Highlights of last weekend’s family Christmas tree-cutting, minus the tree-cutting this year for schedule and other reasons: multiple types of mac and cheese, multiple types of cornbread, multiple types of cookies, cousin Molly’s boyfriend Matt giving piano accompaniment for the first time, Molly putting together songbooks of the big secular carols for the first time, the whole family as a result making it all the way Frosty the Snowman for the first time ever (instead of getting stuck as usual on the thumpity-thump-thumps), Lori taking dozens of relatives in stride, and, despite the lack of the tree-cutting trip outside, plenty of warmth.
You may not know the name Bill Studwell, but if you’ve ever Googled a Christmas carol, you may know his work. Until dying this fall, Studwell was the nation’s greatest expert on carols. On top of his day job at a Northern Illinois University library, he studied carols and examined one in depth every year at the holidays. Five years ago, my blogging about modern carol-writing’s struggles inevitably ran into his good research.
Take some time to read the Chicago Tribune‘s story this month about Studwell. After his death from lymphoma complications, his family, a trusted friend and a supportive university are both concluding his 25-year holiday series and keeping their own holiday celebrations alive.
(The carol most often in my head this year? Let It Snow. Not because I want snow. After last winter, I could do without it anytime soon this winter. But I like the mix of sentiments in the lyrics, all one big wish.)
Local WASH switched to its all-Christmas format on Friday, beginning the period when I listen to the station even less than I did before.
Don’t get me wrong. I love good Christmas music. My family and the cousins sing carols every year at the Christmas tree cutting (three weeks away), and my shelves have two Marah Christmas releases, one of the many Elvis Christmas albums (following a tape I had as a kid), the Shalitas Christmas EP, and the Springsteen Santa Claus Is Coming to Town CD single. But I’m not willing to give up my scruples and say an all-Christmas, all-the-time format is healthy. There are too many songs like The Christmas Shoes in the world. I need to fight.
Saw Love Actually the other night, which I hadn’t seen in a couple years, and I’m not going to comment on my state at the movie’s end. Let’s go with manly and stoic. But it was good to get my first listen of the holiday season to — I’ve said it before in this blog, I’ll sure say it again — by far the best Christmas song of the past several decades.
SonyBMG has done YouTube the humbug of uploading a pixelated version that you can’t embed (way to protect 1994’s free content!), so we’re going with the Dailymotion video. All I Want for Christmas Is…
Where do you find sexy radio? If you’ve ever watched any channel formerly known as UHF in Washington for any length of time in recent years, you’ve seen commercials for 97.1 WASH-FM. It is not sexy radio. The station brings you soft rock for 11 months a year and Christmas music for one. The holidays bring frequent playings of Christmas Shoes, and that should tell you something about January-November.
So should the TV spots. Several 3-D, low-budget animated people sit in an office, bored and downtrodden. One surfs to a screen showing the call letters and somehow this action starts the radio. The glittering sound of Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe cascades into the room, and the workers stand up at their desks to dance. It is “Washington’s at-work station.”
And the song there is important. With my itchy station trigger and my lack of love lost for soft rock, generally the only two songs that make me stop on WASH-FM are All I Want for Christmas Is You and White’s You’re the First, the Last, My Everything. The latter is overplayed in the world but not as much as Can’t Get Enough is overplayed. Besides, heavy bass plus disco orchestra are a good thing. They’re like a vitamin. They’re not a whole meal, but a tiny dose is healthy.
But what should the station play today — what should it play, my friends — but a third Barry White song. It popped up in passing and there it was. The song was a deep soul groove, deeper and deeper, “deeper and deeper” as Barry’s gut utters, an act of spinning musical hypnotism: I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More, Baby.
And it’s a bedroom song. It’s a certain kind of bedroom song. It’s a late-nite jam, reserved for a time when you are beyond musical criticism. Hearing it on WASH-FM, it’s the most unintentionally format-inappropriate song I’ve heard in five years. Barry doesn’t sing too fast, he stops … to talk … at points … and the rise of the music waits for him all the way. Read the lyrics and listen. Oh my.
It’s not a song you want to hear with your dentist, your orthodontist, your opthamologist, your cubicle mates, your accounting department, or anyone else with whom you might possibly share listening to “Washington’s at-work station.” You can’t enjoy it. You don’t want them to enjoy it. But Barry wants you all to enjoy it. At work.
And he is your colleague. He is with you now and until the end of time. He is your colleague in love, the Walrus of Love. He sits next to your desk, singing to you of his love, and hums when you must concentrate. He is a great supporter of you and your work. And while it might be hard to understand the depth of this love, if your office plays the song, baby … the Walrus approves.
Night of Silence? It skips my mind every year until it’s sung at Christmas Eve Mass, but the atmosphere, simultaneously traditional and modern, is almost tangible.