I am not afraid to tell you that I really like Christmas music, have always liked Christmas music, and frankly enjoy the Christmas season. I say this fully understanding the ultra-capitalist implications of my holiday-lust, but whatever; I enjoy nostalgia. That being said, I know many many many people who despise this time of year, and who really really really hate Christmas music.
I get it – Christmas is annoying. It is religious. It is oppressive.
For me though, there is something interesting about the music of the season, and the infinite interpretations that exist of the holiday music canon. Perhaps its appeal lies in its commonality; we all know these songs (like it or not), and these days our culture is sort of lacking in tradition and communal experience, isn’t it? Whatever it is, I humbly submit eight of my favorite Christmas-themed albums. These are just eight though! I have left out a bunch. Feel free to comment on your faves as well.
Various Artists – God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen (Columbia Records, 1981)
An outstanding collection of concise and occasionally weird versions of all the classics; a real mood-setter. Perfect for cookie-baking and general Christmas-related household puttering. Required listening for the Christmas-music enthusiast.
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – The Nutcracker Suite (CBS, 1960)
This is an often overlooked piece of pure holiday gold. A Christmas miracle, really. Original pressings are hard to find (and typically pricey), but reprints and CD versions are out there. Go get.
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy Records, 1965 & 2006)
There is not much to say about this expect that it is just the best. The remaster from 2006 sounds really great and includes awesome liner-notes that tell the story of how Guaraldi was hooked-up with the Peanuts gig, and how his music became synonymous with both Schultz’s work and Christmas.
Various – Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Legacy, 2012)
This was a Black Friday Record Store Day release in 2012 and the most festive thing about it is the cover. The music may not put you in the traditional capitalist Christmas spirit, but it is rad, and spooky, and real-feeling, which is perfect for that particular darkness one can feel during this special time of year.
Various – A Very Special Christmas Volume I (A&M, 1989)
This is perhaps included on this list due to nostalgia – it is one of the first Christmas music albums I can remember listening to with my mom and my brother, and it contains awesome versions of the classics as well as some amazing originals such as Run DMC’s modern classic “Christmas in Hollis”. My favorite track is U2’s impressive rendition of “(Its Christmas) Baby, Please Come Home,” which is full of verve and yearning, like most of pre-Zooropa U2.
John Fahey – The New Possibility & Christmas with John Fahey Vol. II (Takoma, 1968, 1975)
It always blows my mind when someone hasn’t heard The New Possibility, John Fahey’s sort-of famous album of Christmas songs reworked for finger-picked guitar. It is more likely that people have heard that album, but haven’t heard Volume II, which is just great and also features a bizarre psychedelic lion on its cover. These are both (usually) easy to find on vinyl.
The Beatles – The Beatles Christmas Album (Apple, 1970)
The Beatles never released an official collection of Christmas songs, but each year from 1963 to 1969 they released an un-official Christmas-themed EP which was given to members of the Beatles Fan Club as a gift. These flexi-discs featured a Christmas message and a song or two (hastily recorded). In 1970, the year of the band’s demise, they compiled all of these on one 12” LP, as a thank you to their loyal fans. This record is hard to find, and typically expensive. It has never been officially released but bootlegs abound! Happy hunting.
Christmas music, you might have noticed, is a big deal. It’s also, historically, been a bit of a cash cow for record companies. Bing Crosby and Elvis, Susan Boyle and Josh Groban, along with hundreds of other artists, have all tried their hand at singing Christmas songs. Here are the 12 best-selling Christmas albums in the U.S., based on their RIAA certification.
1. Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas (1970 reissue of 1957 album, Diamond certified)
2. Kenny G – Miracles: the Holiday Album (1994, 8x Platinum)
3. Various Artists – Now That’s What I Call Christmas Music! (2001, 6x Platinum)
4. Mannheim Steamroller – A Fresh Aire Christmas (1998, 6x Platinum)
5. Mannheim Steamroller – Mannheim Steamroller Christmas (1984, 6x Platinum)
6. Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song (1963, 6x Platinum, Originally released as The Magic of Christmas)
7. Josh Groban – Noel (2007, 5x Platinum)
8. Celene Dion – These Are Special Times (1998, 5x Platinum)
9. Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas (1994, 5x Platinum)
10. Barbra Streisand – A Christmas Album (1967, 5x Platinum)
11. Johnny Mathis – Merry Christmas (1958, 5x Platinum)
12. Bing Crosby – White Christmas (1945, 4x Platinum, Originally titled Merry Christmas)
Bonus: The best-selling Christmas single of all-time, selling over 50 million copies worldwide, is…you guessed it, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
by Mat Weir
Ask any horror movie nerds worth their weight in government patented popcorn butter about their favorite horror flick and you’re going to have an eclectic list. That’s one of the things we love about horror: it’s a genre-bending genre unto its own; the axe-wielding tranny of movie types. While this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone reading the Streetlight blog (and if it does, really brah? really?), if you don’t believe me, just look at the Alien series (Sci-Fi/Horror), Silence of the Lambs (Thriller/Horror) and even Black Swan (weird- ass-Aronofsky-tom-foolery). For my second installment of the 10 Day of Helloween Horror, I will submit, for your approval (always wanted to say that), one of the best in genre-bending horror, as well as one of my personal favorite movies of all-time, Cube.
Five strangers –-Quentin, Worth, Leaven, Rennes, and Holloway– separately wake-up inside a giant, metal cube. Their clothes have been taken and replaced with jumpsuits signifying only their last name. Each side of the room, (ceiling and floor included), has a door leading into a new room, identical to the last; but only one room is “clean.” The other rooms have been rigged with elaborate booby-traps that make you wonder if the Saw guy was watching Cube for tips. An idiot savant by the name of Kazan is soon discovered in another room and the group begins to realize each person holds a unique key to their freedom.
****SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200!!!****
What is there not to love about this film? Cube has it all: great acting, sharp dialogue, grotesque deaths. Plus a ruthless, psycho-analytic dissection of modern society needed to make any horror film complete. So bear with me and I’ll try to keep this short and simple. First, let’s start with the obvious horror-film defining elements: fear and gruesome deaths.
From the opening scene, the viewer is thrust into a room that is cold, sterile and isolated, leaving you with that uneasy pit in the bottom of your stomach. Within minutes the first death occurs as razor wire rips through the character on screen. The character stops with a gasp and blood begins to trickle down his body in a grid pattern. He takes a step forward and crumbles to tiny cubed pieces. If that isn’t enough to make the evil twin inside you squeal with fun, then you just don’t know how to party.
Another factor that makes this movie better than pictures of your newborn baby is the number system the cube operates by. Early on in the movie, the character of Leaven (a 20-something college student with a knack for numbers and the sarcastic personality of every jaded post-teen ala Daria) discovers each doorway has a set of numbers and the room with prime numbers is the safe one. As a nerd, I find this to be a cool tool to throw into the mix. Don’t know your math? Bam! You just got sliced and diced.
But the reason why Cube has been on my top 5 list ever since I first saw it, has to be the fact that it is an exercise in existentialism. It is a psycho-philosophical breakdown of society on a micro–and macro–cosmic level. The script itself is basically a sci-fi/psycho-horror version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-room play, No Exit (in fact, Cube only used one set with different lighting to trick the viewer). Sartre’s famous closing line, “Hell is—other people!” is the main theme in this nightmarish movie.
At the beginning of the film, Rennes ominously warns the others in Grecian-style foreshadowing, “You’ve gotta save yourselves from yourselves.” The characters soon realize what he meant as fatigue, stress and starvation set in, stripping away their social masks and revealing their more “pure” state. For example, Quentin, the leader/hero cop who takes charge, quickly deteriorates. As time passes, he deteriorates into a rage-filled monster, angry at being trapped, angry at his wife for taking the kid and leaving him, angry at the world. He quickly snaps and the group realizes they have a predator in their midst.
On this note, it has also occurred to me that each character can represent a basic human psyche (Worth represents cynicism, Leaven: logic, Holloway: compassion, Quentin: anger, Rennes: ration, Kazan: childlike innocence) and the cube itself can represent the human mind. In this light, the film turns in on itself and becomes the struggle of one person’s conflicting emotions, or possibly even a schizophrenic episode. While this may be my own interpretation, the macro-cosmic societal analysis is much less subtle.
A little over halfway through the film, it is revealed that Worth knows more about their prison. In this pivotal scene (and a superb one for acting and dialogue), Quentin is chewing out Worth for his cynicism, saying they will never find an exit with dead weight like Worth hanging around. With that, Worth snaps, shouting, “There is no way out of here!” and the realization drops upon every character’s face. Worth admits that he was hired to draw plans for the outer shell of the cube. “Who hired you?” Quentin asks. “I didn’t ask, I didn’t even leave my office,” he responds. “I talked to some guys on the phone, other guys like me; specialists working on small details. Nobody knew what it was, nobody cared.”
“That’s how they stay in,” chimes in the conspiracy-liberal Holloway in her breakdown moment. “You keep everyone separated so the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The brain never comes out in the open…It’s all the same machine, right? Pentagon, multi-national corporations, the police! You do one little job, you build a widget in Saskatoon, and the next thing you know it’s two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine. (It’s here that actress really let’s go) I WAS RIGHT! All along, my whole life I KNEW IT! I told you, Quentin! Nobody is going to call ME paranoid again!” With a giant sigh she looks around the quiet room, four other faces staring at her. And with a shit-eating grin, with the smile of someone who has just played a massive joke, Worth softly but firmly explains. “Holloway, you don’t get it. This may be hard for you to understand, but there is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that? Big Brother is not watching you.” BAM!!!! And the hammer of Truth pounds into you without mercy. Life is just one giant coincidence under the guise that someone is steering the ship.
Worth dives further into the existential breakdown of human society (at this point it is imperative that the author copy & pastes the dialogue. Not only is it easier, but it’s damn good writing and really you should be thankful. I have also added my own twist in the paranthesis):
QUENTIN: Somebody had to say yes to this thing. (thing = life/human society)
WORTH: What thing? Only we know what it is.
QUENTIN: We have no idea, what it is.
WORTH: We know more than anybody else. I mean somebody might have known sometime, before they got fired or voted out or sold it. But if this place ever had a purpose, then it got mis-communicated or lost in the shuffle. This is an accident, a forgotten perpetual, public works project. Do you think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck. I mean, I leaned on my shovel for months. This was a great job!
QUENTIN: Why put people in it?
WORTH: Because it’s here. You have to use it or admit it’s pointless.
QUENTIN: But it is pointless!
WORTH: Quentin… That’s my point.
HOLLOWAY: What have we come to? It’s so much worse than I thought.
WORTH: Not really, just more pathetic.
QUENTIN: You make me sick, Worth!
WORTH: I make me sick too. We´re both part of the system. I drew a box – you walk a beat. It’s like you said Quentin is: Keep your head down, keep it simple, just look at what’s in front of you! I mean nobody wants to see the big picture. Life’s too complicated. I mean, let’s face it. The reason we’re here is it’s out of control.
[Quentin turns around.]
HOLLOWAY: Is that how we’re ruining the world?
LEAVEN: Daah! Have you been on glue all of your life. I felt guilty for ruining the world since I was like… seven. God! If you need someone to blame, throw a rock.
And in that beautifully crafted scene, the great nut of Existentialism has been cracked and my inner-cynical-nerd laughs with delight. Life is a joke and it’s on us. We think that there must be some great answer, some higher purpose, some deeper meaning for our presence on this planet, but the truth of the matter is, the entire thing is out of our control. We try to gain whatever control we think we have by giving life a higher purpose, but that just perpetuates our own confinement, whether it’s intellectual, spiritual or other. Life is a giant prison, filled with traps that we think must have some greater meaning. But in reality we’re all just running around, constantly turning on the people we are supposed to be cooperating with, as we try to find a way out.
by Mat Weir
Good evening, boils and ghouls. October is once again upon us, bringing with it pumpkins, crisp weather and hauntings aplenty. ‘Tis the season to be bloody, possessed, decapitated, slashed, hexed and all other macabre holiday fun. I meant for this to be a daily installment of horrific movies for the entire month, but you can’t always get what you want, can you Mick? So what better time to kick-start the first installment when I’m lying in bed, doped-up on cold medicine, weed and syzr’p while my brain slowly oozes from my raw nostrils? And with that I give you, The Fifteen Days of Helloween Horror, starting with, The Creeping Flesh! The 1972 flick starring the morbidly classic pair, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, begins with 19th Century scientist, Emmanuel Hildern (Cushing) as he recants his tale of monstrosity. It appears the good doctor Hildern discovered the gigantic skeleton of a primitive race while excavating in New Guinea, three years prior. Upon returning home to his adult daughter, Penelope (who remained isolated within the house during her father’s absence out of propriety), he begins to clean the skeleton, only to discover water makes the skeleton grow flesh! Dun—dun—duuuuuun! He quickly discovers the skeleton is actually evil incarnate, and decides to make an evil serum with its blood (but of course, why WOULDN’T you make a serum out of pure evil itself?) He quickly sees the error in his ways and decides the evil must be stopped. While this is going on, Hildern’s brother, James (Lee) who, of course, also runs the local insane asylum, discovers Emmanuel is up to something and quickly begins to watch his every move. What’s more, Penelope seems to be slowly going insane the more she learns about her mysterious mother’s past. Will Hildern stop the great Evil from ascending upon man, or is it just the insane ramblings of a lunatic scientist? While the dialogue can, at times, be drawn out and dull, the overall impact of The Creeping Flesh is as cult-status deserving as any of Lee/Cushing’s previous work. Cushing appears old and thin, the ghost of a man whose life has withered away down to his sunken cheeks. Makeup Artist Rob Ashton’s recreation of the skeleton’s flesh is oozy and transparent, adding a nice gore factor. Plus, the screenplay itself is original while still playing around with “who’s the real monster” idea ala Frankenstein. Overall, this is a definite must-see, but don’t expect to be scared. The Creeping Flesh is probably best watched with friends who preferably have strong weed and an even stronger love for cheesy-horror.
SPOILER ALERT: The following video is the last scene in the movie.
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by J.J. McCabe
Every year we’re inundated with movies, T.V. and advertising portraying the all of America as a magical Thomas Kincaid painting of goodwill, joy and happiness. The reality is, if you can make it to December 26 without a serious rift in your family, a divorce, or a bloody nose, then you either don’t have any family in the first place, or you’ve wisely invested in a big jar of horse tranquilizers. When it’s time to throw on a movie to avoid having to talk to each other for a solid wonderful 90 minutes, consider these less traditional alternatives to your usual holiday programming.
Less Than Zero
There’s a lot of white powder falling in this Holiday movie, but it isn’t snow. Based on Bret Easton Ellis’ bleak Catcher in the Rye update for the “Me” generation, Less Than Zero is a hilariously overwrought slice of ’80s-tastic melodrama. Simultaneously condemning and glamorizing the lives of a group of the teenage kids of the one-percent of the one-percent home on holiday from college, it’s the perfect antidote to the barrage of typical family-friendly treacle.
This nasty little thriller from Canada is probably the very first of the “slasher” movies that dominated the box office in the ‘80s, pre-dating Halloween by four years. The film takes place over the last night and following day of the beginning of the winter break from college, as a group of sorority sisters’ parents are coming to collect them and one of the girls is discovered missing. The police shut down the little town and confine the girls to their sorority house, little realizing that… THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!!! (Seriously, that cliché did come from somewhere!) Besides being a taut scare-fest with some excellent giallo-inspired set-pieces, there’s a bit of sharp satire on the perception of authority by the youth (not surprising considering this was ’74, and there was a lot of anger over Vietnam.) A much smarter film than most of the imitators that were to come over the next three-and-a-half decades.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Another film that takes place around Christmas rather than being about Christmas, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang opens on Robert Downey Jr. burglarizing a toy store in New York City to get a Christmas present (which is probably an activity that a lot of American’s can sympathize with right now,) and through a series of events ends up at a Christmas party in Los Angeles with Downey Jr. cast in a film.
This film doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it destroys it with a sledgehammer from the beginning. By delivering the audience wholly over to Downey Jr.’s fractured, almost improvised narrative, the film cleverly explores the intersections of memory, lies, and desire and the way that they shape our perceptions of ourselves (and what happens when we run into the brick wall of reality.) Robert Downey Jr.’s one man Rashomon performance and the snappy back-and-forth between him and Val Kilmer elevate what could have been a fairly rote detective story into a thoroughly entertaining post-noir satire.
Ahh… Bill Murray. To my mind the penultimate performance in the first stage of his career, and a hint of the sad-eyed elder statesman he would eventually become fifteen years or so later. All you need to know about his character Frank Cross is he’s got a banner hanging up in his office “Cross (n): a thing you nail people to.” Scrooged is a deliriously unhinged re-telling of A Christmas Carol. Meta before meta was cool, thigh-slappingly hilarious and seriously dark with some great performances from the likes of Steven Wright, Bobcat Goldthwait, Karen Allen, and a scenery chewing psychotic Tinkerbell played by the great Carol Kane. This is definitely NOT one for the whole family, but good fun for anyone with a twisted sense of humor.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Wait, wait, hear me out! Look, try to actually sit down and watch this movie all the way through and appreciate the actual content, rather than catching a scene in passing on your way back to the kitchen to grab another beer. It’s THE staple holiday movie… and it opens on an attempted suicide! ‘Cuz what says “Christmas” more than throwing yourself off a bridge! This movie’s got deaf children, drowned children, poisoned children… Seriously, the death count in this film is ridiculously high for a “family” film, certainly higher than The Santa Clause. Plus it’s Capra and Stewart both bringing their A-game. All I’m saying, you can watch it with your grandma, you get the war scenes and the poisonings, and she gets angels. Win-win.