For today’s installment in our Artsy Holidays series, a few contributors present Christmas music for those of you who are tired of the classic carols. (For mini-essays on Christmas movies, music, and lights, see last year’s installment.)
Roy T Cook
My first selection, “Homo Christmas” by Pansy Division, is on the surface merely a funny parody of Christmas standards, with a bit of a pop-punk edge. But, given Pansy Division’s status as the most successful queercore band of the 90s, it is hard to ignore the slightly darker aspect of the song, reminding us that many listeners (and perhaps members of the band) are shunned by their families – even at Christmas – based on their sexuality.
The second song is “Oi to the World”. This little moral parable was recorded in 1996 by the Vandals (the Orange County band led by Joe Escalante, not the earlier UK punk band of the same name), but the 1997 cover by No Doubt is more well-known. The song tells the story of the clash between a punk rocker named Haji and a skinhead named Trevor, who eventually become best mates thanks to the “Oi!” of God. Needless to say, it’s a message that’s relevant now more than ever.
Big Freedia, a gay man who performs in drag, is most famous for popularizing New Orleans bounce music. If you know her, it’s probably because of that. If you don’t, welcome. This is her take on the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, wherein Rudy teaches everybody to bounce (“Rudy, all you do is work / Won’t you show me how to twerk?”). A major club Christmas jam, right here.
I have spent the last month listening to this album non-stop. Booker T. and the MG’s were an early instance of racially integrated rock bands. Most famous for “Green Onions“, which you’ll probably recognize but not by name, they brought their now-classic 60s funk sound to traditional Christmas carols with this album, In the Christmas Spirit. It’s just some great instrumental covers for those tired of the words but not of that spirit.
John Fahey, godfather of American fingerstyle guitar, closes the liner notes to his 1968 Christmas album, A New Possibility, by addressing the listener: “I hope that you like my new arrangements— they are not progressive; ‘different’ is the word.” And different they are. Fahey’s arrangements of holiday classics are spare, syncopated, and elemental. I’ve always had a special fondness for his arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne.” His plaintive solo guitar cuts the song to its sentimental core, reclaiming it from the kitsch of the noisemaker and the ball drop; I imagine that old Rabbie Burns would be pleased.