You can probably be forgiven if you don't recall Soul Asylum, a band I mostly know about for two reasons: 1. I took my younger sister and her friend to see them live in concert at Summerfest one year, taking advantage of the free grass-seating at the stage and 2. Their song String of Pearls
is a masterpiece that I used to exercise to in the days when I owned cassette tapes instead of an iPod. The song has not yet made the jump to digital, for me, in part because I resent being forced to buy the same thing over and over every time we make a conversion to a new media. Consider this: I bought the Violent Femmes' first album on cassette nearly 30 years ago. Then when CDs became big I had to rebuy it on a CD, and then eventually I had to get a digital copy of that album because my CD wore out and I still liked the music.
Shouldn't I have had a free pass for that album for life? The same thing is happening to me with my books; I once owned two books, Master of the Five Magics and Secret of the Sixth Magic, both by Lyndon Hardy, and lately I have been wanting to re-read them but I no longer own the books I bought so many years ago, and I can't find them on Kindle, which I guess is a different problem, but, anyway, I'm trying to find those books, so if you know someone who has them, leave a comment.
This isn't about Lyndon Hardy. Or even about Santa Claus. It's about Christmas music, and honestly, how much of it is godawful, and how this year I am not really into Christmas music the way I have been in the past, when I've posted the 23 best Christmas songs or declared Billy Squier's song to be The Best Christmas Song ever, so this year appears to be a down year for me, possibly as a result of last year's SuperXmas, when I took Christmas celebrations to new heights.
Yesterday, we went to pick up our new Christmas tree, and after we did that, Sweetie had to run into a different store to get this year's Christmas ornaments -- our theme this year is Stars -- and I opted to wait in the car with the boys, because taking them into a store means getting them a toy, and we'd already gotten them a toy at the store where we bought the tree, so I opted for the less-expensive course of waiting in the car.
While I waited, I switched away from Sweetie's XM station that plays only Christmas music ("Holly", it's called) and onto a station that calls itself Hits, and in order I got to hear:
Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men, and
Ho, Hey by The Lumineers, and
Some Nights, by fun., and then Sweetie was back and she switched us back to Christmas music and I felt a little down.
Those three songs put me in a good mood and were fun to listen to and had me happier than the umpteenth playing of Run Run Rudolph could ever do, and reminded me of the time I, four years ago, decided to just make a song be a Christmas song because I liked it and it was upbeat and if songs like Let It Snow! could be considered Christmas songs, why can't Movin' On Up be one?
We have a tradition in our family: on Christmas Eve, late at night, everyone who wants to stay up watches a movie together. It began, about 12 years ago, when snow kept us from going to my Mom's for an extended-family party and Sweetie and I and the then-only-3 kids watched... Godzilla.
The next day, talking to my Mom on the phone, I told her what we'd done the night before.
"Well, that's... Christmas-y," said my Mom, who is so traditional about Christmas that she didn't allow blue ornaments on our tree.
The point is, though, I think, anyway, that you don't need Christmas to be a good person and to enjoy yourself and to be nice to people, and it's not as though Christmas is the only holiday this time of year, anyway, so the relentless focus on Christmas can be disheartening or even annoying to people who celebrate other holidays, such as my paralegal who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, or my associate who celebrates Diwalli, a holiday I know about only because it was once mentioned on The Office:
December, after all, is host to dozens of holidays, ranging from St. Nicholas' day on December 6 -- a holiday which celebrates the butchering of three small children, and, okay, their subsequent resurrection by St. Nicholas -- to St. Lucy's day on December 13, celebrating the day a bunch of pagans tore out a woman's eyes with forks because they were unable to move her after she wouldn't marry her pagan fiance -- to Gŵyl San Steffan, on December 26, traditionally celebrated in Wales by bleeding livestock and slashing female servants with holly branches -- and are you kidding me? Is there a single Christian holiday that doesn't commemorate death, destruction, and spousal abuse?
I mean, besides Christmas. You can see why some people are so eager to focus on that one.
And I didn't even mention Rizal Day, in the Phillipines, celebrating on December 30 the wrongful execution of a national hero.
So anyway, perhaps you celebrate Christmas. Perhaps you celebrate Hanukkah. Perhaps you're just looking forward to your once-a-year-chance to slash your maid's arms with holly. Whatever you're into, I suspect that you, like me, might get a little tired of the OverChristmasization at this time of year, but still want to be brotherly/sisterly/whatever-it-is-orly-that-celebrates-that-eye-forking-woman, and so I am offering up some items that have nothing to do with Christmas but which can still help you keep in the spirit(s) of the season:
Movies: I found out this year that Sweetie has never seen A Christmas Story, while I have never seen It's A Wonderful Life, two remarkable feats of avoidance that ought to cause people to want to celebrate us/fork our eyes out.
Usually, I spend this time of year re-watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa, to keep me in a Christmas-y mood. Those movies provide a good, uplifting feeling, celebrations of family and redemption, with a darker undercurrent marked by drunkeness, thievery, and armed responses to disappointing Christmas gifts.
You know: holidays!
This year, though, I'm going a different direction and suggesting as the perfect December movie:
The Darjeeling Limited: Not a mention of Christmas at all, and yet it hits every note a Christmas movie should: a trio of brothers reunites following their father's death to track down their remote mother on a 'spiritual' journey of dubious grounding, the movie follows the usual arc of Christmas stories by taking its heros from their beginning position to something lower down and then restoring them to exactly where they were and calling that a triumph. That's the storyline of every single Christmas movie, and you can get it here without ever having to watch someone throw open the sashes.
If you're a reader type, you could instead go for the book The Silent Land:
Which, I'll forewarn you, features a sleigh, but that's about as Christmas-y as things get in this beautiful story that made me at first suspicious and then enthralled.
Here's what happens: A young couple on a skiing holiday gets caught in an avalanche and then pulls each other out, only to wander back to town and find that nobody else is there.
Sometimes, there are others, but they are fleeting and scary.
You know what happened, right? They're dead, right?
That's what had me suspicious, at first. I thought oh, this is just another Sixth Sense, but it's not. It's more beautiful and terrible than that, and richly imagined, as the couple has just each other on an extended vacation in which they have to help each other remember what it was like to be alive, describing the taste of the wines they are helping themselves to, and that sleigh figures in but not the way you'd want it to.
Most of our modern-day Christmas is based loosely on Victorian concepts embedded in A Christmas Carol, a story that has its terrifying elements pointing out that one can lose one's very humanity by not paying attention to simple kindness. The Silent Land conveys that same message in a simple, but beautiful, story that takes place entirely in winter, has a sleigh, and doesn't mention Christmas ever at all.
But you'll need some music to listen to, as well, and I'm going to go ahead and suggest that you put the album Some Nights
on permanent rotation for the month. This is hands down the best album I bought last year, and I bought a bunch of them including Regina Spektor's new one, so there was fierce competition.
But simply being a good album doesn't make it Christmas-y. What makes this album a good substitute for the wall-to-wall holiday cheer on most radio stations is its scope and the emotions it wrenches out of people. At one point tear-jerking (as in that foregoing song) and at others raucous and yet tinged with regret, as in
We Are Young, fun.'s album can carry you around the most crowded of parking lots while putting a lump in your throat. Picture any of the songs as the background music to a sepia-toned scene in which little kids open up presents, cutting to montages of young couples playing in the snow, with a final scene of an elderly couple holding hands as they sip cocoa and watch snow fall, and you'll see what I mean.