Jann Arden on stage for the taping of A Jann Arden Christmas Special at The Social. Photo by Cherryl Bird

A Jann Arden Christmas at The Social

A Jann Arden Christmas at The Social co-hosts Traci Melchor, Cynthia Loyst, Jann Arden, Lainey Lui and Melissa Grelo on set. Photo by Cherryl Bird
A Jann Arden Christmas at The Social co-hosts (l-r) Traci Melchor, Cynthia Loyst, Jann Arden, Lainey Lui and Melissa Grelo on set. Photo by Cherryl Bird

“People come up to me all the time and ask me: What are the girls like on The Social?” says the indelible eight-time Juno recipient  and serial co-host Jann Arden, most notable for her ability to grab hold of our hearts in bittersweet lamentations of universal love, or about loosing your way and occasionally finding it again, in songs like Sleepless, Could I Be Your Girl, Good Mother, Insensitive, I Would Die For You, and Will You Remember Me.  She answers her own question: “They are terrible.”  The audience bursts into laughter because they are familiar with her other gift, her deprecating sense of humour.

If Arden wasn’t such a successful songwriter/singer there would most undoubtedly be a stand-up microphone waiting for her at the nearest comedy club with a nightly line-up at the door.  If not for the laughter, the audience would have keeled over from hunger two hours into the lunchtime filming of the pop culture talk show special and it would have been a real Dickensian Christmas for all.

Co-hosts Melissa Grelo (@melissagrelo), Cynthia Loyst (@cynthialoyst), Lainey Lui (@LaineyGossip), and Traci Melchor (@stayfabulous) are on set to introduce her, saying that tonight is the first time that The Social will have a live performance but it is actually the middle of the afternoon on Nov 13 and we’re at the filming of an additional episode called A Jann Arden Christmas at The Social.  Usually the show is live-to-air and the audience is ushered out after an hour.

Universal was hyped on the idea of a Christmas album says Arden. The label had her working on this record in June, July and August – “It was just the most bizarre feeling in the world singing Christmas songs down in my basement doing these demos,” in the middle of the summer.

The record had its big reveal on The Social just days after the taping, on Nov 17, when singer Rod Stewart, 18-time Grammy nominee and double inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pulled A Jann Arden Christmas from the pocket of his Bay City Rollers-style plaid jacket live on-air.  Stewart was there to promote his own newly released vinyl album, Another Country.  A fan of his music since forever, Arden got up off the couch and tried to hide behind it during the live broadcast.

Arden’s fans would later say that she has earned her right to be beside the legendary Stewart on the couch and on the stage because of her talent; that her in-the-moment reaction was “REAL” and that is exactly what they loved about her.

Stewart would push her record again during his interview on Marilyn Dennis’ show.

Arden (@jannarden) is very open about her life on social media and it’s no secret that she’s had a pretty tough year.  Both her parents were diagnosed with memory disorders in the last two-and-a-half years.  She recently lost her father and her mother has been dealing with Alzheimer’s.

About that, Arden says: “I’ve really, really, really surprised myself …being more patient, being more understanding and trying to live in the moment that she’s in (her mom).  I actually feel that it’s been a really wonderful year for me, personally, doing something that I thought was terrible at first turned out to be something really good,” she adds.

Going through all of that has made spending time with the family even more of a priority for Arden this holiday season.  She looks forward to “family, food, drinks, good times – bringing up wonderful memories that we shared in the past.”

“I don’t think we want to sit around the kitchen table avoiding talking about my dad,” says Arden.  “We just want to celebrate the really nutty things my dad used to do.”

Memories of Christmas Past

Arden explains how to play Rummoli, a popular card game at her kitchen table during the holidays when she was young.  “This big sheet comes out,” she says, in controlled exuberance, like she has just time-traveled back to the 80s and she motions her hands away from her body as if she is spreading an invisible cloth across its surface.  “It folds over the table,” she says.

“Everyone gets three hundred pennies,” she adds, confidently, but then makes a confession.  “I never knew how to play and with my mom having the memory stuff, it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how to play.” Guilt-filled laughter fills the room. Her story is tragic, funny, intriguing and ironic all at the same time.

We would just get a deck of cards out and do that.  Throughout the holidays, we always watch the Charlie Brown Christmas…that claymation Rudolf Christmas, the Grinch, and drink eggnog and rum “‘till we can’t even button our pants,” says Arden.  Those of us who lived in Canada before digital media or TV channel selection in the double digits had similar social experiences, so we nod our heads and make sweeping sounds in agreement to the trip down memory lane, while younger audience members ponder what, if anything, claymation has to do with dirt and animation and if Charlie Brown is Chris Brown’s more traditional, well-behaved and therefore less popular older brother.

For the first live musical performance on The Social, in its second year, Arden sings It’s beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, as she thinks it reflects the spirit of the season, then she follows up with Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

She brings in chef Lynn Crawford (@Chef_Lynn) for some inspiring dishes like cream cheese, cheddar and toasted almonds garnished to look like a pine cone or more like a pineapple – it was rather large.  An antipasto wreath made out of rosemary, adorned with delicatessen charcuterie, cheese, and spicy olives that look like you could hang it outside on the door to greet early-bird guests, as Arden suggests, so they can help themselves if you’re not ready yet.  The chef, I am beginning to think, has a few piercings and a giant tattoo covering one-third of her body hidden underneath her black uniform, follows up with a kale cocktail pine tree decorated with shrimps and cherry tomato lights skewered into a triangular Styrofoam cone base with toothpicks. She then offers up candy cane and balloon crust chocolate for dessert.

National Post drink columnist Adam McDowell (@A_McDo) serves up Dickens-inspired drinks to match the personalities of the hosts.

In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge offers a Smoking Bishop to Bob Cratchit, a drink infused with lemons, cinnamon, all spice, ginger, wine, port, brown sugar, which McDowell serves to Lui crackling hot in a teacup.

In his novel Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens used The Flip – egg yolk, sherry, icing sugar, nutmeg and some other invigorating ingredients – to help one of his characters who is depressed to feel better, says McDowell. This, he serves to Arden.

Melchor gets a popular Victorian plebeian punch made with cognac and Dickens’ own twist on the original recipe – some flash – meaning, he set it on fire.

We listen to the ladies talk about their early experiences at Christmas. Arden reminisces about her and her brother stealing liquor from the cabinet and throwing up in Technicolor crème de menthe, but then it gets pretty touching.  Traci shows pictures of her kids’ with their godfather Christopher Hyndman, one-half of the lifestyle show Steven and Chris, who recently passed away.

Arden gets serious and talks about the two dozen or so times she has appeared on the show and how much she really loves the hosts, but only minutes before she apologized to me for making me sit beside the mean Loyst during the first segments of the taping.  Loyst grabs my hand, leans over to me and explains that she’s not so bad; “Cynthia is lovely” is the exact phrase I use.  I try to explain that we had met before at the end of the very first public taping, the second show they presented.  She claims to remember but I think she was trying to spare my feelings, which only proves how nice she really is.

A few choice expletives later, a taste of the hooch from a creative drink columnist by the hosts, to which Melchor recites a line from Oliver Twist under her breath, “Please sir, I want some more?” some laughs, and taste testing of the minimalist holiday food platter by the hosts, Arden sings a couple of songs with members of her band with the audience clapping along; they gift us with some take-home swag, Arden’s CD, chocolates and PJs so we can enjoy her during the holidays. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The show airs mid-December.

by Cherryl Bird, Toronto, Canada

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