Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve 1957

Auld Lang Syne

Tonight all across the world, Auld Lang Syne will be played as part of the New Year's celebration. Ever stop to wonder why it's played on New Year's Eve? Or for that matter what an Auld Lang Syne is? Well, wonder no more! Today I present Mr. Mike's Guide to Auld Lang Syne:

Old lang what?
Auld Lang Syne is a poem written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. The literal translation of the title is "old long since" but colloquially it means "long, long ago" or "days gone by".

Why New Year's Eve?
The poem was set to the tune of an old Scottish folk song and it became the custom to sing it at Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year celebration). Since the song is about looking back to times past it seems particularly apropos to sing on the last night of the year.

OK, but why does the rest of the world sing it?
The tradition of singing the song spread throughout the British Isles. Canadian-born band leader Guy Lombardo first heard the song played by Scottish immigrants in his hometown of London, Ontario. When he and his brothers formed a band, the song became part of their New Year's Eve repertoire and was played for the first time on December 31, 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performed at the hotel every New Year's Eve until 1959. They then switched venue to the Waldorf Astoria and continued to perform there until 1978 (a year after Guy's death). The New Year's Eve performances (first over radio and then television) were a tradition for half a century. Guy's version of Auld Lang Syne is still played in Time's Square when the ball drops at midnight.

I'd love to sing along!
There are a number of verses to the song and the lyrics vary; following are the most common first verse and chorus:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne

There you have it. Everything you need to know about Auld Lang Syne.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Let's Start The New Year Right...

Today Bing Crosby asks the musical question "How can our love go wrong if we start the New Year right?"

Written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 Paramount Pictures musical, Holiday Inn (starring Bing and Fred Astaire), Let's Start The New Year Right was released as the A side of White Christmas (also featured in the film).

Countdown to 2009

I can't believe it's been a week since my last blog; to paraphrase Bob Cratchit, "I was making rather merry". The operative word being was. I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season (I know I am). After having most of last week off, I'm back at work and things are hectic; much busier than they have the right to be the week between Christmas and New Year's. Well anyway, I couldn't bear the guilt of not posting an entry (I'm a nice Italian Boy from Long Island raised by Catholic parents - I guilt very easily) so I'm offering the above photo of the great Louis Armstrong and Mr. New Year's Eve Guy Lombardo. I'm not sure what they're doing or where/when this photo was taken, but I find it interesting.

Speaking of Guy Lombardo, here's a clip from the 1950's of Guy and His Royal Canadians performing one of their biggest hits, Boo Hoo...

I plan on posting more about Guy (a fellow - former Long Island resident) as the week progresses (depending on how you feel about long-dead big band leaders, you may want to avoid my blog until the beginning of January - you have been warned).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas from Perry Como

My Mother's favorite performer was the popular somnambulant singer, Perry Como. During December in the 1960's, when I wasn't playing Christmas with the Chipmunks, Mom was listening to Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music. To this day, it's hard for me to hear Mr. C. sing without thinking of Christmas. Today I offer a clip from Perry's 1958 Christmas Special. This one's for you, Mom.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's A Wonderful Life...The Ending

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the effect that It's A Wonderful Life has on yours truly; no matter how often I watch this movie (and to be honest, I lost track long ago), I still get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye during the final moments. Today I present a clip of the final nine minutes of the film. I suppose you could skip ahead to the five minute mark, but it won't hurt to watch the whole thing - it might even do your soul some good.

In case you've been living in a cave and have never heard of the movie, I'll set it up for you. George Bailey, played by James Stewart, is a hard working family man who has sacrificed for others his whole life. On Christmas Eve he becomes despondent (I won't go into details but it involves the loss of $8000 through no fault of his own). He starts to think the world would be better off had he never been born. Enter the apprentice angel Clarence who shows George exactly what the world would be like had he never been in it (among the changes: his war hero brother Harry died as a child since big brother George wasn't around to save him from drowing; his four children were never born; his beloved town of Bedford Falls has become the sleezy, seedy town of Potterville). George begins to realize the effect he's had on the world around him. The clip starts at the scene where George realizes his wife Mary, played by Donna Reed, doesn't recognize him.

Yep, it happened again - I've got the sniffles and tears are rolling down my cheeks as I type this. Frank Capra really knew how to tug at the old heart strings, didn't he?

I'd just like to point out some of the many wonderful character actors in this film. That's the great Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter, the film's villain ("Happy New Year to you, in jail"). One of my favorites is Lillian Randolph who plays Annie ("I've been saving this money for a divorce if ever I get a hysband..."). Fans of Old Time Radio will recognize her as Birdie, the housekeeper on (my favorite OTR show) The Great Gildersleeve.

A few actors who are not in this scene are:

Henry Travers as Clarence the Angel

great Sheldon Leonard as Nick the bartender.

The ubiquitous Charles Lane (perennial grumpy old man of countless TV shows).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas with Alvin and the Chipmunks

Back when I was a just a wee lad, I absolutely adored Alvin and the Chipmunks. I'm talking about the original version created by Ross Bagdasarian in the late 50's, not the 1980's version and not the 2007 Jason Lee live action film. I loved watching repeats of the early 1960's cartoon The Alvin Show; I had all of their albums (including The Chipmunks See Doctor Doolittle and The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles,) and my pre-adolescent Yuletide was not complete unless I listened to Christmas with the Chipmunks (Volumes 1 and 2) at least 100 times. This morning I received an early Christmas present courtesy of YouTube; a clip from the aforementioned Alvin Show featuring Alvin, Simon, Theodore and David Seville (all voiced by Bagdasarian) performing The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late), the 1958 Billboard # 1 hit (the only Christmas song to reach # 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart). I, in turn, offer it to you for your Yuletide enjoyment.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Music Videos

I don't know whether it's because I'm too fickle or too lazy, but I am always hard pressed when asked to name my favorite ________ (fill in the blank - movie, song, TV show etc). I'm OK with listing favorites, as long as I don't have to rank them. Here, in no particular order, is a list of some of my favorite Christmas Music Videos of the past couple of decades:

Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You - Bill Squire
Back in the early days of MTV, when the "M" stood for music (as opposed to mundane, moronic, miserable, mighty bad etc) the music channel would present an annual Christmas video featuring a musician performing a Christmas song with the entire MTV "family" in attendance. The performers were a diverse group including Joe "King" Carrasco, George Thorogood and The Monkees. The very first of these from 1981 featured Billy Squire. It's very low key; no special effects or fancy staging. It's basically everyone sitting around and swaying to the music as Billy Squire plays the guitar and sings. Why I like this video: It appeals to my sense of nostalgia. The original MTV VJs are there - cool J.J. Jackson, funny Alan Hunter, hip Mark Goodman, cute-as-a-button Martha Quinn and sexy Nina Blackwood. It's also a sweet song with a nice message.

Christmas In Hollis - Run-D.M.C.
I'm a big fan of old school rap (I've been known to bust out Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight at the most inappropriate times), and Run-D.M.C. is at the top of my list. Christmas In Hollis was featured in 1987's A Very Special Christmas, the first in a series of compilation albums produced to benefit The Special Olympics. Why I like this video: Mischievous elves, dogs with antlers, Santa leaving $1000,000 in cash, cheesy special effects and a cool beat courtesy of the late Jason Jam-Master Jay Mizell - what's not to love?

Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney
From 1979, another low key video featuring Paul, Linda and the band singing, dancing and generally having fun. Why I like this video - I'm a big fan of the Beatles, I like this song, and I'm a sucker for primitive special effects.

All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
Proving that I am one of the gayest straight men on the planet, my final video is this black and white version of Mariah's 1994 hit. Why I like this video- Mini skirts, go-go boots and a black and white retro setting - do I really need to explain further?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Happy Birthday, Dear Ludwig..."

Ludwig van Beethoven: December 16, 1770 - March 26, 1827

(click to enlarge)

Originally published Sunday, December 16, 1962

(Courtesy of Fantagraphics' excellent The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962)

How was your Beethoven Party?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Hey Pa, let's make a Chirstmas Album!"

Christmas with the Cartwrights

Direct from 1963 we bring you one of the most bizarre Christmas albums ever recorded; Christmas on the Ponderosa. If you're reading this blog you probably don't need an introduction to Bonanza, the the television western which ran from 1959-1973. The series was a standout during a time when Westerns predominated the television landscape and was in the top 5 rated TV programs for 9 of the 14 seasons it aired (reaching number # 1 for 3 of those seasons). It was a merchandising powerhouse that spawned Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses, comic books, action figures, lunch boxes, assorted toys and even a Ponderosa theme park in Lake Tahoe, NV. After the original series ended, there were three TV movies and a short-lived "prequel" series.

With dialogue intermixed with songs, this album plays like a recording of a Bonanza Christmas Variety Show (which unfortunately does not exist). Original cast members, Lorne Greene (patriarch Ben Cartwright), Dan Blocker (middle son Hoss) and Michael Landon (youngest son Little Joe), lend their voices to song and dialogue. Pernell Roberts, who played eldest son Adam. did not take part in the recording session (Ben explains that "he's in St Joe and won't be home until after New Year's") fortunately, they flashback to last year's Christmas party where Adam sang The New Born King (and insert a previously recorded song). Assorted actors playing friends and neighbors join in the party along with The Ken Darby Singers to add some professional voices to the mix (FYI Ken Darby was an Oscar and Grammy Award winning composer, arranger and conductor who wrote the Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender).

If you're a fan of Bonanza (such as yours truly; among the traits I inherited from my Dad is a love of this show), this album is a must-have. There are some Christmas standards (Hark! The Herald Angles Sing; Deck the Halls; Oh Come, All Ye Faithful and Jingle Bells) as well as some not-so traditional tunes (Lorne Greene performs Stuck In The Chimney with a Swedish accent and Michael Landon tells how Santa Got Lost in Texas). Fortunately, it's still in circulation and a CD can be ordered from Amazon for a mere $6.98. Go out and buy it immediately.

Now, as an added blog bonus, here's a mid-60's recording of the great Johnny Cash performing the theme from Bonanza.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This past weekend we had the first snow of the season. It was only a dusting, but for a brief while big fat, wet flakes were falling fast and hard and it looked like we might have an early blizzard. Fortunately it didn't last long. Unfortunately, the wind and unseasonably-cold temperatures did. Yesterday, several thousand people in my little part of the world were without power for about eight hours. My wife, son and dogs went to my mother-in-law's house and I headed off to work; both locations being unaffected by the outage.

But I digress. Speaking of snow. Here's a video clip to warm your Tuesday. Irving Berlin's paean to Snow from the 1954 hit musical White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

I love the movie and I love this number in particular. The song is set in the club car of an express train heading north from Florida. I've always had an inexplicable love of trains and one of the great regrets of my life is that I wasn't alive to travel by train during the golden age of passenger rail travel. I suppose it appeals to the romantic in me. Bing, Danny and the girls make snow seem so appealing, don't they? It's a sweet song, not one of Irving's best, but delivered with such sincerity that you can't help but want to run out and frolic in the snow.

Of course, life is always more fun in old Hollywood musicals. The truth of the matter is that I hate winter and snow in particular. Sure, there is great beauty in a country landscape the morning after a snowstorm; the sunshine reflecting off the snow-covered trees, branches dripping with ice cicles. And I'll admit there are a few snow-related activites that I begrudgingly enjoy (sledding, snowball fights, building snowmen and snow forts with my son). And thanks to Irving Berlin, I've been brainwashed into longing for a white Christmas. Still, if I had my way, winter would exit December 26 and take all traces of snow with it. Living in New England as I do, it's unlikely that will ever happen even with Global Warming (speaking of which - as I write this it is 7 degrees outside - damn your lies, Al Gore).

Friday, December 5, 2008

We need a little Christmas...

As cynical and sarcastic as I am 11 months of the year, when it comes to Christmas, I'm as merry as a school boy and as giddy as a drunken man (to paraphrase the post-conversion Scrooge). I love the cheesy music and the kitschy decorations and the same tired movies and television specials I've watched countless times. I love the traditions and the memories and festive yuletide cheer. Sure, the reality of the season often doesn't match the hype, and the joy is in the build up more so than the actual day, but none of that matters. Yes, it's a time of crass commercialism, but I choose to believe that people really are kinder and more caring this time of year (statistics prove that in the United States at least, the majority of annual charitable donations are made in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day).

To prove what a sentimental slob I am about the holiday, I freely and publicly admit this: I still get choked up during the closing moments of It's A Wonderful Life when Harry Bailey raises his glass and offers this toast "To my big brother George, the richest man in town" (cue assembled cast singing Auld Lang Syne). Even though I know it's coming, I still weep like a baby.

To kick off the Yuletide festivities here at the Museum, I present a bit of holiday kitsch. Here's a husky-voiced Lucille Ball performing We Need A Little Christmas from the the 1974 film version of Jerry Herman's hit musical Mame:

I am second to none in my admiration of Lucille Ball's prowess as a comedienne, and I Love Lucy is still one of my favorite all-time TV shows (and proving it's appeal is timeless, my 10 year-old son Connor loves it also). However, that performance falls in the "so bad it's good" category. And how creepy is that Santa Claus mask that Lucy wears? Still, I chose that video for it's sentiment as much as it's kitsch value (here at the Museum, we love kitsch almost as much as we love Christmas).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

She Who Must Be Obeyed

I often refer to my wife as "She Who Must Be Obeyed". I stole that particular term of endearment from one of my favorite literary characters, John Mortimer's British barrister Horace Rumpole. It's the nickname by which Horace often refers to his wife, Hilda. Horace, in turn, gets the term from British adventure novelist H. Rider Haggard's 19th century serial She: A History of Adventure. The She of the title was an immortal queen of a lost African civilization. "She" is short for "she who must be obeyed".

I bring this up because today She - I mean Kim, celebrates her birthday. I often make the obligatory married guy bashing marriage jokes, but the truth is, the married part of my life far outweighs my years of bachelorhood in terms happiness. I attribute this to Kim and not to the institution of marriage (which I still have my doubts about). I'm the first to admit that I'm not the easiest person to get along with (of course, by admitting this failing, it makes it OK). Kim, however, is the ideal partner; she tells me to shut up when I'm being a jerk (as infrequent as that may be); she's always supportive; she thinks I'm a great writer; and she is an incredible mom. Over the course of our marriage she has developed into my best friend. Obviously I love her, but equally important, I like her. She gives me a strange look whenever I tell her that, but being in love and really liking someone don't often go hand in hand. Of course we have our differences, and at times we're like The Odd Couple (I won't tell you which of us is Felix and which is Oscar - at least not today), but I'm lucky to have her for a partner.

How much do I love my wife? Well, I agreed to an addition to the menagerie; an Italian Greyhound puppy which Kim named Isabella (the perfect companion for Francesca our cat; maybe we should re-name the golden retriever Caruso instead of Casey, but it would only confuse him if we changed it now). Since Casey is very much my dog, Kim has been yearning for a pet she could call her own. For months whenever we've been near a pet store, she forced me to go in and play with the Italian Greyhound (if there was one). While I admit they're cute, they were not my idea of what constitutes a dog. Kim wanted a lap dog, but not one of those annoying yippee or foo foo dogs. Enter Isabella.

As an early birthday present I finally relented (translation -Kim caught me at a weak moment) . When we brought Isabella (Bella for short) home she was just over 3 lbs. A month later she's doubled in size to a scale-shattering 6 lbs. Her maximum weight is in the 9-15 lb range. I have to admit I've grown very fond of the little rug rat, and Casey adores her; its quite the sight to watch the two of them play. Casey is around 80 lbs and his head is the size of Bella's entire body, but he is so gentle with her it's amazing. OK, there was the time when they were playing tug of war with a stuffed animal and Casey sent Bella flying across the room, but that was an isolated incident. Even Francesca (or Frank as we gender-challenged folks like to call her) has finally gotten used to the baby (for the first week Frank kept a cautious distance; probably not sure if Bella was a member of the rodent family). Now, when she's in the mood (being a cat she is very much an independent creature), she will deign to play "tag" with her two canine siblings.

I'll admit that this has been pretty much a stream of consciousness sort of blog. I suppose the point of it is Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Assorted Stuff

Viral Crud, Roman Poets and Andy Williams

Lost Weekend 2008
The past six days have been a blur of sorts; hours of sleep punctuated by periods of coughing, sneezing, shivering, sweltering and just plain being miserable. Finally, under the combined weight of my wife and mother-in-law's nagging, I went to the ER where I was poked, prodded, swabbed and tested. All of the tests came back negative. The prognosis of the ER Doctor? I have some type of "viral crud". I can expect to be better in one to two weeks (talk about non-specific diagnoses). Well, I am finally feeling well enough to focus (at least temporarily). I did manage to go to work for a few hours today. The upside to all this is that I've had absolutely no appetite and have lost six pounds in a week. Mom was right - there is a sunny side to every situation.

December already.
Here is it is December 3. Can you believe it? I suppose it would be trite to remark about how time flies etc. Still, it does seem to move faster the older I get. By the way - did you know that the phrase "tempus fugit" is attributed to the Roman poet Vergil? Miss Higgins, my high school Latin teacher, would be proud of me.

Andy Williams
The laid back singer turned 81 today. Did anyone see him "perform" during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? I suppose lip synching to a 40 year old version of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year constitutes a performance. Hell, the man is in his ninth decade on Earth and still going strong. He deserves props just for that.