A very special holiday edition of the thoughts, artwork, news stories, tools, food, conversations, and whatever else I just can't get out of my head this month.
1. The Film: Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Holy cow. What a movie.
The first hour is perhaps the most Christmas-y thing every created, and feels more festive than George Bailey, Clark Griswold, Rudolph, and Ralphie Parker combined. When it takes a dramatic turn, the same sense of dreaminess continues, even as the subject matter becomes more stark.
This quote from Vincent Canby sums it up perfectly: “[The film] has the quality of something recalled from a distance [,] events remembered either as they were experienced or as they are imagined to have happened. In this fashion, Mr. Bergman succeeds in blending fact and fantasy in ways that never deny what we in the audience take to be truth.”
It captures exactly what it's like to be a kid as well as anything. Seek it out.
2. The Podcast: Heavyweight
I liked season one of this just fine, and thought it got better as the episodes went on. That momentum continues into season two, which is currently the best thing I'm listening to. I don't always love audio-journalism in the tradition of This American Life, which this certainly falls into (host Jonathan Goldstein was a producer there for years). But Heavyweight takes the best part of that tradition and uses it to pack a real emotional punch. The twist comes from conversations between people, not just ace editing, and I find it more powerful than Serial (s1) or S-Town. Really good stuff.
3. The Alternative Holiday Music Resource: Christmas Underground
There's no identifying information about the curator behind this amazing site, but I salute their spirit. They feature an intentionally off-the-beaten path selection of holiday songs that are not only never played on your local adult contemporary station's December takeover, but probably from bands you've never heard of. While a lot of more well known indie rock and folk artists have released holiday songs over their careers, this site digs deeper to find some real gems from truly undiscovered artists. They update almost daily starting in mid-November, and produce my favorite playlists from the last few years.
4. The Flowchart: So, You’d Like to Buy Your Loved One a Book?
I still, and will always, maintain that a book is the best gift you can give someone you really like. If you're looking for a good title to give your loved ones this year, this graphic by By Jennifer Daniel for The New York Times will get you there.
5. The Jazz Interval: The Secret Chord that Makes Christmas Music Sound so Christmassy
I love a dissection of songwriting craft, and this holiday version is a fun exploration of what's behind some of the sounds of the season.
I've always thought of this chord as a minor IV with a 6th added, but a m7b5 makes sense expresses the same notes. Fun! Though it is harder to transpose, at least in my head.
Note: this chord is not only in White Christmas and All I Want…, but in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting), and that holiday single by Kelly Clarkson and basically every other person who have tried to capture the success of Phil Spector by way of Mariah Carey.
6. The Story About Yarn and Public Transit
There's nothing not to love here. Read all the details and smile.
7. The Mug-Based Cocktail: Long Live the Hot Toddy
It really is the perfect drink: whiskey, winter citrus, warm spices, hot liquid, and supposedly good for your health. Here's our breakdown.
Enjoy the season, ManMakers.