A Year Concludes

When HBO’s John Oliver “blew up” 2020 for viewers of his comedy commentary show Last Week Tonight last year, I actually grew teary-eyed, which is perhaps not the reaction he and his staff might have wanted from the average viewer, but it is understandable, I think: 2020 was difficult for each one of us in ways unique to each one of us.

That endless year had featured several deaths of family, friends, acquaintances, and my father’s death of COVID in the first wave of the pandemic, as well as the first of many responses to the pandemic: lockdowns, local businesses shuttered, friends and family on video calls, recovery meetings on video, funerals on video, the first tentative steps out of lockdown (a cosmetologist friend came here to cut my hair a few times), experimentation with mask styles, and the wait for a conclusion that we would all know was a conclusion and/or new start whenever we might see it. Oh! and there was an national election campaign followed by a constitutional nightmare.

The year before this one also saw the start of a creative collaboration that continues to this day (new video up this evening!), which is probably only just beginning even after almost two years.

So when Mr. Oliver blew up 2020, I grew teary-eyed. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I get choked-up quite easily, and the signs of an imminent cry are obvious: my voice cracks, sniffles start, my eyes darken. And then nothing happens. The emotional explosion never comes, unlike the John Oliver’s farewell to 2020 (Last Week Tonight had run the same joke before, but 2020’s goodbye was a bit bigger):
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C.S.I.: North Pole

Who wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas”? Who invented Santa Claus?

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Sometimes all a story needs for it to be spread widely is an authoritative manner behind its delivery. Like all characters in great folklore, the character of Santa Claus “feels” like something ancient, a figure who has always been around, and not something that a human being could have conceived of merely to sell, well, anything.

What we know about the jolly old elf, including that very phrase, mostly comes from Old New York of the beginning of the 19th Century. New York City in the early 1800s was already the melting pot it remains to this day, but mostly it was two cultures that were mixing together then: English and Dutch. During the period of Dutch dominance, in commerce and population, the city was called New Amsterdam, and many place names still in use in the city and parts north to Albany are Dutch in origin (Spuyten Duyvil or Catskill Mountains, for example).
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Sinatra & ‘I Like the Sunrise’

Today is Frank Sinatra’s birthday. He was born on this date in 1915.

Fifty-four years ago today, December 12, 1967, Sinatra celebrated his fifty-second birthday at work in his Reprise Records studio with Duke Ellington and his orchestra. The two-day session yielded the only collaboration between the two giants, an eight-song album titled Francis A. and Edward K.; no television special followed to capture the two on stage together or sell copies of the album, and only a couple photos show them together (one of them is seen at top).

Ellington was sixty-eight and his collaborator/arranger of the previous quarter-century, Billy Strayhorn, had died just six months earlier. With no Strayhorn, Sinatra brought in his arranger, Billy May (“Come Fly with Me”), who discovered that many of Ellington’s musicians were not sight-readers. Rehearsals would be needed. Legend has it that Sinatra had a cold, a condition that possibly contributed to the several moments on the record in which he begins to sound like the late-1970’s “Theme from New York, New York”-era Sinatra, with pauses between the pentameters.
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