Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Greatest Rock ’n Roll Christmas Song of All Time, and a Movie Recommendation

The fantastic Darlene Love with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the greatest rock ’n roll Christmas song of all time. It’s an annual tradition on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” and tonight’s the night she’ll be on with Dave and singing it again. Always worth tuning in to hear.

But, so, anyway, if you watch A Christmas Story tomorrow on TBS (as we do every year – usually while we’re wrapping those last few Christmas presents after the kids have gone to bed; and by “those last few” I mean “most of,” of course), here’s another film you might want to check out: Fred Coe’s A Thousand Clowns, starring Jason Robards and Barbara Harris. It turns out – and I only found this out a few years ago – that A Thousand Clowns is based loosely on the life of Jean Shepherd, who wrote and narrated A Christmas Story. It also turns out that A Thousand Clowns was one of my father’s favorite movies, and Jean Shepherd was born in the Chicago area two days before my father, on July 26, 1921. And another sort of odd coincidence: Jason Robards, who plays Murray, the Shepherd-inspired main character, was also born in Chicago, also on July 26, but a year later in 1922.

Anyway, I love the movie, too (A Thousand Clowns, that is), because it’s all about trying to figure out how to deal with the idea of making a living when what you do for a living (in Murray’s case, being a struggling writer who has to work in children’s television in New York) feels like a waste of your talents and challenges your idea of personal integrity. It’s also about being an outsider, seeing the world in a way that other people generally don’t see it, and I think that’s probably why it appealed to my dad. But it’s mostly about living up to your responsibilities, in the end, but finding your own way to do it. I still can’t figure out if the ending is uplifting or sad, and I’ve seen the film probably a dozen times.

Oh, and another thing: A Thousand Clowns is hysterically funny.

Another interesting thing about Jean Shepherd. He was one of those guys who later in life made a living as a raconteur, when “raconteur” was an actual job description. I was unaware of that, too, until my good friend/sports maven/hockey guru Richard Kincaide, of Everybody Wants to Read My Blog, sent me this link to an NPR story commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, which included excerpts of Shepherd’s recollections of taking a bus ride from New York to Washington to attend the March. It’s pretty remarkable, although I cringe when he uses the word “colored”; but you can tell from the context he’s genuinely enamored of the protesters he met. In any event, it’s a fascinating slice of history told by a genuinely gifted story teller.

So, there you go. The greatest rock ’n roll Christmas song of all time, and a movie recommendation. It’s my Festivus gift to you.


  1. A Thousand Clowns is one of my favorite movies ever. Period. I love the scene where they improvise a conversation between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. But, hell, I love almost all the scenes.

  2. Almost time for the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strenghth! (Thanks for the shout-out!)

  3. Hey, Dan, yeah, it’s one of my all time favorites. We must’ve watched it every time it came on TV when I was a kid. I also love the actor who plays the kid (and my favorite name of the many he chooses is “Theodore Malcolm Burns.”

    Rich – you bet. I loved listening to that clip of Jean Shepherd when you first sent it to me, and I still love it.

  4. Yeah, the kid was played by Barry Gordon, who later became president of SAG. Interesting guy.

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