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Monday, December 20, 2010

silent night

So here we are.
It’s a silent night. Which is a good thing.
See, this is the first December in a very long time -- I daresay since preschool -- where I have not sung a single Christmas song in a concert or benefit or the like. So, in trying to fill that little auditory hole, I have accompanied this year’s card-writing and gift-wrapping and general all-around living with the many various holiday music channels available out there. 
This was a shift from the norm: limiting such music to my own traditional Christmas playlist that was built years ago on John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, and has been augmented through the years with Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, The Butties’ 12 Greatest Carols, and various specialty singles: Dean, Wham!, Frank, Bing... they are comfort and joy year after year, my iPod’s seasonal street soundtrack, played when I am out and about.
But I wanted to shake things up during this different little Christmas.
At first, it was sweetly magical, hearing melodies that had gotten lost in my cerebral cortex. Every song brought me back to the time I’d first learned it. Every “in Excelsis Deo” reminded me of so many former music teachers saying, “think in egg shell sees day-o, not in excel sees day-o.” And the rarer tunes, like Christmas Chopsticks and Christmas Lullabye, took me back to my high school’s girl’s barbershop quartet. I could pick out my baritone part like it was yesterday.
I can hear you now: What? You didn’t date in high school? Why-so-ever not?
Yeah, yeah. I love getting sarcasm in my stocking.
But it was great, my musical immersion. I was drunk on the holiday. I found myself in a spin, thinking I needed to get me some Johnny Mathis and Perry Como and even Connie Francis. Everything jingled and tinkled and sparkled from the speakers, and each new version of Marshmallow World was better than the last.
That was day one.
By day two, I realized that there are a finite number of Christmas songs, as well as a finite number of times one could bear to hear each of these songs, and though I did not actually do the math, I determined that this resulted in only being able to handle these songs in the very finite time span of one day. 
However, even after I stopped and crawled out of the Christmas bottle, the damage had been done.
I tried, oh, how I tried to shove those songs back into the lost pockets of my cerebral cortex. But every time I thought I had a handle on my sanity, I’d enter a store, hear one pa-rum-pa-pum-pum and my left eye would start to twitch.
It is at this point in my blog that I would like to announce the following: I will give candy to the next person who records a Christmas album and does not record Christmas Waltz. Because there is no need for any other versions of it out in the ether. Seriously. It was a lovely, fresh song when it debuted, and people think it’s obscure, but it’s not, at least not anymore. Every “new” spin on it, every key, every vocal quality, every tempo, every time signature... all done already and then some. I know this because I have heard each and every one of them.  Plus, no one will ever sing it better than Mel Tormé anyway, so there is no need to try. 
(I reserve the right to sing this someday anyway, with the full realization that I will not get any candy.)
I realize, though, that Christmas songs may well be our last surviving standards from the 20th century. Today’s pop culture doesn’t seem to have room for Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and unless parents actively sit their kids down in front of Looney Tunes DVDs on a regular basis, future generations will never hear the great old melodies like Ain’t We Got Fun. But thanks to obligatory elementary school pageants, every child in public school learns the basic secular hits about bells, both Jingle and Silver.  (And even though Twelve Days of Christmas is tedious, at least the kids get to learn how to count backwards, too.)  If the only Irving Berlin song that makes it to the next millennium is White Christmas, well, at least we have that.
Like it or not, it’s our pop culture heritage, these Christmas ditties, and they must be preserved, at all costs. Even if that cost, occasionally, is sanity.
And just like I don’t have to eat all the Christmas cookies at the party, I don’t have to gorge on the music, either.  So I have turned it off, for now.
Because there are so many other things to gorge on at Christmas... 
Frank Capra and egg nog, here I come.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.
P.S. If the subject matter of this blog seems cliché, well, isn’t a clichéd Christmas what most cocoa-guzzling, turkey-eating, candy-cane-licking folks strive for this time of year? You’re welcome.

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