Friday, December 21, 2012

The Song That Officially Means It's Christmas

There is a song that I have to hear to officially mark the beginning of Christmas season. Our tree may be up, our halls may be decked, our presents may be purchased and wrapped, but if I haven't heard this song yet, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. And in this digital age when you can play whatever song you want with the click of a mouse or a spin of a wheel, I don't cheat. It needs to happen naturally, like when I was growing up. It has to come on the radio. (Or Pandora.)

A few years ago, I didn't hear it until the morning of Christmas Eve while I was riding around town running last-minute errands. I called My Director, put her on speakerphone, and made her listen along with me. With tears in my eyes I sat in the driveway and listened to rest of the song, singing along hysterically.

Why did we not own this growing up? No idea.
It's Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.

Carrying out this irrational tradition of mine is one of the few ways I can transport myself back to my childhood. There was no digital music, compact discs weren't mainstream yet, and we didn't even own the cassette recording of this song for whatever reason. So my brother would set up his Sony boom box (very New Jersey) in the kitchen with a blank cassette tape waiting for it to come on.

Then, the real magic of Christmas...

He would press rewind, we would all take our places, my parents and sisters on the couches, my brother on lead vocals, I on air sax. Then, the play button, followed by some garbled noises from the rudimentary recording device. Finally, you would hear those familiar jingle bells marking the opening of the song. Then, we would lip sync (very 80's). My brother would start, with Bruce's intro:
 It's all cold down on the beach. 
Winds whippin' down the boardwalk... 
The boardwalk at Casino Pier.
Seaside Heights 12/2012
That little introduction meant he was singing about Christmas on the Jersey Shore. Our Christmas. After Sandy, those words mean even more now than they did then. 

My brother was Bruce, which meant I was Clarence. He was Bruce because he's older. I always thought Clarence was cooler than Bruce anyway. I would wait for my part with the anticipation of a child trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. But to me, even then, no matter what the calendar said, this was Christmas.

My brother would lip sync his part, 
...He knows if you've been bad or good. You better be good for goodness sake.
Finally time for my solo. I'd join him on his "mic," which was really a wooden spoon. Pretending to have a deep voice by burying my chin into my chest, furrowing my eyebrows, and pursing my lips in a perfect circle, I would fake-echo the same line, that last line, the ultimate backup singer, as Big Man: better be good for goodness sake.
Bruce and Clarence
And a few seconds later, my air-sax solo. I killed it every time.

Fast Forward twenty-five years, and now I'm the lead. My Director is Clarence. (I dare not ever refer to her ever as "Big Man.") And she knows. She knows if the E-Street Band's rendition of this song still hasn't come on the radio while I've been listening, it still doesn't quite feel like Christmas season to me yet.

I have to admit, I cheated a little this year. I made a "Bruce Springsteen Christmas" station on Pandora. Still, two hours into listening this past Saturday, it still hadn't come on. My Director and I were sitting on the couch and Peanut was pouting about something upstairs. Then, those first few piano chords with the jingle-bell accompaniment. My head popped up from my laptop. I smiled. My body tingled with goose bumps, the memories of my childhood rushing back. "It's on! The song! This is it!" I shouted. I called up for Peanut to come down and listen. "I can hear from up here," she shouted back down at me, dismissively.

So maybe I need to work a little harder to make her care. Then again, later that day we were in the car when Bruce's "Merry Christmas, Baby" came on the radio:
"You knew who sings this, Peanut?"

"No. Who?"

"Bruce Springsteen. The same man who sings Thunder Road."

"And now YOU sing Thunder Road to ME."
A musical education doesn't happen overnight. She is learning, and listening, after all. 

To read why Peanut and I love Thunder Road, click here.


  1. Love it! Thanks for the memories. Peanut will learn. :)

    1. Now she's confused between this version and the Lou Rawls one. She insists my favorite is Lou Rawls. Hahaha.

  2. My boys and I do a rockin' cover of that, it's a real favorite. We handle it somewhere between Bruce and Burle Ives, not unlike that creepy/wonderful Bowie and Bing Drummer Boy collaboration.
    I always do a little "goody, goody" (and clap my hands together childishly)whenever I see a new post from you. Thanks for keeping it light and, in my opinion, as real as it gets. Cheers!

    1. My Director and I were mocking that Bing/Bowie song in the car one day...singing it ridiculously. Fun times.

      Thanks for always being a loyal supporter to DKL, IHIWAT. Your friendship is something I value deeply.

  3. my Husband and kids have a similar tradition but its Run D.M.C. - Christmas In Hollis :) Happy Christmas!


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