Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.
There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.
The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.
So, at last it’s Christmas Eve!
I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.
I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).
But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.
First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.
It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!
Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.
The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.
Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.
It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring series of CDs where he explores the Great American Songbook).
The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!
Who could have imagined his helter-skelter, how fast can you polka punk?, take on, ‘Must Be Santa’?
Only Bob Dylan!
Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.
Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.
It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.
No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.
Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.
Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.
‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?
‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’ ‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’ ‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’
‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’
Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.
‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!
And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?
So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.
It is a moot point as to when the Christmas Season begins.
First Sunday of Advent?
Well, in my house, it begins the day I walk along the shelves of vinyl and with due reverence slide out, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ which has been for 61 years now the best Christmas Album ever made.
If you want proof of that just cue up your stylus and play track 1 Side 1 – ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ and marvel again at the sheer majestic glory that was the voice and persona of the young Elvis Presley!
The sensuous power of his singing here leaves the pretenders to his throne suffocating in dust!
Elvis don’t need no reindeer nor no sack on his back.
No, when he rolls up in his big black Cadillac – Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
Here’s a Santa that will always be welcome back in town by every pretty baby the town can hold.
His magnetism, vocal assurance and sheer delight in his prowess shines through every bar.
There will always and forever only be one King.
The Alphabet Series continues on 15/17/19 and 21 December.
We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.
But, for millennia it was not so.
We lived in a world lit only by Fire.
Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.
The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.
By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).
We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.
No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.
At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.
In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.
The light comes once more to the dead.
Heaven and Earth are joined once again.
In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.
‘First light like share-shine in a furrow
Steadily deeper, farther available,
Creeping along the floor of the passage grave
To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle
Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’
At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)
Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.
The light returns.
Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.
Shawn lets the Mystery Be.
Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.
His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.
His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.
Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.
If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.
The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.
At Christmas Time we have a tradition that the honour of placing the Star atop the Tree falls to the youngest in the family.
For the last 15 years this has been my son, Tom.
Now, since August when my granddaughter was born, he is an uncle and no longer the youngest.
So, I was especially proud of him when he said the other day as we put up the Tree, ‘Now, Dad, it will be Heather’s turn to put the Star on – I know she’s really small so I’ll lift her up so she can do it.’
So it goes on.
Adding to the store of memories from those golden days of yore.
Hanging that shining Star on the very highest bough so that we are all lit up by its radiance.
And, if the fates allow that’s what we will do at Christmas next year and the year after and the year after ….
Gathering near, with friends and family dear to us, we will sing with lightness of heart:
‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.
‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.
And, for that blessed time, all our troubles will be as nought, miles away, out of sight.
May it be so for you.
‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.
Rickie Lee Jones, in her inimitable way, makes the radiance of that shining Star real for us all.
Now, time to kick up our heels and breeze down Santa Claus Lane because here comes a very hep Swinging Santa in his Jazzy Sleigh driven by Ramsey Lewis.
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, not to mention Rudolph will surely be inspired to put on enough speed to circle the globe on Christmas Eve so that Santa can put a present under every tree!
Did someone say, ‘Pass the Eggnog’?
The Alphabet Series will continue on 11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.