Amazon Advent 03 – “White Wine In The Sun” (Tim Minchin)


Album Art

White Wine In The Sun

Tim Minchin

Ready For This? (Live)

Genre: Miscellaneous

Continuing my kickoff theme of “Comedians, And Please Give Them Their Full Due As Musicians,” we have this triply-appropriate and hugely wonderful track from Tim Minchin. (1) The album is filled with clever, funny songs; (2) but “White Wine In The Sun” is just a flat-out beautiful piece of music; and (3) as a bonus…it’s actually a Christmas song.

Add Tim to my growing list of “whiplash musicians.” I went from not having the slightest inkling that he existed, to hearing my first Tim Minchin song, to owning everything of his that was available in the Amazon MP3 Store, to being very sad that I then had to wait for him to release his next album just like every other Tim Minchin fan…all in the space of about an hour.

I absolutely freakin’ love Tim Minchin. My first Tim Minchin song was “Prejudice.” It’s catchy, and funny, and thus it’s exactly the sort of link you’d receive as an IM on a slow weekday mid-afternoon. Mr. Minchin was nice enough to post a video of the song to his YouTube channel, so I’ll just go ahead and embed it right here-ish:

That’s, like, nine pounds of clever in a five pound bag. I had gone my entire life without realizing that “Ginger” was an anagram of a highly offensive word. And now, it’s difficult for me to think of it as anything else. It serves as a valuable reminder that wordplay, like all active sports, often leads to careless injury. So if you’re going to let your son or daughter go out and spoonerize with other children, make sure they’re wearing protection.

(Aside: I had no idea until very recently that “ginger” is used as a derogatory term for redheads. Is that a European thing? [Edited: or an Australian thing?] It isn’t an American thing, right? We had red-headed kids in my school and yeah, I think many of them got teased. But only under the eternal rubric of “we’re 284 children plucked from our safe and familiar surroundings; we’re hoping that if we ruthlessly tease any kid who’s in any way different, maybe nobody will sense how terrified we all are.”

I never even heard of that use of “ginger” until a few years ago…and I had thought that my experiences with the Mean Kids faction of my junior high school had left me with an exhaustive database of derogatory insults. True, I didn’t have red hair. But I also had no developmental disabilities nor any desire to kiss boys, and the Mean Kids sure didn’t let those details stop them.

In a way, this fresh use of “Ginger” is reassuring. It’s additional evidence that butt-headed prejudice has no rhyme or reason. It’s just a kind of free-flailing tendril of idiocy that doesn’t really care what it latches onto. Now that I know I can’t do anything to personally eradicate prejudice on a worldwide scale, the pressure’s kind of off, isn’t it? End of aside.)

When you’re done laughing at “Prejudice,” switch off the part of your brain that understands English and listen to the song again, solely as a piece of music. That’s some powerful late-Seventies arena-style singer-songwriting, isn’t it? Most of Minchin’s songs remind me of one of Jeff Koons’ monumental-scale balloon animals. It’s a colorful item of obvious whimsy. But the thing’s twenty feet tall and it’s made out of stainless steel. The thing is structurally-sound, thanks to the impressive amount of engineering and fabrication work that went into its production.

“White Wine In The Sun” is a pretty, pretty song. It packs a punch, too. The best way to describe it is as “A Christmas song for nice people who happen to be atheists.”

I hope my atheist friends aren’t offended by that turn of phrase, which I’ve been in love with from the moment I first encountered it. I saw it in a post by an atheist, who used it to describe his default appraisal of religious folk: “Nice people who happen to believe in God.” It’s perfect. I think this basic form describes the vast majority of people.

First and foremost: “Nice People.” Regardless of what sort of jewelry we wear around our necks or what kind of bumper sticker we put on our cars, we know that we all agreed to at least try to be nice to each other, as one of the simple Terms And Conditions associated with the license for human DNA. If you’re upset about that, then you should have read the whole document before clicking the “I have read and agree to all of these terms” and then hitting “Install.”

Then comes the “…who happen to…” bit. However you choose to perceive the big picture of our reality, primarily you’d like to be define yourself as a Nice Person, instead of being perceived through the weird veil of a clumsy adjective. Further, there’s no need to describe atheism or religion in anything other than a neutral tone.

At its core, though, this construct underscores the premise that a nice person is a nice person because of who they are and how they treat people. Maybe their nature has been positively shaped by religion, maybe it’s been positively shaped by rational influences (again, going solely from a non-judgmental dictionary definition of “rational”). So long as they’re nice people, what does it matter?

The singer of “White Wine In The Sun” kicks the song off by saying “I really like Christmas.” Then he calmly states his objections to religious holidays. And although he makes several valid points against religion specifically, they’re gentle and subtle ones, and he’s only mentioning them in passing.

He saves his intense emotions for the main bit, where he explains why he treasures this holiday: he gets to spend time with his parents, his brothers and sisters, and his Gran, all together in the same place. He’s filled with gratitude for this regularly-scheduled day filled with warm feelings of love and support and family and belonging.

What a marvelous sense of perspective. An airliner pumps tons of greenhouse gases into the air as it crisscrosses the country. But it brings you home. On that basis, you can only be grateful that it exists.

“White Wine In The Sun” is a live recording and the song cast an obvious spell on the audience. The audience had heard a dozen funny songs before this one. During the beginning of “White Wine,” they chuckled at all of the right parts. Those who had never heard the song before, however, seemed to grow a bit uneasy; the funny bits were more like clever observations than actual jokes. And soon, the funny bits disappeared entirely. You can almost hear the thoughts going through their heads: “Is Tim…being sincere? Is he trying to make me feel a genuine, cathartic emotion? Hey, where’s that crying sound coming from? Crap! It’s me!

Sure, I’ll admit it: I was powerfully moved when I reached the core of the song, and he started singing about his family. I’m very sad to say that I’ve shared my last Christmas ever with some of the people on that list of “Dad and brothers and sisters and Gram and Mom.” I still miss those people a lot, even years after losing them.

Just when I was thinking “I can’t believe I got through that without crying,” he started singing about his daughter. And that, dear readers, was when I was very, very glad that I was alone in the room.

I absolutely freakin’ love Tim Minchin.

Sample “White Wine In The Sun” on the Amazon MP3 store. Everything you buy on Amazon after clicking that link, whether it’s a 99-cent music track of a $7000 wristwatch, will result in my receiving a kickback in the form of Amazon store credits…which I promise to spend on foolish and wonderful things.

6 replies
  1. ChrisW
    ChrisW says:

    “Ginger” as a pejorative term for redheads is an English thing. It’s also sometimes used to mean gay, because of cockney rhyming slang (ginger beer – queer). I think Viv Stanshall once wrote a song called “Ginger Geezer”.

  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    So glad you found Tim, Andy. I came across him when he was being interviewed on ABC Radio (Australia) and he finished with “Peace Anthem for Palestine.”
    In case you’ve missed it, you must watch the doco “Rock n Roll Nerd.”

  3. John Holderried
    John Holderried says:

    The first time I became aware of any prejudice against Gingers was when watching South Park – they did a whole thing on it back in 2005. Season 9’s “Ginger Kids”. I’d suspect this may have had something to do with it catching on as a trend.

    The good news is, once you identify a target group, and prejudice is lobbed their way, it can bring them together. My friend Alexia, who directed that documentary about Bill Plympton, is working on one about Ginger Girls, and of course she’s one herself.

    If there is an upside to prejudice, and I’m not fully saying there is, it’s the sense of community it fosters. The civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-bullying crusades. Positive reactions (for the most part) to negative situations.

    Speaking as one of your atheist friends – actually I prefer agnostic since I would LIKE to believe in some kind of higher power, but I’m not arrogant enough to claim that I could possibly define or understand said power – I’m hoping that one day all agnostics can band together, as unlikely as that sounds. After all, how do you unite a bunch of people based on the <> of a set of beliefs?

    However, the pendulum swings back and forth each year. One year we have the “War on Christmas”, and the next it gets followed by the “War on the War on Christmas”, and so forth.

    For an agnostic, it can be a difficult time. How do you enjoy the more festive aspects of the season without getting all caught up in the impossible semantics of the Nativity story, or shaking your head every time another small town gets caught up in an argument over the manger scene outside the town hall?

    For me, I’ve gradually let many of the aspects of the holiday season go, year by year. Attending church was the first casualty, and these days I’m left with just hanging the outdoor lights, mailing christmas cards, buying gifts and then spending the day with family and friends.

    Oh, and there’s the music, always welcome this time of year, and my one concession to other people’s religious beliefs. Giving up on songs like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Oh Holy Night” would be like throwing the baby Jesus out with the bathwater.

    If you were to remove all of the songs with religious references, and then by extension all of the Santa Claus/reindeer songs (since Santa is, for all intents and purposes, just God with training wheels…) what are you left with? Just “Jingle Bells”, “Sleigh Ride”, and “Let It Snow”. And that would be a sad X-mas mix indeed.

  4. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Minchin hosted a comedy Prom for the BBC a couple of years ago – first I’d heard of him and a bloody funny couple of hours. Well worth trackingdown the TV broadcast if you can.
    Re “ginger” – yep, it’s an insult in the UK (less so here in Scotland where virtually everyone is ginger…)
    I used to get the insult but replied with “I’m strawberry blonde, actually”)

    Catherine Tate (Doctor Who, The Office) who is a talented comedian in her own right, did a few sketches on it in her BBC show – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=L1aQfpbjuLE and other clips on Youtube

  5. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    The red head prejudice thing is old English – from the celts invasion times. If a child was born with red hair, it was an indication that the wife had been consorting with those uncivilised Celts rather than the good Anglo Saxon type.

    It’s often a point of Scottish pride when an heir to the throne pops up as a ginger :-)

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