Sunday, December 24, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 6

These next three tracks will drag us across the half-way point for this year's mix, so let's get right to it:

Track 19
Christmas Seals Promotional Spot, by George Takei
George Takei
After adding the two Mark Jonathan Davis clips featuring Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise (Tracks 8 and 15 from this year's mix), I did a quick internet search to see if I could find any holiday-themed audio featuring George Takei, the actor who played Lt. Sulu on the Star Trek series. This Christmas Seals promotion was the first and best clip I found, although the "Oh myyyy" tagline at the end wasn't in the original promo, but rather copied and added from one of Takei's many appearances on the Howard Stern program. The rich baritone of Takei's "Oh My" has become something of an audio meme of Takei's, and well it might be. It's an appropriate comment on this actor's rather amazing career history. As a child, he was forced into a World War II internment camp in California due solely to his family's Japanese heritage. As an adult, he became a moderately successful actor, best known for his work on Star Trek. But it's only in the past decade that he's reached the highest levels of popular recognition and popularity, and that's due primarily to his coming out as a gay man and his tireless advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community. Takei's odyssey is well-described by a recent New York Times profile about his role as a gay icon. It's hard not to be wowed by how much progress he and the rest of us have made over the past 75 years. But as Takei himself would no doubt agree, it's frightening to contemplate how precarious this progress truly is as a result of the current administration in Washington.

Track 18
Mrs. Claus's Kimono, by Drive By Truckers (2009)
I believe this is the very first track on any of my 20-plus holiday CDs over the past 17 years to merit a parental warning, but I included it nonetheless because I've become such a fan of the group that recorded it. They're called the Drive-By Truckers and while they're currently based in Athens, Georgia, the two lead vocalists who also write most of their songs (Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood) are both from the Shoals region of Northwestern Alabama, and their home state plays a prominent role in a lot of their music. The band got started a little over 20 years ago and they've built up a loyal following as a result of their heavy touring schedule and substantial library of fine material. I'm embarrassed to say that I knew little about the band until I happened to hear a few tracks from their powerful album American Band shortly after its release in 2016. It's a courageous album in a bunch of different respects, from the opening notes of  "Ramon Casiano," which tells the story of the militant former National Rifle Association leader who shot a 15-year-old Hispanic youngster near the Mexican border to "Baggage," in which Patterson Hood reflects on his own struggles with depression in the wake of comedian Robin Williams' suicide. It's a driving, guitar-based album marked by the band's deeply-held political views, the proud Southern sensibilities of its members and the conflicts that sometimes arise between these two powerful forces. The track that first caught my attention was "What It Means":

I've always liked introducing friends to new music I like, and its been years since I've followed the music scene closely enough to be able to do that very often. About the closest I can come today is sticking the occasional odd track on one of my holiday mixes, which I'm not above doing. After falling hard for this band last year I was determined to find something holiday-related that I could use on last year's compilation, "Let It Snow," but the only track I could find was this crazy number about a guy who conspires with red-nosed Rudolph to get Santa arrested on drug charges so he can bed Mrs. Claus. It was way too raunchy for my holiday mix, I thought -- after all, there are lots of kids who listen to these things. In fact, I'm certain that at least a couple of my friends have yet to listen to a one of them but rather give them immediately to the little ones to play.

But that was last year, and things sure have changed a lot in the past 12 months. God knows the children of this country have been exposed to lots worse than a couple of risque lyrics since Mr. Trump took the oath of office, and unlike most of his shameful shenanigans, this song just a made-up story. Well, come to think of it, nearly everything he says seems to be a made-up story, too. Anyhow, I doubt that this song is going to hurt anyone . . . and it's a whole lot of fun.

Track 17
We Three Kings, by Rev. Horton Heat (2005)
I would have bet anything that I'd included at least one track from the good Rev. Horton Heat on one or more previous mixes of mine, but I've just checked and it seems this is the first. Rev. Heat, of course, is the stage name of both musician Jim Heath and his Dallas-based psychobilly band of renown. Their 2005 album We Three Kings is a treasure trove of Christmas classics that are just off enough to be interesting but not so odd as to raise a whole bunch of eyebrows if you were to bring it along to a holiday gathering (speaking hypothetically, of course). Try bringing a copy of Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow's album  to your next party and see how well that works out!

* * *

Tonight is Christmas Eve — a night of pure magic for most kids and for many adults as well. None of us is ever too old to search for and even to find some small doses of magic from time to time. Whatever you do and whoever you are I hope you can find some in this wonderful season and that when you do, you can pass it on.

Back soon with more jottings on the remaining 18 tracks of this year's mix. 

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