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Listen here.

We're a bit chronologically challenged again; St. Stephen's Day is better known in these parts as Boxing Day. This song is all about that point in the Christmas season when you are sick and tired of all your relatives and contemplating (or indeed committing) murder. Incidentally if you can imagine a fouler drink than Tia Maria mixed with Irn-Bru, your imagination is a dark and frightening place.

This song also has the distinction of having introduced me to TWO of my new favourite Christmas albums - and quite by accident at that. Last year as I was poking about iTunes for new Christmas music, I came across an iTunes playlist that mentioned a duet by Kirsty MacColl and someone else that wasn't Fairytale of New York. I knew there was no way in hell there would be another Kirsty Christmas duet that I, and more to the point Freeworld, hadn't heard of, but I checked it out anyway. It turned out to be Thea Gilmore's rollicking rendition of this song (with Mark Radcliffe). So that introduced me to her. Then I went poking about the Internet for more information and came across this thread on an Elvis Costello fan forum, which contains any amount of interesting trivia, and thus introduced me to The Bells of Dublin and this (original) version of the song. (I trust this is all perfectly clear?)

Just for fun, here's Thea doing her version live and solo:

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Listen here.

Bells of Dublin again! I can't seem to find a video of this version, but here's one featuring an ACTUAL BOAR'S HEAD (or reasonable facsimile thereof):

Mainly Norfolk says:

The ancient ceremony of the Boar's Head Carol was performed for many years on Christmas Eve at Queen's College, Oxford, but now on a Saturday shortly before Christmas, when old members are entertained at a “gaudy”. The College Choir processes into the Hall during the refrains, stopping each time when a verse is sung. When the boar's head is set down on the high table, the Provost distributes the herbs among the choir and presents the solo singer with the orange from the boar's mouth.

Does it not just seem like a very Oxford carol? Mainly Norfolk also quotes John Kirkpatrick thus: "Interesting fact: Songs like this which combine workaday English and scholarly Latin are called “macaronic”. Blessed are the pasta makers!"

Sang this in choir last year - the men did the verses and we all chimed in on the chorus. Great harmony parts.

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Listen here.

Here's another entry from The Bells of Dublin. I believe this is the first time so far we've repeated an album; I warn you now that it won't be the last.

I loved Thelma & Louise when it came out. (Still do.) I saw it a bunch of times in theatres and bought the soundtrack. The song I liked best was Marianne Faithfull's Ballad of Lucy Jordan, which I wrote out and memorized. I'd never come across her before (of course I was 17, there were lots of things I'd never come across before). Later, in university, I bought Faithfull: A Collection, which is a fantastic compilation and also has excellent liner notes (I slightly regret mainly moving over to iTunes for my music purchases, because I love liner notes, and not all artists make them available online).

If you listen to Faithfull: A Collection, what's perhaps most striking is the contrast between most of the songs on the album and the last track, As Tears Go By, released when she was 17. Her voice is so clear, almost carefree, compared to the magnificent wrecked growl it became. What a life the woman has had, and good on her for surviving Mick Jagger and a struggle with drug abuse.

Anyway, here she is with the Chieftains, in great form.

She collaborated with them again on their Long Black Veil, singing Love is Teasin' (which, incidentally, has the same tune and some of the same lyrics as The Butcher Boy, which Kirsty MacColl sang for the audiobook version of Patrick McCabe's novel of the same name).

Wikipedia points out that the tune is a variant of "Greensleeves"/What Child Is This. I NEVER NOTICED THIS BEFORE, and this version doesn't play it up. But I kinda see it. Not quite as strong a family resemblance as some. We sing this (surprise!) for choir.

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Listen here. (On the album, and hence on the mix, this is actually 2 tracks. I'm not sure why they chose to split them up. You're messing with my theme, guys.)

So, happy December 2! Sorry I wasn't able to get this up in the morning. I spent the day at the madhouse that is the One of a Kind show, which was awesome but exhausting, and have only just got back.

Today we have another True Meaning of Christmas song, this time from The Bells of Dublin by the Chieftains and friends. I must admit I'm not really familiar with Jackson Browne's work but the Chieftains always reliably find great collaborators, and the whole album is a worthy addition to anyone's Christmas collection (assuming you like Celtic music, that is).

This is very Occupy Wall Street, though it's 20 years old now. Some things, unfortunately, seem eternal.

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

I can't say much about this that hasn't been said by John Nichols at the Nation, back in 2007:

The finest Christmas songs are never just Christmas songs. Though linked by reference of sentiment to the Christmastide, they are sufficiently universal in their themes to have meaning throughout the year. Surely this is why so many of us return with such frequency and glad tiding to Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus," a song he first performed on the brilliant 1991 Chieftains album, "The Bells of Dublin."

Over the ensuing 16 years, the song has become a favorite for celebrants of the season who suspect the Nazarene might be disinclined toward the commercial chaos that has come to characterize its contemporary expression.


Browne knows the song has taken on a life of its own, as all great songs do. Yet, through all the renditions over the years, by its writer and the many fine artists who have covered it, "The Rebel Jesus" remains fresh and renewing. Perhaps that is because Browne's lyrics, world-weary and wry in their observations yet warm in their delivery, offer an ancient antidote to the dispiriting crush of commerce, the tyranny of schedules and the theft of meaning that can crowd the better angels of our nature at Christmas.

There you have it. As a bonus, have a video of Browne's acoustic version:

This blog post by Steve Stockman indicates that the theme was suggested to Browne by a Mayan Indian friend. Um, OK.

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December 2012

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