Friday, December 23, 2011

Steve "Guido" Downing's take on Christmas Music

This week Grant Frashier hosts KAXE's Between You and Me on Saturday from 10-noon.  His topic is Christmas Music.  Do you have a favorite?  Email us or call during the show 218-326-1234.  

CHRISTMAS BLUES by Steve Downing

            Between you and me, I do not love Christmas music, which I grew up singing, around Mom’s piano and in church choirs and school choruses. And playing, on every instrument I ever picked up. And it’s true that Dodger and I have a pile of Christmas CDs. But, with notable exceptions, I do not love it. Partly because of the brain-killing repetition. You hear the stuff, endlessly, hourly, from Halloween until the season’s over, by everybody from Bing Crosby to George Thorogood. On the radio, TV, in stores, out on the street, in the office, church, parking ramps, restrooms. It’s everywhere. You can’t not hear it. And when you achieve my great age, your relationship with Christmas music, as with body-parts and memory and the chainsaw, is simply tuckering out.
            My earliest difficulty with Christmas music, as a logic-challenged young man, was a philosophical dead end. The secular Christmas music had come to seem completely disconnected from the calendar-defining event in Bethlehem. And, more disconcertingly, the sacred music had absolutely nothing to do with what the Holy Day had morphed into: a godless, shameless, commercial lollapalooza. Gifts. Office parties. Gifts. Travel. Gifts. Light displays and fireworks. Gifts. Mass quantities of cookies. And so on. As I learned, you cannot resolve these contradictions. They’re too structural. Too big to fail.
            Jazz versions of the Christmas canon I can actually still listen to, especially if there’s no singing. And there’s one song on the compilation CD A Rock’n’Roll Christmas, produced by Bob ‘Bah-Humbug’ Bell on PolyGram, 1994, that I always get a kick out of: “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses.
            We also have a compilation put out by Rhino Records in 1995, titled Punk Rock Xmas. This one reliably provides a few chuckles over tumblers of milk-and-bourbon punch, Christmas morning, an old Dodge family tradition. It features bands you’ve never heard of. Bouquet of Veal. Pansy Division. The Celibate Rifles. Stiff Little Fingers. Dodger bought this, thinking of it as a Christmas gift for our nephew, Sam Dodge, when he was a kid, middle-school-age or so. Then we noticed the song titles. Some of them, if I said them out loud on the radio (even just the titles), would jeopardize KAXE’s license and very existence. We decided we should jury the CD before sending it off in the Christmas mail. It did not make it into the Christmas mail. We said at the time that we were protecting Sam from inappropriate material, but really we were protecting Dodger’s brother and sister-in-law, and our relationship with them. Sam would surely not have been corrupted by songs like “Daddy Drank Our Christmas Money” or any of the others---which, as I say, you cannot say out loud over any air waves---and, like us, he would deploy them once a year, no more, for a little merriment around the Christmas tree. Unless, like us, he has no Christmas tree. To get the full measure of Punk Rock Xmas, you should probably have a tree. Fake, of course.
            You can still buy this CD. I checked the other day, and Amazon had five new ones, at forty bucks each, and nine used, at twenty. Priced for the niche market, go tell it. Or you could borrow ours and copy it. But not right now. Right now, it’s tied up. It’s on.

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