Perhaps the greatest joy of being on break is getting reacquainted with one’s automobile. In my case, Thanksgiving this year gave me the opportunity to bond with my fully loaded new (that is to say, it’s old, but new to me) station wagon. Power seats that go up AND down. Air conditioner, hot AND cold. Not to mention a radio with a 3-foot antenna.
I generally rank radio somewhere between throwing rocks and carrier pigeons on my sliding scale of modes of communication. Nonetheless, the break gave me time to familiarize myself with Connecticut’s FM airwaves, which I hadn’t heard since I was in high school, when I was awakened by my clock radio each morning to the sound of some blithering local DJ, who by now, I assume, is dead. Or worse, working at a classical station.
I flirted with my radio for a while, not especially intent on reopening the psychic scars of my high school morning wake-ups. I put off listening as long as I could, replaying the three cassettes in the wagon (all The Clash) as long as I could stand them.
Finally one afternoon, as I drove back from Hartford after dropping friends off at the airport, I broke. It was time to swallow my pride and dive back into the airwaves.
To my surprise, it wasn’t long before I found a song that had a bass-line to which I didn’t particularly object.
My head began to bob up and down. My fingers tapped the steering wheel in rhythm. My foot kept the beat on my gas pedal, making for erratic driving and a few minor accidents, which at the time I brushed off. I had more important things on my mind: “Hey. This isn’t half bad,” I said to myself, only to hear some throaty post-Vedder lead singer croon:
“Jeeeezus, you are the Lord! And I rrrrrock for you alone!”
Suddenly, I felt dirty.
“CHRISTIAN rock?!” I exclaimed, squirming around the driver’s seat. “Aw, MAN!” I felt betrayed — like some alien had taken over the body of my best friend, in this case rock ‘n’ roll, and had tried to pass itself off as the real thing, while working its tentacles up my anus without my realizing it. I slammed on the brakes in a desperate attempt to free my privates.
Listening to the radio, in this way, is a lot like being asked to join the PEN 15 club. At first, it’s great. You’re the member of a club, with a tattoo and everything. What could be better?
And then you read what’s written your hand.
“Penis?!” you exclaim to yourself. “Aw MAN!” And you can’t wash the permanent marker off fast enough. Or in my case, I couldn’t wash the permanent marker off at all. In fact, I’m still a member of the PEN 15 club, and have been since fifth grade. Likely, I’ll be a member until I die. Which, if the good people at KRIST 105 FM had anything to do with it, I would be doing presently.
I slammed my hand, screeching, ape-like, against the car stereo panel, until the station changed.
Living in the bubble that is Yale University, it can be easy to forget that for the rest of America, the “holiday season” begins in September: Halloween being the caretaker holiday, Thanksgiving being the first sign of the season, and Christmas, the shining centerpiece.
Being not only a Yale student but an atheist, I was shocked to frantically change the station from KRIST 105, only to enter a blizzard of the most godforsaken music ever created in any epoch (and that includes Renaissance madrigals): Christmas carols.
In effect, by running away from Christ, I ran headlong off the cliff of Christ, into a sea of Christ. Not that I have anything against Jesus, certainly not. He released a few solid albums in his time. But these modern knock-offs in which I now drowned are something totally unrelated to anything Christ taught, anything printed in the Bible.
I’m sure sorry if you have a soft spot in your heart for “Little Drummer Boy.” The sooner you realize that these songs are total crap, the sooner you can spice up your holiday season with acceptable music.
What could be more pleasant than waking up on Christmas morning to Guns ‘n’ Roses’ seminal “Appetite for Destruction”? Don’t you think Grandma would appreciate her new throw cloth that much more if you deafened her with “Welcome to the Jungle” as she unwrapped it? All families are different, and so everyone’s holidays are different. Why, then, are we all listening to the same terrible music?
“It’s because these songs have meaning,” one might say. “Holiday meaning.” Go ahead. Just try to find meaning in “Jingle Bells.” “Jingle Bells” is a song written and replayed solely to make you think that because you ARE listening to it, you SHOULD be listening to it. It’s a song that exists for the purpose of its own self-perpetuation — a lot like a disease.
Christmas carols are like a great blandifying annual musical plague, sucking up any and all earwitnesses, and, in turn, making them suck. Some very talented musicians have fallen prey to the “holiday spirit” and made the radio-listening public victims of their self-indulgence. Take, for example, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band’s “Merry Christmas, Baby.” Or U2’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Or Bon Jovi’s “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas.”
What do all these have in common? They are all the worst songs these artists have ever released. (Bon Jovi isn’t even good to begin with.)
At least Christian rockers know what they’re talking about when they try to wrap their ideological tentacles around you. At least they’re trying to say something. When Bruce and Bono and Jon Bon spew this nonsense full of sleigh bells and snowmen and imaginary elves, one must ask — do they have any idea over what they’re saying? Moreover, do they have any control over their bodies?
They do not. They’ve caught a bad case of the holiday spirit. They’ve been mutated into “carolers” just like those who stalk around your neighborhood in the winter months, spreading meaningless cheer. If any of these dead-eyed carolers visit you where you live, I recommend brute force. They are zombies. They want to eat your brain and replace it with Christmas goo. Literally.
Dear reader, turn off your radio. Do not go gently into that silent, holy night.
Greg Yolen recognizes the greatness of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over).”