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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 04:11 am

They come bearing gifts

A peace offering to Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing cranks

Kate and Anna McGarrigle The McGarrigle Christmas Hour (Nonesuch)
Dear Bill O’Reilly: As a godless liberal, I have no reason to like you. Your unctuous smirk and smarmy patter got on my nerves when you were a lowly late-night infotainer; since you’ve resurrected yourself as a right-wing demagogue, you’ve gone from annoying to insufferable. But Christmas time’s a-comin’, after all, and in the spirit of Christian charity I’m sending you a peace offering: The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. Although it might seem presumptuous for an admitted atheist to explain to you the reason for the season, bear with me. You hold forth on abortion despite your lack of a functioning uterus; the least you can do is endure a short theology lesson from someone who, despite her lack of a personal savior, has read the entirety of Paradise Lost and most of the Bible and has even been known to enjoy the occasional episode of Seventh Heaven. Besides, I come bearing gifts. Do you even remember what Christmas is? Yeah, yeah: It’s the holy day that you’ve vowed to defend against “oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces” determined to “diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration.” Although I’m not sure how the Prince of Peace would feel about your plan to “bring horror into the world of people” who neglect to emblazon his name over every aisle of their big-box stores, I’m reasonably confident that he’d approve of the enclosed CD. Assuming that your eardrums aren’t as hard as your head and heart, you might, too. All of us, wingnuts and secularists alike, can agree that Christmas is about family, so what better soundtrack could we hope for than an album of Christmas music made by an honest-to-gosh family? Call me naïve, but I’m hoping that sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle and their spectacularly gifted offspring can quiet your Yuletide wrath. Granted, you’d probably call Kate’s son Rufus Wainwright a sacrilegious queen if you knew that he wrote a song called “Gay Messiah,” and you’d probably denounce his sister, Martha, as a foul-mouthed feminazi if you knew that her solo debut contained an ode to her dad called “Bloody Mother****ing A**hole,” and maybe you’d even take smug pleasure in the fact that they both grew up in a single-parent household in commie-clogged Canada, but look at it this way: If you can love Dick “Go F*** Yourself” Cheney, who can in turn love his lesbian daughter, surely you can cut the McGarrigle/Wainwright clan some slack. The McGarrigle Christmas Hour boasts a beauty born of familial love, with no shortage of references to the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, frankincense, shepherds, and other sacred signifiers. The sisters’ longtime pal Emmylou Harris contributes a heart-wrenching rendition of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and the whole gang joins in on traditional carols such as “Seven Joys of Mary” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” It’s a wonder to hear those closer-than-close sibling harmonies and a comfort to know that some families celebrate the season by making a joyful noise unto the Lord, not by maxing out their credit cards on China-made fodder for future landfills.
The track that you most need to hear, though, is the cover of Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus,” performed by Martha and her cousin Lily Lanken. Their trembling, angelic voices remind us that Christ’s message was about something that you Republicans like to call the redistribution of wealth, not about the visitation of horror upon discount retailers. I’ll sign off with a verse from this song: “I bid you pleasure, and I bid you cheer/From a heathen and a pagan on the side of the rebel Jesus.”
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