Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Merry Fucking Christmas

Growing up on Long Island in the late 1970's, this time of year in New York was always my favorite. Snow was usually falling and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shoppers was exiting. The stores were filled with Christmas decorations. Christmas lights were strung from the street lights. We always had a great Christmas party the last day of school before letting out before Christmas break.

Port Washington, New York is a diverse American village. Of the 16,00 people who live there 17% are Italian, 15% are Irish,9% German,9% Polish and the rest are made up of many different races to numerable to mention. But you get the picture. With this diversity in race and origin also came the vast diversity in religious faith. Although Catholicism is predominant, Port has an enormous selection of religious institutions of almost all faiths. Port Washington is not all that different from the rest of America in that aspect. If a town like Port Washington can be home to 16,00 people of so many different religions but yet accommodate Christmas why are we now in the middle of a nationwide war on Christmas?

  • Kmart forbids calling Christmas Trees Christmas Trees they are to be referred to as "Holiday Trees" so as to not offend anyone

  • Hanukkah and the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha are mentioned in the school calendar of the Spokane Public Schools, but Christmas is not.

  • Hanukkah is celebrated at Harvard, but not Christmas. A giant menorah sits in Harvard Yard but there is not a nativity scene in sight.

  • The Dickens Christmas Festival in Saginaw, Michigan was renamed the Dickens Holiday Festival so the city could advertise in local schools. The schools ban the words “Santa,” “Christmas” and “Nativity.”

Sometime around 2004 wishing someone a Merry Christmas became offensive. Retailers started changing the word Christmas to more generic terms like Holiday. After much public outcry the war began. While browsing various websites of several retail giants I took notice of where the lines were drawn in this "holy war". Pet Smart for example used the words Christmas and Holiday in their advertising avoiding picking a side. Best Buy avoided both words altogether on their website also sidestepping the problem. On Sears' site I noticed that their traditional Christmas catalogue has been renamed the "Wish Book". Chalk one up for the bad guys. Circuit City has a holiday gift guide. Scrooge scores again. Kmart was promoting holiday offers. Never liked Kmart anyway. On Target's website however I came across the term "Christmas Shopping". Score one for Santa. Over at Macy's site the word Christmas appears three times on their homepage. This war is pretty equally divided among large retailers who are at odds about who they should avoid pissing off.

Who I think suffer the most are the children. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from Christmas time. Making these memories so vivid are the things that this so called war is taking away from us. To all those offended by being wished a Merry Christmas I will alter my greeting for you, Merry Fucking Christmas. Bitch!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's Only Rock & Roll

The annual list of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee's came out recently. Topping this years list is Madonna. Every year the list of nominee's sparks great debate and I'm sure this year will be no exception.

When I first heard Madonna was getting inducted I must admit I was shocked. I made a face like I had just unsuspectingly drank from a carton of spoiled milk. Like someone had just stuck a pen in my heart. Horrible flashbacks of synthesized 80's pop music invaded my head. Don't get me wrong, I like Madonna. I've been a closet Madonna fan since Lucky Star. But the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Madonna is not rock & roll. Zeppelin is rock & roll. The Stones are rock & roll. You don't get much more rock & roll than Keith Richards.

The American Heritage dictionary defines Rock & Roll as "a form of popular music arising from and incorporating a variety of musical styles, especially rhythm and blues, country music, and gospel. Originating in the United States in the 1950s, it is characterized by electronically amplified instrumentation, a heavily accented beat, and relatively simple phrase structure".

Disk Jockey Alan Freed is widely credited with coining the term rock and roll to describe the uptempo, black, rhythm and blues records he played in the early 1950's on Cleveland radio station WJW. In July of 1951 Freed started a late night show on WJW he called "The Moondog Rock and Roll House Party". He promoted dances and concerts that featured the R&B music of the mostly black artists he was playing on the radio. On March 21st 1952 he organized a five act show called "The Moondog Coronation Ball" at the Cleveland Arena. The arena had a capacity of 10,000 but nearly 20,000 fans crashed the gates causing what was the first ever rock concert to be cancelled.

So by definition and according to the man who named it, rock and roll is really music based on R&B created by mostly black musicians. Most of the greatest "rock and rollers" were influenced by black artists. Classic rock music is always blues based. Led Zeppelin, arguably one of the greatest rock bands of all time is a blues band. Listening to the Stones it's hard not to hear the influence of 50's R&B in almost everything they do. Give their 1978 classic Some Girls a spin. Is it just my imagination or do I hear the Temptations?

Why then is it so shocking to put Madonna in the Hall of Fame? Truth be told, it only makes sense. Her music, heavily based on and influenced by black R&B artists is exactly what Alan Freed said Rock and roll is. If Alan were around today I guarantee he would be playing the shit out of Madonna. So congratulations Madonna. It's only rock and roll but I like it.