I’m still not sure how it happened, that I wound up as the one defending Christmas songs.
Christmas Eve, her sister’s place. The Twittersphere alerted me to news I’d been awaiting for more than half a decade: A new LCD Soundsystem track had been set loose upon the world. I leapt to attention, releasing an unknown noise of excitement and refusing to explain my sudden single-minded focus until I’d finished purchasing the 7″ on my phone.
Once I shared the good news, she expressed disappointment that the new song was about Christmas. She, after a decade of retail, had heard more Christmas songs than my Jewish self could ever imagine, and insisted there were no redeeming ones. I argued that, while there were no good Christmas songs, there were at least a few good songs about Christmas, Harvey Danger’s “Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas” foremost among them. That night, driving back to our AirBnB, she would concede that point somewhere around the line, “My vodka and snow is melting/The alcohol isn’t helping.”
Here’s the thing about being a formerly Jewish atheist on Christmas: This year was my first since 1996 that didn’t involve a movie or Chinese food. To some people, that might sound sad, but there’s comfort in the isolation. A few years ago, I remember walking downtown to see whatever the film of choice was, and seeing the top half of the Space Needle hidden by fog. It felt like I’d survived the apocalypse. It felt victorious.
I’ve written before about my adulation of David Letterman, but it didn’t even cross my mind that this would be the first December in ages without his traditional Christmas show until Christmas Day. Sitting on a couch in Portland, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” came through the sound bar at a volume so low it was almost unnoticeable, but just high enough to trigger a memory.
Christmas songs are the worst, generally. This whole season is, when you really stop to think about it. That’s why I embrace Homo for the Holidays, and that’s why New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays: Because at least we can all agree how arbitrary it is. But there was always something comforting in Letterman’s dedication to doing the same thing for Christmas every year: Having the same friend on to tell the same story, and closing the show with the same song. There was joy in watching how elaborate the staging grew, from its modest first performance, through the years to the finale above. And knowing the path she took to get there, it was even more powerful.
LCD Soundsystem’s song is only okay, by the way. But, if the rumors are true, a reunion tour is the best present I could possibly ask for.