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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 07:59 am

Holiday music musings


Marina V sings “Christmas is Going to Suck Without You” as a holiday hit.

If you want a way to mess up a good weekend for local live music, try putting Christmas Eve on a Saturday night and see what happens. That’s what the calendar gave us for 2011 and the Pub Crawl reflects the effects of that scheduling maneuver. Without a lot of fine entertainment to crow about, I metaphysically meandered to the holiday music thing.

Of all the topics hit upon by songwriters, along with love and death, holidays and celebrations seem to drive the human spirit to create. Whether inspired by economic principles or the spiritual gloriousness of Jesus’ birthday, no event seems to conjure up more melodies, characters and opuses than Christmas.

A little research allows even the most fervent and ignorant person to understand and deal with the ancient debate dating the actual birth date of Jesus. Dec. 25 was chosen around the third century by early church fathers – no mothers allowed – as a good calendar fit with other celebrations then happening. But who really cares? They made up a lot of stuff about Him, yet the universal message of peace and kindness survives somehow. Plus we’re talking music here, not factual data of another millennium.

Whatever the reason for the season of song, there are plenty of tunes out there and we know for sure, because we get to hear them over and over and over. Whether live, recorded or just stuck inside our heads on an endless loop of mindless chatter, the list includes syllabic, pre-scats sounds like fa-la-la-las and rumpa-rum-rums, mythological characters like red-nosed reindeer (lay off the Christmas cheer, Rudolph), umpteen adaptations of centuries-old hymns that seem to make no sense (round yon virgin? harps of gold? triumph of the skies?), plus countless, vapid, sellable songs about the glories and gaffes of holiday times (who is Parson Brown and what’s he doing in this song?).

I’m certainly not denying the power and attraction of these songs. I know many of them by heart and can’t help but sing along as they pop up in every corner of the American universe from Thanksgiving (or earlier) through New Year’s Day when we are mercifully relieved of the constant barrage until next season. I’m also well aware of the many golden rings the composer of a holiday song could purchase and plenty of songwriters put, “Xmas hit song” at the top of their Christmas wish list. Johnny Marks must surely be the king of all Yuletide songwriters with Rudolph, Holly Jolly Christmas, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (words by Longfellow), Run, Rudolph, Run and Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree, all to his credit. Marks was indeed Jewish, as well as the most successful Christmas songwriter ever, Irving Berlin, also Jewish, who wrote White Christmas, just to show you inspiration comes from many wells.

Of those close to us locally, Supe du Jour, bassist of Ozark Mountain Daredevils, released a new collection of Christmas classics entitled Cool, Cool, Yule, Marina V has a song called Christmas is Going to Suck Without You and I remember a very hip and hopping version of God Rest You Merry Gentlemen done punk-surf style by the Aquavelvets many years ago. I’m sure others exist that I’m not aware of or don’t remember. Perhaps for next year a Happy Holiday collection of local folks doing Christmas-type songs would be a fun charity project.

No Scrooge or Grinch in me, people, because I believe in the power of music. Last Saturday as T and I played an instrumental version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear upstairs at Penny Lane, someone asked us to do O, Holy Night. We did and it was truly a night to remember, if not holy, surely happy, a close cousin anyway.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good song.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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