Christmas Countdown, Christmas Is Here!

Merry Christmas with greetings from OK GO.

Christmas Day

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 2022!

Christmas Countdown, Tuesday #4

Christmas Countdown Tuesday is traditional carols performed in unconventional ways. Here, 2Cellos has at Silent Night.

Day 26

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.

Recalling my favorite holidays, part two

The second part of my favorite holidays, which are a bit more adult-oriented.

Another bonus post during my Christmas Countdown, here’s the second half of my fondest holiday memories.

Over the meadow and through the woods…

Come to think of it, this isn’t all that inaccurate a description of regular trips to my paternal grandmother’s place, even if all those meadows and woods happened to be next to the freeway.

She lived in a semi-rural area just north of San Luis Obispo, which is a pretty thriving college town. She and her second husband (but the only grandfather I had ever known) owned fourteen acres which they had retired to in their early 60s, at which time they built a house on it, doing everything themselves except digging the basement and pouring the foundations.

Of course, they did cheat a little bit. They did build the modest front house themselves, which was essentially the kitchen, pantry living and dining rooms, and my grandparents’ bedroom, but the back half was a double-wide trailer that was actually so-well integrated that you really couldn’t tell.

This had a huge salon that I don’t remember anyone ever using — it was always freezing back there — and it had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and access to the amazing basement/root cellar. The basement was my grandpa’s media room, basically, with the most amazing sound system I’d ever heard.

Thanksgiving trips up there were always special, because it meant that my aunt and uncle often came, frequently with their already adult kids and, eventually, their grandkids who, even though they were my second cousins, were actually my age.

These fests also frequently involved half-sister and her kids, same situation. My oldest nephew, second cousin, and I were all born within eight months of each other, with the other two about a month apart.

So once the nephews, cousins, and I got old enough to get into mischief, we certainly did, and we ran all over those fourteen acres, basically being city boys let loose in the country. Not that we were destructive or malicious. It was just that we could see and do things here that didn’t exist at home.

There were farm animals and poultry, a rushing creek that defined the border of the property, my grandfather’s huge field of Irises, outbuildings full of mysterious antiques to explore, and plenty of trails and hills. The neighbors immediately in front had a horse in their yard we loved to visit with.

Of course, after we’d gotten a little older, maybe around 12 or 13, we discovered the box of grandpa’s nudie mags in a shed. They were mostly old Playboys with an occasional Playgirl stuck in there, or one or two that were nastier — Penthouse, Hustler, and worse.

I actually think that they, like the boxes of rock ‘n roll records he would let us ransack, were the rejects from his bulk-buying trips at swap meets and antique fairs. He had a habit of buying things by lots, then weeding out the few treasures and leaving the rest for friends and family.

Out of all these Thanksgiving trips, though, my favorite has to be the one that was my last. I was fifteen, and I remember it being more subdued. I think that my parents and I arrived on Thursday afternoon with everyone else scheduled to arrive the next day.

But that evening, my oldest second cousin’s mother dropped him off to spend the night. We had last seen each other when we were 12 and, needless to say, now that we were both 15, we looked a lot more grown-up.

I don’t want to name him so I’ll use the pseudonym “Three,” because his father and grandfather also had the same name.

We wound up one of the bedrooms in the trailer part of the house — separate twin beds — at which point I learned that he’d really kind of morphed into a bad boy. He smoked, and did so constantly after we’d gotten into our beds before lights out, despite me warning him that was a bad idea — well, smoking and doing it in bed both are.

Um, smoking in bed, not “doing it” in bed.

I refused his offers to take a puff, but we did proceed to entertain each other with our increasingly lewd arsenal of dirty jokes, something that every 15-year-old boy comes equipped with. He also eventually got into recounting some of his sexual exploits with his girlfriend.

At the time, I had nothing to say because I was a closeted gay virgin. It was also all I could do to ignore the fact that he was pretty ripped, and try not to get too aroused about his stories, like the time his girlfriend rode him under a poncho in the rain in the stands at a high school football game.

Well, so he said. Who knows? But he was only my second cousin. Not that it matters if you can’t make babies. Just sayin’.

The next day, his two younger brothers came over, as did an older man they only referred to as Brady, and his grandson, who was also around the same age as Three and I, with the last name Brady.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this (older) Brady had actually been married to my grandmother’s youngest sister.

Or, in other words, this mystery Brady kid (whose first name I still don’t remember) was actually, surprise, another second cousin and I never knew it because no one bothered to tell me.

The five of us wound up wandering around way down on the bottom end of our (great)grandparents’ place that chilly November morning. Three brought the weed and Brady brought the pellet rifle, so we spent the time getting stoned and shooting at trees.

Yes, I did inhale this time. And yes, we never shot at anything living.

Later that afternoon, Three and I drove down the private road, half a mile up the service road, across the highway and creek, and arrived at a barn. Well, I drove. I was old enough to have my learner’s permit and while, technically, I think I was supposed to have only driven with a licensed adult driver in the car, my parents let me go, because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere, aka farm country where a kid drive a tractor as soon as he could figure out how to put on his own pants, so what the hell did a car matter, right?

Damn — different world.

In the barn, Three and his band were basically having a jam session/rehearsal, and they had a keyboard but no keyboardist, which was awesome because… guess what I played?

I also met his girlfriend who, to be honest, turned out to be kind of… I hate to use the word, but slutty. She tried to get all over me, was drinking beer and tried to force it on me, and all the while Three was there but didn’t seem to be bothered.

It was, to say the least, very awkward.

At least we got some good jam time in, and she couldn’t really molest me while I was playing. We returned back to my grandma’s place, had the family feast, and then Three and his brothers and Brady and grandson left, and I was stuck with just my parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents for the rest of the weekend.

Still, not bad — my grandparents could tell stories like nobody else, and that alone was worth it.

It was the last time I ever saw Three and his brothers except for a brief moment at grandma’s funeral, although Three and I didn’t speak. It was a few years after he’d been convicted in a gang rape on a beach not far from San Luis Obispo and he’d spent a few years in prison, so he was kind of the black sheep.

I really wanted to talk to him, but it was obvious that he’d only come out of respect to grandma, I could sense the entire crowd tensing up in anger. He hustled his ass out of there as fast as he could, and I got the feeling that I would have been as hated if I’d actually tried to show a single ounce of compassion to him.

What really hurt, honestly, is that it felt like I really couldn’t, because all I  wanted to do was ask him what had happened on that beach, how he got talked into it, and how I might have been able to talk him out of it. That’s it. You know. Family shit.

But I also do count that Thanksgiving long before the funeral as my final transition from childhood naivete to eyes-open adulthood, though.

New Year in WeHo

I lived in West Hollywood as a baby gay for seven years, and for part of those years I was gloriously single, I had a group of friends I’d met online who would get together regularly to hit the clubs.

We had one New Year’s Eve tradition, though. We would gather in a group, and we all sort of had designated fallbacks. That is, if neither one of us had hooked up by midnight, then we were going home together and fucking. It was that simple.

Likewise, if one of us met someone, the other was on their own, no hard feelings — as long as the lucky one let it be known. Of course, when the group did cull itself that way, the rest of us knew each other well enough to just re-arrange the designated fallback combos. Since we tended to start with an even number, we’d wind up with an even number as well, so everyone wound up happy.

When the midnight kiss came, we all knew with whom we were going home, whether it was part of that original group or someone else, and it made for very smooth sailing into the New Year.

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 happened in mid-November (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.

Recalling my favorite holidays, part one

Bonus: Memories of my favorite Holidays, part one.

Bonus feature during my Christmas Countdown, here are my favorite holiday memories growing up, part one.

I was originally going to make this about Christmas, but then realized that I really don’t have enough Christmas memories to make up a full article for the simple reason that for most of my adult life, I haven’t really celebrated it. I don’t see the point in decorating, and I certainly don’t see the point in everyone going into a consumer frenzy over each other. I do enjoy using Christmas Eve as the opportunity to get together with old friends, though.

That consumer frenzy part is what I most remember from my childhood Christmases, really, and being an only child from a somewhat well-off middle class family, there was many a Christmas morning that I’d be buried in presents, a few of which were exactly what I had asked for in my letter to Santa, but a lot of which always felt like “Mom saw it at the toy store and threw it in the cart” because she had a some kind of “gift quota” to hit with me.

Some of those presents were awesome, and I don’t remember getting clothing ever, even not as I approached adulthood. But the ultimate lesson there is that they were just stuff, a lot of it probably meant to keep me busy and out of the way (q.v. “only child”) while Mom tried to do housework, and all of it has long since vanished into the past.

I can’t think of a single childhood Christmas present that I still have, but that’s okay. The point is that watching this holiday buried under the weight of materialism really put me off traditional celebrations of Christmas.

Want to make me happy for the day and beyond? Here’s a hint. Don’t give me stuff. Give me your time and company and conversation because those are more valuable and lasting than any material thing.

With that said, here are my favorite holiday celebrations so far.

The Spelling Christmases

These happened for the years that I worked at Spelling Television on several shows. They would always take place at some amazing venue, and would include the entire cast, crew, everyone SOs and family, and a lot of invited celebrity guests.

Okay, they always included a lavish dinner and extravagant gift, but I can only remember two of this. One was a mountain bike with Melrose Place branding on it and the other was a 7th Heaven lunchbox.

The back tire on that bike went flat almost immediately and I didn’t have a lot of incentive to get it fixed, so I left it behind when I moved. As for the lunch box, I still have it, sealed in the original plastic. I think there’s a thermos inside, too.

But the great part about it was getting to hang out not only with my immediate co-workers, but to spend time with the crew from up at the studio that only some of us occasionally got to spend a couple of hours every six weeks with in a strictly working capacity. This included the cast as well, and for the most part they treated us as peers and made us feel like real people. The only ones who seemed aloof were execs from the production company and studio, but this may be because they never interacted with the crew directly.

Well, except for me. I was on the phone arguing a writer’s case with Standards and Practices (the network censors) all the damn time. That was part of my job.

The Cesar Christmases

I had the most of these of any company Christmas party — 10, in fact — but three of them stand out; The first one, the one at exactly the half-way point, and the last.

The first was an elaborate party and feast that we had in our offices and spent all day setting up for. I had only been there for five months at the time, only about two of those after having been promoted from temp to full-time staff. So it was a great opportunity to really get to bond with my coworkers, and a lot of those people are still friends to this day.

Not long before, when I was working for Warner Bros. and making really good money, I’d bought a video cam that used DV tape — that is, digital video — because I could finally afford it. This was in the days when cell phone cameras were still potato quality, but not long before smart phones came along and even the earliest cameras out-performed anything this one could do.

But I spent the day of set-up and night of the party shooting endless footage, including interviewing my co-workers, just getting artsy random shots, and so on. I cut it together into a pretty extensive video and posted it to YouTube.

Unfortunately, at some point that video got deleted due to copyright issues. Meanwhile, the edited copy I had on my hard drive had gone out of sync anyway and the original editing files that basically told the software which shots to take from what files and put where were gone, so there was no easy way to reconstruct it.

On top of that, with my next computer change, the camera was no longer modern enough to be compatible, so I couldn’t even load footage from it. I’m sure that I can get a DV cassette to USB adaptor and load everything onto my computer again.

One video from the year after that with a lot of the same people lives on though, and comes from an office trip to the L.A. County Fair — an experience I’m glad I had once for free and will never repeat. Here it is in all of its 240p glory: Deep Fried Everything.

The halfway party with Cesar was after I’d worked there for five years. It was held in the parking lot at our second office space — after Cesar’s company had split form the Dog Whisperer production company — which meant that it was enclosed within four walls but open to the sky.

That year, I decided to write a couple of Dog Whisperer-themed Christmas Carol parodies, so asked my boss, the CEO, for a budget, which he gave me. I repurposed the lyrics to two songs, hired six actors to come to the party and sing them, and they did.

It was one of those times when taking a chance changed my life for the better.

Cesar was blown away and asked our CEO, “Who did this?” he pointed me out, and by our next work day, I was suddenly removed from the world of product manager and promoted to Head Writer (or ghost writer or content creator or whatever), which is what I did for the rest of my time there.

The last party was very bittersweet, because it happened about three months after I’d been laid off and changed to freelance — and this after a lot of other people had been laid off or quit in anticipation. The company was dying. It was obvious that this was our last gasp.

I hadn’t even been invited, but had gone by the office the afternoon of the party, more to hang out with my friends working there than anything else. The CEO asked me if I was going and I told him that I hadn’t been invited, to which he replied, “Of course you’re invited,” so I went.

It was at a very fancy Korean BBQ in, of course, Koreatown, and was the last chance to hang out with the gang. Of course, of the current gang, only two of them had been at the original Christmas party and had taken the entire ride with me.

Oddly enough, one of them, who had been the old company’s first employee, was responsible for getting me my current job about a year ago — and he had gotten the position that allowed him to hire me from… the former CEO, so it’s kind of like a small remnant of that whole time remains.

Halloween in WeHo

Then we come to what are known as the Gay High Holy Days — Halloween week, which is an even bigger deal in West Hollywood (and other gayborhoods) than even Pride week.

Again, I lived in WeHo for seven years, and I was a half-block walk north of Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Boys’ Town, which is the East End of the city. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about parking and could just stroll down the street and into the thick of it with no problems.

Of course, Halloween, like Pride, started to become really commercialized, especially after corporations discovered the shocking truth: “Gays and lesbians have money!” That, and the early 90s were also when straight people started to turn out in droves.

They did this for two reasons. One was to be supportive allies. The other was that it was safer than the straight celebrations in Hollywood.

But here’s a bit of advice to so-called allies: If you’re going to invade gay spaces en masse while bringing your opposite-sex partners/spouses and showing PDAs or, worse, bringing your kids to events that are supposed to be queer-safe spaces, then you’re not being an ally.

So, please — no more fag-groping bachelorette parties at gay bars, no more Nuna baby strollers rolling your infant crotch fruit past the S&M tent at Pride.

The Halloweens I experienced before this, though? Fantastic. And, actually, the last one I did pre-COVID was also pretty awesome, because I was able to take public transit from home into WeHo, then meet up with a friend who lives in the city and venture out with a group to stroll the streets.

We didn’t go into any clubs or bars because we didn’t feel like paying an arm and a leg for the cover and then another limb per drink, but that was okay. It was enough to wander the streets. Oh, and taunting the hell out of the Westboro Baptist Church morons face-to-face was worth the price of admission.

All that, and I got to crash in WeHo and take the bus and subway home in the morning. Maybe, someday, after this damn virus, I can do it again.

To be continued…

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

For Christmas Countdown’s second Friday, we bring you Out of the Blue Oxford’s rendition of All I Want for Christmas Is You.

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.

Go show them some holiday donation love right now! I’ll wait!

The other nice thing about OOTB is that over the years they have become more and more inclusive. This video 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

Christmas Countdown’s Thursday Theme is Funny Christmas, because we all need a little comedy this time of year.

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. When you work remotely, weekdays and weekends are all a blur.

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

Christmas Countdown Wednesdays. The theme is famous bands, and here’s a famous contribution from the group Wham!.

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!

%d bloggers like this: