The last thing I want to do is sound like an old fart. But some things cannot be helped.
Yesterday I was fiddling with my truck radio dial, looking for classic Christmas tunes, but I couldn’t find any. Only new stuff. Here it is December and the only festive music I found on the airwaves was Beyoncé having a vocal seizure.
I finally turned the radio off and drove in silence like a true geezer.
That’s how geezerhood starts, you know. First it’s complaining about current music. Next thing you know it’s early dinners and Ensure meal-replacement shakes.
All this got me wondering, what happened to the music of Christmas Past? Where did Frank and Dean go? Where is Bing hiding? Where are Nat, Ella, and Louis? Come back Johnny Mathis, we miss you.
Look, I get it. I fully understand that the music of yesteryear is outdated. The radio jockeys today are merely trying to give their youthful FM-listening audience what it wants. However, there is one thing I want to point out to these jockeys:
Youthful people do not listen to FM anymore.
Youthful people have smart devices with 3,500 gigs of storage and earbuds. They have iTunes, Spotify, and streaming service subscriptions coming out their earholes.
You know who still listens to old-fashioned FM radio? I’ll tell you. People who drive old model cars with manual transmissions and do not have Bluetooth stereos. And do you know what kinds of stiffs still drive these jalopies? That’s right. Old farts.
So here’s a concept: Why not play some music for us? Bring back the Christmas classics of yore, I beg of you, Mister DJ. More Sinatra; less Brittney.
Once upon a time, our radios played a Christmas lineup that never changed. It was the same top-forty Yuletide mix each year, the same tunes your great grandfather listened to while fighting the Mexican-American War. And it worked.
This music was a yearly tradition. It was the soundtrack of the all-American middle-class childhood.
During the holidays when the radio played in the old station wagon, an automobile whose only seatbelt was Mama’s right arm, it played the overture to our season:
“All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman,” and of course, Gayla Peevey’s masterstroke, “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas.”
And when Mama was weaving the Ford through a crowded shopping-mall parking lot, doing endless figure eights, trying to find the only available parking space in the tri-county, the Beach Boys would sing “Little Saint Nick” while you puked from car sickness.
When Mama whisked you into the Sears department store to try on Husky brand khakis for your school Christmas pageant, Gene Autry was singing over the store intercom about Rudolph’s self-esteem issues.
Whenever your old man was open-burning leaves in the ditch, Chuck Berry was on the transistor singing “Run, Run, Rudolph” while your sister played lead guitar on the yard rake.
And when your father and his cousin Leroy were hanging exterior lights, suspended from three-story ladders, mumbling non-Baptist expletives for the entire neighborhood to hear, “O Holy Night” by Pat Boone was playing.
In every truckstop café you heard “Adeste Fideles,” by Bing.
In every JCPenney they played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland.
Your granny’s hifi always blared something by Elvis Presley or the Les Baxter Orchestra, as she painstakingly decorated gingerbread houses, complete with cigarette ashes on the shingles.
“Little Jack Frost Get Lost” by Peggy Lee was playing while your mother sewed angel costumes for your church’s live Nativity.
And when Johnny Albertson vomited onstage during the aforementioned Nativity because he had the stomach bug, the children’s choir was busy singing “Away In a Manger.”
And don’t forget the annual CBS special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio—perhaps the greatest soundtrack album ever recorded.
There wasn’t a child living in the Land of the Free who didn’t tune in and dance the Charleston in his or her living room during the “Linus and Lucy” dance break.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch,” performed by Boris Karloff.
As it happens, my cousin’s child recently informed me that she had never seen the 1966 “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” TV special.
“You’ve never seen it?” I asked.
“Never,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t even know who the Grinch is.”
Also, I have never gone 365 days without hearing Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra play “Sleigh Ride,” while my aunt Eulah rattles her cocktail shaker along with the percussion section.
So I want to know what happened to the good stuff. The holiday music of Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, the Andrew Sisters, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Glen Miller, and Burl Ives, for cripes sake.
I could do this all day, but of course, I’m out of room. And anyway, it’s time to drink my Ensure.