I love Christmas music.
No, you don’t understand- I love Christmas music! Every sleigh bell ringing, every chestnut roasting, every thumpity-thump-thump, every kid from one to ninety-two, every scary ghost story and tale of the glory of Christmases long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… wait. Not so much that last part (that’s a different strain of geekdom altogether!). But the fact remains, when this guy has a constant stream of holiday anthems pumping into his consciousness like an IV, you better believe we’re simply having a wonderful Christmas time.
I am quite possibly the sole employee at Farm and Fleet who is overjoyed that we’re playing non-stop Christmas music in the store- in fact, I would be clicking my heels with glee if I wasn’t so clumsy and prone to taking out innocent bystanders and stacks of merchandise as I lose every semblance of balance and orientation (not to mention dignity) mid-leap. I view it almost as some pirate radio station fueling the underground with yuletide merriment and I provide the typical DJ banter as the songs shuffle through; “You’re listening to Blain’s F&F FM, Janesville’s home for the holidays. Less talk- more Jingle Bell Rock!”
I think my favorite song is “Sleigh Ride” because it is so evocative of innocent, almost bygone (sad to say) Christmas pasttimes- singing together, riding through the snow, watching chestnuts pop, holding close the one you love… It just summates everything great about the season in a very real way and speaks to my heart to a degree perhaps surprising for a simple little jingle. The picture it paints is so idyllic and pure, it seems to me almost like the modern equivalent of the old bucolic poems celebrating the simplicity of pastoral life* (as in being in literally being in charge of a flock of sheep or a herd of cows or whatever other beast you’re trying to keep tabs on, which doesn’t actually sound very tranquil or otherwise appealing to me- but I digress). My favorite line is “These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives,” which I think captures the spirit of the entire song and brings together all of the individual images into a composite of a perfect day; it’s a statement of how the simple enjoyments truly are the ones we’ll treasure not only in the moment but also later as we reflect upon our lives.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, is John Lennon’s “Merry Christmas (War Is Over).” I mean, the chord progression is great and all, but I know for a fact that Lennon didn’t give a hoot about Christmas, and frankly, I just don’t dig on the “War is over if you want it” premise which the song is really about. I haven’t shared Lennon’s naive view of humanity for a couple of years now (which is to say, in a roundabout manner, that I once did), i.e. that human beings are essentially good, utopian visions are right around the corner if we’ll just work together, etc. Basically just one big idol of Man (to twist the lyrics to one of his other songs slightly), giving no heed at all to the depravity of humankind. Now whenever I hear that song at work I just think of this great line from Slaughterhouse Five about people writing anti-war books, or anti-war anything, where Kurt Vonnegut says someone might as well write an anti-glacier book because it’s just as likely to have the same impact.**
Let’s face it- the only ex-Beatle to craft a great Christmas song is Paul McCartney (despite the howling protestations of Zach Johnson to the contrary!***), as evidenced by the masterpiece “Wonderful Christmastime.” One man and his 1977-era synthesizer/drum machine is all it takes to compose the “Ride of the Valkyries” of Christmas songs, and lest you think that an overstatement, I know of one bearded would-be scholar who can scarcely contain his excitement when this call to arms comes on.****
The next couple of weeks will be bringing me much listening pleasure whilst at work (this is the only time of the year that I can truthfully say that!) and I hope all of you will share in at least a modicum of my enthusiasm for the spirit at least of these songs. So kudos, radio stations, for keeping it real! And kudos, Christmas season! Fifteen more days!!
*An example that comes to mind immediately for me is from Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd To His Love:
Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
**There! You’ve been waiting for some token cynicism, and now you’ve got it!
***Ah, the memories of many a drive with Zach, plugging his ears, bellowing as if he was directing people to the Titanic’s lifeboats! Usually on our way to the bowling alley in Milton around this time of year, it seems like, this song would never fail to suddenly invade the airwaves and Zach could be depended on to voice his extreme dissatisfaction with this little ditty! How precious to recollect.
****Okay, now I’m just getting ridiculous.