Monthly Archives: December 2013

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what song other than Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” could go here? Some of Joanna’s and my more memorable New Year’s Eves from the past:

  • Not long after we were married, we took my brother, a college-aged daughter and another college student to the greyhound races in Phoenix. I don’t remember who, if anyone, won money, and I later felt guilty that we’d contributed to the “sport.” But on the way home, we sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
  • We’ve gone to exactly one fancy dress-up New Year’s Eve party, with a couple of pretentious people whose names I no longer remember. We spent a lot of money and were bored stiff.
  • On New Year’s Eve 1999, we left Washington, D.C., to return to our home in North Carolina, because some people predicted that “Y2K” would cause widespread power outages and keep gas pumps from operating correctly the next day. Those people — and the once who predicted much worse — obviously were wrong. On television that evening, we watched Bill and Hillary Clinton sing “Fortunate Son” along with John Fogerty, performing on a stage built on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In other words, one guy who managed to avoid Vietnam by joining an Army reserve unit and one who avoided the draft through a student deferment sang an anti-war song in front of a memorial devoted to our most noteworthy wartime president, while seated between memorials honoring those killed in Vietnam and Korea. Though I like the song, that jingoistic “America’s Millennium” performance irritated me far more than the conspiracy theorists who were convinced that Y2K would create chaos. There was a lot of good music, though, and you can see the show here. Performers included Foreigner, Tom Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Kathy Mattea, Bobby McFerrin, Don McLean, Kenny Rogers, Luther Vandross and Usher.
  • One New Year’s Eve, we attended the wedding of a former student, and tonight we’ll attend a party for two of my colleagues who chose today as their wedding day. Some people obviously are better at tax planning than we are.
  • Spokane has what is supposed to be a wonderful “First Night” celebration. We’ve never gone. Sometimes we watch the fireworks display. Sometimes we’re asleep by then. The New Year has always managed to come in without us.

One of the most familiar versions of Auld Lang Syne is the one from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But the proper way to bring in the New Year is with Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians, who began playing it on the radio in 1929 and continued to do so on television until 1976. Both Joanna and I still remember watching and hearing the Lombardo orchestra many times on television.

And whether you knew it or not, you have also undoubtedly often heard Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians — and you may again tonight — even if you were born long after Lombardo died. By tradition, the version of the song played by “Mr. New Year’s Eve” is still the first one played in Times Square as the stroke of midnight brings in each new year. Listen carefully; then have a wonderful 2014.

Lyrics here, with video below.


As I’ve noted previously, Joanna is a native of the Bay Area. And though she has no desire to ever live there again, a part of her will always be with San Francisco. Tony Bennett’s signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” captures a feeling shared by many who have spent time in that amazing city.

Years ago when I had a conference in Berkeley, we had the opportunity to spend several days in and around San Francisco. We toured the city via various forms of transit, including a pedicab, a BART train, a ferry (at night, so we could see the lights of the city from the bay), and, of course, a cable car — for which Joanna got to serve as brakewoman. Acting like tourists, we ate lunch at Pier 39 and had dessert at Ghirardelli Square. Another time we drove to a summer conference in Los Angeles by way of the Oregon Coast and the Pacific Coast Highway, passing Bodega Bay (where she had also spent part of her earlier life), and crossing over a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge.

Frankly, our favorite big cities now are Seattle, Portland and New York. But San Francisco is a beautiful place, with a fascinating history, and I definitely wouldn’t mind spending more time there — especially with the woman who has my heart.

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” lyrics here, with video (including some nice scenes from the city) below.

Ten days ago I featured the “Queen of Gospel” — so now how about the “Empress of Soul”? Gladys Knight & the Pips were a 1970s R&B group that I enjoyed while in high school, and no doubt innumerable couples have considered “You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me” to be “their song.” It’s also another one that Joanna and I have sung along with many times while on the road.

Many people may not know or remember that Gladys Knight & the Pips weren’t the first to have a hit with the song, written by Jim Weatherly (who once quarterbacked a national championship Mississippi football team). A country version by Ray Price topped the country charts in 1973, a year before the GK&P released theirs. Crooners Dean Martin and Steve Lawrence apparently also did it in 1973, followed by Andy Williams in 1974. (Interestingly, even Weatherly’s own website and the article linked above seem to have the order of the Knight and Price recordings wrong.)

It’s no wonder that so many artists and others liked the song. I assume that every guy in a happy marriage feels that his life would be much less happy — and much less successful — without his wife, and probably almost every happily married person can identify with the opening verse:

I’ve had my share of life’s ups and downs
But fate’s been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that I’ve been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it’s all because of you

For the rest of the song, check out the lyrics here, or the video below.

For many years, my wife and I haven’t known of any gifts we want for Christmas simply because we have everything we need. Though of course it hasn’t always been easy, over all we have had an incredibly blessed life together. And though I’m writing this in advance, I’m sure that yesterday gave me “just what I needed” for this Christmas, too — time with Joanna and with family.

I also know that my life might have gone in a much different — and much worse — direction, had I not met and married Joanna. She was, to again quote the title of this catchy song by The Cars, “Just What I Needed” then, and ever since then. There’s no one with whom I’d rather “waste my time.” And I admit that sometimes I enjoy trying to have a conversations with her when she is talking in her sleep.

Lyrics here, with video below.

Christmas Day is tomorrow. And the next day will mark exactly 14 years since Joanna and I attended a concert titled “A Scottish Christmas” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

We received the tickets from my brother and sister-in-law, for whom we were housesitting and spoiling their dog, Savanna Louise Rose O’Malley McPherson. Incidentally, demonstrating the far-flung and wandering nature of modern families, tomorrow will be the first time in 15 years that my parents, my siblings and I have all been in the same house on Christmas.

A preview article, under the subhead “Events at the Kennedy Center,” described the 1999 concert like this: “A SCOTTISH CHRISTMAS — Scottish fiddle champion Bonnie Rideout, guitarist Al Petteway, hammered dulcimer virtuoso Maggie Sansone, percussionist Paddy League, bagpipe soloist Mike Green, the City of Washington Pipe Band, the City of Washington Drum Corps and traditional Scottish dancers perform at this holiday concert, Dec. 26 at 7:30 in the Concert Hall.” (I added the links, and yes, I recently discovered that the same Mike Green is an expert on Asia who served in the George W. Bush White House.)

Rideout, Petteway and Sansone also did an album titled “A Scottish Christmas,” for which you can still buy a DVD. I can’t say that I remember specific songs or performers from our evening at the Kennedy Center, though remember it as a wonderful concert in a beautiful city, and a fun time with my wife. In a bit from a documentary, you can seen Sansone describe the instrument she used.

I couldn’t find video of a true Christmas song being played by Rideout, but she does participate in the recording of an album by Sansone and Ensemble Galilei titled “Ancient Noels.” The music is reminiscent of what we heard at the concert, and was an INDIE finalist for “seasonal album of the year.” Video below.

Santa Baby,” one of few Christmas songs written by a woman, is a funny and odd little song. Odder is the fact that the most memorable version of the song that Joanna and I have ever heard was sung by a drag queen in a bar — despite the fact that neither of us drinks, or is part of the GLBT community.  And even odder is the fact that it wasn’t until it came up in casual conversation months later that Joanna realized that our friend had taken us to a “gay bar,” or that the performer wasn’t a woman. After all, I’m usually the less-than-observant one in our relationship.

Actually, in one sense my wife and I are members of the GLBT community — taking pride in being “allies.” We’ve enjoyed many relationships with GLBT friends, co-workers and (in my case) students. We belong to one of the few “open and affirming” churches in Spokane, and march each year in the city’s Pride Parade.

We are glad to see the progress made in the area of gay rights, including the legalization of gay marriage  in our own home state. We’ve found the gay weddings we’ve attended to be every bit as moving and fun as traditional weddings.

In fact, despite the fact that it is located in conservative eastern Washington and represented by one of the most conservative members of Congress, Spokane is very “gay-friendly.” Its GLBT film festival just celebrated its 15th year. And it is perhaps fitting that we saw a gender-bending performance in Spokane. After all, one of the city’s best-know musicians was jazz pianist Billy Tipton, a woman who lived as a man for more than 50 years — much to the apparent surprise of “his” widow, among others.

“Santa Baby” has been done by many artists, including Kylie Minogue, Taylor Swift, Madonna, the Pussycat Dolls and even Miss Piggy. But the first — and one of the best — was Eartha Kitt in 1953. Kitt, who died on Christmas Day five years ago, also played a memorable Cat Woman in the Batman TV series that I watched as a kid. I’ve chosen a video of her for this post.

Lyrics here, with video below.

This is second Queen song on the blog (first here). Despite liking the band for decades, and even though the song is now almost 30 years old, for some reason I just became aware of “Thank God It’s Christmas” a few years ago.

The opening two lines of the song pretty well describe part of any marriage, I would think: “Oh, my love, we’ve had our share of tears.
Oh, my friend, we’ve had our hopes and fears.”

A couple of later lines describe how Joanna and I view the world: “Oh, my love we’ve lived in troubled days. Oh, my friend, we have the strangest ways.”

And of course we would at least partially agree with the sentiment, “Can it be Christmas? Let it be Christmas ev’ry day.”

Lyrics here, with video below.

Christmas Carols have been around for thousands of years, but “The Christmas Song,” written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, is simply perfectly named. It is the Christmas song for me, especially as sung by Nat King Cole (who has appeared previously on this blog, as has his daughter). Maybe because the first album I ever remember my parents buying was one by Cole, I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember.

“The Christmas Song” is the first Christmas song I remember liking other than “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (either of which, unlike the Cole song, I would be happy to never hear again).

I also once wrote probably-awful alternate lyrics for the song, about homelessness and poverty. I don’t remember many of those words except the last few — “Merry Christmas, screw you.” That song was a feeble attempt to provide a reminder of how fortunate most of us are, especially in comparison to many of our neighbors. Of course, John Lennon did that far better with “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” So did Queen, for that matter, with the song that comes next on this blog.

Lyrics for “The Christmas Song” here, with video below (or shorter televised version here).

The first Christmas album I remember buying after we were married was one by “the Queen of Gospel,” Mahalia Jackson. You can hear that entire album here. (She also did an impressive version of another song on this blog, “Amazing Grace.”)

One of the highlights of our brief time in North Carolina was the opportunity to enjoy good Gospel music at various community events. Here in the Northwest, you can often expect to hear folk music. In the South, likely as not, it will be Gospel.

One of my favorites from Jackson is “Silent Night,” one of the world’s most popular Christmas Carols. Apparently there are at least 227 versions of the song, in 142 languages. I wish you peace during this holiday season.

Lyrics here, with video below.

For us, a lot happened in Sun Valley and the rest of the Wood River Valley. We did “cuddle up in a sleigh,” to quote a line from this song. We explored the region, camped, fished and skied together. And though it was strictly old-style cross-country skiing in our case (as seen in the video below), we still managed “a spill on a hill” or two.

At the 1:07 mark in the video you can see a snow sculpture of an ox-drawn wagon. While we were there, Joanna and a friend actually made a half-scale four-mule team and ore wagon out of snow, winning the valley’s annual sculpture competition. As it turned out, my wife also loved to plow snow from the parking lot of the motel we ran there.

The area was so important to us that this is the second song on this blog from the film, “Sun Valley Serenade.” Like the previous one, this one also features the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I’m frankly not crazy about the song, but do like the still-familiar images in the video (much better than the “South Park” version) and the memories they stir.

Lyrics here, with video from the film below.