Three other Christmas song essentials...

Over the past week I have been thinking about the secular Christmas tunes that continue to carry value and power. Some of my favorites include: "Merry Christmas, Baby," (Springsteen version) "Run, Run Rudolf," (Dave Edmunds) "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"(the Boss again) and the Elvis classics (which were the A/B side of the original 45 rpm way back in the day) "Blue Christmas/Santa Claus is Back in Town." (And oooops... I forget to mention Greg Lake's, "I Believe in Father Christmas," too. Thanks Steve.) These are all fun, upbeat songs that play with the tradition and help us rock, too.

There are three others, however, that speak to the suffering of the world and embrace the upside down values of Christ's kingdom. My favorite is "Peace on Earth" by U2. It was written after the Good Friday peace accords between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In the wake of the end of the armed struggle, a fringe group of the IRA detonated car bombs in the heart of Omagh to keep the ugly resistance alive. Bono has said that this was one of the times when his faith was most deeply shaken - the senseless slaughter of the innocent - because hope had been raised so high. And he goes on to name some of the children and parents who were slain by name: Breda Devine, aged 20 months; Sean McLaughlin, 12; Julia Hughes, 21; Gareth Conway, 18; and Ann McCombe, 48. This song is arguably the mature cousin of "Wake Up, Dead Man" and "Drowning Man " from their earlier recordings.

In many ways U2 picks up where John Lennon left off (something they consciously do in other songs, too, like "God: Part Two.) It is "prefigurative" in the trust that we can't create something without first being able to imagine it. While U2 laments the tragedy, Lennon points towards the possibilities. Where U2 takes a specific tragedy and finds the universal truth, Lennon reaches for the sky and invites us to incarnate it in our own context (although this was written during the Vietnam debacle.) So I sense that both songs are true - it is that both/and paradox - that causes us to weep and celebrate together. And over the long haul this song stands up better for me than most of Lennon's rants. I recently watched his "Live in NYC with Elephant's Memory" and most of his overtly political songs sounded trite and without poetry or grace. Ok for the moment like most topical songs, but without any lasting power. But this one... continues to ring true.

And then there is Joni Mitchell's profoundly meloncholic, "River." In so many ways it captures what this season feels like to those who are alone or wounded. It is simultaneously beautiful and relentlessly sad at the same time. In many ways the song is perfect as it evokes feelings with a gentle nudge, but never feels the need to resolve them. Just as the song itself fades away into a Chritmas carol... it speaks to our anguish and heartache and loss. Incredible.

Comments

SGF said…
I have always liked Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's I Believe in father Christmas!!!
James said…
Ooops... I forgot to mention that today although I noted it earlier. I will make a correction.
Black Pete said…
These definitely beat "Little Saint Nick" by a mile, although I have a soft spot in my heart for Dr. Seuss's "Christmas Time is Here" from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"--the 1966 version, thanks, narrated by Boris Karloff.
Black Pete said…
Or maybe that should read "Welcome Christmas". Thurl Ravenscroft, the magnificent bass voice who sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and sang in ensemble in the soundtrack of Grinch, remarked that they rehearsed "those bizarre songs" from a couple of hours, taped it, and he had to rush back to another gig. Although he was also the voice of Tony the Tiger, I remember him more fondly as Kirby the Vacuum Cleaner in The Brave Little Toaster.

Popular Posts