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… like the others.
The context: Christmas songs.
The exceptions: Songs that mention a winter holiday but are not in spirit, sound or otherwise, holiday music. Some of these songs are downright beautiful and I have to stop in my tracks whenever I hear them (Hallelujah, River) but they certainly do not put me in a festive or celebratory mood. In fact, they can be downright depressing. Yet they are included in “holiday” compilations and played in stores with the usual holiday music.
Do we have here a case of subject / keyword confusion? You decide:
“Hallelujah” written by Leonard Cohen (my favorite renditions are by k.d. lang and Allison Crowe)
One of sexiest and saddest songs ever written, but this “hallelujah” is not the Christmas-Baby-Jesus kind of hallelujah:
well, maybe there’s a god above
but all i’ve ever learned from love
was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
it’s not a cry that you hear at night
it’s not somebody who’s seen the light
it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah
“River” written by Joni Mitchell
She just went through a break up. She’s thinking of running away. Not holiday music:
I’m so hard to handle
I’m selfish and Im sad
Now Ive gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I made my baby say goodbye
“New Year’s Day” written by U2
Okay, maybe this one is just me, but every time I hear this song I think it’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and that doesn’t put me in a holiday mood either, as much as I adore U2:
And so we’re told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
On New Year’s Day
… to one of my all-time favorite bands: Pink Martini. This song, especially, makes me feel happy whenever I listen to it and I just found a clip of it from the Letterman Show, so I have to share:
lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” … wordled by yours truly
I’ve seen two very different movies in the past two days that have one thing in common: the actors were also musicians, and the films worked music into the stories in such brilliant ways that the performers could look perfectly natural and pleased to be playing their music. And I saw something in these two movies and their use of music that has been sadly missing from many a story these days.
The first film was the new indie flick Once that has the obvious music plot of two starving musicians trying to make music. Sure, you can read that and think it sounds pretty cliché – I did, too – but the movie is beautiful in its simplicity. And the music is … sad and happy. I really liked it.
We didn’t watch the second movie for its music but for its connection to the famous Groucho Marx letter to Warner Brothers. The movie is, of course, A Night in Casablanca. I’ve never been a big Marx Brothers fan, too much slapstick for my taste. This movie had two magical scenes, however, that both involved music. First we have Chico covering for a bandleader at the piano. You know a musician is good when he makes it look so easy. Chico plays as though he’s just doodling on a piano, improvising a little something for the camera, teasing his audience with a little Liszt. Later on, Harpo is alone with a Rembrandt of a lovely woman and a harp. He plays to his Rembrandt mistress, but it’s the only time in the whole film when he’s absolutely serious. That is what struck me most about Chico’s and Harpo’s performances – the way their faces completely change while they’re playing. For those few moments, all the slapstick is finally gone and the over-the-top pranks are put aside and they just play. They just make music, and it’s downright beautiful music. For me, I feel like I had to put up with the rest of the 85 minutes just to see those two performances.
But the song in my head for the past two days is “Romeo and Juliet” by Indigo Girls, which has nothing to do with either movie… except perhaps the line “it’s just that the time was wrong” which would fit into Once perfectly.
I’ve been a fan of the band Magnetic Fields ever since I heard their “i” album. This week I’ve been listening to the “69 Love Songs” set for the first time, a very appropriate choice for this time of the year… semester deadlines, application deadlines, holiday gifting and carding deadlines. The ironies and contradictions of this season are so perfect with Stephin Merritt’s morbid sense of humor. Stephin Merritt’s irony is so perfect with just about everything, actually. Surely, everyone in academia is familiar with the absurdities required by all the university bureaucratic red tape and can sympathize with songs that have such great titles and lyrics as:
“I’m like a chicken with its head cut off”
“I’m crazy about you, but not that crazy”
“What if the show didn’t go on
What if we all got jobs and went to bed before dawn…”