I was sitting at Denny’s this morning eating my short stack of whole grain pancakes, no butter, when Bruce Springsteen’s groaning, straining, herniated “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” erupted over the house stereo system, and I found myself suddenly overcome by an urge to punch somebody, anybody, in the head, until it stopped.
Fortunately, I’m a master of self restraint. But I’m needing to muster that self restraint more often, and earlier, this year than has been the case in the past, as it seems that all elements of the retail and hospitality world are colluding to bludgeon us with forced musical holiday cheer well before it’s necessary or desirable for them to do so. So, yeah, I get it, Evil Retail Greedheads: you want me to buy stuff. But when you make your manipulation so obvious, you bring out the contrarian in me. Not to mention the guy who wants to punch someone in the head every time you make me listen to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”
I wouldn’t mind the early over-saturation of Christmas music quite so much if Denny’s and Target and IHOP and Price Chopper were piping in quality renditions of, say, Michael Praetorius’ “Singet und Klinget ihr Kinderlein” or Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Hodie Christus Natus Est” or Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” or Charles Wesley’s “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.” You know, musical works that have some roots and resonance in the true spiritual traditions of Christmas, with centuries of traction and cultural relevance behind them.
But, no, we don’t get any of that, as retailers tend instead to have three distinct classes of Christmas treacle that they force into our ear holes at this time of year:
- Classic rockers or R&B artists mangling holiday standards (see Springsteen) or crafting their own bits of soul-sucking seasonal fluff (see McCartney).
- Baby boomer nostalgia trips into the soundtracks of those Rankin-Bass cartoons and stop-action puppet shows of our childhoods (see “Frosty the Snowman” or “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “The Little Drummer Boy”).
- Kitschy, over-the-top 1940s and 1950s renditions of carols loaded down with syrupy, teeth-rotting string and vocal arrangements (see the Andrews Sisters’ “Winter Wonderland” or Danny Kaye’s “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” or Perry Como’s “Home for the Holidays”).
What do all of these categories of music have in common? They are all bad music, that’s what, which offends my sensibilities on so many levels. It takes garbage to make us buy garbage, I guess. And Retail America wants nothing more than for us to buy more garbage, each and every year.
Bah, humbug. I wish they’d just let me eat my pancakes in peace.