Saturday, December 25, 2010

Vince Guaraldi - "Skating" from the album A Charlie Brown Christmas

We've all heard the old canard that the sense of smell is the most immediate one, the sense that is most directly and most vividly tied to memory.

And perhaps it's true. But I think it's still illuminating to note that when you talk to couples in love, they never describe something as "their smell." Yet most romantic couples with any kind of history at all together do have something they call "their song."

Sure, barbeque smells great, but music, to my mind, does indeed trump all in the way it can encapsulate memory and emotion.

Lovers share a life, and, to be sure, they share all the hassles and hardships which go with it. Having a song that you each can call ours, instant shorthand during stressful times for all the reasons you love each other, well, it's cement, a building material if you will for the lives together you've built.

One of the greatest joys of being in love is having a song you share. Conversely, and sadly, one of the greatest tragedies about falling out of love is how a song that was once a shorthand for joy becomes a shorthand for broken promises. You used to have the song, but it becomes lost to you.

Which is of course all the more reason to treasure what you have.

On the eve of Christmas eve this year, Melanie and I watched for probably the fifteenth time "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Melanie always gets a kick out of how the cartoon artists are credited in the titles not for art but for "graphic blandishment." And the stars in the nightskies above Linus and Lucy and Charlie and at the end of the long unfettered horizons past which they walk ARE beautiful.

Still from A Charlie Brown Christmas
Yet I think that the cartoon special is so universally loved because of Vince Guaraldi's music. They kept making Charlie Brown specials after Guaraldi's untimely death, but they're just not the same without his whimsical compositions and without his accomplished, syncopated playing. His music is as vital to the production as the characters themselves, probably moreso.

I was familiar with "Skating" long before it became cement for me and Melanie. It's funny actually: the very first time I heard the song, or at least the very first time I realized how great the tune was, it wasn't even "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that I was watching. It was another of the specials, not sure which one. It was probably one of the ones they made after Guaraldi passed. If I remember correctly, Charlie Brown won a spelling bee at his school and was rewarded with a trip to New York City for the championships.

He brought Snoopy along, and at some point the dog in his willful way decides to go iceskating at Rockefeller Center. It's late at night, and the rink is empty, Snoopy begins circling the rink, performing his pirouettes, and "Skating" begins to play. Though I like as well the scene at the beginning of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" where Linus and Charlie leave their wall and find the whole gang skating on the frozen pond, it is Snoopy at Rockefeller Center I see in my mind's eye when I hear the track unaccompanied by video*.

It's a fluid and glistening and wonderful clip, and "Skating" is a fluid and glistening and wonderful piece of music. But I think the most wonderful thing about the song is that Melanie and I call it ours.

To Melanie and to everyone else reading: Merry Christmas.

File under: Jingle Bell Jazz

*I still wonder what the name of that special was. It's probably the second greatest Holiday Cartoon mystery of my life. If you know the name of the Charlie Brown special or, especially, the name of the cartoon that had Jack Frost done all in angular pastels dancing on the icy rooftops, I beg you: please please leave a comment (Return)


Arbogast said...

Josh, that was not one of the made-for-TV specials but the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which came out in 1969. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best score.

TAD said...

R: This post is really sweet. I've got this album (bought it 4 "Linus and Lucy"), but I've never played "Skating," tho I assume I'd recognize it cos I've seen the show I-don't-know-how-many-times -- saw it when it premiered in '65, & it's still my fave of all Xmas shows, sorta low-key, quiet & modest -- & Linus's quote from the Bible near the end gets me every time. ("Great Pumpkin"'s hilarious too, of course.) Anyway, now I'll havta listen 2 "Skating."
The whole "our song" concept sounds like a good idea 4 a post -- about all the songs that remind me of women in my past ... not that there R THAT MANY ... women, I mean....
Merry Christmas! -- TAD.

rastronomicals said...

Thank you, Richard, for the info. One small mystery solved.

Tad -- "Linus and Lucy" is awesome as well, but please check out "Skating." I know you don't download, but pull out your album and give the song a spin. You'll recognize it for sure and dig the mellifluous, fluid playing, too.

And of course I hope you both had a merry Christmas.