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Variations on Carol of the Bells

Mermen, movies, and Whitney pulled me under for Christmas

By Raoul Hernandez, 9:07AM, Mon. Dec. 24, 2012

Variations on Carol of the Bells

Christmas music trends like any other. Mindblowing roadshow, Austin barn burning, a music doc stoking further exploration – let life’s sonic eddies dictate the soundtrack. Last week, San Francisco surf psychics the Mermen sent me their new Do You Hear What I Hear: A Very Merman Christmas. Already, my wife and I were drunk on Christmas flicks.

It began with an Agnes favorite, Love Actually, which halfway through I realized I’d seen one bachelor holiday at the Dobie. I countered with a childhood favorite, 1947 Cary Grant halo-wearer The Bishop’s Wife.

I Love Video on Airport didn’t have it on DVD, but tucked near the VHS tape on the store’s Christmas movie shelf sat its 1996 remake, The Preacher’s Wife. Opposite a clumsy Denzel Washington – whose new Robert Zemeckis vehicle Flight sounds absolutely riveting – Whitney Houston as the titular spouse makes mincemeat out of the film’s music segments. Her live, gospel-rock performances ascend nothing short of miraculous. What a waste, her death in February.

Afterward, Agnes and I got into Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Said same holiday enthusiast promptly passed out during undisputed classic Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), but her back-to-back picks next scored higher admittedly. A Patrick Stewart version from 1999, with Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit (?) and hoofer/singer/Oscar-winner-for-Cabaret Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past, hit all the right notes. And yet, another television enactment, this one with George C. Scott, slayed all the more.

Just as Daniel Day-Lewis reincarnates Lincoln, Campbell Scott’s father resurrected Patton in 1970 – winning an Acamedy Award in the process – and as Ebeneezer Scrooge 14 years later, he kills again.

Tim Allen cracking jokes that nearly burst my spleen from laughter in The Santa Clause rocked as well. The Ghost of Christmas Future will be screening also Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life today and tomorrow. Other personal Christmas mainstays that probably won’t make the cut: The Coca-Cola Kid, Lethal Weapon, and Gremlins, starring Hoyt Axton (author of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”) and employing “Do You Hear What I Hear” brilliantly.

Inside Do You Hear What I Hear: A Very Merman Christmas stretch excerpts from Dickens’ redemption song, A Christmas Carol. Fitting, given the Bay Area trio’s dark, tingling instrumentals, a Dickensian spirit rattle of wintry tantalization if there ever was one. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” opens on some sort of pedal steel effect that mimics whale sounds, its weighty strings and cymbals summoning something heavy out of the mist.

“Variations on Carol of the Bells” – forever branded to me as the Andre Champagne theme (think carbonated Thunderbird) – flirts with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (forever damned as the theme from The Exorcist), only mysterious rather than evil, like the tropics at night.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” jangles a seasonal James Bond theme on Codeine cough syrup, while John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s distinctive “Happy Christmas War Is Over” arrives tasting of Figgy pudding – well-baked and savory. “Auld Lang Syne” closes out the 75-minute epic like a Hungarian fire dance. A Merman Christmas it shall be.

Prior to that, a new Beach Boys rehash, Christmas Harmonies, went over like an electrical tree fire, but Sony Legacy’s new blue Satan [sic], Death Might Be Your Santa Claus, scratches out witchy holidays spells that span 1925 to 1962. The song from which the CD takes its name, “Santa Claus,” was cut by Bo Carter in San Antonio very near the time Robert Johnson sold the genre’s soul to Bad Santa’s boss.

Death Might Be Your Santa Claus sits on the home stereo next to new acquisitions of older stabs at seasonal cheer, including Jimmy Buffet’s Christmas Island. Good King Parrot Head in the same stack as similar platters by Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, and Fats Domino? Absolutely. Don’t forget perennial December spin The Big 80’s – Christmas and its bookend rock & roll standards: Billy Squire’s “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You” and Bob & Doug McKenzie’s “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” Or as the Ramones observed, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight).”

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