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“A Christmas Prayer”

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~ Malden Musings ~

  The year, 1943 – Americans were fighting for their way of life, united against a common enemy, Maldonians very much included. We came together as a nation with an indomitable spirit led by what would later be christened (by Tom Brokaw) as “the greatest generation.” The free world would not bend. While the horrors of war raged, we clung to our faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. During these times, our conviction never broke. This prayer offered up by the New York Life Insurance Company in a 1943 Life Magazine full-page ad illustrates what the Christmas Season has meant to generations of Americans through the best of times – and the worst:

  “Let us pray that strength and courage abundant be given to all who work for a world of reason and understanding. That the good that lies in every man’s heart may day by day be magnified. That men will come to see more clearly not that which divides them, but that which unites them. That each hour may bring us closer to a final victory, not of nation over nation, but of man over his own evils and weaknesses. That the true spirit of this Christmas Season – its joy, its beauty, its hope, and above all its abiding faith – may live among us. That the blessings of peace be ours – the peace to build and grow, to live in harmony and sympathy with others, and to plan for the future with confidence.”

  The Extreme founding member, Malden’s very own Gary Cherone, lives for the Christmas season. Gary is the guy who wrote the Billboard #1 hit “More Than Words,” sold over 20 million records worldwide and commanded the stage at the 1991 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert like he was boss of bosses! I’m talking about the skinny little kid from Highland Avenue who dreamed a dream that actually came true, and in the process, made Josephina an “extremely” proud mom (pun intended). Gary was the one with the awkward set shot always leaving his feet too early; the one with an obsessive love for Kong Gorilla; the one who never, ever forgot his Malden roots. With that said, yes – I am biased. I have been a fanboy since that first time I heard “Mutha.” In my life since that first chance encounter in 1979 standing outside my house on Charles Street with my brother David – “you should come see my band play some time.” I was all in. Gary had charisma. Extreme may not have set the world on fire. They were not Elvis, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but the music world and those of us that still have a love for guitar, drums and bass with an enigmatic front man appreciate that they were always honest and true with their music. Gary’s vocation in life was his music. He was all in. Turns out he was one of the fortunate ones. Many came before him (many came after) with that same dream, but the stars were aligned for Amerige Park’s most famous son. He went all in because it always came from the heart. And because he was a little mishigas! Most “artists” are! Which brings this long-winded diatribe somewhat full circle. His ode to the holiday, “Christmas Time Again,” was released in 1992 on A&M Records as part of an E.P. single with “Stop the World.” Gary may not have been the “Shakespeare of rock n roll,” as his ex-bandmate (the late) Eddie Van Halen once proclaimed, but he strived to always make a difference with his lyrics – like many of his musical heroes before him. It is a beautifully written, sentimental tune clocking in at 5:07 that got lost in the early ’90s shuffle that was the world of pop and rock n roll. It should not be lost. It should be played every year at Christmas time (even on WJIB!). It should take its rightful place alongside all the other great holiday standards that have become holiday earworm in our lives. Forget all you know about Extreme. The pretty boy image. The bluster that is Nuno. The ill-advised “heavy metal” label that was thrown at them and stuck. Listen to this song. Listen to the sincerity in Gary’s voice as he sings this composition to his favorite day – the honesty in the lyrics. Listen to what is in Gary’s heart and to a song written from the soul of a man who made art his career. Merry Christmas, G Man, keep on rockin’!

  Who remembers happier days; Christmas shopping in Malden Square…Jordan Marsh, the Slack Shack, Bakers, Malden Jewelry, Roli Music and Malden Music Center, Sound on Sound, Pandora’s Box, Casual Scene, Sparks, Woolworths, Lady Grace, Gilchrist, Lerner’s, Tom McCann, Moe’s Smoke Shop, Converse Smoke Shop, Headlines, Jordan Marsh, Malden Army & Navy, Jerry’s Army & Navy, Kotzen’s, Boston Leader, Chisholm’s Sporting Goods, Hanlon’s Shoes, Liggett’s? If you do, consider yourself fortunate. Those were special days in our lives – not soon to be forgotten. The Malden of today is an exciting and welcoming place to be living in with potential for even better days. But the generation that remembers buying blueberry muffins at Jordan Marsh, shoes at Louie Klane’s, school clothes at Sparks, or rolling papers at Headlines? You’re old! Really old. I kid! We may be old, but we had the best music ever created (as the t-shirts imply). Insert smiley face. And we had the best places in the Square to lighten our load and get our merry on like the Do Re Lounge, Bunkie Klane’s, Jack Haney’s, the Centre Bar & Grille (later Richard’s Pub), the Horseshoe Bar & Grille and the Auld New Lounge. Memories that will remain with us forever – for those that didn’t overindulge in Schlitz, that is. Insert (yet another) smiley face.

  Ten Christmas/Holiday songs for 10 nights in December, all guaranteed to get you in the 2022 holiday spirit:

  1. James Brown – “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”

  2. Judy Garland – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

  3. Sonny Boy Williamson – “Santa Claus”

  4. The Pogues – “Fairytale of New York”

  5. Run-DMC – “Christmas in Hollis”

  6. Big Star – “Jesus Christ”

  7. Perry Como – “Christmas Dream”

  8. Dogmatics – “X’mas Time (Sure don’t feel like It)”

  9. The Temptations – “Silent Night”

  As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character “Columbo” would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – my late mother (Dorothy) left a huge hole in our hearts – hard to believe seven years now. Loved this quote so much when I originally printed it that I am again bringing it back to life for this holiday season, the Christmas Season that she so much looked forward to. As I’ve written in the past, my mother was very special. Strong, protective, loving – she was adored by all and had a way of making each and every person feel special (whether she liked you or not!). Our friends became her friends over the years, and she just might have fed every single one of them. The Facebook posts honoring her life were what makes social media special in such tragic times. Moms would have loved to have read them and would have bragged unabashedly about one particular photo of her shoveling snow reaching almost 300 likes. My saint of a mother shoveling her sidewalk on Charles Street as her four big strong boys slept through the morning. They don’t make them like Dorothy Drago Levine any longer. For mom, her favorite Dr. Seuss Christmas quote:

  “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

  Postscript 1: I love Malden during the holiday season. It is ingrained in my heart and soul – made extra special with memories of my late mom on Christmas morning. With that said…one of my favorite Boston Globe columnists, Beverly Beckham, wrote this on a recent Sunday: “Maybe this is the miracle of Christmas, not only that the heart remembers but that it speaks. And we listen. And while we do, it’s not the craziness and busyness of the season that we feel. It’s a kind of peace mixed with joy and love and gratitude. For what was. And for who was. And who is. And for all the Christmases past and this next one that’s yet to come.” Merry Christmas and happy new year, Malden!

  Postscript 2: It won’t soon replace “It’s a Wonderful Life” as the holiday go-to, but the 1964 Rod Serling–penned “Carol for Another Christmas” is a minor classic and is worth the watch.

  Postscript 3: On the tragic Christmas season passing of John Esposito – to Debbie: please remember – life carries on and love continues, stay strong and we will keep “John John” in our thoughts and in our hearts.

  Postscript 4: To my grandchildren Christian, Lola, Jack, Lana and Milo – thank you. Thank you for taking me along with you through another magical holiday season.

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