December 31, 2008

Another year has come to a close. Looking back, I wonder really what was accomplished. On the surface it seems like the Richard household ended it the same state we started it – healthy, married, employed, with a roof over our heads, bountiful food on the table, clean water pouring out of the faucet upon command, a loving family and good friends just a call away.

But there have been changes. An extra rabbit to feed, for sure. Over $40K less in debt and eight credit cards paid off that’s for sure – thank you Dave Ramsey! So how bad can it all be? How can one say that 2008 was anything but a success? And yet I look at myself in the mirror and see what Tracey has been saying for the past month, that this was the year I seem to have finally begun to look my age. Well, it had to happen sometime!

For many, I’m sure, this has not been a great year. People have lost jobs, or seen their investments and retirement funds take a major hit, or lost loved ones. For yours truly, the loss of an old and distant friend still hangs in the air.

But I refuse to be maudlin about the turn of another year. I feel great, more spiritually alive than this time last year (though not as devoted in my daily offices as I would like to be), and overall happier than I’ve been in at least a decade. I mean, at some point you just have to come to grips with who you are and what your life path is – it may not be all what you’d like it to be or think you ought to be doing, but it is what it is, and God’s plans often – if ever – coincide with one’s own. And I can live with that – finally.

Learning such lessons can be a tough process.

So let’s not close out 2008 with any sense of loss, or sadness, or longing. A new year is before us in all its wonderful and unique promise and uncertainty. It’s time to “ring out the old and ring in the new”, courtesy of the dear departed and still deeply missed George Harrison and his wonderful classic 1974 holiday tune. Do yourself a favor and crank it up!

Ring out the old
Ring in the new
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

Ring out the false
Ring in the true
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong

Yesterday, today was tomorrow
And tomorrow, today will be yesterday

So ring out the old
Ring in the new
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

Ring out the false
Ring in the true
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong
Ding-dong, ding-dong

“Yesterday today was tomorrow, and tomorrow, today will be yesterday – so ring out the old, ring in the new.” I mean, how can you write better lyrics than that?

Hasta la vista, 2008.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:05 | Comment (1)
December 30, 2008

Forgive me or being so sentimental – the days that close out any year tend to bring out a sense of melancholy in me. As you can tell we’ve been listening a lot to Loreena McKennitt’s “To Drive The Cold Winter Away” CD lately, and her song “The Seasons” is lovely bit of prose set to equally lovely music. The lyrics stand on their own, and seem perfect for a day like this – that quiet and somewhat uneasy interlude between Christmas and the start of another year with its own strange combination of promise, hope, and uncertainty. Enjoy!

Come all you lads and lasses, I’d have you give attention
To these few lines I’m about to write here
‘Tis of the four seasons of the year that I shall mention
Beauty of all things doth appear
And now you are young and all in your prosperity
Come cheer up your hearts and revive like the spring
Join off in pairs like the birds in February
That St. Valentine’s Day it forth do bring

Then cometh spring, which all the land doth nourish
The fields are beginning to be decked with green
The trees put forth their buds and the blossoms they do flourish
The tender blades of corn on the earth are to be seen
Don’t you see the little lambs by the dams a-playing?
The cuckoo is singing in the shady grove
The flowers they are springing, the maids they go a-Maying
And in love all hearts seem now to move

Then cometh autumn with the sun so hot and piercing
The sportsman goes forth with his dog and his gun
To fetch down the woodcock, the partridge and the pheasant
For health and for profit as well as for fun
Behold, with loaded apple trees the farmer is befriended
They will full up his casks that have long laid dry
All nature seems to weary now, her task is nearly ended
And more of the seasons will come by and by

When night comes on with song and tale we pass the wintry hours
By keeping up a cheerful heart we hope for better days
We tend the cattle, sow the seed, give work unto the plowers
With patience wait ’til winter yields before the sun’s fair rays
And so the world goes ’round and ’round, and every time and season
With pleasure and profit crowns the passage of the year
And so through every time of life, to him who acts with reason
The beauty of all things doth appear

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:40 | Comments (0)
December 29, 2008

Because a (hopefully) light work week demands it….

Not a great time to be a swimmer in Australian waters, as “the Whities” seem a bit, er, aggresssive this time of year.

Obama getting a bit testy with the media? Hmmph. I told you this would happen. Mark my words, no President will have his life, family, and adminsitration scrutinized as closely as Barack Obama will over the next four years. Call it the price to be paid for the media putting him in the White House…

Put me down as not distressed that the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira instead of the Sox. He’s a good player, for sure – perhaps even a great player. Some day. But truly great players find some way to bring their teams World Series titles, and having individually great players does not guarantee that pinnacle of achievement (right, A-Rod?). If the Bronx Bombers win it all next year, then the hundreds of millions they laid out for free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Teixeira will have been worth it. If they don’t, their season will be viewed as nothing but a colossal failure.

The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution” will forever be the greatest 45 RPM single any band ever released.

A radical new golf ball design guaranteed to cut two strokes off your game? Hey, that’ll get me down to 106! Ahh, the heck with it…

Now this is worth watching. An extinction event put to Pink Floyd “The Dark Side Of The Moon” music – is there anything that music doesn’t work with?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:47 | Comments (0)
December 27, 2008

Winter (well, in its own way) has come to the Valley of the Sun. Freeze warnings are up all over the place, and we have covered as much vegetation as is possible to protect them from the freezing temperatures expected to come our way this night.

It’s kinda sad, really. As I type this post from my seat at the dining room table – the room awash in the bright-colored warmth of Christmas window lights, a glass of Pinot Grigio and a slice of chocolate cream pie at my side, and Frank Sinatra singing Christmas carols on the CD player – I can still see outside the window, illuminated by these happy lights, the shape and color of red bougainvillea flowers in their last night of majestic beauty. The freeze will surely get them tonight, and soon their life and joyful colors will be no more, their greenery and red flowers wilted, to be soon cut and carted away by Carmelo, leaving my prayer grove just a shadow of what it once was in the glorious fullness of summer and fall.

Ahh such is life. All beauty destined to death, all the fullness of life destined to an inglorious end. As is the year 2008, once full and heady in the heat of summer, now closing its time out in the dark and chilly hours all around us.

Some wonderful poetry to warm the heart, then, courtesy of Loreena McKennitt and her wonderful CD, “To Drive The Cold Winter Away”.

All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man’s friend
That doth but the best that he may
Forgetting old wrongs with carols and songs
To drive the cold winter away

‘Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
To think of small injuries now
If wrath be to seek, do not lend her your cheek
Nor let her inhabit thy brow
Cross out of thy books malevolent looks
Both beauty and youth’s decay
And wholly consort with mirth and sport
To drive the cold winter away

This time of the year is spent in good cheer
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire
Each other in love to greet
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot
All sorrows aside they lay
The old and the young doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away

When Christmas’s tide comes in like a bride
With holly and ivy clad
Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer
In every household is had
The country guise is then to devise
Some gambols of Christmas play
Whereat the young men do the best that they can
To drive the cold winter away

I love the sentiments of this song; what is past is past – to beg the more common phrase, “it is what it is” – and now, amidst the darkness and death of a winter night, it seems desirable to immerse one’s self in, and embrace, all the joys and colors and sentiments of this season, putting aside all the baggage accumulated over the past year.

Time seems more precious now; the season demands no less. And through it God is calling us to the better angels of our nature. Will we open our hearts and hear that call?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:15 | Comments (3)
December 26, 2008

“Give us faith in ourselves and faith in our fellow man;
Then the treasure and beauties of life that makes man happy
will Spring from an inexhaustible source.

And at Christmas, when the hearts of the world swell in joyous Celebration,
let us cast aside the pretense of sturdy men,
and live – if only for a day –
in the hope and joy we knew as children.
— Unknown author

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:12 | Comments (0)
December 25, 2008

Christmas The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is winding down before us. Hopefully everyone gets a chance to spend some time with family and friends, as well as reserving some quiet time along the way. Me, I think I’m just going to sleep all day – it’s been a long work week.

And yet, amidst all the craziness, there remains an eternal truth about Christmas:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” — Luke 2: 1-20

Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to everyone from all the Goodboys and Goodboys Nation weblog.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:14 | Comments (0)
December 24, 2008

Ed. note: My good friend Pasquale Mancuso sent me this via e-mail today. His brother Pete who lives in Boulder, Colorado sent him this “Letter to the Editor” of the Boulder Camera (a strange name for a newspaper if there ever was one!) yesterday. I thought it appropriate for this holiday season, especially given last month’s election. I certainly got a laugh from it. Enjoy!

Merry…er… Happy Holidays

To All My Democrat Friends: Please accept with no obligation my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday festival season, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar 2009, but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preferences of the wishes.

To My Republican Friends: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

JOE LEMMO
Broomfield

Can’t say it better than that! Joe, you’re alright.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:34 | Comments (2)
December 21, 2008

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Here in the Valley of the Sun, you’d never know it – it was just another seasonable sunny and warm day. Of course, back home where the snow was piling up they probably wouldn’t have known either. Either way, up in the northern climes it must be of some minor cheer to know that from here on out the days will only get longer. Slowly at first, of course, but at least the progression towards later dawns and earlier dusks has stopped.

When you think of it, it’s hard to believe how long it has been since the days started getting shorter. I think of the Goodboys Invitational weekend back in July, with trees and fairways and woods all full of greenery, and short-sleeve shirts and shorts and suntan lotion (and no shortage of three-putts from yours truly). And then, a month later when fellow Goodboy Steve “Killer” Kowalski and I spent a summer afternoon by the shops and bars on the wharves in Newport, RI. How alive and full the earth seemed then!

And yet even then the days had already started shortening on their annual progression, a pilgrimage that ended with today’s bottoming out. How strange it is, then, that when the first notice is taken of the days actually getting longer – usually towards the end of January – it’s also a strange contradiction that, back in New England, it just happens to coincide with the coldest weeks of the year.

As a New Englander, I love all the seasons in their annual glorious progression. There’s something wonderful about the uniqueness each season brings – both good and bad. Out here in Phoenix, everything is muted – since it’s always green and brown, the only question is whether it’s hot or not. But I can remember cross-country skiing through the New Hampshire woods and still see, on the coldest of winter days, on the trees and bushes in the woods the promise of spring in the buds seemingly asleep, just waiting for that sign, that indication that sufficient light is available to unfold it’s designated place in God’s creation.

But tonight that all seems just a memory as we sit by the Christmas tree enjoying a glass or two of wine while Loreena McKennitt’s “To Drive The Cold Winter Away” plays softly in the background. The last of the 2008 bills have been paid, the rabbits have been taken care of, and hopefully a less hectic work week awaits. Life seems both precious and good – we’re both in good health, we count our blessings among all the family and friends we hold dear in our hearts and minds as the memories of Christmases past warm our hearts and remind us of how precious each day is as the old year 2008 crawls towards its inevitable end.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 21:40 | Comment (1)
December 19, 2008

Tonight is Cristmas card night. I enjoy doing my Christmas cards at our dining room table, the surrounding windows all aglow in lights, a Johnnie Walker Red (one ice cube, please) at my side, the address book at the ready, pen in hand, and just enough light so I can see what I’m doing. I’m a little late getting my cards out this year – they were supposed to go out on Sunday but a hellish work week took care of that – but work has finally abated enough for this small window of opportunity to allow one of the obligatory holiday season rituals to take place.

This will be a different kind of Christmas for us this year. The Christmas tree was a great idea, and we’ve been playing the “Christmas Pops” Sirius radio station on DirecTV for a couple of weeks now. Even though the news is filled with economic gloom-and-doom, it (fortunately) hasn’t hit here yet, but we’re taking no chances and keeping our commitment to paying off our next-to-last credit card at the end of this month. Dave Ramsey would be proud.

So rather than bestowing gifts on each other – two people who really want for nothing and have been incredibly blessed by God, we’ll do something different – giving gifts to our favorite charities in each other’s names. But more on that later.

I love Christmas music, but if there’s one carol (actually it’s no carol, just a song) I absolutely cannot stand is John Rutter’s “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol”, which is as annoying and cloying a tune as you’re ever likely to find. Whenever I hear it playing – no matter who does it – it is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

But any version of “Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day” is a keeper.

Most of the houses in our subdivision have lots of lights this year – more than I can remember. It’s a beaytiful sight to behold – especially on a chilly night like this.

Tonight’s an early night after the longest work week I ever put in, more to blog on later.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:23 | Comments (0)
December 16, 2008

phil OK, I know the guy’s still sitting in a prison cell, whacked out, burned out, and for all intents and purposes, checked out of society and the rock n’ roll world he was once such an important part of. But heck, it is the Christmas season and I know it’s not REALLY Christmas until I slap into my CD player the best damned rock n’ roll Christmas record of all time. Which is (for those of you cats and chicks who may not be hip to these kinds of things), Phil Spector’s magnificent “A Christmas Gift For You”.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s just The Great White Shank spoutin’ his “yeah-i-know-he’s-in-jail-for-murder-but-believe-me-Phil-Spector-really-was-a-genius” bull$hit, but in this case you need to give me a break. ‘Cause it’s not just me, it’s a whole range of critics across the media spectrum, from Rolling Stone (who rated it #142 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time), to bloggers like Randy’s Rodeo and Glen Boyd. Boyd’s praise of the album and its greatness is especially spot-on:

Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You is, in my opinion, hands down the greatest Christmas record ever made. What could be more perfect at Christmas time than the timeless innocence of the Ronettes doing ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’? Or the Crystals singing ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Comin To Town,’ (in the very same arrangement still played by Springsteen in his great version with the E Street Band)?

A Christmas Gift For You contains thirteen performances, all captured during that incredible early sixties period when Spector was producing these amazing records. You already know all of the songs, as they have all become tried and true radio staples at Christmas time over the years. Song for song, the wall of sound production — with all of its bells, whistles, and strings — captures all the magic and wonder of Christmas like very little music I can think of. When you hear these songs, it’s like being instantly transported to a kinder, simpler time. It really does feel like Christmas.

The album, considered by many to be Spector’s finest piece of work (next to, perhaps, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, whose praise I sang the other day, and The Righteous Brothers‘ “[You've Lost That] Lovin’ Feelin’”) had a bumpy ride on the road to becoming a much-loved and respected holiday and pop music classic. Originally recorded during the summer and fall of 1963, it was understandably overlooked in those tragic weeks following the assassination of JFK and then virtually forgotten. It was only until its re-introduction to the public on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1971 – at the urging of John Lennon and George Harrison (both of whom utilized Spector on their first post-Beatles’ solo albums following his work on the Beatles’ Let It Be) – that the album got radio play and finally earned its long-deserved recognition as a classic piece of pop music history.

So what exactly is it about “A Christmas Gift For You” that makes it both a holiday pop classic and a piece of work sufficient enough to warrant recognition among rock’s all-time greatest works? David Sprague, in his Amazon.com review, puts it simply: “[Spector's] “wall-of-sound” technique is perfectly suited to the music of the season, as he proves with layer upon layer of piano, sleigh bells, buoyant percussion, and, of course, those legendary Spectorsound harmonies.”

True enough, but it’s only after you buy it and crank it up VERY loud that you start to appreciate not just the massive sound Spector lovingly and painstakingly crafted, but the way his session players and musical artists make the most out of the material given them. Here, Spector’s artists The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bobby Sheen are simply vocal instruments in the overall mix, working within the material and the arrangements, not overpowering them. Listen closely, and you begin to see how the subtleties within each arrangement illustrate Spector’s respect for both the material and the genre that brought him such fame and respect in his day:

* On “White Christmas”, Darlene Love’s lead is beautifully understated, something virtually unheard of in this post-Whitney armageddon of Britneys and Jessicas who sound like wailing alleycats in heat. And listen to how the pianos, basses, and saxes carry the rhythm, and how beautifully the saxes are balanced on the tune’s final note.

* On “Frosty The Snowman”, Spector takes a harmless children’s tune and turns it into a holiday pop masterpiece. The Ronettes’ Ronnie Bennett’s earnest vocal is the showpiece here – think ‘Frosty’ meets ‘Be My Baby’, with enough warmth and sweetness to turn ‘the Frostster’ into a puddle of lukewarm H2O.

* On “The The Bells of St. Mary’s”, Bobby Sheen’s lead is sweet and soulful out in front of a driving rhythm highlighted by chimes and Hal Blaine‘s amazing drumwork on the fade-out. Oh, and that’s Darlene Love doing the “yeah, yeah”s towards the end.

* The Crystals’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” rejuvenates the classic so much so that even Bruce Springsteen felt it necessary to pay it homage with his own version. I’m not crazy about the honkin’ sax solo, but no need to be a grinch – this track is simply pure fun.

* On “Sleigh Ride”, Spector gives a faithful nod to Leroy Anderson’s classic arrangement; Ronnie’s significant vocal talents are once again highlighted, and The Ronettes’ now-classic “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” back-up is pure icing on this sweet holiday confection.

* “Marshmallow World” is a fun piece – dig the opening piano with a ton of echo on it. Again, listen to how the saxes underscore the piano/guitar rhythm, and the solo here is a hell of a lot better than that featured on “Santa Claus…”. The mix has always seemed a little muddy to me – perhaps because of the bass, but Darlene Love’s vocal is energetic and playful – more perfect holiday season fare.

* “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Frankly, folks, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this, and if there’s a better version out there, I’ve yet to hear it. Ronnie’s lead is both devilish and sexy, and the arrangement rocks. Listen for the piano fills and the sleighbells workin’ behind the saxes. It almost sounds as if Ronnie is slurring her s’s here (‘kishing’ Santa Claus); I think she’s doing it deliberately so I fall in love with her voice all over again every year at this time.

* On “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, listen for the guitar riff that frames the song, similar to what Brian Wilson would later do to the instrumental “Pet Sounds” on that legendary album. There’s also a piano (and guitar?) doing something funky from the instrumental break onward, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is.

* “Winter Wonderland” is a faithful and fun rendition. Listen for the droopy strings featured throughout – they sound kinda cool to me, and how drummer Hal Blaine absolutely beats the daylights out of his toms on every fill. Darlene Love’s vocal is both soulful and fun. Just a magnificent arrangement.

* “Parade of The Wooden Soldiers”. OK, listen to how the strings behind The Crystals’ rollicking performance absolutely shimmer, like glistening snow, especially behind the trumpet solo in the middle. No one – and I mean NO ONE – could make strings shimmer like Phil Spector. (If you doubt me, just listen to John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas [War Is Over]“.) Again, Hal Blaine’s drum fills on the fade-out are pretty intense.

* “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”. Arguably the showpiece of the album. If you want a true holiday audio feast, come inside Mr. Spector’s kitchen where everything, including the kitchen sink, has been tossed in here. Shimmering strings and double acoustic bass (how does he get that sound?) create an atmosphere, then horns introduce a TOTALLY PUMPED and unleashed Darlene Love vocal that leaves nothing – and I mean NOTHING – in the tank. The grand build-up to close the song is classic Spector: layers and layers of guitar, piano, strings, and percussion back the call-and-answer vocals between Love and the backup singers until the tension is finally released in a tidal wave of vocal calisthenics, soaring strings, and clipped piano notes. Can anyone say, “mucho fantastico!”?

* “Here Comes Santa Claus” is anticlimactic following Love’s tour de force, but it’s to Bobby Sheen’s credit that his straight, if understated, reading becomes the showpiece on this song. The trumpet solo in the middle has a ringing, jazzy touch to it which compliments Sheen’s soulful vocal.

What truly makes “A Christmas Gift For You” such a remarkable achievement is the success Spector achieved in fusing together what was then a relatively-new pop genre over familiar holiday songs without, as he would write in the album’s liner notes, “losing for a second the feeling of Christmas and without destroying or invading the sensitivity and the beauty that surrounds all of the great Christmas music.” More than anything else, Spector respected the music he was trying to interpret as his own, and in the end, this is what makes this work an enduring classic for the ages.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 21:08 | Comments (6)

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