Deep thoughts for the holidays

Xmas wreath Rocked up holiday songs do well this time of year, as I mentioned a while ago. Emo singing, distorted guitars, and loud percussion tracks are liberally applied to traditional Christmas songs in a raunchy formula that generates mega downloads and CD sales. For a sample of Xmas Grunge, check out: Kutless, Newsboys, Seventh Day Slumber, and The Almost. Call me crazy, but I love this stuff.

Best holiday song video this year: Walk Off The Earth’s “Little Drummer Boy.” (Might be the best holiday song video ever!) It’s not grungy but, yes, it’s got performing dogs. Check it out here.

Holiday music and classic rock are two things that will always sell because they hook into older memories of younger times. Those earlier days appear (from a distance) to be happier ones, but that’s nostalgia’s grand hoax. When I hear my friends get rhapsodic about their childhood or adolescence (memories of which are instantly available via a Christmas carol or old rock tune) I ask them to think a little harder about those times. Perhaps they’ve forgotten they had no rights, were forced to attend school they probably hated, got worked over by teachers or nuns (in my case), endured their share of family dysfunction, or worse. (This is assuming they weren't also dirt poor.) So maybe those days weren’t as halcyon as remembered. And yet…the music stands up quite nicely.

Following up on my last post on the “intellectual property”—i.e. copyright—disagreements surrounding “Jingle Bell Rock,” I should add that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has a bit of the same problem. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote a lot of songs together, but Martin claimed he wrote this one alone—and was unaware that he was giving away half the income by letting Blane’s name appear on it. Since then HYAMLC has arguably become the most popular Christmas classic. As a side note, most folks don’t know the song was rewritten (by Martin) on several occasions, which explains the different versions of the lyrics you’ll hear from time to time. Judy Garland rejected the first version she heard for the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, because she didn’t want to sing a song with depressing lyrics. But when the words were rewritten for a lighter mood, the title and hook line—though meant to be sarcastic (“merry little Christmas”)—survived. Martin rewrote the song again for Frank Sinatra, to make it even cheerier. (Details available here.) Anyway, the lesson here—which we will flog one more time—is to stay alert to who’s claiming intellectual property on your creations.

With all the talk-radio jabbering I’ve been hearing about the “war on Christmas” I’d have to say that war isn’t going so well. Christmas is obviously winning. But maybe it's time for an armistice?

In that spirit, I wish us all a peaceful holiday and new year!

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    1. Actually I don’t have that much to complain about. I’ve heard MUCH worse from others. I grew up with good parents at least and good elementary school teachers and high school teachers. But my family struggled a bit financially and my experience of the nuns in sunday school was traumatic (one had no rights as a child in the 50s). Yet, overall, life was good—and plenty interesting. (Like today.) Sports and rock & roll always kept me sane.

  1. everyone makes new claims of authorship on a song once the purported writer or co-writer is dead. funny how that works.

    1. Fair point. I should have added that it's by no means clear that Martin wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” alone. When interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR in the 1980s he said he worked on the original lyrics with co-writer Ralph Blane (though many of the lines were later rewritten). Perhaps Martin felt that because he rewrote many of the lyrics, Blane’s contribution was negligible. But Martin did make that claim in his autobiography AFTER Blane had passed away. And I believe Hank Garland made the claim that he and Bobby Helms wrote "Jingle Bell Rock"—after Beal and Boothe (the credited authors) had passed away.

  2. If we wormholed back into our lives as kids, we would be struck by all the gigantic limitations we had. The dentist was incredibly painful. We were the literal slaves of teachers, parents, nuns, cops, older siblings and bullies. And biting dogs. TV was this blurry, tiny B&W mess of fuzz blobs. Music came out of your $10 portable record player with the 2" speaker--it looked like something out of the 1940's. We couldn't drive, we couldn't fuck, we couldn't drink, we couldn't communicate with hardly anybody. Long distance phone rates were like $1.25 a minute. We wrote letters like Emily Dickinson. It may as well have been 1855! We had this crappy sports equipment that for me was all this ancient hand-me-down crap that never fit me. Our footballs were taped over, our hardballs were taped over, and our mouths were taped over if we ever said a bad word. I longed for girls like Mary Shapiro but I was too afraid to go near them. I never had my own bike. I had a very odd, distant, awkward relationship with my father who turned into this raging drunk.

    So we were actually remarkably strong, inventive, imaginative and tough to have gotten through all that miserable and depressing crap relatively unscathed!

    1. Yeah, I forgot about DENTISTS. That was a primitive art when we were growing up. I had braces put on and taken off by my orthodontist with no anesthesia whatsoever. I can relate to a lot of what you say.

      1. Dentists? Dentists?!?! You don't know how lucky you are. When I were a lad, we had to get up 2 hours before we went to bed, work down a coal mine for 26 hours (without a break)... *

        * © 1432 M. Python, Esq.

      2. The dentists had mechanical, not air drills. Brutal. And the sadistic dentist (my guy was Marshall Hickock, I swear, his exact name) charged the parents per novocaine shot and they would negotiate with your soul right in front of you like you were some urchin being bartered to Fagin in a Dickensian swap meet. "I'm sure little Kenny is man enough to take a little pain this time, aren't you Kenny? Hehehe." Heavy overtones of Little Shop of Horrors. I cannot tell you what they put me through, except that Marathon Man was a picnic by comparison. Fuck the 50's.

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