Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Homemade Christmas CD Playlist 2 (2001; revised 2005): You Know, For the Kids

Nothing wildly original here either, but the boys really liked this when they were little.
    1. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Linus And Lucy (3:06)
    2. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" - You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch (2:58)
    3. Ben Folds - Lonely Christmas Eve (3:19)
    4. Sloppy Seconds - Hooray for Santa Claus ["Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"] (1:40)
    5. Fountains of Wayne - I Want An Alien For Christmas (2:21)
    6. Fuel - We Three Kings (2:50)
    7. The Ventures - Silver Bells (2:31)
    8. Allison Krauss and Alan Jackson - The Angels Cried (2:44)
    9. The Roches - Good King Wenceslas (3:28)
    10. T-Bone Burnett - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (4:18)
    11. Etta James - Silent Night (3:41)
    12. James Brown - Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto (3:03)
    13. O'Jays - Christmas Just Ain't Christmas (2:18)
    14. Al Green - O Holy Night (3:42)
    15. Booker T & The MG's - White Christmas (3:04)
    16. B.B. King - Christmas Celebration (2:49)
    17. Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby (2:34)
    18. The Ventures - Frosty The Snowman (1:59)
    19. Eels - Christmas Is Going to the Dogs (2:57)
    20. The Flaming Lips - Christmas at the Zoo (3:06)
    21. Smash Mouth and Rosie O'Donnell - Nuttin' for Christmas (2:39)
    22. Brian Setzer - Jingle Bells (2:19)
    23. Everclear - Santa Baby (4:04)
    24. John Lennon - Merry Christmas (War Is Over) (3:35)
    25. Pretenders - 2000 Miles (3:39)
    26. Abba - Happy New Year (4:22)

Homemade Christmas CD Playlist 1 (2001): The Classics

During the first post-9/11 holiday season, for no particular reason that I can remember, I acquired a hobby of making my own CDs of holiday music, focusing on styles of music I can actually stand to listen to for long periods of time: various types of rock, blues, r&b, certain strains of country, a smattering of reggae, ska, jazz, and swing, but very few choirs or Crosby-esque crooners. This has grown to be quite a lengthy collection over the years (18 CDs so far), and people hear us playing them and ask what is on them. Since there is a whole genre of blog that features nothing but playlists, a blog seemed like a good place to share this information. The sources of the music are my CD and record collection along with my beloved EMusic and the occasional dip into pay-per-track services like Amazon downloads, post-outlaw Napster, and the painfully proprietary ITunes. The CDs started out with a lot of obvious choices, but they get a bit more clever and thematic as they go along, if I do say so. I should note that the playlists include nothing from several family holiday favorites that got (and still get) played a lot without my anthologizing them, Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You, the Squirrel Nut Zippers' Christmas Caravan, and The Coolest Christmas, a 1994 compilation that may have been the first holiday CD I ever bought.
    1. Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock (2:11)

    2. Chuck Berry - Run Run Rudolph (2:43)
    3. Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang - What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin'?) (3:12)
    4. Louis Armstrong - 'Zat You, Santa Claus? (2:49)
    5. Ventures - Snow Flakes (What Child is This) (2:21)
    6. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (4:29) -- probably started the modern trend of semi-irreverent rock Christmas music back in the late 70s, when it was a December staple of the AOR stations
    7. Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping (5:28) -- ditto
    8. Gary Glitter - Another Rock and Roll Christmas (3:47)
    9. Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) (2:05)
    10. Teenage Fanclub - Christmas Eve (2:01)
    11. Mabel Scott - Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (2:18)
    12. The Bangles - A Hazy Shade of Winter (2:47)
    13. Sting - Gabriel's Message (2:13)
    14. Dido - Christmas Day (4:02)
    15. Low - Little Drummer Boy (4:52) -- from the probably the best rock Christmas album ever, but also once used on a Gap commercial
    16. Weezer - The Christmas Song [no chestnuts] (3:08)
    17. Tom Petty - It's Christmas All Over Again (4:15)
    18. Queen - Thank God It's Christmas (4:23)
    19. Alison Moyet - The Coventry Carol (3:32)
    20. Pearl Jam - Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time) (2:57)
    21. Lyle Lovett - Christmas Morning (3:46)
    22. Widespread Panic - Christmas Katie (5:29)
    23. They Might Be Giants - O Tannenbaum (2:05)
    24. Willie Nile - We Wish You a Merry Christmas (1:34)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Culture Threatening to Dog

Straining to keep the Rod Blagojevich story bubbling until such time as something else actually happens, and to imbue it with presidential significance (the only sort of significance the national political media seems to recognize), the New York Times yesterday resorted to a trope I call the "disappearing subject." This is where the media's desperate efforts to flog a story get elided by personifying (or in this case, animalizing) the story so that it can appear to be harassing the target all on its own: classically, questions the media obsessively raise are said to "dog" the candidate or official, as though the questions were formulating and asking themselves. This was the strategy the Times and many other outlets used to keep non-events like Whitewater and Travelgate going as scandals during the Clinton years.

Now here we are again, with Kate Zernike introducing her little piece on Illinois's history of corruption with a truly stellar bit of chin-stroking non-analysis of a vague, strictly perceptual event that has not yet occurred, even on that meta level:

In Illinois, a Virtual Expectation of Corruption - NYTimes.com
. . . Now the culture of his adopted home state threatens to dog President-elect Barack Obama, whose vacated seat in the Senate Mr. Blagojevich is accused of putting up for auction, much as swampy Arkansas politics dogged the last young Democratic politician elected on a platform of change, Bill Clinton.

Prosecutors say Mr. Obama is not a subject of the investigation. And he has been a champion of ethics reform in the Illinois Legislature and in the Senate. But some Republicans have seized the opportunity to try to tie him to the worst side of Illinois politics.

Get that? The dogging, though only threatened, has been perpetrated not even by the story, but the thin pretext for writing it in a way that might touch president-elect Barack Obama ("the culture of his adopted home state"). I hate it when adopted home state cultures do that. Oh yes, and the very fact that the media used the same rhetorical tactics against Clinton becomes a way of linking Obama to the Clinton scandals, in the sense that NYT can bring up the two in the same sentence.

Who can take "ideas" like these seriously without being professionally invested in keeping American politics stupid?

[Also published at Publick Occurrences 2.0.]

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hillary's Folly?

I do plan to have some thoughts on this "team of rivals" Cabinet concept, if I find time. The shorter version is that while it may be a good idea for a disciplined leader like Barack Obama to fill his Cabinet with strong personalities in this especially gutless, herd-minded age, the idea that this follows Abraham Lincoln's example is considerably off-base, the adorable Doris Kearns Goodwin notwithstanding. Though the media and popular historians love to see genius strategies in every move that popular past presidents made, at the time of his election, Lincoln really was a minor figure laboring under serious political constraints — winning a four-way election where you were not even on the ballot in many parts of the country will have that effect — and he desperately needed all major northern factions on board with his presidency, including unionist Democrats and various state party bosses. In other words, the original "team of rivals" was a bug, not a feature, and the avoidance of "groupthink" was very far from being one of Lincoln's most serious problems. Obama is in a vastly different and far stronger position.

Also, a memo to Hillary Clinton: Lincoln also chose his chief party rival, William Seward, as a Secretary of State, but that precedent may not portend great things for your historical stature. Once I started training to be a historian, I learned that Seward was one of the true giants of 19th-century American politics. Seward expected to be running Lincoln's administration, and understandably (though inaccurately) so, as he was a co-founder and longtime standard-bearer of the Whig and Republican parties. But what happened to Seward's public image after eight years as Secretary of State? He ended up a trivia question. The only thing I remember learning about William Seward as a school kid was "Seward's Folly," the purchase of Sarah Palin's moose-hunting grounds. Seward was so eclipsed by Lincoln that the schoolbooks even left out the fact that John Wilkes Booth's assassination conspiracy tried to get Seward, too, but only succeeded in stabbing him repeatedly in the face.

[Also published at Publick Occurrences.]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The New "Black Friday"

Two cheers for the one of the news media's occasional flashes of self-awareness, David Carr's New York Times article explaining the media's role in creating the detestable retail-cultural phenomenon known as "Black Friday," the shopping day after Thanksgiving:
This weekend, news reports were full of finger-wagging over the death by trampling of a temporary worker, Jdimytai Damour, at a Wal-Mart store in Long Island on Friday. His death, the coverage suggested, was a symbol of a broken culture of consumerism in which people would do anything for a bargain.

The willingness of people to walk over another human being to get at the right price tag raises the question of how they got that way in the first place. But in the search for the usual suspects and parceling of blame, the news media should include themselves.

Just a few days ago, the same newspaper writers and television anchors who are now wearily shaking their heads at the collective bankruptcy of our mass consumer culture were cheering all of it on.
It is always bracing to have someone in the daily news business actually look back at what the media was saying on an earlier day, without The Daily Show or an historian having to do it for them. Carr confirms a thought that has crossed my mind the last several Thanksgivings: far from a grand holiday tradition, this "Black Friday" pandemonium is a relatively recent development. More specifically, it is part of the 1990s-and-after bubble economy that has hyper-inflated and over-institutionalized every minor cultural practice and leisure activity from Halloween haunted houses to children's sports and contests to card-playing to the keeping of friggin' scrapbooks. It has all been part of the process by which we have created an economy that produces little and sustains itself largely (and uncertainly) on consumer spending, or "the casualties and caprice of customers" as a certain sage once wrote. And the media has been there encouraging the phenomenon every step of the way, especially in its "lighter" content and advertising. The NYT has been no better than most of the others on this score, supplying a steady diet of lifestyle porn in its technology and real estate coverage, especially.

Carr helps make Damour's death and the new "Black Friday" into historically locateable and intelligible cultural events. His supposition that the current BF phenomenon only goes back about a decade seems to be right on target. In the Proquest Historical Newspapers database, the NYT's first mention of Black Friday in a non-stock market crash context appears to have occurred on November 25, 1995. Headlined "Stores Full, But Shoppers Seem Wary," Jennifer Steinhauer's piece introduced readers to the term as a bit of arcane, somewhat outdated retail lore:
Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" because they hope it starts a season that turns their books the same color. But the critical importance of the day has faded a bit over the years. Once the biggest shopping day of the year, it is now exceeded by several other days closer to Christmas, as shoppers now hit the stores later and later in the season in search of last-minute price cuts. Many retailers still see the day, however, as a gauge for the rest of the season.
Significantly, Steinhauer's article was a postmortem report on the beginning of the shopping season. As the Internet-bubble 'n' consumer-bauble economy took hold in the mid-Clinton years, the media would increasingly anticipate and set expectations for the day, previewing the best deals and gathering breathless comments from retailers, shoppers, and those omnipresent "analysts" about just how important and exciting and all-consuming Black Friday would be. Naturally, all that anticipation and those helpful shopping tips come surrounded with paid advertising for those self-same post-Thanksgiving sales. Carr refrains from making the obviously accurate accusation that whether or not Black Friday actually helps retailers profit from the holiday season -- given the associated extra costs of mounting the massive sales and the depth of the discounts offered, one would have to guess not -- the industry for which the Thanksgiving holiday really does make the difference is the media itself. Is it an accident, I wonder, that the media's frenetic promotion of Black Friday in its news coverage has coincided with a wave of consolidation and downsizing and general financial decline, especially in the print media?

[Also published at Publick Occurrences.]

Now playing: Cloud Cult - Everybody Here Is A Cloud
via FoxyTunes