Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Lumberjack Christmas" /
Sufjan Stevens

So while we're still in the market for dysfunctional Christmas songs...

If I wanted, I could do a musical advent calendar with just Sufjan Stevens songs; he records a Christmas EP every year, or at least he has since 2001, releasing them in 5-CD sets every few years. This one comes from his 2012 Christmas box set Silver & Gold; the track was actually recorded in 2006.

I keep meaning to listen to more of Sufjan Stevens' music. C'mon, I've gotta love an artist who proposes to do an album about each of the 50 states -- and starts with Michigan and Illinois. (He's originally from Michigan, Detroit-born in fact, but he now lives in, where else? Brooklyn.) I'm intrigued by the baroque layers of his recordings, too. But some of his music is so alternative it makes my head spin. I mean, I like quirky and I like absurdist, but at times it's too much work to figure out what he's trying to say.

Like this song:

It starts out all squeezeboxy Appalachian, with this mythic figure (the lumberjack?): "Oh, no, the rugged soul / The great backyard and the cold North Pole" but pretty soon that jaunty tune dumps us right back in our mundane lives -- "I resent that Santa went / And left us in the Alamo."  (Though in verse 2 Sufjan relents, believing optimistically that "Santa left / To save his kids from the winter cold.")

 Meanwhile, our singer is inviting someone (a lover? a beautiful stranger? us?) to have a Christmas drink and dance with him.  He's not one hundred percent sure about this Christmas thing, he admits in wistfully descending lines -- "I've got a premonition / That Christmas is a vision" -- but he's willing to give it a shot. Why not?

"If drinking makes it easy," he coaxes, "The music's kinda cheesy / The specials on the TV / Ho ho ho ho ho." How's that for ambivalent?

All the same, it's such a toe-tapping tune, he's already got me feeling festive.  So what if our modern commercialized Christmas is a big tinsel-wrapped fake?

And in the final section, he declares a sort of truce. "No one can save you from Christmases past," he sings blithely, resolutely pushing aside whatever bad Yuletide juju may have accumulated over the years.  "You'll have to love it or leave it at last." And as his perky chorus of singers repeats this mantra over and over, the scales definitely tip toward loving it.

'Cause why not? Might as well. Don't cost nothin'...

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