The Internet can be as much as a throw back to the past as it is the cutting edge of communications. There are a couple of dozen people I regularly correspond with, it's a little bit like in Victorian times when it was fashionable to have a pen pal and not unusual to have several at once. One person I share music with sent me this Youtube clip.
On this cold grey day listening to Amy Whinehouse has morbid feel to the experience. In the old Celtic traditions ghost stories were part of the Solstice celebration. Trying to survive through the winter in a windowless hut with barely enough food and fuel not only made a person more vulnerable to sickness and death but psychologically each frigid, damp and miserable day must have been a heavy morose weight to bare. Okay, I'm not a winter person.
Part of the ghost story tradition remains with us in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The Industrial Revolution sweep through England and really did radically change everything. England before the steam engine was more Medieval than Enlightened. By the 1840's the changes were so fast and broad that there was a counter current of nostalgia and romanticizing the bygone past. It's one reason why the Brits appear to be on the surface a culture steeped in tradition, it was copping mechanism. If anything Dickens was a sharp observer of his times and his story A Christmas Carol was instrumental in forging old customs into new ones that looked and felt like they had a historical pedigree. One history professor credited Dickens as the father of the modern Christmas celebration.
In pre-industrial England the cities were small and most people lived and worked on agricultural estates. Part of the Christmas celebration was Mummery where the farm workers would go up to their Lord's manner house disguised in rags or costumes. The Lord of the estate was obligated to entertain the crowd (and many times mob) with food and drink. With the frightening thought of industrial workers roaming the streets of London, Manchester and Leeds; the Victorians replaced Mummery with a more sanitized Boxing Day and Christmas Pantomime or Panto. Dickens established the office Christmas party, the Christmas bonus (or at least a gift of a turkey to the employees) and the expectation that the workers would spend Christmas with their families enjoying a relatively sober dinner together.
I hear they still have traditional Mummery is some parts of Labrador. Someday I'd like to go and I'm open to invitations.
As cheery and bright as Christmas can be the ghosts of our lives still seem to be just on the other side of the frosted windowpane as we look out on a winter's night. Which kind of gets back to Amy Winehouse, dead at age 27. It was almost a year and a half ago, I was hanging out with local radio guru Rockin' Rob Lentz when we heard the news. It was sad but not a total surprise -it was obvious her song Rehab wasn't entirely ironic. Rockin Rob felt if Amy could have stayed out of trouble for another two months she would have turned 28 and been safe -"it was the curse of being 27".
On the face of that statement I thought Rockin Rob was stretching a point. True... Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died at age 27. Rockin Rob said don't forget Kurt Cobain. Here's where the internet comes in handy, on a Wikipedia entree there's a list of 41 prominent musicians who didn't make their 28th birthday like Robert Johnson, Brian Jones and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.
Theories abound on why 27 might be a dangerous crossroads in a musician's life. After ten or more years of sex, drugs and rock&roll a person's luck is inclined to run out. At age 27 a musician has either achieved a respectable level of success -or already quit, got a day job and is living a sane and safe lifestyle. One old barfly mused in between shots and beers that if you're single at age 27 you feel like a loser, and if you been married a few years by age 27 -"you're ready to pull the pug on the starter marriage". He claimed to be the voice of experience because he was married four times.
It could be more than coincidence. That in all the multi-rhythmic experiences of mortal existence maybe age 27 is one of those junctures where everything converges. And like James Joyce's The Dead (and yes that's also a Christmas Story) the ending has the metaphor of the falling snow on the landscape -as though the mysteries of life lie hidden but perceived, under that blanket of snow.