CHRISTMAS SONG 2020: “A Different Kind Of Christmas” by Parzen Family Singers

Happy holidays, everyone! Thanks for being here. The Parzen family hopes you and loved ones are all healthy and safe.

Please check out Parzen Family Singers’ new Christmas song “A Different Kind Of Christmas” (in the video above) featuring Georgia on vocals.

And please check out our 2020 album on Band Camp here and below.

Happy Thanksgiving! Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. Stay safe and know that you have friends in Houston.

Love, the Parzen Family

*****

It’s So Easy In America Tonight
Written, performed, recorded, and produced by the Parzen Family Singers at
Baby P Studios in Houston, Texas.
Engineered by daddy.
All Rights Reserved/Copyright Parzen Family Singers 2020
Available on Terrible Kids Records.

A Different Kind of Christmas

As Georgia says at the end of the track, “believe in the year.” This year’s Christmas is like no other before it.

It’s So Easy In America Tonight

Inspired by Van Jones’ observation on the evening that it became abundantly clear that Joe Biden would be the country’s next president: “It’s easier tonight to tell your kids that character matters…”

White Man’s Kinda Blues

About an 83-year-old aggrieved White man who hopes Democrats will die when Joe Biden takes office.

Where There’s Love

A love song written in the time of a global pandemic, racist violence, and economic catastrophe for too many Americans. It seemed their stars were crossed. But where there’s love, there’s nothing lost.

Have Mercy On Me

A covid-19 blues.

All They Need (Parzen Family TV Theme Song)

If the Parzen Family where an early 80s sitcom, this would be their theme song.

In the Corners of My Mind

A man looks into the deepest, darkest corners of his mind and is surprised by what he finds.

NEW SONG: “It’s So Easy In America Tonight” by Parzen Family Singers (election song)

Tracie and I were moved to tears by Van Jones’ commentary the night the election was called for Joe Biden.

“It’s easier to tell your kids character matters. It matters,” he said after it became abundantly apparent that Joe Biden will be our next president and Kamala Harris our next vice president. “Telling the truth matters. Being a good person matters.”

His words and the brio of the evening (plus my best friend’s Franciacorta and one two many glasses of Nebbiolo) inspired this song (video below).

It’s So Easy In America Tonight
by Parzen Family Singers

Lay your weary head to rest
The last four years have left us stressed
But now we know
That it’s all gonna be alright

I know we’ve seen our darker days
They made us feel like stowaways
But we’ve seen the future
And man it sure looks bright

It’s so easy to be yourself
You don’t have to be like no else
It’s so easy in America tonight

It’s so easy to love your neighbors
And maybe they’ll return the favor
It’s so easy in America tonight

Easier to teach your children
That all people were born free
Free to be the people they wanna be

I will still drive down your roads
And watch how your mighty rivers flow
America from sea to shining sea

I’ll play your blues and pay my dues
Cause the sweetest sounding kind of news
Just came over the airwaves on my TV

Easier to teach your children
That all people were born free
Free to be the people they wanna be

It’s so easy to be yourself
You don’t have to be like no else
It’s so easy in America tonight

It’s so easy to love your neighbors
And maybe they’ll return the favor
It’s so easy in America tonight

A meaningful Yom Kippur.

My most vivid memory of Yom Kippur growing up stretches back to the year after I became bar mitzvahson of the commandment.

The services were held in a cavernous events hall (because at the time, our shul, now a large campus, was literally a house and the services were held in a living room).

Many conservative Jews like my parents didn’t attend Shabbat services regularly. But they all wanted to go to the High Holy Day services, Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), which take place 10 days part in that order.

My parents were going through an extremely messy divorce and my father had all but abandoned my mother, my brothers and me. But there I was, sitting next to Zane, in what felt like an airplane hanger to a 13-year-old dressed in an ill-fitting and very uncomfortable suit and rumpled tie.

I was so tired and bored that I could barely keep my eyes open when the rabbi called my name from the bimah. He was asking me to come forward to hold a Torah — the scroll where the five Books of Moses are transcribed — during part of the service.

Suddenly, I was paralyzed with fear. As hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t move my legs.

But after a long and awkward silence that seemed like an eternity, I mustered the courage to head to the bimah where I was handed the sacred text.

My fear — shared by 13-year-olds across the world, I imagine — was that I would drop the Torah.

As we were erroneously taught back then, a person who dropped a Torah would have to fast for 40 days. And everyone who saw the Torah drop also had to fast for 40 days.

But what weighed on me even more greatly was knowing that I would be letting my entire community down.

Although this was long before I would become a serious student of writing, the importance of this text was acutely engrained in me.

“Man is drowning in the sea of life,” one of my Hebrew school teachers once told the class (which was held in a trailer outside the house where the sanctuary was located). “The Torah is G-d’s way of throwing him a lifesaver,” he said, using the gendered synecdoche for “humankind” as was the custom in the early 1980s.

Would I drop G-d’s “lifesaver”? I thought to myself.

I had sweat through my suit jacket and was still shaking when the cantor had me pass the scroll back to him and I went back to my seat next my father. But I hadn’t dropped the Torah.

Today, on Erev Yom Kippur, the day before the Day of Atonement, that memory fills my mind. Except now, our children are my Torah.

In a world very literally gripped by plague, in a world where the air quality is so bad that my brothers and mother can’t go outside in my native California, in a world where Biblical flooding wipes away cities on the coast where I now live, in a world where my white neighbors still contend that people who don’t look like them must “prove their worth,” where my white neighbors tell me to “get the hell out of America” because of my beliefs…

In this world, Georgia and Lila Jane are my lifesaver. G-d has blessed us with them and we are called to nurture and protect them the same way we observe Their word.

Today, 40 years after I didn’t drop that scroll, they and their future are what give me hope for a world better than the one we brought them into.

May your fast be easy and your Yom Kippur meaningful.

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). May your new year be filled with sweetness…

Shanah tovah u’metuka. May you have a good and sweet year ahead.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we eat apples and honey as a symbol of the sweet year ahead we hope G-d will grant us.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good and sweet new year.

From Chabad.org:

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and well-being to those who are suffering!

Let us ask G-d for a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year for the entire universe! Our High Holiday prayers, we are taught, have an extraordinary effect on the year ahead – let’s seize the opportunity!

Let us make firm, tangible resolutions to better ourselves and increase our mitzvot, in both our interpersonal and our G-d-and-us relationships.

And let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week. Happy new year…

“Like a war zone.” Houston spared. Orange pummeled but no deaths. Lake Charles “worst hurricane ever.”

Tracie’s parents are safe but rattled after Hurricane Laura, a nearly category 5 storm, made landfall early this morning just east of where they sheltered in place in Orange, Texas on the Texas-Louisiana border.

My sister-in-law and her family and Tracie’s aunt and uncle all evacuated Orange County, Texas yesterday before the storm came. But my in-laws had to stay behind with Tracie’s 99-year-old grandmother.

I’m happy to report that everyone is safe this morning.

In her early-morning text to me, my mother-in-law wrote that “it’s like a war zone.”

Here in Houston, our city officials were still telling us to prepare for the worst as late as yesterday afternoon. But the storm continued to shift eastward. Remarkably, we didn’t even have rain here. As the television meteorologists say, we were on “the cleans side” of the hurricane.

Yesterday morning, news reports were projecting “unsurvivable storm surge” in Galveston about 50 miles south of where we live. But Hurricane Laura made landfall in Cameron, Louisiana, 32 miles southeast of where my in-laws live (roughly 130 miles from where we live).

On the news this morning, a middle-aged woman who had decided to ride out the storm in Lake Charles, Louisiana, said it was the “worst hurricane” she had ever experienced.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without power across the region this morning. It will take weeks before some of them have electricity again (many unfamiliar with hurricanes don’t realize that this is one of the most dangerous and life-threatening aspects of extreme weather events like this).

Texas governor Greg Abbott said this morning that no deaths have been reported in Texas. He ascribed the zero-fatality rate to the fact that the state provided hotel rooms to nearly everyone who had no place to go once evacuated.

We’re all feeling very fortunate this morning. We are praying for our sisters and brothers in southwest Louisiana just across the state line. They are going to need our help and support for weeks to come. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who called and wrote to check in on us. We have been extremely lucky. Had Laura made landfall here, a much more populated area, the devastation could have been a lot worse.

Hunkering down for Hurricane Laura. Parzen family update.

Above: the view from our front yard facing south toward the Gulf of Mexico where Hurricane Laura is currently a category 3 storm. The coast lies about 50 miles due south from where we live in southwest Houston.

At one point, it looked like Hurricane Laura (currently a category 3 event in the Gulf of Mexico) might make landfall in Galveston just south of Houston where we live. But over the last day or so the projections have moved it to the east.

That’s good news for our city. We’re expecting to have high winds and heavy rainfall typical of a tropical storm. Flash flooding is expected. But we’ll be outside the storm’s cone.

But it’s terrible news for my in-laws who live in Orange, Texas, right on the Louisiana border. At one point last night, landfall was projected to happen in Orange. The cone has moved slightly east but Orange is still in the storm’s cross hairs.

As of 8:50 a.m., Laura is expected to be a category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border around midnight tonight.

Traice’s parents, Jane and Randy, will be sheltering in place this evening at Tracie’s grandmother’s house. Tracie’s “memaw” is 99 years old and suffered a stroke earlier this year. She’s at home with 24-hour care but can’t travel.

We’ll be following the storm’s progress carefully and checking in regularly with family in Orange.

In the meantime, we’ve been hunkering down and securing everything in our yard (so that the wind doesn’t turn patio furniture and our daughter’s playscape etc. into “missiles”). We have plenty of water, food, and batteries. We even have a transistor radio and my truck and Tra’s minivan are all gassed up.

We’ll be praying for our family in Orange and all of our friends across southeast Texas. We’re expecting Houston to be hard hit as well but we’re particularly concerned about Orange.

Thanks to everyone who’s written and called to check in. The thoughts and wishes mean the world to us. We need them right now.

For updates on the storm, see the excellent Space City Weather blog.

As our daughters make their way through the pandemic summer, music is their balm.

Something really magical happened last Sunday at our house.

I was in our home studio, tracking vocals on a new song I was working on (below), when Georgia, age 8, asked if she could sit in on the session. I hooked her up with a pair of headphones and once I was done with my first take, she said, “hey, daddy, I hear a part in my brain. Can I try recording it?”

Next thing I knew, she was laying down her own vocals on the track. A part and arrangement that she came up with herself.

It may not seem like much. But those familiar with the recording arts will recognize what a big step that is in a young person’s evolution as a musician and performer. It was awesome. Check out the track below.

The pandemic summer has been tough on the girls. We and they recognize how fortunate we all are. Tracie and I both worked from home before the crisis took shape and even though I’ve lost a lot of my clients, we still have enough work to keep us afloat.

But the girls still pine for visits with their Texas grandparents, a cancelled trip to California to see their grandmother there, playdates with their friends and Texas cousins, summer afternoons spent at our community pool, Saturday mornings at the bagel place.

They feel their parents’ stress as we fret about money and wonder if even the slightest cough or sneeze is the first symptom of something potentially debilitating or deadly. They sense our sadness and worry as family members, friends, and colleagues have fallen ill with the virus.

It’s a lot for a newly turned 7-year-old and a soon-to-be 9-year-old to absorb.

Their resilience and their positive attitude have been an inspiration to Tracie and me. Their strength is the reason we don’t give up hope, especially on those sleepless nights when we wonder how we’re going to pay the bills, how we are going to guide them through remote learning and keep up with our own work this fall, how and even when we’re going to get to the other side of this national nightmare.

Throughout the pandemic, summer music has been their balm. A place and space where they can feel free to express themselves as they fill our home with sound and joy.

From their “pandemic flash mob street concerts” to their remote piano lessons and our jam sessions, they’ve been nothing less than amazing.

I created the slideshow below (set to the new song) so that we’ll remember these long hot Houston summer days — the pandemic summer.

Thanks for listening and letting us share our blessings.

Protest Song (We Will Survive)
by Parzen Family Singers

People are yelling and running around
Starting to look like a battleground
And I just heard there’s trouble in town
Someone just said they’re burning it down

It’s just another of life’s mysteries
All of this chaos and monstrosity

Don’t tell me we got nothing to lose
So we’re hitting the streets and the avenues
Marching to the beat of a different drum
While old white men are calling us scum

Protests politicians pandemic in addition
Lightning thunder hurricanes’ll put me under
Portland Washington New York Tommy Gun
Feels like the whole world’s coming undone

We’re still alive
We will survive
Into the eyes
Of the Storm

Maybe it’s one of life’s sad ironies
Some people call it the human disease

Leftists Marxists Communists are on your list
Racists fascists supremacists and man they’re pissed
Borders hoarders new world orders
Anarchists and pacifists and oh-my-lorders

Sometimes it’s feels like there’s no end in sight
Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s day or night

Black brown yellow red all the colors round your head
Man child running wild what was that I heard you said
White man has a plan to be born again
That’s why I am running from the ku klux klan

Italian sisters and brothers, you are my heroes! This is what a life in wine can be like in the time of the pandemic.

My good friend Flavio Geretto, a top Italian wine professional, post this photo yesterday with the following caption: “Lunch and Prosecco blind tasting with the export team before the summer holiday break. During this difficult year we never stopped… and our aim is to continue in the same way!!!!”

Dinner was over, the kitchen was clean, and our daughters were in bed last night when Tracie and I turned on some music and sat down on the coach to catch up on news and social media.

One of the first images that appeared in my feed was the one above: my good friend Flavio Geretto (second from right) with the export team at the Villa Sandi winery in Valdobbiadene (I do media consulting for Flavio).

I turned to show it to Tracie.

“That’s what life in wine could be like,” I said, “if our country had the leadership and moral fiber to fight the virus. Italians are my heroes.”

Through their sheer resilience and deep sense of civic duty, the Italians have shown the world how we can learn to live with COVID.

Here in Texas where we “live,” our infection rates are high, countless people are suffering, and many are dying, and yet our state leaders continue to tie the hands of our local government despite our mayor and crisis manager’s pleas to let them lock our city down. It’s so plain to see: the Italians were quick to lock down their country once the scope of the pandemic became clear; they banded together — apart — to stop COVID’s spread; they wore their masks and maintained social distance; and now, across Italy, a normal life has resumed.

It’s a life where people can work and socialize without fear, as in the photo above of Flavio with his colleagues.

What the Italians have down is nothing short of heroic.

I’ll never forget texting with one of my single friends in northern Italy at the height of the health crisis there. He was holed up alone in his condo in the country end and we were extremely worried about his physical and mental health. He had no contact with anyone — anyone at all, not even his parents or sister — for weeks on end. Today, he goes out to lunch and dinner, sees his friends, and regularly receives tasters at his winery.

Wine professionals in America could be doing the same if it weren’t for the shortsightedness of our leaders and our utter lack of civic responsibility. We could be doing the same if our worldview didn’t boil down to why should I wear a mask to protect your health, why should I change my lifestyle so that others don’t suffer, why should I care that members of my community are dying at an alarming rate?

Where Tracie and I live, there’s no end to the crisis in sight. We are among the fortunate who work at home and have the means to live a decent life even while sheltering in place. But our community — our country — will never get back on track until our citizens embrace a sense of belonging and selflessness in the place of the egoism and myopia that continue to paralyze us.

Italians, you are heroes! How I envy you! How I weep and long for my America!

Luigi Coppo, one of the coolest Piedmont winemakers I know, joins us this week in Houston (and heartfelt thanks to everyone who took part in the Ricasoli event).

We don’t drink a ton of red wine at our house. We mostly pour lean, fresh or oxidative, white wines, especially during the warm Houston summer.

But earlier this year, when I brought home a bottle of my friend Luigi Coppo’s Barbera d’Asti L’Avvocata, Tracie completely freaked over it (meaning, she LOVED it).

Barbera is generally known for its high levels of acidity and this wine is no exception. But Luigi’s deft hand as winemaker delivers extraordinary balance in this single-vineyard designate that still lands at a more than affordable price. It’s one of our favorite reds of 2020.

Luigi (above), who’s become a good friend over the last few years, will be joining us this week for the weekly virtual wine dinner I present at Roma restaurant here in our adoptive southeast Texas city.

I knew his dad back in the day when he used to come into one of the restaurants where I used to work back in the day. The family’s flagship cru Barbera d’Asti is one of the Barbera trinity of all-time greats imho (Braida and Scarpa make my other two favorites).

Because I’ve spent so much time in Piedmont in recent years teaching at Slow Food U., Luigi and I have had the opportunity to hang and taste on multiple occasions. We were even planning to write some songs together (before the pandemic took shape).

He’s one of the coolest people I know in Monferrato wine and I’m super stoked to be hosting him this week.

Click here for menu, wines, and details.

I also have to give a shout-out this morning to Francesco Ricasoli, who was featured last week, and to everyone who joined the call. We had more than 70 people on the Zoom and it was one of the most memorable in the series.

The news from the world outside these days is just bad, bad, and worse. And so many of us, like our family, are sheltering in place and isolating — alone, together — in a collective effort to stop the spread of COVID. It’s nothing short of depressing, especially when we think of the countless people in our state and country who are suffering right now.

But our Thursday night supper club has become a retreat, a respite, and a salve for the constant din of dreary headlines, soundbites, and tweets.

Francesco, thanks for helping make last week’s “gathering” one of the most magical so far. And thanks to all of our guests: it wouldn’t be possible without you.

If you’re in Houston this week, I hope you can join us. You won’t regret it (AND CHEF ANGELO IS MAKING VITELLO TONNATO FOR THIS ONE!).

Thanks for your support.

Until we meet again, Jaynes Gastropub. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Above: the Jayne Burger — “Niman Ranch ground beef, aged Vermont cheddar, house pickled onions, garlic aioli, fries.”

The year was 2009 — and oh what a good year it was — when a lapsed New Yorker cum native Californian sat down in a newly opened restaurant in Austin, Texas with his southeast Texan bride-to-be.

“What a great place you have here!” he said to the server as he approached their table.

“Thank you,” he replied. “Have you ever heard of a restaurant called ‘Jaynes Gastropub’ in San Diego? The owners modeled the restaurant after Jaynes.”

The Texan joint was a nearly cookie-cutter version of the San Diego original.

Above: “We had some good times, didn’t we?” wrote Jayne and Jon on their social media yesterday. Jaynes’ opening coincided with the first boom of natural wine in the U.S.

From the “custom millwork, zinc bar, mosaic tile floor all the way up to the 1920′s tin ceiling” to the large mirrors and Anglophilic paraphernalia adorning the walls, Jaynes made you feel like you had traveled to another time and place.

When it opened in 2007, the restaurant rode atop the new wave of gastropubs that opened across the U.S.

Guests would work their way through appetizers like Gambas al Ajillo, Chips and Gravy Poutine, Queso Fundido, Crispy Calamari, munching away and washing it down with groovy European wines and international craft beers.

You’d ask for a bottle of lithe Nebbiolo or a hearty Mourvèdre as you struggled deliciously to decide between mouth-watering mains like Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, Steak Frites, or the legendary Jayne Burger (above). Or sometimes, you’d just order nearly the whole damn menu and share with friends around the wonderful hand-crafted community table on the patio, the wine and music flowing all the while.

Jaynes was good eating at its best, in a time when Americans were still learning a thing or three from British gastropub culture — comfort food prepared masterfully with the highest quality ingredients.

Above: Jaynes was also a place where great musicians gathered and great music happened — paired with white Burgundy and old Nebbiolo.

Yes, I’m so sorry to say but you read that write: Jaynes was.

Yesterday, Jayne and her husband Jon announced in an Instagram post that the restaurant will not reopen.

The only thing that attenuates our sadness is the tide of warm memories that fills our hearts and minds.

Jaynes gave Tracie and me so much. It was one of the backdrops of our early courtship, the host of our wedding reception, and the place where everyone knew our names when we returned to my hometown. Our children played there together, we played countless concerts there.

Above, from left: John Yelenosky, Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle, Jon Erickson, Tracie Parzen, and Jeremy Parzen at Jaynes — where else?

Jayne and Jon, Tracie and I can’t thank you enough for the hospitality, the generosity, the friendship and solidarity that you’ve shared with us over the years. There will never be another Jaynes and the magic of those years will forever be inscribed in our hearts, in the name of joy and love.

We’re looking forward to the next chapter in your lives. Or should I say, all of our lives? For none of our lives will be the same without Jaynes Gastropub.

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day