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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: The Music of the Holidays

Everyone is running around these days, stressed to the breaking point. Why do we do this to ourselves? This is the time to focus on the things that really matter, as the year is drawing to a close. But as with all the seasons in our lives, societal expectations successfully convince us that we are less than we are, and the only way to alleviate that guilt is by feeding the consumer machine, cluttering the houses of those we love with more gifts, while they clutter our houses in turn. True, buying gifts for others can show that we care, but many feel that the task of gift-giving can be a burden, rather than a privilege.

I’ll admit, I just haven’t been feeling it this year, and I think it’s due to my discovery a few years ago that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. In other words, I see all of the commercialism and “having things” pales in comparison to “experiencing things.” Truth is, if I want something that is less than $100, I’ll buy it for myself. If it’s more than $100, I wouldn’t ask anyone to buy it for me; hence, the dilemma. I remember watching the Santa Clause 3 recently (don’t judge me), and a quote from the “Jack Frost Santa” was said for comedic effect, but it really isn’t all that inaccurate: “Kids, remember how much your parents love you depends on how much they spend on your presents!”

As is the case at many points in my life when I feel lost, I escape into music. And Christmas has some of the best. You have to be careful with it, though; play it too early, and people are all over your case about it. In addition, there are infinite versions of each song, so debates arise over whose rendition is the best. There are a few factors to consider when picking your favorites.

First, you must decide if you go classic versus contemporary. Musicians release albums every year, so things get more complicated with each passing year. Some versions are untouchable, such as Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” (Kinda glad a whole host of colored Christmases never took off). It has to be something unique to get attention, such as the doo-wop version of “White Christmas” from the Drifters (that Irving Berlin, the composer, hated by the way), or the fantastic Porky the Pig version of “Blue Christmas,” complete with stuttering. When your favorite group puts out an album, they’re sure to sing your favorite version of many songs.

Then there are religious songs versus secular songs. I’m not sure why folks become so preoccupied with dwelling on or avoiding religious songs. If you’re coming from a place that doesn’t believe in Jesus, leave it to those who do, and none the two shall mix. After all, “peace on earth” is the big sentiment this time of year, so why not observe it? I’m not afraid to admit that a good version of “O Holy Night” gives me goosebumps in a way that “Frosty the Snowman” never could.

Some are so unique, they occupy their own place in the pantheon. I doubt there will ever be a ton of versions of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” is fantastic as well, and who could forget the classic duet of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy?" I also like diving into contemporary rock songs that have their own spin, like “Father Christmas” from the Kinks or “Sock It To Me, Santa” by Bob Seger.

And then, there are times where you’re surprised by a version so much, it becomes your favorite. That is the case with “O Holy Night,” with my favorite version from, of all groups, N’Sync. Completely a capella and beautiful. Hopefully, they don’t take my rock card from me. And for all the versions of “Little Drummer Boy,” thanks to the magic of Facebook, Of King and Country’s version is my favorite. And for one particular classic, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” audio alone isn’t enough for me – it comes with video as well. I will never hear this song without thinking about George Bailey and his holiday existential crisis in Frank Capra’s legendary “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Who is Christmas royalty? Mariah Carey thinks she is, since her song “All I Want For Christmas is You” is the most popular of all time, according to someone. We thaw her out after Halloween every year so she can lord over us in temporary relevance for a couple of months. But when I think about it, outside that song, she really doesn’t have any memorable versions of anything – hardly regal. In fact, I’m not even sure she belongs in the royal court. To me, royalty is reserved for the classic Christmas albums, ones whose every track is memorable. Nat King Cole comes to mind (now THAT’S regal!), as well as Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Christmas artists, and Elvis’ Christmas album is fantastic. I guess what I’m saying is, settle down, Mariah. Enjoy the most wonderful time of the (Mariah Carey's) year.

As with all music topics, I could go on about this for hours. Fortunately for the reader, I will not. This will be my last blog post of the year, and I’m grateful to all of you who have read my musings over the past year. I will be ready to rock in the new year! May all your dreams come true this holiday, may you enjoy the comfort of those who love you, and may you not have to confront someone who has made an eyesore of their yard, like someone down the street from me. Two words…mating deer. As a token of my gratitude for everyone who reads this, I have made a playlist of my favorite holiday tunes, and it can be found here. Enjoy! And until the new year, be excellent to each other, and…

Party on, Rudolph. (I swear this picture is unedited)

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