Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Robert Earl Keen -- "Merry Christmas from the Family" (1994)


Carve the turkey
Turn the ball game on 
It's margaritas when the eggnog's gone

Is Christmas a big drinking holiday at your house?

When I was a kid, my family woke up early on Christmas morning and drove a couple of hours south to Goshen, Arkansas, where my maternal great-grandparents lived.

My grandmother was one of seven kids, most of whom were quite fruitful and multiplied, so you can imagine how many cousins there were a couple of generations later.

A redneck Christmas wreath
I remember my great-aunts bustling around my great-grandmother's kitchen for hours to prepare big family Christmas dinners.  There were two dining-room tables completely covered with food each year.  (We ate off TV trays.)  The first one had ham, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans that had been grown in the garden and canned in the fall, and a whole lotta other stuff.  

The second table was covered with desserts -- cakes, pies, and a lot of desserts that involved Jello, fruit, and whipped cream.  I was not a big dessert eater when I was a kid (except for ice cream).  But many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins were big dessert eaters.  (My mother's family members were either overweight or not overweight, and either red-headed or not red-headed.  A fair number had really hit the lottery: they were overweight and red-headed.)

Robert Earl Keen
Like the family in this famous Robert Earl Keen Christmas song, my family was pretty much 100% redneck.  But my family didn't start making margaritas when the eggnog was gone.  We had eggnog, but it was strictly nonalcoholic, as were the rest of our Christmas beverages. 

My relatives constituted about two-thirds of the membership of the Goshen Church of the Nazarene, including the pianist and choir director and many of the choir members and Sunday-school teachers.  

Nazarenes do not believe in the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants, and I never saw a family member of mine drinking beer, wine, or anything else until I was a senior in college and visited a favorite cousin of mine who was living in Little Rock at the time.  As I recall, she and her friends and I made up for many Christmases of abstention in only one night.  

It appears that Robert Earl Keen's family included no Nazarenes.  There is no sign of a teetotaler in the Keen clan.


Divorce was pretty much unheard of in my grandmother's and mother's generations, although it popped up relatively often among the cousins of my generation.  Marital flexibility is something the Keen family have experience with:

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife, Mary Nell
Of course he brought his new wife Kay

Like the Keens, we did enjoy our football on Christmas Day.  The problem was that Goshen was a fair spell away from the Fayetteville TV stations.  My great-grandparents had a big-ass TV antenna mounted on a pole that was about 100 feet high and hooked up to an electric motor that you could use to rotate it in such a way to maximize the signal strength.  Even with all that state-of-the-art circa 1965 technology, getting a clear picture on either of the two Fayetteville TV stations was hit or miss.

Old TV antenna rotator control box
My Christmas routine is completely different these days.  I live a long way from Goshen -- the last time I saw more a couple of my Arkansas aunts, uncles, and cousins was at my grandmother's funeral about ten years ago.  

My last Goshen Christmas trip was in 1983, I believe.  I'm reasonably certain of that date because my first-born child was born that year, and I know we flew back to visit my parents and then drove down to Goshen to see my Arkansas relatives -- especially my great-grandmother, who was 95 at the time.  We have a picture of her with my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my son -- all of us were the oldest in our generation.

I'm featuring this song today at the request of someone I've known virtually my entire life.  And I mean that literally.  I was born just a few days before she was, and she says our mothers' hospital stays overlapped.  I can't say I remember her from the maternity ward, but I definitely remember her from kindergarten.  (She was sort of a homely little thing back then, but she turned out OK.)

About ten days ago, this friend e-mailed me to request that I feature this song for Christmas.  She obviously has no appreciation for how a wildly popular blog like 2 or 3 lines operates.  We have production schedules, and publication deadlines, and exquisitely timed publicity campaigns, and all that jazz.  Squeezing a post in on such short notice is like parallel parking the Queen Mary -- this baby doesn't exactly turn on a dime.

You might have thought she would volunteer to write a guest post -- there's a lot more that goes into producing a post than just the writing, but at least that would have minimized the workload on me and my staff (some of whom are very delicate, and don't handle pressure well).

But it is Christmas, and she's a girl, and 2 or 3 lines gives girls special treatment because it likes girls better than boys.  So we're featuring "Merry Christmas from the Family" today.  Even though Robert Earl Keen went to Texas A&M.  (You owe me, hon.)

Some of you may look at the final product and ask yourself, "What is Mr. 2 of 3 Lines bellyachin' about?  He cut and pasted some lines from the song, snatched a few photos off the internet, and spent most of his time leading us on yet another narcissistic and poorly edited stroll down memory lane.  Total time invested looks to be 20, maybe 25 minutes."

Don't kid yourself.  It was closer to 30.


Robert Earl Keen recorded "Merry Christmas from the Family" in 1994, and released it on his Gringo Honeymoon album.  It quickly became a cult favorite.  (Keen calls it the Rocky Horror Picture Show of Christmas songs because everyone always sings along when he performs it.)  

Keen released a live version of the song on a 1996 album.  He wrote a sequel to the song ("Happy Holidays Y'All") and published a book with the same title in 2001.  Mr. Keen obviously knows a good thing when he sees it, and he's milking this little ditty for all it's worth.

Keen's 2001 book
Here's Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family":  



Click here to buy a copy of the song from Amazon: 

1 comment:

  1. Bob Davis/bobby boyJanuary 1, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    That antenna rotator control box reminded me of how lucky my wife and I are to have a clear path between us and Mt. Wilson, where most of the LA area TV stations have their transmitters. So far we have resisted the temptation to install a satellite dish or subscribe to the local cable service. We're like the bunnies down in their burrow, watching TV with a "people-ears" antenna.

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