Christmas Alphabet : S for Staple Singers – Go Tell It!

 

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

The hopes and fears of all the years.

If any group can evoke those hopes and fears, the silent stars, the light shining in the darkness and dreamless sleep it is The Staple Singers.

In 1962 in Chicago they recorded my all time favourite Christmas album, ‘The 25th Day of December’

Pop Staples on prophetic guitar and vocals.

Mavis Staples with vocals wholly worldly and wholly, shiveringly, supernatural.

Pervis and Yvonne provide the essential choral support.

Maceo Woods on Organ and Al Duncan on drums bind it all together.

 

 

When you have News – such glorious good News you just got to shout it out to the entire world.

Go tell it by the Rivers.

Go tell it on the Plains.

Go tell it in the deepest Forests.

Go tell it in the silent Steppes.

Go tell it to the Seven Oceans.

Go tell it in the squares of the Cities.

Go tell it in the sleepy Towns and Villages.

Go tell it in the high, lonesome Deserts.

Climb as high as you can.

As high as you can.

Go tell it on the Mountain!

Go tell it on the Mountain!

And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great Joy which Shall be to all people …

 

 

Silent Night. Holy Night. Dawn of redeeming Grace.

Dawn of redeeming Grace.

 

 

A mother looked in her baby’s eyes and saw her maker.

 

A reign of love begins.

That all may enter in.

That all may enter in.

 

Todays Post concludes The Christmas Alphabet Series.

If you have missesd a Letter catch up over your Christmas break!

There are still several Posts to come in the next week.

Stay tuned!

Tom Waits – Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis

Last month I went, for the fourth time, to see Conor Macpherson’s modern masterpiece Play ‘The Weir’.

It’s a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

The whole action of the Play takes place on a single evening in an Irish rural bar.

As the drinks flow the four characters tell, in sequential monologue form, riveting stories imbued with puzzled pain, aching regret and unending longing.

Strings break in Heaven.

As each story unfolds more is revealed by the tale than the teller had ever expected.

By the end of the play though they are raw from the experience there is a shared sense of catharsis and, almost miraculously, a feeling that the surrounding darkness is pierced by rays of light and fragile hope.

The search for that fragile hope is one of the main reasons we tell stories – both to others and to ourselves.

As I drove home a song began to play in my head.

A song that is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

A song of puzzled pain that tells more about the teller than ever anticipated.

A song filled with aching regret and unending longing.

A song that breaks strings in Heaven.

A song that has achieved a sense of catharsis by its conclusion.

A song that, almost miraculously, ends on a note of fragile hope.

A song that takes place at Christmas Time when even the most cynical like to believe in Hope – however faintly it glimmers.

A song by a supreme storyteller.

Tom Waits.

‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’.

Now, aint that just Grand!

Tom Waits, in this freewheeling pre Swordfish Trombones period, wore a baggy coat with pockets stuffed with the works of John Fante, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski and Alan Ginsberg.

Playing in his head were the recordings of Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Howling Wolf, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.

He had pretty much taken up residence on the Lost Highway.

Because, of course, it’s the best way to see the Moon and Stars clearly and to find out what kind of storyteller you might become.

Tom Waits became the kind of storyteller who could make you gasp, make you laugh out loud and then cry hot tears as his crazy lyrical stories unfolded.

A Tom Waits song makes you relish the details.

I love the way while the piano rolls meanderingly along the lyric seems to spontaneously emerge out of thin air.

The use of ‘And’ and, ‘Hey’ to kick off each exhalation of thought and invention gives the song a tremendous immediacy.

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
and living on 9-th street
right above a dirty bookstore
off Euclid avenue

It’s important that the song is addressed to a specific person.

It’s thinking of that person, that one person, who might, just might, make it all right again, that makes a person put pen to paper.

And you should always kick off with the news that’ll make the reader sit bolt upright and want to read on.

Read on.

And I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track

You want to convince Charley and yourself that things have changed.

They really have changed.

You’ve changed.

Those vices you shared are memories now.

And, you found a guy.

A guy who plays the trombone and brings the dollar bills home.

And he says that he loves me
even though its not his baby
and he says that he’ll raise him up
like he would his own son

And, hey .. a guy who won’t let you down.

Not like all the other Guys.

A guy who will raise up your unborn son – even though he’s not his own son.

And, he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite.

Now, Charley knows somewhere in his heart that there’s no woman who ever lived who doesn’t want their Darling to give them a ring that was worn by his Mother.

And, Hey, whatever anyone tells you there ain’t no feeling better than goin’ out dancin’ on a Saturday Night – just the two of you.

Just the two of you.

And, I still have that record
of Little Anthony & The Imperials
but someone stole my record player
how do you like that?

When you’re lost and you think you’re going out of your head and your heart’s about to jump right out of your chest you can’t help but remember those old songs.

There are some songs you’ll never get out of your head.

Little Anthony with the soaring voice.

Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you, you

If we could start anew, I wouldn’t hesitate
I’d gladly take you back, and tempt the hand of fate
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

hey Charley … I went back to Omaha to
live with my folks

Charley knows, like you do, that you can never really go back to the home you grew up in.

If you ever had a reason to leave you’re never going to be happy back in Omaha.

And, hey, you had so many reasons to leave.

Reasons to leave.

and I wish I had all the money
that we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
and I wouldn’t sell any of em

I’d just drive a different car
every day dependin on how
I feel.

You and Charley, his hair all slicked back with grease used to drive with the top down at ninety miles an hour on the two lane blacktop.

And, hey, wouldn’t it be great if you had all that wasted cash and could roll down the highway every day in a different car.

Just the two of you.

You can almost feel the warm air caressing you both.

Dreams are like that.

Dreams are like that.

Sometimes dreams are all that can keep you going.

All that can keep you going.

hey Charley
for chrissakes
do you want to know
the truth of it?

I don’t have a husband
he don’t play the trombone
and I need money to pay this lawyer

But. But. It takes a lot of energy to dream.

And, hey, sometimes you just don’t have the strength anymore.

Just don’t have the strength.

So, you breathe deep and let it out.

Let it out.

All of it.

The blood and the guts and the tears.

And, hey, you find yourself saying the thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

The thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

and Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
come valentines day.

Christmas Cornucopia : Second Day

Second Day featuring:

A Painting by Fra Angelico (1395 to 1455)

A poem by U A Fanthorpe (1929 to 2009)

Music by Eartha Kitt, Harry Fontenot and Gustav Mahler sung by Kahleen Ferrier.

 

Today’s painting by Fra Angelico has long haunted my imagination since I first saw it in The Convent of San Marco in Florence.

It is a representation of an epochal event, The Annunciation, which holds human time and eternity in perfect balance.

fra-angelico-annuncition

When Kathleen Ferrier recorded, ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ the shadow of death was looming over her.

This is music making of the very highest order.

Here Kathleen Ferrier does not so much perform a song as become the song.

The rare emotional reach of her extraordinary voice bringing flesh and spirit to Mahler’s masterwork touches something very deep and unnameable within humanity.

 

Our sleigh moves on from yesterday sliding us forward on our Christmas journey.

Today we start with a song from an authentic show business legend – Miss Eartha Kitt and her classic, slinkily sensuous 1953 recording, ‘Santa Baby’.

Eartha performs the Springer brothers and Joan Javitt’s song in her trademark knowing style. As the song progresses Eartha makes a series of increasingly outrageous demands on Santa’s generosity.

All she wants is a sable, a convertible (light blue), a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine (gold being so common), a duplex, Tiffany jewellery and a ring (64 carat for sure).

Eartha’s vocal here supported by Henri Rene and his orchestra is a study in practiced come hither allure. The cynical lyric is caressed as she reels in our attention.

Seeing her perform the song live is to see a siren setting a song ablaze with the flames licking around the mesmerised audience.

Everything Eartha did carried a charge of the exotic – she looked, moved and spoke like no one else building on her black, Cherokee and White heritage and dance training to create a unique image that demanded the audience’s deference and worship.

Orson Welles famously called her the most exciting woman in the world and while others of her era like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor might have taken issue with that claim they too would surely have admired the sheer dramatic daring of Eartha’s regal performance of, ‘Santa Baby’.

Come on Santa – hurry down the chimney and don’t forget the sable.

Fr Josef Mohr wrote a poem in 1816 he called, ‘Stille Nacht’. Two years later on Christmas Eve 1818 with a midnight mass in prospect he decided to visit his friend Franz Gruber a choirmaster and organist to see if there was any chance of turning, ‘Stille Nacht’ from a poem into a carol to perform that night.

Mohr had to walk several kilometres to se his friend who set to work with such vigour and inspiration that an arrangement for guitar and voice of, ‘Stille Nacht’ was ready as the two set off to Fr Mohr’s church in Oberndorf.

So, in the cold of an Austrian night on Christmas Eve 1818 the carol, ‘Stille Nacht’ or, ‘Silent Night’ as it is known in the English speaking world was sung for the very first time.

Neither of the writers or the congregation could possible have known that the heartfelt simplicity of, ‘Silent Night’ contained a spiritual power and attractiveness that would go on to make it perhaps the most loved of all church based Christmas songs.

Congregations all over the world this Christmas Eve will echo the words and melody created nearly two hundred years ago and find that it’s magic never fades.

There is no counting the number of versions available of, ‘Silent Night’. The one I have chosen to showcase here is by a gorgeous Cajun version by accordionist Harry Fontenot.

I love the rustic simplicity of this version – it seems to me the kind of sound that would not have sounded out of place in a stable with animals and shepherds gathered around to witness an event that was at once entirely commonplace – the birth of a child.

And yet all present had the sense that this birth was something very special that would remake the world for all eternity.

‘Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright ……….

The poem providing our extract today is the short but immensely wise, ‘BC : AD’ by the much under rated U A Fanthorpe.

‘… And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’

Christmas Cornucopia – Second Day

Our sleigh moves on from yesterday sliding us forward on our Christmas journey. Today we start with a song from an authentic show business legend – Miss Eartha Kitt and her classic, slinkily sensuous 1953 recording, ‘Santa Baby’.

Eartha performs the Springer brothers and Joan Javitt’s song in her trademark knowing style. As the song progresses Eartha makes a series of increasingly outrageous demands on Santa’s generosity. All she wants is a sable, a convertible (light blue), a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine (gold being so common), a duplex, Tiffany jewellery and a ring (64 carat for sure).

Eartha’s vocal here supported by Henri Rene and his orchestra is a study in practiced come hither allure. The cynical lyric is caressed as she reels in our attention. Seeing her perform the song live is to see a siren setting a song ablaze with the flames licking around the mesmerised audience.

Everything Eartha did carried a charge of the exotic – she looked, moved and spoke like no one else building on her black, Cherokee and White heritage and dance training to create a unique image that demanded the audience’s deference and worship.

Orson Welles famously called her the most exciting woman in the world and while others of her era like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor might have taken issue with that claim they too would surely have admired the sheer dramatic daring of Eartha’s regal performance of, ‘Santa Baby’. Come on Santa – hurry down the chimney and don’t forget the sable.

Fr Josef Mohr wrote a poem in 1816 he called, ‘Stille Nacht’. Two years later on Christmas Eve 1818 with a midnight mass in prospect he decided to visit his friend Franz Gruber a choirmaster and organist to see if there was any chance of turning, ‘Stille Nacht’ from a poem into a carol to perform that night. Mohr had to walk several kilometres to se his friend who set to work with such vigour and inspiration that an arrangement for guitar and voice of, ‘Stille Nacht’ was ready as the two set off to Fr Mohr’s church in Oberndorf.

So, in the cold of an Austrian night on Christmas Eve 1818 the carol, ‘Stille Nacht’ or, ‘Silent Night’ as it is known in the English speaking world was sung for the very first time. Neither of the writers or the congregation could possible have known that the heartfelt simplicity of, ‘Silent Night’ contained a spiritual power and attractiveness that would go on to make it perhaps the most loved of all church based Christmas songs. Congregations all over the world this Christmas Eve will echo the words and melody created nearly two hundred years ago and find that it’s magic never fades.

There is no counting the number of versions available of, ‘Silent Night’. The one I have chosen to showcase here is by a gorgeous Cajun version by accordionist Harry Fontenot. I love the rustic simplicity of this version – it seems to me the kind of sound that would not have sounded out of place in a stable with animals and shepherds gathered around to witness an event that was at once entirely commonplace – the birth of a child – and yet all present had the sense that this birth was something very special that would remake the world for all eternity.

‘Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright ……….

The poem providing our extract today is the short but immensely wise, ‘BC : AD’ by the much under rated U A Fanthorpe.

‘… And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’