I was walking into the mall with my wife on Thanksgiving weekend when I heard the piano. It took a split second for me to recognize what it was: Peanuts music! My body felt a jolt and I laughed inside. It was LOUD! Was it being played live? I realized no, it was coming from the ceiling through speakers. I looked around to see if anyone was having the same reaction. No, business as usual. My mind flooded with images of sitting around the black and white TV in our living room when I was a kid—the kind with the wood trim that looked like a piece of furniture. I can hear the announcer’s voice: “…A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.”
Then one year I was watching it sitting on our blue couch. Then on the floor on the oval rug.
The Charlie Brown Christmas Special really spoke to me, even as a little kid. Even though it was supposed to be a happy holiday and Charlie Brown liked doing all the fun stuff, he still wasn’t happy. Linus called him out at the top of the show: “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”
Charlie Brown and the Grinch were my favorite Christmas shows. But I liked all the others too.
They were all SPECIAL. They were rare. They were cultural events (for kids) that were experienced once a year. Now I can watch it on youtube anytime I want, which is very convenient for researching for a blog post, but I think takes away some of the magic.
Mick Lasalle talks about this idea in his SF Chronicle blog post about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer tv show: “You had to watch them when they were on, or you couldn’t see them. And after they showed, they were either gone forever, or, in the case of a perennial like “Rudolph,” gone for another full year. And you remember how long a year was when you were six years old. These television events were important, and immovable, and if you were a child, you had an appointment days in advance to watch these shows, as each one, it seemed, took you closer to the big day.”
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I remember I was blown away in high school when I met a kid who could play the Peanuts song (actually, it’s called Linus & Lucy) on the piano. We were hanging out in the auditorium where there was a piano and I thought he was a magician. He ripped through it like it was nothing (I heard he later became a professional musician).
Years later I interviewed Local 6 member Larry Vuckovich for the Musical News, who studied with Vince Guaraldi (also a Local 6 member), the master who wrote the music for the show. It was amazing to be talking about this music, that is so ubiquitous but feels so personal (I think because I experienced it as a child), with someone who actually knew him and played with him. And then for this post reading up on the wiki page about the musicians who actually played on the sessions. (There’s some controversy about that — which sessions were used for the show and album and who gets credited for what). Wikipedia says the Charlie Brown Christmas album is the 10th best-selling Christmas album in the United States, and critics say was responsible for ‘turning on more kids to jazz than the greats themselves’.
When I was a kid I didn’t know Peanuts music was called jazz. I just liked it.
It’s kind of a strange feeling when you become an adult and you look at these things from your childhood that were so magical.