Music Box: On The 10th Day Of (Jeffrey)Christ-mas…
…Jeffrey gave to you…“Oh, Holy Night” by…well, just about anyone, really.
From the most classic voices in history (Mahalia Jackson, Donna Summer, Luciano Pavarotti) to the artists I adore, to those I ordinarily can’t stomach (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), rare is the version of “Oh, Holy Night” that I don’t succumb to (not to get my Scrooge on, but putrid recordings that do come to mind – say, Jessica Simpson’s, Il Divo’s, Danny Gokey’s, Celtic Women’s – are not the norm, but rather musical anomalies better left to the art of sign language).
The song is, in my opinion, not only the most beautiful carol of them all, but one of the greatest melodies ever written, hence one of histories greatest songs. And, lest I am accused of hypocrisy again, I’ll reiterate what I wrote in my 1st Day of (Jeffrey)Christ-mas post:
…some decry or belittle my passion for Christmas and its seasonal tunes – I’m often accused of hypocrisy; “How? You’re an atheist – a non believer!! Blah blah blah!!!” Fair enough (those same town criers say the same because of my love of gospel), but as I alluded earlier, it’s the spirit (yes) but also the ideal of the holiday, and what it should bring out in mankind. It often fails, apparently, but there’s no harm in the yearning. So, I love religious carols too, despite the doctrine.
So, it’s not the lyrical content of “Oh, Holy Night”, but its rapturous melody, and more importantly, the ideal of its dogma. It’s a beautiful thing to believe in such fairytales, and if it makes one human being a more contented soul, then who am I to negate its effect/affect?
It also unearths a wave of emotional stimuli from the core of my very soul. I was honored to perform the song back in 1984 during my High School’s annual winter concert (I wrote a little about that same night HERE). When the solos were being issued weeks earlier, a lesser voice attempted to acquire it, but Dr. Morris wouldn’t even entertain that notion. She knew it was my favorite song, yes, but more importantly, and for the better of the show, she knew – steadfastly and adamantly – that not a single body in the entire school would be able to resonate on this canticle as I would…she knew my voice better than even I understood and there wasn’t a scintilla of a second thought in her decision that I would sing this solo.
So, come showtime, with the chorus as my own personal backup choir, I took to the stage…in my Harley Davidson MC boots, my Rock ‘N Roll hair, my 80s pornstache, and dressed as a nearly-clean shaven Santa (I had, at this point, removed the fake white beard), I stood before the packed auditorium and sang out to the masses. And it was magical…my voice, like a clarion, singing in the night as my classmates wept, and the audience roared to a thunderous standing ovation, and as I glanced over to a teary-eyed Dr. Morris I knew then that it was, undoubtedly, a highlight of my High School “career”. (Update – As my brother Sean reminded me, the powers that be made me change “Christ” to “He”, as in “Oh night, when HE was born..” I had forgotten that bit of history. Thanks, Sean!)
I don’t write these words as a man putting his ego to pen, or as a braggart seeped in self-aggrandizement. I write these words merely as an emblem of a simpler time…and of the influence that the song had in my life.
I was recently bestowed a gift from a friend and a genuine celebrity. Back in October, my friend Jim Cantiello, for an MTV News piece, was interviewing David Archuleta of “American Idol” fame. Jim asked David to go caroling throughout the company to a few people who were fans, and one of those visits was to me. When Jim arrived at my office, David asked which song would I like him to sing and without hesitation I told him that I’ve been listening to his recent holiday release and his version of “Oh Holy Night” so it would be an honor for him to sing that to me. Well, words can’t describe the emotionality of the moment – here was this young man, so humble and authentic, with a voice that rang through my mind like an angel on earth, singing “Oh, Holy Night” to a mere mortal like me, in my dark little cavern of MTV. In a word, celestial! (You can watch Jim and David’s MTV Carol extravaganza HERE)
Feast your ears on these various incarnations of this most heavenly hymn. Believer or non-believer, atheist or a theist, sinner or saint, “Oh, Holy Night” is undeniable.
Patti LaBelle’s transcendent 1990 Johnny Carson performance
Mahalia Jackson’s definitive version
The Queen with the Fifth Beatle
The incomparable Donna Summer from Solid Gold’s Christmas Special