Top Ten Christmas Songs That Rock

December 25th, 2010

santa.jpgIt’s presumably little surprise that I love Christmas songs. Not, like, all Christmas songs. Christmas songs with a backbeat. Christmas songs that rock.

You, Dear Reader, may recall that it all began in the passenger seat of my brother’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, nog in the belly, weed on the brain (sorry, mom), WYSP on the radio, and mind-blowing luminarium along the culdesac streets.

In fact, it may well have been rocking’ Christmas music that got me through those years. Those experiences (Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” “A Very Special Christmas,” plus The Nadas’ annual Silent Night event) absolutely inspired my now-annual “A Holiday Benefit” series, plunging me even deeper into the season — with a backbeat.

Anyway, here are my favorites.

1- Do They Know It’s Christmas: This one started it all. I was blown away when Band Aid first appeared in the then-nascent MTV; dozens of pop luminaried (not of the pufter US-variety, natch) rocking out and rallying for a cause? Every afternoon, I raced home from junior high school to catch a glimpse. Twenty-years-later, the song inspired the entire “A Holiday Benefit” project.

2- Christmas (Please Come Home): Yes, Darlene Love’s Phil Spector-helmed original is classic. But for me, the longing in Bono’s voice is palpable in U2’s 1987 classic (recorded as the band barnstormed America). You can hear the distance. Plus, it rocks. (Honarable mention goes to Death Cab For Cutie and our own Charlotte Sometimes, both of whom have recorded rightous versions as well.)

3- Blue Christmas: Ernest Tubb wrote it, but Elvis made it huge. Still, it’s not so much The King’s affect to which I respond, or even The Jordinaires. It’s the sense that somehow Christmas is less without true love. And it’s the melancholy. (Jamie Leonhart and I released a version for “A Holiday Benefit, Vol II” that sounds pretty cool as well, though I think you can hear is grinning; not very bluesy.)

4- Happy Xmas (War Is Over): indicting (“And so this is Chrismas/And what have you done?”), moving (“Another year older/A new one just begun”), political (“War is over /If you want it”), and melodic in equal turn.

5- Merry Christmas Baby: I love Springsteen’s live version of this Otis Redding classic; you can actually hear him smiling. For me, this one captures not only the joy of the season (“Feelin’ good tonight”), but also the joy of the music of the season (“I got music on my radio”). Chris, Tony, Ryan and I fuzzed it up but good for last year’s “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3.”

6- Father Christmas: growingup, this one was in heavy rotation on WYSP. To this day, no one’s better skewered the whole holiday while capturing an era (post WWII Britain) with more piss and vinegar (with a spash of nog) than Ray Davies. A classic.

7- Christmas All Over Again: A little bit Byrds, a little bit Dylan, a whole lotta Southher Fried awesome. Kinda cynical (“Long distance relatives/Haven’t seen em in a long, long time/I kinda’ missed em/I just don’t wanna kiss ’em”), totally fun (“Christmas is a rockin’ time”) and sorta sexy (“Put your body next to mine”).

8-Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) & Give Me A Second Chance For Christmas: Two great, punkish songs about workin’ it out with your girl on the big day. Both great.

9- I Believe In Father Christmas: Ok, so there’s very little backbeat. And it’s a wee bit dark (“They said there’d be snow for Christmas/They said there’d be piece on earth”). But Greg Lake’s 70s ballad is stone beautiful (as is Bryan Dunn’s recent “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” version).

10- Last Christmas: It took my pal Chris Abad to give George Michael’s 80s pufter a proper ass whoopin’ with a healthy dose of The Smithereens with a dash of The Romantics.

Honorable Mentions: Christmas In Hollis (RunDMC), Silent Night (Simon & Garfunkle), Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Reliant K), Christmas Is A Time To Say I Love You (Billy Squire).

Home For Christmas

December 24th, 2010

xmas.jpgThus far, parenthood is riddled with cliches: chubby cheeks, bare bottoms, wide eyes — the whole thing.

Unlike other things stretched to the point of stereotype, though, the scale and scope of these new feelings are so huge, this new love so massive and revelatory at every turn, that its very triteness is completely superfluous.

Especially Christmas, that most-commodified, angst-ridden celebration of all.

You, Dear Reader, may recall my tragic history with the holiday. It was, for logical, reasonable and defensible reason (I’m sure) the day my then recently-divorced parents decided to first exchange custody of my brother and me in a pale, gray, wind-whipped gas station parking lot in Clinton, Iowa.

For years, that mostly-silent custody battle wrecked havock on all of our Christmasses. Take 1993. Chris and I spent it along in silent protest holed-up in our icey-cold, $376-dollar-rent apartment in Saratoga Springs, New York, gorging ourselves on deli turkey, cold Stove Top, and bong hits.

In my late-twenties, as it dawned on me that this seasonal baggage combined with seasonal affective disorder (as in, actual short days and dark nights) was fast approaching diminishing returns, I began take the holiday back. It began with modest, solo-acoustic “Winter Solstice” shows, grew to include annual holiday singles, and then became “A Holiday Benefit.” And all the planning, recording, and performing did me some good. I didn’t need then sun; the light burned within.

Of course, I grew up along the way, and made relative peace with the whole thing as well. And then I went and got married. And then we had Maggie.

Suddenly, it all makes sense.

The beauty of parenthood, it seems, is the fresh set of eyes. This year, our Charlie Brown Christmas tree may well adorn The Met lobby. This year, our ragged set of whit lights may well go The Full Griswold. This year, Abbi’s best “Silent Night” may well trump The Mormon Tabernacle.

Of course, it’s not about those things, though, it’s about the spirit of the thing.

Finally, at 39-years-old, I have some sense of what my parents were working with, and against. Finally, thirty-years-later, most of the sadness is gone, what’s left behind grown weightless. The empty space is filled by this enormous love for Maggie. And through that love, I can begin to appreciate why they wanted so badly to be with us; I know what it feels like now. It feels like chubby cheeks, bare bottoms, wide eyes and fresh giggles all at once, backlit by candlelight, and with a whiff of pine needles.

For the better part of my life, I’ve endeavored to find some sense of home. It’s chronicled in my fifteen records, most aptly in my 2003 LP, “Almost Home.”

I’ll meet you when you get here
Where the sun begins his struggle
Where the streets are strewn with rubble
And the evenues with dreams

Eight years later, I think I’ve finally arrived. More succinctly, I’ve built a new home with Abbi and Maggie. The drywall is fresh, the paint barely dry. But it’s ours, and its sturdy.

Because those foundations — the bright-eyed one-year-old tearing through wrapping paper, the dewey-eyed ten-year-old in that cherry red Gran Torino, the bleary-eyed, Stove Top-eating post-grad — are crucial, and they’re present, and they made me the man that I am: Abbi’s husband, and Maggie’s dad. Neither of whom could be more excited for Christmas.

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” Release A Colossal Success

December 20th, 2010

xx.jpg

It’s taken nearly all weekend to recover from Thursday night’s “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” release party.

Yes, I was over-served. Accordingly (perhaps), the entire event is a bit of a blur. And while there’s video (of the finale, anyway, see below) to help piece it together, I’d rather not watch; I prefer my sepia-toned memories.

I know that one minute, Roger Clark and I were pacing around Rockwood Music Hall nervously wondering if anyone would show up.

The next, I’m excuse me-ing my way through the packed venue towards the stage, and giggling my through my three-son set (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” and “Merry Christmas, Baby”) with Jamie Leonhart by my side, and The World’s Finest House Band — Tony Maceli, Chris Abad, Bryan Dunn, Dave Pittenger and Ryan Vaughn — at my back.

And then we’re all swaying our way through the finale, shredded-lyric shield fluttering like massive snowflakes on the first row.

Finally, I’m standing by the door tryingg to move units, dispense hugs and holiday good cheer when director Paul Haggis (wha!?!) introduces himself, compliments us on the show, and snaps up three cds!

It was a blast, more fun than ever. The spirit was strong in every single performer — Rachel Platten, Alex Wong, Dave Pittenger, Wes Hutchinson, Charlotte Sometimes, Casey Shea, Kelli Rae Powell, Zach & Sarah, Bryan, Chris and me. The 826NYC gang was there in force. Roger was hugely enthused, and Negin Farsad was hilarious.

And after three years and three different venues, “A Holiday Benefit” was finally at its proper home (which, with its second stage, is finally big enough) where Ken Rockwood, Tommy Merrill, Tyler and the gang have welcomed us so lovingly for so long.

In the end, we nearly sold out the place, paying off cd replication on ticket revenue alone. CD sales and silent auction items (not surprisingly, lunch was Roger was the runaway item) drove another $1000 (and counting). With company match, not a bad haul.

Though we still need your help. Download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 2” and “A Family Holiday” on iTunes now!

Best part of all? Tommy sent us an awesome thank you note the next morning.

So I siezed the moment and booked “Vol. 5” for Thursday, December 15, 2011. Mark your calendar now!

Rockwood Music Hall (New York, New York)

December 16th, 2010 - 7:00 pm

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” Benefit CD Release

Featuring Chris Abad, Bryan Dunn, Wes Hutchinson, Casey Shea, Charlotte Sometimes, Rachel Platten, Dave Pittenger, Kelli Rae Powell, Benjamin Wagner, Zach & Sarah, and Vienna Teng & Alex Wong

All proceeds will be donated to 826NYC (nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills). Visit www.aholidaybenefit.org for more information.

Pre-order your “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” tickets now!

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” Silent Auction Is Open!

December 16th, 2010

holidaysm.jpgTonight (December 16th) we celebrate the release of “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4,” our annual “A Holiday Benefit” for 826NYC, at Rockwood Music Hall.

Chris Abad, Bryan Dunn, Casey Shea, Charlotte Sometimes, Dave Pittener, Kelli Rae Powell, Rachel Platten, Wes Hutchinson, Zach & Sarah and I will rock your holiday socks off with a hosting assist from NY1’s Roger Clark and comedian Negin Farsad.

As in years past, we’ve whipped together a terrific collection of silent auction items. But don’t sweat it if you’re unable to attend the show. Just send me an email with the item description(s) and your bid(s) by 9pm December 16th and I’ll be sure you’re are in the running! As always, thanks for supporting, “A Holiday Benefit.”

Casey Shea Gift Set – Signed CD plus newly-designed, super-soft, super-cool t-shirt. Minimum Bid: $20

Out Of Print T-Shirt – Super-cool, super-soft, classic literature-themed t-shirts from the cool folks at outofprint.com. Minimum Bid: $25

826NYC Superhero Kit – Everything you need to be a superhero!: one 826NYC t-shirt, poster, and can of anti-matter. Shazam! Minimum Bid: $30

Robyn Shepherd’s “Holiday Benefit Christmas” – This year’s artists get funky, Charles Schulz-style, in this signed and framed original drawing. Minimum Bid: $50

“Holiday Benefit” Box Set – Four years of “A Holiday Benefit” awesomeness! Forty-nine songs in four volumes, featuring holiday hits from Bess Rogers, Amber Rubarth, Paula Valstein, Emily Easterly, and more. Minimum Bid $50.

“Holiday Benefit” CD Collection – Signed copies of all thirteen “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” artist’s most-recent releases, plus “Vol. 4.” Minimum Bid: $60

Roger Clark Deluxe! – Go behind-the-scenes with NY1’s most-beloved general assignment reporter. Enjoy lunch, a tour of the NY1 Studios, plus Roger’s greeting on your voice mail! Minimum Bid: $75

“Mister Rogers & Me” Private Screening – See The Wagner Bros. documentary (featuring the music of Casey Shea and Chris LoPresto) with live commentary from co-director Benjamin Wagner in the privacy of your own home well before it hits theaters. Minimum Bid: $100 (plus travel outside NYC)

Benjamin Wagner Song – Singer/songwriter Benjamin Wagner will write and record a song just for you! You can do everything (write and sing) or nothing at all! Then he’ll deliver it on a CD with custom artwork! Opening Bid: $100 (solo-acoustic) or $500 (full-band).

Signed “A Holiday Benefit” Guitar – Cherry-red Fender Squire signed by every, single one of this year’s “A Holiday Benefit” performers. Start practicing; maybe you’ll be on “Vol. 5!” Minimum Bid: $100

You can download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 2” and “A Family Holiday” on iTunes now!

For Maggie, In Her Sixth Month

December 7th, 2010

mag.jpgDear Maggie,

You were born six months ago today. It was a humid June afternoon when your mother and I walked from our East 71st Street apartment to New York Presbyterian Hospital. You were breach and — despite our best efforts in those final weeks — refused to turn. You were delivered via c-section June 7th just before six o’clock.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw you, and how massively and suddenly you changed my life. You were bright pink and screaming, struggling against the rubber gloves and bright lights. Before I could react, they shot your thigh with immunization, and dipped you feet in ink. I just wanted you safe in my arms.

The impulse to protect has been overwhelming. The walk home from the hospital was devastating; I felt like we were wandering through wildest Africa surrounded by threatening beasts. I’ve come to expect danger around every corner, and at every stoplight. Even now, as you scoot along the floor here at home, my hand waits preemptively behind your head. More than once, I’ve flashed forward to your high school years and told your mother, “She not dating until she’s thirty.”

To this day, you prefer to be upright, and close to your mother or me. You are stubborn with sleep, resisting until you can’t keep your eyelids apart. When you finally slip into dreams, though, they are deep. On more than one occasion, I have tip-toed into your room, and placed my hand on your chest to be sure you were breathing.

And yet, our sweetest moments together have been on the edges of the day: your head finally falling onto my shoulder before bed, walking around the apartment in the dark, and standing by the living room window looking at the moon. It is all new to you, all miraculous.

Your eyes are bright, wide, curious, and clear. Your skin is perfect and soft. Your cheeks are nearly-edible. Even your wrists are pudgy. You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

All of the cliches are true. Parenthood is the toughest job I’ve ever loved. Nothing could prepare me for it. It’s consuming, challenging, breathtaking, heartbreaking, inspiring, intuitive and impossible. Every milestone is major. Every accomplishment noteworthy. Words fail. Photos fall short. Even video is insufficient. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, hands down, ever.

Your mother, it should be noted, is amazing. She’s gathered everything we needed for our little nest, and set me to work. She feeds and soothes you at all hours. She makes your baby food by hand. She adores you, and is always looking out for you, always planning, always learning, always leading us as a family. And always with a smile.

So much has happened in these first six months! You have grown from a tiny, swaddled, sleeping elfin ting, to a beautiful, energetic, vociferous and curious little girl. You’ve learned to lift, to grip, to scoot, to smile, to laugh and to squawk. You can sit up on your own! And any second now, you’ll be crawling. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

And while you’ve grown by leaps and bounds in these six months, so too have I. I’ve discovered a love greater than anything, a deep, consuming, cellular love. And after all these years of worrying about what marriage and fatherhood would do to my dreams, my goals, and my sense of self, the greatest discovery of all is that you are my reason for being, not me.

180 days. You are a miracle.

I love you, Bubba.

“Christmas All Over Again” Video Premiere

December 7th, 2010

me.jpgFor me, it was always crucial that “A Holiday Benefit” be more than just a compilation album. “A Very Special Christmas” (one of our original inspirations) did that well enough; we wanted to do more.

It was Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” that set the bar. Phil Collins, George Michael, Bono, Simon LeBon, Sting and Ultravox in one room!?! Yup, on November 29, 1984. I was thirteen-years-old. And as I sat there in my skinny, piano tie staring at The MTV, I wanted in on the laughter, the tomfoolery, and the cool.

Twenty-three years later, Chris Abad and I launched our first “A Holiday Benefit,” our own hyper-local version of all the above (sans piano tie).

Six weeks ago, we gathered a new crew together to record this year’s single, “Christmas All Over Again” with friends new and old: Misty Boyce, Bryan Dunn, Charlotte Sometimes, Rachel Platten, Dave Pittenger, Kelli Rae Powell, Zach & Sarah, and Wes Hutchinson, Tony Maceli and Ryan Vaughn.

Sure, the music was outstanding. Moreover, though, we were building community one note, one laugh, and one ill-conceived dance step at a time. All of which was aptly captured by director Kathy Kim, and edited with skill, levity and wit by Danielle Owen-Reid. It’s a fun song, and a fun music video. Do have a look.

Of course, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” will be released Thursday, December 16 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage II. Tickets for the event — which will include individual and group performances, plus a silent auction — will be $8 in advance, and $10 at the door. Pre-order your “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” tickets now!

All proceeds will be donated to 826NYC (nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills). Taken together, CD sales, downloads, events and silent auctions have driven nearly $10,000 since the project’s inception.

You can download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. II” and “A Family Holiday” on iTunes now!