Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Revolutions and Revelations

The cartoon character Monty, trying to determine what resolutions his will power can handle, says "I guess we're gonna be giving up poppy seed bagels." William Shatner, light years removed from Captain Kirk, says his plan is to go on breathing.

As for us, we're dusting off last year's resolutions. They're almost brand new--never been used.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Uh..are you really drinking that?

Fashions change in bar drinks, as in everything else, and probably the days of elaborate cocktails served in something that looks like Carmen Miranda's hat are over. Now, however, bartenders are scrambling to invent ever more astonishing drinks by combining ingredients that have never been in the same glass before.

Here, as reported in the Vancouver Sun, is what is mixed in one variation on a classic: rye whisky, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, Pernod, and two varieties of bitters. Obviously, Canadians have reached a level of drinking sophistication worlds beyond No. 1 Hard Rye and 7-Up, or Calgary Red-Eye: tomato juice and beer.

So this New Year's Eve, you may be daring enough to experiment. Our choice? We'll stick to Veuve Clicquot, thanks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

And in this corner, wearing purple trunks...

As it is Boxing Day, and many retailers are declaring it Boxing Week or even Boxing Month, it is appropriate to pay tributes to gladiators of the square ring. To wit:

Joe Louis, Billy Conn, Sugar Ray Robinson, Georges Carpentier, Stanley Ketchell, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ezzard Charles, Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, Marcel Cerdan, Jim Corbett, John L. Sullivan, George Chuvalo, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Mike Tyson, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Sugar Ray Leonard, Max Schmeling, Willie Pep, Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott, Max Baer, Evander Holyfield, Roberto Duran, Leon Spinks, and all the cauliflower-eared fraternity.

Plus Gillette's blow-by-blow commentator Don Dunphy, Madison Square Gardens ring announcer Harry Balogh, and the Look Sharp, Be Sharp March.

Gentlemen, let's have a clean fight. Come out swinging, and no punching in the clinches. There's the bell, for Round One!

Friday, December 21, 2018

O Tannenbaum!

Or, "O, Fir Tree," which is how tannenbaum translates to English.

We have been thinking about the Christmas tree and its place in our culture since we were told of a large dog who was unnerved by the presence of a towering tree in his home. Clearly, the gift for this sensitive canine would be True Leaf Hemp Sticks.

The Christmas tree has traveled a long way since it became part of the Yule celebration in Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia) and Germany in the 16th century. Most famous in its history is the push given by Victoria and Albert, but, in fact, the Christmas tree had been known British royalty even earlier, introduced by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.

Some years ago, we spied a Christmas tree in an avant-garde design studio composed entirely of white coat hangers. We envy the person who got to carry that home. More recently, we talked to a plumber who told us he had erected in his front yard a tree constructed from pipes. And our resident design associate once proposed a tree cut from dark green construction paper and pinned to the wall. Would minimize post-Christmas clean-up.

All interesting ways to reduce, or at least alter, pre-Christmas stress. Bowser, pass the hemp sticks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Have Yourself a Tuneful Little Christmas

At one time, when CHQM was a very different radio station, no Christmas music could be played before December 15. As one of the handful of extant QM alumni, we take this even further, and play no Christmas music until a week before the day. And, of course, there is a shelf of Christmas music one should never play at all.

But now, the time has come, and so, in response to an overwhelming absence of requests, here again is the Pointless Digressions Christmas playlist:

"England's Carol," by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This is actually "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," but "England's Carol" is what John Lewis and Milt Jackson called it, and we would never question their choice.

"Sleigh Ride," the Leroy Anderson snowy romp played by a quintet led by Art Pepper and Richie Cole, with Roger Kellaway trying to control the sled. Takes you thru some scary, but delightful, curves and over some crazy bumps.

"'Zat You, Santy Claus?" Louis Armstrong. Who better to meet on the hearth on Christmas Eve?

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The most poignant of Christmas ballads, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for Vincente Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis." First sung--incomparably--by Judy Garland, but we're going for the more upbeat approach by Dexter Gordon, while Rosemary Clooney's version finds all the irony in the song.

"Winterludes"--a compilation by the Starbucks people, when they were still doing that. Among the tracks: the little-known Austrian carol "Still, Still, Still," by the Plymouth Music Series Ensemble Singers.

"Simphonies des noels," a collection of Baroque Christmas concerti by Les Violons du Roy. The most familiar composers are Corelli and Charpentier, but there are others from the early 18th century worth discovering.

"Russian Christmas" by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, with mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina. A lovely evocation of the moving Orthodox Christmas service.

"Away in a Manger," by George Shearing and Don Thompson. A Brahmsian performance from the 1983 Shearing-Torme album "Top Drawer."

"An Appalachian Christmas"--another anthology, this one under violinist Mark O'Connor's direction. Includes Jane Monheit's charming reading of Mel Torme and Bob Wells's "Christmas Song" and guitarist Sharon Isbin's "Appalachia Waltz."

And, of course, you could make music of your own. That could be best of all.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Do-Not-Play List

There are a lot of winter and Yuletide songs we would be happy to have banned from the airwaves, but "Baby, It's Cold Outside" wasn't one of them. Even so, it has now been exiled to the do-not-play list of numerous radio outlets, joining "Love for Sale," "Rocks in My Bed," "Harvard Blues" and Cab Calloway's version of "The Old Rugged Cross."

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written by Frank Loesser, whose magnum opi include "Guys and Dolls," "The Most Happy Fella" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," along with a string of standards that would stretch from Tin Pan Alley to Timbuktu.

Loesser had never intended the song to be a commercial release--he wrote it in 1944 as something he and his wife, Lynn Garland, could perform at holiday parties. They got invited to a lot of parties, and four years later, Loesser was persuaded to let the song be used in a film. It won the Academy Award as best movie song of 1948.

Since then, there have been any number of recordings. Among those we'd like to hear, or hear again, was one waxed, as deejays used to say, by Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page. There are also versions by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Bette Midler and James Caan, and--perhaps oddest of all--Homer and Jethro with June Carter.

The composer's wife was not happy when the couple's party number was shared with the world. Perhaps she is smiling now, with "Baby, It's Cold Outside" returned to the family.

Put a record on, while I pour...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

St. Nicolas, for children, brewers and repentant thieves

December 6: the feast day of St. Nicolas, whose name, over the 1700 years since he lived, has morphed into Santa Claus.

In paintings, he does have a beard, but there are no reindeer in view. What is known is that he was a Greek bishop in the city of Myra in what is now Turkey. And he is said to have saved three young sisters from a miserable life on the street by valuable gifts, delivered secretly, at night, as Santa Claus is now believed to bring gifts.

It might be expected that Nicolas would be the patron saint of children, but he is revered also as the patron of a number of others, including sailors, merchants, archers, pawnbrokers, brewers and repentant thieves.

We're hoping ink-stained scribes may squeeze in there, as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Christmas Scratch List

A number of radio stations have declared they will no longer play "Baby, It's Cold Outside." And, of course, their caution is easy to understand--much safer to stick with "Frosty the Snowman"...unless that falls into the dark realm of demon possession.

Next to be scratched from the playlists, we're guessing: "Santa Baby" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."