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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‘Any Road Will Take You There’

George Harrison died twenty years ago today.

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For nearly a decade before his death, George Harrison had been working slowly on a new solo album while dealing with a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatments, a remission, and then, a new cancer and its eventual metastasizing. He was also stabbed forty times in a house invasion about two years before his death.

So George Harrison’s late 1990s was a period in which the “material world,” as he once called the here and now, appeared to be a genuinely unpleasant place, one that no longer wanted him around, but he retained a sharp wit about it anyway. Asked about his attacker, Harrison said that he “clearly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.” (The attacker suffered from untreated schizophrenia and was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.)

Working on his music through all of this, Harrison finished enough tracks to have a rough cut of a full album, but he finally ran into the ultimate deadline when cancer was found in his brain and he was given weeks to live. He wrote out instructions for his son, Dhani, and musical collaborator, Jeff Lynne, and they produced his final work, the farewell album Brainwashed, which they released a year after his death, in 2002.
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