"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Please listen to my 2015 Christmas song

Debra Gordon sings my song.
The boomer generation got in the habit of watching certain TV Christmas specials. Back then, you had to be sure to watch at the scheduled time for a particular show. No tapes yet.
One of the specials was about the little drummer boy. It is such a peaceful and inspiring story. So it's ironic that it came out in 1968 when the Viet Nam war was at its height, cutting down the lives of young American men like a scythe. It's also ironic that the U.S. was in this nightmare at the same time those charming and innocent Don Knotts movies came out. Remember "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken?" Remember the line "Atta boy, Luther!" Twig Webster got a kick out of that. We miss the Websters helping orchestrate theatrical/musical projects in Morris. But there still is some talent here, isn't there? I try to do my part. Right, Sharon Martin?
This is the second year that I have written a Christmas-themed song and had it recorded. I invite you to listen to "The Drummer Boy Song." It is a tribute not only to the original drummer boy story, but also to the annual TV special that was so touching. You may click on the YouTube link below:
Debra Gordon sings my song. The song was recorded at the Nashville TN studio of Frank Michels. They do wonderful work. The Nashville music community is boffo. I have had the pleasure of visiting that city three times. I visited Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway, hoping that some of the famed talent associated with that hangout rubbed off on me!
You get good at songwriting by doing a lot of it. It's the only way. You must have a natural love of the craft. For the coming year, God willing, I'll have some more material coming out. Thanks to Gulsvig Productions of Starbuck for getting my songs online.
The drummer boy TV special was a Rankin/Bass production. We see the story via stop-motion animation. It was originally sponsored by the American Gas Association. We saw it for the first time on December 19, 1968, on NBC. It was aired on NBC for many Christmas seasons. CBS took over for airing it from 1985 to 1988. The show completed the trifecta of TV networks when it aired on ABC into the 2000s.
The longevity was impressive and understandable. I recently discovered that a "restored" version is airing on Channel 30 of the Mediacom system. Thanks to ABC Family Cable Channel, which I think is going through a name change. It's probably the first channel to check for outstanding Christmas specials.
I caught the last portion of "Drummer Boy" on Channel 30 recently. I was disappointed to learn later that this version is heavily edited - ugh. I learn that a fine song sung by the character "Ben Haramad" has been cut completely. The restored version has a sharper picture quality than the VHS tape I acquired years ago. But I get to hear "Ben Haramad" sing. He's the bad guy, and yet he exudes a certain charm like many villains do.
The story made me cry at the end when I was young. OK, maybe it makes me cry even today. The boy's lamb gets divinely healed after the drum exhibition for the "newborn king."
My song's lyrics remind that it's a "myth" you can find this story in the Bible. I had a discussion with Pastor Paul Erdahl about this once. The story is primarily about love and humility. You can be profoundly affected even if you're not real spiritual. I guess I'm not real spiritual.
My attitude about religion was permanently affected when I was young and seeing the abomination of the Viet Nam war. How could people stream into their churches, all dolled up, and hear the Christmas message when our government was prosecuting the pointless and hellish war? I'm sure we were asked to "pray for our troops." I would have preferred to pray for the Vietnamese people. Why was Lyndon Johnson so misguided? One theory today is that Johnson was so liberal in his domestic agenda, he had to show the nation's conservatives that he was "tough" in foreign policy. To hell with "tough" and to hell with conservatives. Hey, we lost the war, guys.
Today we are learning more and more about how we crashed and burned in Viet Nam. Specifically, we are learning about "fragging." U.S. troops were killing each other. "We were killing our own colonels," a panel member on C-Span said.
Our American churches, like my ELCA, should have used their power to try to get us out of the Viet Nam war. So should Billy Graham. Corporate America loved Graham because he helped maintain a docile workforce. He provided the opiate of religion. As for pushing for a withdrawal from Viet Nam, that was a much lower priority.
How can I attend church with all this lodged in my memory?
The Vienna Boys Choir popularized the drummer boy story with a 1955 recording. That was the year I was born.
The story has a poor young boy getting summoned by the Magi to the Nativity. The boy has no material gift for the infant Jesus. He plays his drum which was a gift from his parents. His parents had been killed by desert bandits. The boy is severely embittered. His experience with the Christ child elevates his spirits again. The baby Jesus heals the boy's lamb who was just injured by a careening Roman chariot. I cried as the boy and lamb reunite.
The Three Wise Men have an important role in the TV story. They follow the bright star in the sky. We hear the voice of Greer Garson narrating the story. The shepherds kept watch at night. The boy knows he has no gift fit for a king. But he does have his drum. He asks "shall I play for you?" To which Mary nods her approval, and then the drummer boy plays. Then Jesus smiles.
"Pa rum pa pum pum." This is French for "felix navidad." I hope you listen to my song and enjoy it. I hope Ms. Gordon gets a big record contract sometime. The music business is a tough climb today.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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