Despite the worst efforts of Wal-Mart and its equally carnivorous competitors to hype up an earlier start, Thanksgiving Day still marks something akin to the official opening of the Holiday season. And with this beginning even the most resistant radio stations and elevator operators will now be programming a mix of Christmas music that can charitably be referred to as “lamentable.”
A musical tradition that was meant to be inspiring, uplifting and perhaps even challenging degenerates each November into a mind-numbing slurry of “festive” Muzak that will, in short order, have tens of millions of Americans counting the days until December 25.
But, hark, there is redemption to be found — though perhaps not on the radio dials of our ever most consolidated and rigidly-programmed media monopolies.
A better class of Christmas music is out there, waiting to be heard by those who seek it.
In fact, one of the finest contemporary Christmas songs is rapidly taking on “classic” status as it is recorded by discerning artists.
Canadian singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s fine new holiday CD, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, features a stirring rendition of the song in question: Jackson Browne’s “The Rebel Jesus.”
Originally recorded by Browne for the brilliant 1991 Chieftains holiday collaboration, The Bells of Dublin, “The Rebel Jesus” has taken on a life of its own. Along the way, it has become the most welcome antidote to the deadening dose of commercialism that Americans imbibe each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So let us begin the season with Browne’s wise words:
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all god’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus
Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.