Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let nothing you dismay

A couple of nights ago I finished reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud to Laurie. It's always such a striking story although, much like the holiday surrounding it, it's been so overdone that it's hard to really have anything original to say about it (which I also know is far past being a tired old cliche, much like the news story "comic books aren't just for kids anymore" or saying "Saturday Night Live isn't funny anymore and their skits go on far too long." Yes, we all know this and have known this most of our adult lives. Even commenting on it is tired and old.) I can say it's still an effective story after all this time, at least on me. I cried during the Marley's Ghost part.

Dickens wrote it with two things in mind. The first is an important point. He wrote it as a pot boiler to bring in some extra income in a time of need. This is a fine example of how potboilers can become classics. Of course, pot boilers can also be utter tripe, but I think this is a fine argument that just because something is widely popular doesn't necessarily mean that it sucks.
The other reason was as social commentary on extremely greedy business practices of the day. I know that when I get on economic topics like this I am amazed I've made it this far without someone calling me a Commie. But I've long been of the belief that if more people, out of the abundance of their hearts, gave until it hurt, a lot less people would be hurting. I've always liked the story tremendously, but the more cynical part of me usually at some point thinks that while humans could and, indeed, should adapt their behavior for the good and general welfare of their fellow human, humans will do no such thing.

I was going to write a long post about Christmas and human behavior, but I don't think I'm quite in the mood to get into such deep waters on such a high horse. Instead, I thought I might shift gears say a few words about Christmas music. I've been mulling over the topic for the past few days.

The catalyst was the local classical music DJ over whom, as you know, I have very mixed feelings. In this case, she chose to play a piece of Christmas music the other day. I took no issue with it because it was a brass ensemble playing some medley with songs like Good King Wenceslas. Which I can handle and even like although the brass ensemble hit choppy content waters when it hit Ding Dong Merrily On High. In case you had not noticed, there are very distinct degrees of quality in Christmas music. Although, Christmas music is also largely a matter of taste, I plan on tossing that information aside and once again boldly putting the mantle of Arbiter of Good Taste on my own brow.

Good King Wenceslas is one of my favorites. It's tune is very simplistic but somewhat austere. Its message is a model of good behavior. I'm sure people will not be surprised to learn that the old Christmas hymns are largely favorites of mine as well. Laurie and I are both fond of O Holy Night if done well, Silent Night, We Three Kings, some versions of Little Drummer Boy (she hasn't heard Nicki Jaine's version yet, but the evening is young.) Mainly cozy and/or holy ones. I like the Carol of the Bells quite a bit. I also like Winter Wassail, Let it Snow, Marshmallow World... Actually, upon reflection, I think I like a lot of Christmas music.

There's a lot of "reinvention" that people seem to attempt in Christmas music which I find to be the very definition of "hit or miss." Some are great, some fail miserably. Also the release of a Christmas album is a fairly safe indication of dinosaurhood in a recording artist (perhaps like Dickens they are put out as potboilers to make some quick cash.) Possible exceptions are the largely wonderful Projekt Christmas albums (the goth music label got the idea to put out Christmas collections with their artists and when the laughter finally died down they came out with some really amazing music. These, along with Tchaikovsky, Handel, Schubert's Winterreisse, Leon Redbone's and Squirrel Nut Zippers' Christmas albums are the music I drag out from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas to enjoy.) Although I hasten to add that the composition and recording of new Christmas music yearly is probably a very good thing as we would get sick of the old very quick (I think Lady Gaga's Christmas Tree song is hilarious, but hardly the sort of thing appropriate for me to post here. I try to keep my blog PG at worst. I also think Bob Dylan's Christmas album is hilarious in a "punk rock" and "hilarious that it exists but I'd never want to listen to it" kind of way. And while I've heard nothing but good about it, I am terrified of Tori Amos' new Christmas album.) Another favorite of mine is John Lennon's Happy Xmas (War is Over) and several of the covers of it as well. Gorgeous contemporary Christmas song.

I also like a few more recent and secular additions to the Christmas music canon. I tend to like the ridiculously happy ones if the joy doesn't strike me as contrived. I absolutely love this version of Frosty:

And this:

They appeal to the Fezziwig in me.

I may be a novelty in not expressing the usual socially agreed upon disgust with Christmas and the music that comes with it wholesale. So, I guess this post was mainly just rambling about Dickens and Christmas music that I like without anything terribly important to communicate. But I try to keep in the habit of writing consistently and you've probably noticed I'd gone a few days without writing. So, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs?

And, just so you know, if you say Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, I will not say anything rude, but I will privately judge you in my head.
Although satirical Christmas music can also be excellent if they are oh so clever, and I'll leave you with a few gems I do like:

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the music and the blog. Can't go wrong with Leon Redbone, one of my favorites is "Christmas Island"