Christmas is the one time of year when music doesn’t have to be hip or cutting edge or cool or anything other than just comfort for the ears. I like that. It’s a nice break from self-importance and dancy ear worms and pop cult-of-personality.
In fact, Christmas music is a great equalizer of musicians. Nothing humanizes a psychedelic David Bowie like singing White Christmas along side Bing Crosby. Beyonce singing Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer reminds us that nobody is too cool for Christmas …except maybe Prince. I think he probably was …but I digress.
We have poured all the centuries and incarnations of the Christmas celebration into our modern stew of holiday classics. And we think nothing of singing Silent Night – a depiction of the moment of Christ’s birth (Christ being the Prince of Peace and person who brought us a deeper understanding of love and the abandonment of materialism in exchange for true spirituality) …right next to Santa Baby – a crass portrayal of a woman using the promise of sex to entice A SAINT into bringing her diamonds and a car. Yep! We’re totally cool with that.
It’s all part of this multi-layered holiday we have created; an inextricably intertwined mix of the secular and sacred …and I,for one, love the mix …for the most part.
But the songwriter in me has noticed a few things …
Some carols in the Christmas lexicon are what I call, “Vague Victorian.” These are the songs like Deck The Halls and We Wish You A Merry Christmas …even Jingle Bells. These songs are public domain hymns (if you will) and invoke carolers from the Dickens era, strolling London’s snow-covered streets, in top hats and bonnets …pretty forcefully asking for something called “figgy pudding.”
As a songwriter, I always felt the choice to literally demand that the host bring out a certain kind of pudding, to be a bold one. It may be the only song in history that actually requires the listener to bring food at the end. And why not?
It’s a barter: “WE will stand here in the cold and wish you a merry Christmas. BUT, by God, you’re bringing out figgy pudding for it. We’re not doing this crap for our health. We don’t get paid for this nonsense. No benefits. No pension. The LEAST you can do is bring out some figgy pudding! What? You don’t have any made right now?! Guess what, princess …WE’LL WAIT!
Those genteel, Medieval saps might’ve just sung Good King Winceslaus for you and gone on about their business. But you’re dealing with Victorian Gs now. We’re a little more gangsta than that. We want figgy pudding. And WE WON’T GO UNTIL WE GET SOME. So bring some right here!”
I wish I could put verses like that in my songs. You know, after the song is done, an extra verse that says, “it took me a lifetime of work to be able to make you laugh and cry like I just did. Now, bring me a burger and a beer …and bring it right here!”
I say, well done, Victorian songwriter …well done, indeed.
In these modern times, there are what I call, hip, rhythmic Christmas songs.
This is probably my least favorite type of Christmas song. It’s the attempt to turn a Christmas song into something you can dance to at the office Christmas party. Yuk. If your Christmas track can cause involuntary twerking by a normally-shy-now-drunk, executive assistant …you are part of the problem. Let’s not cross worlds, people. Keep Christmas music classy and classIC.
That leads me to the type of Christmas song I call …awkward, sexual confessional Christmas.
This is the holiday offering that may be giving us a little too much information …on Christmas.
“Logs on the fire FILL ME WITH DESIRE …”
Really, Karen Carpenter?
I was just waiting in the Santa line with my 4-year-old, minding my own business here in the mall, when you had to drop a weird visual on me like that? All I can see is a lonely woman, surrounded by cats, staring longingly at the fire …reading a romance novel …then she looks up at ME …making me feel totally uncomfortable around all these kids. Let’s not get carried away, lady. I’m just a guy trying to get through the Santa line. Sing White Christmas and settle down.
There are all sorts of love-gone-bad Christmas songs out there, as well. The Eagles make me want to slit my wrists with their dour version of Come Home For Christmas. I can just hear the “we’re-all-gonna-die-and-nothing-matters-anyway” nihilism in Don Henley’s voice. Thanks, Don. Merry Christmas to you as well.
Then, there’s the horribly inside-baseball-relationship chant “last Christmas I gave you my heart …but you gave it away …THE. VERY. NEXT. DAY!” Dear lord! This was not a relationship …this was a one night stand. And the worst part is the person SINGING about it doesn’t even know it! They even go on to say that they’re pretty much going to do the same thing this year as well. Dear Santa, please bring this person some self-esteem for Christmas …and maybe a book on enabling bad behavior.
But the mother of all awkward, Christmas love ditties is the oh-so-cleverly penned …“Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
As a songwriter, I marvel at the craftsmanship of this song. The banter back and forth is cute and playful and well put together …until you dig a little deeper.
Even before political correctness and safe spaces and micro-aggressions and the phrase “rape culture,” I had a problem with this song. I was just listening and singing along one day and then I heard Dinah Shore say, “say …what’s in this drink?”
And I was like, “DUDE …what are you doing?!?! No means no, man. You can’t roofie a chick’s drink …then write a CHRISTMAS song about it like it’s no big deal! You can get five to ten for that, bro. Seriously, Rolling Stone will do a cover story on you and it will make the rest of us look bad. Call the girl a cab and take a cold shower. Or just walk outside for a minute. After all …it’s COLD out there. You should know. You keep saying it like if she walks out the door she’s gong to end up in the Donner party.”
I know this song is supposed to be a snapshot of sweet, innocent flirting. And it was probably written with pure intent. But if you really listen to the female part, that chick is trying to get out of there as politely as possible without actually coming out and saying, “dude! You are creeping me out right now!”
She’s practically begging for her life.
In modern terms, I can almost hear her saying, “I thought other people were supposed to be at this party. This is not cool, Kevin! And that life-sized cutout of your mother watching us is sending chills down my spine. Um, give me your comb …so I’ll have a DNA record of you, if they find me strangled to death, in a snow bank. Look, you’ve really been ‘grand’ (using air quotes) …but I’ve got to get out of here. NOW. I’ll call an Uber. And stop touching my arm like that. Your bony little fingers are grossing me out. I have on a North Face, down parka, thermal leggings and Ugs. I’m not going to freeze. Look …I promise I won’t put you on the sex offenders face book page. Thank you for helping me with my trigonometry homework. But please untie me and unlock the bomb shelter doors. I’ll find my way back to the highway.”
That’s what I hear in her voice, anyway.
On a personal note, I’m not sure it WOULD’VE been all that much of a laugh if daddy had caught mommy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe. That’s the destruction of a family …on Christmas, bro. Stop being such a player and check yourself. You don’t mess with another man’s wife …no matter how many presents you’re bringing.
Of course if the “mommy” in question was the one singing Santa Baby earlier, then maybe mommy has some problems of her own. This is what happens to a woman when she sets established patterns at Christmas parties where she gets drunk and roofied then gives her heart away …only to have it thrown back in her face the very next day. No wonder she has daddy issues and is projecting all of it onto this larger-than-life figure in a red suit. Santa is only human, after all. And he might not have even known she was married in the first place. Although, supposedly he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake …which terrifies me on several levels. At any rate …
I suppose you have to kind of look the other way and just let Christmas music be what it is. All-in-all, I love pretty much all of it.
The Christmas song is the one musical experience we all participate in …together. And that’s a good thing. It’s like the nursery rhyme we continue to allow ourselves to sing, as adults. And nobody judges you for it …unless you’re buying pumps for your dying mother on Christmas eve.
Don’t even get me started on that …