Ever since I posted about broken glass yesterday, this song has been playing in my head, for two obvious reasons. One, because it’s a good song, and two, because it was the first music video that I watched over and over and over again and sometimes they pull it off YouTube which can be sad. So, I present to you one of my favorite music videos of all time.
That’s So Jacob Presents:
Episode 14: Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass,”
The video starts innocently enough, with a few twinkly piano notes over some tableaux appearing to be from the Mozart/Marie Antoinette era…but then the violins pick up, and the stillness is broken by the waving of a fan.
A FAN, PEOPLE.
Clearly, Ms. Lennox means business.
As she sings, the video shows a foppish gent dancing with several ladies at a proper, pastel-colored ball, with periodic cuts to Annie Lennox looking cross between Maleficent and a sexy nun. The fop in the middle is clearly the one she’s got the hots for, but that bitch in white keeps lady-cockblocking her. Finally, she gets him aside, only to lose him again and stomp her dress in frustration and in time to the music.
Then all hell breaks loose.
In she strides, hands on her widely-farthingaled hips. With confidence, conviction, and just a bit of condescension, she pushes the others aside to get to her man. The light makes her all crazy-eyed as she attempts to drag the man in white away, and it’s all an embarrassing but terribly exciting fuss as she gets cruelly ripped away from her young lover. But this is Annie Lennox we’re talking about, who takes nothing sitting down, and she proves it by crawling on all fours to get what she wants, before ultimately failing again and leaving with contempt. She trots down some awesome spiral stairs and ends up…in the arms of her young lover. So it was not in vain after all.
This video is a masterpiece really empowers me to be as bad-ass as I can be, and to do it with conviction. If it worked for Annie Lennox, it can work for you too. Plus, it’s delightfully innocuous to look at, with a fun storyline that gets more fun as with each successive viewing you can pick a different side and watch the events unfold from the perspective of a different character. CHOICES. It just gives me all the feels, but mostly the feel to use long words and adverbs.
Plus, period costume!
This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by actual broken glass.
Yesterday, I saw a link to a leak (why do they call it that? Just say it’s an early release or something, it’s not like a sniper’s hunting down these people) of a song from Aretha Franklin’s new album, consisting of cover songs. I looked at the track list, and Aretha made some good choices. What stuck out the most, obviously, was the first track, “Rolling in the Deep” by the ever-popular Adele. “This should be good,” I thought, not really knowing what to expect.
So I clicked on the link, and was presented with a studio cut of the song, which sounded pretty good for a 72-year-old, minus the annoying backing vocals, especially when they launch into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” towards the end of the song, which has nothing to with Adele or the point of “Rolling in the Deep” or anything. I think they had to put it in there so Motown fanatics could hop on board, because change is scary.
And then I saw the comments.
Most of which implied that the recording used (with or without the Queen’s knowledge) the dreaded AutoTune, scourge of the music industry and sworn enemy of music purists. I took another listen, and I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference. Every now and then, I would hear something that sounded a bit non-human, but for the most part, it’s Aretha, and very much so.
Other comments directed me to Aretha’s recent performance of the song on David Letterman. The first thing I noticed was “wow, Aretha looks great.” My second thought? “This does sound different.” Granted, that’s the thrill of the live performance; you hear things that might not be there on the recording. No two performances sound alike, and there were a few moments where Aretha backed up from the mic and I missed a word, or she rushed through a lyric, or something. It sounded similar, but not the same as the recording, but it’s still the Queen of Soul.
Of course, AutoTune is evil, but that’s only when the powers that be use it for nefarious purposes, like making a bad singer sound good or making someone sound completely different (in a good or bad way) from how they actually sound. However, there are probably some benefits to pitch correction. If time is of the essence, it can be a quick fix on a 95% perfect take, just so everyone can go home an hour earlier. On the original cast recording of The Pajama Game, there’s one song that always bothered me, “Once-A-Year Day.” In the recording, Jerry Orbach (who was not a young man at the time), stops mid-word to wheeze. It’s a very obvious wheeze. and it’s also very obvious that it’s not in the song. If they had used AutoTune, they probably could have corrected it, or at least modulated it a little bit. That’s the good side of AutoTune; masking one obvious mistake from an otherwise perfect take.
Even if there was some pitch-matching software involved, it’s still a very good recording and sounds very much like the singer. Also, she’s seventy-two years old, and with age comes vocal changes and fatigue, so I think she’s earned the right to use AutoTune to make a decent song then have a raspy, pitchy track that critics will tear up.
One video I’ve been seeing a lot of on my Facebook feed lately is that of the funny Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose safety lecture is basically like spending three minutes with Kristen Wiig as all of her characters put together. Naturally, I watched the video myself, found it utterly hilarious, and for some reason made me desire crackers, but maybe because it was still Passover when I watched the video. In case you haven’t yet seen what I’m talking about, here it is for your enjoyment.
Yes, this is a real video, shot on an actual Southwest Airlines flight by someone with a very thin cellphone camera. Didn’t anyone on that plane manage to record it on HD? Anyway, this fantastically funny flight attendant was on Ellen today, where the world learned that she is 49-year-old Marty Cobb of Dallas, Texas (color me unsurprised; even the humor is bigger in Texas). Despite looking very young, she has three kids, two of whom were on the show with her today. Ellen DeGeneres, in typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, was extremely generous, giving her an Ellen luggage set stocked with Ellen souvenirs and $20,000 dollars in gift cards from Target, RadioShack, Shutterfly, and others. She seemed like a terrific lady; not like she didn’t deserve those prizes (she totally did) but there are tons of funny flight attendants out there. Most of them work for Southwest Airlines. Personally, I love flight attendants because not only do they help keep the plane safe, but if you’re on their good side they will be the kindest of kind to you.
This reminds me: one of my two favorite flight attendant stories happened on Southwest Airlines.
When I went to UMass Amherst, the closest airport was Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Because there are so many colleges and universities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, during weekends like Thanksgiving and Spring Break, the airport is full of students. A good number come from the DMV, and since Southwest offers cheap and quick flights from Hartford to BWI, students tend to use them frequently. At that time, Southwest didn’t offer flights to Dulles or Reagan (this may have changed) so for anyone from within a few hours from Baltimore, it was worth it to fly there and then take public or private transportation to elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC. Since I went to one of the biggest schools in the area, chances were that I saw at least one familiar face in the terminal or on the plane, and usually we were actual friends, not just acquaintances. This is also how I ended up sitting next to the most insufferable girl in my major for four lovely hours in the air, but I digress.
I believe it was the end of Spring Break, and I was on my way back to school. The entire Trinity College men’s basketball team ended up being on my flight, coming back from a game with some school in Baltimore/DC. Just about everyone was settled on the plane, when the intercom system crackled, and a flight attendant’s voice rang out.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Kevin? Kevin Miller? Is there a Kevin Miller on this plane?
Behind me, I heard a shuffle of sweatsuits, and various voices saying, “Kevin, wake up, they’re calling your name.”
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller…if you are on this plane please press your call button immediately.
BING! A call button comes on a few rows behind me, as I hear Kevin saying, “I’m here.”
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller, we have a message for you from Baltimore. Your mother just called, she said you left your Spider-Man lunchbox on the kitchen counter. She did talk to the pilot, and unfortunately, he has decided that we cannot delay the flight to wait for the lunchbox to arrive, but she is checking it through on the next flight out, and you should be reunited with it at baggage claim in Hartford. She also wanted me to tell you that she cut the crusts off of your peanut butter sandwich, and remembered the Double Stuf oreos, and she loves you very much.
His friends sitting behind me started cracking up, as did most of the rest of us on the plane. Somehow, they had managed to pull this flight attendant aside and convince her to play along with their prank. The best part was that she was a big, sassy black lady who didn’t miss a beat. That is how it’s done.
And that’s how to properly prank your friend on a domestic flight. International might be a little tougher.
In honor of the brand new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I thought it only appropriate to celebrate with a music video.
That’s So Jacob presents:
Episode 12: Linda Ronstadt/Amy Winehouse “You’re No Good/You Know I’m No Good” Remix
Pop music has changed.
Not just the songs, but the images of the artists as well. What was once risque is now tame; I watched an early Britney Spears music video the other day and was like “so what’s the problem here?” Now you look at people like Miley Cyrus and wonder where the hell music went to. The only “pop” in pop music these days seems to come from Macklemore’s song where he “pops some tags” (and at first, I thought it was “popping some tabs,” like from soda cans or maybe a reference to MDA or some other sort of drug tablets). None of these songs have much of a shelf life. I mean, are we still going to be singing “Shots shots shots shots shots shots” or “You a stupid hoe (repeat)” twenty years from now? Ten? Five?
From the 1940s forward, pop music emerged out of a burgeoning youth culture in America and around the world. These were songs teens could dance along to and sing along with. Pop music has evolved over the years, spawning new genres (like bubblegum pop, country pop, dance pop, adult contemporary) and influenced other styles of music like rock, rap and R&B. Pure pop, however, came from the likes of folks like Linda Ronstadt. I believe that Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile performers of our time; her decades-long career has spawned albums in classic pop, contemporary pop, country/western, folk, rock and roll, and Latin, including setting the record for the best-selling non-English-language album in the USA. It shouldn’t have taken until 2014 to induct her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but now she’s in a place which deserves her name. She just came out with a book, Simple Dreams, that I am dying to read.
Unfortunately, she has lost the ability to sing due to symptoms from Parkinson’s disease; other than that, she’s alive and healthy, and apparently, according to her Wikipedia page, single and never married. (Linda – if you’re reading this, call me! 😉 )
She has some of the star qualities that are rarer and rarer to find in pop musicians these days. Every song of hers is distinct and has a different sound to it; you know it’s her because her name is on the CD cover, but even if you didn’t know who she was, you’d appreciate the song and the voice. Her songs were catchy, punchy, and had fun lyrics that were easy to remember, actually made some sense, and had a message in them. Her image wasn’t necessarily squeaky-clean, but that didn’t matter as much in those days; keeping your body covered was in, and songs with provocative lyrics didn’t receive much airtime. Frankly, the concept of “squeaky clean” image that we have today didn’t really exist back then; singers just performed, and the innuendo was what the listener made of it.
21st century music, while it has plenty of exceptions, has seen the proliferation of the “adult” factor, especially in teenagers and young twenty-somethings. Drugs, alcohol, and sex, once a subculture, have now hit the mainstream now more than ever. And they’re all so young. Consider Amy Winehouse. Her life was like a side show of addiction that resulted in an unfortunate death at the age of 27, just a year older than I am right now. And ironic, considering one of her breakout hits, “Rehab,” where she sings about not wanting to go there, and very adamantly at that. Fans seem to consider her some sort of musical martyr, but I don’t see it that way. People make choices in their lives, and she made some pretty bad ones and paid the ultimate price. This is by no means to speak ill of the dead, because she could have had a long, fruitful career ahead of her; just look at how Ozzy Osbourne turned out. Okay, maybe not the best example, but you get the picture.
But back to the video. We start off with the Amy Winehouse part, where she sings about drinking while lying in a bathtub and smoking at the bar, telling all the world “You Know I’m No Good.” Basically, a typical Amy Winehouse day. Her outfits are pretty darn revealing, and I don’t even think she’s trying to be all that sexy. After an awesome transition, we tune into a 1970s episode of Midnight Special, with Linda Ronstadt, two backup singers (who have incredible hairstyles, by the way), and a live band belting out “You’re No Good,” with long-haired Linda rocking the mic in her floral patterned Oxford and bellbottoms, and shaking a tambourine and her long brown hair like she just don’t care. The backups have interesting leisure-suit type outfits on, very 70s, especially the one who appears to be in gold lame. We transition back to Amy doing things with her tongue and half-naked boyfriend (not at the same time), with an awesome tambourine clap from Linda in the middle, before transitioning back again to Linda and co., who bring us out on a high note.
Now, what’s the take away here? I’ll start with the imagery. I love both ladies’ looks in this video, but it really shows just how much music has changed. In the 1970s, Linda’s outfit would be considered trendy, fashionable, and maybe even sexy with the tight fitting waist and legs, but today, you’d find that outfit (or a similar variation) at Ann Taylor or H&M. Amy’s outfit isn’t entirely inappropriate, more like club wear, but shows more cleavage than most 1970s pop divas would dare to bare. Their makeup and body language communicate their characters. Linda’s natural look and slight swish of the hips does more to implicate anything sexual than actually do anything sexual, whereas Amy’s heavy makeup, body tattoos, and (implied) nudity in the bubble bath make more of a show out of her, detracting from the voice and the song. The songs themselves go together nicely in one video, but are very different in style and tone: “You’re No Good” is less specific and contains relatively harmless lyrics about a relationship, where “You Know I’m No Good” refers to alcohol, having affairs, and sleeping around. Unfortunately, the original six-minute video has been taken down by YouTube, but this three-minute version packs the same punch.
This video is a masterpiece because not only does it feature two amazing singers, but it shows some of the stark contrasts between pop music from this century and the last.
Congratulations to Linda as well as Nirvana, Cat Stevens, KISS, Peter Gabriel, and Hall & Oates for their incredibly well-deserved achievement. And also to the nation of Taiwan and the Northwest Territories of Canada for showing up at That’s So Jacob for the first time. Give yourselves a round of applause.
But seriously, Ms. Ronstadt, if you’re ever in the Madison, Wisconsin area, let’s have dinner and drinks. Please?
First of all, thank you to everyone who viewed, read, and commented on yesterday’s blog. It was my most viewed blog to date, with 113 visitors and 210 views, personal records for me, including my first visitors from Nebraska (howdy!), Hawaii (aloha!), and Croatia (dobrodosli!) Hope you continue to hang out and enjoy. And as always, if you have any ideas of current events you’d like my opinion on, stories you’d like to hear, or a new feature, just let me know!
In honor of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia (which apparently start in a few hours, at least in Russian time), I’d like to call your attention to something a friend of mine (well, okay, I don’t actually know her, but we’re friends on Facebook and responded to a comment I wrote her once) posted on Facebook. On your mark, get set…
That’s So Jacob Presents: Masterpiece YouTube
Episode 11: “Queen of the Ice,” Julie Brown, 1994.
Said friend was indeed the Great and Wonderful Julie Brown, who reminded us all of this glorious moment in her career, or at least the glitziest. One of the most underrated comediennes of all time, Julie Brown was unleashed upon the world as a VJ on MTV, hosting her show Just Say Julie, and leading the cast of an unfortunately-cancelled sketch comedy show called The Edge which featured her alongside the likes of Tom Kenny, Jill Talley, and oh yeah, some other chick named Jennifer Aniston. She’s been pretty dormant over the past decade or so, but has come back with a bang. Most of her earlier work is still hanging out on YouTube, and it’s still funny even though the 1990s are not even a twinkle of an eye to today’s teenagers. I had originally planned on doing one huge salute/tribute dedicated to Miss Brown, but since she started it, I’m just going to roll with it.
This song comes from a parody film called National Lampoon’s Attack of the 5 Ft 2 In Womenwhich satirizes the stories of everyone’s favorite penis-chopper Lorena Bobbitt and everyone’s favorite Olympic ice skater rivals, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. If you don’t know either of those stories, stop reading, click over to Wikipedia, and come back when you’re done. I’ll wait.
Okay, so now that we’ve established the situations, on to the video. We open on Tonya Hardly (played by Brown herself) gliding around her attic in a snazzy black and white sweater and early-90s white floofy scrunchie…oh wait, that’s actually supposed to be her hair. Flash over to the Nancy Kerrigan character being pursued by Tonya in a fit of rage and a dress that could turn Medusa into stone (bonus points to those of you who get that reference!). Her anger-fueled, acid-trip tune turns deadly when she pulls out her “little hammer,” something that I initially thought was just an unusual rhyme, only to realize about fifty re-watches later that it’s a cultural reference to the Olympics in Lillehammer. I’m not quite sure what the significance of the parrot lady is, but Julie Brown’s finest moment in the video is when she bites her lip and takes aim with her gun. Pure, unadulterated, early 90s vengeance. The music turns sweet again as she scrolls through a list of her “idols,” other infamous ladies from the early 1990s. Then, here comes a wrestler with a wheelbarrow of money, for no apparent reason, and then Brown skates around some more, dances a bit on the podium under the American flag, and ends with a triumphant slap to Nancy’s face.
What did I learn from this video? Skating and shooting are two activities that go well together. Skating in the fog is fun and mystical. The girl who plays Nancy has a weird-shaped face. But the most important lesson of all is that Julie Brown is so talented that she can make the world fall in love with Trailer Park Tonya all over again (like they say in those commercials on PBS about the technicolor Shirley Temple Collection).
But seriously, folks…skate at your own risk.
This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by Winter. Winter: When you go outside and the snot freezes inside your nostrils, that means it’s working.
Like millions of Americans, I put aside what I was doing to watch Obama’s State of the Union address. Then, like millions of Americans, I picked things up where I left off and wondered why it was now several hours later and I hadn’t eaten dinner. The SOTU was as it usually is, a collection of platitudes mostly about creating jobs, the military, health care, without addressing criticism, saying anything substantial, or giving the American public some payoff at the end.
Let’s watch something that is exciting and educational.
That’s So Jacob Presents:
Episode 10: “100 Years of Fashion in 100 Seconds,” Westfield Gateway Mall (2011)
This video is a few years old, but got some buzz recently on Forbes.com and elsewhere. I myself discovered it via the scourge that is StumbleUpon, and haven’t been able to stop watching it since. Seriously, I think I know all the outfits now.
Basically, it’s the same very attractive young couple doing a dance routine while seamlessly transitioning between years of fashion. Yes, it’s British, but I feel like if you made a few costume substitutions, it could encompass American fashion too. For example, it kinda gives short shrift to the 1990s, but then again they only had 100 seconds. There is something to be said for men’s fashion; even though it really doesn’t change that much (just add/remove a jacket, tie, hat, or suspenders; everything else is basically the same) the video does a good job of providing some much-needed and oft-forgotten color and distinction to the man’s outfits. Of course, the girl’s outfits are very different from one another and in essence, serve as the markers of the decades with their styles, colors, fabrics, and cuts. Personally, I think that the costume designer could have gone even further and been more dramatic with the outfit changes, with some bolder colors and things that are a bit more shocking to the eye. However, it serves the purpose of the ad, and all the items seen could conceivably be purchased at a mall.
I just got the point.
This is some BRILLIANT advertising.
Now I just want to fly to London and go shopping.
Follow that redhead!
This episode of Masterpiece Youtube was brought to you by the fact that it’s still -13 degrees outside. Oh, and…thanks, Obama? I never really understood that.
It’s been about a month since I’ve posted one of these, so here goes.
That’s So Jacob presents:
Episode 7: “I Got You Babe,” Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Bea Arthur (1990)
It’s a sign of the times.
There is something to be said about a performance that captivates you from start to finish, with not a second where you’re not tuned in to the action. This moment is among the best of many that made the 1980s/1990s sitcom The Golden Girls, well…golden. I say “golden” because it was a television series that had about 25 minutes on your screen and made the most of every second. Even though I did not watch this show growing up – I assumed that it was a show for old people, not just about old people – reruns of this show pop up on Nick at Nite or TV Land every now and then, and when they do, I tune in. If you’re reading this, you probably know what the show is about, so I’m not going to waste time explaining that, but I do want to acknowledge what made the show work: the four actresses, each with perfect comedic timing and the exceptionally-written script that soaked up every second of airtime and used it to its fullest potential. Despite the fact that the main characters were all older ladies, the episodes seem young and fresh even today.
A sign of a truly exceptional sitcom is one that is able to draw you in with absolutely no context. If I was flipping through channels and knew nothing of this show, I’d be drawn in by the music, the dialogue, and the oddly-dressed characters. You really don’t need any context to enjoy this scene; it works independently, on its own platform-heeled feet. Which is a good thing, because I’ve completely forgotten the context of what actually happens in this episode. How often does that happen?
Here’s the way I see it.
We open on Betty White (as Rose) sitting at the piano. A tiny woman walks into the room, even if you don’t know that she is Estelle Getty (as Sophia) you know exactly who she’s supposed to be. After a little banter, out comes the resident giraffe, the stately Dorothy, as portrayed by Bea Arthur. The stick-straight black hair looks so out of place on her and as they line up behind the piano, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do. Of course, they launch into Sonny and Cher’s iconic “I Got You Babe,” from the 1960s and the movie Groundhog Day. What solidifies the amazingness of this scene is encapsulated in one word; when Bea Arthur deadpans the word “Babe,” and flips her hair, that’s it for me. If there was ever a “Queen of the Deadpan” competition, Bea Arthur would have it all sewn up. But the scene must go on, and since hearing them finish the song is not that important now that we’ve milked the humor of situation, Rose gets flustered and starts off on a tangent, ending it with – you guessed it – a classic St. Olaf story. Sophia’s comment comparing Rose to Ernest Hemingway wraps it up nicely, and we’re onto the next scene.
I believe that today’s TV shows underestimate the viewer. This scene shows the right amount of “haha” funny and “serious” funny without stuffing it down our throats. These days, TV shows run the jokes into the ground, as if to tell the viewers “Hey! This is funny! Laugh you people!” rather than letting the situation illustrate itself. In interviews, Bea Arthur often said that this was one of her favorite scenes from any of the episodes, ever, and I’m totally down with that. It doesn’t take a lot to process it; just let the magic wash over you and bask in its shiny, fringy glow.
Here’s how Cher felt about The Golden Girls‘ interpretation of her torch song:
Previously, on Masterpiece YouTube, I started a countdown of my favorite Christmas crap on the YouTube. The number one spot on the countdown, I felt, deserved its own entry, so here, for your entertainment, is the Roundhouse Holiday Special that premiered on Nickelodeon in 1993.
For the uninformed, Roundhouse was a magical show I grew up watching on the wonder that was SNICK, or Saturday Night Nickelodeon, aimed at keeping 90s kids like me in front of the TV, out of my parents’ hair (or behaving for the baby-sitter, as the case sometimes was), and to by their tie-in products. Wait…that hadn’t happened yet. That’s right, back in the Golden Age of Nickelodeon (which I could go on and on and ON about how awesome it was despite the fact that I was too young for some of the shows and don’t remember every single one), quality children’s television was not about cleaning out kids’ piggy banks with cheap merchandise or promoting a cult of child celebrities. It was about shows like this one, which were about entertainment and didn’t really ask much of their audience except some laughs. Props and costumes were pretty simple, and, oh yeah, they had an awesome band and a flexible stage space that they name-checked in their theme song, “we can go anywhere from here,” since the interior of the set resembled an actual roundhouse, or a place where train cars of old could go in any direction, symbolizing that imagination can take you anywhere you want to go. Also, it had this cool, edgy 1990s punk-grunge vibe that made middle-class suburban kids like me feel a little bit cooler for watching it.
Even though it only ran for a few short seasons and I don’t remember that much of the content from the original episodes, Roundhouse had it all. It was a sketch comedy show peppered with songs and dance numbers that revolved around a meaningful theme, like being the new kid in school, or dealing with your family. It had a pretty solid cast of talented teens/twenty-somethings. Some of them were very talented actors, others sang awesome original songs, and almost all of them had some crazy hip-hop moves; most were your classic triple-threat. Realization: maybe this is why I went into performance. But, anyway, the cool/sad thing about the show was how most of the actors faded off into nothingness or went behind the camera – cool because they are probably living healthy, fulfilling lives, but sad, because we never got to see most of them again. A few standouts include Dominic Lucero, who tragically passed away from lymphoma before the show finished taping, and Crystal Lewis, who tragically exited the cast after the first season in order to pursue a career in gospel music, which was highly successful, according to Wikipedia. There were no DVDs of the show ever released, so it’s unsure whether future generations will ever get to enjoy it, and coming across any record of its existence on the Internet is pretty rare.
I came across not only a clip, but this full episode on YouTube, and the memories came flooding back to me; the holiday sketches that appealed to people from many different backgrounds, the pop culture references, and of course, one of the most amazing songs ever written. There are a few misses in these twenty-five minutes of wonder, like the toilet-seat sketch, which I didn’t find particularly funny, but it’s mostly hit after hit…just watch, it’ll be the most productive half-hour of your day. Or at least the cleverest.
The constant meta-references to the nature of the television show and of sketch performance in general, as well as poking fun of the holiday madness that has only ballooned in recent years.
Julene Renee as a perky infomercial for Skidmark Cards, and for Holi-dazed and Confused, “…HARPS OF GOLD!”
The fabulous one-liners of perpetual TV mom Shawn Daywalt (examples: “Oh, right, and he’s at home watching the Stooges,” “I believe they prefer to be called Alfresco-Americans,” “I’m not a mom but I play one on TV.”
It’s a tree topper and a dessert topper!
And the ever-popular “World, Be Still,” AKA the best non-denominational Christmas song of all time. It’s awesome and amazingness and wonderfulness all in one.
“World, be still, find peace tonight/love reveal your perfect light/One hand is reaching out in hunger/one voice gives a tiny sigh/it joins with others in the thunder/of the silent battle cry/one candle lighted from another/one voice cries out for peace/one hand extended to a brother/world sings in sweet release/World, be still, find peace tonight/love reveal your perfect light/Come, children of every nation/find the peace in your own way/light candles in celebration/to the light of the dawning day/mean streets of crime for assistance/in a language born of pain/hear the bells of freedom in the distance/singing out this proud refrain/World, be still, find peace tonight/love reveal your perfect light/One hand is reaching out in hunger/one voice gives a tiny sigh/it joins with others in the thunder/of the silent battle cry/one candle lighted from another/one voice cries out for peace/one hand extended to a brother/world sings in sweet release.”
It just goes to show you that not all of Christmas is crap, that there is still some goodness in the world, in this life, even when sometimes I wish I could just be like –
I am beginning this entry at 4:37 PM EST, Christmas Eve, from the road in someplace called Newton Falls, Ohio, where families are putting the final touches on their Christmas decorations, wrapping last-minute gifts, and setting out cookies and milk for a man who breaks and enters their houses every year to leave a mess on their living room floors. And that’s not including the reindeer poop that undeniably on the bottom of Kris Kringle’s boots.
But this story does not take place in Newton Falls, Ohio. In fact, I barely even knew there was a town called Newton Falls, Ohio, until I checked my location on my phone a few minutes ago. In fact, this story doesn’t have a specific location at all.
Growing up near Pikesville, Maryland (okay, I lied, there just so happens to be a location), we didn’t have Christmas. As in Christmas didn’t exist. Everyone I knew was Jewish. Nobody put up Christmas lights on their home or business. No one went a-wassailing door-to-door; the only Christmas music came from the car radio. In general, it was just another day. Back then, I didn’t even really know what Christmas was, why people celebrated it, or what day of the year it was; since it was a religious holiday, I thought that it changed every year, like Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah or Passover.
Christmas was especially verboten in my household. My dad hated Christmas and anything to do with it, and still does to this day, refusing to acknowledge its existence except to complain that things are not open. This meant no Christmas books, no Christmas songs, and no Christmas movies. Exceptions were made for movies where Christmas appeared but was not a central theme, like Home Alone, or Christmas episodes of cartoons and sitcoms . I don’t really know the reason, other than the fact that we are Jewish and proud of it. My mother always said that it was because my dad’s father didn’t like Christmas or allow him to participate in any Christmas events at his public school when he was a kid. But thanks to my dad’s abhorrence of the holiday, I always associated it with Hitler or the Holocaust, which were the other things that he could not tolerate. That and the New York Yankees.
As I left the fold and entered college, I became acutely more aware of Christmas (except for the year I spent Christmas in Israel, where, ironically, it all started) and found myself enjoying some Christmas classics, like Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
So, in today’s Masterpiece Youtube, we look at the great Christmas moments in television, film, and music, as determined by me.
10. The Hanukkah episode of Rugrats
Even though the Passover episode came first and is far superior, in the mid 1990s Klasky-Csupo Productions gifted all the Jewish children of the world with a holiday special of their very own, with as few Christmas references as possible, exceptions being, of course, the unmissable Cynthia Saves Christmas special and Stu referring to the synagogue as a church. Highlights of the episode include the presence of Grandpa Boris and Grandma Minka, Didi’s hilarious old-country parents who are probably both dead now; Stu’s epic menorah invention fail; and the scene where Angelica thinks she’s getting pancakes for dinner, only to discover that they are latkes, “Tapato pancakes? Who would make pancakes out of topatos?” Your Jewish cousin’s mom, that’s who. The cherry on top is that unlike all the rest of the cartoons of the world, Rugrats came out with episodes for both Passover and Hanukkah years before it aired a Christmas special, probably due to appearances/popularity/external pressures. To this day, I believe that except for a few mentions in Family Guy and the bizarre As Told By Ginger “Even Steven Holiday Special,” no other cartoons have expressed their love for the Festival of Lights. Even though Spongebob has outlived its usefulness (a topic for another time), they’ve had at least two Christmas episodes and the world continues to wait for Bikini Bottom’s Hanukkah festivities – which should occur, obviously, at their local Jewfish Community Center.
9. “Last Christmas,” Wham!
Unlike Band Aid’s lame attempt to bring Christmas cheer to the world in the wildly inappropriate “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, this masterpiece by Wham! truly launched the spirit of Christmas across the world, even in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion or even a state-approved tradition. I’m pretty sure I heard it in the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, when I flew there on New Year’s Day, and friends of mine who have been to China say that they play it all year long, which is surprising considering China’s historical relationship with Western religions. Even one of my non-English-speaking friends posted it on his Facebook on Christmas Day last year despite not having a clue as to what the lyrics referred. The first truly international Christmas song. Take that, “Jingle Bells.”
8. Elmo Saves Christmas
This Muppet-ized take on It’s A Wonderful Life put the furry red monster in the position of control of Christmas, which is a very scary thing indeed. By making it Christmas every day, Elmo thought it would bring eternal joy to the denizens of the Street. It did not, doing the exact opposite: making everyone depressed that it was Christmas every day because it meant no work could get done and everyone had to shop for presents all the time (couldn’t they have just been like, screw you, Christmas, Sesame Street is open today?) making Elmo realize he made a horrible mistake. The best part of the movie is when my mom starts to cry, which occurs towards the end, every single time it comes on TV.
7. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love
It’s weird but there is something about this song that just works for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t include any religious references except for the chorus singing the word “Christmas” every now and then. There was a remake of it done recently by either Beyonce or Mariah Carey, and even though it’s far superior, there’s just something about Darlene Love’s voice that makes it so classic. Maybe it’s because when Darlene Love recorded it, we didn’t have Skype or Facebook to connect us like we do today.
6. Phoebe’s Christmas songs from Friends
Even though Friends, unlike Monica’s Mocklate, made Thanksgiving its holiday, with classics ranging from “More turkey Mister Chandler?” to Joey sticking his whole head inside a turkey to scare Chandler to Monica and Ross’s epic football rivalry, it didn’t skip Christmas. In one episode, Phoebe tries to create a Christmas song for all the friends with their names in it, and it goes through many transformations before becoming the definitive version that plays over the ending credits. How can you not love a Christmas song with the word “crap” in its first line? Honorable mention for Friends Christmas song is “My Mother’s Ashes,” from another episode, although I’m not entirely sure that it was a Christmas-specific episode or just a winter one.
5. “Santa, Teach Me To Dance,” Debbie and the Darnells
I discovered this obscure Christmas novelty song through a BuzzFeed article last year, and it’s stuck with me ever since, for the sheer oddity and hilarity of it. This song, which makes absolutely no sense, was written and performed in the 1960s, I believe, around the time dance movies were popular. Dancing lessons for Christmas seems like a strange request coming from the teenage girls who were singing this song. The only thing stranger than this song’s existence are the group that performed it. When I imagine Debbie and the Darnells, I imagine a group of four white girls with embarrassing 1960s Motown hairdos, possibly with reindeer hairbands or Christmas tree barrettes, and most definitely wearing smart sweater sets and staring off into the distance, much like pictures of the Shirelles or the Supremes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know who Debbie and her Darnells were, much less looked like, because when I searched for a Wikipedia entry or any other songs performed by these girls, this song came up and nothing else.
4. White Christmas and its dance sequences
Okay, so they really don’t have that much to do with the holiday itself, but they are in a Christmas-themed movie. My personal favorite is the “Abraham” number performed by a young and good-looking Vera-Ellen and John Brascia. Vera-Ellen, known for her tiny waist, incredible talent, and sad life story, is particularly on point here. I’ll elaborate more on her in a future post. John Brascia, on the other hand, didn’t become a star, or least not a major one by any means; I looked him up a few years ago and he was ancient, but still alive in California, having only made a few films. A recent Wikipedia search shows that he died between then and now. It’s such a shame; he could dance like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and in my opinion, is way better looking…wait a minute…where was I? Oh yeah, Christmas…
3. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peavey
This delightful song is not only adorable; it has an equally adorable story behind it. Though it sounds similar to Shirley Temple and is often mistaken to be her, it was sung by a young girl named Gayla Peavey in Oklahoma, who was known for absolutely nothing else, it’s pretty easy to understand: a girl wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. The lyrics are silly, fun, and bouncy. I wonder who came up with it – “hey, can you give me the name of an animal with five syllables, stress on the fourth, for a Christmas song?” All kidding aside, apparently there was a real hippopotamus like the one described in the song – it had been in an Oklahoma zoo, and then removed for some reason. Eventually, it was returned to Oklahoma, but after hearing this entreaty, I’d just give the girl her damn hippopotamus for Christmas.
2. “Up On the Housetop,” Gene Autry
Ho, ho, ho…w inappropriate is this song? Before I heard this song, I had no idea how much innuendo was in Christmas; I thought it ended with “Santa Baby.” I mean, Santa comes down the chimney, bringing a “doll” for little Nell, and a “whip” for little Bill. Seriously, “fill it well?” This song is just so hilarious in its hidden message. If anyone was going “click click click” on my housetop, I’d go “bow chicka wow wow,” and then call the police. Except if it was on the rooftop of my apartment building, in which case they’d freeze to death before they got caught.
But the number one Masterpiece YouTube? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for that one.
Episode 6: “Winter Song,” Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, 2008
I never thought I could ever feel this cold in my life. Never in two years of living in Massachusetts did it ever drop this low on the thermometer. It’s in the single digits here in Wisconsin, but it feels like negative double.
This music video is a quaint animation piece I’d expect more from someone like Zooey Deschanel. But it’s from Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. Bareilles is known for her one mega-hit (or meta-hit), “Love Song,” which come about presumably after a producer told her to write a love song and she turned the tables with a “fuck you I’m going platinum.” At the time, Michaelson’s career hadn’t really taken off yet, but she’s picked up plenty of steam in the past five years.
The lyrics of the song are rather simple, and the story it tells is of two young girls in a snowy environment. An old-timey cuckoo bird brings us to a cute little cabin with two girls with hearts on their cheeks. They are presumably sisters, although one’s a brunetter and one’s a redhead. Their cabin is adorable, but oh so very isolated. They go and pick up small objects from the ground, and then WHOA THEY’RE FLYIN’ ON A LEAF. And then it dumps them conveniently next to their cabin, using their dresses as parachutes, as I’m sure no dress in the world does. Their home is full of old, dead plants. They go to bed, and the next morning they drag a huge sled out to play with and go on an epic sledding adventure. Far from home,the girls keep walking on their search for something. It gets dark. All seems hopeless until a ray of sunlight peeks through and a flower blooms. The scenery changes, the snow melts, and things bloom. They run, and even though they just took a several second long sleigh ride quite a distance away, somehow they’re merely feet from home. They get home, and seeing their former snow fortress transform into a lovely little blue bungalow. Brunette jumps in the air, and despite the fact that the weather has now greatly improved, they run inside their house, but not a moment too soon as a tree bursts through from beneath their foundation, and now they live in a treehouse. I hope they zoned for that.
In short, this video is a flashback to simpler days when gathering fallen hearts, having awesome leaf and sleigh rides and attempting to grow plants was all there was to do in the world. The isolation is countered by the sweetness and homeyness of the cozy cabin in the woods, a place I’d love to escape to, snow or not. For some reason, I can’t deal with the cold but I spent all day gazing at a snowfall instead of doing work, which was probably not a great idea, but it just felt peaceful to me. To me, falling snow doesn’t mean shoveling, falling, and driving in it – it means hot chocolate, fuzzy pajamas, and bracing walks to town in awe of the beautiful, even blankets of snow covering the earth. Everyone in Houston said I was crazy for choosing Wisconsin and its snow over Texas, but all in all the cold eventually goes away and spring will come, more beautiful than ever. Until then, you can be warm and enjoy the snow anyway. Plus I’ve got plenty to entertain myself with in my own apartment.
The story of the song’s inception is an even better story – apparently it was crowd-sourced by Twitter. I don’t have a Twitter account but I’d make one if I could get Sara Bareilles to write me a love song out of it.
Oh, right, she won’t.
This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by procrastination. Procrastination: Make Big Things Go Farther Away and Become Scarier, and Small Things Become Bigger, More Immediate, and More Comforting.