Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Christmastime" /
Aimee Mann

It's pouring rain here in New York City -- rain, not snow, on December 23rd -- and I couldn't get a cab to save my life.  So the last two presents I need to buy better be available still tomorrow. I couldn't sleep last night, worrying about all the things I need to get done before Friday.  Why did we think holidays were a good idea?

When I get in a funk like this, somehow I crave listening to Aimee Mann.  And here she is, with a Yuletide version of her trademark cynical melancholy.


From her 2006 Christmas album One More Drifter in the Snow (gotta love that ironical title), this song was written by Aimee's husband, the wonderful Michael Penn, along with Jon Brion. I love it when the morose magic of Aimee's voice is kicked up a notch by Michael's wry humor and clear-eyed perceptions.  
"It's Christmas again, December is here," she begins, in a diffident drawl, "Hasn't it been a wonderful year?"  Is it just me, or do I detect a note of sarcasm there?
It's a flawed holiday, at best. "And on the tree all the ornaments glow / Tinsel will cover where the branches don't grow."  Maybe that just because she's an outsider, looking in, but the merry streetscape sure seems like a cruel cliché. "There's lights on all the houses / Spouses with their spouses / Children playing in the snow."  I especially love that line "Spouses with their spouses," and how her voice lifts, so wistfully, on the second "spouses."  I find myself getting all tangled up in the gender politics of that innocent word, which is always relational -- you can't just be "a spouse," you have to be somebody's spouse. And right now, apparently, she isn't.  
I can just hear the shrug in her spirit as she muses, "Keeping on track's another matter of course /  That's the great divisor / You are now the wiser / Maybe just a bit less so." Yeah, she's holding it all together, but it's so much effort. "Touch and go 'til you stop on a dime / All alone at Christmastime."
And -- as always in a Michael Penn song -- you've got no one to blame but your own capacity for self-deception. In the last verse she ruefully admits, "Look at your behavior / Looking for a savior / Underneath the mistletoe."  I love the double meaning of savior here -- not Jesus, as the hymns proclaim, but the Mr. Right she's still waiting for.
(Yup, this is pretty much the heart-scarred Mann/Penn party line -- read here for more.)
A holiday downer?  I suppose it could be. But me, I see it as a compassionate reality check. Why do we feel forced to pretend that our lives are perfect when this season rolls around?  No one's life is perfect.  It's okay to feel loss and melancholy, whatever the calendar says. And if that's where you are in life right now -- well, you've got some pretty comforting company in Aimee Mann and Michael Penn.  

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