Eyes Full Of Tinsel And Fire

heart-eyes-pic

He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him: Hebrews 11:6

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth

Regular UTRS readers know that I always feature a (classic rock) Christmas song each December. And this year, it seems, I’ve been dedicating far too many of my posts to our rock icons that have passed away. I guess it is inevitable, given the fact that most of our idols that rocked the 1960’s and ’70’s are coming to a certain age.

This year saw David Bowie, Leon Russell, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard (he’s not rock, but he’s a bona fide classic), Keith Emerson, and now Keith’s bandmate, Greg Lake, (among many others) leaving this world and going on to their reward with our Father in Heaven.

And, as the Righteous Brothers sang back in ’74, now more than ever; “If there’s a rock n roll Heaven, you know they got a hell of a band.”.

I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell
And eyes full of tinsel and fire

But it also reminds me of what we all should be seeking in this world. Especially at this time of year, with all the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping and the rush to fill our lives with material things. It’s that which I pray for every day and should be the most important gift we all can share; our relationships with one another. And God granted us the greatest gift of all that first Christmas morning; our relationship with our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite

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Greg Lake met Robert Fripp at guitar lessons back in the early ’60’s and when Fripp decided to form King Crimson, he invited Greg to join the band. The band’s lyricist was a fellow named Peter Sinfield and this turned out to be a very fortuitous mixture of players and personalities. King Crimson had a few hits, most notably “In The Court Of The Crimson King” which peaked at #80 on the U.S. charts, and helped to usher in the sounds of what was being called “progressive rock”.

And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

But Greg’s real success began when he left King Crimson to form a new band that included keyboardist Keith Emerson (whom he met when Emerson’s band, The Nice, was the opening act for King Crimson’s tour supporting Court Of The Crimson King) along with drummer, Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster).

ELP was widely known for it’s deeply progressive sound and elaborate and lengthy stage shows. ELP scored seven gold albums and singles like “Lucky Man”. “In The Beginning”, “Jerusalem” and “Fanfare For The Common Man”.

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

In 1975, Greg took time off from ELP to record a solo single “I Believe In Father Christmas”. Many people misinterpreted the song, calling it atheist and anti-Christmas and religion. That was far from the truth. As Greg himself noted in a 2011 interview with Uncut magazine: “For me as a child, it was the visual image of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It was the symbol of generosity and feeling good and all those things. And that’s what I think Christmas is all about.”

A few fun facts about the song include:

  • ELP rarely released singles but this solo effort from Greg Lake went to #2 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts.
  • Greg collaborated with (guess who) Pete Sinfield on the lyrics for the song. Pete said that “Some of it was based on an actual thing in my life when I was eight-years-old, and came downstairs to see this wonderful Christmas tree that my mother had done. I was that little boy.”.
  • In 2008 a cover by U2 was made available exclusively to subscribers of an online Aids charity magazine Red(Wire).
  • The music video was filmed in Israel, on the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula and actual Bedouins were the audience. They were scheduled to begin taping at 11:00 am and at 10:45 there were still no Bedouins were in sight. Greg was getting nervous, but the security guards assured him they would arrive. As Greg remembered: “Eventually they turned up. Most beautiful looking people: pearl white teeth, these dark oak suntans, incredible looking people. We sat round and they filmed them, I played the guitar and they listened happily. It was an amazing thing.”

Somehow I just can’t help thinking about the symbolism of the Bedouins, walking the hot sands, seeking a meeting with their “Father Christmas”, just as the shepherds and wise men before them had done.

This has always been one of my favorite classic rock Christmas songs and I hope you’ll enjoy this vintage, MTV era video.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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What A Happy Sound

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And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10

The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

There are no memories of Christmas quite like those of your childhood. And it’s not just the gifts you receive, but the warm love of friends and family which seems to magnify in intensity as the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches. Yes, it’s relationships, not gifts, that are the true “reason for the season”.

The churchbells in town
They’re ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

And yet for many, it’s the lack of those relationships that can make Christmas a time of great sadness. The loss of a loved one, separation from family due to distance apart – or worst of all – a relationship gone bad at the worst possible time.

They’re singing deck the halls
But it’s not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
All the fun we had last year

The desire to keep relationships intact through the holidays is so strong, in fact, that January is regularly called “Divorce Month” in legal circles. The thought of being alone during the holidays is so depressing that even those who are desperate to sever ties will hold out -ever hopefully -until January.

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching ’em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

So, it’s easy to understand how the subject of being alone and separated from loved ones gets so much attention in secular Christmas songs. As a teenager of the 70’s, I grew up with the Eagles haunting “Bells will be ringing…the sad, sad news” singing in my ears every year. Their soulful rendition of the 1950 classic “Please Come Home For Christmas”, written by famed blues pianist Charles Brown, was a mournful reminder of the unique longing that comes with love lost at Christmastime.

If there was a way
I’d hold back these tears
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

But there was another song, reaching a bit further back into my childhood Christmas memories, that first evoked this stirring emotion in my soul. The year was 1963 and I was just a youngster riding in my parent’s car when I first heard it. Darlene Love was a perennial background singer that finally saw her chance to shine…and shine she did. The legendary 60’s girl group producer, Phil Spector (Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx, The Beatles, Ramones) had originally intended the song for the Ronettes, but after having both audition the piece, he declared Darlene’s version the more emotive of the two.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” became the quintessential “missing you at Christmas” song for me and set the bar for all those I heard afterwards. No sad Christmas song I ever heard – before or after – made you feel like this; not Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”, Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” or even Loretta’s “Christmas Without Daddy”. Right from the the opening, it just grabs you with that simple, lonesome plea, “Baby, please come home.”.

A few interesting tidbits about Darlene and the song:

  • In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as #1 on it’s Greatest Rock And Roll Christmas Songs list.
  • Darlene has performed the song live on David Letterman’s final show before Christmas every year since 1986. (She wasn’t able to perform in 2007, so Dave showed a rerun of her 2006 performance.)
  • During the original recording session, Phil Spector thought the song was so good that they should make a non-Christmas version for airplay at any time of year. He had Darlene record “Johnny (Baby Please Come Home)” which was finally released in 1977 as the B side to Darlene’s single “Lord, If You’re A Woman”.
  • Darlene didn’t really get credit she deserved for her biggest hit “He’s A Rebel” (it went to #1 on the charts); it was released as being performed by The Crystals. (Phil Spector’s manipulations again, I’d suppose.)

So, as you enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this year, please be mindful of the fact that, for some, this can truly be the coldest time of year. But as Darlene said at a recent show in San Francisco: “A barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling.”

Check out U2’s great live cover here:

The Darlene Love original:

My sources for this post include:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_%28Baby_Please_Come_Home%29

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Love