31 December 2007

Final Thoughts And Future Trusts

Reflections by Robert S. Bise

Reflections of the days gone by …
In time we can recall
The laughter, tears and loneliness;
We learn to embrace them all.
Actions kill the words we say.
They die without a sound.
Time, in turn, can heal all wounds
If time can be found.

Another year has passed and we stand at the threshold of a new one. It is at this time that we traditionally take a moment to look back upon where we have been and to try to divine where we are headed.

The past year was not a terribly good one for me. Over the past 364 days I have lived through the definitive end of my relationship, soldiered through a soul-sucking job, fallen for an unrequited love, and wrestled with many personal demons and insecurities. More often than not I wanted to throw in the towel and lock myself away indefinitely.

One can only hope that years such as this one are thrust upon us so that we may learn something and move toward becoming a better, more complete person. To have to live through such a painful year with no bright side to grasp … that would only add insult to injury. I hold onto hope that the personal suffering through which I have lived can only serve me well in the future.

I am not saying that all of 2007 was bad. There are things on which I can fondly reflect and there are things that I will be glad to carry with me into 2008. I have been fortunate enough to meet and befriend a few new persons who can only but enrich my life. As for some old friends with whom I have fallen out of contact over the years, we have been rebuilding those connections and for that I am grateful. And for an unexpected treat ... a peanut in my caramel corn, if you will ... I have been blessed with the companionship of a kindred spirit, who I pray will continue to be a large part of my life for many years to come.

I cannot predict what 2008 will bring, as I am still seeing through the fog of 2007. But if some of my experiences over the past couple months are any indicator, I will encounter a much more positive new year.

So here is to a happy new year, for all of 2008.

21 December 2007

To My Faithful Readers (And Those Who Have Stumbled In)

I won't have time to write any more posts before Christmas Day so please allow me to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas. I hope that it will be filled with peace and joy and that you will be surrounded by the warmth of those you love and those who love you.

17 December 2007

More Christmas-y Goodness

I hope you enjoyed reading about my least and most favorite Christmas songs. I'm sure you didn't agree with all of them, as things like that tend to be a bit subjective at best. And that's okay with me. If you think I erred in my judgment, well, you can write your own lists. Make sure to let me know so I can mercilessly heckle you.

But just because the lists are finished doesn't mean my Christmas postings are. In fact, I have a fantastic rant from one of my favorite online stops. Be warned -- the language is explicit. Don't listen to this at work or in any other place where foul language may be frowned upon.

Now, once you've holed yourself into a safe location, click here and enjoy!

Most Favorite Christmas Song #1

My Number One Most Favorite Christmas Song is one of the most widely recognized Christmas songs ever.

It is performed by choirs, by orchestras, and even by popular bands. It is played on radio stations spanning classical music to hard rock.

It conjures images of snowfall and cozy fires and midnight masses. It warms the heart and brightens the face. It, quite possibly more than any other song for this holiday season, puts one in the Christmas spirit.

Song Number One is the quintessential Christmas tune. It is "Carol Of The Bells".

You can hear it here (Windows Media Player required).

16 December 2007

Most Favorite Christmas Song #2

I might lose some of you on my final two picks because they aren't popular recordings or standard carols. But they are Christmas songs nonetheless and I happen to enjoy them both very much. (I have also had the pleasure of performing them as well, which endears them to me even more so.)

Song Number Two on the list is a choral piece by Ralph Vaughn Williams called "Wassail". It's a four-part choral arrangement (that would be "written for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass" for those of you not in-the-know out there) that takes off in a very light-spirited romp from the beginning for the duration of the song. It's a fun listen and it's fun to sing.

You can hear it here (RealAudio required).

14 December 2007

Most Favorite Christmas Song #3

Written in 1864, the next song was a penned cry of sorrow from its author. Song Number Three on the most favorite list is "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There are three different arrangements of this song, but my favorite was composed by Johnny Marks.

The words are teeming with gloom. While the rarely-sung fourth and fifth stanzas refer to the Civil War, we can still use them as metaphors for all the tumult in the world today. The song's sadness crescendos with the following stanza:
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
But it's the next verse that is the reason this song resonates so strongly with me. After all hope seemed lost, after the last flicker of goodness seemed extinguished, this is how Longfellow ends:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"
To truly feel the despair and the hope conveyed in this song, I strongly recommend that you listen to the Harry Belafonte recording.

Most Favorite Christmas Song #4

It's difficult, nearly impossible, to write a Christmas song that can stand the test of time and compare to the Christmas favorites of years past. So many present-day recording stars have tried their hands at making a Christmastime classic; the vast majority of these attempts have failed miserably. So it is a thing of joyous rapture when we get to witness someone hit one out of the park. Thirteen years ago, we were treated to such an occurrence.

Yes, this song is extremely commercial. In fact, as Christmas songs go, it may very well be one of the highest consistently charting songs ever recorded (based on these statistics). But its commercial success does not distract from its simple beauty, joy, and message -- that, in the end, love and companionship is what most of us want more than anything else at this time of year.

My Number Four favorite Christmas song is a little ditty recorded by Mariah Carey titled "All I Want For Christmas Is You".

13 December 2007

HGTV Change The World Communities

HGTV is currently running a web contest focused on neighborhood-level revitalization programs. It asks web page visitors to vote to determine which city/neighborhood receives substantial funding and in-kind support for a major revitalization project. One of the communites chosen is Anacostia! According to the webpage, you "make your voting decision by exploring video, photos and stories highlighting revitalization projects" listed on the page. You can vote once a day up until next Friday, 21 December 2007.

Go vote for DC!

12 December 2007

Most Favorite Christmas Song #5

My Number Five favorite Christmas song brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. It doesn't matter how foul the mood, how evil the weather, or how bad the day. Just one listen to this song and everything is right with the world again.

Besides, how can you not grin when you hear "hippopotamuseses"?

That's right, starting the Most Favorite Christmas Song list is "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas". It's about as cheery a song as you can possibly get.

(Hippopotamuseses ... *giggle*)

11 December 2007

Least Favorite Christmas Song #1

Here it is, folks, my Number One Least Favorite Christmas Song! I can feel your relief radiating through my monitor right now. So let's get to it, shall we?

It was 23 years ago that this lump of pious coal was left in our stocking. We couldn't blame Santa for this because this was the 1980's and we were all so busy saving the whales and the rain-forest and ... oh yes ...

... Africa.

Our eyes were turned over the Atlantic Ocean to the devastation occurring in the East African country of Ethiopia. This song was written as a way to raise funds for the people of Ethiopia -- a very noble sentiment and one that raised around $144 million in its first incarnation. It saw life again in 1989 and again in 2004 (money raised in 2004 went to humanitarian aid for Sudan), where millions more were raised. Not bad for a crappy song.

If you haven't guessed already, the song is "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid (and Band Aid II and Band Aid 20), written by Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. Don't get me wrong, the causes for which it was recorded are laudable. But the song ... oh, the song. Let's look at some lyrics.
It's Christmastime
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
So far so good.
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it's hard, but when you're having fun
Uh-oh. I feel a sermon coming on.
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging
chimes of doom
Um, being a bit overly-dramatic aren't we, Mr. Geldof? I'm sure you could have found a better phrasing than equating Christmas bells to clanging chimes of doom. Certainly a wordsmith such as yourself could have done this more poetic justice, yes?
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
WHOA! For a song that's supposed to marshall the financial troops, I'm not sure that a "better you than me" attitude is really appropriate. I thought the idea here was to feel a pang of sympathy for the people we're supposed to be helping, not superiority.
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
I would normally let a line like this pass since, with a land mass as large as Africa, it must snow somewhere sometime. However, this song was written for the people of Ethiopia. And snowfall in Ethiopia isn't what one would call a routine experience.
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
The Christian ones probably do. Not so much the Muslim ones.
(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
I can't knock these lines. I'm all for toasting someone. And I've already commented on whether they know it's Christmas or not.
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again
Again. I'm sure the Christians would appreciate the reminder. I'm also sure the Muslim population couldn't care.

Because it's Christmastime, a time for giving, it is not enough for me to share my thoughts on my Number One Least Favorite Christmas Song. No. In the spirit of the season, I will offer you this little trinket and allow you to come to your own decision. Enjoy!

Least Favorite Christmas Song #2

My least favorite Christmas song Number Two, which is technically not a Christmas song at all, comes from one of my least favorite musicals. But it has become a seasonal standard due to its imagery (and perhaps even its title). What is this horrid song, you might be wondering? Why none other than "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.

Oh, I know I'll catch flack for this one because so-o-o-o many people enjoy this song (and this musical).

Here is the one and only reason it has made this list ... it's not a song of, about, or for Christmas in any way, shape, or form! In the movie version of the musical (you know, the one shown non-stop on television at this time of year), this song is sung to comfort the children during a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm ... which, in Austria, occurs during ... the summer!

Really, people, get over it already. Sheesh.

10 December 2007

Least Favorite Christmas Song #3

The last thing I want to hear at Christmas is whining, which is why "Last Christmas" by WHAM! made our Number Three. Look no further than the opening lines (which also happens to be the chorus) for enough kvetching to last all of Chanukah and Christmas and Yule and Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice and whatever other festival you want to throw in there during this time of year:
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away.
This year, to save me from tears,
I'll give it to someone special.
"I'll give it to someone special"? Wasn't the person to whom you gave it last year special? What makes you think we won't have to hear your bellyaching next year because the new Mr. Special decided to return your gift, too?


09 December 2007

Least Favorite Christmas Song #4

You would think that a catchy tune wouldn't appear on the list but our entry at Number Four is the most famous Hispanic Christmas song ever, "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano. It earns a spot on my list for two reasons:
  1. It is repetitious ... unforgivably so ... brain-damagingly so ... in the same way that this song is repetitious.
  2. The lyrics are a lesson in lazy song-writing. Seriously. Look at the words. They consist of two ... count them two ... lines. That's it.

08 December 2007

Least Favorite Christmas Song #5

At Number Five, everyone's least favorite Christmastime song (or at least it should be) is "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

It's pervasive ubiquitousness during the holiday season and the impression that singing the song will literally take twelve days to complete are enough to land it on the list. But the real reason why it's here is best explained by my favorite Executive/Action Transvestite:
That “Partridge in a pear tree” song, the only bit we like of it is that, ( singing )"Five gold rings!" People go berserk at that point! People come running in from other rooms, ( singing ) "Five gold rings!" The rest of it, we don't know; above that, it's just, ( singing, uncertain ) "Twelve… monkeys mating, eleven… donkeys dancing, ten pigmies farming, nine… socks… a swimming… ( certain ) five gold rings!" This is a human thing. We only like to learn a little bit of a song. We can't be bothered, yeah.

Lists That Will Span Several Days

I've decided that in the spirit of the season I will list my five favorite and five least favorite songs of the season. We'll start with my five least favorites and then, logically, my five favorites. Both lists will be done in no particular order and will start tomorrow. I do hope you enjoy.