Christmas Countdown, Christmas Is Here!

Day 27

OK Go right to it. One of my favorite bands for oh so many reasons — start your education here — but they combine math and science and music and create amazing videos as well as give back to the community and they are (mostly) L.A. locals and I couldn’t admire them more if I tried. So, with no further ado, here is their way pre-fame Christmas wish for you all on this Christmas Day.

Check out the previous post, or start the countdown to 2020!

Christmas Countdown, Tuesday #4

Tuesdays theme is traditional Christmas Carols performed in non-conventional ways, and for this one I bring you the masters of non-conventional, 2Cellos, Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser, a Slovenian and Croatian cellist duo who met as teens in a master music class. Like so many before them, they learned to do things that their instruments weren’t supposed to do, and they came to prominence with their music video for Thunderstruck, which sets their performance style in a setting more appropriate to the Baroque era before blowing it apart.

The only way I can describe the performance in the video in the previous paragraph, and everything else they’ve ever done, is as super-charged. Sure, I think the staged video may have involved some faking it to pre-recorded tracks, but at the same time, the emotional connection between these two guys when they play together is a constant. It’s almost like they’re having sex in the most non-sexual way. And anyone who has ever played music in a group with other people will understand that.

The connection of music is primal, immediate, in the moment, all-powerful, and it transcends all weaker forms of communication that require words or symbols. Musical communication is pure thought, pure emotion, pure NOW. If you’re not a musician and don’t believe me, go find a drum circle and give it a try, then get back to me.

And, in case you’re wondering — yes, that dynamic between these two guys and their audience is still apparent in a live show, even if they have upgraded to electric cellos.

Note that it seems to be a rule that they play most of their shows with half the horse-hairs on their bows broken from the first moments.

See the previous post, or dive right into Christmas and one of my favorite bands.

Christmas Countdown, Sunday #2

Day 10

Sunday’s theme is a reminder that there are more holidays than just Christmas in December — or in the winter in general, so we’ll be going to another continent for this one. Now, why are there so many holidays this time of year?

Simple. Astrophysics.

The very basic version of this is that the Earth rotates around its axis, which you can imagine as a stick that goes from its north to south pole. (Illustrated version available here.) The Earth is perfectly happy to rotate around this axis at a rate that gives us one revolution per day. While the Earth rotates around its axis, it also orbits the Sun, and this takes about 365.25 days (which is why Leap Years exist, but that’s not relevant here.)

Now if the axis were straight up and down — meaning that the equator was exactly level with the Earth’s orbit, we’d have no seasons and all days would be the same length. However, it’s not. It’s tilted about 23 degrees. This means that as the Earth goes around the Sun, the angle at which light hits it changes. On the first day of spring and first day of fall (in the Northern hemisphere), the axis is straight up and down relative to the orbit, so day and night are of equal length. As spring progresses into summer, the axis (in the north) tilts toward the Sun; from fall into winter, it tilts away. Tilting toward makes days longer; tilting away makes them shorter.

In winter, the days become the shortest of all, and the winter holidays, like Christmas, tend to happen right around that longest night of the year, which is the Winter Solstice, generally around December 22nd now, but a few thousand years ago it was closer to the 25th.

But the salient bit is this: Once the solstice comes and goes, the days after that start to get longer, light returns, and the world is eventually reborn in spring. All of these winter festivals are partly a way for communities to come together at the darkest and coldest parts of the year, and partly a way to remind them that it’s going to get better soon.

Which brings us to Diwali, which actually happened right around Thanksgiving (in America) this year, although it’s a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists around the world. Basically, it celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and prominently features, well… lights, since it’s the festival of lights. But it definitely fits the winter theme, and again you can see how astronomical realities can dictate social conventions. When the year gets dark, we celebrate the fact that the light will always win and return.

 

Don’t forget to check out the previous post or watch the next.

Christmas Countdown, Saturday #2

Day 9

Continuing our theme of famous duets, here’s one from 1977 — Bing Cosby and David Bowie. This was basically the 70s version of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, who did a duet in the 2010s, nearly 40 years later.

But the appearance of these two together in the late 70s must have been mind-blowing for the same reasons that Gaga and Bennett were, and to both ends of the demographic. For older people in the 21st century, they grew up with the music of the latter and only knew the former as some crazy lady who wore dresses made of meat and made provocative music videos. To younger people at the same time, she was a hero who embraced diversity and preached acceptance, while he was just some old random. If they had heard of him, maybe they knew it was because he was famous for that song about San Francisco, but more likely it was because one of their grandparents was a fan.

Ironically, when Bowie and Crosby did their duet, the old fans of Bennet now were the young fans of Bowie, and probably would have perceived this in exactly the same way that kids today saw Gaga and Bennet — to them, Bowie was the trailblazing, gender-blending godfather of glam rock. He was androgynous, possibly even openly bisexual, he wore make-up and sometimes skirts and dresses, and was the antithesis of the “Men are men” ethos of people of Crosby’s generation. To the kids back then, Crosby must have been some cheesy throwback to the humor their parents found cool.

So, again, this dynamic: the older generation suddenly seeing this “scary rockstar freak” performing quite respectfully with someone they grew up admiring, and the younger generation seeing their new idol quietly subvert things by pretending to be a normie on national television.

Or, in other words, there’s a lot going on in this one even if it seems like it’s nothing.

Check out the previous post or see the next.

Christmas Countdown, Friday #2

Day 8

Remember, this day’s theme is All I Want for Christmas Is You, and this is absolutely one of my favorite covers of it for a ton of reasons. This one is from Out of the Blue, described on their website as Oxford’s premier all-male a cappella group, and they regularly do charity singles like this for the benefit of Helen & Douglas House Hospice for Children and Young Adults.

The other nice thing about OOTB is that over the years they have become more and more inclusive. As far as I can determine, this video is only five years old (although I could swear I’ve been linking to it every year for much longer), and it only hints playfully at accidental gayness. Their more recent videos don’t hold back or apologize for anything. This one is just tons of cute and adorable, plus these boys can sing and dance. And for a good cause.

Don’t miss Thursday’s post, or Saturday’s!

Christmas Countdown, Thursday’s Theme

Day 7

Thursday’s theme is a little of what we all need the day before the last day of the work week — which is what Thursday is for some of you, but not for some of us. (Three words: “Medicare Open Enrollment.” My weekend doesn’t start until midnight on Saturday.)

That said, what we can always all use is humor and Thursday’s theme is Funny Christmas. This is where we’ll be seeing some parodies and other holiday related humor.

To kick it off, here’s a viral internet sensation who’ve had over 3.2 billion views at whatever point that 3.2 billion views was cited. I’m sure it’s more now. The group is called Key of Awesome, and I’m sure you’ll recognize the song they’re parodying. Or you might not, since the original is now a certified oldie from 1991. Ooh. Did I just make all the 80s kids cringe?

Check out the previous post or the next.

Christmas Countdown, Wednesday’s Theme

Day 6

It’s famous bands day! Of course, it makes perfect sense that a lot of big groups would record a Christmas song or an album for the same reason that Mariah Carey did — to have something they can sell every year. This is called an evergreen item, although it doesn’t necessarily relate to Christmas, just that it keeps coming back the same time every year, over and over. Hey, Dickens got it when he wrote A Christmas Carol, and Lucas tried (and failed) with the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

In our first example of the theme, here’s a number from Wham! Released in 1984, Last Christmas, especially given this video, has just become sadly ironic over the ensuing 35 years.

See what the Thursday theme is, or check out the intro post if you missed it!