Christmas Countdown 2009: No. 9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland (then) and James Taylor (now)

For many reasons, this should have been number 10, as it would have served as a good bookend to number 1. You’ll see soon enough what that means; this countdown is heading to the finish line a little too fast for me now…

This song, in my life, marries the old and the new, and the constant hope for better days for all. Many of you who know me from my younger years remember my One Man Wiz, where I would perform The Wizard of Oz — all of it, and by myself — in about 10 minutes. There was a run one year where I seemed to be doing it daily, from Hagerstown to Towson to the Inner Harbor. Everybody wanted to see me do this show. I learned it from a great performer named Chuck who was one of the founders of the Smile Merchants, a group that I mentioned earlier in the Countdown. Nobody could do the One Man Wiz like Chuck. I simply had the honor of doing my best in carrying on his legacy while performing it all over the state.

My love for The Wizard of Oz is connected, in many ways, to my love of Judy Garland and the energy and dedication she brought to the stage and the screen. In addition to her acting and singing talents, she was an exhaustive performer who would entertain for hours and hours until she collapsed. She gave all she got, every chance she had. I like living life that way. My belief is that we’re on this Earth but once, and we need to make the most of every moment. Judy Garland did just that.

This song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” was written for her to sing in Meet Me In St. Louis, a film she did in 1944, just 5 years after The Wizard of Oz. It’s a rather sad song that she sings to her little sister, as they prepare to move to New York from St. Louis. It was never meant to be a holly, jolly song; instead, it called upon the more melancholy side of the holiday, wishing for better days to come.

It wasn’t until 1957 that Frank Sinatra did his own version of this song, but he requested that the lyrics be changed to reflect a more “jolly” sentiment. The line, “Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through somehow” was changed to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” The next 50 years, nearly every performer who sang this song chose the more upbeat Sinatra version over the original Garland piece.

That is, until 2002, when James Taylor (my other favorite performer) decided to remain true to the Garland version when he cut a remake on his October Road cd. Taylor’s interpretation of the Garland classic brings back the melancholy tone as only JT can do, thus making it one of my all-time Christmas favorites.

I never saw Judy Garland live in concert (she died in 1969 when I was just 4 years old), but I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of seeing JT many times. And every concert I’ve attended, he has been tireless, devoted, and passionate about his music, its message, and its legacy. I’d like to think that he is living his life in many ways like Judy Garland did — Treasuring every moment as much as possible.

They both had similar battles, though, and they are reminders to us all that, at times, there are possible costs to living such a lifestyle. I find it fitting that these two selfless performers are also married by a song that provides a recognition of tough times, and a belief and hope that tomorrow may be better.

Enjoy both videos. And let’s stick together, muddle through, and keep our eye on even better days to come. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Christmas Countdown 2009: No. 9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland (then) and James Taylor (now)

  1. Thank you…. there arent many performers that I can say I love— like sooo many but love few– JT is def. in the LOVE column …. He sings from the heart… no matter the subject, he sings it like no one else.

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  2. Judy Garland: Consummate artist and entertainer, valiant soul. The scene in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (Judy in her party dress looking out the window with Tootie at the snowmen in the shadowy back yard and singing this song)never fails to make me choke up and weep. (Only one other song that makes me do that — “Sabbath Prayer” from the movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof”.) Thanks for putting Judy’s Christmas song in the the countdown.

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