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Posted on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 10:31 p.m.

Confessions of a Christmas music junkie

By Mike Ball

Silent night. Holy night.

Only it's not really all that silent, is it? Aren't we actually making all sorts of racket about this alleged "Silent Night" instead of enjoying the silence of it? Could this be the reason we find our world in a never-ending spiral of moral decline? Or of Jingle Bells? I start asking myself questions like these every year, the first time I walk into a mall and hear the soulful strains of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

Face it: Americans are Christmas song junkies. For some reason we never seem to get our fill of Bing Crosby's lust for snow, Nat King Cole's chestnut fetish or Gene Autry's tale of a bunch of reindeer bullying a colleague with rhynophymia (a pathologically red nose). A person who will fire off an angry email to a radio station if they play the same Feist song twice in a fiscal quarter will happily listen to the Chipmunks sing about Alvin's hula hoop every fifteen minutes, all day every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

And I'll admit it, I am that person. I'm a total Christmas Music Junkie.

First off, I find a lot of the Christmas songs really touching. When I was about 8 years old, I nearly cried when I heard "The Little Drummer Boy" for the first time. I could visualize myself as the poor child who found himself in the presence of the newborn King of Kings with nothing to give but his simple musical gift. And that song has affected me pretty much the same way every one of the 745,987 times I've heard it since.

Although, have you ever stopped to wonder why any mother, even the infinitely loving and tolerant Blessed Virgin, would be crazy enough to let a kid with a drum into a nursery filled with livestock? Do you have any idea how bad just one rim shot could spook a cow?

A really cool aspect of Christmas music is the fact that every songwriter seems at some point in their career to get hopped up on candy canes and write a Christmas piece or two. And pretty much every singer who ever chipped a tooth on a microphone does entire Christmas shows or has cranked out at least one album of Christmas songs.

Maybe I should make that "holiday" songs, since one of my all-time favorites is Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song;"

Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funikah
To celebrate Chanukah
Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents
We get eight crazy nights...

This season I had the privilege of playing a holiday concert with my friend Peter Madcat Ruth, who lives here in the Ann Arbor area and happens to be one of the finest harmonica players in the world. We did a bunch of standards, and I got to demonstrate how an Irish guy sings in Spanish, with "Feliz Navidad" and "Donde Esta Santa Claus." I especially liked our instrumental medley of "The Holly and The Ivy," "Good King Wenceslas," and some other great tunes, in which I got to put away the guitar and lay down a Celtic drum rhythm on my McDjembe.

And it turns out that I'm no exception to the "musician hopped up on candy canes" rule. I've written two Christmas songs that I always haul out this time of year. One is called "A Perfect Day;"

At six a.m. on Christmas day
The children come alive
Some assembly was required
Dad got to sleep at half past five...

The other is "Carlson the Pissed Off Angel," a parable about a guardian angel who really doesn't care all that much for his client;

My name is Carlson - I'm an angel.
But I can't hang out in Heaven; I have to work.
I've been assigned to take care of a guy named Bob
And he's a jerk...

Don't feel too sorry for Carlson, though. He discovers in the end that the Boss really does know what he's doing.

So for all of you who love the music of this crazy wonderful season like I do, I hope you'll be home to deck the halls, and ring the jungle bells, and have youself a merry little holly, jolly Christmas — if only in your dreams.

Mike Ball is the Erma Bombeck Award-winning author of "What I've Learned So Far..." and the book What I've Learned So Far... Part I: Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets - now available on Smashwords for Nook, Kindle and all other e-readers.



Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

I like classical Christmas music a lot more than I like crooning pop stars. For example, I'll take just about any classically trained singer performing "Oh Holy Night" over any pop-tart displaying just how limited their vocal range really is. But that doesn't mean that I don't also enjoy Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby." I'll take Tchaikovsky's the Nutcracker Suite or Bach's Christmas Oratorio, too.

Mike Ball

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

Pop-tart - that's hilarious! I agree with you, classical music or classical renditions are best. You can do a lot with acoustic instrumentals, too. We did Little Drummer Boy the other night with Madcat on harp and me hand-drumming - it worked out well, sweet and sad. We do a really moving instrumental version of Silent Night, too.

David Briegel

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

"A Christmas Gift For You" Phil Spector's "wall of sound". "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'", Tinsley Ellis on The Alligator Records Christmas Collection. "Christmas Island", Leon Redbone. Aaron Neville, Joe Williams, Nat King Cole, and Elvis are my favorites. Love Adam Sandler Chanuka Song!

Mike Ball

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

I love Christmas Island, David, but I never heard Leon Redbone's version. I grew up in Hawaii with the Andrews Sisters version. That and Mele Kalikimaka.