Bing Bells

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album cover.

The baritone of Bing brings Christmas to my house. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he croons Christmas to me as I string the lights and find the exact right ornament placements on my WTF-themed Tannenbaum.

My mom had what might have been an original press of the 1955 12-inch LP. It definitely was before my time. It always was in our house. Mom said that when we were little, she’d start playing Christmas music in October so we’d know all the words to the songs by the time the tree went up after Thanksgiving. There were other Christmas albums–that Sing Along with Mitch with the printouts of lyrics we’d pass around, a jazzy compilation headed by Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack and, of course, Elvis. Her technique worked. We knew all the words.

I didn’t know that the Bing was my favorite, though, until I left home and put up my first tree in my college dorm. I went out to buy my own copy of the album. I couldn’t feel Christmas until he sang Silver Bells. I remember walking across campus at dusk with the first real December snowflakes, city sidewalks dressed in holiday style the internal soundtrack to my first adult holidays.

I bought this album first on vinyl, then on cassette tape so I could listen in the car. We added it to our old reel to reel Christmas party tape. And, a decade or more ago, I purchased it again, this time on CD. My next car didn’t have a tape player. I ripped the CD, so I had digital files first for my iPod and now on my phone.

Tonight, I asked my new friend Alexa to play it for me from Amazon Prime. She went to the depths of her collection and served up Bing and the Andrew Sisters (theirs is the only version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that beats The E Street Band‘s). I mumbled and stumbled along to the second and third verses of a Latin hymn. I was good, as usual, on the first. And, like I have since I was a teeny-tiny tot, imagined the holidays from Irish blarney to Hawaiian greetings. I remember that year I realized that you could have Christmas without snow. I thought that all your Christmases would be white. Wouldn’t Santa be too hot? And the reindeer? Mind blown.

I’ve infected or inoculated–maybe both?–the Boyz with this set of holiday tunes. Even the Spouse adds his baritone to our home choir that accompanies Bing. Turns out this was his dad’s favorite Christmas record, too.

I was going to rant a bit about owning music, since it doesn’t seem that I can actually own it, even though I buy it. I was gong to get righteous about buying multiple soon-to-be-obsolete media just to feed my fix. And then, I realized that I don’t even feel ripped off. Now that’s some charitable Christmas spirit there.

Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.

White Guy Can’t Rap

To the category of over-developed sense of importance I would like to add the white guy who wrote about how if he didn’t buy those hip-hop joints with bad messages, then hip hop would clean up. You know, less guns, less drugs, less ‘hos and the n-word all because he–and other influential white folk–are going to stop buying it.

Hey, Dude, you didn’t invent the Internet, either!

While you can listen to hip hop, that doesn’t mean you make it. And while your $16 for a CD adds to the bottom line, hip hop don’t need you. You need hip hop–for whatever has been drawing you to it for the past 20 years.

Stop whining about the fact that your 3 year-old can’t listen to your IPod. Duh. It makes sense that you listen to music–see movies, read books, and partake in other adult activities–that you wouldn’t share with your children. You are the grown up.

Did you hear Nickelback’s Rockstar? It follow the classic, formula rock song about the dreamlife of drugs, big cars and houses, and easy women. But you don’t classify that as a problem–why is the problem rap not rock?

Is it okay because white people are not susceptible to “bad” music messages aimed at them? Are whites only immune to the plight of poor, urban African Americans? Don’t we also ignore poor whites, Latinos, Asians and, of course, Native Americans?

Here you go, that’s the way you do it!

Practically, did you know that most artists don’t make money on record sales? The record companies do. The artists make money on tour and from merchandise. So you can put away your white man’s wallet and skip the CD and not make a penny’s worth of difference to 50 Cent’s bottom line.

BTW 50 has decided that the market is too hot for “hard-core” joints, with the Don Imus thing and all. So he released the “softer” Curtis CD. You know more family-friendly songs like “My Gun,” and respectful lyrics like “We got to share the same b*tch, okay I go first.”

White Guy, it’s okay for you to buy–or not buy–whatever you like. It’s okay for you to be offended by music you like. I, too, have cringed at lyrics that escape my lips. But you can probably do more to make a difference in your community by doing a good job doing your job–don’t sweat the music, and good luck.

Deep Cuts

NYT threw me back in time to my second job ever. At Music Stop.

We were the discount record store. Not quite as hip and not as big a catalog as Peaches–but we had the top selling LPs at the best prices. And I was introduced to music beyond Foreigner, Kansas, Led Zepplin, and Foghat.

I did the weekly inventory–mostly because I worked on Mondays, was able to work the order book, and really liked flipping through the bins and bins of records and seeing which records were missing from last week. Why didn’t anyone buy those Robert Palmer records? The album art looked promising. Why did the white jazz artists get filed under ROCK and the black jazz artists under R&B? And wow! did that Cars record take off.

What I learned was that sometimes the whole was greater than a sum of it’s parts. The concept album–from Beatles to Pink Floyd to OutKast–told a story, ran a gamut of feelings, said more about the artist, more about me.

I must say that I love ITunes, and I loved Napster in the old days.

I also love a great pop single. But buying the album–or CD using current terms–gives a bigger view of the artist. If you heard the chart topping Lose Control from Missy Elliot’s Cookbook but missed the marching band at the end of We Run This, you really missed. Yes, I’m sorry I bought the weak Dangerously in Love for the best single of that summer, but delighted to have all of Late Registration (Sorry Mr. West is gone).

Now record stores are gone, and artists are being signed for deals on singles–not LPs. I am not smart enough to know what the market will do, but I do miss the bins, and the album art, and getting a paper cut when you slit the record for the first time.

We were at Kemp Mill records a few years back, and I tried to impress the boys with my coolness.

ME: You know I used to work in a record store.
The 15-year-old (at age 9): What’s a record?