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Musical Space

Musical Space: Blue Xmas


Let’s face it, Christmas has been engineered for the kids. It’s pretty uncomplicated for anyone under 12: winter vacation, TV cartoons, toys and stockings. The music, too, is simple — all jingle bells and ho, ho, ho.

Holiday music for adults doesn’t have the same easy charm. Sure, there are carols arranged in R&B style, but that’s been done to death. Nobody really feels nostalgia for “White Christmas,” and I’m going to come right out and say that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is not a very good song.

These don’t work because Christmas is a little more emotionally complex for us grown-ups. The holidays come with adult responsibilities, and Santa Claus doesn’t always come through. Even if you don’t suffer from full-blown Holiday Depression Syndrome, you might not necessarily be feeling how you’re supposed to feel.

Professionals say that the first step to dealing with negative feelings is to acknowledge them, and if you dig a little bit, you can find music that helps you get those feelings out. Don’t feel guilty for being a bit conflicted about the holidays, good art can encompass contradiction. Just look to the musicians you can relate to; they probably have music that expresses how you feel.

As a Miles Davis fan, I was elated to find his hip and cynical recording of “Blue Xmas” with composer and singer Bob Dorough (who did many "Schoolhouse Rock episodes). 

(Music: Miles Davis Sextet, Bob Dorough, words and vocals, “Blue Xmas” ¨Jingle Bell Jazz (compilation), 1962. https://youtu.be/oX985c9z88M?t=15


Here’s wishing for the perfect holiday music to come your way.


Listening list:

Jimmy Witherspoon, “How I Hate to See Christmas Come Around,” (1948)

John Prine, “Christmas in Prison,” (1973) https://youtu.be/jj-Vff5HPhc?t=23

Pretenders, 2000 Miles (1983) https://youtu.be/1SkWIqQ3oLY?t=36

De La Soul, “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa,” Three Feet High and Rising (1989) https://youtu.be/_duFqVxv3uY?t=21 

The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” (1989) https://youtu.be/4Y5GtaTrPHM?t=41

Fountains of Wayne, “Man in the Santa Suit,” (1997) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1nrstRd8ms

Aimee Mann, “I Was Thinking I could Clean Up for Christmas,” The Forgotten Arm, (2005) https://youtu.be/C2Uu5eBlfjM?t=65

Gillian Welch, New Dug Grave (unreleased?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a99iFVTmBrQ

Chance the Rapper & Jeremih, “Merry Christmas, Lil’ Mama,” (2016) https://youtu.be/D2o44P8I-5A?list=PLcxdst6awVjxdGtJEbjF9KV-rN13nc4H5&t=11