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December 17, 2013

CALVIN SCHWARTZ: My Christmas Holiday 2013 Blog: ‘A Christmas Carol’ Starring Alastair Sim; Why It’s Still Timeless. Eyewitness to a New Classic Christmas song: Introducing ‘The Big Man,’ Clarence Clemons recorded song ‘There’s Still Christmas.’ December 17, 2013



me and my holiday snowman

me and my holiday snowman


I decided to do my Holiday blog; it’s snowing outside but it’ll turn to rain and wash away hopes of using a new holiday motivated snow blower. Sentimentality always grips me this time of year as the holidays abound with spirit, tradition and memories. On Thanksgiving, I start to gear up for the holidays and watch ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’ with Laurel and Hardy. I’ve been watching that movie for over 60 years, the last 23 with my son just as I watched with my father.

For me it kicks off the Christmas season and imparts lessons about life, togetherness and family and living in a shoe. My thoughts about the movie’s meaning; I think the movie shows an early example of robots (wooden soldiers) being used productively by humans. The movie (from 1934) was a pioneer in other relevant areas such as animal rights by harshly depicting the banishing of pig-nappers to Bogeyland. The film also deals with a powerful contemporary issue of affordable housing or as they’re newly called, tiny houses for the homeless. The three pigs lived in tiny houses in Toyland in the film. I’m into pig issues since I’ve not eaten anything with four legs since 1975 so I’m cognizant about their plight as a species.



Stan and Ollie with one of the early robots (wooden soldier)

Stan and Ollie with one of the early robots (wooden soldier)



The movie is powerful stuff; it transports me back to Newark in simpler times of rotary phones and only seven black and white television channels. I still remember my old phone number; one number off from a local Chinese Restaurant. We used to get quite a few phone orders for take-out chow mein; no further comment.

Moving on to one of my favorite movies (holiday and all year), ‘A Christmas Carol’ starring Alastair Sim from 1951. There have been a number of actors playing Scrooge. For me it’s only Alastair Sim. The tech noir film ambiance lends itself perfectly to the time Charles Dickens wrote the novella in 1843. A few things about the movie still hold on to my soul. The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, clinging to his robes, and names the boy as ‘Ignorance’ and the girl as ‘Want’. The spirit warns Scrooge, “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”, dramatizing the book’s social message.



Scrooge on Christmas morning.  Of course played by Alastair Sim.  how i love his performance

Scrooge on Christmas morning. Of course played by Alastair Sim. how i love his performance

As a journalist and human, nearly two years ago, I became involved with Tent City in Lakewood, New Jersey where 100 homeless humans have been living in tents for up to 12 years because Ocean County has no provision for the homeless. Then a year ago I became involved with the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, writing several articles about hunger and “want” and need. Then I went to an all-day event in Red Bank dealing with hunger. In 1980 there were 40 food banks and pantries for the hungry in America; today there are 40,000 with 50 million hungry Americans. Then there’s Dickens in 1843 warning about ‘Want’ and I say to myself nothing has changed here on earth and in America since 1843. Want and Ignorance and Hunger not only exist but grow in scope.

On a more upbeat extraction from the movie; the scene on Christmas morning when Scrooge wakes up and realizes he’s still alive and can change the course of his life by being a better, giving, and grateful human. The sheer joy and excitement of revelation causes Scrooge to stand on his head on a sofa which is priceless. I love when he says to Mrs.Dilber, “I haven’t lost my senses, I’ve come to them.” Therefore I’ve added this scene to my bucket list. Someday I’ll come to that moment of sheer joy and find reason to stand on my head; hopefully on a certain morning television program. Scrooge and I are about the same age so if he can stand on his head so can I.


Its A Wonderful Life's Clarence the angel.

Its A Wonderful Life’s Clarence the angel.



Finally, last year through the magic of synchronicity and holiday spirit I came to interview Dennis Bourke(melody) and Jim Nuzzo (arranger) who helped  bring the Clarence Clemons Christmas song “There’s Still  Christmas” to our radar screens and Youtube etc. Yes, Clarence Clemons recorded this amazing song back in 1981. So a few years after he passed, he is still giving magic and his ‘bigness’ to us; the makings of another holiday classic; just like all the holiday Christmas movies I’ve talked about. Here is my article from last year telling the story of this song. And please check out the link to listen to “There’s Still Christmas.”

A long time ago in another state, in another city (which has alternate side of the street parking), I was aimlessly flicking television channels with an antiquated remote when I caught the black and white beginning of a movie that I’d never seen, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  It was early autumn. Within a few minutes, I was drawn into the mystique and charm of this movie; throw an angel into storyline and I’m hooked for the long haul. I loved the movie’s message; about friends, family and dreams. The movie became a Christmas classic but not for many years after it was made in 1946. It was actually released in the summer that year and bombed at the box office.



Clarence Clemons

Clarence Clemons


When I finished watching the movie, I wondered why this wasn’t a classic with its timeless message of Christmas spirit, incredible cast and storytelling. Over the next few years, Ronald Reagan became President and the movie began surfacing on television during the holiday season with uncanny frequency. I said to myself, “I knew it would find itself holiday time;” and did it ever. Back in the Garden State, in the early eighties, a few weeks before Christmas on a Saturday afternoon, I was flicking channels again with a more modern remote and stumbled upon “It’s A Wonderful Life” on  six different channels at the same time, staggered so that you could see the ending if you were so moved; six times. “Atta boy Clarence,” Jimmy Stewart (George Bailey) says near the end; witness to the multi decade birth of a Christmas classic movie. Television stations today conspire to only do one showing per season; but it’s still a certifiable classic.  Segue to the title of this article, ‘Eyewitness to a new classic Christmas song.’ By the way, I find it particularly haunting in my microcosmic synchronistic world that the angel in this movie is Clarence, and I’m writing about Clarence (Clemons). Hmmm!!




Clarence and Bruce

Clarence and Bruce

I told the story of the movie because in our crazy mixed-up, digital, smart-phone, fast food world, we’re likely to be witnessing the birth of yet another classic; this time an incredible Christmas song with such a moving emotional voice, the late ‘Big Man,’ Clarence Clemons. If you want to get in the mood before reading on, here’s the You Tube link to ‘There’s Still Christmas.’ Go listen and come back here.

I love angels and synchronicity. Forty-eight weeks ago, I came to know Jim Nuzzo and Dennis Bourke (and the late Stevie Betts, lyrics) who created this song with Clarence Clemons back in 1981. I’m a story teller so here goes.

Back in 1981, Stevie Betts (lyricist) and Dennis Bourke (melody) wrote this song, ‘There’s Still Christmas’ and teamed up with Jim Nuzzo (arranger, producer) and got manager Matty Breuer (assistant tour manager for Springsteen back then) to approach Clarence Clemons. They all met at Clarence’s Sea Bright, New Jersey home, had some wine and presented the words of the song to the ‘Big Man.’ Being on hiatus from touring with Springsteen, Clarence wanted to do it. He loved the message of the song; when things look down, there’s still Christmas; simple yet poignant. And Clarence’s rich baritone voice that is silenced now; propels this to classic status.  At the first recording session in October 1981, Clarence arrived wearing a cowboy hat. The next day he was wearing a Santa Claus hat and red vest exposing a chubby belly. He had Christmas lights put on the music stand; he was so in the mood to do this song. They rehearsed the song at ‘Big Man’s West’ in Red Bank; Clarence’s club. Jim and Dennis both told me about getting chills being in the same room with him when he performed. “He was a gentle down to earth guy,” Jim said.  To relax during the recording sessions, they played video games. To prepare for record company submission, Clarence recorded the other side on solo sax another Christmas classic “The Christmas Song.” The record company never picked up the song so it’s been sleeping all these years waiting for classic beams of particulate historic energy. Last year the song was released but like the movie, so few of us knew it existed. I listened and was blown away; his voice and persona holds me in a suspended state; like I’ve known him all these years; like it’s a special legacy to all of us to have him back in our lives at Christmas this year.

Imagine, after all these years; this song comes to us from Clarence at this holiday time of year; part of his enduring legacy.

Here’s some links to this wonderful life song/info:


Available for purchase on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, and

You can also find ‘There’s Still Christmas’ on Facebook.

Bottom line. Please go listen and fall in love with the song. Purchase it. Sit by the fire place with a glass of wine or egg nog. Enjoy the Happy Holidays. Listen to his wondrous voice.

Thanks again to Jim Nuzzo and Dennis Bourke for their passion and time. And to Stevie Betts for his wonderful lyrics and words.

And Clarence.

And wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Healthy  Happy New Year.   CALVIN SCHWARTZ














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