Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol. XLIII: Christmas in Haiti, and an essential Christmas music playlist

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

Radio stations play the same Christmas songs over and over. What songs would you play if you could choose? – Phyllis J.

When radio stations begin playing Christmas music in earnest shortly after Easter in an effort to turn us from chastened, recession-bleary penny pinchers back into lusty little consumers, it becomes a veritable holly-jolly assault on both our ears and good taste. Nothing says “convert to atheism” quite like the 435th play of “Ring Christmas Bells,” or even the first play of Manheim Steamroller’s version of “Deck the Halls.” So if I was Christmas’s programming director, here’s how it would look, complete with YouTube videos. Improve your holiday season. Make this your playlist:

1. Best secular Christmas classic: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This 1944 song, first introduced in the film Meet Me in St. Louis, is so well-crafted, it’s hard to butcher, though many have tried. As with most standards he sings, it’s hard to beat Frank Sinatra’s version:

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Though if you prefer one sans the distracting background singers, try James Taylor’s cover:

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2. Best religious Christmas classic: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Almost any version does the trick. But in order to preserve the mystical eeriness, it should be sung by an echoing unaccompanied choir, as evidenced by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers:

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3.  “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits.  The only mention of Christmas in this song is in the title, though since it’s the best song title of all time, in addition to being one of my favorite Tom Waits tunes, it bears inclusion:

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4.  For many, Christmas is a time for spiraling depression. And there’s no way to wallow in it quite as satisfyingly as Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” the soundtrack for that most famous of depressives, Charlie Brown, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”:

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  • killtruck

    Thanks for the perspective. I’ve been dealing with stress-y stuff lately and found myself thinking back to your Haiti piece, and saying, “Your house isn’t a tarp in Haiti. Suck it up you brat.” It doesn’t work because I’m a jerk, but I’m super-aware of it now.

    Diner is awesome. Mickey Rourke before he was Mickey Rourke.

    Blind Boys of Alabama – Go Tell it on the Mountain.

    And lastly, let’s never speak of your yule log again.

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  • deadonred

    Sorry, but any version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas that replaces “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” — as Sinatra’s does — simply ruins the song for me.

    Judy Garland’s 1944 version was popular with our WWII troops because it reflected the realities of the times — many old friends would not be around for Christmas as they were overseas. The reality being faced was that “the fates” would not allow many of them to return from battle. It is good to remember that, for some, the Christmas celebration is tempered by the absence of soldier-loved ones. This is as true now as it was in 1944.

    Sinatra had the line changed in the 50s, but, thankfully, JT gets it right. His has the appropriate tone and tempo as well.

    • deadonred

      The list is great, though.

  • Ranger

    Matt – How could you leave out Fairy Tale of New York by the Pogues and the late Kristy MacColl?