Category Archives: Seasonal Fare

Musica para las Fiestas!

Just before Christmas, my wife borrowed some LPs from her grandmother so we could digitize them. These were albums her family listened to every December for decades. I was not familiar with any of them because these were albums of traditional Puerto Rican holiday music.

While digitizing these records, I was able to listen to them for the first time, enjoyed them immensely, and thought they would make excellent listening any time of year. This is in part because my knowledge of Spanish is limited, thus blunting the Christmas-ness of the lyrics for me. It’s also due to the unique qualities of Puerto Rican holiday music, which tends to be more about partying and patriotism than it is about things Americans think of as “traditional” Christmas song topics. (Lots more on that subject here.)

I couldn’t find out too much information on these albums online, at least not information I could understand (see above in re: Spanish, difficulties with). Nearly all of these albums were released on small specialty labels that are now defunct and, near as I can tell, have not been reissued by anyone. So I figured I might be the world’s last best hope to preserve these albums in all their glory, which show an interesting transition point between traditional musica jibara (“mountain music,” more or less) and the music that came out of New York starting the 1960s that came to be known as salsa.

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My Favorite Video of the Year

In the giving spirit of the season, I want to share you my favorite video of the year. If you read this site, you know the kind of videos I gravitate toward, and so you’d probably think I’d pick some weird old commercial or that amazing compilation of Russian drivers. Worthy choices, but I have gone in a different direction, something you’ve probably never seen if you don’t have grade school-age children or aren’t 10 years old.

Being the father of a young girl, I am often subjected to Disney Channel’s wide array of programming. Some of it is actually pretty good (Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls). Some of it, not so much. One afternoon, we found ourselves watching Make Your Mark, a dance competition show that fell right in the middle of the pack. At the very least, it was light years better than Austin & Ally or Jessie, two Disney Channel shows so awful they make my teeth itch.

The big highlight of Make Your Mark was a segment in which the finalists go backstage at a theater where Justin Bieber will soon be giving a concert. The kids are then surprised with a visit from Beebs himself. He shakes their hands and watches them dance and gives them a little pep talk. It was very cute to see these kids freak out over meeting their idol.

And yet, as I watched this scene, I couldn’t get past one very strange element. Take a peek (it’s less than two minutes long, won’t kill ya) and see if you can spot it.

Did you notice that Bieber enters on a Segway? He also shakes kids’ hands on a Segway, beatboxes on a Segway, delivers a motivational speech on a Segway, and exits on a Segway. He does not get off the Segway for one second.

When I saw this show live, I rewound the segment–no joke–eight times, because I was sure I blinked and missed a part where Bieber hopped off the Segway. Nope! He stays atop it the entire time. While this scene is surely edited from much longer footage, it seems pretty clear from what we’re shown that he never once left his vehicle. What a bizarre, imperious thing to do. It’s the kind of power play an ancient duke would have pulled, if only Segways existed in Elizabethan times. “The Earl of Hartfordshire only greets commoners while riding his Gyro-Perch.”

Is there a better demonstration of Modern Celebrity than this? Dedicate yourself, never give up on your dreams, and you too may some day get to meet your heroes. But, your heroes probably won’t deign to remove themselves from their royal litter.

Not long ago, Bieber was like these kids, dreaming of the big time. Now, he’s filmed from behind, shown towering over these kids from a lofty mobile dais, lecturing them on working hard and keeping their families first before speeding away on his magical chariot.

Well, Merry Christmas everyone!

Own Horn Tooting, 2012 Edition: The Year in Me

cover_9350105At the end of the year, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to the unstoppable march of time. And by “one,” I mean me. As 2012 draws to a close, I initially had a sense of failure (my default setting, really). Another year come and gone, and what had I done with it?

So, I took inventory of what I wrote this year, and it turns out I did a lot more than I remembered. I have little memory of writing some of these pieces, so I can now look back at them as if they were composed by someone else. For other posts, I was sure I’d written them much longer ago than this year, but timestamps don’t lie.

In short, I wrote a poop-ton of words in 2012, in a lot of different places. Not all of it was gold, of course. When you write in this kind of volume, it’s impossible to avoid mediocrity. Looking back on it in total, though, I was pleased with my batting average, and the fact that my output was a roughly even mixture of serious analysis, personal reminiscences, and goofy nonsense.

The only thing I found disappointing, really, was the fact that my online writing tailed off precipitously in the last few months of this year. But the main reason for this is because I took that time to finish my novel (for real this time). So even when I wasn’t writing for immediate public consumption, I was still writing. Before the year ends, the novel will be finally, totally complete, which is another star I can put on 2012’s ledger.

Below the jump, I’ve gathered together what I consider the best of the online writing I did in 2012, broken down by location (Around the Interwebs, at Amazin’ Avenue, and here at Scratchbomb). This is more for me than anyone else, a reminder that I shouldn’t be so morose and remember that this year I made some things I can be proud of, on top of writing a WHOLE DAMN NOVEL (*drops mic*).

I will rest on these laurels for only a minute or two, because I’m already hard at work on some great things for 2013. This includes ramped-up work on Yells For Ourselves, my scholarly fantasia about the 1999/2000 Mets. I’m also toiling away on another super awesome project I’m crazy excited about, which will be announced shortly after the new year (tease).

Everyone who read my stuff in 2012, thank you. Everyone else, there’s still room on the bandwagon.


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Slice of Turkey 2012: Ed McMahon Sings the Glories of Thanksgiving!

Ed McMahon sings songs for swingin’ turkey eaters

Last year, I wrote series of posts under the banner of Slice Of Turkey, mostly about videos from old Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades. One of my favorite clips I came across when searching for material for the series was of Ed McMahon hosting the 1981 parade. It featured Ed’s failed attempts to ride a rollerskating elephant and a rambling, red-faced monologue. It was 100 percent mental.

Sadly, that clip has been removed from the interwebs. I hope it shall surface some day so the world may enjoy it again. In attempting to find the same footage elsewhere, however, I stumbled across this clip from 1980, when Ed not only hosted the parade broadcast, but also belted out a turkey-infused ballad about the glories of Thanksgiving. This is a grade-A example of what the Macy’s Parade does every year: Take someone not known for being a singer and force them to belt out, Broadway style. At least Ed didn’t have to wear a Little Bo Peep costume.

In all fairness, Ed’s got some pipes on him. The song is pure treacle, however, lyrically and musically. What blows my mind is that the arrangements, the instrumentation, and the overall sound of this song is identical to songs I heard 20 years ago, and heard 10 years ago, and will undoubtedly hear again this year. That shows some real dedication to anachronism on the part of Macy’s and/or NBC. Do they keep this orchestra on ice somewhere and thaw them out every October?

Note the line where Ed McMahon sing-tells children “don’t be afraid” about Thanksgiving. It has the exact opposite effect. “No one was afraid about Thanksgiving, Ed. Why should we be afraid? WHY SHOULD WE BE AFRAID?! TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW, ED!”

Scratchbomb Christmas Comedy Classics!

Around this time o’ year way back in 2009 and 2010, I did a series of posts under the banners of Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs, with at least one example of each for every day in December leading up to Christmas Day. I chickened out trying to do that again this year because I feared running low on material, but I think there are still some gems buried in the earlier posts that could do with some new exposure, if I do say so myself.

In that spirit, please enjoy any and all of these Holiday Horrors/Triumphs of years past, whether you’ve just been hipped to Scratchbomb or you want to reread these classics of yesteryear because they’re so awesome. Hubris!

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Christmas Minus 10

At Christmastime 2001, I’d been out of work for over a year. When I was first laid off, I got a number of interviews. I even turned down a job offer for a position that sounded painfully uninteresting, foolishly thinking it wouldn’t be my last opportunity for full time work. But it was, for a very, very long time. To this point, I didn’t conceive of the idea that times could get tough for me, because apparently I’d blocked out my entire childhood.

Belt tightening followed. I gave my car to my dad because the insurance was killing me, even though I loved that car and knew giving it my dad was tantamount to a vehicular death sentence. I was forced to pay utilities only; student loans and credit card bills would have to wait. Except that student loan and credit card people didn’t see it that way, and so began the relentless, harassing calls and a mailbox stuffed with envelopes that screamed FINAL NOTICE.

Unemployment insurance helped keep my head above water while I scrounged for what I could. I worked temp jobs here and there, mostly proofreading for ad agencies. I conducted airline surveys at JFK and LaGuardia. On the creative side, I was doing some commentaries for NPR2, an embryonic satellite radio version of NPR, fun and easy work that, of course, dried up before long. I channeled most of my energy into online writing, pitching anything and anyone I could think of, and working on a novel, in the hopes that any one of these things would rescue me from predicament. They didn’t.

I did three full interviews with a financial publishing company, then was given a two-week “tryout,” copy editing, writing headlines, and doing light layout work in Quark. I got paid for my time, with the promise that if they liked my work the position would become full time. After the “tryout,” I never heard from them again, and later suspected this was really just a roundabout way of wresting temporary work out of someone without having to deal with an agency. Their offices were a few short blocks from what would soon be known as Ground Zero.

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Asalto Navideño!

I love Puerto Rican Christmas music. One reason is because it is nearly indistinguishable from non-Christmas-y Puerto Rican music. Granted, that is due in large part to my poor knowledge of Spanish. But, it is also indicative of a culture that has a very different view of the holiday than that of most Americans.

Traditional American* Christmas songs are either religious (overtly or tacitly), or they are somewhat gentle in their celebrations of the joy of the season. Christmas is presented as great because snow and jingle bells and presents and stuff. The pleasure you derive from the season is supposed to be a general feeling of Good Will Toward Men.

* I realize I’m getting into thorny territory by saying “American” in contrast to “Puerto Rican” when Puerto Rico is in fact a part of the US of A. Please excuse this shorthand as a means to forestall excessive hyphenation and explanatory adjective chains. 

Puerto Rican Christmas songs, on the other hand, are about more earthly delights. In fact, nearly every one of them is about the unabashed merriment of eating, drinking, dancing, or any combination thereof. Christmas is sung of as a wonderful time of year because you get to do these things with your friends and family.

Of course, everyone parties at the holidays, but ever since Dickens (and maybe earlier), that is not reflected in the art we make about the holiday. Regardless of what we actually do on December 25, we feel compelled to assign a greater, more lofty meaning to Christmas in songs, movies, and stories about it. Admitting that you’re looking forward to taking a Yuletide vacation from moderation is seen as somewhat gauche, if not vaguely blasphemous.

In the world of Puerto Rican Christmas songs, however, there’s no conflict of wondering if we’ve lost “the reason for the season” because partying is the reason for the season.

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Ethnic Envy and the Case of the Misidentified Holiday Decoration

This weekend, my daughter presented me with two questions I wasn’t sure how to answer. The first came during a trip to a diner, after I insisted we wrap up the uneaten portion of her meal to bring home. “My nanny* always said, ‘Wasting food is a sin’,” I told her.

“What’s a sin?” she asked. That was a puzzler.

* Our family word for grandma. Don’t judge.

The second unanswerable question came during a trip into the city to do New York-y holiday things, like visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and get pressed against strangers’ Starter jackets. (At Manhattan’s biggest tourist attractions, it is always 1993.) This being a weekend, our trip necessitated lots of transfers and waiting for trains to arrive, because Bloomberg needs the money that could go toward a functioning mass transit system to enforce anti-smoking laws and beat up hippies.

While biding our time on a subway platform, my daughter spontaneously sang a cute little song about Hannukkah, to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It made reference to dreidels and menorahs and latkes and, like most songs sung by a five year old, was adorable. (Later I found out it’s a seasonal staple that, to this point, has escaped my notice.)

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Explaining Your Childhood, Christmas Edition

You can not recognize your natural environment for what it is until you leave it. Example: I grew up believing that I was middle class, because everyone was middle class, right? Therefore, the kids I went to school with, who all got comparatively more toys than me, were rich. The fact that their parents worked non-rich jobs like cop, fireman, and other varieties of civil servant never crossed my mind. Then I went to college and ran into actual Rich Kids for the first time and realized, to my horror, “No, those kids you went to school with were middle class; you were broke.”

This is a tale in the same vein, about a longstanding local Christmas tradition in the Orange County, NY area. And not even the whole county; really, just a concentrated part of it that happened to include my hometown. A farm supply/nursery in New Windsor called Devitt’s hosted an annual holiday attraction called Christmas on the Farm, something to entertain the kiddies while mom and dad shopped for chicken feed and Weed-B-Gone. (Though they were quickly being devoured by housing developments to accommodate the growing needs of White Flight, farms could still be found in the area in them days.) Christmas on the Farm involved petting zoos and Yuletide displays, but the highlight came at the very end, where you got to meet and talk to Eggbert.

Eggbert was an animatronic egg who sat on a large throne and wore a crown. His relation to any aspect of Christmas, religious or secular, was never explained. But it was understood that much like Santa, you told Eggbert what you wanted to see under the tree and he would deliver. Eggbert was voiced by an adult with a microphone, hidden behind one-way glass. Kids were given name tags so when they reached their final destination, Eggbert’s voicer could impart some personalized holiday greetings to them. In kid lore, a trip to Eggbert was not exactly equivalent to a trip to see a Mall Santa, but it was definitely a good way to hedge your bets.

I went to see Eggbert throughout my childhood, and so did every other kid within a 20-mile radius of Devitt’s. That was simply what you did at Christmastime. You questioned it no more than a fish questions the wetness of the ocean.

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Christmas Carol Commentary Tracks: Frosty the Snowman

Did you know you know that record labels used to release special commentary tracks to play along with 45s, much like the ones available on your modern DVDs? It’s true! This holiday season, Scratchbomb has transcribed some Yuletide examples of this bygone format and presents them to you now for your reading pleasure. Today, the commentary track for “Frosty the Snowman.”

WALTER “JACK” ROLLINS, COMPOSER: I’d always wanted to write a holiday song for kids that reflected my love of black magic. Then, one winter day I was walking down the street, and I saw some kids building a snowman that was way taller than them. The kids bit off a little more than they could chew, and the snowman’s head came rolling off and knocked one of the kids down. That inspired the vision of a terrifying snow golem who comes to life somehow and terrorizes the cops and citizens of his town.

GENE AUTRY, SINGER/ACTOR: Well sir, I’d been looking for a Christmas song to do after the big success of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” And if there’s anything I love better than Christmas, or ropin’ cattle and ridin’ across the lone prairie, it’s the dark arts. So I was definitely on board with Walter’s idea. There was just one problem–how exactly would this hoary demon come to life? We racked our puzzlers for days, it seemed, trying to figure this out.

ROLLINS: Then I thought, well, kids always put hats on top of their snowmen, right? What if the hat they found was enchanted? Or if it contained the soul of an ancient evildoer who could animate the snowman with the power of his deathless hatred?

AUTRY: And I said, “Mister, I think you just came up with a number one hit!” Now, some of the boys in the band weren’t too keen on the idea, being a little superstitious and all. So we toned down a few of the more explicit elements, like the goat horn solo and whatnot. But darn if I wasn’t right about the number one hit part! Billboard called it “the first hit single to explicitly invoke Satan!”