Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Seasonally Appropriate Blog About... Christmas!

Or, more accurately, Christmas cartoons.

In order to prep myself for the coming onslaught of assorted horrors that arise while working retail during the Christmas season, last night I arranged a sort of impromptu Christmas Special marathon to lighten my spirits somewhat. It consisted of your usual allotment of "classics" - your Grinches, Red-Nosed Reindeers, et cetera - as well as Christmas-themed episodes of my favorite cartoons - The Simpsons, Tiny Toons, Mickey's Christmas Carol, et al - but I made a fatal error in judgment:I placed A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of the playlist. The result, of course, being that all of the following Holiday specials rang about as hollow as the blackened souls of all my ex-girlfriends. Ah, well: most of my ex-girlfriends.

Kidding aside, the Grinch and the Rankin-Bass puppet shows are fun in their usual nostalgic way, but I've yet to see or read or hear anything else outside of Dickens perfectly nail the idea of the "Spirit of Christmas" so poignantly as Charles Schultz's melancholy masterpiece.

Its perfect because its cynical and slightly subversive without trying in the least to be edgy; Charlie Brown isn't some renegade crusader out to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the capitalistic greed that has cannibalized the Judeo-Christian holiday, but rather criticizingly examining the selfish motives behind his so-called friends and loved ones during the wintery celebration, all the while trying his damnedest to figure out what, exactly, Christmas is all about on a personal and spiritual level.

Of course it culminates in Linus' wonderful rendition of the Gospel of Luke, but strangely, the rote reading of Bible verse never comes off nearly as didactic and preachy as any ham-fisted Christmas soliloquy by more secular outlets. In a brilliant move by Schultz, neither is there any explanation or further extrapolation on the Biblical text: it blindsides the viewer with the brutal honesty that, yes, Christmas is "about" the birth of Christ, but its "spirit" lies in each of us.

Which is to say nothing of its other qualities. Its still bitingly, achingly funny, with my favorite scene being Schroeder's frustration in playing his own composition of "Jingle Bells" to an adamantly ignorant Lucy, and the increasingly bowdlerized versions he performs until she finally "gets it."

Nearly every other Holiday special, movie, album, et cetera, that has since attempted to expand upon the "spirit of Christmas" sadly falls into the same class of crass, commercialist claptrap that Charlie Brown crusaded against. Which then leads me to wonder, since A Charlie Brown Christmas has been such an enduring pop-culture hit for the past 42 years: do people really "get it"? When I ride around and see opulently horrendous Christmas monoliths strewn across the bone-dry yards of uptight yuppies in Tucson Arizona, I wonder if the message has ever sank in. To say nothing of the day-to-day grind working in a mall bookstore the entire month of December. Is sweating it out with literally hundreds of other aggravated shoppers in a busy mall in order to buy your boss' wife a ten-dollar gift card really worth the irritation to yourself and others?

Nonetheless, I certainly enjoyed the other Christmas specials I watched, I guess, on a purely entertaining/nostalgic level. I have fond memories of wearing down my VHS copy of Mickey's Christmas Carol to a fine magnetic pulp, mainly because Disney hadn't cross-pollinated their stable of cartoon characters in such a way back then, and because its an unusually lavish production, especially considering it came on the coattails of the massive financial failure of The Black Cauldron. Still, though, Mickey and Goofy aren't entirely the right characters to make the many themes of Dickens' classic come to life without seeming like, well, treacle. Which is what Mickey's Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas, and virtually every other Christmas episode of every cartoon show is: overly-sentimental and distinctly Hallmark card-esque. Besides, Dickens' story was better adapted ten years prior in Richard Williams' own half-hour animated special.

That said, no amount of Peabody-winning cartoon genius can keep from bemoaning the long hours, cold weather, and general feeling of soul-crushing annoyance from idiotic, drooling customers this Christmas. Ugh, and bah humbug.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I am re-doing this blog thing AGAIN because of, well, many reasons.

The biggest one though is that for the past month or so I've been in a terrible, uncreative rut that I really need to dig my way out of. The idea of writing anything, albeit however small and flippant, has been both terrifying and hopeless, and I've hated almost everything I've put into words.

Then I realized! Nothing really gets me in the mood to flap my digital mouth on and on than to talk about things I love. So here's something dumb: albums I've listened to this year that I really like! I suppose this would be a "Brian's Best Albums of 2007" list if you would like to think of it as such. But only pretentious assholes make "Best Of" lists and nobody likes those guys. Except perhaps other such hated minority groups, like poodle groomers, pay toilet vendors, and bat taxidermists.
"Neon Bible" by The Arcade Fire

Neon Bible is so powerful, dramatic, and downright amazing that it almost defies hyperbole. It's been available since February, so if you haven't listened to it yet you sadly have NO EXCUSE.

"The Reminder" by Feist

It's somewhat sad that it takes an iPod commercial for Feist's hauntingly beautiful voice to register in the pop-culture database, but I doubt she minds the fact that The Reminder is about to hit double-platinum sales or whatever. "Brandy Alexander" still sends a chill down my spine.

"The Good, the Bad & the Queen"

The minds behind the Gorillaz ditch the pop/hip-hop credentials for a much heavier, somber adventure, and the results are downright hypnotic.


Aw hell yeah. Loud, obnoxious, and obscene. Nick Cave cuts loose and teams up with The Dirty Three for a sweaty and swear-filled good time.

"Ruff Draft" by J Dilla

So this is technically cheating a bit since Ruff Draft was originally finished some years prior, but I can include it because it wasn't officially released until early this year, some time after J Dilla's untimely passing. A shame, since even deceased Dilla produces some of the freshest and most unique sounds in hip-hop.

"The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" by Josh Ritter

For once, I actually agree with the little blurbs on the album cover: "The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter is his most adventurous, fresh, and freewheeling work to date."

"Challengers" by The New Pornographers

Not one of the New Pornographers, either together or on their numerous solo projects, manage to disappoint, and Challengers is no exception. A delightful explosion of some of the best sounds in pop music, with particular standouts being Neko Case's title track "Challengers" and "Go Places."

"Writer's Block" by Peter Bjorn & John

When an old friend of mine came back from Cambridge England to visit family, he of course asked what music I was groovin' to and I replied with Peter Bjorn & John, and added, "...but, living in the UK, you're probably sick of it by now. But I still love it."

"...yeah, I guess. I could certainly do with less of the whistling. Little bit sick of hearing that."

"Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" by Spoon

Spoon is so good at writing and playing the sounds and songs that they play, they could probably release a new album of completely new material every month if they wanted. And the world would be a much brighter, catchier place.

"La Cucaracha" by Ween

Ween's been overdue for a full-length album for some time, and La Cucaracha is definitely worth the wait. It's still not everybody's cup of tea, but if you're seriously down to listen to some of the weirdest shit ever recorded and pressed onto an optical format, then check it out.