Spoiler Alert: Seasonal Misanthropy (aka “bah humbug”) ensues:
If you are a sentient creature who actually leaves his domicile during this time of year, I’m sure you’re familiar with this experience: you walk into your favorite restaurant, store or coffee shop, and your ears are immediately pierced by a familiar recording emanating from the store’s sound system. It’s familiar because it’s the very same song you heard in the last shop you were just in. And will hear again in the next shop you go to…
And so it goes for, oh, about two months at the end of every year. Or as one friend observed as I was composing this screed, “I audibly groan when I hear the first Christmas song when I’m strolling by the Halloween candy…”
I realize that it’s a stretch, but by the middle of December, my own apocalyptic mindset finds it hard to separate the expressions “Christmas music” and “fascist conspiracy.”
It may just be that “fascist” is my default descriptor for all things grating or unpleasant. Calling something “fascist” is one of the easiest and most and dismissive epithets our language offers. But, rightly or wrongly, that’s kinda where I go when I observe repetitive conventions that are practiced in the service of commerce: I feel like I’m being subjected to not-so-subliminal thought control.
So while I readily acknowledge that calling Christmas music a “fascist conspiracy” may be a tad over-wrought, there is still something genuinely disturbing about the Teutonic lockstep by which we are subjected to a redundant torrent of (mostly) insipid music everywhere we go during this reflective time of year.
Tell me you don’t agree: that there is nothing like hearing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” over and over again to take all the wonder out of Christmas. Why, just the mention of that tedious tune is enough to send a malevolent ear-worm eating its way into your brain, isn’t it??
Now, if you’ve read this far, you may find it hard to believe that I actually like a lot of the music that comes with this time of year.
What drives me nuts is hearing the same blasted songs over and over again.
So this is not an absolute invective against any kind of seasonal, turn-the-page, peace-on-earth, goodwill-toward-men sonic celebration. I think it’s a good idea to pause for some reflection before the beginning of a new year, and I am entirely capable of getting into the holiday spirit. Hell, I bought my girlfriend a lovely pewter candlestick for Christmas back in 1969 (and she still has it!).
And music certainly has a role to play in prompting that mood of seasonal introspection. But every year, the sonic gates open for a two month deluge of extraordinary popular delusions (and yes, the madness of crowds) that starts the day after Halloween.
Yes, I know Santa Claus is coming to town. And you know what he can bring me? A pair of noise-canceling headphones.
For me, the issue here is not the music itself, but how its constant repetition subverts its benefits.
Before you write me off entirely as Scrooge incarnate, consider this illustration of my quandary: Every year for the past more-years-than-I-can remember (or actually care to count), Ann and I have made a pilgrimage to the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville to attend Dave Pomeroy’s “Nashville Unlimited” Christmas concert. This is precisely the kind of occasion for which Christmas music is ideally suited, and over the years this event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Room In The Inn shelter and programs.
Every year Dave’s show concludes with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble (RIP, Butch Baldassari) playing a nearly all-mandolin rendition of the traditional “Carol Of The Bells.” And when I hear that, I think to myself, “OK, now it can be ‘Christmas’…”
But that momentary ebullience gets pretty well beaten out of me over the course of the next couple of days, when I go to my favorite coffee shops and restaurants and hear the same half-dozen tunes played again and again.
Let us pause here for a moment to empathize with the hapless souls who work in these establishments, where decrees from their Corporate Overlords leave employees little choice but to endure the aural onslaught or seek employment elsewhere (where, of course, they will be subject to the same oppressively redundant playlist). Every time I’ve broached the subject with somebody behind a counter, the inquiry produces a similar grimace-and-eye-roll.
Why, just yesterday, the guy behind the fish counter at the grocery story was whistling “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” Clearly, his brainwashing was complete. I decided to get chicken instead.
These endless repeats of the same old songs – even with the jazz, R&B and hip-hop variations that are thrown into the mix – serve as a constant reminder to just how out of control the whole season has gotten.
When you hear holiday music occasionally – like at a special, seasonal concert with a charitable purpose –holiday music can be a pleasant reminder of a ‘special time of year.’ But when you hear the same fucking songs over and over again… I can’t speak for you, but I start to wonder if I’m in the middle of a totalitarian nightmare, a sonically-induced Forced March to the Gas Showers of Compulsory Goodwill, where the only viable escape route is to buy something.
Could these objections just be a “boomer thing”? By which I mean: Maybe it’s just that I’m old. I’ve been listening to this shit for 60+ years now. Maybe that’s why it’s wearing a little thin. Maybe multiple decades of the same old songs has made them tiresome. But really, there should be some sort of ‘statute of limitations’ (short of actual death).
Do others in my age bracket, similarly exposed for more than a handful of decades, share any of these sentiments? I mean… is enough enough, or have we not yet had our fill of chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
Maybe we can take a clue from our Puritan forebears: They recognized the pagan origins of the holiday, found no Biblical justification for it observance, outlawed the practice, and put transgressors in stocks for celebrating Christmas.
Locking celebrants in the pillory for observing Christmas seems a bit draconian now, but at least in the 17th century they didn’t have to listen to the music for two months.