“Christmas Time Again” was borrowed from my good bud Gary Cherone. Gary was a friend of my family’s way before he became an international pop star. When I say “good bud,” I’m not talking about the guy who wrote a Billboard Number one hit (“More Than Words”), sold more than 20 million records worldwide or commanded the stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1991 like he was the boss of all bosses! No, I am talking about the skinny little kid from Highland Avenue who dreamed a dream that actually came true and, in the process, made his mom a tremendously proud woman. That Gary Cherone – pre-stardom – the one with the awkward set shot always leaving his feet too early; the one with a passionate love for Kong Gorilla; the one who never, ever forgot his roots in Malden. With that said, yes – I am biased. I have been a fan since that first time I heard “Mutha.” Yes, I am old. I have been a friend since that first chance encounter in 1979 when he stood outside my house on Charles Street with my brother David and said, “You should come see my band play some time.” Gary had a certain charm. I was all in.
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 a charismatic front man appreciate that they were always honest and pure with their music. Gary’s vocation in life was his music. Music would be his career, damn it! 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 are now/were working in the less than glamorous aspects of the music world, if in the music world at all. He went all in because it always came from his heart. And because he was a little mishigas! Most of those “artists” are! Insert smiley face.
Which brings this long-winded diatribe full circle. “Christmas Time Again” was released in 1992 on A&M Records as part of an E.P. single with the song “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 song clocking in at 5:07 that got lost in the shuffle in the early 1990s that was/is the world of pop and rock n roll. It should not be lost. It should be played every year around Christmas time (even on WJIB!). It should take its rightful place alongside all the other great holiday standards that now 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 that voice as he sings this ode 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! Happy New Year!
Councillor-at-Large Craig (Spadafora) hit a grand slam last year with this Christmas memory. He encapsulates the holiday season as well as anybody possibly can. His grandmother Alice loved it also:
“My fondest Christmas memories will always be my grandparents’ (Anthony & Alice Spadafora) home on Emerald Street, Christmas Eve in particular. As a child with a big extended family, I looked forward to this annual tradition. This night brought myself and my many cousins, aunts, and uncles together under one roof with love, joy, and anticipation on the eve of the most magical day of the year. Each child always received gifts from aunts and uncles chosen at random. It was a house full of laughter, food, and a tree stocked with presents. And now, the food; baked, stuffed, boiled, fried, cured – we had it all. The Christmas season always begins with a baking marathon of delicious Italian cakes and cookies. The aroma fills the home for weeks on end. A few samples of pastries created for the season might include taralli, pizzelle, ciambelle, mostaccioli, biscotti, struffoli, panettone, crostoli, cannoli and so much more. And of course, the simple pasta and fishes on Christmas Eve. Our family enjoyed a gourmet spread of baked, fried, and sautéed aquatic delicacies, known as ‘The Seven Fishes.’ The older I got, the harder it was to leave my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve, as I quickly realized it was this day that supplied the real holiday magic. Looking back on it now in my adult mind is like watching my favorite Christmas movie. A true classic. My grandparents’ tree couldn’t have been more perfect, my grandmother’s smile more sincere, their house even had the traditional Christmas smell! I am no longer able to create any new Christmas memories with my grandfather ‘Papa Tony,’ but now have had the responsibility bestowed upon me of fathering crucial early holiday memories in my kids’ minds. I am so thankful that I can draw upon my own blessed experiences and realize how important it has been in the development of my character. Thank you, Tony, and Alice for teaching me the true meaning of a Merry Christmas!”
Fifteen Christmas/Holiday songs for 15 nights in December. All guaranteed to get you in the Holiday spirit. You Tube them. You’ll like ’em! In no particular order for 2021:
- Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”
- Hoist the Colors – “O Holy Night”
- Ella Fitzgerald – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
- Booker T & The MG’s – “Sweet Little Jesus Boy (In the Christmas Spirit)”
- Nat King Cole – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
- The Blackstone Valley Sinners – “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S”
- Ramsey Lewis Trio – “Sound of Christmas”/B4-“Sleigh Ride”
- The Band – “Christmas Must Be Tonight”
- The Hollyberries – “(I Wanna Go) Surfin’ with Santa”
- Satan’s Pilgrims – “Greensleeves”
- The Chesterfield Kings – “Hey Santa Claus”
- Emmylou Harris – “Light of the Stable”
- Los Straitjackets – “Marshmallow World”
- Bad Religion – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
- Art Carney – “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”
“This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end” – my late mother (Dorothy) – a huge hole in our hearts six years now – loved this quote so much when I originally printed it that I am once again bringing it back to life for this holiday season, the Christmas season that she so much loved. As I have written in the past, my treasured mom was a very special woman. Strong, protective, loving – she was admired by all and had a way of making each and every person feel special (whether she liked them or not!). Our friends became her friends over the years, and she just might have fed every single one of them growing up. The Facebook posts honoring her life were what makes social media special in tragic times as we experienced. She 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 anymore. For mom, her favorite Christmas quote coming from the beloved Dr. Seuss: “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 three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
Postscript 1: Proofreading this, there’s a common theme: how important our mothers and grandmothers were to our childhood holiday memories. Gary’s mom Josephine and grandmother Rocky, Craig’s mom and grandmother Franny and Alice, and my mother and nonni. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and all the best in 2022!