Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Atheist Christmas" / Robert Crenshaw

Full disclosure: I am not an atheist. I sing in a church choir, in fact. And I love the holiday season, not only because of the glorious traditional music and the gift-giving and the decorations, but also because the story of Jesus laid in a manger means something to me.

Just because I believe the Christmas story, though, doesn't mean I buy everything that Christmas has morphed into in our secular and materialist society. I'm just as annoyed as anybody else by the rampant commercialization of this holiday -- perhaps even more annoyed, because real Christmas matters so much to me. I hate it when self-professed atheists sneer at Christmas because of those abuses.  

So I was wary of this "holiday" song by Robert Crenshaw. (Yes, Marshall Crenshaw's brother, also the drummer on his brother's debut album.) As the title track of his new EP, it's kind of an in-your-face declaration. But Robert is a fine songwriter and musician in his own right, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I'm so glad I did . . .

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The point is, even if you don't officially "believe" in Jesus, there is much about this holiday to love. This song is about resurrecting all of that.  "The holidays are complicated," he acknowledges right off the bat, noting that the winter solstice -- the original pagan holiday -- "doesn't have Santa Claus." I get where he's coming from. The liner notes include a circa 1960 snapshot of the Crenshaw boys with a department store Santa, an event Marshall too has referenced in his song "Live and Learn" from Jaggedland. I get a warm feeling just thinking about the Crenshaw family Christmas.
 
Because Christmas can fill some holes in the soul. In the second verse, Robert elaborates: "This year I really needed Christmas / We put up lights and got a tree / We got presents for family and friends / Some dogs and cats got some treats." It sounds so simple, but take it away, and what are you left with?
 
It's being with family that matters, of course, but also honoring traditions. (Love the line in verse three, "We loved the Christmas songs, many written by Jews.") Yearning for tried-and-true comforts himself, he gives us a charmingly retro arrangement, with all the cheesy details we fall for this time of year -- a wintry flute, snowflake spangles of percussion, caroling harmonies from the back-up singers. 
 
In the chorus, he surrenders happily to the whole shebang: "So I'm having an atheist Christmas / I know it's crazy, but so? Ho Ho Ho. / And I hope you find yourself in a moment of pure bliss / Under the mistletoe / With beautiful lights and snow." There it is, wrapped up in shiny paper and tied with a bow. Even if you don't believe in Christ, here's something heart-warming you can believe in.  It's so, so, SO much better than nothing.   

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