I am a neurotic traveler, preferring to get to the airport well in advance of the recommended hour. I rarely mind waiting in airports; reading, writing, people watching are all pleasant pursuits, and a gate that’s relatively empty due to all the lead time is a fine, relatively distraction-free place to do them.
On this particular trip, however, I have the dubious privilege of being entertained by a hapless quartet accompanied by an electric keyboard. These kids are game, and the fact that they can’t sing wouldn’t bother me if they weren’t continually playing those damn non-religious carols, the same ones again and again.
“Jingle Bells” seems to me like it has potential in a Magnificent Ambersons sledding scene sort of way; it’s one of those light, bobbly trifles they tended to write at the turn of the 20th century and it can potentially sparkle like a cheap, fun fizzy drink. But the repetition – seven repeated notes in a row, for Christmas’ sake – drones like a less musical version of those damn bell ringers I give a buck to every time I leave the grocery store. (Perhaps next time I should give them a five just to get them to stop.)
I am fond of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” mainly because of the definitive jazz version by the great Bill Evans; the melody’s actually proven to have some sophisticated permutations, and has a great bridge, so while the merriment is forced here, it doesn’t make my skin crawl. Sadly, that ditty gets one turn, while the odious “Here Comes Santa Claus” plays ad nauseum. He lives on Santa Claus way! But, oh joy, today he is guesting at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a smallish Santa nearly drowned in an oversized cheap suit. How did we get from the grave and beautiful St. Nicolas, majestically robed in red, to dumpy Santa Claus in shitkicker boots?
Worst of all is the dreadful “Frosty the Snowman.” Maybe I hate this one because I grew up in California and always felt the song was taunting kids who’d never seen snow except in pictures, but the mere opening bar throws me into paroxysms of grumpiness. I REALLY hate Frosty the Snowman. It’s irrational how much I hate this song, which is fairly innocuous. I hate the stupid cartoon that illustrates it, with a villain ripped off of the great Snideley Whiplash and a main character who looks and sounds like that annoying Pillsbury doughboy, another specter who reels its bloated visage around this time of years pimping those weird cookies with dayglo stencils on them that taste like sweet Play-Do.
Dear me, I sound like such a monster curmudgeon. Truth be told, I’m mostly just puzzled at how crappy and stupid so-called secular Christmas looks and sounds. The bile rises primarily at the concept that the non-religious carols are less offensive than the ones that acknowledge the origin of the celebration. For Christ’s sake, and I don’t mean that in a blasphemic way, look at the damn word.
I am continually grateful that the Met faithfully and unapologetically raises up its angel tree every December, just as it displays other religious art. Christmas music is the same; there’s an abundance of art, whether you’re diving into the canon of folk songs from Europe and America that celebrate the season, or observing the feast of classical music paying homage to the very simple story at the beginning of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I applaud not wanting to offend folks by shoving a particular tradition down someone’s throat; if you’re Muslim, Jewish, or atheist, it must be somewhere between mildly irritating and downright rage-making to be so continually served up someone else’s menu. I just don’t understand how replacing Christ with Santa makes this somehow better. A baby born in a stable to a poor family, whether you believe the story or dismiss it as a myth, is somehow more offensive than a guy in a fat suit wearing makeup and promising children that he’ll fulfill their every avaricious wish?
Americans are weird.
Anyway, after a rather butchery version of the marvelous “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – for some reason, the rhythm of this was oddly militaristic and reminded me of Ravel’s “Bolero” – the music blessedly stopped. The Nutcracker on DVD awaited me, and while it wasn’t my favorite version, Tchaikovsky nicely washed away the sour taste and put me in a much more festive mood to celebrate a few days with my parents, two sisters, three nieces, and a friend I haven’t seen since college in the Golden State.