Every onceinawhile, when someone learns that I was born on Christmas, they may have the occasion to say, "Oh, wow! What a coincidence! I was born on December 26th!"
And I always think: Yes... and...? What the heck does that have to do with anything exactly? It certainly doesn't mean you're somehow magically enrolled in The Christmas Baby Club, for ours is an exclusive federation of extraordinary luminaries, whose membership includes the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, Alice Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Quentin Crisp, Carlos Castaneda, Ken Stabler, Rod Serling, Cab Calloway, Jimmy Buffet, and Dido. That's right, Dido.
December 26th-ers? Your tablemates are Morgan Bulkeley, Clemens Maria Hofbauer, Matt Gordy, Bill Wennington, and Noel Hunt. "Morgan who? Clemans Maria what?" My point exactly.
Being a Christmas Baby is a pretty cool life distinction, although I have to admit I've never really felt like I've ever had a birthday per se. But I've always been okay with that, mainly because when I was a kid I got twice as many gifts as my siblings on Christmas, and both Grandmothers always doubled the tribute vig in their Happy-Merry Birthmas cards. (And please: never use the word "Birthmas" on your Christmas birthday friends; no one in the Club ever uses it. Eyes will roll behind your back. It's akin to saying "San Fran" for San Francisco; the locals never say it.)
I remember one Christmas night, sitting around the television with my family, a troop of Polish baboons lounging by the river after gouging ourselves on kielbasa, pierogies, and mincemeat pie, when my mother exclaimed, "Oh! We almost forgot! It's Gregory's birthday!" But honestly, getting my birthday lost in the holiday shuffle has never really bothered me. If anything, it has always felt like, when I have a birthday, the whole world celebrates.
O Come Let Us Adore Me
Being a Christmas Baby definitely put a cocky edge on my personality from a very early age. I always felt superior to my brothers and sisters for this singular reason. I would often act as if I didn't remember their birthdays—pretending to get the date wrong, giving them birthday cards a few days early, MKUltra mindgame stuff like that—just to ensure that they maintained the proper level of sibling envy.
Having a Christmas birthday certainly didn't help my budding messiah complex either, what with growing up Catholic and having a mother whose name is Mary. I remember the relief I felt after not being crucified, died, and buried on the Easter after my 33rd birthday, as Jesus had, especially since I was living in South Florida at the time, where there's oodles of angry New York City transplanted Jewish people. (For my part, I did my best to not overturn any money tables in any tabernacles during Holy Week, and I steered clear of any and all men in gardens who looked like they wanted to kiss me on Good Friday.)
I love this photo of me, a few days fresh out of the oven, yawning in boredom at the geographical circumstances of my rebirth (Michigan, the suburbs). I must have made a wrong turn, somewhere, at some point, in the rebirth bardo; I plan on paying better attention next time around, now that I have the travel guide. I did eventually make it to the West Coast, a place which has always felt more like home than anywhere else I've ever lived or visited.
My older sister looks absolutely stunned, her Only Child status suddenly shot to hell, on Christmas Day no less. No tricycle or Mickey Mouse-in-the-box was going to heal that early childhood development wound of mom rushing off to the hospital on Christmas Eve to bring me into this big blue noisy world. She looks like she's ready to burst full-on into Andrew Gold's, "Lonely Boy," all the way through to the leaving home and becoming a hippie bridge. (I'd have my own similar existential sibling rivalry moment six years later, when my mom brought home my newborn baby sister.)
Fast forward nine years. Here's all the kids at Christmas, including my brother Little Lord Fauntleroy. (Note the velvet Christmas Elves hanging in the tree, backs to the camera, reclusive as always.)
Money was tight around our house, what with four kids, and then became even tighter a few years later with the addition of a fifth "oopsies!" sibling, whose name escapes me at the moment. These were the cash-strapped, character-building halcyon days of basement haircuts (clearly in evidence); Sears Toughskins jeans (fashioned from old, weathered circus tent canvas, indestructible); and thick, lukewarm glasses of chunky powdered milk to help wash down the kidney stew (bloody, always bloody), cube steak (some kind of meaty netting), and "city" chicken (hey, this one has a note in its talon!). Indeed, those meals were certainly one way to inadvertently breed a vegetarian.
Man, I was glued to that radio. The number one song that Christmas was "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison, and I must have listened to it at least a hundred times over the holidays, if not more. That radio was the greatest gift I'd ever received in my life up to that point, until my Grandfather gave me his guitar two years later. I was always opening it up to study the electronics, an interest which later turned into a career.
Being a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Detroit was like being at ground zero for great music. It seemed like there was a new Supremes or Stevie Wonder song coming out every week. My favorite station was CKLW AM 800, broadcast right across the river from Windsor, Canada (FM radio was still up and coming in those days). I remember faking a sort throat one Sunday so I wouldn't have to go to church and could stay home and try to win a t-shirt from the station. And I did. I was caller eleven, and I won! (To this day, I still refer to myself as Caller Eleven in my head.)
CKLW once had a contest for "The Greatest 100 Rock 'n Roll Songs of All Time," where you could fill out a postcard ballot and send it off to the station. It's the only time I've ever voted in my life. There was a big build-up, for weeks on end, and then the countdown began on the 4th of July weekend. Finally, they got down to song number two: "Stairway To Heaven." Stairway, number two? I was excited beyond belief! Was there some amazingly monumental song out there that I had never heard, even greater than Stairway or the other great songs in the countdown that they had already played? You bet your sweet bippy there was: "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, the biggest hit of that year, and thusly reflected in the ballot tally. (I guess that's what a one-person, one-vote democracy will get you.)
When California rock started surfing the airwaves in the mid-1970s, I found it kind of wimpy. I liked the good stuff, of course, but where was the groove, man? Where was the edge? Detroit's the city of Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, MC5, of CREEM magazine. "Take It Easy?" "Peaceful Easy Feeling?" You gotta be kidding me. This was music that would inspire the calling out of the National Guard? No, we were happy just the way we were in Detroit, thank you very much, with funky water farmer's daughters nurturing punk, nurturing techno, kicking out the jams and burning the motherfuckin' city down every few years just to watch it burn. Give us a shout, though, if you ever get a bad case of Cat Scratch Fever, we can help you out. (Who would have known that this would be a chronic, lifelong condition?)
My early teenage years slowly leaked by. I started playing guitar a little more seriously. Suddenly I had a great jazz teacher, who also taught at Wayne State, and I quickly fell into that genre with great love and admiration. And Detroit radio did not disappoint. 105.9FM WJZZ was the place to be on your radio dial, with Gil-Scott Heron, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Al Di Meola, Milton Nascimento, Keith Jarrett, and Angela Bofill coming through your speakers day and night, night and day. Imagine. They used to play that kind of music on commercial radio.
All in all, I had a really great childhood. A lot of that happiness was derived from music (which is still one of the most important things in my life), along with the distinction of being born on Christmas. It's the biggest day of the year when you're a kid, and it was my birthday. I might have been a buck-toothed, bed-wetting, scrawny runt of a boy, but my birthday was on Christmas Day. You couldn't beat that.
As the years have passed, I have to admit there's not much about life that has surprised me. The big stuff at least. The Mitt Romney gray temples, the wonky knees, the +2.0 reading glasses. Yeah, enough already, I get the joke. But life is definitely like a fine wine, it gets better with age; I can't get enough of it.
One thing that has taken me aback, though, is how distanced me and my siblings have become with time. I never saw that one coming. This one lives here, that one lives there; this one doesn't like that one, that one isn't saved and is going to hell; and so forth and so on. They say it's common. All families are like that. Hrrmph. It takes a little bit of fun out of Christmas. But only just a little. It's certainly not going to stop my annual Christmas Market pilgrimage where I stuff myself silly with schnitzel and spätzle while slogging down mugs of glühwein and feuerzangenbowle. It's amazing the effort these people make to celebrate my birthday!
The Christmas Season always reminds me of a song that came through my radio back in Detroit: "We're Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)" by Trooper, a band based 2,500 miles away in my future home of Vancouver, B.C. I still have the album the song is from, "Knock 'em Dead Kid," sitting on my bedroom shelf, to thwack me right square in the face when I first wake up in the morning, its uplifting title and visual boxing metaphor there to start off my every day.
Yeah, it's a corny song, big deal. The half-step key shifts in the final chorus certainly don't help matters. But whaddya gonna do, sue me? On Christmas? On my birthday?