Christmas Songs!

Life has been stressing me out lately in a dozen ways, both very minor and very major, but I can’t help it–I’m pretty excited about Christmas. One thing that I always have liked about the Christmas season is the music (although I may be reaching the end of my rope with regard to the local radio station that liberally mixes in contemporary Christian Christmas music with classic carols and songs). In that spirit, I have decided to grace the world with a short list, in no particular order, of some of my favorite Christmas songs!

1. Silent Night – Julie Andrews

This song is kind of special to me. It is the song that I had my dad sing to me pretty much every night at bedtime when I was little, even when it was not Christmas time. Julie Andrews’ rendition is lovely (even if this video starts with 20 seconds of silence for some reason).

2. Song for a Winter’s Night – Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan’s cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s song is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. For me, it expresses the feeling of a winter’s night in a way that words cannot. I guess it’s not technically a Christmas song, but this is my list and I’ll make the rules here!

3. Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon & Yoko Ono

The more music I listen to, the more I come to appreciate that John Lennon was one of the  greatest songwriters of all time. This song perfectly blends Christmas spirit with a quietly unyielding message of peace in a way that remains very relevant 40-odd years later. It is also musically very beautiful. I chose this video mostly because I love the clips of the Harlem Community Choir (and the description claims this is the original 1970 footage, but who knows).

4. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) – Savatage

Here is another anti-war Christmas song, although this one comes from the context of the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart. This track appears on the album Dead Winter Dead, which is one of my favorite albums. It tells the story of a Christmas in war-torn Sarajevo in the way that only prog rock can. Read the YouTube description if you would like to see the producer’s take on what this song means. You may recognize this arrangement, as it has been made popular by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is actually composed largely of Savatage members, although I think the Dead Winter Dead version has a bit more of an edge to it.

5. Last Christmas – Wham!

Yeah, yeah, I know–Wham!? Really? But I can’t help it, I just love this song.

6. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues

This is another song that just feels like Christmas to me. Not even really sure why. Of course, the Pogues are amazing and their Irish take on what Christmas in New York in the 1940s was like is… um… very interesting. It makes a good song, anyway!

7. Sleigh Ride – The Boston Pops

I don’t think I would look twice at this song, except it was a specialty of my high school band. I used to be able to play the first trombone part for this from memory. Listening to an orchestral arrangement brings back some nice memories. Thanks, Mr. Woolfolk!

8. The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth – Bing Crosby & David Bowie

I love that this video is from one of those kitchy Christmas specials! What I really like about this song is the way that Crosby and Bowie cross the generational divide and meld two songs so nicely. I don’t really feel like Christmas is complete until I hear this song.

9. White Wine in the Sun – Tim Minchin

I think this is my favorite Christmas song. It’s an unashamedly secular take on the season, which naturally resonates with me and, even though it’s a sentimental song, it reveals hints of Minchin’s razor wit. I highly recommend looking up more of his material, but I should probably warn you that he is not afraid to offend and he takes on sacred cows with great relish. But he is brilliant! Anyway, if you can listen to this song, I mean really listen, without getting a little misty-eyed, you may want to get your heart checked as it may be missing.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Everyday Sexism

Ever since I started really thinking about feminism about a year ago, I’ve been noticing subtle sexism everywhere that everyone else seems to just take for granted. I honestly don’t know how feminist women don’t go around screaming at billboards and the tv constantly. For example, I had the local top 40 station on the radio while I was driving around yesterday (don’t judge, I just wanted some brainless background noise!). I heard a song that Google informs me is by Justin Bieber with a chorus that goes

If I was your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl, you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, I’d never let you go

Seems pretty innocuous at first listen, but then I got to thinking about what he was saying. He’s apparently not her boyfriend now, but he’s trying to convince her. And his pitch is that he would be right next to her ALL THE TIME FOREVER. That’s … not exactly normal boyfriend behavior. That’s Edward sneaking into Bella’s bedroom to watch her sleep. That’s the behavior of a man who does not want his partner to have any interests, time, or identity without him. That’s the way that an abusive partner acts. I get a very creepy controlling vibe from these lyrics. If I was the woman to whom this song was directed, I would be a little worried that Justin Bieber might be stalking me.

But so what, right? It’s just a stupid song by some kid, brainless background noise like I said before! The real problem I have here is that this is being held out to young people as a romantic way to act by someone who probably has more than his fair share of influence over young people’s opinions. This is the sort of thing that normalizes sexist attitudes and behaviors throughout our culture. There are countless examples; this is just the one I really noticed yesterday. The only way to fight back is to call out these examples when we see them to hopefully get people thinking.