Music to survive the blasted holidays with
Jerry Seinfeld began the “Pony Remark” episode with this:
“I am not much for the family gathering. You know, you sit there, and the conversation’s so boring. It’s so dull. And you start to fantasize. You know, you think, what if I just got up and jumped out that window? What would it be like? Just crashed right through the glass…You know. Come back in, there’s broken glass, everybody’s all upset. “No, I’m alright. I was just a little bored, there. No, I’m fine. I came back. I wanted to hear a little about that Hummel collection, Aunt Rose. Let’s pick it up right there.”
Here is how you survive the holidays:
1) Before you start drinking or forget, or both, find out where the music is being played and what’s doing the playing (CD, iPod, tape). I don’t know how all families work but I do know that there’s usually some kind of background music playing at any of my family’s gatherings. My mother’s favorite is playing La Boheme, which can be kind of a bummer when (SPOILER ALERT!) it gets to the part when Mimi dies. Anyway, after the opera is over there’s usually a couple Nat King Cole tunes, followed by Louis Armstrong with Ella Fitzgerald, and eventually that gets old. But maybe you’re not even luck enough to have Ella Fitzgerald bee-bop and scat for most of the evening. Maybe your family is into Mathis, Manilow, or G (Kenny G that is).
2) You must infiltrate this bad music bunker by any means necessary. Slip your iPod in, make a mix CD of the songs you like mixed in with some old favorite. But what songs do you choose?
Here is a solid base of songs that will keep you from falling off your chair and won’t cause your Nana to put her hands over her ears and yell, “What is that racket!”
Tom Waits. I know you’re thinking, it doesn’t get any weirder than Tom Waits, and my conservative grandfather will never allow it. Hear me out. I’m not suggesting you play just any old Tom Waits song, you can’t be putting on “God’s Away on Business,” but you can definitely put on “Alice,” “I’m Still Here,” or “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” There is something very winter-timey about those songs, as if Charlie Brown’s eccentric grandfather is playing them. I bet my life that right in the middle of your grandfather re-telling how he bet his cousin Jimmy $100 that the Baltimore Colts would lose Super Bowl III, “The Piano Has Been Drinking,” will cut the harsh boredom at least a little. Either way you’ll be sure you’re family won’t even notice you’ve put on a song about drinking yourself so silly you think inanimate objects have been really boozing it up (not you, of course).
There’s something about the holiday season that feels like your favorite childhood movie, like “Home Alone,” but not in a good way. After a while you know the entire dialog by heart, the suspense is gone, it’s no longer as much fun as you remember. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun because you certainly can, you just can’t expect to get the same thrill from the same old response to the holidays.
Depending on your family’s disposition, try playing anything off of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” Some other good un-holiday-holiday-music is: Whiskeytown, “What the Devil Wanted,” and Elliott Smith, “Bye,” both of which sound like they could be on the soundtrack for “Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Try playing that new Bob Dylan tune, “Must be Santa,” even if you’re not celebrating Christmas because it’s pure unadulterated fun.
Now that you’ve gotten through dinner comes the cleanup and if your family is anything like mine, you always get roped into at least scraping plates. This is also where Dylan would be handy, play “Nashville Skyline Rag,” and “Wigwam.” These songs are probably Dylan’s best instrumentals; I don’t believe he had too many others: “Suz (cough song)” and in part “All The Tired Horses.” Either way, you’ll be set. Other post-dinner tunes would be “Pretty Little Martha,” and “After Your Gone,” by Loudon Wainwright III.
By the time you get through strategically placing all those little un-holiday gems for the night you’ll be so exhausted you probably won’t even remember you’re bored. You’ll be so excited you’ll barely be able to contain yourself! But remember, don’t go celebrating so much you don’t get invited back and always remember the holy trinity of Waits, Dylan, and Wainright. Play it cool and it’ll all be OK.
In case of holiday disaster break glass:
∫ Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me”
∫ Chet Baker, “But Not for Me”
∫ Donny Hathaway, “Sugar Lee”
∫ Nina Simone, “My Baby Just Cares for Me”
∫ Andrew Bird, “Savoy” and “Untitled” (both off “The Mysterious Production of Eggs”)
Contact Ben at email@example.com