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December 11, 2011 Posted by | Photo | | Leave a comment

Retroflix Advent Calendar Door #11

Door Eleven contains a neat little Jack Benny Program (Christmas Shopping)

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why I love VEWPRF (Music)

I’m not sure I’ve ever really talked about my heritage and how it affects my everyday life. My people, they come from everywhere. The two lines of my family really show what you get when you’ve been thrown out of every decent country in Europe and set up in the one shithole that will have you. To put simply though, there is Welsh, Irish, French and German within me. French tends to come off as the prominent feature because of the passion. Murder, rape, genocide, multi-level marketing, these are merely distractions. They’re just those petty annoyances that you get when your planet has an infestation of humans upon it. Art though? That shit’s important!

As you may remember, I know more than you do about the holiday called Christmas. In fact, I regularly claim that I know more than anyone else you know. Go ahead, ask me something about Christmas. 1843. Everyone always asks when Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” even though most people then say “Really? It was that long ago?” Leading me to ask them why they asked a question they don’t know the answer to and most they time I am told “Well, I didn’t think you knew the answer either.” Which I think revels a wonderful level of trust on their part vis my honesty. No one ever asks about Bracebridge Hall though. But you know what? None of this is important! I’m not even talking about trivia today, I’m talking about music.

No, this isn’t an angry bile and venom filled rant, this is about the good things.

There was a time though, when I hated Christmas Music. All of it, at least all I’d ever heard up until that point. I’d heard a lot of music, more than is probably healthy for it, but I hadn’t gone much beyond the mainstream and as such hadn’t had my ears opened. When I was about 14 or so though, my father bought a cassette tape. It was of a band I’d never heard of with a weird name. What exactly is a Mannheim Steamroller anyway? Glad you asked, it’s a take on the Mannheim roller technique, but with steam to make it more exciting. Now, as I said, I was not interested in Christmas Music at the time. I had come to the conclusion that it was all Burl Ives and Bing Crosby and other useless shit like that. For a young lad into Blues Traveler and Prince, Bing and Burl are like needles under the fingernails.

However, he played me a song and I can remember very clearly how the first song rolled into my head. It was their take on Deck The Halls (A Welsh Ayre as the track listing mentions) and… I’d suddenly realized that this stuff didn’t need to be a replacement for the sort of sleeping aids you can only get with a doctor’s note and serious insurance. That song exploded in a multi color orgasm in my brain that made me realize I had been wasting my life up until that point and that age 14 I was going to have to start over and begin again. No one had ever said music could sound like that, and they really never said Christmas Music could do this. It could be exciting, and interesting, and there was more to come.

That album is amazingly well put together, because right after a fairly rocking little number comes We Three Kings, which feels like something you might hear in the main hall of a castle circa 1341. I was realing, not just from the beauty of the music, but by the sudden shit in tone and style. And yet, it all fit. It came together and felt completely natural to follow the one song with the other. After that came Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella and again, I had no idea that music itself could sound like this. This was like classical music, but it had strength and bass, which is something I still feel classical has problems with. Not the music itself, but the recordings. They’ve gotten better in the last 30 years, but classical used to have some really bad recordings that made it sound like it had no balls and castration is a terrible thing to do to Vivaldi. It is no exaggeration to say that my world suddenly exploded into fragments that still haven’t fully collected and I realized that MTV and I would soon be parting ways.

If We Three Kings felt like something from the 14th century, Coventry Carol felt even older. Since there is a harpsichord in there, it probably wasn’t, but that’s hardly important. It made my little head go back to ancient castles and old men by the fire telling stories and so on. Coventry Carol was one of the few songs I could always listen to at that time anyway, so that helped. And then, after such a sweet and nostalgic song, came their version of Good King Wenceslas which is full of synthesizers and polyrhythms and it would tear your head off if you weren’t careful. I was amazed, I was entranced, I had taken the first step into a larger world and could see the probe even with the blast shield down.

And that was it. That was all it took. One side of one tape and my world had changed forever. Yes, we listened to the other side, no I’m not going to relay my feelings about those songs. You can listen to most of them in this pair of videos (Part One and Part Two) which are interesting and fun. It’s not important anyway, by the time those other songs came along I was hooked and just wanted more. And I got it, and that’s not always a good thing. Yes, Fresh Aire Christmas was another mind blowing experience. If anything it cemented me to the idea that this was the thing for me to be listening to. Sadly, it started to go down hill from there. While Christmas in the Aire is a great album, you can feel routine starting to set in. You can almost hear the pencil ticking the boxes when a song that fits the mold is played. It’s still good, just not as good. We won’t talk about any of the other albums after that, let’s just say I’m not a fan and move on.

Which is a shame, since Mannheim Steamroller helped to bring Christmas Music out of the ghetto it had (and still does) reside in. See, it used to be that you’d only record Christmas songs for one of two reasons. Either A) You were tired of your contract and wanted to bang out a quick release without actually writing new songs or actually promoting the album or B) Your label is doing one of those company wide albums where the biggest stars each contribute a song. Chip Davis owns American Gramaphone though, and Mannheim Steamroller was its only act for sometime. So when he decided to make a Christmas album, he put the same effort and care he put into any other album, and the care and love really shows in the first two albums. I won’t say he didn’t work hard on the other albums, but I will say he pulled something of a George Lucas in the 90s in that he started to rely on digital reproduction too much and the music suffered for it.

Listen to Pat a Pan from Christmas in the Aire and then any track from Christmas Extraordinaire and the difference will be quite striking. It hardly matters which one you pick, that’s the sad part. Say, The First Noel, which is one of the songs on that album I kind of like. Sadly, we can never get those old days back, but we still have the old albums and that is what matters. And that’s not the point anyway. I didn’t start this to complain, I started this to express joy.

See, after I realized that “Hey, Christmas music doesn’t have to suck!” I went looking for other examples of good music, and boy did I find them. Yule Struttin was the first, but not the last Jazz Christmas album I would get. The Narada Christmas Collection would come next and soon would flow a torrent (not in that sense) of music. Celtic albums, Rock albums, Winter’s Solstice, Country, Rockabilly, and even The Star Wars Christmas Album! According to I-Tunes I have 180 albums, but one or two of those are individual songs, of which I have 2258. That’s about 5.3 days in case you’re wondering. Not all of these are winners, not all of these are even something I can stand to listen to, but they’re all something that I would never have even looked for if it hadn’t been for Mannheim Steamroller and that first electric shock. If not for side one of Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas, and the return success of Fresh Aire Christmas I would probably have never have gone as deep down the rabbit hole as I have gone. Now you get to decide if Chip Davis deserves a cookie or a lump of coal.

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment