by ROBERT SMITH
Yes, the headline is a steal from the days when Norm McDonald so ably manned the Weekend Update desk on “Saturday Night Live.” He was describing a new Kenny G holiday album.
McDonald is far too sweet.
Sitting in an Arby’s choking down what was listed on a sign as a toasted submarine sandwich recently, something came on the PA system which simply was beyond astounding. The apparent Muzak system was churning out one holiday song after another, but this particular number made this writer hork up his Chocolate Mint milk shake like a Play-Doh Fun Factory. I have yet to identify the singer, but the R&B-inflected vocal sounded like something akin to a burlap bag full of cats. It was only upon making the door, spewing green and brown milky goo onto the floor with each step, that I heard the words that even made me realize it was a Christmas song: “Silver Bells.” Whoever this R&B diva was, she made sure to alter the arrangement, bend every note, over-sing every line and phrase. By the time the song was over, I wanted to seek out Anton LaVey armed with a gas can, just in case he wanted to go caroling. But when I found out he died in 1997, it only made me all the sadder.
Christmas sucks for anyone over the age of 20 who doesn’t have children; getting involved with charities only compounds the realization that things out there are 10 times FUBAR. Let us say this right here: There is no need for any contemporary artist to record holiday albums ever again. Bing Crosby perfected the art, followed by great efforts by Andy Williams and Burl Ives; Elvis Presley managed to get one right; even Alvin & The Chipmunks, if you were under 10, managed to delight and entertain. But what artists such as Christina Aguilera (so beautiful, so talented, and about as soulful as a pack of Rolaids on her caterwauling and downright evil version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) and Mariah Carey have to realize is that holiday music is meant to bring people together – and the best way to do that is to sing plaintively and simply so that everyone can join in and sing along. Artists such as Aguilera and Kenny G only know who to flash their own egos through song, not deliver anything resembling sincerity to time-tested melodies and lyrics.
We don’t get mad at new attempts at holiday songs, though most of them in recent years (“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “Christmas Shoes”) are clearly pandering, lowest common denominator product; they’re the Glenn Becks of holiday music. No, what gets us upset is that artists who have no business recording holiday music are lining up at the studio to ruin old songs that have already been perfected, mostly more than three decades ago.
Bob Dylan recently released a new album, Christmas In The Heart, and his croaked version of “Winter Wonderland” has to be heard to be believed. REO Speedwagon released a Christmas disc this year. Let us repeat that: REO Speedwagon. There is an album on sale entitled American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics. Just what we need – reminders of all that is good and holy by undignified teenagers who want to be famous at all costs.
But it’s not the artists themselves who are to blame here – it’s the American public. Instead of insisting on talented people doing outstanding work, we gobble up whatever’s fed to us, from poison fast food to bad movies and TV to horrible music. The public is the reason there’s nothing to listen to, why radio is dead, why satellite radio is about to die, and why recording companies are taking records out of print at an alarming rate. It’s why struggling musicians (even those with talent) can’t win in most cases; if they put out MP3s, even their most ardent “fans” will simply download the songs for free without paying for them.
As Christmas approaches, there are protesters in the streets and near-riots in shopping malls, and not about our two wars, not about health care, not about jobs and the economy. Nope – people are upset that an African-American is president; that cable companies aren’t showing the right channels in their areas; that someone showed up late in a mall to sign an autograph; that someone might not get the $200 HDTV advertised in a bait-and-switch circular. In the air, there’s not a feeling of goodwill toward humankind; there’s only an overwhelming sense of soulnessness and desperation.
So for all you “good Americans” elbowing and shoving either other in the malls and giving each other the finger as you race to Walmart on the highways, the Christmas albums by Whitney Houston, Michael Buble, Sting, and David Archuleta are good enough for you. May the sounds and tones caused by these monstrously ersatz sentiments bring you an all-too-clear reminder of what Christmas 2009 is really all about:
Happy birthday, Jesus. Hope you like crap.
Robert Smith thinks The Salvation Army is awesome and that Bing Crosby made the first and last truly great Christmas album. You’d be best advised to keep your distance.