Cool Yule Sounds

24 12 2013

Christmas Song Pics

Have I mentioned that I love, love, love Christmas music?

I also love lists, and I’ve been counting down my personal favorite holiday tunes for my loyal social media peeps for a few weeks.  Here’s my entire list with some elaboration. Some new, some old. Some world standards, some local Philly talent.

And all fun. All mine. Hope you enjoy…

20. “Merry Christmas from the Family” ~ Dixie Chicks – Country music, controversial band, and Rosie O’Donnell. Yeah… Even I’m shaking my head at this one!! But I like it. It’s funny, and it says more about America than any other holiday song. Love it.

19. “Christmas Wrapping” ~ The Waitresses – Some would say one-hit-wonder, but the Waitresses had some great songs in the eighties. The sharp, distinctive voice of Patty Donahue was silenced by cancer during the 1996 holiday season, but the song remains. It was always cool to me that a “new wave” song became such a holiday standard.

18. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” ~ Band Aid – Everyone knows the story of the Boomtown Rat’s Bob Geldof watching a news report in 1984 about the famine in Ethiopia, then phoning Ultravox’s Midge Ure about the idea for the this song and later the Live Aid concerts. Band Aid was a who’s who of British pop music at the time, and the song alone raised millions for African relief. It all worked because this is a really great song and recording. It was the first “cause song” and the process is repeated today.

17. “Step Into Christmas” ~ Elton John – One my earliest remembrances of a cool, rock and roll Christmas song, and it’s Elton at his campy best!  I was, and still am, a big fan. My first concert in 1976, he’s still bringing it…

16. “The Hanukkah Songs” ~ Adam Sandler – All three versions. Funny as hell, and you have to admire the rhyming of harmonica with Natalie Portmanica.

15. “Merry Christmas, Baby” ~ Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – There’s another, more popular Bruce choice, but I like this live recording for it’s bluesy feel, and because it really showcases the band at it’s subtle and powerful best.

14. “Blue Christmas” ~ Elvis Presley – This song was recorded as country western, first in 1948. But Elvis added the bluesy sound in 1957 and like many other songs, made it his own. The only better version belongs to Porky Pig… go find that nugget!

13. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” ~ Olivia Olsen – Co-written by Mariah Carey (seriously?), the seemingly endless cover versions of this song missed my radar until it showed up in the climactic ending of Love Actually, one of my favorite holiday movies. This version rocks, and its sung by an 11 year-old!! Incredible!!

12. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” ~ Leon Redbone and Zoey Dechanel – From the Elf soundtrack. Discounting the comparisons to date rape, the sweet voice of Zoey in sharp contrast to Leon’s ten-packs-a-day, throaty growl. “Gee, your lips look delicious!”

11. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) ~ John Lennon – No one in my generation preached more about peace on earth… he was a calm voice in tumultuous times. Of my favorites, and it is the simplest and most powerful.

10. “Christmas In America” – Melissa Etheridge – One of our country’s best kept secrets… Etheridge probably never gets her due because of her sexuality, and that’s a shame. This is easily the most powerful song about missing your loved one at the holidays.

9. “Christmas Time Is Here” ~ Vince Guaraldi Trio – Better know as the “Theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas”, it’s instantly recognizable as the soundtrack of a kids holiday experience. Can’t you see Snoopy dancing?

8. “The Chipmunk Song” ~ The Chipmunks – This song brings back more memories of growing up than any other. The Chipmunks were on every kids Christmas playlist back in the day. We had a record player with a detachable speaker lid that my Mom would put out on the front steps, playing Christmas music for the neighborhood. It had a very distinctive smell when the tubes got hot… I’ll never forget it. I’m a kid again…

7. “White Christmas” ~ Bing Crosby, and “The Christmas Song” ~ Nat King Cole – A tie because I wasn’t going to say that I liked one more than the other. Both songs define the word “standard” for holiday music. Everyone sings along. And… I want a white Christmas so badly!!

6. “Christmas Baby” ~ G Love & Special Sauce – I always like to give props to local artists, and these guys are one of my favorites. Some call it “sloppy” blues… but it’s Philly all the way. Give it a listen…

5. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” ~ The Whirling Dervishes – Never mess with a classic, unless you can make it better… and they do! I’m a big fan of cover songs, and this version is cleaner and a brings a lot more energy. It beats the Boris Karloff version we all know and love – and these guys are from NJ!! Enjoy!

4. “Christmas On The Block” – Alan Mann Band – Legend has it that rising Philadelphia rock star Alan Mann heard of a group house for the blind on a street in Upper Darby. Every Christmas, the residents would decorate a tree in front of their house, and neighbors would often say that it was the most beautifully decorated tree on the block. Although they could not see, the residents wanted to give an annual gift to those who could. The story inspired Mann to visit the house and record the song, with the moving chorus sung by second-grade students. This video got plenty of MTV play in 1986, and Mann seemed ready for stardom.

Tragically, Alan Mann died in a house fire in 1987, but his beautiful song lives on. For many of my Philly peeps who made their musical bones in the 80’s, this song IS Christmas.

3. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / Star of Wonder” ~ Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan – Smart, funny lyrics and snappy, inventive sounds have always been the trademark of BNL. They made this classic Christmas carol their own… and the sweet voice of Sarah McLachlan only adds to the brilliance.

2. “Fairytale of New York” ~ The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl – I often say that the Christmas season does not start until I hear “Fairytale of New York”. This is song is classic for me on so many levels… it’s an Irish American love story, with grit and optimism, sadness and joy. Raw power masked by simplicity, it may be the most beautiful, heartfelt song ever written…

“I’ve got a feeling this year’s for me and you. So Happy Christmas, I love you, baby. I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.”

Since 1987, it has been my favorite Christmas song, until…

1. “Great Big Sled” ~ The Killers with Toni Halliday – I’m a big kid. I long for simpler days, when life was not so complicated. As a parent, I watched helplessly as my boys lost their wonder and excitement for Christmas and the joy it brings. We all do, but it certainly happened more quickly for them than me.

This song wants to take me back to that time when I can “roll round like a kid in the snow”… And I really want to go!

To all of my friends… thank you for reading my silly little blog posts this year. Play lots of great music this holiday season, and sing along loudly!

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


Book Covers

23 12 2013


One of my Mother’s favorite sayings was, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” She was trying to teach me that you shouldn’t form an opinion on someone or something based purely on what you see on the surface. Because usually after taking a deeper look, the person or thing will not be what you expected it to be. Well… that didn’t take! Despite her teachings, I had been guilty of exactly that. I’m much better with it now, but there is always room for improvement.

In the past couple of years I’ve changed a great deal. At least I think I so. For many reasons, my world is much more open than before… to new ideas, to different philosophies and beliefs, to people in general. I was very close-minded and opinionated. In some ways I still am, but I am willing to learn. I have met many people, especially in the last year. People who did not cross my path before, but have enriched me so.

All of this relates to a sad story…

290d99a1-e372-4950-a960-14b648f942d3I didn’t know Jessie Miele, or her husband Drew. I recognize them from the photos I see now, and I’m pretty sure that I sat next to them at Union match in DC a couple of years ago. I say that I’m pretty sure because there were no introductions, and we didn’t converse that day at all. At that time I jokingly referred to the their crazy looking group as the Tattoo People, and based on their appearance I probably didn’t initiate a conversation. This saddens me greatly.

The reason I know about Jessie and Drew now is hearing about their tragic story. A few weeks ago, Jessie was about to give birth to their first child… a son. There were complications, and Jessie passed away shortly after meeting her baby boy. Devastating, beyond comprehension. A vibrant, young woman was about to have her world changed in the best possible way, only to be silenced. I was relating this story at home, and my wife said it sounded familiar. A woman in work suffered a similar loss recently. It was Jessie’s mother…. a small world.

Jessie and Drew are members of the Sons of Ben and the Corner Creeps, supporter groups of the Philadelphia Union. Those organizations have rallied around their members, collecting some money to help Drew raise their beautiful son. It’s been a tremendous outpouring of love and support, that has expanded to supporters of other teams and throughout the soccer community. The people who have supported this effort have not asked who these people are, but “how can we help?” And those that have given so generously certainly have not judged a book by its cover.

I’m sad that I missed so many opportunities to meet great people throughout my life. I’m sad that I will never meet Jessie. I hope to meet Drew and his son one day, and let him know that his family’s story has touched my hard, stubborn heart.

Going forward, I’m going to remember that everyone I meet – if they have tattoos, piercings, ripped jeans or pink mohawks – is a person that is worth knowing… someone’s child, someone’s parent, or someone’s friend. Maybe my new friend.

If you would like to learn more about Jessie and Drew’s story, or make a donation, please visit the Jessie Miele Fund site.

Comcast Careless

16 12 2013

comcassWhat does it say about a company when customers DREAD calling them with a problem? I think it speaks volumes. I’ve had many conversations about Comcast with friends. Everyone I know has had similar bad experiences with this company. The refrain is the same… “Service is great, but if something goes wrong it is usually a nightmare.”

This past weekend I had a very minor issue, and that feeling of dread crept into my head. It was resolved with only a small amount of pain, but it caused me to relive one of the worst issues I’ve ever had with a company.

My Comcast Nightmare…

Several years ago, I was having problems with my cable television. The picture was pixelating. I phoned Comcast, and after a seemingly endless trip through automated hell, a customer service rep assured me that someone would be there between 4:00pm and 8:00pm the following day. The next morning I woke up to find all was well with my cable feed. “Maybe the rep did something to fix it,” I optimistically wondered. Being a stand up citizen, I called Comcast and let them know that all was well and that there was no need to come out that afternoon. However, by noon the cable was acting up and getting worse, so I called Comcast again. More automated hell got me to a different rep – in the Philippines – who had no idea about my history with this issue. I stated that I wanted them to come out and fix the problem, honoring my original appointment window. Sorry Mr. Langan, that is impossible because “those assets have been redeployed.” I tried to explain to General MacArthur (who had apparently returned to the Philippines) that this was unacceptable, but the best he could do was assure me that a technician would be out between noon and 4:00pm the next day.

Wait… it gets better! The next morning I go to work, then come home around 11:30am to meet the Comcast guy. There is a message on my answering machine from Comcast saying that the technician is on his way and will be there at 9:00am. WTF!!! Another call, more auto hell, and then another rep who has no idea what is happening with my account. I now learn that the tech came to my house at 9:00 and when no one answered he left and canceled the ticket. Of course they could not re-deploy any assets to get to me for the noon to 4:00pm window. At this point I have blown my stack… finally, a supervisor in Pennsylvania gets on to tell me that the best they can do is get someone to me around 5:30pm. That time passes, then 6:00, then 6:30, then 7:00… and then I call. Guess what… ANOTHER rep who has no idea what I’m talking about, then another supervisor who assures me that someone is enroute.

Then… at 8:30… a dispatcher from Comcast calls to tell me that no one is coming tonight. This poor guy… I really did feel bad for him. I’m sure he wasn’t prepared for the steady stream of expletives that were hurled his way. And I know that there was nothing he could do regarding my threat to “trash your fucking company to everyone I come in contact with.”

That night I began my trashing campaign with a scathing email to the VP of Customer Care, assuring him of my intention to leave Comcast as soon as I have an alternative in my neighborhood. Bright and early I get a phone call from his assistant, informing me that a technician is enroute. I said thank you and hung up. Ten minutes later a technician is at the door, followed minutes later by another technician. Fifteen minutes later… a third technician. “LOTS of assets have been deployed today,” I murmured. Then a supervisor showed up to make sure I was being taken care of sufficiently. I was truly blessed that day…



I’ve been a Comcast customer for over 25 years. To this day I shiver with dread if there is a service problem. I feel dirty every time I get off the phone with them. Last weekend’s issue was minor – a new cable box solved the problem. It was an early Christmas gift that I didn’t have to schedule a service call. But I still had to deal with that ever expanding automated system, and when I finally get a live rep on the phone… I’m pretty sure I know more than they do!

Putting on my business hat… A customer complaint isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity. And customer service shouldn’t be something you have to do. It should be something you can’t wait to do!

I’m sure Comcast would rather that I be using my massive blogging powers for good, instead of telling this ugly story. So… get a real person to answer the phone, give him/her a CRM, and stop being the problem and start solving them.