I have to begin by saying that this song, “Jingle Bells,” is probably one of my least favorite holiday songs, simply because it’s been done so many times, yet there there are only so many ways that it can be interpreted (even barking dogs doing the song did not improve its merit with me).
Still, I’m drawn to this particular version for one reason: The Andrew Sisters. Maybe it’s their legacy of being the largest entertainer for troops overseas, next to Bob Hope. Or perhaps it’s the uncanny resemblance my mother and her sister, when in their twenties, share with them. Or, it simply could be the vocals — a harmonious blend of voices that had always wowed my father (and still me) in ways that few other harmonies can do.
Roll up all three into one big reason: Harmonic Nostalgia.
The sisters Patty, Maxene, and Laverne were about 10 years older than my mother and her sister, and they recorded Jingle Bells with Bing Crosby in September of 1943, just two years after the sisters recorded Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, one of their most famous hits. It was during this time, World War II, that their popularity piqued. They were beautiful, entertaining, and devoted to supporting those who were serving our country. There was no reason not to love them.
I was born two decades later, in 1965. By that time, my father had amassed a stack of LPs of Glen Miller, Rusty Warren, The Andrew Sisters, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey. There was always music in the house when Dad was not at the firehouse, and my early childhood was filled with the vocals and sounds of the big band era.
So when I hear Barry Manilow and others trying to do a remake of this classic, emulating the tone and pitch of every note they recorded way back in 1943, it reminds me that you can try all you want to mimic the masters, but you can never replace everything else they did for that era, or for helping my father define who he became later in life when I was brought into this world. By then, nearly 25 years had passed since he was turned down to fight for our country because he was color blind. Who knows the melancholy that he might have clung to when playing those songs, taking him back to a time in his life when he could not serve while others were fighting overseas. It’s something I’ll never know. I never took the time to ask.
I guess I carry along with me a bit of that melancholy that somehow comes through in their harmonies, a melancholy filled with the memories of a father I didn’t have the time to get to know as an adult. I wish I had the chance to do that part all over again, to spend more time with him on the water, fishing. To ask him the bigger questions in life that might have mattered more to him than, “can I have the car keys, please?”
Once again, I was too busy. He died just months after my epiphanic awakening in July of 1988.
So now I don’t shy away from sharing with my own children the harmonic sounds of my life. After my father died, my mother and I spent a great deal of time together. She talked about the many facets of her life before I was born, and I listened, absorbing every word as I pieced together the puzzle of her life, one memory at a time.
We never have as much time as we want or believe we may have. Harmonize with others, and let them know the beautiful sounds of your life that now blend to create the unmistakable Harmony of You.