Christmas Music

I don’t like it. I don’t know why. No, I do know. Aside from the fact that at a given time I have a painful amount of music I haven’t listened to yet and want to, or feel I should, and aside from the fact that Christmas music consists of the same songs over and over and over, the biggest turnoff is a pretty simple one – I don’t care much for the singers. I don’t care for their voices. They are general and bland and overly-smaltzy. It does not help their cause that these schlock-tunes are played earlier and earlier every year. Were I President, or better, Dictator, Christmas music would be allowed from December 10th-December 31st. That is three full weeks, and a generous, gracious dictator I should be thought. 

I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s. My time was divided equally between playing videogames, playing with my action figures (and watching their corresponding TV shows and/or movies), and playing basketball. Consider Christmas in the house with no cable. All major programming stations featured faceless mass choirs singing songs in low lighting. Super Mario wouldn’t be caught dead here, neither would Raphael, Robin Hood, or Dick Tracy (nor his trusted sidekick, Sam Catchem). Since then, that image has always been associated with Christmas music, and Christmas music has always been associated with the word “AVOID!!!

But I am a grownup now, and when you grow up, you must away childish things. A few years back my family went to a Christmas concert performed by a large swing band. It was delightful. It was energetic. “AVOID!!!” only came to mind 10 or 11 times the whole night, as opposed to a constant stream of it, shouted at fever-pitch in my mind’s ear. 

But even so, I own exactly ONE Christmas album – One More Drifter in the Snow, Aimee Mann’s Christmas CD. As it turns out, many of the songs are palatable, even enjoyable, when sung by the right person in the right way. And I began to ponder. What I wouldn’t give for a 2-disc, 25 song compendium of Christmas Glory performed by The Decemberists. Or Tom Waits and a single piano serenading me into the silent night. I would gobble up such products. Because they are musicians I trust.

Most Christmas music is boring because most musicians singing them don’t do anything with them. The emotional weight of the song is placed solely upon the shoulders of the lyrics or individual chords, instead of upon this particular musician’s singing of those lyrics and playing of those chords. They shirk their artistic responsibility to bring something to the music, to invest it with some part of themselves. In short, the Christmas music played on radio stations is lazy. And that is death for the active listener.


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December 2008
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