Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Despite the Horror, Loneliness and Glitter, I Have Learned to Love Christmas Music

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Despite the Horror, Loneliness and Glitter, I Have Learned to Love Christmas Music

Article excerpt

Music is generally the place where you can hide yourself from life when it all gets too much, or too little. But what happens when music--in public places, and blaring unbidden from the television--becomes part of the problem? The bonfires are still smoking when the first Christmas TV commercials grace our screens and from thereon it's just a hop, skip and a jump to turn the rotten thing off before you find out which favourite pop song has been waylaid and worked over by the latest John Lewis collaborator. And after that, the cinnamon-dusted deluge.

Loath as I am to dignify the concept of triggering, it made sense when the psychologist Linda Blair claimed that premature Christmas music may create anxiety, especially in shop workers ceaselessly exposed to it. Apparently it acts as a sort of sing-along to-do list, reminding one of the shopping, party planning and travelling--things that are sources of pleasure when considered at any other time--required in order to make the Most Wonderful Time of the Year a special occasion.

Of course, it used to be effortlessly the most special occasion of all: the birth of someone whom most Western societies saw as their saviour. But, as the saying goes, when a man stops believing in God he doesn't believe in nothing--he believes in anything. Which explains the rise of the six-bird roast: a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a quail, and a horror to rival anything out of HP Lovecraft.

At this time of the year music is no longer a sanctuary but a minefield, the ghosts of Christmas past forever ready to leap out and mug us with memories. The seasonal songs of my youth make me regret what a cow I was to my parents. The songs of my dead son's youth make me remember what a happy little family we once were. The classic Phil Spector Christmas album makes me think of what his wife and muse Ronnie once said about him screaming at her so violently she eventually became mute, and how he is now in jail for murdering a young woman who refused to remain mute in the face of his screaming violence.

Even on the lighter side, so many songs about Christmas reference being without the one you love, and though this may have seemed fanciful when one was a lot surrounded by family, we're now allegedly facing a loneliness epidemic affecting one in four people, making repeated playing of Mud's Elvis parody "Lonely This Christmas" sound cruel rather than cute.

Of course, one could swerve seasonal pop altogether and listen to the classic Christmas songs: "White Christmas"; "Let it Snow"; "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". Written by Jewish emigres to America, these songs have an outsider element--a ragged ghetto boy with his nose pressed up against a frosted window, eyes feasting on the Christian cornucopia within. …

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