Farewell, Quentin Hapsburg

It was odd to see the news of Robert Goulet's passing last night.

Not odd in the way that he passed, or in one of those odd "he was still alive?" moments that seem to happen so often when one of Hollywood or Broadway's former greats leave us -- mainly because unlike other celebrities of bygone eras, Goulet had done a decent job over the years of keeping himself in the public eye, whether it be through his movie work, self-parodying commercial appearances, or his good humor towards Will Ferrell's impersonations of him on Saturday Night Live.
I always felt the Neil Diamond bit was funnier, but that's just me.
All that aside, the strange thing about hearing the news of Goulet's death was realizing why it saddened me to hear about it. Not that I was surprised to be bummed out at the news of someone dying, but that instead of really mourning the man himself, I immediately thought of my parents -- who were both fans.

Well, perhaps I should back that up a bit. I think my parents were fans. Probably my mother more than my dad (she always had a taste for Broadway-styled singers), but neither of them would object to the other one listening to him the way they sometimes did with other artists. Sometimes my dad would put on albums of old-school country stars like Marty Robbins or Kenny Rogers and my mom would make a huge production about having to go into the other room or whatever. She'd rustle the pages of her book, talk in what seemed an unnecessarily loud voice, and make sure everyone knew that she was being inconvenienced by my father's desire to listen to his hillbilly music.
Dad would just shrug it off and play the album anyways.
These were the cute fights they had. The ones before the divorce.
The weird thing was that even though when you thumbed through my parent's amalgamated LP collection (kept neatly stacked in a floor cabinet that my father built himself), you'd see all sorts of Robert Goulet albums, lined up next to similar artists like Andy Williams, Paul Anka, and Perry Como -- but I really don't ever remember hearing my mom or dad listening to them much at all.

By the time I was old enough to notice and be critical of my parents musical tastes, my mother had fallen into a rotating carousel of albums by opera singers like Pavoratti and Placido Domingo, which clashed horribly with the Willie Nelson and Cat Stevens discs she also played the hell out of. She'd usually follow that up with periods where she listened to tons of Billy Joel albums in a row. These were my favorites, because I liked his more rock and roll sounding tunes and whenever my mom got into one of her Billy Joel moods it would always lead to her trying to play some of his music on the piano.

It's weird, knowing now just how much pianos cost -- and thinking about how really inconvenient it would be to own one (I can barely play, where would I keep it?), I find it fascinating that almost everyone I knew growing up had one. Gristina, MacEwan, the neighbor kids down the street -- everyone's living room had a piano in it. Not that they were all played that often or kept up well, but that I guess it was just a staple of that generation, the way a scattered computer desk and a dusty PC seems to be for people nowadays.

Still, it would be kinda cool to have a piano of my own someday.
Now that I think about it -- the only time growing up where you'd really hear Robert Goulet in my house was Christmas. Christmas when my parents would push all of their LP's to the left as they reached in the back for their small but treasured collection of Christmas albums.

They'd play in the background while we trimmed the tree, hung the lights, or have Christmas visits from family and friends. There were albums of instrumental music, collections of famous Christmas carols sung by the Vienna Boys Choir, but above all were the stacks of albums featuring Robert Goulet and his signature baritone voice belting out overly orchestrated versions of sons like "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" or "Sleigh Ride."

Mom would play these albums over and over, hoping to create a Christmas mood that the rest of us did our best to tune out. For a while we were able to divert her attention by putting on albums of Christmas Carols that we could sing along with, but then my little brother got into this habit of singing "The 12 Days of Christmas" over and over and over again to the point where (as cute as it might have been the first eleventy billion times) we were all ready to strangle each other if we had to hear it again.

The Bing Crosby and Robert Goulet albums never seemed to inspire that sort of sing-along enthusiasm, and perhaps in the hopes of keeping the peace, became sort of the mainstays of the season as the years went by (along with this one strange recording of Christmas songs performed entirely on Moog synthesizers -- which as weird as that sounds, remains to this day one of my favorite christmas albums ever).

Unfortunately, crooners of Goulet's ilk favored straight-ahead interpretations of the songs, accompanied by cheesy orchestras or string quartets complete with over-enthusiastic back-up singers who frequently "acted" like they were at Christmas parties having a grand old time.
Regardless of the intent, the effect of all this had no hope but to
come off as hokey sounding to anyone in the room under the age of 35.
It was the 80's after all, and artists like USA for Africa, Band Aid, and The Cure were (at least in my MTV-polluted mind) paving new and exciting roads for Christmas songs. I fully believed for a while that eventually there would be enough new-wave Christmas anthems out there that we wouldn't need stinky old Perry Como brooding on Little Drummer Boy or whatever anymore -- because as long as they kept putting out new versions of "A Very Special Christmas" we could continue to erase all memories of old and boring singers on our way to a holiday celebrated the way it was meant to be, with the J. Geils Band and Martha Quinn hanging out in Santa Hats introducing videos of X-mas songs by New Edition, Bruce Springsteen, and Run DMC.
      Man, we were idiots back then, eh?
Then as I grew older, had a child, and started having Christmas family get-togethers of my own something different happened. Faced with the fact that we were trying to have Christmas-themed events without any Christmas music collections of our own, I was left with two choices:
1) Find something Christmas-y on TV to provide the background music.
2) Go out and buy our own Christmas albums to play on the stereo.
Something you learn really fast about trimming a Christmas tree with a four year old is that you can't leave the TV on. Because the child cares a hell of a lot more about the Grinch than he does about anything with a hook on it. Then you'd find yourself in the midst of one of those pointless shouting matches that never had anything to do with anything, but seemed to happen more and more every X-mas we had.

I always hated when my parents argued during the holidays because the fights were always about things that weren't worth fighting about. It was one of those things that never really made any sense to me until I found myself having equally pointless fights of my own over nearly the exact same things.
Those were the cute fights we had. The ones before the divorce.
It's almost like I wanted to create the perfect Christmas to try and erase the memories of my parents arguing during the holidays.
But in doing whatever I could to force that "picture postcard" holiday ideal onto the people in my life, I ended up in the exact same place my parents always did.
And all the while, Robert Goulet continued to sing.
[Listening to:    Robert Goulet"Home for the Holidays" ]