Rembrandt 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.
El Greco (1541 – 1614 ) – ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’
‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ is a work of blazing, visionary brilliance by El Greco who had the artistic bravery characteristic of genius in all ages.
El Greco depicted the human body and used colour and perspective in a manner that was wholly individual.
The awe inspiring intensity of his vision breaks down any conventional, ‘tutored’ response.
To my mind his art is a true veil shredding glimpse into a co-existing reality : present then and present now.
This painting, more than any other I know, captures the enormity of the event which took place some two thousand years ago.
It is a peerless hymn of exultation and adoration.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640 ) – ‘The Adoration of the Magi’
A painting, more accurately the the modello (a sketch shown to a patron for approval of the composition) for the altarpiece painted by Rubens for the convent of the Dames Blanches, Louvain now in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.
There is a wonderful humanity in this work.
Though the event depicted was of universal importance it was witnessed, experienced, by, ‘ordinary’ men and women (and let us not forget animals as the peering camels here humorously demonstrate) on a day when the sun rose and set like any other.
Miracles take place (far more often than, ‘common sense’ will allow) against the background of every day events.
Rubens manages to make each of the individual characters in the scene vividly present.
I feel as if I could walk directly into this company and be made welcome.
Andrei Rublev ( 1360 – 1430 ) – Nativity
Andrei Rublev’s Icons and Frescos are supreme works of devotional art.
They are works to be still before.
If you surrender to these works they will work in your soul.
Rublev, following the Orthodox tradition, sees the events of The Nativity not as historical episodes but as living events the faithful community participated in as they celebrated the liturgy.
The calm and peace of the image contains immense and complex feeling.
The birth of The Saviour is shown as a cosmic event which is yet an acceptance of human mortality and frailness.
Duccio Di Buoninsegna ( 1255 – 1318 ) Nativity
From the great Master from Sienna, Duccio Di Buoninsegna.
Since I first discovered the work of Duccio as a teenager I have been in thrall to the luminous beauty of his works.
His paintings seem to me to have been deeply pondered in his heart which gives them qualities of stillness and humility which I find overwhelmingly moving.
In particular, something about, ‘Duccio Blue’ sets my heart aflame.
Can’t you hear the rattle of those Reindeer hooves?
Oh, we all know it’s true.
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
You’re on the list.
But, which list?
Check twice Santa.
C’mom, I been good twenty times for every time I been naughty.
Come on to our Town Santa.
Come on down.
You’ve watched us sleeping and you’ve watched us awake.
Oh, for goodness sake … you know we’ve been good.
Extra special good.
Out of Darkness we have Light.
Out of Darkness we have light.
Lift up your voices and your hearts.
Apparently there are some ‘Scholars’ of English Literature who regard Robert Louis Stevenson as a mere ‘Storyteller’ not fit to be considered as a major writer.
Such opinions get short shrift from The Jukebox!
RLS with considerable art in a series of gripping and psychologically acute publications created a host of characters who have entered the general consciousness of the mass public as well as devotees of Literature.
His works will be read and remembered as long as people harken to stories.
Below is a Christmas Poem which combines technical assurance with tremendous narrative drive.
Christmas at Sea
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.
They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.
All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.
The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.
The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.
O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.
And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.
They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose top gallant sails,’ I heard the captain call.
‘By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,’ our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… ‘It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,’ he replied.
She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.
And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
And, no one alive can survive without tidings of comfort and joy.
Comfort and Joy.
Too easy to default to dismay.
Hark! Hark! Hark!
Trust in the tidings.
Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
I have been an admirer of T Bone Burnett since his days in The Alpha band and his sojourn with Bob Dylan.
The thread connecting all his output as an Artist and Producer is an acute sense of how to establish mood spotlighting the virtues of a song through the adept balance of instrumentation and vocals.
Now for some more vintage Yuletide Jazz.
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra cutting quite a rug on Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.
Whether you’re on the naughty or the nice list this one will get your Foxtrottin’ feet gliding for the next three minutes or so.
Tommy, of course, on the Trombone.
Vocals by Cliff Weston and Edyth Wright.
Paul Weston provided the fluid arrangement.
Mac Cheikes on Guitar and Sid Stoneburn on Clarinet add the filigree.
Dylan Thomas was never going to make old bones.
When the following recording of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ was made in 1952 he had less than two years to live.
He never saw his 40th birthday yet he had already, though he spent his gifts profligately, laid down a legacy of immortal incantatory poetry which will always call out to be spoken and sung.
Whatever his excesses he was a true Poet well acquainted with close and holy darkness.
Pull up your most comfortable chair and follow Dylan’s sonorous voice as he leads you spiralling through the years to the heart of a child’s Christmas.
Always on Christmas night there was music.
An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.”
It was very warm in the little house.
Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed.
I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
Next Alphabet Post on the 17th. M for …. Stay tuned!
Every one of us, poor as we may be, can bring a gift.
The gift of ourselves and the gifts we been given.
Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum, When we come.
Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, On my drum?
Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum Me and my drum
Bob Seger is a tough hombre who understands that tough hombres sometimes need to admit that they are not so tough (even if they are from Detroit!).
You can rely on road warrior Bob to always play his best.
A gift indeed.
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.
Now let’s hit a righteous Christmas groove with Jazz Maestros Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery.
When it comes to Organ and Guitar workouts you just can’t beat these two!
Even if it is up to your knees out there Jimmy and Wes will keep you mighty warm.
For our Poem today I turn to Jukebox Favourite Sigerson Clifford (1913 – 1985) whose ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’ previously featured here in the Posts for St Patrick series.
His ‘Kerry Carol’ has the stillness of the sleeping world and the hushed anticipation that precedes a great event.
And, sometimes, great events take place in the most humble of circumstances and are witnessed and understood best by the humble of heart.
Brush the floor and clean the hearth, And set the fire to keep, For they might visit us tonight When all the world’s asleep.
Don’t blow the tall white candle out But leave it burning bright, So that they’ll know they’re welcome here This holy Christmas night.
Leave out the bread and meat for them, And sweet milk for the Child, And they will bless the fire, that baked And, too, the hands that toiled.
For Joseph will be travel-tired, And Mary pale and wan, And they can sleep a little while Before they journey on.
They will be weary of the roads, And rest will comfort them, For it must be many a lonely mile From here to Bethlehem.
O long the road they have to go, The bad mile with the good, Till the journey ends on Calvary Beneath a cross of wood.
Leave the door upon the latch, And set the fire to keep, And pray they’ll rest with us tonight When all the world’s asleep.
This Christmas Eve leave your candle burning bright.
Next Alphabet Post on the 15th. T for …. Don’t you dare miss it!