Bah Humbug, Now That’s Too Strong!
In the time between last Christmas and last week, “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses became my favorite holiday song, much to the chagrin of my daughter (who thinks it’s annoying) and my son (who doesn’t get it). There’s no real reason. I don’t particularly relate to the song, with its missed connections vibe and its accepted solitude, but it’s real. It feels timely. Because this year has been a long rambling narrative of dashed hopes interspersed with occasional bright horns.
December 2018: Bah Humbug, Now That’s Too Strong!
- “Christmas Wrapping (Long Version)” — The Waitresses
- “Springtime” — Annuals
- “In the Musicals” — Björk
- “Stay Away” — Charles Bradley
- “Planet Queen” — T. Rex
- “Red and Gold” (f/ King Geedorah) — MF Doom
- “That’s Alright” — Meat Wave
- “You Drink a Lot of Coffee for a Teenager” — Don Caballero
- “The Ledge” — Fleetwood Mac
- “Lonely Weekend” — Kacey Musgraves
- “Champion (Remix)” — Brother Ali
- “Bobby Hill” — Four Fists
- “Warped the Wood Floors” — Cursive
- “Pacer” — The Amps
- “Blue Bayou” (live) — Roy Orbison
- “Everything Right is Wrong Again” — They Might Be Giants
- “Party For One” — Carly Rae Jepsen
- “Best Christmas Yet” — The Heathen and the Holy
Which means the happy accidental ending is still to come, I guess. I like that optimism. I like thinking that, just for a second.
I’ve never been a holiday music person, but over the past few years I’ve fallen into a handful of holiday music traditions. I read that Slate article about how there’s only been one new addition to the Christmas Canon in the past few decades. I bring up the holiday records, which includes the church-program-meets-Laugh-In delights of the Peppermint Kandy Kids. And I break out the Happy Holidays from the Vilhauers playlist.
The Happy Holidays from the Vilhauers playlist is probably mis-titled, in that it’s a playlist of holiday songs designed to balance the traditional with the weird — a balance I find myself teetering on in almost every part of life — rather than a specific call for happiness. As I reconcile my early metal and classic rock days with my formative punk and indie years, and as my kids find joy in traditional pop in the same songs I once derided, I find my tastes have gotten more accepting. There’s no shame in the music you like, unless maybe you’re six hours into an Imagine Dragons playlist that’s skewing your Spotify algorithm.
(ED NOTE: No, this month’s associated mixtape isn’t a holiday mixtape. It’s got two holiday songs, though. I leave the holiday playlists to Boon, as I should probably leave ALL mixtapes and playlists, to be perfectly honest.)
My holiday playlist is everything that everyone hates about playlists that try to be cool, as I am very very aware I try to do at every point in my life. It’s got that Prince one and something from Courtney Barnett and a bunch of the Sufjan Stevens songs, and it’s got some weird stuff (Bad Religion, the Kacey Musgraves song about how Willie Nelson gets high) and some re-imaginings (Los Straightjackets, Sharon Jones) and songs that have Christmas in the name but probably aren’t really about Christmas at all (Mogwai’s “Christmas Song”).
It’s got some classics, too. Because as cool as I try to be, I can’t help but put that Mariah Carey song on there. I can’t help but be happy when I hear “Last Christmas” — yes, the Wham one — or Darlene Love or any of the songs from the Home Alone soundtrack. As I’ve found in making mixtapes for this blog over the past year, the weird stuff doesn’t come across as interesting if it’s not juxtaposed with the songs they’re riffing on; the curation of something meaningful needs some footholds. Some familiarity, for when things need to snap back to reality.
It’s also got the sad ones. I like the sad holiday songs, like “Hard Candy Christmas” and “Lord We Sure Need Some Rainbows In December” and “2000 Miles” and parts of “Fairytale of New York.” For many, the holidays aren’t fun, nor are they exciting. They’re stressful and scary and full of dread, when people we’d like to forget are thrust back into our lives, or when money is stretched as we try to make things seem normal, or as simple seasonal changes take affect. It gets cold and it gets hard and no amount of Big Star is going to make that go away.
Even though the Vilhauers are healthy and happy and grateful for everything, I still feel like I feel like I was dragged this year. I feel like all angles were ambushed, like my anxieties had a field day, all as my kids’ anxieties surfaced and I struggled to help them. I feel exhausted going into the next year, and that’s without even talking about the world outside my own mind.
But then, when things feel weighted and constricting, there’s a weekend like a week ago, where the ice glazed and the snow fell and we walked in a blizzard to get egg nog and then played Pictionary until way past bedtime and it felt like everything was reset, as if — and pardon this attempt to shoehorn The Waitresses lyrics into this post — our minds went out to get cranberries and met a bit of peace in the checkout lane.
The holidays do that, if you let them.
I think that’s why I always get weirded out by the glossy side of holiday music. There’s a genuine sadness in the holidays. And there’s a frantic weirdness. An over-the-top celebration. There’s a lot of forced charity and showmanship and not as much peace as we’ve all been promised, but there’s also a lot more empathy.
Sometimes, there’s a break. Sometimes you get to reset for a bit. You get to reflect on the good and the bad and you can hope for better and you can work toward giving more love and making better choices and confronting your demons, and you can do that knowing that even in the dumbest times you can make it though a bit of shit.
You can make it through a bit of shit, and then you can hold out for the horn section.