In 1945 Bing Crosby released a Christmas album comprised of ten songs. After a few years, and advancements in technology, the album was re-released. However, this time, there were only eight songs on the album. This album’s release coincided with Bing’s hit holiday film “White Christmas” The album has become a huge success over the decades and I can honestly say that the songs have become a part of the American psyche for the holidays ever since.
Yet two of the songs from the first album seemed to have fallen through the cracks of time. One of them being quite interesting and unique even though it was an old standard, the song is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
You see, Bing changed some of the lyrics. Modernized it a bit, jazzed it up so to speak. Especially the ending, which, I’ve overheard some say it was not just a bad version of the song, but he had no right to do what he did.
When I first heard it, I loved it. Of course, I have an odd view on some standards, not just in music, but in general. Now, I can’t really remember the first time I heard Bing’s version of the song, but I always remember the ending. “The big fat man in the long white beard is coming to town.” Said with almost no consideration of the songwriters or even the sentiment of the season. It was as if Bing is saying “Don’t worry, even if you’re bad, things will work out.”
Another song I can’t remember my first hearing of but always loved was “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” recorded in 1953 by a young lady named Gayla Peevey. I do remember, however, waiting every year at Christmas time to hear her sing that song on the radio. I knew it wasn’t Christmas until my ears were assaulted with her almost nasally and raspy voice belting out how she wanted to creep down the stairs and see a giant hippo standing there.
To this day, in my middle age, both songs still fill me with child-like joy and wonderment.
So, when sixteen years ago my daughter was born, I did my best to introduce some of my favorite music to her while she was completely unable to understand what was going on in her life. Yeah, infants just don’t understand music, time, life and how sights, sounds and smells can bring happiness. Nope, they just live in the moment and enjoy everything.
It wasn’t until years later, when she was four, that she finally caught on to the impact of music. You see, we, my wife, myself and our daughter who was strapped in to her car seat in the back of our mini-van, were driving somewhere, and the Hippo song came on the radio. My bride and I quickly started singing along with the radio. When the song was over a small but clear voice from behind us vehemently answered our lyrics with “I don’t want a hippopotamus for Christmas!”
I looked at my wife, she stared at me, our jaws both hanging agape and then, as if on cue, we both busted out laughing. So much so, we almost drove off the road.
Not so many minutes later, Bing’s song about Santa comes on the radio. We sang along, even our small child piped in here and there. Yet, when the end of the song came, and Bing went into his non-standard ending my lovely, talented and amazing offspring yells “That’s not how it goes!” with great disappointment at what she had just heard. I laughed.
Fast forward to today, my child is now a young lady, driving, writing, going to school, working, directing student films and listening to all sorts of modern music that sounds like a bag of cats fighting to me. Yet, she loves her music and it makes her happy so I’m happy.
Which is funny, because now, her taste of music being that of a young lady in this country, she seeks out new music as well as finding old songs sung by new artists and I find myself shaking my head on what some of the young singers are doing to old standards. I guess I feel like she must have felt when she was four years old and was introduced to music that she thought was one way, but ended up another. A bit disappointed, a bit offended and as if the world had just played a cruel joke on me.
Which is funny, when I think about it; you see, here I am, two years from half a century in age and my offspring, a full thirty-two years younger than me, has been able to strip away all my years of wisdom and maturity and made me feel like a four year old child. I feel like a child who is just discovering how the world can zig when you expect it to zag, which is an awesome feeling for someone who has become tainted by life when it comes to the wonder of this celebrated season.
It is a good thing, in my opinion, learning from a younger generation. I’ve grown too comfortable in my likes and views of society and the world. . Like the student becoming the teacher. Her younger eyes, attitude and sense of wonderment have become her teaching tools that I seem to have lost over the years.
So, here’s to her and the up and coming generation of thinkers, dreamers, inventors, musicians and writers she calls her friends. Keep shaking the tree of standards like so many before you. I will try to sit back quietly and understand and enjoy watching you make this world yours.
Why? Because the big fat man in the long white beard is bringing me a hippopotamus for Christmas.
Have a great week.