There seems to be an insane amount of Christmas music around this year. I am not sure if it is actually more prolific than usual, if I happen to be noticing it more, or if it’s just the fact that the less showy singers seem to be more involved that they have been in the past. A short list off the top of my head – I’m hearing Aimee Mann’s Christmas stuff all over the place, and she put on some concerts. I saw a Sufijan Stevens Christmas album (no surprise there, really). Sarah McLaughlin too. And this big family gathering put on by the Wainwright/McGarrigle clan. And I just don’t really get it.
From the audience’s perspective, what inspires people to want to listen to an entire album, or an entire concert, of Christmas music? I think this just might be a personal choice, one that I have never agonized over, that some people are actually emotionally attached to Christmas music, and to hear one of their favorite artists sing it can be a worthwile experience. To me it sounds like an afterschool special from, if not hell, then at least our high school holiday assemblies.
Additionally, it seems like a marketing scam. As if all of the Christmas frenzy hasn’t already consumed far too much of our time, worry, and money, the music industry – no, the halfway respectable part of the music industry, specifically – is trying to grab their piece of the pie. It’s never so much bothered me that the crooners, the chansonniers of the world have been doing it for ages, like Dean Martin or Bette Midler or Mariah Carey. And I suppose that when I say “respectable” I don’t actually mean “respectable,” since there’s plenty to respect about DM, BM, MC, etc. What I mean is something entirely different, but rather than edit my words I’ll just unwrap it this way.
What I incorrectly dub as “respectable” artists are artists with whom I identify. Artist that I can see parts of myself in, and in whom I want to be able to see parts of my self or future self, or past self, or all of them.
Hence, when someone like Aimee Mann, who is easily one of the most important people in this category for me, puts out an album that I interpret as pandering, I am really put off by it. And there’s a lot of pandering to go around these days.
And of course I want Aimee Mann to be able to continue her career, and succeed, so that there can be more great music and all that. But from an artist’s perspective, I just feel like I lose a bit of respect in situations like these. Thus the use of “respectable.”
But I am a purist. And you gotta do what you gotta do, and hell, maybe these people actually wanted to do something like this. It seems to me, though, to be more of a symptom of the flailing industry model and the gasps of breath that people are lunging for at any opportunity. Understandably. This could be part of a larger lesson in the realities of life for me also. It’s sort of that time. Aimee Mann, just like me or anyone else, has to weigh the sacrifices against the rewards, and I doubt there are many tangible things that retain their idealogical purity anyhow. And in addition to that, there are plenty of people whom I respect that disappoint me in certain ways, and you have to learn how to process that, and learn from the disappointments along with the encouragement.
The Nields, who appeared in my bizarre dream last night, have this great song on an old album (Bob On The Ceiling) called “Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones,” and it’s a rare specimen: a song sort of about Christmas, with Christmas in the title, that still manages to use the context in an intriguing way, to make a song that can be listened to at any time of the year, no holiday misery/euphoria necessary.