Because of the season, I thought it might be fun to share more stories of NYC Christmas than just my own. Here is one from a fine and funny fella, my buddy Jake. I think you’ll love it as much as-
I LOVE CHRISTMAS! As Fred from ‘A Christmas Carol’ would say, it’s “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.” For these past seven New York Christmases, I’ve pondered this quote. Whenever I think back on Christmas time, I picture myself merrily buzzing from one job to another, whistling Jingle Bells, and drinking peppermint hot chocolate. In reality, I’m sleep deprived, over-sugared, scrambling to keep it all together, getting jostled by F*CKING TOURISTS, while in my head I’m full-on Charlie Brown screaming “ISN’T THERE ANYONE WHO KNOWS WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?!?”
Well, I know. I know what Christmas is all about. It’s easy, really. It’s about love. See, there it is again, my shut-up heart creaked open a crack. So, ok, more accurately, Christmas is a battle. It’s a never-ending battle, that seems enhanced this time of year. It’s the battle between love and hate.
I do love Christmas. But the love I have for Christmas is like the love I have for New York City.
It’s a committed relationship. Sometimes I have unreasonably high expectations. Sometimes I feel let down. Sometimes I feel my spirits lifted higher than the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, like when I overhear a little girl tell Santa that all she wants for Christmas is for all the kids without money to get presents. Sometimes I stare at leather-bound notebooks in the Union Square Christmas Market, freezing my balls off, contemplating if I have the money to afford one, wondering if anyone would want one anyway, deciding it feels too forced and expensive, and repeating the process for every single gift I see.
Last year’s version of Christmas Love VS Fuck-this-I-quit came in the form of a musical project. My theatrical comrades and I had set out to make an album of holiday music. We’d record a few skits, a few Christmas carols, maybe a funny original tune, and boom! Christmas album. Oh, how naive we were. One night my constant collaborator and roommate, Matt, sat in the living room with me and we tossed around ideas.
“What if we did an entire Christmas concept album?”
“What if it was, like, a greedy Wal-Mart tycoon guy and his intern? The stressed intern would see through the corporate money-making and find the true meaning of Christmas.”
“What if Santa got fed up with requests for electronics, and just gave every kid one wooden rabbit?”
“What if there was a cheesy Christmas pop love duet?”
“What if that kid from the Christmas Shoes song got trampled on Black Friday?”
It was clear there was no going back. This thing was taking on a life of its own.
Fast forward to a few days before our deadline. About a half-dozen of us sat around the recording studio (Matt’s bedroom) with pencils, trying to work out lyrics for the cheesy Christmas duet. We finally nailed it down, recorded it a few hours later, listened back, and the room was filled with so much joy it felt like Christmas Eve. Fittingly, the hook of the song was “You don’t have to wait til Christmas Eve to receive the only gift you’ll ever need: love and good company.” Good company, indeed.
Then came the night to end all nights. ‘Twas the night before album launch, and all through the house, Matt and I were losing our minds. Bound and determined to have this damn project done, we found ourselves pulling an all-nighter. It was approximate ass-thirty in the morning, and I was recording the millionth take of a guitar part at my computer. I had almost finished a usable take–finally!–when Matt popped into my room.
“Hey, come listen to this.”
Annoyed, I left my little workstation and followed him to his room. I leaned in his doorway as he played me what would become our album’s intro track. It began “In a world…” and went on to include every single “What if” we had talked about. He had weaved together all of our ridiculous ideas, all with ridiculous narration, and it was… ridiculous. As I listened, I started to laugh. Then really laugh. Then REALLY laugh. By the end of the track, I was collapsed on the floor, laughing so hard I thought my brain would explode. Something in my sleep-deprived self had snapped and at that moment, it was the single funniest thing I’d ever heard. It was exactly what I needed at that exact moment. Goofy, stupid, silliness.
It gave me the boost I needed. At about 8AM, after a full night of toil, the job was done. We were beyond exhausted, and we knew there was one thing left to do. We had to take it for a walk. We both plugged headphones into an iPod and stepped out into the December morning. As the first track played, we grinned at each other. Then came a rap song. We danced down the street. Then a comedy skit. We laughed down the street. Passers-by gave us weird looks. We didn’t care.
A power ballad came on, complete with key change and backup singers. My friends, at that moment, listening to that key change, we OWNED the street. Two 30-year-old white guys in West Harlem, cheering, giddy, dancing in a winter wonderland of our own making. From imagination to creation, there it was. An album with the voices and contributions of people I love, about a Holiday that I love, in a city that I love.
I won’t lie to you, friends. I cried tears of Christmas joy that morning.
To those Charlie Browns wandering New York City who want to know what Christmas is all about, I offer this: it’s about love, laughter, sharing, and joy. Even if it looks like a whole lot of stress.
The album is HoliDay [By the Mummers] and if this story doesn’t make you want to check it out, well, nothing will! Thanks so much for writing such a awesome Christmas album AND post for my blog, Jake!
Jake, our author, hanging out with Santa and elves. All Christmas love right here!