Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Cinch Review

Merry Christmas, You Beasts

Below, a photo of our little mutt, Billie, posing cooperatively and carefully amidst some very breakable Christmas ornaments (recycled from a previous Christmas photo session, in case anyone remembers).

Merry Christmas from a friendly beast

There were reports in the media earlier this year regarding a new book from Pope Benedict, the current commander-in-chief at the Vatican, titled “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” It was said that he had debunked some traditional notions regarding Christmas. One of those had to do with the specific year in which Jesus was born, to the effect that it was likely not in the year 1 AD, but rather in the year 5 or 6 BC. This fact is really nothing new (although it must have caused no end of confusion for calendar-makers back then: “Well, is he here yet or isn’t he here yet? We can’t cancel another print run!”)

The other reported-debunking was more controversial, however. It was widely broadcast just as in the following story: Continue reading Merry Christmas, You Beasts

The Cinch Review

Fairytale of New York

Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacCollI just checked the U.K. Top 40, and the song “Fairytale of New York,” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, is at number 18, having fallen three spots from last week. That might sound like a weak performance, but not when you consider that it was originally released for the Christmas of 1987 (when it reached number 2) and that this is the tenth year since then in which it has charted. This also happens to be the 25th anniversary of that original release. (Oh boy.)

“Fairytale of New York” is assuredly a unique Christmas classic. It fairly dripped with greatness and with resonance on the day it was released, and the years that have passed have only magnified the resonance, till I daresay there are many tender souls out there who waste no time and begin their crying as soon as they hear the opening piano notes. Yours truly wouldn’t be one of them, not at all. I’m made of much tougher stuff, although I have little trouble relating to some of the major touchstones of the song, such as Ireland (having grown up there from about age 7 to 20) and New York City, where so many people come with their dreams, it being my favorite city in the world (despite everything) and the one I’m currently blessed to be able to live in.

The record “Fairytale of New York” has been pondered at length and talked about and documentary’d-about, probably to excess, as I’ve recently discovered, but I feel the urge to pay it some tribute and I’ll therefore do so regardless, although briefly. I think that one of the key elements of its magic (aside from the beautiful tune and great performance) is the absence of too much narrative detail in the lyric. There are just enough words used and images dropped in to evoke this couple, arriving as immigrants to New York in a bygone decade, wide-eyed and floating on their dreams, dreams which have then crumbled and left them in the worst kind of decrepitude, snarling bitter insults at one another through their drug and/or alcohol haze. Yet, in the end, they seem to know that they have nothing to hold onto but one another, and some kind of strange hope that still hovers over them, and is incarnate in the sound of those bells that are “ringing out for Christmas Day.” As a piece of songwriting (with which Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer tinkered for two years before finalizing) it’s an exquisitely-balanced exercise in the bittersweet, bringing the profane and the transcendent right up against one another and forcing them to shake hands. Continue reading Fairytale of New York

The Cinch Review

Thoughts on Sandy Hook Elementary

I read someone quoted in a news story today, comparing her feelings regarding the Newtown massacre to how she felt following 9/11/2001. And I think many are feeling a lot like that. One may intellectually grasp the fact that horrible things are happening all the time, in the U.S. and all over the world—countless children being tortured, abused, murdered, to say nothing of what is happening to grown men and women—but seeing this kind of inexplicable single event where innocent children are randomly slaughtered, without warning … it rightly turns our stomachs and disturbs our sleep, like the visions of those people jumping from the buildings and the thought of thousands being crushed in the towers’ collapse. The word unspeakable is the one that comes to our lips, because there are no words to speak that comprehend the evil of the event. How can any of these parents be comforted? Ever?

And like that day in 2001, the horror is juxtaposed with the stories of ordinary people acting with earthshaking courage, deciding in the space of mere moments to take the correct and just action, even if meant losing their own lives. The passengers on Flight 93 had only minutes to take in what was occurring that morning, and to decide to ignore all of the deeply-ingrained advice about cooperating with hijackers in order to achieve a peaceful conclusion, and instead choose to attack the hijackers in whatever small hope there was of overcoming them and saving the aircraft, or at least frustrating their plans. In the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we are told that the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school’s psychologist, Mary Sherlach, on hearing the initial gunshots, rushed towards the perpetrator, despite being unarmed. They instantaneously decided that rushing the killer was the best hope of defeating him, even it resulted in their own deaths, which it did. It remains unknown at this juncture why the killer took his own life at the moment that he did, rather than continuing his mass murder, but the resistance he had encountered during his actions had to have played some role. Continue reading Thoughts on Sandy Hook Elementary

The Cinch Review

Song for the season (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”)

Writing yesterday in this space on Frank Sinatra’s Jolly Christmas album, I referred to the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this way:

As secular Christmas songs go, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is probably closest to achieving a sacredness of its own. The song walks an exquisitely fine line between celebrating the season and mourning the trouble in all of our lives.

Many of us don’t have to look very far to see the trouble in our own lives, sadly; and you only have to glance at the news headlines to see all the trouble in the world, tragically.

The song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane) made its debut in 1944 in a film called Meet Me in St. Louis, as sung by Judy Garland. Judy had her strengths and weaknesses, no doubt, but I think probably everyone would agree that she nails this.