I Suppose That Was Inevitable

But it didn’t have to be.

I’m talking about Sing 2. And before anyone points out that the movie came out last year, I’m well aware of that. But in these chronologically challenged times (is today Thursday or macaroni salad?), that matters a lot less than it would have three years ago. And, besides, I’m usually late with my film commentaries; this is just a bit later than the norm.

Disclaimer: although I rewatched Sing before watching Sing 2, I have zero interest in rewatching the latter for the sake of this commentary. It’s been months, and I’m quite sure I’ll get some details wrong, but I’m not gonna pollute my eyeballs and ears any further.

Anyway, given the huge box office success that was the original Sing, a sequel was inevitable. But it didn’t have to be bad.

Or at least not this bad.

You may recall that I didn’t hate Sing. It set out to target a specific market, and did a fine job of hitting the target without shutting out other viewers. I compared it favorably to one out of any random formula novel-for-kids series, and likened it to a Rooney/Garland musical from back in the olden days.

Sing 2 takes its cues from the Vegas revues it’s apparently trying to parody: slick, formulaic, and soulless.

We get that right from the beginning. Remember the plot of Sing? “Save the theater.” Sing 2 is built around “How do we get out of this dump of a theater?” Buster and the gang don’t want the talent scout to recognize how great their current show is so they can pack in more theatergoers. No, they’re looking for a ticket to the big time: same show, same performers, different location (specifically, the entertainment capital of the world. Pardon. THE ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.)

When they’re rejected, they close the theater and set off on their quest. And everything happens by rote. Buster’s role is reduced to repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth while everyone else saves him: Gunter writes the play, Miss Crawly tracks down the film’s MacGuffin (aka Clay Calloway), Ash triggers the obligatory “Get off your ass and do something” realization that resolves the MacGuffin part of the plot, Suki rescues Buster from the villain. The gang all find their own motivations for overcoming their hangups while Buster just digs himself–and them–deeper into trouble*.

* I’m nowhere close to being the first to be bothered by Buster and Meena’s Me Too scene, which is arguably Buster’s lowest moment in the film.

And, and, and… I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Except for one thing: Buster’s big pitch is that the gang’s show will not only feature the MacGuffin (voiced by Bono of U2), but include a new song by him. And, to be fair, Sing 2 does have a new U2 song. But it’s not in Buster’s show. Instead, we get a thirty-year-old track, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, at the show’s climactic moment. That new U2 song is relegated to the movie’s epilogue.

That’s a jarring moment for the audience–or should be. But, even worse, it doesn’t make sense in the movie’s internal logic. If it’s supposed to be a “new song”, why does everyone in the audience know it? And if it’s not, why in the name of all that’s sensible, would MacGuffin sign on to sing it every night (and matinee) for an indefinite run? After all, he had to get out of the rut he was in. Why go from one rut to another?

Don’t bother with Sing 2. Better, actively avoid it. Don’t scar your kids’ psyches–but if you have no choice but to let them see it, take your tranquilizers, take your earplugs, and take your blindfolds.

And that’s what truly sad about this sequel. If it had stayed true to the original, it could have been, if not awesome, at least no bad thing. Consider: what if, instead of trying to move up to TECotW, Buster had been trying to recover from a flop of a show that put his beloved theater in the red. Performers and crew leaving because they’re not getting paid. We still could have gotten the quest to recover the MacGuffin–only with Buster taking more of an active role in persuading him–and then using him as a lure to bring back the rest of the gang to rescue the theater once again.

Sure, it’s the same plot. But that’s the point of those old series novels. The characters and their motivations stay the same. The plots are similar. Only the details change. It could have worked here, too.

Oh, Come On!

Time once again for me to express sincere dismay over the musical taste of the general public.

In this case, I’m appalled by the results of the poll run by SiriusXM’s “40s Junction” a couple of months ago. The intent was to put together a Top 100 songs of the World War Two era. Voting was in March from a predetermined list–although voters could apparently add their own nominations–and the results were unveiled over the Fourth of July weekend in the form of a broadcast of all 100 tracks.

Oddly, though the show aired several times that weekend, the final list was never published anywhere I’ve been able to find. My thanks to the anonymous SiriusXM staffer who sent it to me. I’m not sure about the legalities of posting it here–the email didn’t state that it would be okay. If I’d compiled it myself from the broadcasts, I’d be on solid ground, but since it’s someone else’s work, I’d just as soon not risk a copyright violation. (Capitalization of the titles is as in the document I received. I’da done it different, but I’m bowing to authority here.)

But I can certainly call out a few of the most egregious lowlights. That’s unquestionably fair use.

And, if we’re talking “low”, where better to start than at the very bottom of the list?

Number 100 is “As Time Goes By”. Yes, the Dooley Wilson recording. The definitive version of an acknowledged classic. Mind you, I have issues with it. It’s sexist and, IMNSHO, unduly conflates love and hate. But regardless, a great song. There are a lot of amazingly good recordings from the early Forties, but for this one to land all the way down at Number 100, there had to have been a lot of truly astounding music, right?

Like Number 99. Which is, uh…”Johnny Zero”, a nearly forgotten piece of tripe about a student with crippling math anxiety–possibly a learning disorder–which forces him to drop out of school and become a wildly successful fighter pilot.

Other classics that came in ahead of Dooley include “Happy Holiday” (93), “Personality*” (87), and “I Said No!**” (89)

* An annoyingly popular ditty that’s sexist and condescending.

** But still better than this one, which–depending on how literally you take the last line–is either an account of date rape or an early precursor to Amway (1959) sales tactics.

So much for that theory. Compounding the injustice? Rudy Vallee’s version landed at Number 27.

Moving on up. Or down, as the case may be.

I’ll skip past “Flying Home” (Lionel Hampton at 97) and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” (Dinah Shore at 84). But how in all that’s unholy did the incredibly sexist and racist ditty “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief” make it all the way up to Number 61? All due respect to composer Hoagy Carmichael, but this isn’t his best work. Not even close.

A similar offense against good taste has the culturally insensitive (not to mention pointless and obnoxious) earworm “The Hut-Sut Song” at Number 44. At least it got beat by the slightly less offensive and much funnier “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (41) and “Tangerine” (37).

I’m not fond of “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”, but I don’t have any actual problem with it. I can live with it coming in at Number 25, though I am glad to see it’s Glenn Miller’s version and not the slightly disturbed Andrews Sisters recording.

In the context of their time “Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer” (24), “When The Lights Go On Again” (16) and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (6) are reasonably positioned. It does bother me to see them so far up nearly a century later. Musically, none are anything astounding, but they’re more than adequate. The sentiments are appropriate for wartime, but it’s depressing to think they still resonate now.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my feelings about “On the Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe” (18), “Swinging On A Star” (13), and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (5). Despite negative comments I might have made about them, they’re all worthy of inclusion on this list. I might not have put them quite this high, but no significant objection.

Likewise, it’s great to see the Mills Brothers put three songs on the list, including two in the top twenty. If I ruled the world (a depressing thought), I’d have put “You Always Hurt The One You Love” (17) higher than “Paper Doll” (7), but that’s a quibble.

And if you think “Johnny Zero” making the top 100 is puzzling, try rationalizing “G.I. Jive” cracking the top ten. It’s at Number 9, just ahead of Frank Sinatra’s “You’ll Never Know”. Frankie making the upper reaches of the list, sure. But an unabashed novelty song?

Then there’s Number 4. “Rum And Coca-Cola“. Catchy tune. Wildly popular. But the themes (American imperialism and prostitution) and the Andrews Sisters’ somewhat disingenuous comments about it make it hard for me to see it as worthy of it’s position near the top of the list.

Weird to see a Christmas song near the top of the list, but I can’t think of a single reason why Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” shouldn’t be here. If anything, I’m surprised it didn’t make Number 1, given the general public’s fondness for sentiment.

Top honors went to “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, which just beat out “Sentimental Journey”. Train songs are popular, it would seem, as are paens to revisiting one’s past. But while both are worthy of high places in the rankings, do they really belong all the way at the top?

Poor Dooley.

Chicken Fairy

When I was growing up, our family had its own version of “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

Well, not a full version, just a single verse:

When you wish upon a bird

Makes no difference if you’re heard

Legendary Chicken Fairy

Dreams come true

Seems like the sort of thing you would hear on the playground, but I never did. And nobody I’ve asked ever heard it on their playground either.

I always figured Dad had written it. It’s not an unreasonable assumption: like many writers, he liked playing with words. He was responsible for many of the new words that made up our family-specific vocabulary. And many writers string together a parody verse now and then.

And no, the verse doesn’t quite scan. If anything, that lends credence to the theory that Dad wrote it. He had a notoriously poor sense of rhythm–and counting syllables only gets you so far.

But the other day, I decided on a whim to see if anyone else knew that verse. I googled “Legendary Chicken Fairy” and found

The tune is different, of course, but there’s a definite similarity in the lyrics.

When you wish upon a bird

Makes no difference how absurd

The chicken fairy hears each word

And all your dreams come true

I didn’t find any matches for Dad’s verse.

So do we have a case of independent parallel development? Or did Dad–whose grasp of melody was even worse than his rhythm–hear the Blanchard and Morgan song and sometime later warp it into something that matched his spotty recollection?

No way to know, of course. But “Legendary Chicken Fairy” made it to Number 38 on the Country chart in 1972. I’d have been of an age to find the concept of a chicken fairy hilarious*.

* That I still find it hysterical is irrelevant to this discussion.

I could even make a case for the theory that I heard the song, sang my best kid-memory version of it, and Dad, having no idea where it came from, modified it further.

As I said, there’s no way to know for certain, but to me the evidence suggests that our family Chicken Fairy is a derivative work. Which is not going to prevent me from singing it at the top of my lungs next time “When You Wish Upon a Star” comes on the radio.

Fair’s Fair

Can it really have been five years since we last went to a county fair?

I know we haven’t gone the last two years, for obvious reasons. But further back, my memory fails to confirm or refute attendance.

On one paw, scheduling time to go to a fair has been difficult for several years. On another, fairs are high on our list of priorities. On a third paw, I sometimes have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday, much less a couple of weeks ago; three or four years is hopeless. But on the fourth paw, fair food is…memorable.

So, anyway, there was a Marin County Fair running up until the Fourth of July. I was working Monday, but I was off Sunday; the Fair had fireworks every night, and I had some cash in my wallet. Done deal.

The Fair was stripped down: almost all of the judging was done online and none of the indoor events or exhibits were happening–they’re supposed to return next year, COVID-19 willing.

But there were a few animals, including my favorite plush bunnies.

And the fluffy chickens Maggie likes.

And, while there were a few ducks in cages, there were significantly more of them roaming free.

The Fair’s focus this year was on vendors and carnival rides.

File this one under “Oh, hell no!”

This is a bit more my speed.

Okay, I exaggerate. If I’d gone on any rides, it would have been something in between those extremes. A carousel. Maybe a Ferris wheel.

The food offerings were a bit of a disappointment. Not in FairQuality, I hasten to add, but in cost and accessibility. I didn’t even consider the Lobster Fries when I learned the Fish & Chips I’d been pondering were $22–and the line looked to be on the order of a twenty minute wait just to order. How much of the cost was “Well, it’s Marin,” and how much was “COVIDflation” I wouldn’t even try to guess. And the lines were, I believe, a result of the plenitude of choices. With only one booth specializing in most flavors (fried stuff, bbq stuff, etc.) lines for the popular or unusual were inevitably going to get excessive.

I wound up with “California Fries”: French fries covered in refried beans, melted cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and carne asada. Basically, cross-cultural nachos. Good fair food and quite tasty. We didn’t quite manage dessert. No strawberry shortcake on offer and the funnel cake vendors (both of them) were only selling funnel cakes (and we’re not fond of those). So the only option for true FairDessert–deep fried Twinkies, Oreos, or some other thing that really shouldn’t be deep fried–was that fried stuff vendor with the twenty minute lines. Strawberry crepes might have done the job, but the crepe vendor’s line was even longer.

My arteries are grateful, even if my stomach and taste buds were (and still are) disappointed.

Anyway, strawberry shortcake notwithstanding, fireworks were the main reason I wanted to go to the fair.

We got good seats.

Maybe not quite as good as those people on the other side of the lake, but it’s hard to say. The show was aimed slightly toward our side, but explosions are largely omnidirectional, and the wind was blowing right-to-left, so the smoke didn’t block either side’s view. Call it a wash.

And the show was well worth it. Yes, the long lines, the high prices, the four hour wait on a backless bench–next time I’ll at least take a cushion–and even the traditional painful cold after the sun went down. From first boom, through rainbow arcs and blossoms (it was Out at the Fair day), several different variations on crackly/crinkly/twinkling, to the finale, one of the best low altitude shows I’ve seen.

Inevitably, it’s online. Not from the night we went, and not the best vantage point, but it’s almost like being there. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But if you crank up the air conditioner to chill your house to 40 degrees and full-screen the video, it’s a reasonable approximation.

Bottom line: A well-spent afternoon (sorry). Would go again.

Sedalia 2022

So, yes, Sedalia.

The festival came off, despite three musicians having to cancel due to COVID-19. Alternates were found, programming went on, and a good time was had by all. Or all in attendance, anyway. I won’t speak for those who were stuck at home. And more than a week after returning, I remain symptom-free, nor have I heard anything suggesting widespread post-festival infections.

The music was, as always, excellent. The upgraded Pavilion venue is a rousing success. And good fellowship ran rampant—unsurprisingly, variants of the phrase “it’s great to be back after two years” were heard everywhere. Arguably, heard a bit too much. Mad props to Taslimah Bey for being the only person* to refer on stage to those we’ve lost over the past two years, whether to COVID-19 or other causes.

* Granted, with three widely separated stages going at once, it’s possible I missed someone else making note of our losses during the outdoor sets. But she’s definitely the only one to comment during the concerts when—theoretically—everyone was present in one place.

I believe attendance was down—unsurprisingly—but there did seem to be more local residents attending than in years past.

One of those unable to attend, regrettably, was Bill McNally. Since Bill is the director for the Ragtime Kids Program, I was worried about how it would work out, but he pulled it off remotely. Both of the Kids did stellar turns—highlights of the festival IMNSHO. Leo Roth’s symposium was well worth getting up for* and Tadao Tomokiyo’s performances drew rave reviews.

* Why does the festival only schedule symposia in the morning? There always seems to be at least one I’d like to attend, but can’t quite drag myself out of bed for. Time zones suck.

The presentation of the Ragtime Kids at the Friday afternoon concert—you can see the whole event on YouTube—went smoothly. Those long, skinny things we gave them are inscribed piano keys; part of their loot bags, which also included posters, books, and their honoraria.

All in all, the festival was a success. But being in Sedalia was, well, uncomfortable. The inhabitants don’t think the same way as us West Coasters. Which I knew going in, but it was still a bit of a shock to see and hear it.

Case in point: over the four days we were there, we went into six restaurants. One had removed tables to allow more space between patrons. Only one—a different one—had added outdoor seating. No locals were wearing masks. And the drugstore we passed every day had a sign out front begging people to drop in for COVID-19 vaccinations (around here, you need an appointment, but apparently even that’s too much to ask of a Sedalian.)

Nor does there seem to be any recognition of climate change. As we were driving into town, we noted a significant paucity of corn fields. When we mentioned it to locals, the response was a shrug and “It’s been too wet to plant corn this year. Now that it’s drying out, we’re planting soybeans.” No one seemed concerned about next year.

But the biggest barrier to understanding between the edges of the country and the center? Gas.

My local gas station has the lowest prices around. When I passed it on my way to the airport, the price per gallon was $6.139. That day, prices everywhere between Kansas City and Sedalia were between $4.129 and $4.159. Over the course of the festival, the price rose to $4.549. When I got home, the California price was $6.359.

Sure, there were some grumbles about the high price of gas. But not the sort of “this is outrageous” rumblings that are driving Californians—and other Coasters—to buy hybrids and electrics. Why should they worry? Filling the tank doesn’t require a bank loan.

If the EPA really wants to drive adoption of alternatively powered vehicles, they should push for legislation setting a single price of gas across the country. Never fly, of course; the oil industry would love the short-term profits, but they’re smart enough to know the long-term effects would kill off their business. A pity.

Next Week

This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Sedalia for the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

Yes, there’s an actual, in-person festival happening this year.

Is this a good idea? Well… On one forepaw, it is Missouri–which the Mayo Clinic says has the 40th lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. And we won’t even talk about masking.

On the other forepaw, the performers and audience are coming from all over the world. I suspect as a group they’re going to be more highly vaccinated than the people who live there. And there’s nothing stopping me, or anyone else in attendance, from wearing a mask.

In truth, the exposure risk seems on a par with what I experience dealing with the public every day at work.

So there’s that.

To be honest, I’m no more immune to the lure of “Get out of the house and do something normal” than anyone else. But this isn’t solely an exercise in COVID denial.

The cancelation of the 2020 festival was a big disappointment, even more so than the reasons why canceling everything else that spring and summer disappointed everyone. That was, if you recall, the Year of the Woman, marking the hundredth anniversary of women getting the vote in the US. And the Sedalia festival was going all-in on the theme, emphasizing female performers and composers.

And on a more personal level, 2020 was going to be the year the SJRF’s Ragtime Kid program–funded by donations to the Foundation in Dad’s memory–would debut. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We used the time to refine our concepts, figuring to go live with the 2021 festival. Which also didn’t happen.

So now we’ve got 2021 and 2022 Ragtime Kids to introduce. Somebody’s got to be there to represent, right?

As if three-plus days of good music and catching up with friends we haven’t seen in three years isn’t enough incentive to attend*.

* And, of course, Sedalia is just about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. That’s prime BBQ country; hard to resist for a family that travels on its stomach as much as mine.

All of which is a long-winded lead-up to letting y’all know that there won’t be a Wednesday post next week. I’ll do my best to cue up a Friday post so nobody feels fuzzy-deprived, and I expect everything to be back to normal on June 8.

And, of course, this is also a commercial message, reminding you that the Foundation will still cheerfully accept donations in Dad’s memory and use them to support the Ragtime Kid program. Contact information is here.

SAST 20

One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s Google I/O comments was the Chromecast with Google TV. That’s something else you can blame Google for: they didn’t say anything about the gadget.

Quite a disappointment, actually. The CwGT is what the original Chromecast should have been. Though, in fairness to Google, the software wasn’t there at the time. See, unlike the Chromecast–which was designed as a single-purpose device to stream video under the control of your phone–the CwGT is a general-purpose Android device. Yes, it’s only output is via HDMI, typically to a TV, but it’s got the full Google Play Store, so you can install all* your favorite apps. Games, alternate video players, messaging apps, or whatever. All controlled via a simple remote with voice support or any Bluetooth gadget you want to hook up.

* Usual caveats about not all apps in the store are available for all devices apply.

I love mine. I’ll skip the ramblings about why, since this is an SAST post.

But.

It does have some shortcomings. Many people find its storage limited (can anyone really survive on 8 GB today–especially when the OS uses half of it?) and the hardware video decoding support lacks a few recently popular formats. And then there’s the fact that the last software update came out back in October.

So the newsrumor back in January that a new model was on the horizon was greeted with great fervor. Even the thought of the new model being intended as a lower-end option didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. Because of course Google would slip in a few under-the-hood improvements to make up for the maximum resolution of 1080p, right?

Nice theory, anyway. But not a word at Google I/O about the CwGT or a successor. Shades of the late not-so-lamented Nexus Q media player.

Moving on.

A few days ago, I was listening to SiriusXM’s 40s channel on my way to work and–as I tend to do when I’m alone in the car*–absentmindedly singing along with most of the songs. Because I’ve been listening to Swing Era radio stations for more than four decades, I know most of the lyrics. Well enough to sing them, as long as I don’t try to think about what I’m singing. If I think about about it, though, I start trying to rewrite the lyrics and it all goes downhill from there.

* I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on anyone. I’m not that cruel.

Anyway, I was cheerfully semi-oblivious until a verse yanked me into conscious thought.

Halfway through the Martha Tilton/Harry Babbit version of “Let’s Get Away From It All“, there’s this verse:

Let’s spend a day at the White House

Pay Mr. Truman a call

We’ll visit the Veep there*

See Congress asleep there

Let’s get away from it all

* There’s a joke here: there was no vice president for the first several years of Truman’s presidency. And, as the song suggests, I’m not sure anyone particularly noticed or cared when Alben Barkley got the job in ’48.

Don’t understand why my tongue tripped over its metaphorical feet?

Consider: There was a day within living memory when common citizens could take a White House tour and have a chance, however microscopic, of seeing the president. Sure, the song is exaggerating for humor; I doubt anyone would have dropped in expecting meet Harry T.–much less sit down with him over coffee–but see him? Sure, could’ve happened. Not today.

More: Also within living memory, you could make fun of an ineffective politician or two without being branded a traitor, excoriated in the press, and buried under massive piles of letters blaming everything on the other party.

The Forties had plenty of problems, it’s true. And regrettably, most of them are problems we still have today–starting with racism, sexism, a World War, economic disruption, etc., etc., etc. And granted, politics could get vicious, but they were accessible to the concerned individual. Yes, the canonical smoke-filled room, but anyone* could get into politics at a local level and make himself a place in that room. He might have to buy his own cigars, but even so.

* Okay, any male person. Who was white. And not too obviously…you know.

I regret that we’ve reached the point where politics can’t be played by amateurs.

A Dream and a Nightmare

You decide which is which.

Story the First: I dreamt I had moved to a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not so small that it couldn’t support a community orchestra, however. Because I joined the group when the organizers came around.

Our first concert–some indefinite period the future–was going to be an all-Bernstein program. We all show up for the first rehearsal, and it’s obvious that, while some of us might* be accomplished musicians, as a group we don’t have Clue One what the heck we’re doing.

* Strong emphasis on the “might”.

So we start setting up our instruments, looking over the sheet music, and all the things that occupy musicians’ time while they wait for the conductor: calling our loved ones, making dental appointments, playing Wordle, and so on.

Someone steps onto the podium and taps his baton for our attention.

There’s a mass intake of breath. Our conductor is none other than Leonard Bernstein himself*.

* For the record, I’m well aware Mr. Bernstein died more than three decades ago. Tell that to my subconscious.

In some little Podunk town. For a community orchestra that had never played together before.

Leonard Effin’ Bernstein.

We all clearly knew disaster awaited us, but when Leonard Bernstein tells you to play, you play.

I consider it a blessing that I woke up just as the baton swept down to launch us into West Side Story.

The moral here should be obvious. Should be.

“Don’t reach for the stars; they’ll come to you.” Nah. “Follow your leader.” Nuh-uh. “Practice? Who needs practice?” Uh…

Story the Second: As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about Google Assistant’s Commute notification feature. A couple of days ago, I was leaning decidedly toward the negative, thanks to a notification foul-up of epic proportions, but unimportant details.

So I was ranting in a generally Maggie-facing direction; a rant which began “Have I mentioned how much I hate Google?”

When I ran down, I picked up my book and flopped on the bed next to Maggie and started to read. And then, because I do have my occasional episodes of mush, I turned to her and said, “No matter how much I hate Google, I love you more.”

There was a second of silence, perhaps a sliver of a second more, as she prepared to say, “Aww,” and then a voice was heard from the bookshelf where my phone sits while charging.

“I can’t feel romantic love but I think you are wonderful.”

Yes, my phone had misinterpreted “hate Google” as “Hey, Google” and thought I was addressing her*.

* Yes, I do consider my phone to be female. And I have no intention of analyzing why.

While I suppose it’s a relief to know that my phone has no desire to supplant my wife in my affections (yet), I’m not entirely sure I needed to know that I am a figure of wonder and (I suppose) awe.

Talk about inflating one’s sense of self-worth.

And, no question about the moral here: Big Brother is, in solemn truth, always listening.

A Complete Waste of Time

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice* that my whole family loves fireworks. Why else would we freeze our hind ends sitting for hours on a cement planter on December 31 or a stretch of suburban tundra on July 4?

* Okay, considerably more often than that.

So these last couple of years have been tough. Granted, not the only way they’ve been tough and certainly not the toughest, but still.

And the workarounds have been, well, pitiful. Seattle, I’m looking at you here.

Historically, Seattle has had a fireworks display set off from the Space Needle, and it’s usually been a good show. Perhaps not world class, but well up in the ranks of civic displays.

Since a show was a no-go for 12/31/20, the city commissioned a “virtual” show. By which, they meant “Computer animated graphics added to actual footage of the Space Needle.” It kinda, sorta worked. Arguably better than nothing, anyhow. Some of the animations were entertaining. But somebody forgot that a big part of the fireworks experience is auditory. Way too much generic popular music (with Seattle ties, of course) and a notable shortage of “Boom!”

This year, there was an actual show. Nobody could attend in person, of course, so the city made a big deal about enhancing the display for TV. Much hype about the “first ever” augmented reality fireworks display.

Feh. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And in this case, there was a big asterisk after the “can”. The computer graphics were definitely a step down in quality from the previous year’s offering. Worse, they frequently covered the actual fireworks. If you’re trying to enhance something, you don’t hide it, you emphasize it. And again, no “Boom!”, but plenty of instantly forgettable pop. (Sorry.) Not even some decent champagne could save this mess.

Even worse: the TV channel’s commentators desperately trying to sound enthusiastic about what they’d just seen.

We started flipping channels afterward, desperately trying to find something to eradicate the memory. Mixed results, obviously.

We spent a few minutes on the Nashville NYE Super Spreader Event–hundreds of sweaty, underdressed people, with not a mask in sight–before we found a channel showing fireworks displays from around the world.

And very interesting it was. Thank you, NBC News!

The show from Russia looked like it was probably excellent–fireworks blasting over onion domes is always aesthetically pleasing–but the poor image quality detracted greatly. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an official Soviet broadcast, but a low-resolution cell phone recording, probably smuggled out via the Internet.

Oddly, neither India nor Pakistan came off well. Both looked like someone’s backyard display. The Greek show spent far too much time showing off the Parthenon and much too little showing the actual fireworks.

Hong Kong, fortunately, gave an excellent show, combining real fireworks with simulated displays on skyscrapers. Not, I don’t think, computer animated, but video projections. The displays were well synchronized, and it worked beautifully.

The real winner, though? Sydney, Australia. A massive display all around the harbor, combined with “The 1812 Overture” gave plenty of “Boom!” with lots of sparkle.

Hopefully we’ll get real fireworks here in the Bay Area (and Seattle!) this coming NYE. But if not, I know where I’m getting my fix, and it ain’t gonna be any kind of faked or “enhanced” display.

A Musical “Bah, Humbug!”

Apparently “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the hot song this year. I’ve heard at least five different versions of it.

Which, well…As Christmas songs go, it’s one of the better ones. It’s not promoting consumer greed, hyping any particular religion, or wallowing in tears (“Last Christmas,” I’m looking at you).

But like any much-covered song, the versions run together in memory. C’mon, folks, if you’re not going to bring something new to the song, don’t bother. And no, putting it in a different key so it fits in your vocal range doesn’t count. Tweak the lyrics. Try a different style, or unique instrumentation.

As for the rest of the Christmas playlist, I stand by the post’s subject line.

Remember, I’m trapped in Retail Hell: I have to listen to this stuff all day, every day. And thanks to COVID-19, I can’t even fall back on Odysseus’ solution: wax in my ears would be doable, but I can’t read lips through a mask.

At this point, with three shopping days left until Christmas, I’m firmly convinced that those references to “sleighing” in “Jingle Bells” are typos. Without question, it’s actually a “slaying” song. And probably references all the fun things you can do with an axe.

As for “The Little Drummer Boy,” why do people keep singing this one? Forget the old joke about the last thing any new mother wants is somebody whamming on a drum near her sleeping offspring; the song represents everything that’s wrong about Christmas songs: the message is that if you don’t give something you’re nothing–with a healthy side dish of “them what has, gets”.

TLDB is my slaying song: next time it comes on the store speakers, I will, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, go straight to the audio system with a very large axe and give it a reprogramming it’ll never forget.

To be fair, much of my ire with Christmas songs is due to overexposure. Which puts the blame on whatever marketing person builds the playlists. This is definitely one area where diversity doesn’t even get lip service.

Insert your own rant about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa here. I’m resigned to it being Christmas 24/7 for another four days; I just want a little–or, better yet, a lot–more variety.

There must be some Christmas raps–original ones, not just covers of existing tunes–and hip-hop celebrations of the season. Where are the Spanish-language songs, original or translation? I haven’t heard one yet.

Ah, well. Here’s hoping for a “Silent Night” as covered by John Cage.