Bing Crosby is Slowly Killing Me (Did I Say That Out Loud?)

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…just like the ones I used to know….”  Bing Crosby, singer & actor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?  Exactly.

One of my favorite aspects of the Christmas season is the music.   Growing up, I recall the local radio station playing Christmas music solely on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  That meant that we had to get out our little boom box and cassette tapes and record as much of it as possible.  This served as “seed” music for the following Christmas.  And boy did we wear those cassette tapes out!  Today, it’s a different story.  Often times I hear Christmas music playing way before Thanksgiving…and I’m not the DJ orchestrating this holiday magic!  In shopping centers, restaurants, and even on the radio, the Christmas tunes are cranked up loud and proud early in the season.  I don’t mind really…and then again, maybe I do.

I mind because it seems that every year (without fail) one song seems to capture the season for me.  A Christmas song brain worm if you will.  On good years the song is something fun and light-hearted…a sweet ditty sung by Michael Buble, Mariah Carey or even that little cutie, Justin Beiber.  Other years, though, the song is something that stirs up a completely different (less cheery) feeling.  I don’t necessarily want to call it darker or deeper or even more soulful (yes, I know I’m talking about music and not coffee!) There’s just something about that one song that touches the most tender part of my heart…a melody that evokes such profound emotion that it almost always manifests itself in near tears (ok, occasionally one leaks out.)

In the past, these “other” songs were always familiar Christmas tunes…but for whatever reason, they took on a new flavor.  For example, a few years ago Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” could completely kill my yuletide joy.  Still, that makes sense, although I love, love Elvis, the title is “Blue Christmas.”  Other songs on this glum list include “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Josh Groban with its added military personnel audio (oh, the tears,) Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” with its resounding sad tale of lost love (more tears,) and need I say ANYTHING about those stupid “Christmas Shoes” by New Song?  Boo hoo hoo.  And then there’s the overwhelming “whoa” of “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown…just to name a few. During these years, I can’t decide whether to avoid the song completely or just play it on repeat until the feelings subside (which doesn’t work by the way.)

Today, with the onset of digital music streaming, we can customize our own playlists in a matter of minutes.  This is awesome because who doesn’t like personalized stuff?  A “just-for-me” anything speaks to the most narcissistic part of our brains and makes us feel important and special.  I’m all down for that…I have a zillion custom playlists.  So basically, my game plan is to just avoid the song altogether.  (Avoidance is one of my favorite psychological strategies.)  Still, there are algorithms. And try as we might, people, we cannot escape them!  Now that Pandora (such a fitting name by the way) knows ALL of my Christmas music favorites (thanks to the thumbs-up-thumbs-down buttons) I am at her mercy and this year’s song has been a doozy!  A Christmas classic, a favorite among favorites, such a BASIC Christmas song that it is altogether inescapable…no matter where I turn.  I’m talking about the beloved holiday staple, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  Yes, that’s the one breaking my heart this year (can I say that out loud?)

Who doesn’t love “White Christmas?”  I mean, I absolutely adore it!  It’s the best-selling Christmas song of all time!  But this year, whenever I hear it a sadness ensues.  It’s like I’m hearing this familiar tune with new ears.  I remember the song from childhood, fell in love with it AND Bing Crosby while watching the old black & white version of Holiday Inn…and the song was further impressed upon my heart when I discovered the movie of the same title a few years later.  Bing sings the song so effortlessly.  As I write this I can picture him at his piano…the debonair crooner drawing us in with this perfect song.  His voice so melodic and rich…all the casual sophistication of an American icon just pouring out of every single note.  Did I mention that I adore this song?  One can only imagine how surprised I was to find that this song, this tried and true favorite could cause me such grief.  It was like walking into a door…and I never saw it coming!

Turns out that I shouldn’t be surprised at all with the heartbreaking aspect of “White Christmas.”  It’s nostalgic.  Wistful.  There’s a sense of longing…and hope.  A wartime favorite, “White Christmas” was the song American soldiers clung to following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was a staple on Armed Forces Radio as soldiers tuned in while stationed overseas during World War II.  For many, on the war front and at home, the lyrics told of bygone days and easier times…a reminder of a “normal” that they hoped to reclaim.  For the songwriter, Irving Berlin, the lyrics were much deeper as many believe he wrote the song during a bout of extreme homesickness.  Still, other music historians claim the song was actually written to memorialize Berlin’s infant son who is said to have died on Christmas Day. Given this history, the song certainly takes on a different significance and gains a depth that I wasn’t aware of before.

For these reasons (and so many more) Bing Crosby is slowly killing me…at least he is this Christmas.  And while at first this slow, figurative death was limited to “White Christmas” it has moved far beyond.  Now, it’s EVERY Bing Crosby Christmas song…and there’s no way to avoid it.  I immediately recognize his voice and something just gets caught in my throat.  My heart sinks a little.  My eyes get damp in the corners.  I can’t explain it.  I’ve been jokingly (and seriously) blaming everything on hormones lately, but really I know it’s something more.  It’s me.  It’s today.  It’s nostalgia.  It’s dreaming.  It’s gratitude.  It’s a brokenness.  It’s hope.  It’s this present time and place.  It’s perfect and imperfect all at the same time.  It’s Christmas…just listen.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

 

 

 

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Country Cardio or When Introverts Exercise (My Silent Midlife Crisis, Part III)

Country music is three chords and the truth.  –Harlan Howard, songwriter

For many, the word “exercise” conjures up hundreds of negative, SWEATY connotations.  If you’re an introvert, you could likely multiply that number by a million.  And if you’re me, one could amp it up even more.  Exercise just sounds awful–exertion, perspiration, racing heart, muscle burn, etc.  Combine that with the thought of joining a gym or signing up for a class with a bunch of strangers and the idea becomes absolutely overwhelming.  So obviously, I’m not a fan…and yet, I’m also not an idiot.

Exercise is important, that’s what THEY tell us anyway.  They’re right, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it…or at least I don’t.  As an introvert, exercise has been rather tricky for me.  Fortunately, I’ve settled into a routine that hasn’t killed me (at least not yet!) and of course, I had to add my own dramatic flair to it.  I mean it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.

ENTER THE EXERCISE BIKE.  You’ve probably seen the Peleton commercials and I’m definitely not that girl, but it was my inspiration.  I figured a stationary bike was perfect for me.  I could ride at my own pace, work up to a good solid routine, stay indoors, and monitor my progress all while indulging in Netflix!  Jealous, right?  It was the perfect solution…ALMOST.  It wasn’t long before I decided that this was a little too easy.  I mean the saying goes, “no pain, no gain,” right?  So I decided I needed to add an element of suffering AND discomfort to my cycling.  Thus, the Country CARDIO music playlist was born.

These 11 country songs fuel my 10-mile daily ride all the while generating an emotional punch that stirs up just the right amount of heartbreak, memories (good and bad,) and tearfulness.   From the very first song to the last song, I experience a rollercoaster of feelings…love found, love lost, break-ups, good times, hopefulness, hopelessness, dreams shattered, dreams fulfilled and more.  Yes, all good stuff!  And while I only truly loved country music for a few years in the 1990s, these songs are near and dear to my heart today.  I can remember exactly where I was, who I was with, and all the circumstances surrounding each song.  It’s like unlocking a memory treasure chest with each pedal turn…the perfect compliment to my current midlife crisis.

All the nostalgia of George Strait and Garth Brooks combined with girl power ballads from Martina McBride and The Dixie Chicks (yes, I’ve forgiven them,) intertwined with Tracy Byrd, Vince Gill, and Brooks & Dunn.  (Betcha can’t guess which song is my favorite?)  The memories span from leaving home for college to moving halfway across the country AND BACK, plus so many more.  One minute I’m so grateful for everything, then a simple song change has me feeling all melancholy in a lonesome bar somewhere.  Another song has me completely heartbroken and the next musical selection reminds me how much I learned from that same heartache.  To quote one favorite, “And the words of every sad song seem to say what I think….”  Sure, it’s a tad dramatic, but that’s what makes it perfect.

So maybe I don’t work myself into a total sweaty mess on these little treks, but I know that I feel like I’ve run a marathon when I’m done…even if it’s just an emotional one.  My bike doesn’t have an incline setting to induce burning thighs, but I’m satisfied with the melodramatic pain.  I might not be building tons of muscle, but know that in one way or another I’m growing stronger.  Somehow it all seems like enough.  When I step off the bike, I feel accomplished.  I feel empowered–like I’ve done something and been somewhere.  I feel sore and worn…and there might even be some perspiration, too.  Sounds like exercise to me…

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.   – Philippians 4:13

 

 

 

 

Adios, Summer….

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Summer is definitely NOT my favorite season.  Too hot.  Too many bugs.  Idle hands (and all that entails.)  And yet, of all the four seasons, it is the most magical!  Anything can (and usually does) happen in the summer.  Long days lend themselves to contemplation, soul-searching and deep pondering…three of my absolute favorite things.

Summer is complicated and easy at the same time.  For me, innumerable hours of drive time, ball games and travel make for a hectic schedule, but it’s a good kind of busy.  Dealing with active/bored teenagers 24/7 has its cons, but with each passing year I experience so many more of the pros.  Soaking up sunshine and staying up late under starry skies makes for a happy heart.  (And hiding out in the AC is equally as good!)  It’s during these times that I find true gratitude and real, meaningful peace.  I know it won’t always be like this.  Maybe that’s why I savor these summer days so much…and I’m so incredibly saddened when this special season ends.

As we wrap up Summer 2018, I offer up my “song of summer.”  I choose one every year…a habit that began in my youth.  This summer’s song sparked tons of dialogue on long car rides as I FORCED any (and all) passengers to sit and listen.  And if you think pop stars Macklemore and Kesha have little to offer…think again.  My kiddos could probably write a paper about why this song speaks to me and then list the lessons in it for them as well.  I’m not trying to say this track will change the world, but as far as summer songs go…there’s something to be said about the “Good Old Days.”  Adios, summer….

“Someday soon, your whole life’s gonna change,
You’ll miss the magic of these good old days…”

 

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 12

There are only 18 summers in childhood.  -author unknown

To be honest, I’ve been putting off writing about this song.  I decided to include “Lost Boy” by Ruth B. on my summer playlist for two reasons.  First, I remember it playing practically non-stop last summer (2016) and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around its success.  And second, because (eventually) its haunting lyrics and melody spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

A piano ballad on the Billboard Top 100 might be unusual, but the term “unusual” pretty much describes this song from start to finish.  The Canadian singer/songwriter Ruth B. said she wrote the first line of the song after watching the television show Once Upon a Time.  She then “debuted” her partial song via the Vine app.  Fans encouraged her to write a full song, and thanks to internet demand, she released a YouTube video in late 2015.  Record labels finally took notice and an official music video arrived in Spring 2016.  Many in the industry thought the idea of a song about Peter Pan simply wouldn’t fly (pun intended.)  Several said it was too “Disney” and others wrote it off as anything but a summer music hit.  Obviously, they were wrong.  A ballad about a young boy who refuses to grow up, a rebel of sorts who will not conform, a carefree character who chooses fantasy over reality…it was a song that resonated with so many…even a 40 something year old mom.

“Lost Boy” was the song that played on the radio when we headed to the ballpark and played again on the long rides home.  On nights when our team won, the song’s melody suggested that these were absolutely the very best days.  Peter Pan was definitely on to something–never, ever grow up! On nights when the team lost, the song resounded with a heartbreaking quality.  A reminder that perhaps these were indeed “lost” years, where boys transform into men despite the alluring idea of living in “Neverland.”  Watching your children grow up is something that no one can prepare you for…believe me, I know.  I’ve read all the books, sought out advice from everyone under the sun and I still sit in awe.  My mind can barely wrap itself around the idea that these kiddos are becoming adults and my heart practically refuses to believe this is even a possibility.  Yet here we are.

I remember what it was like to be fifteen.  It was the absolute best and it was the absolute worst.  It was fun and it was lonely.  It was exciting and it was scary.  It was pivotal.  Neverland never looked so good (at least to this mom.)

UP NEXT:  Song 13…”I would walk 500 miles….”

 

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 11

Golden State of mind.  –author unknown

There are moments where time simply stands still.  In those moments a solid memory is formed…and that’s where the next song on the list comes in.  “Someday” by the group Sugar Ray (released in 1999) was the soundtrack to an absolutely perfect space in time for me.  As a transplant to California, I quickly learned that there’s a learning curve to navigating the Golden State lifestyle.  First, practically everyone is beautiful.  People dress differently in Cali and carry themselves with a lot of confidence.  Next, most things costs way too much, really.  And finally, driving there is a sport.  Still, after a few months, I finally felt like I was finding my way.  This was home.It’s hard not to love California…amazing scenery and that salty, ocean smell.  I recall driving on the 101, windows rolled down, the rolling hills of Marin County in the background when this song came on the radio.  A song about having no regrets, a song about believing in the choices you have made, basically a song about contentment.  And that’s exactly what I felt in that moment.  For whatever reason, whatever my destiny was, however my purpose on this planet worked out–I wholeheartedly knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that particular place in time.  I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

Lead singer, Mark McGrath has said in interview that the group was about having fun and seeing just how far they could go.  While Sugar Ray actually played a wide variety of music styles…it was their pop rock, upbeat stuff that launched the group to fame.  “Someday” was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Hot 100 Airplay and on the Canadian charts, as well.  The band enjoyed great success with their trademark southern California vibe.

Whenever I hear the song, I’m transplanted back to that time (I can even smell the ocean!)  My life has changed a great deal since them.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had other experiences like the one that day.  Today, I refer to them as “God-moments,”  little assurances where I know I’m in just the right place, and I am so grateful.

UP NEXT:  Song 12…”run, run lost boy….”

 

 

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 10

All you need is a good dose of vitamin sea.  –author unknown

So much of that great summer vibe revolves around water.  Whether you’re fortunate enough to live near the coast, spend weekends at the lake, or just have access to a pool…summer requires water (and a lot of it!)  The surfy sound of “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s fits perfectly into my summer playlist for all the right reasons.  This 1970s tune has a catchy new wave sound, lots of nonsensical beach/ocean references, and its chorus just goes on and on (and on!)

“Rock Lobster” was written by two original band members and released two different times.  The first rendition was a little over four minutes long while its second release comes it at around seven minutes!  The song is a staple of any B-52s set and enjoyed chart topping success worldwide…listed at No. 147 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The song remains popular today thanks to its appearance in current shows like The Family Guy (among others) and its also featured on the video games Just Dance 4 and Rock Band 3.

I love this song for so many reasons…its whimsical throwback beat that never goes out of style, the call and response vocals between the men and women in the group, and for its marathon run time!  The B-52s have always been one of my favorites (especially for karaoke 🙂 ) Plus, you can’t go wrong with a summer jam whose popularity has spanned almost 50 years!

Up Next:  SONG 11…”just close your eyes and I’ll take you there.”

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 9

No one likes shady beaches.  –author unknown

Summertime…it’s all fun and games…until it isn’t.  No one dreams of having a bad summer and yet they still exist.  But if summer isn’t all sunshine, thank heaven for quirky 80s songs that make the bad days bearable!  Here’s where “Cruel Summer” by English pop group, Bananarama, comes in.  Added to my summer music countdown for it’s easy chorus and spunky sound, it just screams summer…and then some.

The song actually debuted in 1983, but became a hit on the U.S. pop charts in 1984 thanks to the movie, “The Karate Kid.”  The lyrics tell the story of one stuck in a miserable, hot city AFTER a bad breakup.  Ouch!   Unlucky in love, and unsure what to do next, the singer is mired in a hopeless situation.  Shot on location in New York City during a record heat wave, the group didn’t have to do much acting.  Unaccustomed to oppressive city temps, the girls share that they simply wanted to shoot the video in NYC because they hadn’t been there before and may have bitten off more than they could chew.  Group member, Siobhan Fahey, details the misadventures of the video shoot in her book,  “I Want My MTV.”

I was nine years old when this song was all the rage.  I remember the ratty hair, big belts and overalls and did my best to emulate the look!  And of course, I remember singing this song…over and over (and over.)  Today, I sing this song in an attempt to bring back the 80s…AND to torture my kids, of course 🙂

Up Next:  SONG 10…”it wasn’t a rock….”