No philosophical or theological musings today. Instead I have chosen to honor Mr. Christmas, Howard Andrew Williams, on what would have been his 85th birthday.
One of the many reasons I like listening to the radio during “the holiday season” (to use a phrase Andy himself was familiar with) is because you get to hear so many great artists whom mainstream radio has abandoned as hopelessly passé. If you want to hear Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, The Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, even Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand, it’s up to you to find a satellite station devoted to Easy Listening or to create your own playlist with your CDs and iTunes.
And what sad neglect, because these people, and of course one of my personal favorites, Andy Williams, were consummate professionals. They knew how to interpret music. Now, the woman obsessed with the likes of The Beatles and The Smiths certainly appreciates the importance of the revolution that was the singer-songwriter. And the diversification of music genres is a good thing, widening the scope of music and enabling mainstream radio to incorporate the traditions and essential influences of country, jazz, soul, urban/rap music, alternative, hard rock, new wave, and punk rock.
Still, there was something special about those artists of the 1930s through the 1970s who may not have been primarily lyricists or songwriters themselves but nonetheless possessed talents and capabilities that seemingly have disappeared. They understood that the delivery of a song could be powerful without rendering the listener powerless. They knew that vocal strength and style didn’t have to rely on screeching, hooting, turning every syllable into a trill contest, and basically shocking the listener into submission. While I love music from all times, including many of today’s artists, I don’t regard the American-Idolization of singing to be a good thing. I never feel like many of the vocalists of the last 15 to 20 years are intent on doing anything but impressing the audience with acrobatics and pyrotechnics.
People like Andy Williams didn’t employ stunts—they sang simply but earnestly and convincingly. And beautifully. And the Christmas season is the one time of the year that music offered by him and his likes is resurrected for all to enjoy.
On the occasion of his birthday, I am posting not my personal favorite (reserved for a future post) but his best known holiday tune. In fact, our local radio station begins its annual “nothing but holiday music” tradition with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” So what kind of fan if holiday music and Andy Williams would I be not to include this song in my overall blog?
A personal anecdote–over the past few years, I had mentioned intermittently to my husband and son that I hoped to visit the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, where Andy continued to perform in shows up until last year, when he was diagnosed with cancer. I came home from work a few months ago and told my 8-year-old son, William that, regrettably, Andy had passed away. William said first, “That’s terrible. Well, I guess Christmas will never be quite the same.” Then he paused and said, “Mommy, I am really sorry that one of your dreams will never come true.”
In those two sentences, despite feeling sad to say farewell to Andy, I thought how lucky I was to have a kid who even knows who Andy Williams is, and who actually listens to his mom and knows and values what some of her dreams, however goofy they may be, are.
And in that instance, I knew my husband and I must be doing something right, oh what the heck, something most wonderful, as parents.