Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


I realized that not everybody would understand why I think Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is a comic song. It’s because of the verse, or introduction, the words of which:

The sun is shining
The grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway.
I've never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills LA.
But it's December the 24th
And I am longing to be up North.

On Phil Spector’s Christmas album, Darlene Love sing-speaks the introduction as an interlude in the middle of the song. Her version is all teen-age sass and inexplicably over-the-top -- really great. Except for the interlude, which is strangely and delightfully unconvincingly sweet.

James Wolcott has a very different take on the song: “An entire book has been written about the song ‘White Christmas’ itself, the Irving Berlin classic suffused with nostalgia and melancholy and thanatos. A heavy snowfall is a cold burial that hushes the countryside, and when the singers wish that all your Christmases be "merry and bright," there's nothing merry and bright about the music, which seems to have made its own peace with death.”

In other Christmas music news, last week my friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey wrote me a note about hearing Christmas at a party the week before Christmas: “At a party Saturday heard Dean Martin's and Frank Sinatra's xmas albums back-to-back. Frank, as usual, is Mr. Detail -- Jingle Bells light and airy, White Xmas thick, warm snow-blanketed.”

Jay’s comment reminded me that I had wanted to expand on something I wrote a few weeks ago on how singing conveys emotion. Jay says it better than I would have -- how overall affect and tone can create the emotion as much as the verbal tonal nuance. Light and airy for one song, thick and warm-blanketed for another.

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