By Kate Lillie
Originally published on Global Comment
I wasn’t quite sure whether to do today’s entry in the usual form of a song or just give today’s artist an entire advent calendar door of his own… yes, it’s Bing Crosby! Today’s song may not be his best known but it is my favourite song of his.
Do You Hear What I Hear was actually written in 1962 and inspired by the Cuban missile crisis. As hard as it may be for us to imagine now, the threat of nuclear war loomed large over the US back then. The Cuban missile crisis was probably the closest that the US and USSR ever came to the brink of weapons launch, and was averted only by a series of secret negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Years after the crisis it was revealed that there was in fact a nuclear-armed submarine off the coast of the US which had orders permitting it to launch its nuclear warhead without additional confirmation orders from Moscow if it was hit by American depth charges, which is exactly what happened. Luckily for all of us, the warhead could only be launched with the consent of all three senior officers on board and one officer, Vasily Arkipov refused, saving the world in time for the frantic negotiations to continue. Kruschev and Kennedy reached agreement shortly afterwards at the end of a marathon diplomatic effort and the world breathed a sigh of relief as the Cold War started to ease slightly.
Crosby recorded and released his version of it in October of the following year and it has since become the most well-known recording of the song. I think Crosby’s vocal in this is just beautiful.
To many people Crosby is the quintessential voice of Christmas. With multiple Christmas albums to his name and even the best-selling single of all time (hello, White Christmas), there can be few of us unfamiliar with his dulcet tones and especially his festive work. White Christmas was of course also a movie starring Crosby opposite Rosemary Clooney (yes, George’s aunt) as well as a song. Crosby’s career and his involvement in festive music and film lasted for decades and he was even able to duet with David Bowie in 1977 on the song Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy, another Christmas classic. The video for that is worth watching for the ‘acting’ alone, and has been uncannily spoofed by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. It never ceases to amaze me how Will Ferrell can make himself look and sound like the person he’s impersonating despite the fact he has such a recognisable face and strong personality of his own , and the attention to the nuance is spot-on.
But in the meantime, let’s enjoy Crosby’s call to peace: