Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's the Most Wunderneathical Time of the Year

Is the "War on Christmas" over? And if so, which side won? Christians scored a few points on the retail battlefront: Walmart greeters say "Merry Christmas", and the Salvation Army returned to Target. But it's truly a war of attrition, and Xmas will continue to become more secularized in the years to come. While watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with my kids today, I realized that its explicitly Biblical message probably wouldn't be broadcast by the major networks if it were made today. You might see it on a cable channel like Pax, between reruns of "Davey and Goliath".

Which is fine by me. In the words of the late Jeffery Lee Pierce, I've never been no Christian. In my home, Xmas means time off from school and work, decorating, cooking, eating, and gift-giving. Oh, and Christmas music. I have more than a dozen Christmas albums, two of which top my playlist each year: Sounds of Christmas by the Ramsey Lewis Trio (and its sequel, More Sounds of Christmas); and Mel Torme's Christmas Songs.

I grew up with the Sounds of Christmas. Ramsey Lewis' acoustic piano, backed with a swinging standup bass and drums, is all I need to lift my mood at this time of year. Even godless heathens find the crass commercialism of the season a bit overwhelming at times, and Jebus knows we're the types that see the glass as half-empty. My wife (no non-believer, she) grew up with Elvis Presley's It's Christmas Time as the soundtrack to her family's winter holiday. Our common ground is Mel Torme: it's jazzy enough for my tastes, and he's a consummate crooner as well. Of course, Torme co-authored the classic "Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...") He is a master of the medley: there are three of them on Christmas Songs. And he makes a few bold choices: Mel adds holiday lyrics to Johnny Mercer's "Glow Worm", and his scatting on "Good King Wenceslas" must be heard to be appreciated.

I encourage you to pick up Christmas Songs and Sounds of Christmas for yourself, or as a gift. My Xmas gift to you is two songs. The Cadillacs' doo-wop version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was my son's favorite when he was four. I like my Xmas songs to swing, and the Cadillacs clearly had a sense of humor. My other selection today is from a compilation of Atlanta and Athens bands released in 1991 on the Sister Ruby label, which was run by Cliff from Eat More Records. The band Uncle Green (who changed their name to 3lb Thrill before they broke up) performs "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and a familiar chord change in that song leads them into a snippet of David Bowie's "Space Oddity". I mentioned "mental mashups" yesterday: whenever John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", plays in my mind, the song segues into an old TV commercial that goes, "Come back to Jamaica (war is over), what's old is what's new (if you want it)." I didn't say I liked it. I just can't help it.

The Cadillacs: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Uncle Green: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


At 12/20/2006 11:04 PM , Blogger Paula said...

Jon, I think of that Jamaica song when I hear "Happy Christmas," too. It's essentially the same song.

At 12/20/2006 11:42 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12/20/2006 11:49 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Thanks, Paula. I feel relieved to know I'm not alone.

At 12/21/2006 7:19 AM , Blogger Sean Carter said...

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At 12/21/2006 10:11 AM , Anonymous Chris said...

One of the many things I love about Christmas is putting on the Xmas playlist on my ipod. I agree on the Ramsey Lewis CD. That, the Ella Fitzgerald, and the Vince Guaraldi are my familys favorite.

Not a big Mel Torme fan. With Xmas music its what you grow up with. Therefore I have a soft spot in my heart this time of year, and only this time of the year, for Bolivian reed music.

At 12/21/2006 1:42 PM , Anonymous Paula said...

Bolivian reed music

That's Lou's brother.

At 12/21/2006 3:41 PM , Anonymous Chris said...

One of the blogs you link to
"Big Rock Candy Mountain" has been posting gobs of Xmas stuff.

SmartyPants. Dont you get enough blogging on your blog? Little miss bloggy

At 12/21/2006 5:50 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Chris, the blogs "Something Old, Something New" and "I Am Fuel, You Are Friends" have also posted lots of holiday music, though I don't think any of it is Bolivian.

At 12/22/2006 9:33 AM , Blogger Ann said...

I just now noticed how sad that song (Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas) is. It's like an adult Christmas cookie, sweetness tempered with a smidge of bitter orange peel.

At 12/22/2006 9:46 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Mmm, cookies.

At 12/22/2006 10:25 AM , Anonymous Chris said...

Yes indeed. My fav xmas song this year is
"Trim your Tree" by Jimmy Butler. It was on a blues compilation I have had for a few years. Its more like an Adult cookie, complete with nethers....


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