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Dreyfuss Brothers.

January 23, 2013

How can Robert and Richard Dreyfuss not be related?Robert Dreyfuss v Richard Dreyfuss

A Reflection: Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

January 2, 2013

a charlie brown christmas

Lucy Van Pelt loves the beautiful sound of clinking nickels. She wants real estate for Christmas.

Snoopy challenges passersby to find the true meaning of Christmas by winning “money, money, money” in his “spectacular super colossal neighborhood Christmas lights and display contest.”

For her part, Sally Brown forgoes her lengthy list of gifts, asking Santa instead for cash — tens and twenties. You know, to make things easy.  All she wants is what she has coming to her. All she wants is her fair share.

This doesn’t help Charlie Brown’s depression.

Nor do the grandiose material expressions of the holiday season –beginning as soon as our Halloween candy bowl runneth empty – help ours if we think too long about them.

Charlie Brown, wrought with insecurity and doubt, laments the commercialization of the season. More than that, though, his isolation stands out, sadness because he feels so alone amidst it all. “I know nobody likes me,” he says. “Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

charlie brown christmas

So begins A Charlie Brown Christmas, the boy’s journey from despondency to hope. And despite the TV special airing in 1965, there is some relevance all these years later. Some of us, like Charlie, feel like our basic understanding of the season – giving, receiving, relative levels of joy – lies in contrast to popular culture’s rendition of it. Some of us, like Lucy, have embraced the latter rather than bemoan it – she prefers pink aluminum trees, and she’s not upset by it. Some of us are Snoopy opportunists. And plenty of us, to be sure, are like Linus, whose purist perspective can’t be fazed by all the noise. The resulting emotional schizophrenia is staggering, if predictable.

There’s loneliness and companionship, joy and despair, truth-seeking and blithe celebration, all during what’s marketed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Your interpretation of the season begets your holiday spirit, whatever version it may be – bah humbug and good tidings. It’s little surprise then that Charlie Brown’s soundtrack, as well as our own, is something just as introspective and shifting. Something like jazz.

Vince Guaraldi Trio :: Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental)

Vince Guaraldi’s originally composed arrangements of mostly traditional music now reside firmly within the Christmas consciousness, among the cadre of traditions that will forever define the season. His open-ended meditations and syncopated spirit create whatever mood you need them to for your personal holiday, and they feel all the more universal for it. This somewhat betrays their more traditional source material, where holiday music is the meaning of Christmas as we’re expected to know it. It can be splendid, but it’s simple, straightforward, explicitly told. It may well serve Linus, but it’s only background music for Lucy and Snoopy. And of all the Charlie Browns in the world, it doesn’t account for the Charlie Browniest.

Something like Guaraldi’s “O Tannenbaum,” though, does. Opening with a lonely stare out a lonely window over solo piano, it watches as happy couples scamper down the sidewalk, new tree in tow. But the piano’s tempo quickly picks up, drum brushes sweeping in behind it, upright bass bouncing through the door, and things aren’t so alone all of a sudden. It becomes cocktails with company. And at its close when the tempo leaves, the company remains. Quiet, warm and content.

More contemplative moments – the six-minute instrumental of “Christmas Time is Here,” “What Child Is This,” the enchanting “My Little Drum” – wander a bit more freely, more flexibly in the headspace. “Skating” falling like snow and “Christmas is Coming,” a yuletide crescendo of energy, are more palpable, more visceral maybe. In “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” crisp with purity and innocence, Guaraldi employed a children’s choir, his Hammond organ thrumming underfoot, to declutter the tradition, remove any contaminated or confusing element, and to humbly proffer meaning. They struggle to the hit the high note in the end, but they sure do try, Charlie Brown.

Vince Guaraldi Trio :: Skating

vince guaraldiThis is all pretty heavy stuff for what’s basically a kid’s show. But then, that’s largely why it reached us to begin with, long before we really knew what either the show or the songs were saying or doing. In May 2012, when the Library of Congress included the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas in its selections for the National Recording Registry, it said, “A Charlie Brown Christmas introduced jazz to millions of listeners.” That feels right. School-age children were able to access jazz because it was couched in cartoon and Christmas. Like the Christmas special itself, Guaraldi’s compositions reside beneath the veil of tradition. Shroud removed, you find in each something much deeper.

Maybe what you’ll find is the true meaning of Christmas. I doubt it. But it could play a part in what Christmas means to you. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t find it to be holier or more pure or more generous of spirit or more loved. Nostalgia tricks us into maybe thinking Christmas used to be all those things. It wasn’t. But it also wasn’t any less those things either. It has always been holy and generous just as it’s always been commercialized and superficial and totally overblown, and in fact, often the most tawdry and material is what helped create the things we get nostalgic about anyway. What Charlie Brown discovered wasn’t that the true meaning exists despite all of that or rises above all of that. He discovered that the true meaning exists right alongside all of that – Lucy’s nickels and Snoopy’s lights and Sally’s tens and twenties. That even a sparse little tree can benefit from recycled spectacular super colossal lights. That even the most frustrating of friends are still friends. That even in your quietest moments, when the lights are low and it’s cold outside and no one is around you, there’s still the hope that fires burn just a little bit warmer, trees twinkle just a little bit brighter, and sometimes your thoughts and memories can be company enough for at least one night a year. And that maybe Christmas isn’t so depressing, so damn lonely after all. Somehow, magically, Vince Guaraldi captures all of this with three instruments and a children’s choir, and my own personal Christmas is all the better for it

Vince Guaraldi Trio :: Greensleaves

Cross posted from aquariumdrunkard

Xmas CD

December 19, 2012

It’s too late to mail the Xmas CD, so here’s a link!
Love you mean it.

Top 10 Reasons Christians Should Stop Whining About Secular Xmas

November 28, 2012

“Keep Christ in Christmas!”

“Jesus is the reason for the season!”

“It’s OK to say Merry Christmas!”

I don’t disagree with any of these statements. However, as a PR rep for Jesus, I cringe whenever I see them printed on a sign somewhere. I know we all lament the commercialization of a sacred day; I know that it’s frustrating to see something so meaningful reduced to plastic snowmen and frozen fruitcakes. That said, it’s not worth getting all offended by a ‘season’s greetings’ card, or a ‘winter holiday celebration’ at your kids’ school or your workplace. Here’s why we should stop demanding “our holiday” back:

1. ’Season’s greetings,” refers to that broad expanse of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Muliple holidays=holiday season. It’s nothing against Jesus, really.

2. Also, Christians are not the only people of faith who celebrate a high holy day around the winter solstice. Christianity is a global faith with a regrettable lack of global awareness. “Happy Holidays” is a simple means of acknowledging that some of our neighbors–even some of our friends and relatives–are also in the midst of living their faith. And let’s face it: the “this is mine” attitude surrounding December 25 feels less like Christmas cheer, and more like Black Friday hoarding. Just sayin…

3. “Xmas” is not a dirty word. In fact, “X” is the Greek letter, Chi–which, in the olden days, was often used as a literary symbol for Christ. So, there you go.

4. Jesus never went around saying “Merry Me-Smas.” While I’m sure he’d appreciate all the to-do around his birthday, he was a pretty humble guy. I think he’d blush and say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” And you know…when i hear ‘keep Christ in Christmas,” what it sounds like to me is keeping for ourselves. Not the best celebration of God’s love incarnate.

5. Do you really want the public school system to be responsible for your child’s faith formation? No? i didn’t think so. However…when we insist that public schools–funded by state and local tax dollars–speak the language of faith, it is kind of the same thing. (I have similar boundary issues with posting of 10 Commandments and school prayer…post for another day!) Let’s just say, while i think many public school teachers model wonderful values and moral behavior, and many are model Christians, I’d much rather my kids learn to read and do math at school, and get their language of faith from my family and the church of my choosing.

6. We might often feel that the secularization of our favorite holiday has deprived it of all meaning. But on the contrary, Christmas is the time when many who would qualify themselves as ‘non-believers,’ feel a stirring of the spirit that leads them seeking. If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should celebrate any element of the season that urges people toward the holy.  It may start with the mall or the Hallmark channel, but it often lands them in church. I’ll take it.

7. Speaking of shopping–if you are bothered by all the secular expressions posted around malls and big box stores this season, might i gently suggest that you spend less of your Christmas season at the freakin mall? If you don’t like the signage, spend more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out in nature, and spending time with the people you love. I’m pretty sure the birthday boy would be all for it.

8. Life is too short to worry so much about what everyone else is saying and doing. Apply this to other areas of life and civilized culture, as well.

9. When you get right down to it, the best way to “keep Christ in Christmas” is to model Christlike behavior. Jesus was for feeding people. Jesus was for healing and compassion. Jesus was for getting a bunch of loud, messy, mismatched people around a table and having a big dinner. Not a moment of his life did he spend trying to get his name up on a sign.

10. And speaking of signs…this just does not make for attractive seasonal decor. Martha would not be pleased:

Any way you shake it, simple is best; and joy comes in much smaller packages than we’ve come to expect.


About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in north Phoenix. A native of Kentucky, she continues to find faith in the desert, and blogs about the journey of ministry, marriage, and parenting. Her husband, Jeremy, is a stay-home dad, and drummer in the Foothills Worship Band. He and Erin enjoy music, National Parks, good food, West Wing reruns, and taking adventures with their two young children. Erin was the 2010 recipient of the Fred Craddock Award for Excellence in Preaching, and she thinks that Jesus is pretty much ok with women who speak out loud. And gay people. And children.

Our New Overload

November 28, 2012

The immortal Jellyfish…


Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan — In Session 2010 1983

September 27, 2012


It’s amazing how far ahead of the beat Stevie plays and how far behind Albert plays.  They died within two years of each other although they were 29 years apart in age.  Oh, to be the bass player on this session…


Me likeum parties, paleface.

September 26, 2012

Scott Brown says you can’t be Native American if you look “white” –

It’s not generally known that recently-murdered Amb. Chris Stevens was a full, registered Chinook. A great many Chinooks in the NW can “pass” as white. You can verify this by checking w/ the Chinook Tribe.

Jazz “Covers”

September 21, 2012

Dear Jazz,
Playing modern pop sounding songs in this format was novel and fun for a few minutes…10 years ago. Quit trying to be cute and start being creative again.
Jazz fans


Stop This…



The Radials at The Green Bean

August 21, 2012

The new band I’m playing with is The Radials.  We are filling up the gig calendar for the fall.  Here is a video from our gig at a coffee shop called The Green Bean in Greensboro, NC on Sunday August 19.  Missing is Drew, who plays keys and pedal steel.  I broke out Nadine, my upright, for the gig.  I was pretty rusty and sore on Monday.  Go figure.

Tales From the Stereo – Hacienda

July 30, 2012

Wow.  This band is great.  They are from San Antonio and are mostly Latino (or Hispanic).  The music makes so much sense even though the instrument arrangements are unique.  It’s nice to see rock music being made by people who aren’t pasty white skinny geeks.