God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Sci-Fi Romance - God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Two years ago, I released the fist Sci-Fi Romance album, …and surrender my body to the flames, and that holiday season, put out a version of my favorite traditional holiday song — and staple of Jimmy Stewart movies — Auld Lang Syne. It seemed appropriate, then, that with the release of our album The Ghost of John Henry earlier this year, that we should put something else out around the holidays as a thank you to fans, friends, and everybody who made 2012 such a surprising and wonderful year for us.

I give you, then, our version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, which I wager is not like the versions of this song you are used to hearing. Or, I hope it isn’t. I mean, we played it at about 190 beats-per-minute, for one thing. Listen here, or head straight to the download page, where you can get it either for free or for however much you care to pay.

I had the idea for this take on the song last year, but it didn’t crystallize in time for us to get it recorded for the 2011 holidays. I’m glad I waited. Over the summer, I met Tim Moore at Mas Music Productions here in LA. He mixed and mastered our track Walk a Mile, which we’d been invited to contribute to a London Olympics-based compilation. We learned this song last Saturday and played it live at our last show of the year that evening. It went well, so I called Tim to see if he could get us in quickly. He was again wonderful to work with, and his contributions to this recording were tremendous.

We wrapped the track with about an hour left on our block in the studio. Kurt and Jody had taken off, and I didn’t want the time to go to waste, so I grabbed some brushes, the guitar, the bass, then hopped back into the booth and did a quick version of another traditional Christmas song, which I’m including as a B-side on this release. It’s one of my favorites, and I hope you guys enjoy it.

Finally, I went back and forth about whether or not I should say something about this, but I feel not to would be wrong: I booked our studio time on Thursday, December 13, and we recorded on Saturday, December 15. The day in between was the day of the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. By the time I got to the studio, there was less of me. My soul had been diminished since the morning before. And I really struggled with the idea of recording a Christmas song about joy in light of what had happened.

In the end, I believe that one of the jobs of artists is to help people, to transport them, to give them hope when hope seems out of reach. We likely did not do that in our three-minute Christmas song. But to fail to try would have felt like an abdication. I recognize that we are now marching into this holiday season differently than we were a week ago. But there are still many, many reasons to be joyful, and thankful.

I am deeply thankful for all of you. I could not have anticipated the shape of 2012, and you have given it a lovely one for us. Thank you, and may God rest ye merry.

Obsolete Technology Will Demand a Reckoning: The Ghost of John Henry

Our new album, The Ghost of John Henry, is available today. The folk tale about a railroad worker who raced a steam drill has stuck with me since I was a little kid, and so in a lot of ways it feels like I’ve been leading up to this record my whole life. That makes the response we’ve received to it so far — the wonderful reviews, pre-orders, internet radio play — tremendously moving. Thank you to Kurt and Jody for not turning around and running the other way when a crazy man (me) asked them to be in a band so we could make a concept record about a 150-year-old legend.

Why John Henry? This is from the album’s liner notes, and about as good an explanation as I know how to give:

After the Civil War, railroads spread out across the country, built on the backs of immigrants, convicts, and men who left their lives and loves to lay track beyond the horizon. But to the rich men who controlled the rails, their eyes fixed only on balance sheets, these workers were cogs in a machine – easily discarded, easily replaced. Into this world walked John Henry, said to be the strongest man to ever swing a hammer or drive a spike.

On his heels came steam. New steam drills appeared with the inevitability of tomorrow, intended to conquer mountains and make men obsolete. Faced with the loss of his livelihood, John Henry challenged the machine to a race. The details are lost to history, but what remains is the legend of a man who fought a machine and won, though the effort cost him his life. His stand was noble, proud, and futile. As technology continues to press against what it means to be human, we persist in his struggle, and walk with his ghost.

For Auld Lang Syne

Spend any time at all on Turner Classic Movies, and you’ll hear Auld Lang Syne sung by a big group of folks. They’ll sing it on New Year’s Eve, Christmas, birthdays, or just when Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart has a nice day. It’s everywhere in movies made before about 1950. As someone who has spent many weeks of my life plopped in front of such monochromatic relics, Auld Lang Syne probably seeped into my subconscious somewhere in college.

Everybody can hum it, and most people, I think, can fake their way through the first verse and chorus, or so a handful of New Year’s Eve parties I’ve attended lead me to believe. Somewhere in the muddle of my last ten years, I found myself interested enough to look up and vaguely translate (they were written in…what, Scottish?) Robert Burns’ original verse/lyrics, and I fell in love.

The lyrics are beautiful. This should not have been surprising to me, since as a race we are unlikely to remember garbage poetry after some two hundred years have passed. The story of the man from Nantucket notwithstanding, perhaps. But I *was* surprised.

The surprising thing to me was that once you realize what it’s saying, it’s not some schlocky, happy-crappy song about how great life is. It’s kind of a sad song, and it’s beyond me how it ever became the pop anthem of post-Prohibition cinematic joviality. But here we are. ¬†As a friend, Sean Thomason, said recently, if it’s not a little sad it just doesn’t feel true.

As I picked up my roots in my mid-20s and moved halfway across the country to a city where I knew no one, friendships that I had thought would last through anything began evaporating. Truth be told, many had been on somewhat shaky ground already. Schools and neighborhoods circumscribe lives in ways we cannot realize until after we have left them all behind. You stay in one spot physically, you’re likely to stay in one spot emotionally and relationally, as well. We don’t marry our high school sweethearts because we’ve seen the world and recognize they dwarf all other possible mates, we do it because of shared histories and familiarity.

When we walk different roads from one another, it makes sense only in retrospect that those roads would no longer intersect in such meaningful ways as they once did. But when they do once more cross, however briefly and in spite of the pain we inevitably feel when seeing ourselves as we once were in the eyes of those we once knew, here’s to the idea that we might set all of that aside, and raise a glass with one another for auld lang syne.

Here’s my version of the song.

You can download the song for free at http://music.scifiromance.net. Happy New Year, everybody.