There’s just a narrow window during which I can sling “Fairytale Of New York” into the Advent Calendar and I keep missing it, year after year.
To those of you who have asked: no, I don’t start putting a list together weeks in advance. I don’t have a list at all; I write it daily, “live” as it were, as a play in three acts:
Act I: Superawesome songs in general. I head straight for an iTunes Smart Playlist that automatically maintains my personal Billboard Hot 100 of high-rated, high-playcount tracks and look for likely candidates. I keep a particular eye peeled for tracks that I bought this year and which folks aren’t terribly likely to have heard before.
Act 2: (Let’s return to this in a moment.)
Act 3: Actual holiday-themed songs. As Christmas draws nearer, the tracks have to start passing an important test. If I were playing this on the Apple TV while trimming the tree, and neighbors stopped by unexpectedly with a festive bundt cake, would I immediately think “Oh, ****…how long have they been at the door hearing this song?” If I’d suddenly dive for the remote and desperately click forward to another song, dear God, any other song…then I prolly don’t want to include it in the Advent calendar. Not so close to the actual holiday, anyway.
The Advent Calendar always officially ends with my favorite Christmas song, presented without irony or smirk.
Act 2 is that brief period when I’m in the mood for real holiday-themed tunes, and there’s still enough air between today and December 25 that I don’t mind talking about a drunk in jail on Christmas Eve musing about how, hell, his alcoholism will probably kill him before New Year’s, let alone the next Christmas Eve.
But a Twitterer reminded me about this classic Pogues tune and I was instantly filled with regret. Yes, for failing to use this song year after year. And at least because at the time of that important Tweet, the next song was going to be one from the soundtrack to “The Christmas Shoes,” which is utterly the sappiest Christmas movie ever made. I’m not wrong in thinking the reason why the protagonist in “”Fairytale” got so violently drunk was because he saw parts of this Hallmark special.
No, wait: I must be wrong. Because if he’d just seen that show, he would quite simply have drunk himself straight into the grave and wouldn’t have survived to sing the song.
Check that. Sorry, wrong again: there isn’t enough alcohol to scrub away the stain left behind by “The Christmas Shoes.”
(Later, my sweeties…later.)
I’m not sure that most fans of “Fairytale” really get this song, due to the peculiar romanticism associated with a literate inebriate. Like the old man at the pub who’s wrapped in wool and sitting by the fire, making his stately way through a whiskey bottle, and telling you about lost loves, pages not yet written, opportunities lost, making it through to live another day and drink another night, et cetera.
Ah, but you see, the next morning, you’ll be at work, or with your family and friends, thinking about what a pleasant time you had listening to the man’s lyrical wisdom. At that same moment, the old man is still drunk somewhere, or he’s setting into motion the chain of events necessary for him to get drunk again. Maybe he’s even even planning a setlist of the stories he’ll tell at the tonight’s bar, to charm someone else into buying him a grade of alcohol that he hasn’t been able to afford since the days when he had a job and a family and friends.
“Fairytale Of New York” is a charming song. It becomes a powerful song when you really focus on the lyrics. Which isn’t easy, I admit. Shane McGowan has selfishly chosen to sing them in his natural voice. That’s fine for the Irish and the English, but isn’t it about time the needs of Americans were met, just once?
I urge you to head on over to the Pogues’ site and read the words. There is no joy in Poguesville; Mighty Casey has passed out. This isn’t a case of a man who spends a Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, thinking about failed relationships and missed opportunities, convinced that this is the last one he’ll spend aboveground.
No, clearly, this is a man who spends every Christmas Eve this way. Maybe even every day. He’s locked in a cycle and will never break out of it. His life is a series of wounds that have scarred over themselves so thickly that he’s barely even aware of that he keeps cutting himself in the exact same places day after day.
But that’s not us.
I hope that’s not us.
If it’s us, I hope we get some help.
When you don’t focus on the lyrics, you wind up dismissing “Fairytale Of New York” as merely a charming Irish song that serves as an edgy counterpoint to the vacuous jingle bells being rung at every mall. That denies the Pogues their due. “Fairytale” is a satisfying essay which presents a series of basic observations, while having enough respect for the listener to leave the final lessons unsaid.
And just like the drunken old man in the pub, the lyrics are…well, lyrical. I call your attention to the ending:
He: I could have been someone She: Well so could anyone You took my dreams from me When I first found you He: I kept them with me babe I put them with my own Can't make it all alone I've built my dreams around you
I wonder what became of that girlfriend. Is she spending that same Christmas Eve in another drunk tank somewhere? Is she dead? Or did she have a transformative moment of shocking self-awareness that set her free?
Hmm. See, the trouble goes beyond a simple lack of self-awareness. It’s important to be able to observe yourself and your choices dispassionately but I’m certain that most drunks are perfectly aware of what their drinking has cost them. The missing factor is usually Hope…an utterly irrational but critically-important belief that things can get better.
Which is why I rather enjoy Act Three of the Advent Calendar.
Hope is generally a bear market, both in its practice and its promotion. It’s quite a relief to be able to spend a few weeks talking about peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind without having to follow it up with a YouTube of some skateboarder getting hit in the nuts by a parking meter, just to make sure people don’t think you’re all sappy.
Even in the Holiday season, I’m not such a sap that I won’t encourage you to buy this track via Amazon MP3, which will put a few pennies in my pocket:
And yet I still offer you the iTunes Store link as an alternative. I guess I really am just an old softie at heart.