Tangled Up in Bethlehem

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Tangled Up in Bethlehem

Thanksgiving has come and gone, so have the Black Friday sales and tramplings.  A gigantic Douglas Fir stands in 30 Rockefeller Plaza (to be lit Wednesday) and CNN covered live the delivery of the same to the White House, followed by a puff piece about the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.  And in case you couldn't tell by your neighbors' decorations, the Christmas Season is now in full swing.  As you probably know, this means an onslaught of tourists to our fair city, anxiety over gift-giving, and red-and-green art directed television commercials for the next three weeks all on the way to spending the end of the year with your family and hopefully enjoying their company.  And, like every year previous, next will be New Year's Eve and then we'll all be changing our calendars and starting it all again.

This year, there's a new element that's been added to the mix.  Even though it was released way back in October, one can only suppose that Bob Dylan's Christmas Album "Christmas in the Heart" is about to make its presence felt in department stores and gyms soon enough, so now you'll know what's making that terrible sound.  And it truly is terrible.  A quick listen through Dylan's take on traditional yuletide musical fare is one of the most painful things I've ever listened to, and only partially because it seems that his vocal chords have been replaced with sand paper.  Yes, listening to Dylan growl his way through "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Winter Wonderland," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "O' Little Town of Bethlehem" is no pleasant experience.  It's mostly just really hard to listen to because Dylan's voice is grating at this point.  There's nothing too unnatural about the arrangements of his versions or the work that everyone else is doing on the album, it's just him.  Bob Dylan needs to retire and go away.  If this album of songs that have already been sung by millions is the best he can come up with and the best he can execute at this point, then it's over.

I'm not going to attempt to explain why Dylan would choose to make this album, certainly it's not my place to begin to guess at his motivation nor is it reasonable to suggest that this sort of effort is out of character; Dylan has never been one for conventions.  Since he's basically touring all the time and there are kids turning seventeen every day looking for something only a couple of rainy day women can provide, it's hard to imagine this album is a 15-song cash run.  No, it's something much more painful than that.

As a fan, it's tough to accept this sort of album which so clearly represents the end of Dylan's career, it's nearly as bad as some "American Songbook" album; what would Dylan sound like crooning "Puttin' on the Ritz" with his now-corroded larynx?  Thankfully, I can only guess, though I imagine it would be just about as horrible in actuality as anything I could ever dream up.  All the same, I don't have to guess about how bad it feels to listen to this album, even removing the sounds emanating from it entirely.  As a Jew, everything surrounding Christmas presents certain hurdles; the day itself as a holiday for others is not problematic in the least, but the Christmas Season, in it's current incarnation as a shopping-tourism-advertising abyss to be enjoyed by all in a wholly secular way is what I take issue with.  The fact that Dylan's album is such an unbridled failure just makes the point clearer: this is not a holiday for everyone.  Regardless of how many people choose to celebrate Christmas in a wholly secular way, it is not a secular holiday.

Obviously the majority of Americans are observers of Christmas and there's no doubt that it's become woven (deeply woven) into the fabric of our culture at this point, and Dylan's album is the closing argument in that debate, if we're even still having it.  A Jew making a Christmas album: could there ever be anything else that so greatly signifies the secular, all-encompassing nature of this day?  Probably not.  Christmas has become an inescapable behemoth that sucks everything into itself, even transcendent figures of another faith who really should have nothing to do with it.  As for me, I would prefer to be included out entirely, though that seems to become harder each year, and "Christmas in the Heart" is proof of exactly why.

1 Comment

  • 1

    Toder! Very well done my friend, just excellent!

    I really want to believe that this horrible affront to our ears and our minds is just some big joke on our rotten society. I (want to) see it as a sickening comeupance that we've brought upon ourselves. And, as you pointed out so cogently, it actually IS a symptom of how offensively out-of-whack this mutant Holiday Shopping Event + Collective Holier Than Thou Moment; this festering pustule of capitalism, obligation, moralizing, and self loathing, has become. Is Dylan, by putting forth so gut-twistingly awful a product, forcing us to view our hideous mirror image?

    In any case, you really brought it home and killed it here:
    "Christmas has become an inescapable behemoth that sucks everything into itself, even transcendent figures of another faith who really should have nothing to do with it. As for me, I would prefer to be included out entirely, though that seems to become harder each year, and "Christmas in the Heart" is proof of exactly why."

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