Category Archives: Not Comics

Christmas Music – Why it doesn’t work for everyone and why Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas is Still Terrible

I like Christmas music.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, or read the blog for any length of time (hello!) you’ll know I’ve talked about Christmas music before. Heck, I was even immortalized in a comic, sort of, as being really into Christmas music. And you know, a disclaimer, I shit on something pretty hard in this blog post (spoiler: it’s in the title) and I realize it’s a difficult time of year, people take comfort and solace where they can, and going knives-out on something people love isn’t like, delightful of me, but I was literally moved to rush to the computer and write this down, so consider it, at the very least, from the heart, and not just random meanness.

So yeah, Christmas music.

As the world has gotten darker over the past few years (was going to comment on this but I think it’s just a given at this point) it’s taken me longer to get into the Christmas spirit, it’s been harder to enjoy the Christmas music that I used to enjoy playing at the stroke of November 1st every year.

(I mean, Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October–there’s no bullwark between the onslaught of Adult-Christmas, aka Halloween, and Actual Christmas, in Canada.  Though that’s all but disappeared in America too, despite some staunch opposition.)

I happened to be out in a mall yesterday and I heard my first Christmas music in the wild–a cover of the Paul McCartney Wonderful Christmastime–and I realized I rather enjoyed it. So tonight as we were cooking dinner, cleaning our apartment, and just generally living, Andrew and I put on the Spotify Christmas mix “Christmas is Coming.” Not quite digging-out and setting up the more than 5000 Christmas mp3s I have stashed away, but, a nice way to ease into the season.

And that’s where I heard it, Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, my most hated Christmas song. And readers, it has not improved with age.

Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas is a bad song. It is every single thing wrong with Christmas music, that people who hate Christmas music complain about when they complain about it. The melody is awful, short, repetitive. There’s nothing in the music that places it at Christmas specifically, it doesn’t really fit. It’s not even sing-songy. There’s this wash of strings but then a light supermarket jazz piano is laid over top. They don’t meld, but then, there’s a bunch of things that don’t meld, including his voice which is trying to be an American-accented working-class country, or pop, or rock sort of thing, every kind of popular music appeal amounting to nothing. There’s a way to do this that’s classy, that would elevate the material–imagine Tom Jones on those lyrics, or at least those sentiments, and he’d be so much better. Speaking of those lyrics, they’re saccharine. And not just Christmas Pop Music Saccharine. They take something relateable about the season–driving home from whatever city you’ve moved to, to your hometown to see your family at Christmastime–and turn it into adult contemporary mush, and no, his delivery doesn’t help that part either. He’s wistful for the events that are occurring as they occur in the song, trying to sell you on just how wistful the song is without earning it. It’s less honest about it’s emotional manipulation than Christmas Shoes, and therefore actually worse. It sounds like Muzak. It is the Muzak-version of it’s own song. And the percussion is trite, too.

So I sing for you
Though you can’t hear me
When I get trough
And feel you near me
Driving in my car
I’m driving home for Christmas
Driving home for Christmas
With a thousand memories
– Driving Home for Christmas

And people in the UK fucking love it. And they’ve fallen more in love with it every year.

Released officially in 1998, the single peaked at #54 in the singles charts around Christmastime. It’s been periodically re-released since then, and last year’s 2017 re-release saw it hit #14 on the single’s chart–of all music, not just Christmas music. It’s considered one of the UK’s top-ten Christmas tunes. People love Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas… in the United Kingdom. In Canada and the U.S.A., it’s almost entirely unknown, as is Chris Rea.

There are any number of bits of Christmas music that I deeply love from my childhood, that I listen to to this day, and that set the teeth of my friends entirely on edge. The Boney M Christmas albums are so good, but German R&B and Disco covers of classic religious songs are not for everyone. Likewise my favourite version of Baby It’s Cold Outside is actually the big-band version by Steve and Eydie (Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme) from 1964, the over-the-top acting and huge orchestral sound really selling the innocence of a song that has a lot of otherwise problematic elements. I get liking music, particularly in this genre, that other people hate. A big component of why I like it, and why a lot folks like Christmas music in general, is nostalgia, and the nostalgic colouring of our feelings. The Christmas music of our youth, or a certain time in our life, is going to always help us smooth out any of the problems with a song (or genre!). “Yeah I know it’s cheesy,” we say. “But I can’t help it, I grew up with The Count from Sesame Street singing All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,’ and that’s my version!”

It’s also why there’s so much argument over the best version of Christmas songs–it’s a limited repertoire after all and adding to the Christmas song cannon is difficult as hell. So with very few exceptions, the ‘best’ version of a Christmas song to most folks is the one for which they have the strongest personal connection, either nostalgia, their existing love of the singer, or a version of the song that meant a lot to them. Michael Buble has basically recorded the entire cannon of Christmas songs at this point, and his isn’t the best version of any of them, but even my Mom, who provided all of the music that imprinted on me, who should know better, would still rather listen to him than Dean Martin, or Elvis, or whomever. Even after the atrocity that is Santa, Buddy. Inconceivable. But, here we are.

So it’d be easy to say that it’s just a lack of nostalgia, a lack of early introduction to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas 30 years ago, that’s preventing me (and, TBH, North America) from appreciating this song that is inescapable in British Christmas celebrations. Except. Except. There is…

SLADE.

Alt Link

Slade recorded Merry X’Mas Everybody in 1973 and it hit the top of the charts at Christmas. A UK-only release, from a glam rock band, the song has every single component of Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, done right, and done better, even including being almost entirely unknown outside the UK. I actually didn’t discover it until my mid-20s, on the Warren Ellis forum, where the assorted Brits would talk about deeply loving this song I’d never heard of. Of course, I loved it right away upon finally listening to it, with no nostalgia, no rose-coloured glasses, the exact opposite reaction to Driving.

Merry X’Mas Everybody is about Christmas, yeah, but it also evokes Christmas, and you can’t quite tell is it’s pro-Christmas or anti-Christmas, it presents Christmas as omnipresent, inevitable, inescapable. It ends with a literal scream, IT’S CHRISTMASSSS!, the sort of childish exuberance at 5am Christmas morning that simultaneously lights-up and makes-weary every parent. It’s neither working-class nor upper class, it’s certainly not posh, and it isn’t wallowing in the difficulties of the year, but it also isn’t ignoring them either. The entire song, actually, is surprisingly ambivalent about Christmas, simply stating things that are happening and asking questions. It is drenched in the nostalgia of the season, like Driving, but it’s also self-aware in a way that Rea deliberately avoids. Hell, Rea, manages the line “Driving to Holy Land” to refer to like, his parent’s house, with a straight face, while Slade points out the hypocrisy of your Grandmother, who is up and dancing to contemporary music, including, of course, the song to which you are listening, Slade’s song.

Musically, it’s a solid track. It’s right in the middle of Slade’s oeuvre, with some lovely concessions to the holiday season instrumentally. The singer’s giving it 110%, and the bass line in particularly is great. It’s very of its time of course, but so solid that it’s also a top-10 Christmas hit in the UK still, and gets a ton of radio play.  It’s just on the edge of being a cheesy novelty song (or at least, more of one than all Christmas music), but it legitimately rocks. To my mind its more successful than the other great glam rock Christmas track, Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, which is also similarly exhuberant and joyous but too relentlessly positive, it doesn’t leave room for anything other than agreement. Slade invites you into the madness, Wizzard forces you to comply.

Which brings us back to Driving Home For Christmas. Without the nostalgic attachment, the repetition over decades, it’s failed to make an impression in North America, despite re-releases and its appearance on that Spotify list. As someone who seeks out Christmas music every year it’s made an incredibly negative impression on me though. It’s a bad song, badly performed. People don’t get excited about it (although I imagine the comments section will be perhaps full of angry Brits), but when people do speak of it positively to me, they usually describe it as a respite, a slower and more reflective Christmas standard that you can hum along to, that fades into the background without drawing attention to itself, without making itself obnoxious (or in any way notable) and that negative space in between other more ‘demanding’ Christmas music earns it a lot of points in a season that can feel overwhelming.

I can get behind that. Like I said at the very top, by way of disclaimer, people should find the things that they need, and enjoy them, and for a whole Kingdom that’s the sleepy sweet embrace of Chris Rea’s snowy, traffic-light-filled Christmas tune. But to me, the very best Christmas music, going back to the translated-from-German secular music and even the religious carols, are about observing a time and a place and an event, about the recognition of good (Birth of The Saviour! Trees!) and the bad (freezing to death because of being poor but being saved through the magnanimity of Kings, a somewhat rare occurrence), and about celebration. Stevie Wonder’s One Little Christmas Tree is basically perfect, for example. I could never connect with Rea’s song because, despite literally driving home for Christmas every year, it never felt real to me.  Neither as fake and bouncy as a manufactured Christmas Love Song, nor with the biting realism of the difficulty of the season like Rilo Kiley’s Xmas Cake, it just seemed so middle-of-the road, so self-serious about its mundanity, so lacking in profundity despite its earnestness. Also it fucking sets my teeth on edge. I almost wish I had that same nostalgic lens as many friends to view the song through, so I could save my poor tooth enamel.

Ah well, there’s always The Count to soothe my soul.

  • Christopher Butcher

Comme des Garcons X Katsuhiro OTOMO X NoBrow

Very good catch and nice little report by Zainab Akhtar at The Beat on the new  Comme des Garcons X Katsuhiro OTOMO X NoBrow collaboration. Apparently NoBrow’s exact participation wasn’t made very clear, but Akhtar did some actual follow-up reporting and got the scoop. Head over there and check it out.

Tons of the actual collab images are currently circulating around Tumblr. You can find a bunch with this link, but feel free to explore as well. Some of my favourites below.

– Chris

A Farce In Three Parts

Part 1

Calls Porter Airlines.

Waits Thirty-Two Minutes On Hold.

Twitters at Porter Airlines that he has been on hold for 32 minutes.

Porter representative immediately answers phone.

Part 2

Customer: “Hi, I need to move mine and my husband’s flight from this Monday to this Friday.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “I’ve looked at your flight info, and you will need to pay the change fee of $75 each plus the difference in fare.”

Customer: “No problem, I will pay the change fee, and the new fare is cheaper.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “So with the $150 in change fees, and the difference in fare, you owe $450.”

Customer: “I don’t think that’s right, the new flight is like $100 less than the old flight.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “Because your existing fare was discounted, we can’t apply the sale price to the new fare. You need to pay the full price of the new fare.”

Customer: “Wait, you’re telling me that because I already got a sale on the flight I booked, even though I’m cancelling that flight and booking a new one I can’t get a discounted price? Even if I agree to pay the change fee?”

Porter Airlines Representative: “I’m sorry yes, you can’t combine discounts.”

Customer: “I’m not combining discounts, I’m cancelling one discounted flight in favour of another.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “The rules of your fare state that if any part of your existing fare is discounted, you can receive no further discounts when you change flights.”

Customer: “So the credit I get from you in moving my flight is discounted so I get less credit, but I can’t get any discount at all on the flight I’m buying? Does that sound right to you?”

Porter Airlines Representative: “…”

Customer: “Can you maybe check with a supervisor? Because that seems crazy to me.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “Just a moment.”

Part 3

25 minutes later.

Porter Airlines Representative: “Thank you for your patience Mr. Customer, we’re running a sale right now so my supervisor was very busy.”

Customer: “Clearly.”

Porter Airlnes Representative: “So my supervisor has agreed to let you cancel the flight for the total change fees of $150 plus tax, and I can go ahead and book the new flight for you here.”

Customer: “But I can just book the flight here myself on the website, one way, and it’s only going to be $300. I don’t have to pay a cancellation fee. I can just book the flight.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “Yes, sir, but in order to cancel your Monday flight and move it, you’re going to have to pay those two cancellation fees, because of the type of ticket you bought has [Porter Airlines Rules and Regulations Excised for brevity].”

Customer: “No, no I follow what you’re saying, I’m just saying if I book a one way flight on Friday, and then simply do not show up for my original return flight on Monday, I will save $150. Because either you’re going to charge me the un-discounted price to book my new fare plus the cancellation fee, which comes out to $450, or you’re just going to let me cancel my flight for the cancellation fee $150 and book the new flight for me which I can do myself, and those two things together will also total $450.”

“If I just don’t show up at all for my Monday flight and book an additional flight, it costs me less money than you interacting with my reservation in any way. And I don’t get charged a ‘cancellation fee’ if I don’t cancel.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “…I’d have to check with my supervisor on that.”

Customer: “No you don’t, thanks. We’re just going to leave this right here, and if Porter wants to charge me $150 for simply not using their services, I’ll deal with that when it happens.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “I understand your frustration sir, but the rules of your fare…”

Customer: “Nonono, I’m not angry or anything. You’re doing your job. But I’m just going to take my own course of action here, and it is going to save me $150, and you and I don’t need you to do anything.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “We’ll just leave this the way it is then.”

Customer: “We’ll just leave this right here where it is.”

Porter Airlines Representative: “Can I help you with anything else?”

Customer: “No, no you cannot. Thank you.”

Total Call Time: 55 minutes, 51 seconds.

Epilogue:

Still better than dealing with Air Canada Reservations.

Seibei Kickstarter for Awesome Ts? Yes.

You now have exactly 5 days left to fund a cool Kickstarter campaign to help out a buddy of mine who had some troubles and is going to kick those troubles square in the ass.

This guy David Murray makes t-shirts under the company name SEIBEI, and he’s got all kinds of great/weird/cool designs and they’re well-designed and he is totes a cutey. Then his van filled with all of his shirts got stolen on his way to a show. Now he is having a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print new stock and get cool shit done.

The Kickstarter campaign includes exclusive t-shirts by Seibei, but also Bryan Lee O’Malley (SCOTT PILGRIM), Chad Manzo, and Ashley Davis. You can donate all sorts of amounts of money to get tees, totes, baby onesies, buttons, whatevs. The $250 and $650 pledge lines are crazy-sauce as well, where you get an insane amount of Ts and stuff for your donation.

I am hoping to come up with $250 in the next few days to get the one-of-everything pledge level, but I’ll be totally happy if I can do the $100 or $60 levels as well… See what you can find in your pockets or your Paypal account, and head over to Kickstarter before September 12th.

I did a Kit Kat tasting party, it’s gonna be in the paper

“Environmental guilt = a garbage bag filled with Japanese Kit Kat wrappers. If it weren’t for my kidnapping and blackmail side business, this would be the worst thing I’ve ever done.” – Corey Mintz, Porkosity

I went to Corey’s and I shared about 40 different kinds of Japanese Kit Kats with some people, and they wrote about it, and Corey wrote about it, and it’s gonna be in the paper and some other stuff. Click on the “Porkosity” link above for a few more advance photos.

– Chris

Lent

In the TCAF craziness I missed an anniversary–I gave up Diet Coke just over a year ago. In fact I’ve cut aspartame and “diet” products out of my life entirely. Just in time too, apparently.

I went to Japan in May 2010 for 10 days, and in Japan they don’t have Diet Coke. The ‘diet’ is like the parliament, or congress, so the closest equivalent is “Coke Plus”, which isn’t widely available, and doesn’t taste exactly like Diet Coke. Actually, that’s the thing about being addicted to Diet Coke–you’re addicted to Diet Coke, and all of the other products and half-steps just don’t taste right, and don’t scratch that itch. Coke Zero was always a possibility, but I figured if I was gonna leave all that behind, I’d leave it allll behind.

I was pretty seriously addicted to Diet Coke too. Although I hesitate to mention my connection Scott Pilgrim on the blog here, this little bit of Wallace…

…is exaggerated very little. I was probably drinking a 2l of Diet Coke every 2 days while I was living with Mal, and I’d been drinking it since I was like 6 or 7? Whenever it came out I think. While I’d cut waaaay back in recent years, it became kind of obvious that I’d need to cut it out entirely. And I did. Just willpower, I think I’ve had 2 or 3 mouthfuls since last year and luckily it doesn’t taste nearly as good in real life as my taste memory of it.

I haven’t exactly replaced it with anything, I’ll usually have a couple of energy drinks every workday but before you rush to point out how shitty that is for me, check out the ingredients on the only energy drink I imbibe: http://guruenergy.com/new/us/drinks/guru/guru.php. No refined caffeine, no taurine, no refined sugar, no corn syrup, all of the ingredients are certified organic. If you’ve gotta drink sugar water with weird shit in it, this is about the best sugar water you can hope for.

I also drink a lot more _actual_ water, usually 2l a day.

I don’t know if I feel any healthier, but I sure do have a hell of a lot better peace of mind when I see articles like this crop up.

– Chris

 

Threadless $9 24 Hour Sale

The folks at Threadless, the indy-American-Idol style T-Shirt company are blowing out their entire stock at $9 a shirt, for one day only. That is an amazing deal, on some great T’s. See the selection at http://threadless.com.

I do hope that this sudden, intense sale isn’t indicative of any financial problems or soft holiday sales at the retailer, as they’re one of my favourites.

– Christopher

It is Officially Christmas: Exhibit 1

Now, I know the above doesn’t mean much to my American friends, and even if you’ve got highschool french it basically means “Milk of Hens”, which doesn’t mean much to anyone. But it means the world to me. Because you see, Lait de Poule is…

Yes that’s right, it’s Egg Nog! That holiday beverage of choice for folks that like to hide the rum on their breath, Egg Nog! It’s a drink that’s usually made of raw eggs, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pure joy! It’s only less strange to us than the Morinaga Pancake Drink because it’s ‘traditional’! And it is only available a few months a year–the Christmas season. And if it’s available now…

…and it even expires before December, then it MUST be CHRISTMAS. So raise a mug of egg nog and toast to the beginning of the greatest season of the year.

Preferably an awesome Barbapapa mug!

– Chris