Thursday, December 15, 2011

sounds of the season

Being  a music nut, I have to admit that the music is a big part of my Christmas.  There are songs I enjoy, and then there are songs that need to be expunged from America's radio waves forever.  Christmas music (and music that I associate with Christmas) can be sorted into several categories.

First and perhaps foremost, there are the old favorites, the carols that we sang as children and many of us still carry on with, relying on the old hymnal for those sixth and seventh verses that no one really knows or cares to remember.  I still love the old songs.  I think my favorite over the years, and still today, is "Silent Night".  One of the best features of this song is that there are a gazillion ways to play the song with oddball chords.  We practiced a homemade (by our drummer, the music major) version tonight with all these crazy minor sevenths and such - if you sing right over it with the normal tune, it sounds just right.

I used to pretend to be a purist, claiming to prefer Adeste Fidelis - in Latin.  I am not much of a singer, but I have also always harbored a secret desire to crash one of these all-community Handel's Messiah Sing-Alongs and get in on the Hallelujahs.  Perhaps it would not be the best idea.  Anyhow, I am not quite this old school today, but I does like me some carols.

The second category of Christmas tune would be the "contemporary Christian" take on Christmas.  These songs are not classics yet, and some should never attain that status.  But some are, in my humble opinion, very good, and some even quite moving.  A couple that our band is doing over the coming couple of weeks are "Mary Did You know?" and "One King".  I like 'em both a lot.

The third category is probably the best-known lot of tunes out there.  These are the "secular", if you will, pop culture Christmas tunes from past and present.  These are the songs that, frankly, I tire of quickly.  Some should never be heard.  Some should be retired forever and dropped in a flaming pit.  My son wrote on Facebook today that he wished to never. ever. hear the song, "Santa Baby".  I am not sure I am familiar with that ditty, but based on the wretched title alone, it should be banished. 

Some in this category are quite decent and I enjoy hearing them for, say, the first twenty times each year.  I like it when John Lennon sings in that fine, nasal voice that can only be his, "and so this is Christmas" and I have even come around to like the McCartney song with the really, REALLY cheesy synth.  I am on the verge of being annoyed by Elvis and his Blue Christmas, and some of the novelty numbers (Alvin, Grandma's unfortunate reindeer incident) are losing their luster over time.  I have an issue with the concept of having yourself a "merry little Christmas".  That seems condescending and limiting.  Why not go for a humongous Christmas? 

I could go on, because there are a zillion of these songs.  Even songs that we all associate with Christmas but which really have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, or Santa Claus, or even world peace.  I present as exhibit a: Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen.  Exactly where does an aerial dogfight involving an actual dog have a place in Christmas lore?   

This leads, sorta, to my final category: music that has no connection to Christmas except in my head.  For example, I received, as did a friend or two, a copy of the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" one Christmas, so this, for me, has become Christmas music.  I played it today, in fact, and it helped put me in the holiday spirit.  I am sure the psychologists would drone on about transference or some concept, but, hey, it works for me.  I also recall the year that my friend Gerald showed up to join me on campus over Thanksgiving, and seeing as how my college was out in the middle of nowhere and essentially shut down for Thanksgiving, he brought me four albums I had requested (and paid for upon delivery). So since I played them a lot between that white Thanksgiving in rural Ohio and Christmas, I think of each of them as holiday or seasonal, if not Christmas, music.  These include LPs by Harry Chapin, Dan Fogelberg, the Genesis epic, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", and the one that I still bust out and play at Christmas because it somehow works for me as a little Christmas season drama, the Electric Light Orchestra's "Eldorado".  Someone on one of the B-grade cable networks should commission a holiday movie making "Eldorado" into a fine little musical.  It would be great!

I leave you with what has lately been one of my favorite holiday records, although I cannot vouch for its theology, but I just enjoy it.  That is, Jethro Tull's Christmas Album. The cover is even pretty nifty, and there, down in the lower left-hand corner, is a little Ian Anderson, still doing the one-legged flautist thing.  This is, in fact, Jethro Tull's last studio album, and late word is that the band is "on ice", which means they are skating away on the thin ice of a new day, so this may be Tull's swan song (or songs), I fear.  

Anyhow, whatever your preferences, I hope you are hearing or making the sounds you like this "holiday season".