AS soon as the holiday rush rolls in, I make it a point to listen to Christmas songs, which I have plenty of in my iPod, while I stew in traffic or even when I hit the treadmill.
With a few exceptions, I never seem to get tired of listening to Christmas staples dished out by the likes of Barbra Streisand (of course!), Lea Salonga, Michael Bublé, the Carpenters, Ryan Cayabyab (through the now defunct San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra), Tony Benet and even Hall & Oates.
By putting on Santa’s cap, so to speak, and spreading “peace, love and goodwill to all men” through their distinct music and beautiful voices, these artists gifted us with some of the best Christmas presents money can’t buy. And the nice part is, they’re accessible all-year round.
Music for the spirit
Since I’m no music critic, this piece isn’t a review, but more of my personal reflections on the need to relive the Christmas season through songs that lift our moods as well as feed our spirits.
In my book, the simpler and purer the rendition is, the better. These qualities are what make Streisand and company’s Christmas albums such a joy to listen to over and over again, season after season.
Since majority of the materials are cover versions, anyway, they try their best to make the songs their own without mangling or rendering them unrecognizable. In Salonga’s case, for instance, she just allowed her beautiful voice to float—no more, no less—and carry the season’s message across.
I wish I could say the same thing to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston’s respective Christmas albums. I wonder why these two artists with big beautiful voices allowed their efforts (twice in Mariah’s case) to be swamped with too much background noise and superfluous vocal pyro techniques. They could have done very well without ’em. Again, I digress.
It was only recently, however, when I mustered enough courage to listen again to American songstress Jewel’s “Joy—A Holiday Collection,” one of my favorite Christmas albums ever in my ever-growing list.
I came out of it appreciating her music, a mix of pop and country with just the right auditory tinsel in keeping with the holiday mood, even more. It doesn’t hurt that the selection ranges from outright Christmas pop songs to songs that give deeper meaning to the real spirit behind the season.
And with a versatile voice that can range from sweet, clear and childlike in one track to raw, folksy and almost raspy the next, Jewel can breeze through such mindless holiday ditties as “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” to more serious stuff like “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Gloria” and “Hands” with ease.
The first time I heard Jewel sing “Ave Maria,” a song that has been done to death by almost every American artist, including the Jewish Streisand, I dropped whatever it was I was doing to savor her rendition’s every note and nuance. I swear, it was like hearing the song sung for the first time by an angel.
What led me of late to listen with reluctance to such a well-loved artist? It all started with a story Ricky Lo, entertainment editor of another newspaper and an institution in Philippine journalism, shared with me during an official trip to Korea earlier this year.
Apart from that blasted question asking us what day/s our “column” comes out—ordinary people can’t seem to distinguish the difference between a news story and a column, and assume that all print journalists are columnists—one of the most often asked questions we get from people we meet is who among the countless subjects we’ve interviewed so far do we find “memorable.” I always find myself pressed for an answer.
Ricky, who’s been in the business even when I was still in short pants, seems to share my sentiments. Interviewing a famous person may seem such a big deal to outsiders and newbies, but it’s pretty routine to us veterans.
Unless a subject did or said something out of the ordinary, journalists like Ricky and I are often at a lost for words answering who our all-time favorite and/or most memorable subject is. It so happened that Jewel, who, if I’m not mistaken, was then promoting an album in Singapore, did something unthinkable.
“Almost all of my interviews went well,” Ricky said. “Celebrities, both local and foreign, know how to conduct themselves in front of the media. In all my years as a newsman, the only exception I could think of is Jewel.”
Ricky doesn’t know how she dealt with other journalists that time, but when it was his turn to interview the singer, she wasn’t only blasé, she was downright coarse and condescending towards him.
Ricky shared bits and pieces of how the interview (or non-interview) went, but one instance, which seemed to have captured Jewel’s puzzling behavior went like this (I’m quoting loosely from Ricky):
Jewel: “(Long pause) How did I end up with such a name? You want to know why I’m called Jewel? (Laughs before looking at her band members) Hey, he wants to know why I’m called Jewel?”
As soon as she was finished with her last line, members of her band, who were as uncouth as Jewel, were laughing along with her. It was like they were relishing a private joke, and didn’t want Ricky to be part of it. Worse, they appeared to be making fun of the interviewer in front of them.
I don’t know if she ever bothered to answer Ricky’s question. She probably didn’t since I can’t recall how his story ended.
All throughout the remainder of the interview, Ricky managed to maintain his cool. But he eventually had the last laugh by not bothering to play back his tape as soon as he got back home to Manila. In other words, he didn’t write a story about the interview at all.
“Imagine, flying us all the way to Singapore only to receive such a reception,” he said.
Had it happened to me
Jewel is lucky. If I were Ricky, I wouldn’t have let her off the hook that easy. I would make sure to tell the whole world how she made an ass of herself in front of the media.
Woman, you were dealing with a respected and widely followed institution in Philippine journalism! And even if he weren’t, the fact that he went out of his way to fly to Singapore just to hear you out should have elicited at least some semblance of respect from you.
Again, it only goes to show that what we often see and hear from many of these artists on stage and in front of the cameras are not what they usually do, say, believe and practice in private.
Well, who says life, no matter how seemingly charmed it is, is going to be that easy? Nothing worth doing is. Even the Baby Jesus, a.k.a. the Prince of Peace, before he could even begin with his mission to save the world, allowed himself to be born in a stinking manger.