Nathan's Laserium: Xmas Musix

There's a narrow range of Xmas music that I enjoy. It's not because I'm snobby and elitist, necessarily, more just because I'm fussy and provincial. But there IS Xmas music that I like, and like a lot. I've made a point of curating a relatively sizable collection, since everyone in my life loves Xmas music, from my mom when I was a kid to my wife and daughters now, and even including our very own VampireNomad with whom I spent a couple of Xmases. Xmaser! Maybe today's Laserium should be called X-maserium! X-mays are a thing, right? They are now.

The stuff that is not for me: Xmas novelty songs like 'Gramma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' or whatever. The old classics (which are fantastic, just not for me) like Bing Crosby and the like. Showtunes, Glee, country Christmassy stuff. Even stuff I should like like the Twisted Sister Xmas album.

The stuff I like:

My favorite Xmas album of all time is Holly Cole's 'Baby It's Cold Outside'. It's amazing. Her sultry, husky voice and rich, amazing arrangements are a perfect combination. There's lots of Xmas cheer on here but what I really love are some of the heavier songs. As a metalhead, brooding, somber music lifts up my soul and makes my heart happy. So songs like 'If We Make It Through December' and especially the dirgish 'What Is This Lovely Fragrance' warm up the coldest winter nights.

Sarah McLachlan also has a beautiful Xmas album, 'Wintersong'. Of course she does! She's Sarah McLachlan. My favorite songs are all of them but if I had to choose I would say 'River', 'Song For A Winter's Night' and 'In The Bleak Mid-Winter'. She also has the best version ever of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' together with  the Barenaked Ladies, on BNL's Xmas album, 'Barenaked For The Holidays'.

One more Canadian for the list, a guy named Steve Bell. He might be fairly obscure as he is a christian artist, but he's won a few Junos (sort of the Canadian Grammies) and I think he's great. He's got a Xmas album called 'The Feast of Seasons' which has some standout tracks. I'd recommend the guitar-only medley of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Angels We Have Heard on High/Silent Night', and both versions of 'The Coventry Carol', but especially the reprise, and 'Come Thou Long Expected Jesus'.

This next guy makes the list because of Corinne, who could tell you much more about him than I could. He's not exactly an unknown- Harry Connick, Jr. He released his second Xmas album the year she and I were living together so I got to hear it and discovered I really enjoyed it. The song 'The Happy Elf' makes me especially happy. And from his first Xmas album, 'When My Heart Finds Christmas', there's '(It Must've Been Ol') Santa Claus'.

That same Christmas, 2003, was kind of a dark one. Some friends were over at the Woodsy Crypt when I got a phone call that my uncle had died under tragic circumstances. I mean it's always tragic when someone dies but . . . yeah. It was bad. My parents were in Mexico so it was up to me to take care of my widowed Grandma, collecting her in her town and bringing her to Calgary where we dealt with the remains and the arrangements and all that. Corinne and Craig and Deb were there and they made it better. I'd mentioned that I was really into The Pretenders' '2000 Miles', and Deb performed that song for me in church and damned if I'm not tearing up as I type this now, 11 years later.

Merry Christmas! Don't worry, we'll have a post on Christmas Day but we understand if you're a little too busy to read it. And hey if you know of a Xmas song I might enjoy, feel free to leave a comment.

Happy ho ho ho to you!

 

- Nathan Waddell

 

Die Hard (is the greatest Christmas movie ever made)

This is a re-blog, word for word, of a piece I posted last December. That's right - I haven't changed a single thing. If you read this last year, too bad! Read it again this year. Because there are some of you who still aren't convinced. There are some of you who don't believe in Die Hard's Christmas spirit. There are even some of you who have not yet SEEN Die Hard. And that needs to change. People, Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Read. Watch. Believe.

Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made.

I’m in the business of bold statements.  I don’t need to back that one up: you all know it’s true.  But for the sake of literary exercise, I will defend my position. 

This film has everything.  Bruce Willis.  Alan Rickman.  Some of the best solo hero action sequences ever set to film.  One liners.  FBI guys.  Machine guns.  Comedy.  Romance.  Explosions.  ... “Vampire Nomad, stop!  Just stop.  We know Die Hard is a great movie.  But you called it the greatest Christmas movie ever made.  CHRISTMAS movie.  It doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas other than being incidentally set on Christmas Eve and you know it.”  

Oh really?

(Oh: spoilers.  There are going to be so many spoilers.)  

Bruce Willis is flying to LA to reunite with his family for Christmas.  It’s set on Christmas Eve at a company Christmas party.  Argyle plays ‘Christmas in Hollis’ by Run DMC in the limo.  The teddy bear wears a giant red bow.  The suspenseful opening sequence where the ‘terrorists’ take over the Nakatomi building is backed by a score that contains elements of ‘Winter Wonderland’.  The SWAT team’s movements are narrated by one of the terrorists to the rhythm of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.  It is heavily lit in shades of frosty blue and festive red with evergreen windows.  It contains the written message “Now I have a machine gun. Ho - Ho - Ho” in it.  Bruce Willis fights to save his wife and isn’t love the greatest Christmas story of all?  But!  It even contains a Christmas miracle.  The impenetrable and celestially-lit vault opens to the strains of Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’.  IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE! And then Bruce Willis, barefoot and filthy, saves every hostage, gets his wife back, and kills Alan Rickman.  IT’S ANOTHER, BETTER CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!  Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun DUN DUN DUN DUN DUNNN DUN-DUNNNNNNNNNNN.

As a side note, a friend once decided that the best Halloween costume ever would be to go as Bruce Willis in Die Hard and then, through the course of the party, change into successively dirtier and more torn wifebeaters until ending up half-naked in a black one at the end of the party.  Every time I watch this movie now I’m struck by what a genius costume that would be.  People, it’s truth.  Bruce Willis is hard on wifebeaters.  

The thing about this movie is that as a whole, at a glance, it seems preposterous.  I mean honestly.  One guy fights back against a group of heavily-armed ‘terrorists’ who have taken an entire office tower hostage.  And he does it barefoot.  Solo.  He steals machine guns and climbs through air vents and swings outside the building on fire hoses and walks through broken glass and the top of the building blows off and he has to also fight off the FBI.  It’s insanity!  One guy can’t do all that!  How can we suspend disbelief and enjoy a movie that so clearly defies the rules of logic and human endurance?  But we don’t take the movie as a whole.  That’s the beauty of it.  While watching it we’re immersed in it and we take it moment by moment, as it happens.  Director John McTiernan is so adept at action that he ramps it up in a very believable manner, unspooling the various plot threads with such perfect timing that we are completely suckered.  Every choice John McClane makes, within the world of the movie, makes a kind of sense.  At the time we accept that, were we too rogue New York cops whose wives were threatened, we would quite likely make the exact same choice.  And as the action explodes improbably to engulf not only the entire building but great swaths of the outside city and police and FBI forces as well, we are still on board.  We buy it.  We don’t want it to end.  It’s a crazed adrenaline rush from start to finish and the characters, so often left out of the think tank in action films, are compelling and clearly drawn.  Alan Rickman is possibly the greatest villain ever written for an action film.  He’s wondrous: suave and grandiose and petty all at the same time.  And Bruce Willis is the most reluctantly antagonistic and ballsy hero ever to foil villainous plans.  Die Hard is one of the great game-changing action movies of our time.  Many have tried to duplicate it but precious few have come close.

Back to Christmas.

“It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles.  So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.”  
“You asked for miracles, Theo? I give you the F. B. I.”
Alan Rickman should really just be in everything.

At any other time of year this would have been just an action flick, you know?  One of the great villain/hero standoff movies of our age.  But it’s set in the midst of holiday anticipation and an underlying sense of the need to survive because it’s Christmas, dammit, pervades the film so successfully that it elevates it to something greater.  It flavors events with a vague goodwill and the little festive flairs - the poinsettias, string lights, lit snowmen, ‘ho ho ho’, red and blue hues, gift wrap - are deftly placed and remind us that ultimately John McClane is just trying to get home for Christmas.  We all understand that.  We just don't all have to wade knee-deep through shards of glass and crazed villains to get there.  BUT WE WOULD IF WE WERE JOHN MCCLANE.  And that, my friends, is why Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made.  Bruce Willis doesn't just save Holly and most of the hostages and portions of some of the Nakatomi tower, he saves Christmas.  He's like all of Scrooge's ghosts combined with a Terminator combined with the Who song.  He just saved Christmas.  Barefoot.  You're welcome.

Merry Christmas.  Yippee-ki-yay motherfuckers.

 

- Corinne Simpson

Pick of the Week – December 15-21, 2014

In 1988, an odd series premiered on British television.  Red Dwarf was a science-fiction show, but, unlike Star Trek or even Doctor Who, it was a half-hour sitcom rather than the usual hour-long space operas that made up most televised versions of the genre.  Red Dwarf is the story of David Lister, a low level technician on a mining ship (the eponymous Red Dwarf), who, through an unusual set of circumstances, ends up three million years into his own future and as the last human alive.  He’s not alone, though.  Lister has company in the form of the ship’s computer, Holly, which once had an IQ of 3000 but has gone a bit…off after spending so many millennia alone.  And Holly has brought back Lister’s officious twit of a roommate, Arnold Rimmer, as a hologram to keep Lister sane.  Also on board is the Cat, a humanoid creature from a species that evolved from the ship’s cats, and Kryten, a service droid.

None of them are exactly Starfleet material, and I think even Arthur Dent might be more qualified to handle space travel.  But the Dwarfers have been doing their best to survive the cosmos for ten seasons filmed over the last 26 years, with the most recent airing back in 2012 (Yes, British television is weird).

This week’s pick is, “Backwards,” the first episode of Red Dwarf’s third season.  First, a warning: the episode starts with a quick, Star Wars-style crawl, dispensing of some events from the previous season.  In all honesty, it DOES NOT MATTER.  You don’t have to freeze-frame it (it moves by really fast), and, even if you do, it won’t make a lick of sense.  Don’t worry about it.  Once the actual episode begins, it is its own standalone story, and it does a good job of introducing the characters to viewers.  Actually, ”Backwards” was the first Red Dwarf  episode I ever saw, and it got me hooked on the series.

As for the plot, I hesitate to say much.  It’s only a half-hour show, so in describing it, I risk spoiling the entire thing.  In general, though, Kryten and Rimmer go missing while out in one of the Starbug shuttles, and it’s up to Lister and Cat to find them.  What happens from there exemplifies the show’s ability to put comedic twists on science fiction concepts.   It’s a lot of fun and well-worth watching.

-Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

A Soggy NYC Christmas

There's a certain magic surrounding the idea of New York City at Christmas.  We've seen it in movies like Elf, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and, of course, Miracle on 34th Street.  Last weekend I ventured up to the Big Apple with my family to soak in a bit of the Christmas atmosphere.  Unfortunately, thanks to an unrelenting rain, that wasn't the only soaking involved.  Still, my holiday spirit was unbowed, and I now bring you a small taste of what midtown Manhattan looks like this Christmas season.

We start in Times Square...

Christmas?  Never heard of it.  There's no Christmas here.

So Times Square isn't exactly Christmas central.  It has its own light show going on at all times anyway, so a little red and green wouldn't even be noticed.  I did, however, learn that they leave the New Year's ball sitting there all year long.  I did not realize that.  It makes sense, though.  Why put the whole thing away if you're just going to do it again next year.

But let's move on to a place with a but more holiday spirit: Rockefeller Center: 

A tall tree dwarfed by a REALLY tall building.

A shot that shows neither the tree nor the skating rink well.  A photographer I am not.

A shot that shows neither the tree nor the skating rink well.  A photographer I am not.

Many people come to look at the decorations in the store windows.  Saks Fifth Avenue had a line of people waiting to walk along their display, which this year told their version of the story of Snow White:

I missed the part of the original story where the Wicked Queen ate from a food truck.

Moving north along Fifth Avenue, we eventually made our way to FAO Schwarz, where we caught sight of Santa:

Considering the price of Lego, I can't imagine Santa's street value.

The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes is a New York City tradition.  I saw the show a few years ago and enjoyed it, as I recall.  I just can't remember a single thing about the show itself.  So, since I can't say anything descriptive, I'll just post a look at their exterior decorations:

Not shown: The tree changes colors every few seconds.

Not shown: The tree changes colors every few seconds.

Many buildings have impressive decorations for the season:

While I can't say that I had the magical NYC Christmas of the movies (It never seems to rain when the cameras are rolling), a holiday trip to New York City, even if it's just for a day, is a great experience.  But now I'm going to leave you with one more picture.  This place had nothing to do with Christmas, but the outside was very cool:

Happy Holidays!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Christmas Villains

Know who’s against you this holiday season.  Beware those who would work to dampen your Christmas spirit and rob you of your charitable good will.  Or worse!

The Grinch
He stole Christmas.
Desire: To shut the Whos up.  
Sins: He stole Christmas, you guys. He whisked every tree, decoration, gift, and scrap of food away from the Who houses in the night. He made his dog wear antlers and pull a sleigh.  He lied to Cindy Lou Who (who was no more than two).  
Status: Redeemed. His heart grew three sizes and he brought the Christmas feast back to the Whos.

All of the other reindeer
They’re a gang of bullies.
Desire: Presumably, uniformity.
Sins: They laughed and called Rudolph names because of his nose. They never let him join their reindeer games.
Status: Redeemed. Once Rudolph saved Santa by leading the way, the reindeer embraced him. They even assured him he’d have a place in history.

The sun
Frosty’s nemesis.
Desire: To rise and shine, man.  
Sins: Shined. Was hot that day.
Status: Undefeated. Frosty, presumably, melted. The sun wins everything.

Hans Gruber
He’s an exceptional thief and since he’s moving up to kidnapping you should be more polite.
Desire: To steal $640 million in bearer bonds from the Nakatomi Corporation.
Sins: Murder. Robbery. Posed as a terrorist. Masterminded a hostile takeover. Took hostages on Christmas Eve. Underestimated John McClane.
Status: Deceased. He took a plunge off the top of the Nakatomi Tower.

Stripe
He’s just a bad seed. A gremlin from the wrong side of midnight.
Desire: To wreak havoc on Kingston Falls.
Sins: Ate after midnight. Got wet. He tied Barney the dog up in Christmas lights. Killed Mrs. Deagle. Led a band of gremlin marauders through town on Christmas Eve.
Status: Deceased. Death by bright light - the sun got him.

Fred Astaire
Fame and fortune call him.
Desire: To have a song-and-dance girl in feature films with him.
Sins: He was too suave. He stole Bing Crosby’s girlfriend and forced Bing to hide his new girlfriend away at the Holiday Inn. Danced really well even when drunk.
Status: Neutralized. Fred and Bing each found a girl and lived in peace.

Ebenezer Scrooge
“A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner”
Desire: To enslave the poor in menial labour, amass wealth and not part with a dime of it.
Sins: He applauded prisons and workhouses. He wouldn’t give to charity. He kept the office very cold and never gave Bob Cratchit a raise. He considered Christmas to be humbug. He lost at love by being a workaholic. He was curmudgeonly.
Status: Redeemed. He learned the true meaning of Christmas and saved Tiny Tim.

Mouse King
A fabulous rodent ruler with an army at his disposal.
Desire: To beat then eat all the gingerbread men.
Sins: Led an army against the gingerbread men. Tried to eat the soldiers. Attempted murder of the Nutcracker.
Status: Deceased. Brained by Clara’s slipper and stabbed by the Nutcracker.

 

- Corinne Simpson