Krismyth: The Evolving Story of Santa Claus

You’ve probably heard of him. Santa Claus. Saint Nick. Father Christmas. Kris Kringle. For most of us who are familiar with the story, the same basic images are probably evoked by any one of those names.

Did you know that Santa Claus did not have any reindeer until he was given one in 1821? It was in a poem called “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight,” author unknown. Then apparently he quickly gained some significant clout, because two years later in “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore (now commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) he had eight of them along with an airborne sleigh.

I don’t know how Santa Claus made his deliveries each Christmas Eve before then. No matter. He now had a vehicle. Now he needed a suit. Santa Claus got his red suit in an 1868 advertisement for a confectionery company. I mean he had a suit before that. It’s just that before 1868, Santa Claus dressed, randomly it seems, in white, green, blue or even brown.

Every heroic figure has got to have a side kick. Santa Claus got an entire workforce full of them in a publication called “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in 1873 where the elves, as well as a workshop were first depicted. We soon found out where that workshop was situated in an 1879 Thomas Nast illustration showing a child mailing a letter to Santa Claus at a North Pole address.

Then in 1939 in the wake of “one foggy Christmas Eve”, a book written by Robert L. May introduced us to Rudolph, a ninth, and red-nosed reindeer. It also introduced us to the moral complexities of the the other eight reindeer, but that’s a story for another day, I suppose.

It’s almost like we’re making the whole thing up as we go along, as if the story of Santa Claus is an evolving work of fan fiction.

A Dailey Freelance Exclusive! Ode To Cartwright, Adams and Wheaton.

When you write freelance material for a client, it is great to be able to give them something that no one else has. Kind of like getting “the scoop” before any other news outlet, to put it in olde-timey journalistic parlance. Really it is about giving them something fresh to offer their followers. Digging a bit deeper than anyone else bothers to.

To illustrate what I’m talking about:

This Friday is the anniversary of the day that, in 1846, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York played the first known match under the official rules they had written up the year before. In the match they were destroyed by a club called the New York Nine, who thrashed the over-confident Knickerbocker Club by a score of 23-1 on the Knicks’ home turf, Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ.

I have noticed that history tends to come down to us in threes.

  • First there is the mythologized version of what happened.
  • Then there is “the real story.”
  • And then, when you dig a little deeper you get “the whole story.”

The myth was that Abner Doubleday had invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY seven years before the Knickerbocker vs. Nine match. The myth is the reason that to this day the National Baseball Hall of Fame is situated in Cooperstown. But it didn’t happen.

The “real story” is that Knickerbocker Club member Alexander Cartwright had written the rules the previous year. Often referred to as the “Cartwright Rules” it is a set of regulations so imperfectly perfect that they seem totally random and ordained from On High all at once.

But the “whole story” is that versions of the game were already being played by kids for probably hundreds of years before Cartwright. Though he probably played a huge role in the “invention” of baseball as it is played today, a great deal of the credit ought to go to another Knickerbocker Club member, Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, and William Wheaton. As a matter of fact, Wheaton has claimed to have written up a set of rules for the Gotham Base Ball Club in 1837!

There is plenty of information, and there are plenty of accounts that have been dug up concerning their roles in early baseball that you can research on your own if you are interested.

That is “the scoop” I mentioned. That’s the “exclusive!” In the old days, in pursuit of “the scoop” a story would rarely reach the “real story” level, and certainly their was no time for the “whole story”. Fortunately it is a different time and Dailey Freelance can take the time to give you more depth. More substance.

Big Up To Brooklyn

People always ask me “Hey Dailey, why do you wear a Brooklyn Dodgers cap?”

I’m just kidding. Nobody calls me “Dailey” and they don’t ask me why I wear a Brooklyn Dodgers cap either. But I am a Minnesota boy and I have no ties to New York, so I’m going to tell you.

It comes down to three main reasons.

  1. They represent a Golden Age of baseball. The very name “Brooklyn Dodgers” especially evokes a specific period. Though they’d been around since 1884, they really didn’t become “the Brooklyn Dodgers” of legend until about 1941. Between then and 1956 the Dodgers faced the Yankees in the World Series seven times. The era culminated in 1955 when the Dodgers defeated the Yankees to win it all for the first and only time while in Brooklyn. They moved to Los Angeles a season later, ending their cross-town rivalry with the Yankees.

    Which brings me to my second reason.
  2. They were the antithesis, the arch rival of the New York Yankees. And I, for one, see great value in that. I honestly don’t mind sports dynasties. In fact I rather like them. You have to be impressed by the consistency with which the Yankees won during this “Golden Age”. But they’ve been winning pretty consistently since about 1923 and the ’41-’56 Dodgers were the only team to challenge their dominance with such persistence.

    In recent years almost every year we have a team in the World Series who hadn’t made it that far in a very long time. It’s nice to see. While I’ve never consciously rooted for “the underdog” it turns out that is precisely what I am talking about. And that is what the Brooklyn Dodgers were in this era whenever they faced the Yankees.
  3. They were the franchise that, in 1947, broke the unwritten “Color Line” which had stood in Major League Baseball since the 1880s. When Brooklyn’s GM Branch Rickey signed a young multi-sport athlete and former military man, Jackie Robinson, he wasn’t looking for the best player. He was looking for a man of character. That is what he got first and foremost. But Robinson’s success – along with that of others who quickly followed – ensured that Major League Baseball would open its doors to a huge pool of talent which would revitalize and revolutionize the game for decades to come.

    For these reasons, I have a reverence for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I wear their “B” insignia with pride.

    I have a cousin who is a lifelong fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Every time I discuss his team with him, I am sure to refer to them as the “Brooklyn Dodgers” just to amuse myself. Los Angeles doesn’t seem right for them anyway ever since I discovered their full moniker was the “Trolley Dodgers”. For that reason, I’ve always felt like when they left Brooklyn, they should have relocated to San Francisco. Maybe New Orleans. You know, for continuity.

    Well, I’ll just keep on calling them the Brooklyn Dodgers forever probably.

What the Beatles Taught Me About the Value of a Second Draft

The Beatles, according to many, were the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m not here to argue that. The point is, great as they were, it did not always come easy to them.

The melody for “Yesterday” famously came to Paul McCartney in a dream. So he didn’t forget it, he shoved in the first words he thought of, which happened to be “Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” and so on.

I’m serious.

When McCartney and John Lennon first wrote “Drive My Car” it included the chorus “I can give you golden rings/I can give you anything/baby I love you.”

It’s trite, and it’s a massive cliche, and the Beatles knew it. But they liked the tune, so they went back to the drawing board. In the end, what they came away with was an anthem for women’s empowerment. The “girl” in the song was the VIP and the guy was her driver.

I think we can all agree that the final drafts of both songs were far superior.

Later, in “Paperback Writer” McCartney sang “I can make it longer if you like the style/I can change it ’round but I wanna be a paperback writer.” Clearly he understood that you aren’t always finished when you think you are, and it isn’t always brilliant when you think it is. Sometimes you just need to run a comb through it and tweak a few lines here and there. Sometimes you need to run your manuscript or lyric sheet or whatever through a shredder and start over. Either way a second draft can bring a freshness, a vitality to the piece.

And that’s just the writing process. When they got into the studio, they, like most recording artists, would do multiple takes of a song. The demo was the rough draft and each ensuing take was another “draft.”

In 1968, George Harrison brought a song to the sessions for the White album called “Not Guilty.” It is well documented that the Beatles recorded about 100 takes of the song. Literally. Many of them were partial or just false starts. But still they kept at it until they got it right. To top it off, after all that work they didn’t put it on the album!

It disappeared until 1979 when Harrison put it on his own album.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” began as a very different song than the one they eventually released. They tried countless variations, but it was missing something, particularly in the intro. Then one day Lennon walked into the studio, went straight to the piano and banged out what would become the song’s famous opening.

It took a lot of work, but in a moment of frustrations/inspiration, it morphed into one of their most beloved tunes.

In 1969, according to Lennon in typical hyperbolic form, the Beatles recorded “a hundred million” takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” yet another McCartney number that was not held in high esteem by Lennon or Harrison. McCartney was convinced it was strong enough to be a Beatles single.

In fact, not only did Lennon and Harrison not appreciate it, it is often cited by fans as one of their least favorite Beatles tracks.

That’s three very different outcomes for songs given multiple takes (drafts). But in every case, the result was appreciated by someone.

I’ll be honest. When I am writing on this blog, I don’t very often write a second draft. Especially with long posts like this, I edit and improve it as I go along. But I’m not letting it sit for a day or two and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I absolutely do that when I am writing for a client. Because they expect my best, for one thing, but also because I know that you can always improve a piece you’ve written. There is always going to be a more colorful, more insightful way of saying something.

But when it’s finished, you just know. And at some point you’ve got to release the album.

My Mardi Gras Soundtrack and Some Historical Context

Outside of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a widely misunderstood tradition. I myself am no expert on the subject and don’t pretend to be. But in recent years, while getting familiar with the music of New Orleans, I have come to appreciate the festival more and more. I will not try to explain everything but if you listen to the songs about Mardi Gras, you can piece together what is going on, which might make the noisy, and colorful expression of joy that is Mardi Gras a little more accessible to you.

Here are my favorite songs about “Fat Tuesday” in no particular order. But I would be remiss if I did not open with:

1. “Carnival Time” by Al Johnson – Al Johnson, since this recording in 1960, has been pretty much officially named Al “Carnival Time” Johnson. It’s not often a guy gets named after his own song. Technically this is not about Mardi Gras, as Carnival is the season of celebration that leads up to Mardi Gras. Carnival is more of a Rio de Janiero thing, while on Mardi Gras, all eyes are on New Orleans. Even so, the song “Carnival Time” is inextricable from Mardi Gras, and Al Johnson is inextricable from “Carnival Time.”

2. “Go to the Mardi Gras” by Professor Longhair – This song is sometimes known as “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” which I think is a little on the nose so I like the other title it is known by, “Go to the Mardi Gras”. On the HBO series “Treme” there was a family who would turn this song on their record player as they left the house for Mardi Gras celebrations (presumably leaving it on repeat all day). For a while after I saw that, every time I left the house I’d start whistling the song’s very catchy opening. This song, too, makes the connection between Carnival and Mardi Gras, and introduces us to the Zulu King and Queen.

3. “Treme Second Line (Blow the Whistle)” by Kermit Ruffins – Speaking of whistling, the whistle is a familiar part of the cacophony of sound that is Mardi Gras but I associate it with the feel of the city itself, having visited and stayed at a hotel where the concierge blew a whistle to hail taxis for people. That’s probably a pretty common thing in other cities but for me it is a New Orleans memory. Ruffins only mentions “Mardi Gras’ in town” in the song. Other than that, this is a typical second line romp. Like most everything Kermit Ruffins does, “Blow the Whistle” exudes a party atmosphere, and there is no bigger party than Mardi Gras.

4. “Mardi Gras Mambo” by the Hawketts – A simple early rhythm and blues song accompanied by a saxophone and bass, it’s fun to sing and easy to learn. It begins and ends with the words “Down in New Orleans” and gives nods to LaSalle and Rampart Street as well as a reference to the Caribbean influence which so richly colors the musical landscape of New Orleans.

5. “Iko, Iko” by Dr. John – “Iko Iko” is probably the most widely known Mardi Gras song though most people don’t have any idea what it is about. As a matter of fact, most people in New Orleans probably don’t know what it is about, entirely. The meaning of the chant “jockimo fee no ay na nay, jockimo fee na nay” (or countless other interpretations) is lost to history though there are countless theories. In any case, it’s a fun song and it preserves the Mardi Gras Krewe tradition of the spy boy and the flag boy, etc., and Dr. John gives the tune a great deal of swagger, as you might expect from him.

6. “We Danced At the Mardi Gras” by Pete Fountain – This is an instrumental by one of the greatest New Orleans clarinetists. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras myself, but for me this song really feels like classic Mardi Gras, before it became known to non-Louisianans as a celebration of booze and other forms of debauchery.

7. “All On a Mardi Gras (Big Bass Drum)” by Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band – I had a hard time deciding between this and another version by Dr. John. So check that one out too. The hook of this song is the Mardi Gras Krewe exclamation “Two Way Pocky Way!” which means “Get the hell out the way.” In fact The Wild Magnolias have another song called “Hell Out the Way.” It’s all an allusion to the days when Krewes came out and prowled the streets of the Crescent City on Mardi Gras morning and if they crossed paths with other Krewes, there might be trouble. Now days, it is all much less territorial and more in good fun, though the tradition itself is still terribly serious.

…and speaking of the Wild Magnolias:

8. “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront” by Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias – The Wild Magnolias, the Wild Tchoupitoulas and others, were Mardi Gras Krewes who set their chants to music. Like “All on a Mardi Gras Day” and many others, this one captures the Krewe tradition in action. These recordings are more historical document than music, though they are in fact quite musical.

9 & 10. “Big Chief” by Professor Longhair and “My Indian Red” by Danny Barker – Mardi Gras culture has often been scrutinized for being politically incorrect, culturally insensitive or outright racist. At the very least, it has been accused of being a form of cultural appropriation. But if America itself is a melting pot, then New Orleans is the place where the stew is the thickest. Mardi Gras is French, it is African, and it is Native American just as many of the people down there, and many of the people who made this music, can claim be a mix of such ancestry. And even if they weren’t, they embraced that heritage, whole-heartedly. True, in these two songs there is some language that has gone out of favor in America-proper, but in New Orleans it just is what it is. For me, Danny Barker has the final word on the subject in “My Indian Red” when he sings “We love our Queen. We love New Orleans,” a declaration of reverence for the Zulu Queen and the city itself.

If you are celebrating Mardi Gras on Tuesday, or if you’ve already begun celebrating Carnival, then let me say unto you “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” Let the good times roll!