One of the longstanding traditions around the 'Dome, along with Taco Tuesdays and the monthly Google Nude® check to see if any of my favorite actresses have "accidentally" Tweeted "private" pictures of themselves recently, is the annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Few things bring back the warm memories of childhood and invoke the true spirit of the holiday more than the beloved 1965 animated special, which is a jewel even among the many treasures of the golden era of network television holiday specials.
I am of a generation that cherishes Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas over more recent holiday fare like A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It was arguably a simpler, less cynical era when simple heartfelt sentiments could be expressed without incurring the wrath and derision of every agitated crackpot and hipster with access to the Internet. Even the commercials seemed more earnest in their attempts to entertain as well as advertise. I still get wistful whenever I see that hokey stop-motion animation of Santa tooling through the snow in a Norelco electric razor. And to this day, I can't think of my beloved Coca-Cola's Sprite without hearing that jingle in my head ("Sprite makes brighter holidays, limon is the reason"), sung to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas," who, ironically, preferred Fanta).
Be that as it may.
Nowadays, of course, viewing these specials is nowhere near the event is used to be. I grew up in a time before home video and DVRs, when a holiday special would only be shown once a year at an appointed time. If you missed it, you had to wait until next year. I know that may sound to today's youth like something out of the Dark Ages, like rotary telephones and having to say nasty things to people right to their faces instead of hiding behind social media like a little bitch, but there is something to be said for having to wait for something and not having everything available instantly at your fingertips. It made the event special, created indelible memories, and served as an important reminder (of which today's kids are in particular need) that the sun did not shine out of our precious backsides.
A Charlie Brown Christmas contained not one, but two important messages (in the Sixties, all network television was compelled by FCC regulations to include a socially acceptable Message): 1. The crass commercialism and mindless consumerism of the secular celebration of Christmas was destroying the spirit of love and joy that was the true reason for the season, and 2. No grade school lunchbox was complete without a Dolly Madison snack cake. But beneath the obvious moral, there was a more insidious message contained in the seemingly innocuous holiday special, one that left a lasting impression on uncountable numbers of my generation; Jazz could be cool.
's happening Jazz soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas marked the first time many kids of my era had ever heard Our Music in a familiar and non-threatening context. It wasn't needlessly complex and overly intellectualized like most Jazz had become during the Bop and Post-Bop era, nor as opaque and inaccessible as the Free school had made it seem. It wasn't consigned to Fusion's netherworld of neither/nor somewhere between Rock and Jazz, occupied by Rockers seeking to be respected as Real Musicians and Jazzers looking to get in on some of that decadent Rock Star lifestyle they'd heard so much about. What good was spending the requisite 10,000 hours acquiring musical virtuosity if it didn't get you any leg? Especially if you're wearing corduroy jeans and Earth shoes, and look like you haven't done anything with your hair since Eisenhower's second term.
The Jazz contained in Charlie Brown was relatively uncomplicated and accessible, but still managed to swing. Knowing what I do about it now, I can see the influence of the Cool school in Guaraldi's light touch and recognizable melodies. At the time, though, it was small-c cool. It was the kind of Jazz that a preternaturally hip kid like me in the relatively unsophisticated confines of Clifton Forge, Virginia, could listen to right out in public without it being viewed as an invitation to give me a Melvin. Even in the climate of counterculture sentiment lingering from the late Sixties, non-conformity had its own strictly enforced set of rules. Bell-bottoms and peace symbol belt buckles were acceptable, listening to any music not on the approved list (Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or anything that contained a swear word and/or thinly-veiled drug reference in the lyrics) was practically begging for a wedgie.
Bear with me, kids, I'm going somewhere with this.