Christmas? Sure, I like Christmas. It’s now early Christmas morning and I’m sitting down to my first coffee in the stillness of my empty apartment. In a short time I’ll head off to a variety of Christmas festivities with my family—brunch, red-wine, turkey and a sea of torn paper. I’m looking forward to the gatherings now that the day has arrived.
I often wonder though, what was that key ingredient Christmas possessed for the child in me. As a child, Christmas would whip me into frenzy for a couple weeks leading up to the big day.
I remember a time when I was six; I woke up around four o’clock on Christmas morning. My parents had left strict instructions not to wake them until seven. I went into the living room and knelt in front of the tree. I waited three hours in the dark—occasionally running my hands gently over packages I thought were mine. On two occasions that morning I padded into my parents bedroom and walked around their bed a couple times to see if they might be awake early. They found me at seven, waiting quietly. I got some great presents that day, but nothing else made me feel as good as I did first thing that morning.
This morning I realized what that key Christmas ingredient was. It’s not entirely a crass materialistic impulse—not anticipation for the spoils. Neither is it a spiritual thing. It’s not the warmth of family. All of these things have their part to play, but for me, Christmas had something else about it. Seeing it now, I have the urge to recapture that particular Christmas spirit.
It is a sense of endless possibility.
Death or Glory
When I was fourteen, my mom and I took a train to Kitchener to visit my sister, who was going to school there. We're talking a six or seven hour trip. I had only brought one or two crappy mixed tapes with me. In a dingy record shop near the university I bought London Calling. It had a “parental advisory” sticker on the plastic wrapper. This was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing.
We sat down for the return trip. My mom lit up a smoke and stared out the window—tears in her eyes. I sighed and turned to my Walkman.
I listened to those two tapes; over and over again, all the way back to Ottawa. That album seared my brain. I had never heard anything like it before—yet there was an instant familiarity. They had a grasp of the roots of rock that would put most bands to shame—on top of which, materialized skilful layers of reggae, ska, and jazz…even disco. The fourteen-year-old me instantly loved it. It was noisy, but the musical content was ultimately welcoming. Then there were the lyrics. Lyrics full of incomprehensible political and cultural references: who the fuck was Montgomery Clift? Lyrics peppered with sex, violence and profanity. I loved it all without reservation.
Then there was “The Card Cheat”. This song still chills me:
If he only had time to tell of all the things he planned
With a card up his sleeve, what would he achieve?
It means nothing!
At fourteen, I had never heard anything like it. I still haven’t.
A little over a year after that trip—at fifteen—I got to see The Clash in concert. They played at a 6000-seat hockey-rink. Picture a sea of leather, studs, mohawks and me—a little kid in baggy army surplus green combats and a black t-shirt.
He was a revelation. Sweat flew from his mohawk as he hammered away at the most battered guitar I’d ever seen. Veins stood out on his arms. He snarled and spat—but there was something instantly likeable about him. He was a crazy uncle. The anger of the music turned outward, away. We were his tribe for a night. It was US against THEM. I never saw a fight or bad moment the whole night.
Joe Strummer has died at the brutally young age of fifty. He was still producing credible music—a gentleman of rock living on a farm with his family. Raise a toast if you have a glass.
Before you met your fate be sure you did not forsake…your lover…may not be around anymore.