Christmas Carols

Christmas Songs and The Christmas Song

‘Tis the season to be… hearing the same damn songs over and over again.

Fa la la la la, la la, la la.

I’ve written about my general dislike of December music before.

But whatever, if I have to listen to it, I might as well get a blog post out of it.

And trust me, I have to listen to it. It was bad enough when I just had a wife that liked it. At least she has the decency to listen to it in her car and when I’m out of the house. Now there’s a five-year old involved, and she has no such compunctions. I was able to put my foot down up until Thanksgiving, which blessedly was later than usual this year, but the month of December in my house has been a steady slog through one hundred variations on the same twelve songs.

Really, John Legend? You had to remake “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”? Because one full-of-himself warbler wasn’t enough? But to be fair, you might’ve outdone Lennon in one respect. I didn’t think it was possible to screech more over the top than Yoko Ono, but you’ve proven otherwise. Holy crap, Legend sings with more vibrato than an opera singer sitting on a vibrator during “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Speaking of former Beatles, someone remade Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Not sure why that needed to happen.

One carol that needs to be remade is that stupid Frank Sinatra song. Because every time I hear him start “Whoopidy-doo, and dickory-dock, and don’t forget…” I feel like he needs to sing “to whip out your cock.” But he never does. And since he died twenty years ago, it’s probably never going to happen. But come on, there has to be some b-roll recording of it, right? In a vault next to the Trump pee tapes?

I just looked that Franks Sinatra song up and it’s called “The Christmas Song,” which seems to contain about as much effort as the lyrics. Or the singing.Frank Sinatra is a masterful singer. His cadence and his timbre can convey any emotion from love to sorrow to jubilation. To mailing it in, which he was clearly doing with this song. I don’t blame him, but the general “ah, go suck on a dick” is prevalent throughout.

That song, by the way, might be the worst fucking song in existence. I was going to say “the worse Christmas song” but “worst song in existence” pretty much covers that, right? At least half of the shittiest songs are December specials. That’s what you do when you know your song can’t rest on its own laurels. Throw in a reference to snow and it’ll play once a fucking hour every December for the rest of time.

And of course, let’s continue to rehash, one month out of every year, what did and did not constitute date rape in the 1940s. Say, what’s in this drink? Ask Bill Cosby.

But this year I’ve narrowed in on two specific Christmas songs. Or Christmas carols. I’m not sure about the distinction between those two designations, but whatever it is, “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Last Christmas” are on the cusp of graduating from one to the other.

It’s hard for me to categorize these two because, in my mind, they are still too new to be Christmas classics. Of course, “too new” just means that they were released in my lifetime. If I can remember a time before Mariah Carey traipsed around in a skimpy Santa costume, and if I remember “Last Christmas” as just a minor follow-up to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” then these can’t be classics. Who cares if they came out 25 and 35 years ago, respectively. Classic rock stations shouldn’t be playing Guns n’ Roses, goddammit! And don’t get me started on all of the YouTube playlists that call 1980s music videos “Golden Oldies.”

Did the Boomers go through similar situation with all of the Beach Boys and Elvis tunes becoming standard Christmas fare as if they’d been around as long as “O Tannenbaum”? Even the aforementioned “Christmas Song” was recorded in 1957. Shit, Rudolph wasn’t even a character until Montgomery Wards needed an advertising ploy to compete with the Sears catalog during the Great Depression.

So fine, I’ll admit to my biases and acknowledge that maybe three or four decades is enough time to pass for a song to lose its novelty. In my daughter’s mind, there’s no difference between Elvis singing “Blue Christmas” and George Michael singing “Last Christmas.” Both were dead before she knew what was going on. She was about as old when George Michael died as I was when Elvis died. Is Bing Crosby still alive? Probably not.

But hey, Andrew Ridgeley is still alive! And it turns out he was playing on that song, too. I lost an argument about whether it was a Wham! song or a solo George Michael song. Turns out it was the former, so yay, Andrew Ridgeley!

But both of these  songs have problems that should prevent them from crossing over into proper carols.

Let’s start with Wham! I was predisposed to disliking Wham! in the eighties. After all, I was a hetero-normative kid growing up in the suburbs. And no, I’m not saying we knew George Michael was gay. How could anyone have known, what with the feathered hair and day-glo pink wristbands? But I didn’t know what homosexual or heterosexual were, even if “fag” was the pithy insult du jour. Or du decade.

But I had an older sister, and she though George Michael was dreamy. So did some of the girls in my grade, because that’s a thing fourth graders do. I had a major crush on the girl from Goonies. Although, oddly enough, not the hot cheerleader one, but the androgynously nerdy one. But still, if George Michael was gonna make the girls swoon, then I might as well throw him in with Andy Gibb and Sean Cassidy. To quote Frank Sinatra when he heard the Beatles, “Mice make women scream, too.”

No wait a second, that wasn’t Frank Sinatra talking about the Beatles. That was some older generation dude talking about Frank Sinatra. What comes around goes around, I suppose. Still, I bet no critic anywhere knew Sinatra had such brilliant witticisms as “Coming down the chimney down” up his sleeve.

What does that even mean? Is it like an escalator, where there’s an up chimney and a down chimney? Or is “down” such a powerful indicator that it must be repeated? Did somebody ask a question in between that has since been lost? “He’ll be coming down the chimney.” “Where?” “Down.” Although chances are, that person would be asking about chimney, not down. But whatever. Whoppidy-doo and suck on my cock.

The biggest problem with “Last Christmas” is that it isn’t really a Christmas song. Yes, it presumably takes place at Christmas, but there’s nothing to distinguish it. If he sang “Last Arbor Day, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away,” would it change the basic feel of the song? As opposed to Sinatra, where hanging up a sock for Fourth of July just means you’re doing laundry.

“Last Christmas” is the song equivalent of Die Hard. And yes, I know this is the biggest debate that is not a debate Next week, is a hot dog a sandwich?

When asked, I come firmly down on the side of “Die Hard” being a Christmas movie. But it’s kind of disingenuous. What I really mean is that I’d like to mix “Die Hard” in with the normal drivel of Christmas movies. I can only see Santa save a troubled marriage or a rude guy learning the real meaning of Christmas so many times before I need me some Hans Gruber falling from Nakatomi Plaza.

In reality, “Die Hard” is a movie that takes place at Christmas, but it isn’t a country movie. If you wanted to bust it out in June, nobody would look at you sideways. As opposed to, say, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” which can only be watched after Thanksgiving. The same can be said for “Last Christmas.” It’s a song about a bitter jilted love that just happened to take place last Christmas. It should not become a permanent fixture.

To say nothing of the fact that George Michael died on Christmas day, so it feels kinda creepy to hear him tell us that, on a previous Christmas, he gave us his heart. Am I to assume he was an organ donor?

The same gripe doesn’t apply to “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Again, I was predisposed to dislike this song. I was a hetero-normative college student in 1994. My musical diet was a steady supply of “MTV’s Alternative Nation” mixed in with the occasional classic rock. Mariah Carey? Are you fucking kidding me? She might as well have been Celine Dion.

That being said, when that video came on MTV or VH-1, the four dudes I lived with might grumble a fair amount, but we never turned the channel. If Amy Grant or Joan Osborne came on, we couldn’t switch to ESPN fast enough. But Mariah Carey? Somebody would say, “Not again,” and then we’d all sit there in silence, staring at the screen. We might or might not have then excused ourselves to the privacy of our separate rooms.

Because, in case you missed the subtle undertone there, Mariah Carey is attractive. But that wasn’t enough to get us to stay on the channel. Heck, Amy Grant is cute, but that doesn’t make me want to convert to born-againism. And if any other Mariah Carey video came on, not that I can remember any other Mariah Carey songs, we wouldn’t be watching. But holy crap, “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a whole ‘nother level of hormones. Bear in mind this was before every Halloween costume went “sexy,” so “Sexy Santa Snowgirl” was profound for this twenty year-old.

Even if she would only show one side of her face.

My biggest problem with this song has nothing to do with the beat or the lyrics. It’s totally a Christmas tune. It’s about getting presents and making lists and even mentions Santa Claus and snow. Check, check, and check. My main problem is that, if it becomes a Christmas standard, then everyone’s going to start covering it. They’re going to sing it door-to-door. And Mariah Carey’s voice can be matched by maybe three human beings on the planet.

At least the professionals are aware of this. You’ll note that, unlike a song like “Yesterday,” where the goal of most covers is to be as faithful to the original as possible, covers of “All I Want for Christmas” try to change as much as possible. Speed it up, slow it down, change the key. Whatever you do, don’t lead the listeners to expect the vocal riffs at the end. Even Idina Menzel, one of the three aforementioned human beings who might be able to go toe-to-toe, or tonsil-to-tonsil, with Mariah Carey, makes sure nobody’s going to mistake her version for the original. She puts her vocal riffs at the beginning and turns it into a rockabilly beat with an understated spoken-word ending.

It’s the amateurs who don’t show the song its proper respect. And if it ever enters the standard rotation of “Silver Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” then it shall be woe unto thine ears and a pox upon the house of Carey.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind would try attempt such a thing? But you will only ask that if you’ve never been to karaoke night. Because Steve Perry is another one of those once-in-a-generation voices, but that doesn’t stop millions of drunks from belting “Don’t Stop Believin'” out of their asses on a nightly basis.

The same goes for Mariah Carey. We have a neighborhood gathering every December at our local park. It’s dubbed as a food bank donation and caroling, except the people that organize it only show up for about three songs, then they grab all the food and run, presumably with a tax deduction to make the angels weep. They bring a portable microphone/speaker set and encourage the kids to sing into it. They hand out lyric sheets that the grown-ups politely refuse because who the fuck doesn’t know the words to “Jingle Bells,” but then they sing some made-up bullshit third verse that nobody knows about Fannie Bright or Fannie Flagg or Maggie May. And we all mumble through them like it’s the Apostle’s Creed and then belt out the chorus like we were just reserving our voice for the good part.

Anyway, when they were packing up, the lady running things sang another couple songs through the microphone. One of them was “All I Want for Christmas is You.” It was a karaoke version, something which shouldn’t exist for the sake of all mankind. C’mon California, you can ban freelance journalism but not karaoke versions of songs that should never be sung in a karaoke bar? It would go much farther in protecting our collective health than banning second-hand smoke.

Anyway, she was an above average singer, so for most of the song it wasn’t bad. Grooving, fun. Some people hummed or sang along to the approachable parts of the catchy song. But then the end approached and I looked at the singer, wondering if she was going to try for it or take advantage of the escape valve. After all, she could sing the final “yoooooooouuuuuuu” an octave lower and it fits perfectly fine. Our ears and the additional years tacked onto the end of my life would thank her.

But when I looked at her, it was obvious she wasn’t takin’ no bullshit lower octave. She sucked in her breath, raising the mic above her, and lifting her head toward the heavens in both arrogance and apology. She was preparing to tear down the walls of Jericho. Bang the eardrum loudly, Joshua!

It’s that moment in a football game when the place-kick holder stands up and you realize, holy crap, they’re going for an all-or-nothing fake kick. You see the defenders already past the offensive line and, as you become precognitive. You can see the entire crash-and-burn before it starts to unfold, even if the scrawny punter doesn’t see the linebacker bearing down on him.

This lady never saw the three-hundred pound gorilla of Mariah Carey’s eight-octave range.

Have you ever seen that South Park where John Stamos’s brother couldn’t quite hit the high note in “Loving You”?

Do do do do do-doo. Uuuhhhhhhhhhh.

So yeah, I have some problems with these two songs becoming December regulars. Because, as curmudgeony as I am about Christmas songs in general, and as little inclined as I was to listen when these two came out, I actually like them. And I’d like to keep it that way.

Nobody ever remade “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Little Saint Nick.” Nor does anyone bust these out when they’re going door-to-door.Not everything can be a Rudolph or a Frosty or an “Away in the Manger.” Although really, amateurs shouldn’t be singing that last one, either.

Let’s put “Last Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” into that same genre of less-is-more.

But somebody, please anybody!, needs to remake “The Christmas Song.”

And put in the real lyrics!

The Humbug is Strong

I’ve never really been a fan of Christmas music.

I’m sure that’s not an entirely true statement. If we could find a time machine back to the Carter administration, I’m sure we could find a little tyke doing all the fun calls and responses from “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” What kindergartner doesn’t love to follow up a lingering statement like “used to laugh and call him names” with, “Like Columbus.”

What? Columbus wasn’t used as an insult? You’ll go down in history, like Columbus? I mean, sure, genociders are historical and all, but what, was Hitler unavailable? Honestly, the only thing that went down in history around Columbus was the population of Native Americans. But whatever, Montgomery Ward, let’s just stick with the moron that thought the world was a third the size that it really is.

Oh yeah, for those of you who don’t know, Montgomery Ward invented Rudolph as a marketing ploy to differentiate their mail-order catalogs from Sears in the 1930s. That’s why he’s not listed in “The Night Before Christmas.” Rudolph didn’t exist yet. It was just… um.. Vixen? Nixon? Dixen-sider? Wait, I know one of them is named Blitzen. See? Hitler!

And of course, beyond Rudolph are some of the other great hits. About snowmen and nights spent in sensory deprivation chambers. And bells, of both a chromatic and auditory nature. And, of course let’s not forget the annual debate over what does and does not constitute date rape.

Then there’s the song about… no, I think that’s pretty much it. There are only five Christmas carols, right?

That’s really where my disdain for Christmas music began. It’s not that the individual songs, in a vacuum, are bad songs. Except for maybe “Away in a Manger.” That shit’s horrible on listen number one or listen number infinity. Whereas the rest of the songs only become intolerable as they approach infinity. Which is about how many times I’ve heard “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” And, by extension, that means I’ve heard “And a Happy New Year” one-third of infinite times. Aren’t you glad to know that the subject I teach is not math?

My mom was one of those people who listened to Christmas music on a more-or-less continuous loop for the last part of every year. Most years she would wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start, sometimes she’d sneak it in around Veteran’s Day. My wife is in that same vein. I believe that, were I not in the picture, she would feel like the Fifth of July is a perfectly acceptable time to start signing about snow and bells.

Hey, speaking of Christmas in July, did you know Hallmark Channel did that promotion this year? Because I’m pretty sure they get eighty percent of their viewership when they run those crappy love stories, where Candace Cameron is about to hook up with some hockey player, but then Santa shows up at the end to kill the hockey player get some strange for himself. Wait, that’s not how the movie ends? Santa gets the two together? Shit, I’m super glad I never stay awake till the end.

Anyway, I know that Hallmark Channel does this because when I told my four-year old it was July, she said “Christmas in July,” because whenever she’s visiting grandma and grandpa, they have the Hallmark Channel on. They’re part of the twenty percent that watch year round. Including on Thanksgiving. Did you know there’s football on the TV on Thanksgiving? Because my in-laws don’t. When I explained this dilemma to my co-workers, they responded with, “Wow, that’s got to suck for your father-in-law,” to which I respond, “He’s the one putting on the fucking Hallmark movies!”

But at least there’s a variety of Hallmark movies. Not only can you watch has-beens from “Full House,” but “Party of Five,” too. I think I even saw a “Days of Our Lives” alum this season. Whereas with the Christmas music I listened to endured in my youth, it was the same three records over and over. And by records, I actually mean records. Oh, maybe one or two of them were on 8-track, but by and large, they were vinyl records. You know, the ones where you can’t skip a song?

As an aside, am I the only one who feels unfinished when “Yesterday” ends and it isn’t immediately followed by the opening riff of “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”?

My mom played those records like broken records. Over and over and over again. Which is pretty much what the seventeen different holiday channels on Sirius/XM are doing right now. “Hey, that was a great Bing Crosby song. Coming up after this John Denver song, we’ve got some Bing Crosby on the way.”

Because every Christmas song, it seems, was recorded in a three-year span by three artists. Oh sure, they’ve been redone by every Jewish musician known to mankind. Seriously. Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, and Barry Manilow have all recorded songs about the glorious birth of Christ. Hell, when Rod Stewart released a Christmas album last year, my first thought was, “I didn’t even know he’s Jewish.”

So somewhere around the age of seven, listening to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” for the two-hundredth time, I realized that I was kind of over all of the Christmas songs. It was probably a balmy 82 degrees in Southern California on this particular listen of “It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas” when I realized the absurdity of it all.

But when they go away for eleven ten nine months at a time, I sometimes forget the inanity. Somewhere around Thanksgiving or, knowing my wife, closer to Halloween, I’ll hear my first Yuletide song of the year. And I’ll hum or whistle along, because most of them are festive as shit. A little “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” goes a long way in mid-November.

But by the time December 1 rolls around, I’ve once again heard every song multiple times this year and I’m reminded that I still have another four weeks to go.  I try to grin and bear it, but the Stockholm Syndrome just won’t stick.

For a while, I was happy when new versions of songs, and even an occasional new song entirely, came out. I think my eyes went wide the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Like, “Holy shit, they can do that?” Hell, The Boss isn’t even Jewish, unless his grandparents changed the spelling from Springstein.

And of course, when Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” came out, I was in college, so I was perfectly fine to watch her traipse around in her little Santa suit on VH-1 once per hour.

But before too long I remembered that Bruce Springsteen is a communist that hates consumerism and Mariah Carey is bat-shit crazy.

And don’t get me started on that “Believe” crap from “Polar Express.” Holy fuckdoll, is there any way I can gouge my ears out a la Oedipus’s eyes by the end of that song? Shit, I’ve got time, the song has to be forty-five minutes long, right?

That’s the problem with hearing the same things over and over. You start to notice every single nuance and intricacy of it. You start to think, “Really, Beach Boys? Christmas comes this time each year? When the fuck else would it come? What was the B-side of this calendar dumbfuckery: Saturday is at the End of the Week?

Hell, I’d probably find reasons to hate “Layla” if I had to listen to it on constant loop for six straight weeks.

Scratch that. “Layla” is perfect. But the acoustic version is on a strict no-more-than-once-per-month diet.

But the last few years, I’ve tried to make my peace with Christmas songs. There’s something about the joy in a child’s face. Especially when that joy appears when she’s in the car with mom, who has Christmas songs on her radio, and I only have to see that joy through a rolled up window.

Wife is usually kind enough to hold her pre-December Christmas songs out of my earshot. I did my part by ignoring all of the changed pre-sets on her car radio. But all good things must come to an end, and the last week or two, I’ve endured.

Until yesterday. When my daughter said, and I quote, “I don’t want to listen to this song.”

My heart grew three sizes that day. I became Darth Vader at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Yes, child, I am your father.

“Why not?” Wife asks.

“They play it too much.”

A smiled pursed my lips. Forget Darth Vader, I’m going full Emperor Palpatine on this one.

Goooood. Let your hate flow through you. Fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place. The Humbug is strong in this one.

The song that turned her toward the Dark Side?

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Meh, not the first choice on my hatred hierarchy, but I’ll take what I can get. Maybe I should make her listen to the Bruce Springsteen version and then explain how it’s a subtle dig at the imperialistic evil of the United States.

Unfortunately, my four-and-a-half year old wasn’t really enunciating her feelings properly. Shocking, I know. What she really meant was that she enjoys when mommy and daddy sing it to her, and doesn’t want to hear docile pre-recordings. Why does she love mommy’s and daddy’s rendition? Because if there’s one motif for the month of December in a house with a pre-schooler, it’s “You better not pout, you better not cry.”

In other words, “Shut the fuck up! You’re supposed to be fucking happy!”

Seriously, what is it about this month? I know a big part of it is the shorter days and the lousy weather. In the summertime, after I pick her up from daycare, we can go to the park or ride bikes or play in the yard until the sun sets well past 8:00 PM. This time of the year, the sun has usually set by the time I can pick her up. And sure, there are street lights, but it’s fifty degrees outside, which in California is practically arctic. The best we can do is drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. Otherwise, it’s a steady stream of Disney, Jr while I wrack my brain about ways to expend one million joules of pent-up, four-year-old wiggles in a two-hundred square foot jail cell without damaging the prison walls and furniture that mommy and daddy put a lot of effort into.

And dammit, child, I have a very important blog with seventy followers, at least ten of which might not actually be bots, so just sit there and watch the same goddamned “Vampirina” episode for the seventieth time. It’ll prepare you for a life of Christmas music.

But there’s also the compensatory factor of our stories about Santa Claus and his Gestapo powers of spotting every naughty action the child has ever committed. Not that said child can identify what action is naughty and which is nice, but she’s pretty sure that Big Brother Santa knows her deepest darkest demons. After all, he’s watching her sleep. After we made her sit on his lap. Nothing creepy about that.

And don’t get me started on the Elf on the fucking Shelf. Trust me, that NSA-inspired bullshit will get its own post from me at some juncture. And if that post doesn’t materialize by December 2019, assume I’ve been placed into a Christmas concentration camp. By the time I come out, I’ll be Winston Smith saying, “two plus two equals Happy Holidays.”

But all of this, the cabin fever and the fact that she isn’t entirely sure how the whole Christmas morning thing is going to work, leads to lots of whining. And lots of temper tantrums. And, oh my GOD, the pouting. I ask her what she wants for lunch, she’s reacts like I asked her to sever her arm. She runs to the couch, doubles over and buries her head like Burt the fucking Turtle facing a nuclear attack.

So props to the writer’s of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” because they’ve nailed the essence of what it is to actually have a child during this “Most Wonderfucked Time of the Year”. Because we’ve had to hit the first verse often. And early. Like, before Thanksgiving. Of last year. Because “Jingle Bells” and Parson Brown marrying some motherfuckers who just met ain’t getting this family through the Donner Pass of Christmas time any easier than watching “Fancy Nancy” learn the true message of Christmas for the seventeenth time.

And there I had to be an asshole and ask her if she needs to go potty again. Cue the histrionics and the psychiatrist bills. Maybe I need to get an Elf to blow cigarette smoke into her face and scream, “Ve haff vays of making ju grin.”

But in the meantime, we just sing. “You better shut up. You better not pout. No seriously, don’t pout. You better not fucking… hey, where are you going? Why are you burying your head? Seriously, Spring is still three months away, can you fucking work with me here? I’m telling you why.”

And the result of our subliminal reinforcement? It certainly hasn’t stopped the whining. But at least it’s made her not want to hear the song. Except that, if you dig a little deeper, she does want to hear one rendition. Not Bing Crosby’s. Not Bruce Sprinsteen’s. Only…

“Sometimes I pout just so you guys will sing it to me.”

Oh, fuck my life.

And here I thought I was raising another Grinch. A young padawan to carry my Sith-mas traditions into the next generation. A burgeoning naysayer who could listen to her Bruce Springsteen music and rail against the consumerist tendencies of a bourgeois society.

But nope. Looks like I’m just raising another child who can play her parents like a fiddle and can’t wait to see where that crazy elf has hidden himself today.

Pass the eggnog.

Maybe “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was a bridge too far. Next year I can try again with some low-hanging fruit to get her to hate Christmas music.

Sing it with me everyone. “We’re simply having a Wonderful Christmastime.”