Songs for a long dark night

Songs for a long dark night December 21, 2012

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow …

The Christians and the Pagans,” Dar Williams
Christmas in Prison,” John Prine

Cry of a Tiny Babe,” Bruce Cockburn
Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues
Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Hem
How to Make Gravy,” Paul Kelly
Little Town,” Over the Rhine
Long December,” Counting Crows
Merry Christmas From the Family,” Robert Earl Keen
One of Us,” Joan Osborne
River,” Joni Mitchell

It’s the darkest day of the year, so here’s a dozen songs that, to me, capture a bit of the solstice spirit — the whole seeking light in the darkness/warmth in the cold aspect. (Even in the case of the Paul Kelly song, which I suppose technically is about seeking shade in the heat.)

Rabbi Brant Rosen recently confessed that, ” I love listening to Christmas songs – particularly those of the aching, melancholic variety.” He defends this guilty pleasure, in part, due to such songs’ “quasi-exilic yearning” — which is a lovely phrase. That aching and yearning is what I love about many of my favorite holiday songs. It’s cold and dark, but “maybe this year will be better than the last.”

I’ve got a half dozen different renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they’re all muddlers. Not a shining star or highest bough in the bunch.

The original lyric was, “Someday soon we all will be together / If the fates allow / Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Frank Sinatra wanted to record the song for his Jolly Christmas album, so he asked songwriter Hugh Martin to “jolly up that line.” Martin whipped up the jollier “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

Ugh. I have nothing against jolly, in principle, but when it comes to Christmas songs, I very much prefer having to muddle through somehow.

I’ll take melancholic, “quasi-exilic yearning” over forced jollity any day.

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