'When you're lost in the rain in Juarez, and it's Christmastime, too' (Bob Dylan's got "Christmas in the Heart.")
It's almost that time of year when I pull out my Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Leon Redbone (what was I thinking), and the half-dozen or so other Christmas CD's I own, and start playing away.
I wasn't planning on adding to my collection, when an ad in The New Yorker caught my eye.
Bob Dylan's just released a Christmas Album.
My first thought was, has Bobby jumped the shark, errrrrr, reindeer. When did this happen?
Sure, I was a fan back in the day, and I do occasionally put on some of the Bob albums - Freewheelin', Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, Greatest Hits, Nashville Skyline - I listened to so frequently in the 60's and 70's that all I need to do is queue up one note and I can take the entire album solo from there. But I really haven't paid him much attention in years - make that decades - other than to note at one point that he was doing corporate events. Positively Wall Street. Sigh.
Of course, the times, they are a changin', and Bob Dylan is nearing 70. Maybe he wants to entertain his grandkids. Maybe he just wants to do something for charity (proceeds from sales go to a charity called Feeding America). And maybe it's a case of he just wanted to, and because of who he is, he just can.
Anyway, rather than just take potshots at the new album, I thought I'd go out and buy it. (With a Borders coupon, it was less than $10. A man in a coonskin cap... wants eleven dollar bills. You only got ten.)
The first thing that leaps out is the sheer kitsch-i-ness of the front and back covers - and the fact that, aesthetically, and even thematically, they don't really connect.
On the front is the Currier & Ives, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods sleigh ride scene. Hurrah for the pumpkin pie, and all that, but I would have liked it better if Bob had given us a bit of a wink here, and had himself driving the sleigh.
Maybe he's one of the three wise men on the back cover. Maybe the other two are Hurricane Carter and John Wesley Harding. But forget for a moment who might be gathering no moss on those camels. Would this not have been in the running for "worst Christmas card received" in 1961? It certainly would have in my family, where we sent (and received) a couple of hundred Christmas cards each year. (It helped to have a bunch of kids to address them, seal the envelopes, and lick the stamps.) Cards received spent their first year as decoration, taped around doorways. They spent their second year as tags on Christmas presents. But this one! Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison aside, blue and Christmas just don't particularly go together. Perhaps this is a nod to Bob's Jewish heritage. Whatever. It's one hideous Christmas card. (And, would the Star in the East be glowing quite this brightly, and the sky still be so dark, if the sun were that far up?)
So Dylan went secular on the front, and religious on the back. But what was really interesting was his stocking stuffer: the naughty Vargas Girl on the inside cover. Say what? Has Bob completely gone of his gourd? I would expect to find this in Playboy, or on the calendar in some dad's basement workroom in, say, 1965. But not in an album entitled Christmas in the Heart, authored by none other than Bob Dylan. Talk about Santa, Baby.
But its the music that makes the album, right? And the music on this one is downright weird. Not that you expect Bob Dylan to ever sound as if he's enjoying himself, but if he were going to, might it not be on a Christmas album?
Hell, no. Other than on a Tex-Mex "Must Be Santa," I don't really get much emotion out of the songs. In fact, they all pretty much sound like parodies of Dylan - as if someone had the zany idea of stringing together a bunch of Christmas songs - a mish-mash combo of sacred and profane - and performing them in full Dylan voice (backed by a sweet-sounding, ethereal girl group).
The diction, especially, suggests parody.
Hark the Heeeeer-illled Angels sing.
And that "Venite Ador-ay-moose"? Bob sure didn't take Latin from Sister Daniel Vincent, or learn the words to "Adeste Fideles" listening to Der Bingl.
Then there's the pronunciation of Christ. Now, I've heard Kee-riced plenty of times, and Cry-iced, but Cry-eeest the Lord? That was a first.
So I probably won't be listening to this album with any regularity. Although I will drag it out on Christmas Eve, and play a few tunes. Maybe I can squeeze in "Must be Santa" between Bing's "Christmas in Killarney," and the 'een sisters' a capella version of "Good King Wenceslas".
But if I were to lose this CD, I would not be suffering any subterranean homesick blues over it, that's for sure.