as a birthmas present to my dad (one of those poor souls born so close to another holiday that he gets lumped gifts - but hey, sometimes they're nice lumped gifts), the missus and i took him to the prairie home companion show at town hall on friday.* garrison keillor tapes were pretty much the only thing the whole family appreciated on car trips back in the day, so i associate his voice with bumping over a mountain road in colorado and falling asleep on my sister's shoulder. i tend to forget just how soothing GK's voice really is; hearing it in person is like settling into a hot bath with a cup of warm milk and xanax. i was so relaxed that i willingly sang "it came upon a midnight clear" with the rest of the audience, something i haven't done since the dark years of high school when i had to plug my nose and go to youth group if i wanted a date for winter formal. jerry douglas, in turn, was perhaps the first dobro player i've seen live, and he does in fact sound like a mountain range in love. i even appreciated billy collins's hammy acting in a poetry mafia skit - and hey, he tricked joe into smiling at poetry! after the moody-pants ryan adams show (in the same spot) we took in a few weeks ago, it was a bit weird to be part of a giant yuppie lovefest, but i'd go every friday (okay, maybe one friday a month) if i could get away with it.

on last week's christmas greenery discussion, i am weak, and we got a christmas tree - a big-ass one at that. it's so big, in fact, that joe had to saw off a bit of the trunk when we got back to the apartment.** after all the hemming and hawing, it was very satisfying to give my little green army men a home; my mom made ornaments for her first christmas with my dad, so it was important to me to DIY it a bit for us. i cheated by buying five red glass ornaments, but i had to go to three dozen stores to find them; at this point, i feel like i bloody conjured them with the force of my will. the guy at crate and barrel was more than a little afraid of me. anyway, behold: the war on christmas.

the attack

on the holiday music comments, i would add that, like the missus, i hate almost all of it; even a charlie brown christmas would have to sneak into our place in an empty throwing muses jewel case. my parents never subjected us to the steamroller, but dad loved anne murray; i'd dash into traffic to avoid "no room at the inn." there are a few tracks i can handle a very few times each year - the ramones' "merry christmas (i don't want to fight tonight)," and (cough) wham's "last christmas"*** - but the only song that gets a universal pass is run-d.m.c.'s "christmas in hollis." and you, internets?

*that recap is actually for the saturday show, but several of the songs and poems popped up in both.

**the tree equivalent of killing your own dinner? i know, it's still wrong.

***the musical equivalent of killing your own dinner.


tom said...

Actually, I'm going to go off the boards and suggest a passable Hanukkah song heard on Saturday on an all-Hanukkah station (bless you, XM, purveyor of 24-7 New Wave and NHL broadcasts to the masses). Somebody remade "Hey Ya" into a carol, which actually works really well, in a Weird Al Yankovic sort of way. (Best punchline: "'Oy' is just 'Yo' spelled backwards.") Yes, it was dumb, but I still damn near bought it on Wacker Drive when that came across.

But you think that us Christians / non-Christians-who-celebrate-Christmas-anyway have it bad? From my (extremely limited) experience, when Hanukkah songs go bad, they don't go halfway. I'm not talking "so bad it's good" bad, but legitimately awful.

(Still, given the wide range of songs, Christmas tunes sometimes plumb even deeper depths. Stevie Nicks's rendition of Silent Night is my newest definition of Hell. Heard it the other day. Therapy required.)

The essential Christmas song (for me) has to be (yes) the Charlie Brown version of O Christmas Tree. Not overdone, not underdone, just done well. When it comes to carols, you either get painfully earnest (see Celine Dion, Amy Grant, et al), wildly overblown (see (oh God) Trans-Siberian Orchestra), or perfectly useless (pick out a Christmas comp from your local store). With this version of O Christmas Tree, well, to paraphrase Monty Burns, "I don't know art, but I know what I hate. And I don't hate this."

valya said...

if "christmas in hollis" is on your list, then run-d.m.c.'s "christmas is" must make it too. (give up the dough on christmas yo!)

you might also try "christmas (baby please come home)" by u2. and for those who secretly enjoy britney spears, "my only wish" doesn't disappoint...

jen said...

while i'm not a complete christmas-carol hater, at best i'm a wannabe hipster, and at worst i am jaded and a shade bitter, this year in particular. so my recommendations for holiday albums would be:

1) aimee mann - one more drifter in the snow

2) sufjan steven - songs for christmas

3) BETTY - snowbiz

aimee mann is her usual moody self, either you love her for it or hate her for it. sufjan stevens is my new celebrity boyfriend, so he gets the nod in spite of or possibly because he's so earnest. and BETTY is 2/3 jewish and 100% hip, so their take on holiday music a nice edge to it.


jacob said...

tom - we used up all our talents secularizing christmas songs. to paraphrase philip roth from portnoy's complaint, irving berlin took the christ out of christmas - he turned christmas into a holiday about snow and easter into a fashion show.

i'm going to go out on a limb here and say there are no good hannukah songs. i think the reason may lie with the hannukah story (maccabees I and II), which is about a bunch of fundamentalist jews who, in the process of fighting the syrian hellenists, also killed a bunch of assimilated hellenist jews for failing to be religious enough. baby jesus it is not.

tom said...

Ooh, ooh, I forgot: another good (read: passable) one is "Just Like Christmas," by Low. Oh, that Mimi Parker. She can wrap me up anytime she likes. (I'll let her hubby, Alan, watch. 'Cos I'm charitable like that.)

There's also a collection of Tsunami b-sides that contains an anti-carol: "Could Have Been Christmas." On the song's shit list: "clothing as presents / lame TV specials that leave you untouched / fruit cake and rum cake and milk drinks with liquor / insidious carols and mistletoe fresh." Wish I had the whole list in my mind, but I'm at work--it's fucking brilliant, I can assure you.

lauren said...

i'd like to cast a late vote for laura barrett's "robot ponies," free to download as part of the '06 paper thin walls mix tape (found via douglas, as many good sounds are). the song itself isn't about holidays, per se, but the intro is:

christmas eve, 2053
underneath every little girl's tree
a robot pony...

that whole mix is pretty bitchin', actually. it features the thermals' "pillar of salt," one of my favorite songs of the year (currently competing for time in my head with that justin timberlake "dick in a box" ditty).

jacob said...

seriously, though, is there a worse (popular) christmas song than "wonderful christmastime" by paul mccartney? i just read that a month after the song's release, he was arrested for marijuana possession. serves him right. oh god, that synthesizer...

just to prove i'm no scrooge, i always liked "have yourself a merry little christmas." it is a bit of a downer, though, especially the original version.

sara said...

the Christmas is a decidedly sappy time of year for me, so i'll shame myself in front of the Internets here by admitting my deep, deep affections for :

gabriel's message, sting (it's probably the only reason i bought "a very special christmas")
carol of the bells, any choral arrangement
"christmastime" the album by michael w. smith because it reminds me of my old roommate & living in san clemente
-and of course-
"merry christmas from the chipmunks", starring the chipmunks

go ahead, Internets, i can take it. (ducks & covers)