The other night, I had a gig in Palo Alto and my wife and son we’re traveling from further north in California back to where we live in Santa Cruz. Without going into a geography lesson, we decided it would be worth it for us to try and meet in San Jose for dinner if the timing worked out. It was a shorter drive for me to San Jose so that I ended up near our meeting place about an hour before she and Conrad would get there. Also near our meeting place was one of the best restaurants to get some of the best beer in the world. As you may have guessed, I knew what I was going to do for that hour.
I walked in, did my usual two second evaluation of the place, followed by my usual two seconds of insecurity that I’m clearly not cool enough to be there, then found a seat at the bar. It was after the dinner rush and maybe 45 minutes before they closed, so there were very few people around. I ordered a sample flight of some truly amazing beers and did the nerdy thing of checking in those beers on Untappd so as to feel less weird about drinking alone on a Sunday night. Maybe 20 minutes later, a couple walked in who are clearly friendly with the bartenders there and they all start talking. Beer culture being what it is, they immediately introduce themselves and we all start making small talk.
Here’s where it got weird. About two rounds of back and forth past “First time here?” and “What are you drinking?” they hit me with a question so probing and unexpected that I literally had no idea how to answer them. I was honestly taken aback and after a few seconds of silence had to admit that I had no idea how to answer them.
What they said to me was this: “So Matt, tell us a story!”
And I had nothing. Thankfully, someone else asked another question about what I was doing in San Jose that night and I was able to reply using words to indicate that I was, in fact, a person who knew to converse with other humans. That moment stuck with me though.
I don’t think I’m uninteresting or that I haven’t really lived or anything. I have a pretty great life with ups and downs and I’ve gotten to experience things that are honestly incredible. I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been to Central America, I’ve worked with orphans, I spent a decade playing and touring in a band, and lived with the joy that comes with raising my first born son with my amazing wife. I grew up without a father, lived in some pretty bad areas, had a few bad breakups, and had many many fights with my wife.
I don’t have an empty life devoid of stories, I’m just not prepared to tell them.
So as a way to start writing again, I want to tell some stories. For one, I never want to be unprepared for such a simple question again. Secondly, I honestly believe that telling our stories is the best way to connect quickly and deeply to each other. I think that’s what they were really after when they asked me that; a connection. Hopefully next time I’ll have one ready.
Today’s Christmas song is “Silent Night” by Monarch. I have the pleasure of knowing a couple of these guys (acquaintances, really) and am so sure of their talent and ability that I’m recommending this song without hearing it first. We’ll discover this one together. Maybe I’ll edit this after listening and assign a number grade.
Today’s Christmas song recommendation comes by way of that same Paste Magazine sampler that had the Otis Redding song I recommended earlier. It’s “Joy To The World” by Seabird. I like how they played with the melody of this song keeping the exact same lyrics. Most times when artists like to freshen up an old hymn or Christmas song, they’ll add a repeatable, singable chorus they wrote while keeping the rest of the song the exact same melody. These guys did the opposite of that, and for some reason I like it.
Personal preference: 7 out of 10. The melody they stuffed this song into is good, but I can imagine the novelty wearing thin on repeat listens. Holly Jolly scale: 6 out of 10. This song puts more emphasis on the musical creativity than the festive campiness that are most Christmas songs, but it’s still “Joy To The World.”
Today’s song is “The Friendly Beasts” by Evan Wickham. For those familiar with the Christian/worship music scene, this is Phil’s older brother. Anyway, this isn’t one of my favorite songs around Christmas, but this is a pretty cute little version. I think that’s his son singing with him on a couple of the verses, and having your kid sing with you on your Christmas album is adorable. Enjoy.
Personal preference: 6 out of 10. Creative, but like I said, not one of my favorite Christmas songs. Holly Jolly factor: 8 out of 10.
So today is the 11th recommendation and is the first song on what was the first Christmas album I heard that let me know that Christmas songs were still being recorded after ~1960. This is “Winter Wonderland” by Phantom Planet. It’s from the album “Maybe This Christmas,” which I’d encourage you to take a listen to.
Personal preference: 6 out of 10. This is a good song, but again, time hasn’t done it any favors. Holly Jolly scale: 8 out of 10. It’s still a fun song worth adding to your Christmas playlist.
So today’s song is by another friend of mine, which I have to confess will probably be half of my recommendations. I can’t help it if my friends happen to make great Christmas music. Anyway, a couple years ago Moi recorded a song for a benefit album (if I’m remembering right). He sang this song with a couple other vocalists and it turned out really good. It’s “The Christmas Song” by Moi Navarro, Morgan Leigh, and Ellie.
Personal preference scale: 6 out of 10. Not my favorite style, but the vocal performances alone make this worth a few listens. Holly Jolly factor: 9 out of 10. Nothing screams “holiday season” more than a song laying out what a Christmas should look, feel, and even smell like.
Today’s recommendation is a blend of artistry and festive-ness. It’s legitimately a Christmas classic. It’s “Christmastime is Here” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Personal preference: 9 out of 10. Holly Jolly factor: irrelevant. This song embodies Christmas. Assigning a numerical value would be meaningless at best.