I’ll open with a transcription of one of my favorite moments in a car, from Christmas 2008.
Scene: In John’s car on the way to mom’s house for Christmas dinner.
Characters: JOHN, Bah! AMY, Humbug! KATE, Yay! Christmas music!
KATE: Let’s listen to Christmas music!
Opening notes of [WORST SONG EVER] ‘Simply Having Written the Worst Christmas Song Ever’ thread from the speakers.
AMY: GODDAMMIT NO. NO NO NO. TURN IT OFF.
JOHN:(turns up radio)
(Paul McCartney shuts up. ‘Silent Night’ plays)
JOHN: I just don’t like the traditional Christmas songs. (changes station)
AMY: Well what’s left? All those awful pop songs!
JOHN: I don’t know; I just don’t like a lot of them. I HATE ‘Little Drummer Boy.’
AMY: I do too, unless it’s Bing Crosby and David Bowie. That’s too weird not to like.
(awful pop song begins)
AMY: No. (Burl Ives), Yes.
(‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ All characters sing)
(App. 15 minutes of quarreling over radio between JOHN and AMY. KATE is quiet.)
(Another version of ‘Silent Night.’)
AMY: Is this Macy Gray?
JOHN: God I hope not; I will crash this car.
KATE: What is WRONG with you two??!?
I might have ruined ‘Polar Express’ for my stepfather. Out of the film, he got an enjoyable viewing experience. I got a loud, creepily-animated, unnecessarily dramatic and death-defying retelling of a classic children’s story. Also the immortal quote, “Santa has horcruxes?!?” But that’s for another time.
The funny thing is, “The Polar Express” was never a big deal for me as a kid. I never had a copy of the book and I was only vaguely away the Conway Scenic Railroad had its own Polar Express train with Santa every year. I picked it up in a bookstore once and liked it for the soft, dreamy quality of the illustrations. To me, it effectively captured the strange sleep-fuzzed clarity that comes with staying awake long past one’s bedtime. “Polar Express” was an illustration of night magic, of waiting up for Santa and listening to the stillness of winter in the middle of the night.
We rented the DVD a few years back and all I can remember is the train skidding across thin ice, lots of Tom Hankses and an horrifying rotoscoped Stephen Tyler elf. I’m pretty certain none of these elements are original to the story. But hey – I can’t begrudge someone else’s enjoyment. All I can do is enjoy my own dislike.
It’s easy to be bleak and grim about the mouth this time of year, and lord knows my efforts to stave off the winter gloom don’t always pan out. This is probably why I take so much delight in hating things: It’s a bizarre bit of reverse psychology; deliberately seeking out irritating songs and scenes and enjoying the resulting wrath. My favorite hateful little indulgence this time of year is the Delilah radio show. There’s something unspeakably smarmy about her voice, and insidiously stupid in the way she chooses songs to follow up some poor sap’s sob story. I keep track sometimes: An elderly woman relates being poor in the ’30s and receiving her first doll at the town Christmas party; Delilah plays “White Christmas.” Another woman recalls playing Santa with her husband in their hometown, delivering small toys and oranges to their neighborhood; Delilah plays “All I Want for Christmas (is You).” I can’t figure out her particular algorithms for selecting songs. I hate her pandering tone of voice and conjure fanciful images of (perhaps largely imagined) disdain dripping from her words as she croons to a caller about seeing Rudolph’s nose as a child. I can’t stand her. I tune in whenever I can.
This is also why I subject myself to the local radio stations’ Christmas programming. At my mother’s today I heard two different versions of “Winter Wonderland” in less than half an hour. (I didn’t like either of them.) There are an awful lot of Christmas songs out there; why is it we only hear the same tunes recorded endlessly? And often not particularly well – there’s a lot of jazz, child choirs and lite rock tubular bells this time of year, and I hate them all. I keep a few of my own distinct categories; “Schmaltz,” (shoes, giving away your heart); “Novelty,” (hippopotamuses, two front teeth); “Generally Horrible,” (Manheim Steamroller, Neil Diamond); “Trying Too Hard” (Sting singing “I Saw Three Ships” like someone has threatened his family – you can hear the maniacal grin stretching his face; drunken Bruce Springsteen) and so forth. And I’m certainly guilty of indulging too deeply in some of my own categories – for years I was inexplicably a fan of “Codependency Christmas,” including Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” the Eagles “Please Come Home,” and U2’s … whichever song they did.
Each year there’s usually something new to avoid on the radio; I recall well the first year I discovered “That Goddamned Donkey Song” ( – Dad). For years I abhorred “Christmas Shoes,” covered in an earlier post. This year it’s “Christmas in America:” I can’t quite figure out how a value-driven God-fearing patriotic ballad can manage to offend me so deeply, but it has. “No More Blue Christmases” is also pretty terrible: “I just had to meet you to make Christmas seem worthwhile.” Get a grip, lady. Make your own Christmas worthwhile. This also marks the first year I heard the song about something being stuck in the chimney for an entire year, and while I’m generally horrified and deeply offended by the awful child vocalist, I am also fondly reminded of Gremlins.
And that’s why I hate things so fervently this time of year. (Also I am genetically predisposed: Me: Oh lor, it’s the Country Gentlemen again, singing a dirge for the three kings. Dad: God himself could sing that and it would still be terrible) It gives me focus and takes away the more pressing problems of being critically underemployed, morbidly broke and occasionally close to despair. I hate all of those things but can’t do much more than I am already to solve them. I can, however, change the station.
Incidentally, has Manheim Steamroller EVER used a real musical instrument? And after practicing all year long, the very best the choir of children could come up with for a song was “Ding dong/ding dong”??