Muddling through the holidays

In the spirit of the season, I often reminisce about great holiday songs that have interesting backstories, especially if they provide a business lesson or two.

Every time I pick up the guitar to play “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—arguably the most popular Christmas classic of all time—I’m reminded of two things: the song has a “copyright question” and there are entirely different versions of it.

The ownership issue is small potatoes compared to many such controversies, notably who wrote “Jingle Bell Rock,” which I’ve previously written about here and here. (Singer Bobby Helm and guitarist Hank Garland may have lost $100 million in royalties on that one. And there was a possible murder attempt on Garland’s life to shut him up about it. But we digress.)

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Our better and worse angels

This period in time marks the 50th anniversary of two events that nearly simultaneously captured the national imagination—and hit close to home for me.

On the nights of August 8 and 9, 1969, Charles Manson’s communal family committed the most shocking murders in LA history—which included the slaying of Valley of the Dolls actress Sharon Tate and four of her guests. The tabloids went crazy with the grisly details.

I was performing in a rock band that weekend on Sunset Strip, two miles from the first murder in the Hollywood Hills. Given the brutality of that crime and its tie to the entertainment industry, West Hollywood was in a state of shock. After the second murder the following night near Griffith Park, the condition became Code Red.

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The night the music died

It occurred 60 years ago. But it didn’t have to happen. Good management could have prevented it.

The Winter Dance Party of 1959 was the rock & roll “Tour From Hell.” It was a grueling excursion—11 dates in 11 days—through the Upper Midwest in sub-zero weather on an unheated school bus. (Actually it was five buses, because one after another broke down on the highway in the Arctic temperatures.) In desperation, three of the stars of the tour tried to escape the conditions for a day by grabbing a flight on a small plane to the next stop 400 miles away.

You know how this story ends.

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