HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Is Christmas Music Good?
- December 25, 2018
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It's the most contentious time of the year! A time responsible for more spirited takes than bowl season and the twenty-month debacle we call the American presidential election combined. A time in which we ask the immortal question: Is Christmas music good?
One of the best things about music is its ability to take you by the hand and lead you somewhere. A good song can transport you to another place, time, or mood. Great musicians know this, which is why a timeless album, a killer live show, or an expertly curated DJ set will arrange songs so that they play off one another and create the sense of an arc or a story. You can't really get that from Nonstop Christmas Jams, Vol 73 or whatever, because you're working within a much narrower spectrum of emotion. Listen to the radio for an hour and you'll hear stories of joy, betrayal, regret, longing, rage, sex, being taken care of by one's friends, triumph, more sex, getting ready to party at the club,partying at the club, and leaving the club because the party is over. Christmas songs, on the other hand, typically boil down to one of the following:
-It's Christmas and I'm happy
-It's Christmas and I'm sad
-The savior of humanity has been delivered unto the world
-It is not incumbent upon reindeer society to be proactive in examining its mistreatment of Rudolph and working to repair its own prejudices and indecencies towards those who are different. Rudolph is not owed a modicum of basic human (reindeer?) decency by mere virtue of his existence; rather, it is his responsibility as an individual to"earn" his place in society by proving himself economically useful to the very people who subjected him to a lifetime of undue ridicule and shame
-I'm horny for Santa
Also,here's a fact: All of the Christmas music in the entire world was written in 1956. This isn't necessarily a bad thing- 1956 gave us a lot of great music. But unlike, say, Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," which you only hear occasionally on oldies stations and the helicopter scene from Predator, Christmas songs circumvents the natural life cycle of music. Typically, when a song hits critical mass, there'll be a few weeks where you hear it every time you get in your car, and then it will either go away forever or make its way onto classic radio. Christmas music, on the other hand, never goes away. The same songs come back at the same time every year, taking over airports, gas stations,elevators, TV commercials, hotel lobbies, pedestrian malls, and pretty much any other place where a person might be.
Every Christmas song is a classic. They're all timeless standards recorded by immortals like Eartha Kitt and Dean Martin and John Lennon. Most of these songs are good in their own right, but they've all been around for upwards of sixty years, and we've all heard them upwards of sixty thousand times. The most recent Christmas standard I can think of is Mariah Carey's sublime "All I Want for Christmas Is You," and even that debuted in 1994. That song is voting and drinking and buying recreational marijuana in ten states. If "All I Want for Christmas Is You" planned ahead a little and really applied itself as an undergrad, it could be on pace to finish med school this spring. In a few years, it'll be publishing pudding-brained op-eds about how millennials are killing some vestigial American industry.
Since there isn't much room in the catalogue for new songs, most new Christmas recordings are just covers by contemporary artists. This presents something of a double-edged sword: a sufficiently fresh spin on a classic, like this one, will not make it onto the compilation albums and shopping mall playlists that dominate American eardrums from November to January every year, while the covers that stay truer to the original recordings are kind of redundant. Josh Groban is a gifted vocalist and presumably a decent human being, but do we really need him to record a facsimile of Frank Sinatra's "White Christmas" when Sinatra- a singer so perfect people literally used to call him "The Voice-" already burned that one to the ground seventy years ago?
What all of this adds up to is oversaturation. There is a two-month span- that's already one sixth of the entire year, and it's constantly expanding- where it is impossible to leave one's home without being exposed to a relatively homogeneous genre of music with a repertoire that has gone largely unchanged for over half a century. I get the appeal. It's part of the atmosphere. Like autumn leaves turning into fireworks,or the tune of an ice cream truck wafting across the neighborhood atop a summer breeze, Christmas music signals the change of a season. It's familiar and comforting, and if you're into it I'm not here to judge you for doing you. I'm just asking you not to call me a Grinch for thinking it's too much of a good thing.
In conclusion, it is worth acknowledging that many of the same arguments could be convincingly made about jazz music, which I love and listen to on an almost daily basis year-round. Anyway, here's this magnificent abomination:
Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy holidays! May the season bring you joy! I hope you're able to spend this time with people you love, and if you celebrate Christmas then I hope you get a whole bunch of sick loot today!