127 Hours (Short Review)

During a time when I lived in Arizona, I often went hiking in the desert by myself. There is something about being alone in the wilderness by yourself that is rejuvenating. After seeing 127 Hours, though, you will think twice before heading off into the wilds alone.

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron Ralston

In 2003, Aron Ralston was out hiking and climbing rocks when he fell in a canyon and a boulder trapped his arm. For the next five days, he struggled to stay alive and to try to figure out a way to escape. Anyone going to see the movie probably already knows how it ends. Knowing that, 127 Hours, which is based on Ralston’s book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, is pretty much what you expect.

Although I had hoped to be surprised in some way, there was not a lot beyond what I expected. The accident happens early in the movie, and then it builds toward the brutal ending, and it is rather explicit even if some of it is thankfully blurred out.

The ending, though, was somewhat surprisingly uplifting. In the loner’s struggle to get back to civilization and to get help from other people, there is a release from the anxiety. I am not sure, though, whether or not the release came from the telling of the story or whether, as in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, the movie slowly beats you into submission with its brutality so that you feel the emotion when you are finally released from that brutality.

Is it worth seeing? If you know what happens and you are still curious, 127 Hours is worth seeing. James Franco, as always, does a good job, which is important in a movie such as this where the lead actor must carry the film. The scenery is captivating and best seen on a big screen. And it is a compelling true story about what a human being can do in desperate circumstances.

Top 10 Depressing Holiday Songs

The previous post on Three Depressing Holiday Songs got us started thinking about the best depressing holiday songs.  So, this post features Chimesfreedom’s Top Ten Depressing Holiday Songs.  We selected these top 10 based upon three categories. Points were given for (1) deep depression and sadness; (2) quality of song; and (3) familiarity of the song.

Christmas cheer beer.(1) Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues: Scored high in all three categories.  Discussed in previous post in more detail, but all you really need is the opening line of the song: “It was Christmas Eve, babe,/ In the drunk tank.” Score:  97 points.

(2) “Blue Christmas” – Elvis Presley, etc.: Gets high on the list because very familiar and a good song, but the music is not that sad. For more, we discussed the story behind Elvis Presley’s most famous performance of the song. Score:  93 points.

(3) “The River– Joni Mitchell (and covers): Received most of its points from the deep depression category with both depressing lyrics and music.  Discussed in previous post in more detail.  Score:  91 points.

(4) Pretty Paper” – Roy Orbison:  The lyrics to “Pretty Paper” are a little vague, but a guy is alone on the sidewalk hoping “that you won’t pass him by.” “You’re in a hurry” so you leave him there crying as people laugh in the distance. You suck. Anyway, it has Roy Orbison’s voice, which automatically puts it high on the sounding-sad scale.  If he sang “Jingle Bells” it would make this list. Score:  89 points.

(5) Do They Know It Is Christmas?” – Band Aid: Very famous and depressing: “Where nothing ever grows/ No rain or rivers flow.” And then there is Bono wailing, “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of yooooooooooooo!”  “Do They Know It’s Christmas” would be higher on the list, but by the end we are happily singing “Feed the world” and letting people know it is Christmas Time whether they want to know it or not.   But while it did raise money for a good cause, the song has an extra tinge of sadness because it also reminds us that we did not find a solution to hunger in the 26 years since the song was released.  We mock, but we love the song. Just avoid the two remakes from 1989 and 2004. Score:  88 points. Trivia Question: Who sings the Bono part in the 2004 Band Aid 20 remake?

(5) “Christmas in Prison” – John Prine. We like John Prine and the quality of “Christmas in Prison,” so we are putting it above some other songs even though you may never have heard it. Plus, you got prison: “The search light in the big yard / Swings round with the gun / And spotlights the snowflakes / Like the dust in the sun.” Check it out below.  Score:  84 points.

(7) “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” – Tom Waits: Scored high on the depression scale, but not a song for many repeated listenings and not as famous as some of the above songs.  Discussed in previous post in more detail.  Score:  79 points.

(8) I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas” (tie) – Bing Crosby and others: Familiarity got these two into the top ten. The music sounds depressing, but the person is missing one Christmas and seems to still have family they will see again. For “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the guy who wrote the lyrics was thinking of a homesick kid in college.  C’mon kid, there are people starving in Africa.  At least “White Christmas” gets bonus sad points from its popularity being connected to WWII soldiers missing home.  These songs are sad, but not hooker-in-prison sad.   Score:  78 points.

(9) “Billy’s Christmas Wish” – Red Sovine: “Billy’s Christmas Wish” may not be as well known as the other songs here, but the song is unbeatable on the depression scale so it makes the list on that alone. Consider: (1) the little boy’s father is in prison for shooting the mother’s boyfriend; (2) the mother works in a bar and lives with an abusive “Mr. Brown;” and (3) then the little boy dies on Santa’s lap at the end. Seriously, that is the song. And then Santa has the nerve to tell us not to be sad because the boy wanted to live with God so “now everything’s alright.” That makes us think that Santa killed Billy.  Score:  72 points.

(10) “The Rebel Jesus” – Jackson Browne. The Top Ten List must have room for a song that gets to the heart of Christmas and how the spirit of it gets corrupted, calling us out for our hypocrisy. Everyone may not know this song, but it is a beautiful song of the season. Score: 68 points.

Well we guard our world with locks and guns,
And we guard our fine possessions.
And once a year when Christmas comes,
We give to our relations.
And perhaps we give a little to the poor,
If the generosity should seize us.
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor,
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

I went shopping today and bought a present for my mom, and then I sang along to “Do They Know It’s Christmas” without doing anything about the poor.  I am a worthless human being.  Thanks Jackson Browne for making me feel like crap.   If you need to feel a little better, you may use the charity of your choice or use these links for CARE, Oxfam, or UNICEF.

Honorable Mention: “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” – John Denver: You do not hear this one a lot, and I just discovered Alan Jackson covered the song. The song is sad with the kid worrying whether daddy will be drunk again this Christmas, but it is played as a clap-along song so not as depressing as it could be. Plus, the kid has it good compared to Billy in the Red Sovine song.  Score:  54 points.

Bonus Recent Excellent Sad Holiday Song: Mike Ireland and Holler‘s “Christmas Past.” I found this song last year and really like it, and when you hear it, the melody sounds like a song you have heard many times before. The song features various memories floating by and ends with: “The only company I keep exists in memories / Leaving me alone on Christmas Day.” Sad, but a pretty song.

Bonus Links: In preparing this post, I did some googling and saw that others had compiled similar lists that you may see and compare here, here, here, and here.

What’s your favorite depressing holiday song? Post a comment.

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    3 Depressing Holiday Songs

    Pogues Christmas There are numerous places to go for happy holiday songs about snowmen, toys, and good cheer. But the holidays are often a depressing time of year for many, in part, because the songs and movies create such high expectations of perfection in our lives. So, to counter those expectations, here at Chimesfreedom we revisit three of the best depressing holiday songs, brought to you by Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, and the Pogues. Because these songs lower one’s expectations, maybe they provide a source of joy for this time of year better than some of the syrupy happy songs.

    The title of Tom Waits’s song, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” sums it up. The song starts off with “Silent Night” to give the Christmas setting of the song, and then the “hooker” describes her life to Charley. She spins a tale about a husband and her memories, but at the end she confesses:

    I don’t have a husband
    He don’t play the trombone
    And I need to borrow money
    To pay this lawyer
    And Charley, hey
    I’ll be eligible for parole
    Come Valentines day.

    Then the singer goes back into “Silent Night,” evoking the hidden sadness that underlies that melancholy song, which is about the birth of a savior born into a fate of suffering. If you are not a Tom Waits fan, I realize his voice takes a little getting used to, but his gravely voice highlights the sadness of this tale.

    From the first notes of the piano introduction to “The River,” on both Joni Mitchell’s original and Sarah McLachlan’s cover, you know you are in for a depressing song even if the initial notes are from the happiest of holiday songs, “Jingle Bells.” Like the two other songs here, “The River” begins by setting the scene for Christmas: “It’s coming on Christmas/ They’re cutting down trees / They’re putting up reindeer / And singing songs of joy and peace.”

    But then, the song centers on memories of a failed relationship. “Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby / That I ever had /Oh I wish I had a river /I could skate away on.”

    I prefer the Joni Mitchell version, but I could not find an actual video performance of the song (and what I did find was too full of depressing comments). So here is the McLachlan version of “The River,” which is also a good recording. But you are warned. It is depressing.

    The Pogue’s “Fairytale of New York” (1987), featuring British singer Kirsty MacColl, is probably my favorite depressing holiday song. Despite the depressing lyrics, the joyous Irish tune lifts my spirits, in much the same way we find joy in other sad holiday stories like “Blue Christmas.” You know it is not a typical Christmas song from the first line: “It was Christmas Eve babe/In the drunk tank.” The singer then turns to memories of his “Queen of New York City” as he “can see a better time/When all our dreams come true.”

    Then the band kicks in and the song features an exchange between a couple who are down on their luck.  They reflect on their hope in coming to America (“They got cars big as bars / They got rivers of gold”), tinged with dashed dreams (“But the wind goes right through you/It´s no place for the old”).

    The couple fight and curse each other.   They exchange several barbs, referring to “an old slut on junk” with the holiday wish, “Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God it’s our last.”  I have read a few different interpretations of what is going on in the song — whether it is a current relationship or a past relationship.  Despite the broken dreams of the song (“You took my dreams from me”), I like to think the song ends with a tiny sparkle of hope, “Can’t make it all alone/ I’ve built my dreams around you.”

    Finally, we’re pulled back to the police station and the drunk tank,

    The boys of the NYPD choir
    Were singing “Galway Bay”
    And the bells were ringing out
    For Christmas day


    Bonus Video Information: Recognize the police officer at the beginning of this video? He’s Matt Dillon.

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    Oxford American Southern Music Issue

    Oxford American MagazineThe Oxford American magazine recently released its Twelfth Annual Southern Music Issue, and, as always, the magazine and enclosed CD are outstanding.  Oxford American is billed as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing,” and once a year, it devotes an issue to southern music, including a CD of the music discussed in the magazine.  I first discovered the annual music issue in 1999, when my friend and co-worker Sid gave me my first copy, and I have been following the magazine ever since. 

    The “southern music” of these issues consists of nuggets of a wide variety of the good stuff.  In the CDs I have from past annual music issues, the artists included people I already knew – such as Sonny Burgess, Odetta, and the Del McCoury Band – to new discoveries for me – like the Gosdin Brothers’ 1968 recording of “There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To)” on this year’s CD.  There are occasional odd gems, like when the 2000 CD included a recording of Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish singing “Leaning” from Night of the Hunter that made me love the song and his voice outside the context of the haunting scene in the movie.

    Last year, Oxford American started a new approach with its music issue. Instead of covering a broad geography, the magazine began to focus on one state each year.  Last year was Arkansas, and this year’s issue concentrates on Alabama.  I really liked the previous broader approach, but the state-by-state approach is growing on me.  And either way, it is the best magazine-CD out there, and it still covers a wide range of styles and time, with songs from the 1940s through 2010.  Additionally, I like that the magazine’s approach has evolved over the years so now there is a feature story about each track on the CD.

    There are also other articles, like fiction by Greil Marcus and an article about the song-writing team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.  Never heard of the Bryants?  The article will tell you the story behind their songs recorded by the Everly Brothers, like “Bye Bye Love” (recorded by the Everlys just to get the $64 session fee).

    Oxford American has struggled through the years to stay in business (like another music magazine I loved, No Depression). From my recollection, and from the missing CD in my collection from one year, the magazine’s troubles peaked in 2004 when they stopped publishing for a period. Do not let that happen again. You may pick up the magazine at most bookstores or order the magazine and back issues from the website, which also has this year’s track listing (under “Further Listening”). FYI, I have no affiliation with the magazine, I just wanted to share.

    A version of this review was also published at NoDepression.com

    Two Online Time Killers

    Chimesfreedom is posting two simple peaceful games here.  In these two games, there is no violence and the only thing that gets killed is your time, even though each game only takes a few seconds.

    Chimesfreedom's Pocket Watch

    Winterbells is a simple game with nice graphics (and soothing background music) where you click to start and then move your mouse cursor over the bells to direct the rabbit to jump as high up the scale as possible.  My computer tells me I once broke 8000, but not today.

    Redsquare has simple graphics where you grab a red square with your mouse and move it to avoid getting hit as long as possible.  I have been close, but have not broke the 18-second challenge.

    What is your high score on these games? Do you have other online games you like? Leave a comment.