Saturday, December 24, 2011

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen ... and everyone else as well

Are we all aware that for the simple positioning of a comma, the entire meaning of one of our most beloved Christmas carols would take on an entirely different meaning?

It's true. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is, I'm sure, in our heart of hearts of Yuletide tidings (say that 10 times fast). But it doesn't mean what we all think it means, and it's because of where the comma goes.

You see, it's not "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen ..." it's "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

Same words ... comma one word over.

The first version would seem to mean be at peace, merry gentlemen, as you celebrate Christmas. The second ... correct ... version leaves room for a bit of a more robust celebration. In this case, "God Rest Ye Merry" doesn't mean "be at peace" at all. It means by all means, make merry the celebration of Christmas. You know ... eat, drink, and revel in the company of your friends and families.

I have to say I like version No. 2 ... the correct ... version much better.

This is one of many Christmas carols/songs that are either misinterpreted, or that translate badly into English, or that simply make no sense at all no matter what language you're talking about.

For example. Let's discuss "The First Noel." First of all, despite the use of the word "Noel," this is actually an English carol. Which makes it even more confusing. You could excuse the obtuse lyrics if someone told you they were translated from some old French verse. But how to you explain this line: "On a Cold Winter's Night that was so deep."

OK. Are we missing a line here? What was deep? The snow? It could be, but there's no mention of snow in the song ... and if the baby Jesus was, indeed, born in Bethlehem, it doesn't snow there very often. In fact, a cursory google of Israel and weather says that it only snows regularly in Golan Heights. Bethlehem has more of a Mediterranean climate, which means generally cold and rainy winters.

So maybe the "deep" refers to the manure in the barn where the Baby Jesus was born. Who knows? Or maybe the author was trying to convey the message that the birth of Jesus was a profound event in the history of man, and, hence, very deep. But we're getting way to analytical here.

Next on the agenda to discuss is "Silent Night," which has a rather fascinating history all of its own. It was written by an Austrian priest in 1816 and set to music two years later in Oberndorf when the organ at St. Nicholas' Church broke down on Christmas Eve. It was intended to be played at Midnight Mass with a simple guitar accompaniment.

And from those humble beginnings it has become, arguably, the most beloved Christmas carols of them all.

But that's not why we're discussing it here. We're discussing it because of the line "Round Yon Virgin, Mother and Child." This has to be a case of German being translated badly into English, because I defy anyone to tell me what-all that means.

Reminds me of the story about the kid bringing home a drawing he did at school of the nativity, with the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep, shepherds, the three kings, and this grotesque, hulking figure looming in the background.

"Who's that?" the kids mother asks.

"That's Round John Virgin," the kid replied.

My guess is that "Round Yon Virgin, Mother and Child," means "behold Mary and Jesus." Can't think of what else it could mean.

Let us proceed. "Away in a Manger" actually has two tunes with the same set of lyrics for both. One is written by someone named Murry, or Mueller, and is based loosely on a Strauss waltz. The second, which is also in 3/4 times, was written by William J. Kilpatrick in 1895. And while the tunes are radically different, they actually counterpoint each other quite well.

In 1865, English writer William Chatterton Dix had a near-death experience and, as a result, was confined to months of bed rest. He wrote many hymns during that period, including one in which he put lyrics to the tune of the popular folk song "Greensleeves." That became, of course, "What Child is This," which has the distinction of being covered quite eloquently in the 1970s by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues.

A lot of these songs are steeped in history. Did you know, for example, that "Joy to the World" was based partly on a refrain from Handel's "Messiah?" Yes, indeed. Not the entire song, perhaps, but the chorus "Let heaven and nature sing ..." was taken from the refrain "Comfort Ye" from the famous oratorio ... the same one that gave us the Hallelujah Chorus."

As Casey Stengel would say, "you could look it up." I did.

Now, speaking of odd little histories, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" is certainly unique.

It was originally written as a somber, solemn piece of music. But it was later changed to the more majestic tune we know and love today. And much of that tune was ripped off from a piece by composer Felix Mendelssohn (who brought us the traditional wedding recessional from "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," among other things). And when Mendelssohn wrote it, it was a cantata celebrating Gutenberg's invention of the printing press.

But the first time I heard it, I thought it was about some guy named Harold.

If some of the traditional carols have roundabout histories, so do our more secular songs. "Silver Bells" was ostensibly written about hearing the Salvation Army bell-ringers that are ubiquitous in New York during the holiday season (you won't find this one in Wiki ... I heard it from a Salvation Army captain during a rotary club luncheon).

The word "Christmas" never appears in "Winter Wonderland." Yet it is one of our most enduring season songs ... at least in the Northern hemisphere.

A personal favorite here is "Sleigh Ride," by Leroy Anderson, who wrote some hundreds of light concert pieces, such as "The Syncopated Clock" and "Buggler's Holiday" that were introduced by his good friend Arthur Fiedler via the Boston Pops.

"Sleigh Ride," another piece where you'll be looking all day if you seek to find the word "Christmas" in the lyrics, wasn't even written in the winter at all. It was written as an orchestral piece during a July heat wave, with lyrics, depicting a simple generic winter scene, added later. Thus, it would appear Anderson wrote "Sleigh Ride" for the same reason I might break out the DVD to "Fargo" in the middle of August ... to simulate the feeling of being able to cool off.

If you want your head to really spin, look up the origin and explanation of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Nobody's sure whether it's English or French, and the words are different depending upon which version you hear. In one there are twelve drummers drumming; and in another it's nine drummers drumming and twelve fiddlers fiddling.

This would generally speak to the belief that the song got its beginnings as one of those parlor games where everyone has to go around repeating all the stuff they'd heard prior until someone finally slips up.

And, of course, the simple scope of the gifts, and what receiving them would do to the poor person who receives them, has been the subject of many spoofs.

And then there's "We Three Kings of Orient Are." This is actually an American carol written in the mid 19th century by an Episcopalian priest in New York. And although the words are pretty ponderous (field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star ...) they make sense. They were written for a Christmas pageant, and they actually tell a story.

But I can never hear it without laughing, because I think kids of all ages, and all locales, learned to sing it this way: We three kings or orient are ... tried to smoke a rubber cigar ... it was loaded and exploded ..."

I know. I know. Dumb. But when you're 11, dumb is entertaining.

Finally, Christmas isn't Christmas without hearing certain songs. If I don't hear "Do You Hear What I Hear" at least once, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holiday season is incomplete. But here's the caveat: I can hear any one of a hundred different versions of the song, but the only one I care about is Der Bingle's. There's something about Crosby and Christmas.

It's just a nice song, with a nice sentiment. But when you find out why it was written, it just punches you right in the stomach. It was written in 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And its authors couldn't perform it without getting choked up because, as one of them put it, "you must realize we were under the threat of nuclear war at the time."

But when it comes to Der Bingel, his recording of "White Christmas" remains the best-selling single of all time. It was written by Irving Berlin and it pretty much symbolizes an old-fashioned Christmas the same way his "God Bless America" symbolizes patriotism (but did you know that Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" as a response to "God Bless America?").

What I find ironic, however, is that we all sing "White Christmas" like it's some kind of idyllic dream, yet if the weatherman even mentions the word "snow" in the days leading up to Christmas, we act as if someone snatched the Christmas pudding right out from under us.

Another "must hear:" "Father Christmas" by the Kinks, which kind of shatters the idyllic Christmas myth to smithereens and gets down to gritty reality: Leave all the toys to the little rich boys and give me money. Then there's "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake, which speaks to a number of issues: The commercialization of the holiday and the loss of childhood innocence associated with it. Following along, we have a very eclectic selection that includes poppy pieces like "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Little St. Nick" by the Beach Boys (which Brian Wilson actually once sang during a concert in the middle of July); twisted pieces such as "Christmas Wrappings" by the Waitresses and "A Christmas Song" by Jethro Tull; and Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas, War is Over" was written and recorded in 1971, with the Harlem Boys Choir providing the backing. It was kind of a combination protest and Christmas song written as the Vietnam War was raging.

But its tune was actually taken from a traditional folk song about a racehorse called "Stewball," that was sung by, among others, Peter, Paul and Mary.

Of course, the song became an instant Christmas staple in 1980 after Lennon was shot to death in New York. The other irony: Yoko Ono sings on this record. You can hear her loud and clear. In Lennon's life, she was reviled as the "woman who broke up the Beatles," yet now, all these years later, she has emerged as an almost sympathetic figure in the group's historical dynamic.

By the time John Williams stepped down as conductor of the Boston Pops I was pretty tired of him. That's because he'd always manage to sneak one of his own compositions into just about every concert, and with such a wide and distinguished palate on which to paint, I thought he slanted his concerts with too much ego. It would be like telling Picasso he could host an art show, telling him he had access to every classic ever painted, and seeing half his cubist paintings speckle the gallery.

This doesn't mean Williams was/is a hack, or that Picasso was a bad artist. It just means that John maybe could have stepped aside once in a while and featured someone else other than himself.

Yet Williams did write one of my very favorite Christmas songs, simply called "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas." I first heard it in the closing credits of "Home Alone 2," but the Pops usually play it during their Christmas show every year (yes, even with Keith Lockhart at the podium) and it captures the spirit of the season very well.

After today, they'll all be put in a box and kept on ice until, I don't know, next October. Radio stations and department stores seem to trot them out earlier and earlier every year, which really does nothing except defeat the purpose behind what makes them special in the first place. And while I know that the never-ending debate over whether we should even acknowledge the religious aspects of Christmas at all in public seems to be more divisive each year, there's no denying that, as music, a lot of these carols are very beautiful and peaceful, and that they reconnect you to your childhood faster than any other single thing you experience.

I hope they're around to enjoy for many years to come ... and that ever-encroaching commercialism doesn't eventually blunt completely their singular purpose in our lives.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Things I could do without ...

I don't want to say these things make me angry, per se, but here are a few things I could do without if I had my choice ...

Holiday trees and holiday parties. You know what? The name of the holiday is Christmas. Or it's Hanukkah. Or Quanza. Or something else. Calling something a "Christmas Tree," or holding a "Christmas party" isn't violating anyone's constitutional rights. Nobody's going to indoctrinate you, or try to shove the religious significance of Christmas (or Hanukkah) down your throat. People just go, have a good time, swap stories, have a few drinks and good conversations, exchange gifts (perhaps), and go home.

We've run so far afield of what the U.S. Constitution says about religion and the government that we've eviscerated just about every meaningful Christmas symbol there is ... and I'm not even talking about the overtly religious ones. Santa Claus? Christmas trees? Are we serious? And is it any wonder why, in this country, we can't get a single thing done if we're spending so much time stumbling around the English language trying to find substitutes for the word "Santa" and "Christmas?"

What makes this so tough to deal with is the minute someone comes up with another sickeningly politically correct substitute for word "Christmas," the religious righties come out of their holes and start lecturing us on what horrible people we are because we've taken Christ out of Christmas.

Surely there must be a happy medium here where we can all exist without this phony angst over what we call Christmas. It's just needless nit-picking.


Onward and upward.Tim Tebow. It is, of course, his right to kneel down and thank God every time he leads the Denver Broncos to another comeback victory. And he seems genuine about it.

Yet you can’t blame people who might not feel as devout about God’s role in professional sports from being a little put off by what has come to be known as “Tebowing.”

Personally, I can do without all the “Tebowing.”

Maybe I wouldn’t feel as strongly as I do on this subject if I hadn’t heard Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox try to say it was God’s will that the Red Sox choked up a seemingly insurmountable lead in the American League wild card last September. For as many Tim Tebows as there are, there are just as many Adrian Gonzalezs too. And perhaps with that seismic split in sentiment over God’s role in sports, maybe we’d all be better off leaving Him – in this case, at least – to the priests, theologians, and the various churches and temples we attend.

Every time I see Tebow Tebowing, I’m reminded of the parable about the Plebeian and the Pharisee in the temple. It goes something like this: A Plebeian and a Pharisee go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee (and if you read the new testament much, you know that Jesus often pointed out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy) goes right up front and starts talking about how wonderful he is, how he contributes to all these charities, and how he works mightily to spread the word of God and to keep his commandments. He even says he’s thankful he is who he is, and that he’s not a gentile, and certainly not the Plebeian at the other end of the church.

The Plebeian sits in the back says, simply, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Jesus, as the Bible points out, much preferred the latter. He was not impressed with people who wore their faith on their sleeves like some kind of a cudgel or a badge. He much preferred people like the Plebeian, who acted with humility and who did the best they could to acknowledge, and work on, their imperfections.

Tebow is a great story, and no one loves a great story more than me. We could get into the whole aspect of how Tebow’s been helped immeasurably by a very good defense … very bad opponents (in terms of talent, not comportment) … and very stupid decisions on the part of the Chicago Bears. How do you run out of bounds when you lead by three points, and there’s only a minute and change to go in the game?

(Then again, as someone pointed out to me last night, “that’s when you begin to wonder whether there’s any divine intervention going on here.”)

These are facts, to be sure, but they’re not so exclusive that they should get in the way of what has been a marvelous story. This is a guy scorned by everyone from his own coach to the joker du jour on ESPN/the NFL channel/the guy down the street/every Oakland Raider fan. He finally got his chance, and – not to wear out a very shopworn clich√©, but – all he’s done is win.

It’s also easy to point out that there are buckets full of quarterbacks who have led their teams in fourth-quarter comebacks, and none perhaps more famous than the guy who sits up in the booth during ever Broncos game … Mr. “The Drive” himself … John Elway.

Every good quarterback the NFL has ever seen has a cachet of fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit, from Jim Kelly to Bart Starr to Dan Marino to Kenny Stabler to Joe Montana to Peyton Manning to Tom Brady and even Eli Manning … has engineered fourth-quarter comebacks. Even Tony Romo -- the greatest quarterback never to have won even a conference title let alone a Super Bowl (he said with sarcasm) – has brought his team back in the fourth quarter.

The difference between all of them and Tebow is that regardless of how and why they got their breaks, they are classic quarterbacks in the NFL mold. Tebow is not. And that’s what makes this such a compelling story. He was thrown into the breach because the Broncos had nobody else, and – you can be sure – the sentiment was “OK, let’s give him this shot, so that when he falls flat on his face, we’ll never have to hear about him again.”

Only he hasn’t fallen flat on his face.

Just like Michael Vick was last year’s compelling NFL story, this year’s is Tim Tebow. And just to add to the irony even further, compare and contrast the two personalities. Vick … dog fighting … prison … baggage to go along with his baggage. Tebow … God.

Could there be a more striking contrast?

Still, he needs to ditch the showy demonstrations of faith lest that become the bigger story than anything he does on the field.

Yesterday, while Tebow was leading Denver to another comeback win, Matt Ryan did the same for the Atlanta Falcons. When he was asked about it afterward, Ryan simply said, "I have great teammates."



Saturday, after about three months, Occupy Boston came to an end with about the most peaceful raid you could imagine. The occupiers squatted on a piece of public property named for Rose Kennedy (which is somewhat ironic, since if there's any family in politics that likes to make its empathy with the have-nots more apparent than the Kennedys, I'd like to know who).

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Occupy Boston. A lot. But one thing I could certainly do without is the knee-jerk hate that seemed to grow the longer this movement lasted.

Here's a news bulletin: Protest ain't pretty. It never was ... and it'll never be. Sometimes, I wonder just what earth we think when we glorify such protests as the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre as the act of American patriots whose sacrifice helped form a country.

All of that is true, of course. The patriots did what they did at great peril to themselves, and also knowing the risk they were taking in fanning the flames of the established order (in this case, the British). But in 1770, before history had a chance to sort it all out and cast Sam Adams and Co. as the patriots they’ve grown to be, the Boston Tea Party was a blatant act of civil disobedience … a crime, actually … that was far more destructive than anything the Occupy Bostonians did.

I have no problem with people wishing the occupiers would all go home and wash up (though, to me, that was an oversimplification of the issue). And count me among those appalled at the amount of damage they did to a beautiful section of Boston greenery. That aspect of it is truly unfortunate, and one would hope that anyone among the occupiers with the means to contribute toward the Greenway’s restoration would just do so. There is such a thing as accountability.

Yet, there was ample overreaction too. One Boston newspaper’s idea of a big picture to illustrate the occupation was of a discarded hypodermic needle. No explanation. No effort to find out what the needle may have been used for. It looked like the type of needle I used every day to inject insulin into myself, and it there’s no way of knowing whether that was the case here.

Yet the insinuation, by running it, of course, is that these people were all druggies and hippies. And that’s just irresponsible (almost as irresponsible as it was to leave the needle out there in the first place).

Among the more lucid criticisms of the occupiers was that their message wasn’t clear enough. Nobody knew what they were protesting because they never articulated it.

This might come as a shock to some people, but in this age of 30-second updates and sound bytes, “articulate” means anything that can be reduced to a snippet that can be run between commercials, or something that’ll fit neatly on a scroll at the bottom of your TV screen. Either that, or a 140-words-or-less tweet.

So holding them accountable for their “lack of message” is misleading. There was just so much to protest that it wasn’t possible to capsulate it into the type of sound byte we've all come to expect in this era of concise communication. And even if they tried to expound on their unrest, let’s be honest. After about a minute, people today stop listening.

I'm sure if I had to stumble around them every day I'd have found them more and more irritating as the time went by. Thankfully, I didn't have to. But I'm reminded that I've lived through horrendous civil rights protests where people actually got KILLED. I've lived through ugly, ugly, anti-Vietnam War protests that culminated in events such as Kent State, and saw public buildings bombed by radicals.

Nothing any of these protesters did came close to that.

Change isn't forged by timid people. Change comes as the result of protracted public unrest. To those who can't wrap themselves around this, do us all a favor and read your history. Nobody woke up one morning and said, "you know, slavery isn't a territorial issue, it’s not about “property,” and it isn’t a matter of states' rights; it's simply wrong on every level you can imagine." If they had, maybe we wouldn't have had to fight the Civil War over it.

And if protest meets with everyone's convenience, then it isn't much of a protest. It isn’t supposed to keep people in their comfort zones. Its very nature is to eject people from their comfort zones, and startle them as much as possible. Again, let’s read our history. We’d still be British subjects today had people such as John and Sam Adams hadn’t pushed and pushed, and ruffled feathers, and made people uncomfortable, and outraged them into action.

There’s a great scene in the play “1776” in which the members of the Continental Congress are debating the Declaration of Independence. Each passage meets with a sentiment among certain members of the congress that “the king might find that offensive.”

Finally, John Adams throws his hands up in disgust.

“Good GOD,” he cries out. “This is a revolution. We have to offend SOMEBODY.”


Finally … are we getting a little carried away with an excessive reliance on “zero tolerance” as a panacea for all that ails us?

I can see cases where it’s absolutely necessary. There should be, for example, zero tolerance on matters of bullying, taunting, helmet-to-helmet hits in football, swinging your stick wildly in hockey, beanballs in baseball, and hard, flagrant fouls in basketball.

Any action, in any arena, designed specifically to hurt, humiliate or intimidate defenseless people should never be tolerated, and shame on anyone who would possibly disagree with that.

But sometimes, in our zeal to be fair, we really get in the way. I counted at least four penalties in Sunday’s Redskins-Patriots game that were just idiotic, and just so you know where I’m coming from, half of them were called on Washington.

But the reason for writing this comes from an incident in Massachusetts during the high school Super Bowls. In one game, a kid from Cathedral High School was running, unabated and unmolested, for the go-ahead touchdown when he, for a moment, pumped his fist in the air. He didn’t aim it at anyone, didn’t turn to look at anyone, he was just genuinely happy that he was putting his team ahead in the game.

He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and the touchdown was taken off the board (per a new rule that makes such penalties spot fouls as opposed to dead-ball fouls, which are assessed on the next play). The kid threw an interception on the next play, and even though there were six minutes to go in the game (which is, in high school football, constitutes more than half of the fourth quarter), Cathedral could never recover and lost the game.

What did the kid do that was so wrong? He didn’t taunt anybody. The display of joy wasn’t excessive (he may have had his hand up for two strides before dropping it back down). And it just seems that this is one case where you’re penalizing natural human reaction as opposed to orchestrated, intentional bad sportsmanship. And to me, that is wrong.

Of course, there IS another side. The first one is that these teams were warned repeatedly that anything that even remotely seemed like excessive celebrating – especially while the play was still going on – would be subject to a spot foul penalty. They all knew that going in … or should have known.

The second one is that the boy in question had already been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the game. So it’s quite possible the referee was keeping an extra eye on him and gave him no wiggle room when he showed his momentary lapse of judgment on this play.

Still, there’s a difference between being a bully on the field (in the manner of cheap shots or verbal taunting) and natural human exuberance. And the day we start making natural human exuberance an infraction is the day we need to blow the whole thing up and start over.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A mixed bag of observations ...

An extremely eclectic mixed bag of observations today … all over the board, as it were …

To begin, I don’t like Bobby Valentine and never did. There’s a difference in this world between someone who is genuinely charismatic (such as Bill Parcells) and a huckster.

I’d put Bobby V in the second category. Bobby V’s only concern in life is Bobby V.

Whatever problems that Red Sox clubhouse had in September will not be solved by Valentine’s presence. In fact, he might create a few more. People can say what they want about Terry Francona, but whatever he did worked for eight years and five months before it went sour in the final month of his final year here. That would lead me to believe it was the athletes, and not the manager, who caused the problem.

Francona had an air about him that said “as bad as things seem, we have ’em under control.” Maybe he underestimated the size and depth of the problems last September, but it was the only time in eight years that he did. The rest of the time, his reassuring steady hand was a stabilizing force in that lockerroom.

If it’s between you and Valentine, expect to be run over by a Peter Pan. Because he’ll throw you under it as fast as he can roll you over.

It’s going to be an interesting two years.


I really don’t care about the NBA all that much unless it looks like the Celtics are going to do well. That said, however, one of the things I’d have missed if there wasn’t an NBA season was Doc Rivers.

Doc is the antithesis of Bobby Valentine and Bill Belichick … two guys who, I think, have begun to believe that they were put on this earth to reinvent their respective games (in Valentine’s case, he came out of the womb believing that).

Doc seems to be an even-tempered guy … most of the time. He doesn’t exist for his own self-aggrandizement. He doesn’t believe he walks on water. If you ask him a question, he can give you a civil, insightful answer without making it appear that you’re the dumbest person on earth (as opposed to the way Belichick took a reporter apart the other day for asking whether you can accurately gauge your group of guys if they manhandles the worst team in the league).

Yet there’s no doubt Doc gets his point across when he needs to. Nobody ever accuses Doc of being a “players’ coach,” or of coddling and enabling the troops.

Last spring, when it looked as if Rivers might call it a day here, there were plenty of fans and reporters who really dreaded that decision. And we were all happy that he reconsidered and re-upped.

So if no one else has put it this bluntly: Welcome back, Doc.


Like I said … eclectic …

Back in the day, Barney Frank was one of the most entertaining figures in politics. Even as far back as when he was a state legislator, Frank had a fiercely caustic wit. He could cut you, and you wouldn’t even know you were bleeding until after he wiped the blood off the knife and put it back into the drawer.

His style certainly belied the image of the namby-pamby liberal who was too weak-willed, or lacked testosterone, to fight his battles in the big, bad world of politics.

But Barney always did what he did with joy and élan. You never got the sense that he felt what he did was drudgery, or that he felt the huge albatross of obligation each day he got out of bed. He took on every battle with gusto, and if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in a blaze of glory.

Last November, he survived – barely by his previous standards – a re-election fight against Sean Bielat, a U.S. Marine veteran and a businessman. He won re-election by 11 percent, and the margin, lower than his customary blowouts, could be attributed to the fact that the Republicans targeted him as Public Enemy No. 1 in the 2008 financial meltdown for arguing against implementing stronger oversight over Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. At the time, Frank said that neither mortgage giant was in any difficulty.

Hindsight being what it is, it’s obvious Frank was wrong. And politics being what they are, it's obvious Frank was not going to come out of this unscathed. Whether that’s fair or unfair isn’t the point. It’s an issue on which he was fair game for debate and interpretation.

He didn’t like it. His acceptance speech reflected his dislike for the attacks that Bielat and the Republicans leveled against him. It was obvious, listening to him that night, that the fun had gone out of it for him. And for a guy like Frank, who delighted in the byplay that makes politics such a spectator sport sometimes, that was a bad sign.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now that he’s stepped down. Times are changing, even here in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. No one could have predicted Scott Brown would now be occupying the seat in the Senate that Ted Kennedy had for 47 years. It’s hard – even now – to wrap yourself around the fact that Massachusetts’ best shot at making Brown a one-term senator (well, not EVEN a one-term senator) rests in Elizabeth Warren, who certainly has the chops to do it, but is still – in the world of Massachusetts politics – a virtual unknown.

But I think it was time for Frank to walk away. It’s obvious he doesn’t have the stomach for it anymore. And when that happens, especially in politics, it’s time to go.


I got into a discussion with a friend the other night about music, and how much it bothered me that entertainers like Ricky Nelson made rock ‘n’ roll “acceptable” to parents of 50s and 60s teenagers, whereas guys like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the scores of African-American entertainers who pioneered the whole R&B movement struck fear and terror in the hearts and minds of adults.

The discussion allowed me to articulate a feeling I’ve always had … and one that I’ve never been able to define. And that’s this: When I was a teenager, I didn’t like entertainers who tried to water down my music so that my mother and father would like it. In fact, I couldn’t stand them.

And I couldn’t stand Ricky Nelson, who was a principal villain in that regard.

I figure if I’m going to like something, I don’t need it “dumbed down” or cleaned up for me to relate to it. Either I like it, or I don’t. Either it speaks to me or it doesn’t. I don’t need the help. And I would also hope that any kid today would be just as horrified as I was at that age when someone like Arthur Fiedler tried to make "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" legitimate by having the Boston Pops record it. Hey, Arthur, I liked you a lot. But stick to playing Beethoven and leave rock 'n' roll to the experts. OK?

A few years ago, a friend’s son decided he was going to “open my eyes” By playing an Ozzy Osbourne CD while I was visiting. I think he thought I was going to recoil in horror, and that he’d, as a result, have a pretty good laugh at my expense.

Well, he picked the wrong guy that night. I’m not saying I knew every song, but I did have an appreciation for Ozzy and that genre. Why? Because I grew up listening to Alice Cooper. And for his time, Vincent Furnier was MUCH more daring and controversial (not to mention FUN) than Ozzy was in his. In fact, I thought Ozzy rather tame by comparison.

I think of Ricky Nelson and I think of all the white artists back in those days who shamefully exploited the African-Americans who could play, write, and sing rings around them.

Years later, I saw Nelson on the Boston Common, with the Stone Canyon Band, and it was the first time I realized he had any talent. I was so used to hating him for the fact that his father shoved him down our throats at the end of all those Ozzie and Harriet shows (props to him, also, for the brilliant “Garden Party,” in which he pretty much acknowledged that the only person he was into pleasing by then was himself).

Here’s where I am: I don’t really know, or like, a lot of today’s music. But I also think these things run in cycles, and right now we’re not in a very good one.

But at the same time, I think people around my age (58) also have to understand that popular culture isn’t designed for us. We had our time.

And what a time it was. The 1960s and early 1970s may have been the perfect confluence of popular culture and current events. But I’m not sure I’d even want to experience all the elements that made that such a special time, culturally, again. We’re talking about four significant U.S. assassinations in five years (JFK, Malcolm X, MLK and RFK), an unpopular (some would say immoral) war, a political shift that allowed Richard Nixon to ascent to the White House, and, ultimately, the vision of our nation’s military opening fire on its own citizens as if they were marching in Tiananmen Square in Beijing instead of Kent State University in Ohio.

Who wants to go through that again?

So to me, it’s understandable if boomers look down their noses at today’s popular culture. It’s taken a deep plunge, and there are so many reasons why … the biggest being that there just isn’t the awareness, or the passion, or even the interest in making ourselves heard these days. People just seem to blithely go along. That’s one reason why the “Occupy” movement caught on. Finally, there were people who refused to blithely go along.

In many ways, some of the more controversial rap songs (a genre that I can’t warm up to) from a few years ago reflected that restlessness, but in a rawer, more aggressive way. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recounted their angst in four-party harmony. Rappers reflect theirs to the incessant pounding of drums and by shouting out the lyrics. I prefer the former, but I get the latter.

I just don’t care for it.

But the only thing that would make it worse would be for some Pat Boone/Justin Beiber type to get up there and start singing rap, boy-band style. That’s just insulting. And to me, that’s what listening to Ricky Nelson sing Fats Domino’s “Walkin’” was. Insulting.