, sung from the standpoint of a working man, recently laid off from his job just before Christmas, who despairs about having to struggle at what should be a happy time of year, and how disappointed his daughter will be when there’s no Christmas cheer. And yet, despite this, the song is optimistic. The goal is just to make it through the cold, dark month, and then everything will be all right. There’s hope of a better future in a warmer place, maybe California, come summer time. 

And here we are, in 2020. The pandemic, and the incompetent response to it by this administration, has caused untold thousands of Americans to find themselves unemployed, suffering from food insecurity, and mourning lost loved ones.  We’ve been admonished not to have family holiday cheer this year to give us some respite, which is why so many of us just want this crap year to be over. 

If we can just make it through December. 

Of course, things aren’t going to magically get better on January 1, 2021, or even on January 20, but between the new (and forthcoming) vaccines, and a competent and empathetic new administration (and, hopefully, Democratic control of the Senate, Georgia voters willing), maybe things will start improving. 

You can listen to Haggard’s original version of the song at the link above, and here’s Bridgers’ contemplative cover: