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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

19 Responses

  1. Gregory Fogg says:

    Geegory C Fogg John Denver’s Please Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas.

  2. James D. says:

    I’ve always loved Away in a Manger. As far as seasonal songs which touch on the holiday, but aren’t explicitly Christmas songs, Jingle Bells and There’s No Place Like Home For the Holidays are pretty good. I especially like Robert Goulets version of the latter. I’ve always liked his voice.

  3. Dot says:

    I like Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music and music by George Winston. I particularly love his recording of December. They can be heard on u-tube.

  4. Gregory Fogg says:

    I used to like Alabama’s Christmas In Dixie. A much better song with a simillar theme is The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Colorado Christmas. It was written by Steve Goodman.

  5. Arthur Livingston says:

    I should really start chiming in on these affairs. First, the high tenor on the Drifters’ White Christmas is Clyde McPhatter, maybe the finest of all R & B tenor balladeers. (Have you ever noticed how much male pop singing is near falsetto in American popular music? Buck Owens’ Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy–fun and deliciously tongue-in-cheek, and the Buckaroos probably had the best musicianship of any honky-tonk band. Last, we all know, or should know, how good many of Woody Herman’s bands have been. Less known is that he was a first rate jazz-inflected singer. I would offer his version of Let It Snow as something better than the usual annoying background noise of December.

  6. Robert Geraci says:

    I never liked listening to Judy Collins because of her choice of songs, yet conceding easily the clarity and beauty of her voice. That said, an album called On A Wintry Night is quite beautiful and her rendition of Let It Snow to me rings true to what normal adults would feel in that situation, so unlike all the other cheerleader renditions of this tune.

  7. Raymond Olson says:

    Art Livingston! Great to hear from you. Thanks for confirming my memory that that’s Clyde McPhatter’s voice on the Drifters’ “White Christmas”. My own cherished Christmas pop song is “There Ain’t No Santa Claus on the Evenin’ Stage” by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Dr. Fleming would say I’m indulging my perverse attraction to the outre. Guilty as charged, I say.

    For many years, a good friend of mine used to give out his self-compiled album of Christmas pop songs to everyone who attended his annual Christmas party. Because of his fondness for novelty songs and his eclectic tastes, he always had a full house.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    There is something deeply disturbed in any grownup who likes Captain Beefheart. Years ago, I gave away my vinyl original of “Trout Mask Replica,” so I have a clean conscience. I am surprised no one has brought up Robert Earl Keen’s “Christmas With the Family”…or Da Youpers’ album “Naked Elves in Cowboy Boots.”

  9. Ken Rosenberger says:

    My longtime college friend still fondly remembers the night he was part of a crowd of Jethro Tull fans who booed Captain Beefheart—the opening act—off the stage, in Roanoke, VA. Apparently, the Lick My Decal song was the final straw. Still, Trout Mask Replica regularly places among the top 100 rock and roll albums, whenever rock critics put together another anniversary survey, usually just a few spots below the Velvet Underground and Nico. As someone else I know would say (someone who’s read a few too many Rolling Stones), “It certainly is a very seminal album…”

    For years I would play a CD of Beethoven’s 9th in my car during the month of December. It seemed very Christmas-like to me. Nowadays, I can’t say I play much of anything, but I’m happy to hear what people play in their homes. Thankfully, I know virtually no one with a taste for the schlock of the lsst four or five decades. Remakes by modern pop divas should almost be considered capital crimes.

    Speaking of rock critics, I have come to believe Frank Zappa’s old adage that rock critics are writers who can’t write writing for readers who can’t read.

  10. James D. says:

    My children enjoy singing along to Bob Seger’s Little Drummer Boy.

  11. Gregory Fogg says:

    I think the first recording of Blue Christmas was by Ernest Tubb.

  12. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Ernest Tubb’s version was, indeed, the first hit recording of “Blue Christmas,” but it came out year after the original. Amen to Ken R. What Zappa said of rock music critics applies equally well to most pop music critics, comic book experts, sci fi anthologizers, and anyone who could review most films of the past thirty years with a straight face. Speaking of Zappa, he was obviously quite smart when he was not being–as he so often was–dumb beyond belief. As for his “work,” it was the musical equivalent of the stench of decay, though I have to concede that the geniuses who created Windham Hill records set a standard for tedium matched only by Ray Olson’s favorite composer, John Cage.

    For the very little that it’s worth, I have always loathed Alabama (the group), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and John Denver, though, I have to admit that an old pal of mine, Ray Blouin–he played banjo with a temporarily successful folk group–told me Denver was one of the few decent people he met in in the folk music business, He also wrote a few songs which, sung by other people, are fairly good.

  13. Raymond Olson says:

    I stand by my liking for Captain Beefheart. Along with the Byrds (through Sweetheart of the Rodeo), the Kinks (through Muswell Hillbillies), the Lovin’ Spoonful, the music-hall screwballs Bonzo Dog Band, and–a liking taken up much later–Richard Thompson are the only rock musicians much of whose music I still listen to and enjoy. And then there is the Sir Douglas Quintet, the acme of rock bands because of being able to play several styles of blues, country, western swing, dance jazz, and Tex-Mex equally well, too.

    I confess, too, that I just tolerate most Christmas pop songs. I prefer nineteenth-century and earlier carols that are forthrightly Christian. Among secular Christmas songs, only Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” come readily to mind as all-time hits with me. I deliberately did not listen to any music on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year.

    (“Ray Olson’s favorite composer, John Cage”–phooey!)

  14. Raymond Olson says:

    Instead of music, I’ve been reading Aristotle, Selma Lagerlof, and Theodore Dreiser’s last completed novel, The Bulwark.

  15. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Muswell Hillbillies is perhaps the great paleolibertarian album of history. Hard to imagine that in 1969, the acme of hippiedom/Psychadelia, the year of Woodstock, Manson, and Altamont, the great English band made an album with an anti-urban renewal title track. Not to mention the anti-modernist anthem “20th Century Man.” Has any other rock band ever paid tribute to Thomas Gainsborough? Is there a more creative couplet in rock than the one that rhymes “corner shop” with “Surrey with a fringe on top?” And then there is the infectious “Have a Cuppa Tea.” Ray, you must like “The Village Green Preservation Society” too. The Kinks certainly had a great sense of place. They were as much partisans of the old neighborhood as the Napoleon of Notting Hill.

    Contra Counterculture, 1969 also found Bob Dylan making his country album “Nashville Skyline,” which contained the lovely duet with Johnny Cash, “Girl from the North Country.”

    I agree with Dr Fleming on Frank Zappa. For all his technical skill and occasional wit, I never warmed up to any of his music.

    Like Ray, I also endorse Richard Thompson. The album he made with ex-wife Linda, “Shoot Out the Lights,” is a keeper.

  16. Jacob Johnson says:

    Another of Zappa’s quips about Rolling Stone type journalism was something like “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” He did write the most apt words about television I’ve ever heard in a pop song.

    I am gross and perverted
    I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
    I have existed for years
    But very little has changed
    I’m the tool of the Government
    And industry too
    For I am destined to rule
    And regulate you
    I may be vile and pernicious
    But you can’t look away
    I make you think I’m delicious
    With the stuff that I say
    I’m the best you can get
    Have you guessed me yet?
    I’m the slime oozin’ out
    From your TV set
    You will obey me while I lead you
    And eat the garbage that I feed you
    Until the day that we don’t need you
    Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you
    Your mind is totally controlled
    It has been stuffed into my mold
    And you will do as you are told
    Until the rights to you are sold

  17. Vince Cornell says:

    A few years back I picked up Dakota Dave Hull’s “The Goose is Getting Fat” – I really enjoy it. And a “Thank You” to Mr. Olson for turning me onto Dakota Dave’s radio show several years ago – too bad it’s not around anymore.

  18. Raymond Olson says:

    Ken–You’re right, and I also love Face to Face, Something Else, and Arthur–you?
    The Thompson album to cherish for me is the three-disc set, Watching the Dark, whose contents span 1969-88 and include studio and concert recordings in about equal measures. The last track is a live concert performance of “Shoot Out the Lights”. Gives the best kind of chills.

  19. Raymond Olson says:

    Vince–I’ve not heard that one of Dave’s recordings. Something to live for–not that I haven’t a great plenty, already. The end of Dave’s program was the first domino in my online radio listening. The same year saw a marvelous Cajun-zydeco-New Orleans blues show on the same station, KFAI, close shop, then in 2018, “Writer’s Block”, my favorite jazz program, wrapped. Now all I have left is Bill Malone’s “Back to the Country” on Wednesdays, 9-to-noon, on WORT in Madison. My cup runneth over.