5 best Christmas songs (and the very worst one)

This is my blog and I’ll do what I want. If I want to do a listicle, I will do a listicle. Maybe I’ve already talked about these songs on a previous post. I DON’T CARE.  So I’m going to give you my top 5 Christmas songs with an explanation of why they are great. And I’ll cap it off with a condemnation of the world’s worst Christmas song.

First a note about my feelings about Christmas. I grew up in a mess of a household. Every holiday was a festival of anxiety and stress, and Christmas was the 2nd biggest mess of the year (gonna put my birthday as #1 mess, but they were all vibrant colours in the Feel-Bad rainbow).

feelbad

The point is that sincere Christmas songs don’t match up with my personal experience.  They feel forced and unnatural. But the shamelessly artificial songs delight me.

Christmas song #5: “Mary’s Boy Child” By Boney M.

The heavy-handed religion of this song would normally get it barred from my house. But lucky for Boney M, hearing this song reminds me of their best song “Rasputin”. I am willing to allow the excessive Jesus-ness of this song in recognition of Russia’s greatest love machine. In fact, I’m not even going to link to the Christmas song. Watch this lip-sync version of Rasputin instead. They even gave the lead singer a beard. AWESOME. Ohhhhh those Russians.

Christmas song #4: “Home for the Holidays” By Perry Como

I could write a poorly researched and shakily premised essay on America’s post-war culture, but I won’t do that here. You are welcome. The short version is that every country had to manufacture a new normal for themselves, after WWII obliterated the old normal. New myths, rigid cultural norms and roles, and songs that tapped into the longing for a return to “the good ol’ days”. But none of that indulgent speculation is why I like this song. It reminds me of playing Fallout 3, wandering around alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and that makes me happy. Festive!

 

Christmas song #3: “Santa bring my baby back to me” By Elvis Presley

This song is ridiculous, and that makes it delightful. And it moves me to do a variety of odd dances to it, jerky and arrhythmic motions that alarm the pets and worry the family.

Christmas song #2: “Wonderful Christmastime” By Paul McCartney

Possibly the best example of a shamelessly insincere Christmas song. Critics and Serious Music Fans hate it. I love it. If we’re going to pretend to have a good time, why not go over the top?

Christmas song #1: “Last Christmas” By Wham!

WHAM! I love a holiday song that completely ignores everyone else and focuses on your own romantic heartbreak. So self-centered. My only regret is that I did not see the video when it was first released decades ago. What a cinematic epic! A chalet! A long walk to a ski hill, but no skiing! George Michael making sexy eyes at a lady across the table! This is the spirit of Christmas.

And now the very worst Christmas song ever:

“Do they know its Christmas?” by Band Aid

I know this was for charity. It did a lot of good. Raised a lot of money and awareness. But JESUS CHRIST is this the ultimate festive spiritkiller or what? What a piece of maudlin, preachy, and unpleasant music. Each artist oversings their part, trying to shove as much emotion as they can into their bit. They could have written a fun holiday song and donated the proceeds, but nooooo, Bob Geldof wanted to give you the gift of despair for Christmas. I accept that this criticism will be included in the case against me when I stand at the gates of heaven, in the unlikely event that all that godly nonsense is true.

BONUS OFFER:

If 20 of you post a comment saying you need to see it, I will record a terrible video called “Bob Geldof asks Bono to do Band Aid”. I will play both roles. I will use the world’s worst Irish accent. I may even have pathetic costumes. It will be epic.

 

Gut Check!

hippy dippy baloney

I normally dismiss talk of things like intuition and sixth sense as a bunch of hippy dippy baloney, because I am a soreheaded old crank. And the supernatural versions of these ideas are indeed nonsense, according to me, and I am of course the expert in everything everywhere.

But I have come to understand what people mean when they talk about ‘going with your gut’. It’s not a magical predictive organ that gives you insight into the future. If it was, my hefty belly would have me rich and foolishly powerful already.

The gut feeling is the immediate response your mind has to new idea presented to it. It’s a synthesis of various bits of datum and experience, objective facts and subjective feelings, boiled down into a single response. Normally, we build a rational framework after the fact to justify that gut response. The framework isn’t necessarily the reason for you gut response: no no, it is usually just the overly complicated excuse you give yourself.

So I have been working on listening to my gut when it speaks up. It’s a challenge. My anxiety loves to play dress up and masquerade as my gut, as do my longstanding insecurities. And you must be eternally vigilant for the biological overrides. Being sad because you’re tired can lead to false gut responses, and don’t even get me started about the lies your sex drive tells you. I’m amazed we humans ever make rational decisions.

But after filtering all of that out, there’s valuable information to be had by checking in with the old gut. Gut responses are especially useful in situations where there’s no simple answer and too many unknown variables to be certain of anything, like art and politics. You can’t know for sure that your character arc is heading down the wrong path, but your gut may have some advice on the subject. It’s like a low-level spider sense that warns you that something isn’t right or that it may turn out badly.

An untested idea is a useless idea, so I am putting in an effort to keep track of my gut responses and then compare them to the actual results of whatever my gut spoke up about. It may be at the end that my gut is no better than random guessing. On the other hand, even if it isn’t more accurate, my gut feelings can give me a course of action when all choices look equally baffling. A method of short-circuiting analysis paralysis is a nice tool to have in the tool box.

That’s enough out of you, internet

 

brick yelling
The Internet’s profile pic.

I think I am breaking up with social media. Specifically, I am going to take a big ol’ break from twitter. The relationship is pretty toxic.

I loved social media at first. It felt like I was connecting to people outside of the house, finding peers and a social circle packed full of like-minded individuals.

But does social media make me feel good anymore? Nope. Everyone is yelling all the time about things that outrage them. Constantly. There is a new, greatest injustice every 10 minutes-it’s like a parade of agitation. The speed at which these outrages occur force you to quickly make a decision to either support or refute it. No one does research. No one even reads the article whose headline made them so furious.

And I fell right into the trap. I’m a contrarian by nature or by bad habit, so I have to consider the opposite position of every outraged claim that catches my attention in my twitter feed. One after another after another. Too quickly to reasonably research and calmly debate to come to a rational consensus. Just the right side (the one you already agree with) and the bad side that must be argued against with righteous rage. And each time I would remember that arguing

a)accomplishes nothing (sorry if that is a painful realization for you, but everyone is committed to their held beliefs and nothing on earth will move them from those)

b) makes me feel worse than before.

So I would stop myself from launching into pointless internet arguments, letting the arguments pile up in my mental storage room. But that room is packed to the gills with garbage and I want to de-clutter.

The blame ultimately falls on me, because I liked the provocation that social media provides. Bored? Go look for some excitement on the interwebs. But it was bad excitement, hostile stimulation. Now that I’ve noticed the connection between my argument stockpile and my general level of anxiety, I’m severely rationing my social media use.

And not to put too fine a point on it, I didn’t need to know this much about you all. I wanted to see your pictures of your kids and your pets. I wanted to know about the nice things that made you happy. That’s it.

The upside should be a marked increase in blogging (oh and general peace and happiness in my brain. That’s a pretty significant upside. Should have led with that.)

Remember this sound advice from Lisa Simpson and Paul Anka. It works for monsters, and it works for the perpetually outraged: Just Don’t Look.

And don’t be Homer. “Don’t make us poke your eyes out, dad.”

 

You’re not the boss of me, Kate Bush!

kate bush
Blurry Kate Bush is shocked and appalled at my insolence

Because of the circuitous and weird nature of the internet, I found myself watching an interview clip with rapper Big Boi (who you may know from his work as half of the group ‘Outkast’). In the clip he talks about his favourite songs which includes the Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill”. Big Boi says the lyrics are a big part of why he likes it, talking about a couple switching perspectives to understand each other better.

This did not gel with my standing interpretation of the song’s meaning. With no offence intended to Mr. Boi, I dashed to the Google investigation machine and looked for proof that I was right and he was wrong.

Instead I found first-hand proof from the songwriter herself that Big Boi’s interpretation was the one she intended. And I was disappointed. You wanna know why? Sure you do. It’s because this interpretation is much smaller and less epic than the one I had invented.

(Before we continue, I should mention that my preferred version of the song is this one by Placebo, a much sadder version:)

This doesn’t sound like a song about wishing that you could switch bodies temporarily with your love so that they could finally understand how much it cheeses you off when they forget to buy you a birthday cake. This isn’t Freaky Friday. There is a heartbreaking sadness, powerful sense of love, and a crushing sense of futility driving my interpretation. This is because I am OVERLY DRAMATIC!

The chorus is key. “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places.” You don’t make a plea to god to smooth over a romantic misunderstanding. You turn to deals with god (or the devil, for that matter) when all real hope is gone. When you watch helplessly as some wretched tragedy slowly consumes the person you love, and you would take on their pain in a second if it meant that they would be spared. That is the over-the-top, utterly gothic interpretation of the song that I came up with.

After mulling the situation over, I decided I’m sticking with my version of the song. Yes I know the author had different intentions. Nerts to that. It is my right and privilege as the audience to read/misread the work of art as I see fit. Once the art is in the wild, the artist has no say on how the audience interacts with it.

It’s a curse and blessing simultaneously. Curse because someone, somewhere, is going to read your work in the most hostile way possible and twist your words into something toxic, and you can do nothing to stop them. But a blessing when you accept that you cannot control the audience, so you are free to make the art you want to make for yourself.

Sidenote: this is also why artists should never ever ever* explain their work. Let the art speak for itself. Brett Emmons (singer/songwriter for The Glorious Sons) made this video when his record company wanted to preempt controversy over their song ‘Sawed Off shotgun’:

The important line: “I don’t blame them. I am scared too. But I will not explain my song to you”.

Oh, and go listen to ‘Sawed Off shotgun’ because it’s good tune from these Kingston boys.

 

 

 

 

*no not literally, you overly literal nitpicker. There’s always a possibility of an exception to a rule.

Have a Complicated Christmas

gritty claus

(sing the blog post title to the tune of “holly jolly Christmas” for the full experience)

I am not telling you to take a hammer to your holiday to intentionally make it more difficult than it needs to be. If you are having a bog standard, by the numbers Yuletide, then by all means, enjoy it!

But for the rest of you who are watching with building dread as you approach the emotional event horizon, Christmas is a whole other ballgame.

Maybe you are haunted by the ghosts of dysfunctional family Christmas’s past. The fear that your barely cohesive family unit will encounter the crisis that is perpetually stalking you. The stress of trying to handle the erratic behaviours, dependencies and mental health issues of the people surrounding you.

Maybe you’re trying to stay dry in a booze-soaked season. Maybe all the religious talk makes you nervous and uncomfortable. Maybe you’re broke and alone.

Whatever the reason, it’s okay. It is okay to have a complicated Christmas. You choose how you want to interact with all the ho ho ho and fa la la. Do nothing. Do everything. Go wild. Go grinch. Take the parts you like and embrace them with furious intensity. And ignore each and every part that brings you sadness. I give you that permission.

I hope you find a little bit of happiness in every corner of the room.

More delayed gratification

verucaIwantitnow

Do I like waiting for things? A casual study of my way of life would make it clear that no, no I do not. I self-published books 1-4 expressly because I did not want to wait for the world to ask for them. As a consequence, some may say that I rushed in half-cocked to the process and made a lot of mistakes in public. Those people are right.

What makes waiting even worse? Until I turn a book loose onto the unsuspecting public, it is only ‘real’ to me. There is no proof that I have done anything productive with my time. I know, I know, I don’t have to prove to anyone that I have actually been working, but try telling that to my insecurities.

So here’s the ironic situation I find myself in. I have, not one, but TWO unpublished books sitting on my metaphorical desk. The first draft of book 5 of the Spellbound Railway series was finished a few weeks ago (weeks? Sheesh. Time flew by.) And I have a 2nd draft, on the way to a 3rd and possible final draft of my super-secret detective thriller book.

If you’re wondering, those two books represent 2 years of work. Other than me, a total of about 5 folks have read the detective book. Not one other soul has laid eyes on book 5 yet. So much time, and fretting, and cussing has gone into these two novels that the outside world has yet to see.

I have never let a book sit un-released for a few months, much less a whole year. It’s unsettling. And now I have a second book needing exhaustive editing and revising. The to-do list is longer than it has ever been before. To tweak the pressure to get these blasted things out the door, there’s my self-imposed pressure/guilt about bringing home the bacon. Unpublished books don’t make money, honey.

But despite my natural inclination to slapdash my way to the end of a project, I am not going to hurry. I am going to act like a responsible adult doing business. Realistic timelines! Steady progress towards achievable goals! Proper nutrition! The detective book will get its next edit finished up in the next week or so. Then I will query a handful of publishers, to tell them that they need to publish this book. Maybe one of them will answer! Then it will be onto editing book 5.

 

Finishing things is weird

homerchapterWelp, that is that. After slogging through 10 months of various levels of productivity and distraction, I finished the first draft of book 5. And I feel…happy, I guess?

Completing a book is a strange event. It’s a lot like finishing a half-marathon. (It may be like finishing a full marathon as well, but I’ve never run one of those.) Near the end of a long run, the gas tank is empty. Your internal pep talks have become ineffectual. Everything chafes. The only thing that gets you to the finish line is stubborn determination. You force yourself to grind out the last hundred steps to get to the end.

And grind I did, to the tune of 110 000 words. That is a whole lot: in fact, it’s the longest thing I have ever written. Keep in mind, the thing hasn’t seen the merciless eye of the editing process, so the word count is going to change. But for now, the size of the book 5 word heap is 100 grand and change.

You may have noticed that I’ve referred to it by the rather uninspiring title ‘book 5’. That is because a real title hasn’t jumped up and bitten me on the nose yet. Actually, a title did present itself months ago, and I was excited to slap it on as a working title: “The End of All Things”. And then I googled it and found John Scalzi had already used it for one of his books. Dang it. (I still like the title and am tempted to use it, reader confusion be damned)

I should also mention it is the final book in the Spellbound Railway series. Not only did I finish a book, I wrapped up the whole series. You would think that I would have a tremendous sense of elation, accompanied by a wistful melancholy. It took me about 10 years to write all five books. Ten Years! A decade of work! I am getting old! Ah! Wait, that’s a different topic. Nevermind the oldness.

But even though I referred to the book writing process as a gruelling feat of endurance, this one wasn’t as exhausting as previous ones. I think my writing muscles have become stronger.  No amazed declaration of “I can’t believe I actually finished!” this time. I can believe it, because I’ve done it before, and I’ll keep doing it.

Wait a second….is this what being confident in your own skills feels like? Weird.