I wake up screaming

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” —  the most odious quasi-pop song ever committed — was ringing in my semi-conscious loud enough to jolt me out of sleep one night last week (I summoned to mind “Night In Tunisia,” trying to recall ever kink in Charlie Parker’s famous alto break, to dispell it). “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” Gene Autry’s original version of “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and James Taylor singing “Go Tell It On The Mountain” — does it really have an extended chorus for recorder ensemble? — assault me at the grocery store (the butcher behind the deli counter fights it with a salsa radio station on high volume). “Jingle Bell Rock” is the best of the bunch — at least Bobby Helms swings and the guitar twangs. Must we suffer this cloying drivel every winter holiday?


The grocery’s manager directed that the Xmas tape be played LOUD! starting the day after Thanksgiving, and the clerks — Brooklynites apparently out of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, serving customers from points including Russia, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Manhattan — have gone nuts, bombarded by this stuff on every shift. Last night I shopped in Soho clothing boutiques with my teenage daughter and endured shamelessly glitzy renditions of clichés — er, “classics” — that should have been buried decades back by the big stars of pop now, Beyoncé among others I’ve blanked on in defense. There is perhaps one handful of moderately acceptable tunes, relatively literate lyrics and decent voices (perhaps “Chestnuts Roasting,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow”) and maybe one seasonal delight (“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Ray Charles & Betty Carter still the best), but all are rendered obnoxious by six weeks of ceaseless repetition.

The loop is too short, that’s part of the problem. Come on, djs! Throw some curves! Where’s Mae West’s (or Marilyn Monroe’s, or Marianne Faithfull’s) “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”? Bing Crosby or Prince drooling “Merry Christmas, Baby”? James Brown powering or George Clinton slandering “Up on the Rooftop with Good St. Nick?” They don’t exist? Then let’s hear Bird and Kenny Dorham blow hiply on “White Christmas” (since Billie Holiday didn’t sing it as a dirge), Count Basie’s big band boogie “Jingle Bells,” and Jimi Hendrix throw down “Little Drummer Boy” (yuck) and “Silent Night.” Let’s hear Stevie Wonder and Aretha and, oh, John Zorn’s Masada or Steven Bernstein’s Diaspora Soul for some Hanukah flavor. 
But enough of this inescapable, annoying, pseudo-sacred, unholy over-wrought, rudely self-righteous and irresponsibly sectarian crap in public places! Can it possibly be helping people spend? I did notice one elderly lady pushing her shopping cart through the aisles while humming along with “Ave Maria” but the vocal was way out of her range and she did not add pleasantly to the esthetic experience. And her cart was empty. She may have been there expressly for the Muzak, but it makes me mu-sick and for sure I want to get out of the store as fast as possible. Things are bad enough, economics, war, climate change, waiting for the end of the world or the Bush administration, whichever comes first. Can’t we go out with a bang, not a whimper? Enough — more than enough! — too, too much commercial Christmas corn!
Complete disclosure: My birthday is the day after Christmas, a distinction I share proudly with  Henry Miller, Friedrich Engle, Steve Allen, Elisha Cook Jr. and Frederick II, less so with Mao Zedong, Rosemary Woods and Phil Spector. As a child I felt I was cause of all the fuss, newborn king or just as good as, and though I’ve been told otherwise, I can’t say I’ve adjusted. So I stay home surrounded by my own selections, or venture forth glad sound is not wired into the subway. But something dreadful can emerge anytime, from any opening door, any car window. “Feliz Navidad.” “Joy to the World.” “This Christmas.”
At least I found a different grocery store. It’s at the edge of Boro Park and seems to be patronized mostly by Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish residents of the area. I have a hard time making myself understood there, speaking English. But I haven’t heard the Chipmunks or any of their ilk rattling on about 12 days of partridges in pear trees. Twelve days — aren’t they over yet? Ah, sweet relief: Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah.” Iannis Xenakis’ Electro-Acoustic Music. The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” 

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Comments

  1. says

    Hey, move to Russia, they play no special Xmas music here :) They would drive you nuts by New Year’s Eve themes, though.
    I would also suggest two other tolerable Xmas selections, both being “Jingle Bells” — version one by Benny Goodman, version two by Bing Crosby & Andrews Sisters. Those were the two I would play on the day of Western Christmas in my radio days.

  2. Alexandra Ivanoff says

    Hilarious! Being bombarded like that by all that inescapable Xmas mu-sick (sic) is one of several reasons I emigrated–to Turkey. Although, believe it or not, enterprising merchants here see the money and sell Christmas trees, stockings, and other Western seasonal detritus. I think I’ll go further east…

  3. says

    Bah Humbug, eh? For a different spin (which infuriated all the musicians I know) dig here:
    http://variousartists.org/jazzconjectures/2006/12/23/no-10tis-the-season-the-power-of-memory-and-melody/
    And consider yourself warmly, melodiously and seasonally greeted, Howard! See you in February in time for the next Hallmark holiday
    t
    HM: Dear Mr. Tim — I’m having trouble accessing that page, but if it plays even a Hanukah song upon opening, I’ll having it in for you on Valentine’s Day. Yes, the Portland Jazz Festival — I will be there (with bells on)!

  4. says

    Bah Humbug, eh? For a different spin (which infuriated all the musicians I know) dig here:
    http://variousartists.org/jazzconjectures/2006/12/23/no-10tis-the-season-the-power-of-memory-and-melody/
    And consider yourself warmly, melodiously and seasonally greeted, Howard! See you in February in time for the next Hallmark holiday
    t
    HM: Dear Mr. Tim — I’m having trouble accessing that page, but if it plays even a Hanukah song upon opening, I’ll having it in for you on Valentine’s Day. Yes, the Portland Jazz Festival — I will be there (with bells on)!

  5. says

    Bah Humbug, eh? For a different spin (which infuriated all the musicians I know) dig here:
    http://variousartists.org/jazzconjectures/2006/12/23/no-10tis-the-season-the-power-of-memory-and-melody/
    And consider yourself warmly, melodiously and seasonally greeted, Howard! See you in February in time for the next Hallmark holiday
    t
    HM: Dear Mr. Tim — I’m having trouble accessing that page, but if it plays even a Hanukah song upon opening, I’ll having it in for you on Valentine’s Day. Yes, the Portland Jazz Festival — I will be there (with bells on)!

  6. Michael J. West says

    Tolerability is a relative thing. I’ll take almost all the tracks you shun in the above email (except “Feliz Navidad”) if it means never again hearing ANY version, EVER, of “All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth).”
    That said, I continue to get a warm feeling in my heart when I hear Vince Guaraldi and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
    HM: Mike, as you say we all have our different tolerances — it makes one despair of *ever* discovering universals. But I agree, “Front Teeth” is right down there with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. And ok, sometimes I like “Feliz Navidad” — Freddie Fender is infectiously merry.
    In the Wall St. Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122912607004203123.html) Daniel J. Levitin or the headline writers single out two of the most egrigious offences: “Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear . . .” I had no idea both of these “songs” were anthemized by the Harry Simeone Chorale (though it was Der Bingle Crosby who perpetrated the soaring sales of “Do You Hear. . . ” written as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missle Crisis, a heritage that does not, to me, redeem it.

  7. James Jandt says

    Thanks for your attention to keeping the freshness in the oh-so-stale cliches coming out of speakers everywhere. I found a possible alternative. SOMA internet radio. They have an option related to Christmas in a Lounge vein. I heard Betty Carter and I had to think of the last time EVER I’d heard her on the radio outside a local jazz show here in KC or Laawrence, KS. I like the idea of Masada and even of drifting back into the Yiddish classics of the twenties and thirties. Oh well.

  8. Deb Beauregard says

    Thank you for your rant. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus triggers a reaction in me way past annoying now … I find myself moving towards wanting to hit the stop button, scream, spit, anything to interrupt the inane lyrics. I’d rather chew foil than hear that song ever again. My husband thinks it is funny that a normally calm person can get so enraged by a song.
    HM: Hang in there, Deb, it’s almost over now. . .

  9. says

    Hi Folks,
    I just close my ears from October on. (Oh yes, that’s the time when they gonna start decorating shops for the season!) Now, how do I close my ears? Well, I’m just doing it, can’t tell you how. It’s the very same for me, going out buying some presents for my beloved ones: I’m never in a hurry, no stress. I’m cool, because I’m deaf and also blind. Ah, by the way: if you wanna have a great musical time during Christmas: listen to the instrumental versions of those songs. Urbie Green did a great little 10″ in the early 50’s: “A Cool Yule” or something. There is a rendition of “I Saw Mummy” you will love, believe me!
    Best wishes for the aftermath,
    Brew