I heard it for the first time two months after the fact.
At a dinner with the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
I have listened to it every year since.
The "it" is an Irish ballad -- "Christmas in New York" -- written and sung by a band from Yonkers, NY called Shilelagh Law.
There's snow in the air
Winter is here
The wind is blowing
And outside's so clear
There's presents to wrap
And card to send
It's Christmas in New York again
We Irish have a love affair with music. We all think we can sing. Even those of us who can't. With a little fuel, caution is generally thrown to the wind and whole groups of party-goers belt out their favorites. In the old days, that meant "Whiskey in the Jar," "The Irish Rover," and -- of course -- "Danny Boy." Nowadays, the Beatles, Shania Twain and Cold Play make the cut. If you actually can sing, watch out. My grandparents routinely returned from their Saturday night revelries only to wake their youngest daughter to sing for their fellow travelers. Which is how my mom became our family's best public singer.
There's somebody singing a holiday song
You pick up the tune and start singing along
You learned the words some time way back when
It's Christmas in New York again
Irish music can be sentimental. And angry. Just like the Irish. Shilelagh Law sugar coats that just a bit when the band talks about itself. They don't say they reflect anger. Instead, they say they "reflect a collision of two cultures that results in bedlam." The two cultures are New York and Ireland. The band asserts it "embodies all that is New York Irish music," including "dancing, weeping, lots of laughter, plenty of drinks, and the inevitable visit to the local diner at 5 am." OK, fine, but I still think lots of those 5 am diners show up a little pissed -- at least at something.
Fancy store windows and millions of lights
Downtown in December, what a fabulous sight
You spin round and round trying to take it all in
It's Christmas in New York again
One of the fundamental facts about alcohol is that it is a depressant. I always marvel at the drinkers (or drunks) who tell me they are depressed. What did they think they would be? Of course, even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut. Sometimes things are depressing and sadness is more than appropriate, aided or not by a side of Jameson's.
But as you gather round the table with everyone
You feel that something has been left undone
The tree is all trimmed, the shopping is through
But there's one thing you still have to do
New York -- my home -- has had a very bad December. First a grand jury refused to indict anyone for what the City's medical examiner concluded was the homicide of Eric Garner, forcing thousands of my neighbors to the streets in protest against the lack of accountability on the part of those who enforce the law but seem to be able to get away with breaking it. Then, last weekend, an EDP -- that's cop speak for "emotionally disturbed person" -- traveled from Maryland to Brooklyn and gunned down two cops sitting in their police cruiser. He had previously shot his girlfriend in Maryland and instagrammed that his imminent dual homicide would be payback for the Garner travesty in New York and the Brown case in Missouri.
It's Christmas Eve, 11 pm
You walk down to the church and you quietly go in
You kneel down in the last pew right on the aisle
And say "God I know it's been awhile
But can you do me a favor on this Christmas Eve
Can you send some blessing to people for me
You know these last past few months have been kinda tough
And we could use a little love"
The two police officers were Wejian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Officer Liu, married only two months ago, was a seven year veteran. Officer Ramos was on the force for two years and, at 38, had become a new cop at a relatively old age in a second act of personal service. He was also about to become a chaplain. A father of two, he is now dead at 40. The two were working overtime as part of an anti-terrorism drill in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Observers say the EDP approached their car, assumed a shooting stance, and then opened fire. The officers never had a chance. NYC's Police Commissioner correctly called it an "assassination." Mayor DiBlasio said it was "a despicable act."
So bless New York's finest, our angels in blue
Giving us hope and helping us through
And bless New York's bravest, the FDNY
Giving their sweat and their tears and their lives
Many were just angry and took that anger out on the wrong people. The head of the City's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), Patrick Lynch, blamed the Mayor for the killings, claiming that DiBlasio's support for Garner and past criticism of police meant that he had "blood on his hands" Even Rudy Guiliani thought that comment over the top, calling it "incendiary" and "inappropriate." It actually was a lot worse than that. I am the god-son of a New York police officer who never lived to see me become an Assistant US Attorney. I come from a family of cops. You can be pro-civil rights and pro-police at the same time. The two are not remotely contradictory. The vast majority of police fully respect the rights of those whom they police; in fact, a small minority of their fellow officers account for the vast majority of brutality or abuse. There is no need for Lynch or anyone else to claim that any protesters or politicians are responsible for the killings of Liu and Ramos because the claim is as false as it is divisive.
And bless all the medics and our troops overseas
Bless the guys in the hardhats, removing debris
Bless the everyday people who answered the call
Bless those who gave some and those who gave all
Officers Liu and Ramos gave all. Unfortunately, so did Eric Garner. The rest of us -- the "everyday people" -- have to answer the call. It's a call that respects the police. But it's also a call that respects the Constitution. More than two centuries ago, before there was either a Constitution or a Revolution, John Adams, a Massachusetts lawyer, defended both. He was the defense attorney who successfully defended six of the eight British soldiers charged with manslaughter in the wake of shootings of protesters who themselves had attacked the soldiers. Bill DiBlasio is not anti-cop. He has given the police department all the resources it has requested, and his Police Commissioner, William Bratton, has praised him for this. Lynch's outlandish comments, moreover, are only his latest effort to drive a wedge between the cops and the Mayor. Earlier, he encouraged officers to sign letters requesting that the Mayor not be at their funerals if they were killed in the line of duty. Liu and Ramos did not do so,and Officer Ramos's family has welcomed the Mayor to Ramos's funeral.
Bless all the souls who left us this year
You may be gone but you'll always be here
Singing and dancing with family and friends
It's Christmas in New York Again.