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Stop the madness

Chronic Christmas carol overdose can turn anyone into a Scrooge

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Back in 1963, Andy Williams recorded a little ditty about the winter holidays called It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Almost half a century later, the easy-listening crooner has yet to pay for his cultural crimes, as the song he popularized became the foundation for the most oppressive sonic pastiche to ever assault the ears of humanity: The dreaded phalanx of Christmas tunes that batters every denizen of the western world at this consumer-mad time of the year.

Yes, being annoyed by Christmas music is hardly an original sensation. Columnists have complained about the Great Wall of Wenceslas, Rudolph The Rage-Inducing Reindeer and the God-forsaken Never-resting Scary Gentlemen ever since these horrible jingles first jangled out of junky old radios and shimmied across the corridors of vintage shopping malls.

But the sad fact remains the music business, retail industry and broadcasting world all continue to conspire to give us the holiday music we do not want, Christmas season after Christmas season.

(And let’s not pretend it’s the more inclusive and generic "holiday season," because Hanukkah is a relatively minor event in the grand scheme of Judaic things and Kwanza has yet to really catch on.)

During the long, protracted eon I worked as a music writer, the only task I truly loathed involved Christmas tunes. Every year, competent recording artists who should otherwise know better would record an album full of mouldy-oldie holiday standards, rounded out with a couple of original tunes that people used to skip by in the days of CDs and would later learn to avoid online.

Even greater numbers of cheesy country crooners, unpalatable pop singers and geriatric jazz vocalists — most of whom never possessed the tiniest morsel of good taste in the first place — would cram themselves into recording studios and generate even more putrid versions of these rotten chestnuts, either out of a shameless desire to sell a few units or the misguided belief they were bringing joy to the world.

Every November, I would stack these pieces of plastic on a corner of my desk and secretly hope the office kleptomaniac would run away with the entire pile. And during my first year at the Free Press, somebody actually did steal a Celine Dion disc.

For some bizarre reason, I complained. I was widely ridiculed at the office Christmas party. I should have just thanked the thief the same way I would thank a surgical oncologist for creeping up to me during my sleep, cutting open my belly and removing a tumour I never knew I had embedded in my gut.

I understand it is not possible to excise holiday music from the holiday season in a similar manner. But in a country where we regulate the nationality of the performers we play on the radio, would it not be possible to enact some form of legislation to protect the fragile sanity of the silent majority of Canadians who would rather not hear about some childhood trauma involving an illicit glimpse of mama and Santa Claus engaged in some intimate act?

For the second Sunday in a row, I’m going to evoke the sacred name of Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, the patron saint of wacky causes, who has successfully fought for the right of Gordon Bell high school students to wander into traffic, semi-successfully waged war against the payday-loan industry and unsuccessfully issued a fatwa against trans fats.

Pat, if you’re out there, please introduce a private dismemberment bill I think we should call the Yuletide Moderation Control Act. The YMCA would require all radio stations, cable companies, Internet access providers and that shmuck who sings to himself in the back of the No. 18 bus to restrict the number of Christmas tunes they emit to one song per hour during the period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25 — or two weeks later if you happen to be Ukrainian.

Please, Pat, use your powers of persuasion to get parliament to back the YMCA. Just imagine, a holiday season where nobody’s blood pressure has to rise beyond medically acceptable levels due to the excessive amplification of Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow, two songs that express sentiments no Winnipegger would ever convey, unless they happen to operate a snowplow.

Now there might be a handful of people who take offence to this little rant. They may argue holiday tunes are all about tradition and a yearning, for simpler, more rustic times.

But is there really anything nostalgic about Christmas standards? I mean, when’s the last time you dashed through anything in a one-horse open sleigh? Have you ever roasted chestnuts over an open fire? No, you have not. The vast majority of Canadians don’t even know how to roast a chicken.

So don’t even pretend to like these holiday tunes. Help me help Pat Martin in the House of Commons instead.

And while we’re at it, let’s get Andy Williams up before International Court of Justice. At 82, he’s not too old to be incarcerated.

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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