Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Musical Advent Calendar

"A Change at Christmas
(Say It Isn't So)" /
The Flaming Lips

Instead of a glitter-spangled scene with doors for every day of December, how about a daily treat from my iTunes holiday playlist?

Let me start out by confessing that I know nothing about the Flaming Lips. They first hit the scene in the late 1980s, when I was completely uninterested in new music for various reasons, and despite the fact that some people whose taste I vastly respect are huge Flaming Lips fans, I just never  . . . bothered.  If I were sufficiently motivated, I could always remedy that omission, but -- well, life is too short to follow every good band out there.

But in my search for Christmas music, I was thrilled to uncover this gem, from their 2003 EP Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell.

Those cheesy spangly synths at the beginning get me in the holiday spirit right away, and I have a weakness for that "live in the studio" effect where the musicians do their countdowns.  It makes me forgive the shambolic texture of this song -- no rhymes, no catchy melody, no crisp arrangement with choirs and strings.  Set against the slickness of so many holiday songs, this one is bracingly different.

Singer Wayne Coyne sounds almost apologetic, uncertain, mumbling about change and the future and hey, you never know.  He sets us up for ambiguity. But verse two suddenly zeroes in on the point: "Oh, if I could stop time / It would be a frozen moment just around Christmas / When all of mankind reveals its truest potential / And there is sympathy for the suffering / Yes, there is sympathy for those who are suffering."  I can just feel the glimmer of hope in his voice, and it rings truer because he doesn't sound like a guy who normally has a lot of faith in human nature.

But if we can do this at Christmas time -- well, why stop there?  He puzzles, "And it's glimpsed for one shining moment / And this change feels like a change that's real / But then it passes along with the season / And then we just go back to the way we were / Yes, we just go back to the way we were." Why is that, anyway?

In the last verse, a friend tells him that it's just human nature, not to expect more of people. But in his kinda geeky, real-guy voice he struggles to believe better -- to dream, to say it isn't so, not to give up on the human race.

Is this an optimistic song?  That's for you to decide. But I cling to his glimpse of Christmas bringing out the best in people -- and his hope that someday we'll find a way to make that happen year round.. 

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