Basement Songs: Frank Sinatra, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Written by Basement Songs, Music

Sinatra’s rich, smooth voice conveys the love and spirit of Christmas, yet it drips with melancholy, as if he tossed back a couple of tumblers of Scotch before stepping to the mic.

The last day of a long, holiday weekend seemed like an opportune time to organize our garage. With the beginning of the advent season upon us, what better time to clear out the flotsam piled up in the rafters, souvenirs of the past that have collected dust and water damage, becoming less valuable as I’ve grown older and my priorities have changed.

From my college years I dug through old magazines, having no trouble recycling articles about horror movies, Roy Orbison’s death and Nelson Mandela’s freedom. I tossed the many copies of the Bowling Green campus newspaper that made a small mention of my senior film.  All of them were nice to look at once or twice, but their value means less to me than it did before I had kids.

Not everything from that part of my youth found its way into the big blue canister. Something compelled me to hold on to the several concert tour programs from my past. Even though these glorified pin-up books for Clapton, Journey, U2 and Yes are worthless, I still wanted them, the same way I hold on to my LP’s that never get played, or mix tapes that I never listen to. Something about knowing that I can still hold something physical from those concerts made me happy.

From college I dove into a bin full of old scripts, the  stories I’d written that will never see an inch of celluloid and words that will never be spoken by an actor’s mouth. Out they went, including early drafts of The American Standard, a movie I co-wrote that eventually became Deceit after the director did his rewrite. What good was it to hold on to my version of the script? Who was I ever going to show it to to point out the differences? It was finally time to throw out those feelings of disappointment. Yet, while I threw out the many screenplays I’ve written over the years, I also felt a sense of relief, as if getting rid of this detritus made it okay to say to myself, “I may never make another movie, but at least I pursued this dream of mine.”

I may have reached my dream with King’s Highway, the movie I did make. I didn’t throw out all of the material from that film shoot. Perhaps someday my children will ask me about it. If that ever happens, I’ll have the pictures and shooting scripts and edit notes to show them that, yes, kids, it’s possible to shoot a romantic comedy road trip movie in 10 days on $5000 if you put your mind to it. The end result may not be a masterpiece, but at least I can say I did it my way.

From the old manuscripts I opened a box full of photographs that date back to 1998, a year before my daughter was born. Hundreds upon hundreds of photos had mixed together, twelve years becoming a montage of memories. While I did my best to sort through the pictures, I couldn’t help but pause every minute or two to stare at my daughter as an infant, or to be reminded of the day my son was born ten years ago. In my hands, not only were there documents of my children growing up, but also the faces of friends and family, people I hold dear to me and others I don’t speak to anymore. Some are dead; some have floated out of my life, like leaves in the wind.

Sifting through these boxes full of the past made me think of Christmas, of spending time with the family and rushing to see as many friends as possible before an all too short vacation comes to an end. It’s such a joyous time of the year, yet the music of the season always makes me feel heavyhearted. Take Frank Sinatra’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for example. This has to be one of the most beautiful and popular recordings the legendary singer ever put to vinyl. Sinatra’s rich, smooth voice conveys the love and spirit of Christmas, yet it drips with melancholy, as if he tossed back a couple of tumblers of Scotch before stepping to the mic. Whatever may have been troubling him rose to the surface and became a part of his classic performance. I can’t imagine the holiday season without this song. It says Christmas to me; it says home.

Home.

Despite the many flaws I have, the mistakes I’ve made,  and the hurt I’ve caused in my lifetime, I’ve always striven to be a good man. Luckily, I have a home to return to each night and loved ones to embrace me and lift me up.  As the sun set on my Sunday chore, I felt no remorse for cleaning house and ridding myself of some of the clutter from my past. The present, with my wife and children, is what matters. Whatever memories we create in the years to come will always have importance over the ones buried somewhere in my garage.