Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nuttin' for Christmas - A Christmas Music Countdown

“I spilled some ink on Mommy’s rug
I made Tommy eat a bug
Bought some gum with a penny slug
Somebody snitched on me
Ohhhhh – I’m gettin’ nuttin fer Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad.
I’m gettin’ nuttin fer Chritmas
‘Cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad!”
By Roy Bennett and Sid Tepper - © 1955

Nov. 27th may be a little early for Christmas music for some folks; it’s never too early for the little folks. But you can never play this song too soon: “I’m Getting’ Nuttin’ for Christmas.” Parents need all the help they can to keep the little ones in line and when they start acting up, a little sarcasm never hurts.

By Dec. 31st, the song was No. 20 on the Billboard Charts for 1955. Not at all “bad” for what was considered a one-hit wonder. The song was performed by a singer named Joe Ward. Search engine research doesn’t bring up any information on any popular singer named “Joe Ward” although there was an opera singer named Joe Ward.

If he did record the song, it was the most amazing imitation of a kid’s voice ever recorded. It really sounds like a kid, about ten years old, not an adult imitating one, with an excellent voice.

But wait. Although Roy Bennett and Sid Tepper own the copyright, according to Wikipedia, a songwriter named Art Mooney, who had a number of hits, including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Cover” and “Baby Face,” is credited with writing the song.

Child star Barry Gordon did the kid stuff on this record – and he really was a kid. He was six years old when he made the recording. His version of “Nuttin’ for Christmas” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. He was the youngest performer ever to hit the Billboard Hot 100, when that song hit #6 in 1955. Adult back-up singers (Mommy and Daddy) helped little Barry along, making it sound like the classic 1950’s song it was.

Ward and Gordon were not the only singers to record “Nuttin’ for Christmas” in 1955. While they made chart-topping records, it was comedian vocal actor and singer Stan Freberg who stole the show and Christmas with his hilarious rendition of the song. There are no lilting 1950s orchestrations here; it’s all xylophones and slapstick sound effects. Freberg’s vocals are over-the-top. The cartoonish Freberg (he did cartoon vocals for animated features in the 1930s and 1940s) let out all the stops imitating a brat, lisp and all. You kinda know the singer isn’t a kid, but he does sound “bad” and that’s what makes it so goofy. And of course, it has an unusual ending with an unusual, and very funny, duet.

The song was also recorded by the Fontane Sisters, a 1950s girl group who made a rock’n roll version of “Nuttin for Christmas.” The Fontane Sisters (actually sisters-Marge, Bea and Geri Rosse) came from New Milford, N.J. By the late 40s, they were singing with Perry Como on his radio show and followed him to TV. They sang on many of his records from 1949 through 1953, many of which were monster hits. The Fontane’s were also signed to an artist’s contract with RCA which was Perry’s label. At least of their four of their recordings landed on the Billboard Top 30 charts.  * Source: Wikipedia

Finally, there was the Spike Jones version, with a kids’ chorus making all the trouble. The kids sing well in harmony and it’s a great number if you have a tribe of brats, rather than just a solitary ram among the sheep. Jones threw in his classic musical gags, though he let the kids carry most of the humor in this song. Just to make sure you know these are real kids singing, a couple of them take a ride on the solos. They definitely sound like real kids, the way Gordon did.

For a one-hit wonder, that was a lot of recordings of one song in one month in one year – five, that we know of. Today’s one-hit wonders don’t even contain a melody anymore, they all sound alike – and the kids are really bad, too. They’ve gone way beyond puttin’ ants in the sugar bowl.

So Mommy and Daddy, if you’re making a Christmas video, the Spike Jones number is a good bet. If you want to know how kids who could sing really sang before they went pro, listen to Barry Gordon. If you want to hear some beautiful music and your kids haven’t been too awfully bad, try out Joe Ward. If you’re more into Fifties rock, if you watched Grease about a million times with your little monsters, you’ll love the Fontane Sisters version.

But for sheer laughs and sarcastic effect, if you really want to get your brat’s attention, go with Stan Freberg. Just hope they don’t get any ideas for Christmas.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Need A Little Christmas - A Christmas Music Countdown

“Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stockings
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.” Jerry Herman

If we need a little Christmas this year, you can imagine how much we needed it in 1966, when Angela Lansbury sang it originally in the Broadway musical, Mame. This year, retailers don’t need a little Christmas – they need a LOT of Christmas to boost their sales.

Still, I refuse to give into commercialism at the very beginning of the holiday season, so “A Christmas Festival” came first on my list. But as this is Black Friday, after all, I just had to put in “We Need A Little Christmas” as a very close Number Two.

Mame is a musical with the script by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Originally titled “My Best Girl,” it's based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and a 1956 Broadway play (without the music, kids), by Lawrence and Lee, starring Rosalind Russell.

Set in New York and spanning the Great Depression and World War II, it focuses on eccentric bohemian, Mame Dennis, whose famous motto is "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." Her fabulous life with her wealthy friends is interrupted when her nephew comes to live with her. They cope with the Depression in a series of adventures.

In 1958, a film titled Auntie Mame, based on the play, was released by Warner Brothers once again starring Rosalind Russell in the title role. Russell was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for her portrayal.

The musical opened on Broadway eight years later, starring Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur. The production became a hit and spawned a 1974 film with Lucille Ball in the title role and Arthur reprising her supporting role, as well as a London production, a Broadway revival, and a 40th anniversary revival at the Kennedy Center in 2006.  * Source: Wikipedia

It’s 2011, and we’re more apt to say “put up the free before the market falls again.” The stores are practically giving away their merchandise in order to get into the black before the end of the year and they wind up ending in the red. Stores like Wal-Mart began their sales insanely early this year – beginning at the stroke of 12 a.m. on Black Friday.

My brothers and I wanted to get our mother a laptop. At 86, she’s finally realized she’s in the 21st Century. We lured her with promises of store websites, amazing prices, printable coupons, and free shipping if she went online. We’re also buying her a USB mouse. We can barely deal with the laptop roller mouse; Mom would throw the laptop out the window. She barely knows what a mouse is or how to use it, much less the fingerpad.

The stores really are practically giving away DVD players which both Mom and my younger brother need. Now that the Blu-Ray is all the rage (my older brother predicted it years ago. We were shopping for a DVD player. He pointed at the Blu-Ray and said, “We can’t afford it right now because it’s so expensive, but this is the future. You should start buying Blu-Ray disks instead of DVD.)

The laptop we were looking at was a bargain, for what it was – a more expensive but popular Dell laptop. Big Brother received an e-advertisement for this laptop, with a link showing the countdown until midnight on Black Friday, when it would be available.

We wanted to put it on my credit card because I’m allowed to apply purchase dollars back towards my credit balance (if I were allowed, I’d tell everyone to run out and get this credit card!). I sat at my keyboard, fingers at the ready. BB called me to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep. I put him on speaker so my hands would be free and we waited anxiously.

At 12:01 a.m. EST, I clicked “Shop Now” for that item – and…. Nothing. “Well?!” my brother asked anxiously. “Did you click it?!” “Yeah,” I said. “And what happened? What’s it showing?!” The clock, stopped at zero hours. We were in limbo. We weren’t at the Dell website, and certainly not at our chosen laptop’s page.

So I clicked onto their chatline and asked what was up. As BB had also predicted, the company was on Central Standard Time, where their offices were located. East Coasters had to wait another hour. BB hung for awhile to do some things on his computer. I surfed the web and read a little.

At ten minutes to one, BB called back and we were on countdown once again. At the stroke of 1:01 a.m., I clicked on “Shop Now.” This time we made it to Dell. But still no laptop page. I looked all over Dell’s site for this thing. But it was only listing at a student discount rate. No Black Friday Sale rate. The best I could come up with was a Hot Pink, stripped down model with no software; not the advertised laptop with windows, and not at the sale price.

Back to the chatline. I was 160th in line the first time. This round, I was Number 230 and going up. I had accidentally signed onto the wrong chat. That agent (as they were called) transferred me over to the proper chatroom at Dell, but because of my error, I kept falling back in line. So I exited and re-entered the right chatroom. I was at No. 230 or so again, but now I was moving up.

I couldn’t find any laptop like it,, but now BB brother finally found his way into the website. He found the exact laptop, for only five dollars more than the advertised price. It was around 2:15 a.m. and I had it. I wanted to take the five dollar loss and call it a night. But BB wanted answers.

This agent said that the e-vertisement was a mistake, and that’s why it wasn’t taking us to the laptop. That laptop only sold for $399, she said, not $342. But my brother had it right there. We wanted to know how we wound up with the clock then, and why it did take us into the Dell webpage, but she had no answers. It was now 3 o’clock in the morning. BB finally agreed with me, that enough was enough. I thanked this agent very politely and hoped she had a Happy Thanksgiving, and signed off.

BB sent me an e-mail with the link to the laptop and I ordered it, ensuring I’ll get credit dollars eventually (yay) and Mom will be connected at last. We can e-mail her and she can e-mail us, she can see store specials that aren’t advertised in the circulars, and she can keep track of the stock market in real time, and sent instant messages to her legislative representatives.

Not bad for an 86 year-old Grizzly Bear, Motorcycle Mom. Meanwhile, I did the rest of my shopping today. My best Black Friday online purchase today was for The Nephew. I wish I could tell you what it is, but he’s also a reader. I’ll give him a hint, though: It involves a national political figure who only knows how to do one thing. I bought it because I know my engineering student nephew definitely needs a little Christmas.

A Christmas Music Countdown - A Christmas Festival

Christmas can’t begin soon enough for me, musically speaking. Actually, the holiday season began back in October, when the bands began practicing the music for the Christmas concerts. My tradition in terms of recorded music is to begin with my favorite concert piece, “A Christmas Festival.” It’s on a CD called “Encore Christmas with the Boston Pops,” directed by Arthur Fiedler and John Williams, of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame.

"Christmas Festival” starts the Christmas season out with a bang, which puts it among my very favorites. My count-down isn’t so much about what song is number one, but why it’s an important piece of holiday music on a particular day.

Every musician knows “Christmas Festival” from their days as high school musicians. It’s the high school band “chestnut;” you can depend upon it, if you’re a high school musician, you will perform this number with your band at least once before you graduate.

And with good reason: it’s a wonderful medley of Christmas songs: Joy to the World, Jingle Bells, Silent Night, played masterfully and gently by the Boston Pops on this CD. As a chime player, it’s my favorite chime piece to play. This CD also has what is possibly the most stirring instrumental arrangement of “White Christmas” I’ve ever heard – but we’ll talk about that later (get your hankies ready, though).

Back to Christmas Festival. It’s a long number (particularly for the musicians!) but as it begins with a bang, it ends with a rousing finish that just makes you want to jump up and cheer (unless you’re playing the tuba, in which case standing is in advisable), even if you’ve been playing it every year for 40 or 50 years. The original composition, written in 1950, was 9 minutes long. Two years later, Anderson put out a shorter version, 5:45 long.

Leroy Anderson was a popular composer who certainly knew what audiences wanted to hear and he gave it to them. He’s best known now for “Sleigh Ride” and the ubiquitous “Sleigh Ride” but he also wrote “Blue Tango” (his first hit), “Belle of the Ball,” and “The Typewriter.” The last explains why kids don’t know some of his other tunes.

He was born in Cambridge, Mass., on June 29, 1908. His parents were Swedish immigrants. His father was postal clerk who played the mandolin. His mother was organist at the Swedish Church in Cambridge. Leroy studied piano and music at the New England Conservatory of Music and later graduated from Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees. He spoke 9 languages.

So you’d think this guy, after earning all those degrees in music, wanted to be a professional composer or something, right? Nope; he wanted to be a language teacher (his doctorate was in Languages), but changed his mind at the last minute to give music “one last try,” although he did serve as a translator and interpreter during World War II in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He was promoted to Captain and while assigned to the Pentagon as Chief of the Scandinavian Department of Intelligence, he wrote “The Syncopated Clock” and conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra when the song premiered. He finally left the service to devote himself full-time to composing. Thanks to his upbringing and his education, he was close friends with Arthur Fiedler, who helped popularize Anderson’s compositions.

Leroy Anderson died in 1975. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1976 and Harvard University named its Harvard University Band headquarters the Anderson Band Center in 1995 in his honor.  * Source: Wikipedia

Be sure to put “Christmas Festival” – in whatever CD version you choose, though “Encore Christmas” is wonderful – on your Black Friday list. Maybe Anderson is now a dead white, Scandinavian-American composer, but he sure knew how to start the Christmas holidays off!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Plenty to Be Thankful For

Today is the day to give thanks to God for all our blessings as Americans and as children of God. Here’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, 2010:
  • A free country
  • The ability to choose my representative (even if they don’t win)
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of choice
  • The free market
  • The Founding Fathers
  • A good family – Mom, my brothers and the Nephew
  • Good friends
  • A good job with a good company
  • A good doctor
  • A nice place to live
  • Enough food to eat
  • Enough clothes to keep covered up, warm, and employed
  • A reliable car that runs efficiently and has enough room for my cameras, my computers, and my musical instruments
  • Fox News
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Glenn Beck
  • Mark Levin
  • The Tea Parties – Morristown and the Northern N.J. Regional
  • My computer
  • My camera
  • My bells
  • E-mail (this is a biggie)
  • Blogs
  • Facebook
  • Photoshop
  • Peace and quiet

Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your families!




Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home for the Holiday

The Nephew just arrived home from college for Thanksgiving, after scoring exceedingly well on his GREs. We’re very proud of him. Engineering is a tough curriculum and I give him credit for making it to his senior year. It hasn’t always been an easy track and he hasn’t aced every test and course but he’s stuck to it and done quite well on the whole.

He did not drive home from school as I’d hoped but his father and our mother say that the whole curriculum is so stressful and since it is a holiday it was better just to let him sit back and take it easy. I’ve been hollering at him about not driving, but truth be told, it’s really not his fault.

By the time he got his driver’s license, he was already at school and the college wouldn’t allow freshmen to have cars. I wonder if these colleges realize just how dangerous this policy really is. I don’t know what it is they have in mind – keeping kids from driving drunk, keeping them on the campus so they’ll study, having fewer cars so they “save the planet.” However, preventing those young drivers from driving sets back from gaining the driving experience they need to eventually be good drives, and erodes their confidence when they do get behind the wheel.

We also happen to live in a terribly congested area with amazingly aggressive drivers. I don’t blame my nephew for being terrified. I’M terrified of these drivers! I leave for work very early in the morning just so I can avoid them. In any case, my nephew has been working as intern at my brother’s company during the summers, so they drive in together anyway, and my brother is a backseat driver. He has no patience, which doesn’t do my nephew any good in learning to drive.

Finally, the nephew has my old car. It’s a small, girlish, two-door coupe with a manual transmission. My nephew is six foot three, or something like that. When he gets into the car, he has to squish up like an accordion. My younger brother had the same problem driving that car: it was like trying to fit Chewbacca into one of those carnival photo booths. The reason I bought a bigger car was because of my brothers’ complaints, but then Number One Brother turned around, bought my car, and squished his son into it.

It’s not so much that my nephew is driving us crazy, as we’re probably driving HIM crazy. I’ve told Big Brother, sell the little car, I will NOT be offended. Get the nephew a car that he can fit into! But BB is a cheapskate and insists the little car is fine.

Still, the Nephew has to gird his loins if he’s to get along in the world. It is a tough world and there’s not much we can do about. Bad drivers are just going to go on tailgating, speeding, cutting other cars off, blaring their horns, and causing accidents. The best we can do is just keep to the right as much as possible and let the sail by.

He’s thinking about CalTech as a grad school or another school in California. I’m thinking of going out to visit my friend in the San Francisco Bay area and bringing my nephew with me to let him see what it’s like to drive on California’s freeways. And people think New Yorkers are bad (he can also meet some of my friend’s beautiful granddaughters and their pals – no wait, if he does that, he’ll really want to go to California). Or my brother can take him along on his next business trip out there. If he thinks driving in the Northeast is hair-raising, wait till he gets on I-5.

But at least he’s home now for the holiday. For my nephew, there’s really no place like home, even though he says he wants to travel internationally. He says when he gets rich enough, he’ll hire a chauffeur. Until then, his father will have to ferry him around, which is kind of nuts.

Speaking of nuts, on this holiday weekend, try not to go nuts out on the road. Practice a little of the charity we’re supposed to be exhibiting at this time of year. Give the other driver a break. Slow down, be polite, and be careful, so you can be home for the holidays.

Kim Jong-un and His Toy Nukes

“It's Christmas at ground zero
The button has been pressed
The radio just let us know
That this is not a test”
Weird Al Yankovic

Hey, everybody, guess what? It looks like Kim Jong-un, a Daejang (four-star general) in the Korean People’s Army, heir to the dictatorship of North Korea, may have gotten his Christmas present early. Santa Claus brought Un a brand new nuclear reactor! Isn’t that amazing?!

His Daddy gave him the entire set of North Korean People’s Army military set as an early Christmas present, complete with soldiers, jet fighters, ships, and nuclear missiles. Now that he has the nuclear reactor, Un’s set is complete. He fired off the first missile yesterday at South Korea, killing two South Korean soldiers.

According to the Associated Press:

“North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire Tuesday along their disputed frontier, raising tensions between the rivals to their highest level in more than a decade. The communist nation warned of more military strikes if the South encroaches on the maritime border by “even 0.001 millimeter.”

“Angry at South Korea's refusal to halt military drills near their sea border, North Korea shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, and Seoul responded by unleashing its own barrage from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and scrambling fighter jets. Two South Korean marines were killed in the shelling that also injured 15 troops and three civilians.”

In other words, Un had a temper tantrum.  North Korea isn’t much of a going concern. All they make is military hardware. The proceeds of those sales go directly to the governing elite. They don’t even make their own electricity; they buy it from China. North Korea’s GDP depends upon selling military weapons to countries like Iran. Now that they have their nuclear reactor, yesterday’s incident may have been a sales demonstration to potential customers.

This is not the first “demonstration.” Anytime they need groceries, they set off an attack against South Korea. The West, particularly, America, quakes in its boots and sends them the monetary aid they require – demand – which they then spend on capital purchases for their military and arms industry, while their people scratch a living out of the dirt.

Jimmy Carter blasted former Pres. Bush for not caving into North Korea’s blackmail. Now the spoiled-brat of the Yellow Sea has his nuclear reactor. As soon as it went online, apparently, he was eager to test it out.

We must keep Kim Jong-un happy, and while we float out a flotilla for show exercises, Obama is probably wiring Un’s Daddy the money.

Merry Christmas, from the United States of America.   Have a blast, Kum Jong-un.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Days of Infamy

Every decade in modern times seems to have had its day of infamy. And each month, more or less:

Great San Francisco Earthquake, Apr. 18, 1906

Shirtwaist Triangle Factory Fire, Mar. 25, 1911

The Sinking of the Titanic, Apr. 15, 1912

The Stock Market Crash, Oct. 24 and 29, 1929

The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6, 1937

The Pearl Harbor Attack, Dec. 7, 1941

1st Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945

The Andrea Dorea Collision, July 26, 1956

JFK Assassination, Nov. 22, 1963

The Watergate Break-In, June 17, 1972

The Challenger Explosion, Jan. 28, 1986

The World Trade Center Bombing, Feb. 26, 1993

The 9/11 Attacks, Sept. 11, 2001

Each event was different, in its own way. Today is Nov. 22. Forty-seven years ago, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Tex. I was four and playing in my room. Suddenly, I heard women crying out in the street. I pulled myself up to the window. The neighborhood women had gathered in the middle of the road into a group. I remember some of them were wearing jumpers, others the A-line skirts of the day. Their glasses were of the black-rimmed variety.

My mother was talking to my grandmother on the telephone. They’d both been listening to radio station WOR. My mother said something to the effect that it was official – the president was dead. She thought my father would probably remain at work but that the schools would probably close and that Billy would be coming home very soon.

She then went to the door, hearing the women crying. She was saw me looking out at waved at me to get away from the window. School would be closing. Billy would be coming home. I’d have someone to play with. Arthur, 2, was taking his nap. He was the same age as John-John. He’d be three in December.

Though my parents were not fans of Kennedy’s, they were still very sad. They felt sorry for his children and his family. He was, after all, so young, only in his forties. Even if you didn’t like his politics, you couldn’t help enjoying his speeches. He was a fantastic orator. He had a great speechwriter and he did well in his ad-libs with the press.

A day or so later, we would watch in shock as his murderer was murdered, right on national television. That was what set this particular disaster apart from previous disasters. There was still photography of the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, but none of the sinking of the Titanic; only the account of the survivors and empty berth on the Hudson with a few displaced rowboats. The same with the Andrea Dorea, though she remained afloat long enough to be photographed. Newspaper reports of the Triangle Fire and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, with gory photos of the victims, provided us with information, though not the same sense of urgency. We weren’t “part” of the news, only witnesses. With the advent of newsreels and radio, we got nearer to the action with the Hindenburg and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Newsreel coverage showed us the devastation of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. But the Kennedy assassination brought all the media together. We wouldn’t see the Zapruder film until years later, putting us at the scene. But like 9/11, almost 40 years later, no matter where you were in America, or even the world, you felt the aftershock. We still have the newspapers from that date.

As television coverage progressed, we came closer and closer to the scene of the disaster. Newscasts didn’t capture the Watergate break-in, but it did capture the collapse of a presidency in 1973. Thirteen years later, live coverage would capture the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, though most of us who were working wouldn’t see it until we got home that evening.

No video was available to capture the first World Trade Center bombing. But once it happened, we again witnessed the aftermath. The only reason we didn’t feel the tremor was because President Clinton treated as a normal crime rather than the act of war that it really was.

Then came 9/11, and we finally started looking back at the terrible events in history that we’d either been first or second-hand, real-time witnesses to. Every day, some documentarian is trying to predict that next, great tragendy. Will it be another great earthquake? A super-volcano in Yellowstone National Park? A giant meteor crashing into the planet? The start of a nuclear war? A massive annihilation or the grim death of a single, famous figure.

My mother’s cousin was a doctor at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He assisted in President Kennedy’s Washington, D.C., autopsy. He sent a copy of the report, with photos, to my grandfather in 1968. I was then nine. I remember looking at the gruesome pictures. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but seeing the photos, I can’t understand how they think he was only shot from behind. But all the principal actors in that drama are gone now, so it really doesn’t matter.

Let us pray that our nation will never have to go through another period of mourning like we did in November, 1963.