Friday, November 26, 2010

Back By Popular Demand... Christmas Music: The Heaven and Hell of It

from December 2008, why Black Friday means nothing to me...

My husband and I were on a phone call recently that required us to wait on hold for about half of the total one-hour time it took to complete the transaction. While we were on hold, we were subjected to the torturous sounds of New Age ‘music,’ put there by some well-meaning person convinced we needed to be ‘entertained’ while we were waiting. Running barefoot on broken glass would have been infinitely more satisfying. I am convinced that New Age ‘music’ destroys brain cells and breaks down resistance to truth, logic and common sense, making people believe that there is no such thing as good or evil – it’s all a matter of preference. New Age sounds dissolve conscience and create a vacuum in its place. Suddenly everything is hunky-dory for listeners and they think all the problems of the world will go away if we all just sit around listening to and grooving on this foulest form of air pollution. New Age ‘music’ is the sorry consequence of bra burning, free love, and Woodstock.

That’s one way of saying I’m picky about music, especially now that it's Christmas time and there's more questionable music in the air. My eclectic musical tastes were formed in a home where we listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast on Saturday mornings, and ended the day with the steel guitars, sweet harmonies and ukuleles on Hawaii Calls, as well as the authentic Western sounds of Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch.

Because music has such power, particularly in my own soul, my deeply personal celebration of Christmas very often centers on great music inspired by a heavenly source, and its effect on me is profound. Most especially, probably because I pay close attention to the precise meanings of words, my soul yearns to hear or sing appropriate lyrics from significant texts, paired with satisfying and rewarding melodies expressing the deepest meaning of Christmas. Let me worship through reverent, joyful music in the most sublime, eloquent way, as the Savior of the world deserves. In fact, singing in the church choir I sometimes find myself so moved that I can’t sing. My heart is touched by so many inspired works, the cherished carols and anthems, and authentic folk music that arises from simple, humble faith of ordinary people.

However, there is some Christmas music so patently offensive that I want to wipe out all memories of ever having heard or sung it. I want to slink, Grinch-like, into all the music stores, radio stations, private collections and sheet music publishers and obliterate some sounds I hear over public address systems in stores during the holidays. You don’t have a choice when you hear this drivel in a shopping mall. They mean well, but it doesn’t entertain; in fact, most of these songs don’t even mention the real meaning of Christmas. Indeed, they inspire my inner Scrooge, making me want to buy less so I can leave the premises as quickly as possible. That’s how I first heard the number one selection on my Top Twenty List of Christmas Songs I Never Want To Hear Again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the complete and generous list of losers with the heartfelt scorn and derision each so richly deserves:

20. It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas – …to which I want to respond, “Well, duh! What was your first clue – sundown on Halloween?” It sounds like the guy who says during a heat wave, “Hot enough for ya?” This is something clueless Goofy would have said to patient Mickey, who is far more tolerant of stupid remarks than I.

19. (tie) Winter Wonderland/Marshmallow World – Ain’t no time nowhere winter is a wonderland for me; I cannot celebrate the charm I do not find. Winter is a slip-on-the-ice, sprain-your-ankle, freeze-your-tushie-off, endlessly boring season broken only by the sweetness of celebrating a sacred holiday. Don’t let’s confuse the two.

18. I’ll be Home for Christmas – This is total schmaltz when you first hear it, mind-numbingly dull after that. So you’re not going to be there except in your dreams – boohoo. Put on your big kid panties and get over it.

17. Let it Snow – This is nothing but a seductive (you’ll excuse the expression) invitation to use bad weather as an excuse for someone to stay over at his sweetie’s house, a one-of-a-kind gift that can only be given once.

16. Have A Holly Jolly Christmas – Actually, this sounds like the worst kind of Christmas to have, completely shallow and unrelated to the real meaning of the holiday.

15. Jingle Bell Rock – Social events at holiday time are nice, but this lyric is unencumbered by logic or a description of an appropriate observance of a sacred event.

14. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – See #15 and #16.

13. Frosty the Snowman – Once you’ve heard this ludicrous winter legend, subsequent hearings are migraine-inducing torture.

12. The Christmas Song (you know… chestnuts roasting… yada, yada, yada) – Nothing is more offensive than clichés, and this one is loaded with them. In fact, Santa has loaded his sleigh with toys and goodies. Isn’t that what’s wrong with Christmas in the first place? We don’t need more things.

11. White Christmas – Here’s another tear-jerking string of clichés. What’s the big deal about snow? What about Christmas in Australia that takes place in the summer? Huh? Did you ever think of that? And it wasn’t snowing in Bethlehem. Since the shepherds were out with the sheep at night it had to be lambing season, and that happens in the spring. Unless it’s the Rocky Mountains, you don’t usually get snow in the spring.

10. Silver Bells – There’s not much wrong with this one if you like a boring melody and totally mindless lyrics. Can you say platitude?

9. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Really? You love spending too much money, eating too much rich food, going to parties you don’t want to go to with people you don’t really like? What’s wonderful about that? Statistics show Christmas inspires a high incidence of depression, too. Too much hype, too many unmet high expectations.

8. Twelve Days of Christmas – Repetition is the last refuge of the unimaginative. Again, we’re stuck on using things to express love, a pitiful substitute for the genuine article.

7. Deck the Halls – Nonsense lyrics are Exhibit A in the case against this song. I don’t drink, but I should think that drunk would be the best way to find meaning in it. Far more appealing, rewarding and cogent was the Mad Magazine version of this I read in my youth, which began, “Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla Wash and Kalamazoo…” It makes just as much sense.

6. (all songs referring to reindeer with or without red noses) – On the whole, these are completely idiotic, without redeeming value or even a modicum of charm. Lord of the Flies teaches kids to play nice together, too.

5. (all songs referring to Santa Claus) – He sees you when you’re sleeping? Really? He knows when you’re awake? Really? Isn’t that what God does, and didn’t He do it first? How can kids NOT get confused?

4. Jingle Bells – Here’s another mediocre winter tale with no connection to the holiday. Translation: people with the IQ of pinecones ride around in the snow apparently unwilling to take refuge from the weather and protect themselves against frostbite. Maybe it's really a song about survival of the fittest.

3. We Wish You a Merry Christmas – Nobody even knows what figgy pudding is anyway, and simply repeating the sentiment ad infinitum doesn’t make it more intelligible.

2. Feliz Navidad – If a guy sang this to me, I’d poison his eggnog. I do not want this derivative, dreary rubbish stuck in my head for the month of December.

1. Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time – No, we’re not. We’re paralyzed by the tedium of this inferior music and pointless lyric written by Paul McCartney in a fit of acute uninspired tastelessness. With the last chorus repeating ad nauseum, you think you’ve entered a new rung of Purgatory Dante must have created just for shoppers, as if another were necessary. If Christmas shopping doesn’t trigger insanity, you haven’t spent enough time in the Walmart listening to this on the PA system.

And while I’m on a roll, here’s a bonus: I never want to hear another roomful of third graders shouting I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas, or Up On the Housetop, or All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth. It’s only cute once.

It’s true of music no matter what time of year it is, but especially at Christmas you’ll have a deeper, richer spiritual experience when you’re more careful with what you choose to think and sing about during the holidays. When your spirit is fed with spiritually nourishing music, you grow closer to the reason for the season.

And by the way, Merry Christmas.


Justin said...

I just came across your blog. Very funny. I'm definitely looking forward to the next post.

Mary said...

I have fond memories of learning most of those songs in my childhood and singing them with my family then and my own children now around the piano. For me there are two holidays at Christmas time. There is the holy day part of Christmas where we focus on the Savior. Then there is the fun, cozy Christmas cheer that creates a reason for relatives to travel from all over and gather for feasting and sharing stories. Each has its own music for me.

I know what you're saying about the power of music, though. I LOVE the Christmas fireside our stake choir performs each year. I like that they learn a variety of musical styles with each song focusing on Christ. I wonder if you are familiar with my favorite hymn? It is not a Christmas hymn, and is not well known. Take a look at #118, Ye Simple Souls Who Stray. It's beautiful.

Pam Williams said...

You are right about two sides of the holiday - I hope it's obvious that I wrote this for the comedy; I'm a hopeless entertainer. In a previous life I was a sultry torch singer. My granddaughter is in the school choir and they will be singing "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas," and I will go and listen with a smile on my face and applaud with a full heart. Singing in the stake choir for the Christmas fireside is amazing. We have some deeply moving pieces of music to learn, and mostly I have to learn not to cry when I sing them. Yes, I am acquainted with the hymn you mentioned. It was written by Charles Wesley who has given us some profound texts for hymns. I'm going to suggest it for the ward choir. I also love Where Can I Turn For Peace and Be Still My Soul, among others. I don't know how I could survive without music, especially music that touches and teaches my spirit.

Liz Adair said...

I found your blog because I got a Google alert that you had posted about my book, Counting the Cost. I loved your posting today. I checked the ANWA roster (I'm terrible at remembering names) and see that you're an ANWA sister. Nice to get to 'know' you through your writing.

jww said...

I definitely see two sides of Christmas, too, as has been mentioned. I am very "serious" about presenting and recognizing the true meaning of Christmas in my home and my actions through the month, so you won't see many snowmen or Santas (if any) at my house, but I collect nativities instead. It is extremely important to me that the gift of Christ is not lost, confused, or minimized at Christmas. Last night I drove home with Ethan from piano (30 min.) and we had the BEST time listening to Christmas music on the radio and looking at Christmas lights on homes. I didn't mind that the songs were "Winter Wonderland" types of songs because I wasn't worshiping--I was just enjoying the lights and the company. And that's okay.

Anonymous said...

...but what if we ARE simply having a wonderful Christmas time?

I love the cheesiness of Wham's Last Christmas. I don't care where I am, when I hear that song, I start dancing 80's walking man style.

I don't mind those songs. I only mind when they're all sung by Willie Nelson or Jay-Z. Amoral popular singers and Christmas are two things that don't mix.

When Barbara Streisand sings her "Christmas favorites" I have to really keep myself from getting a ladder, climbing a top my roof, and, with bull-horn in hand, yell, "YOU'RE JEWISH!"