Friday, December 22, 2006

Can't Get It Out Of My Head

I spend most of my out my out of the house time at one of four places: the gym, the supermarket, the thrift store, and my mother's house. What these places all have in common (in addition to me) is that they are playing the Christmas music right now. My mom is let off the hook on this because she is doing it in self-defense, to keep my dad from playing right wing talk radio (at least this is what she says, however, I know dad is listening to NPR on his side of the house, so I am not sure if this is just what she is telling me so that I don't get all grinchy with her). But the gym, the supermarket, and the thrift store are playing the radio station that has been playing Christmas music since Halloween. Which means I have heard every rendition of Jingle Bells, Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Baby, It's Cold Outside, and Santa Baby ever recorded. Which isn't terrible, really (hey, you should hear the stuff played at the thrift store the rest of the year). However, the song which I have heard an inordinate number of times, a song about which I had almost forgotten as I don't think I have heard it since it was released twenty odd years ago, is Last Christmas by Wham!

I'm afraid I will have to vociferously disagree with whoever contributed to the Wikipedia entry on this song. It is most definitely NOT one of the great cultural achievements of our time. I do completely agree with the bit in the wiki entry which notes that the song has almost nothing to do with Christmas and the small reference in the chorus was just added in order to cash in on the holiday market.

The song drives me nuts.

For starters, doesn't anyone remember how totally beautiful George Michael was back then? And he was fairly articulate and had a gorgeous voice. How the heck am I supposed to believe that anyone would dump him and/or cheat on him? I know, I know, beauty, eloquence, and the voice of an angel aren't everything and everyone gets their heart broken, but still, it is a bit much to expect us mere mortals to believe that almost anyone, man or woman, who received George Michael's heart for Christmas would give it away (especially not the very next day).

But really, that isn't the problem. George Michael wrote some other breakup songs which rang true, my inability to believe is not simply a function of George Michael seeming like the 80s version of Bryan Ferry (another man whose heartbreak in songs seemed unbelievable to me-I mean, he's Bryan Ferry, who the hell would break up with someone so suave and sophisticated and attractive? Then I watched the Jerry Hall E! True Hollywood Story and had my answer, but I digress.) The problem is the song and melody are so simplistic. I don't doubt that the character in the song has had his heart broken, but I also don't imagine that the character is over the age of thirteen and his definition of love is one involving fantasy, milk shakes, and hand holding i.e. I expect that the protagonist won't even remember this girl five years from now and, if he does, it will be with sort of rueful embarrassment, a "how silly was I to even call that emotion love?" sort of memory. I didn't even buy it when I was thirteen and had never had my heart broken.

The song is twinkie and simple and, for most of the song, George sounds like he is phoning in his performance. He sounds as committed to the song as Gwen Stefani sounded to her wretched cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life, except, in that case, the reason she sounds so overprocessed and simple is because she doesn't have nearly as much talent as her PR people want us to believe. That and she didn't write the song (not that I am opposed to covers, but seriously, why bother if you are only going to put out a crap product to which it is embarrassing to listen?) But George Michael has a great deal of singing talent and wrote the song and, when you read the lyrics, there are moments which are not simple ("A face on a lover with a fire in his heart, A man under cover but you tore him apart" for example), so why does he only bust out his voice towards the end? Because it happens, just as one is about to discount the song, you hear him sing over the chorus "you gave me away" and there is so much emotion in his voice that, frankly, he transcends the song, he is no longer some kid who has been dumped for another, he is the abandoned child confronting his parents, the man who returns home to his family only to find all the locks have been changed on the doors, he is the person with wounds which time cannot heal--in short, all the emotion that he failed to put into the rest of the song is that one line and it is heartbreaking. It is that one line, I am positive, which makes it impossible for me to shake the song from my consciousness.

I hear the song every day. I find I have grown to want to hear the song so that I get it out of the way because, oddly enough, I only hear it once a day, so if I don't hear it early on, it is like torture waiting and wondering when I will be ambushed by the song. I find myself humming the song in public when it isn't being played. I can't understand why this song has crawled out of the woodwork after all these years to torment me.

This time of year is stressful enough even if you aren't being stalked by the Ghost of Bad Christmas Songs Past. The only thing worse, really would be to be haunted by the Ghost of Bad Christmas Songs Present. If I must be followed by bad holiday songs, is it too much to ask for the Ghost of Bad Christmas Songs Future chase me around?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just watched About a Boy yesterday - which, if you haven't read the book or seen the movie - has a protagonist whose father wrote a hit Christmas song. His reaction when it becomes "that time of year" and starts getting played everywhere he goes is pretty funny.

Don't worry - it will all be over soon :-)

alimum said...

I did think of About A Boy in all of this (both book and movie), but the Hugh Grant film which really brings it home is Love, Actually and the whole Christmas #1 phenomenon which happens in England (I witnessed this a few years back when we spent our holidays in Britain)...I haven't heard the song since I wrote this, which I feel is a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I'll take Last Christmas over The Christmas Shoes anyday. Now that is a bad Christmas song.

hedda said...

funny story about that song: Walter has an employee here for the next few months from their India office. He (the employee) was having a hard time with the karoake portion of our christmas party, and as we were driving him home, this song came on. He said that "last christmas" was the only christmas song he knew, but he didn't want to suggest it because it was a woman singing. I spit on myself.