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December 17, 2012

A Holiday Blog: March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934, Laurel and Hardy): a Modern SATIRICAL Interpretation. Eyewitness to a new classic Christmas song: Introducing ‘The Big Man,’ Clarence Clemons ‘There’s Still Christmas.’ Assault Weapon Ban in New Jersey? December 18, 2012


I’m excited to be bringing a new old Christmas (vocal)song from Clarence Clemons. But first………

I started writing this blog last Thursday, the day before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Now I’m filled with cardiac heaviness and sorrow throughout my cellular makeup. I’m a father and human. I can’t find words. I remember Columbine and Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris; the two kids who killed and wonder why their names are remembered by me but none of the victim’s name. I wonder.

This morning I watched New York television and saw a commercial for Walgreen’s Drug Store. Their catch phrase was “Walgreen’s “at the corner of happy and healthy.” The absurdity of it all forced my smile; Walgreen’s sells cigarettes; not a healthy thing. Last Night at Rite Aid drug store picking up a small bottle of stale hydrogen peroxide, I noticed the tobacco (cigars, cigarettes) section right next to ‘Stop Smoking Products.’ More absurdity and greed; the business of America is business. Life on earth is absurd. One in seventeen Americans suffer from mental illness.

My reputation as a New Jersey journalist grows daily; not absurd. I’ve plunged into the world of Jersey music, art, and environmental causes. Someone called me this morning and for a few  moments, I felt like Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein from ‘deep throat’ and Watergate/Washington Post journalism fame. That voice on the phone (no auditory recognition and heavy breathing) told me Governor Christie was thinking about enacting a New Jersey State ban on assault weapons. As I was listening, I thought a brilliant timely political (he’s running for re-election next year and is eyeing 2016 and Pennsylvania Avenue) move that might vault him to even more national prominence and broad-based respect for being tough in tough times with tough decisions in light of Newtown, Connecticut. States can ban assault weapons. I pondered the world and made a few phone calls. I’m a middle of the road kind of guy since 1969 (no political party affiliation); this paragraph is now over because my only concern (not politics or issues) is the universe and our planet’s sustainability; the really big picture.

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Now to the holidays. I love this frenetic wonderful spiritual time of year. The depths of my affection for the holiday season are hard to describe but I’ll take a shot. In my first novel published three years ago, ‘Vichy Water,’ I wrote about a New Jersey man (I’m NOT revealing any plot) who found the need to journey to a remote northern Montana town and a small church on Christmas Eve and go to Midnight Mass; a purely ecumenical thing to do for abundant reasons. Funny thing; I share the same notion as my novel character; like a Hemingway story and I’m not an ambulance driver. Accomplishing this, for me, is the end of a long winding road journey and happy occasion. Complicated but I love the holidays and peace on earth.

Now for some light fun; I’ve been watching the March of the Wooden Soldiers with Laurel and Hardy (made in 1934) for the last 60 years in a row (mostly on WPIX channel 11 in New York). My father turned me on to the movie which aired on Thanksgiving morning when I was seven. Being a person of tradition and sentiment, I’ve watched it every year since 1952; don’t think I ever missed a showing. My watching this Christmas seasonal movie, even passing on Macy’s parade, bespeaks my sense of loyalty, tradition and love of Toyland, fantasy, comedy and simplicity in living with vestiges of Mother Goose. I love the architectural warmth of the old woman’s shoe who in the movie was Bo Beep’s mother. I did ponder for a brief moment that everyone who was in the movie is gone now; so are Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball and Louis Armstrong.



from March of the Wooden Soldiers. The first movie robot?

from March of the Wooden Soldiers. The first movie robot?


Laurel and Hardy opening scene of movie in bed together.

Laurel and Hardy opening scene of movie in bed together.


After 60 viewings, I had an epiphany on this Thanksgiving Day as I watched the movie with my 26 year old son. I forgot to mention that when my son was seven, I inculcated into him the need to watch this movie with me until the end of time. And he still does which means time is still hanging around and forget the Mayan calendar. The epiphany, as I pedaled on the exercise bike and watched the movie with my son, was that it’s incredibly and hauntingly contemporary to today’s complicated world. So here goes interpretation.

In the opening scene, Laurel and Hardy (Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee in the movie) are in bed together, sleeping. I thought immediately that this was Hollywood’s (1934) first example of domestic partners even as the Supreme Court takes on same sex marriage soon. They’re sleeping so close together (not in separate beds like Bert and Ernie) that a small white feather keeps floating between the two of them as they exhale. I think it was the same white feather that messed with Forest Gump at the end of the movie.



Tom Tom and Bo Peep. an item in mother goose.

Tom Tom and Bo Peep. an item in mother goose.


old man Barnaby putting the moves on Bo Beep

old man Barnaby putting the moves on Bo Beep


Then soon we see Mr. Barnaby (a dirty old nasty bad man) chasing after young barely teenage BoPeep in an early expose of improper sexual advances; an old man and a much too young girl. I was horrified. And the laws of Toyland were not stringent enough to prevent this kind of behavior.

A little later, Tom-Tom, the piper, is looking for Bo Peep. They’ve got a romantic thing going; a perfect Mother Goose couple. Of course Bo Peep loses one of her sheep and Tom Tom helps her look. Then he gets amorous, serenades her, and she coyly resists the advances. Coincidentally they are standing by an old foot stockade and in a move reminiscent of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ he does the old bondage technique, secures her feet and keeps her immobile until she relents and kisses (and who knows what else) Tom Tom.

The laws of Toyland with respect to punishment were rather strict in some areas. Sometimes it seems we’re headed down similar roads; perhaps the movie was futuristic in legal aspects.



hanging with the intellectual cool cat

hanging with the intellectual cool cat


the eventual same sex marriage in barnaby hall in  1934

the eventual same sex marriage in barnaby hall in 1934

If you are convicted of burglary in Toyland, you get dunked and banished to bogeyland for ever; a tough love punishment and borderline capital; because you’re not coming back alive with all the bogeyman there. Then I thought about equal justice initiative and the notion that it’s better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent in America and Toyland.


I’ve been a student of futurism, Dr. Michio Kaku (‘Physics of the Future’) and have been reading about the advances in robotics especially in Japan and what’s coming in the mid-future. But the  ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’ has an army of six-foot robots who can almost think and actively defend Toyland from hostile invaders (bogeymen). Press of a button and they knew exactly what to do. When they rescued small children, it seems the Wooden Soldiers even displayed emotion and comforted the scared children. A hundred years ahead of its time. Emotions in robots are coming end of century.

Getting back to the notion of same –sex marriage; Stan and Ollie conspire to steal the mortgage for the little old lady’s shoe from Mr. Barnaby and then get caught, convicted and go through a public dunking before banishment to bogeyland.  Bo Peep comes to the rescue and agrees to marry Mr. Barnaby if he consents to drop the charges. At the wedding ceremony in Barnaby Hall, Bo Beep is dressed in wedding gown and veil; the ceremony concludes. Ollie gets the mortgage and Barnaby goes to kiss the bride. It’s not Bo Peep but Laurel (Stannie Dum) dressed up. When Stannie wants to leave, Ollie says “You can’t, you’re married to Mr. Barnaby now.” Indeed same sex marriage in 1934.

I marvel at the advanced state of animal rights in the movie. If you’re convicted of pig-napping you’re banished to bogeyland forever. This kind of potent animal protection laws from 1934 Toyland is so needed today to stop poachers who kill elephants, tigers and apes without regard.

There is also strong evidence of feminism; When Tom Tom is framed and banished to bogeyland for pignapping, Bo Peep takes it upon herself to brave the alligator infested waters surrounding Toyland and Bogeyland and singlehandedly rescues her man, Tom Tom.

Finally there’s a need to involve DYFS in this discussion. Who leaves their baby rocking in a tree in a car seat in Toyland?  I’ve already reminded my son that next year when we flip the Mayan calendar, he’ll be watching March of the Wooden Soldiers with me. I’ll be pedaling on the exercise bike; no iPhones allowed while viewing.




And now a great Holiday story about an amazing new old Christmas classic song:

Eyewitness to a new classic Christmas song: Introducing ‘The Big Man,’ Clarence Clemons ‘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.





its a wonderful life great scene near the end.

its a wonderful life great scene near the end.



its a wonderful life. when george bailey says, "atta boy  Clarence"

its a wonderful life. when george bailey says, “atta boy Clarence”

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 a  Clarence, and I’m writing about Clarence Clemons. Hmmm!!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. Six weeks ago, I came to know Jim Nuzzo and Dennis Bourke who created this song with Clarence Clemons back in 1981. I’m a story teller so here goes.

a powerful memory of Clarence Clemons

a powerful memory of Clarence Clemons


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.



Bruce and Clarence. from Born to Run. one of my favorite pixs of them and its in black and white.

Bruce and Clarence. from Born to Run. one of my favorite pixs of them and its in black and white.


But there’ more to the legacy of Clarence Clemons and this song; Jim Nuzzo and Dennis Bourke (A Viet Nam vet) have affiliated with this amazing charity ‘Give an Hour’     a non-profit organization providing free mental health services to US Military personnel and their families affected by current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of which means as we move to make this wonderful song a Christmas mainstay and classic, proceeds from the sale of this song on I -Tunes, CD Baby will help our military. 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:


A percentage of cd sales from “There’s Still Christmas” by the legendary Clarence Clemons will be donated to Give an Hour, a non-profit organization that provides free mental health services to military personnel, their loved ones and hometown communities affected by conflicts abroad.

Please open up your hearts, honor Clarence and support our veterans by purchasing your copy for this holiday season.


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 Clarence Clemons.





Calvin Schwartz

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