Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday morning tunes: Should "eight crazy nights" be enough?

For reasons that are unclear but nevertheless cause to be grateful this holiday season, we don't seem to have heard much from cultural conservatives bewailing the "War on Christmas." (Perhaps this is why.)

But the media abhors a vacuum, which is perhaps why so many people are using up elite column inches this month on the evergreen question: Why is it that Jews have gotten to write so many of the cool Christmas songs?

Garrison Keillor, who otherwise has made a good living out of being professionally affable, kicked things off this week in a Salon piece that gradually worked its way up to this moment:

Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday -- if you're not in the club, then buzz off.

"Not in the club?" That could have been a little more subtle. Pastor Inqvist and Father Emil would most likely be shocked by such an outburst, although, in the name of ecumenical even-handedness, Keillor hauled those wily Unitarians before the dock, too. (If you suspect that Keillor is becoming noticeably less affable as he approaches his three score and ten, you're not alone.)

And Michael Feinstein got into the act this week as well, demonstrating that "an earnest New York Times piece that probably didn't need to be written" is a criterion that, in this post-Krystol age, doesn't narrow the field down as much as it used to.

Still, unlike Keillor, who might or might not have been kidding, Feinstein was sincere in his pursuit of the question.

The answer, of course, is simple. It's the same reason Willie Sutton wrote songs about robbing banks: That's where the money is. When Hanukah becomes as hypercommercialized as Christmas, there'll be more people writing songs like this one (and, ironically, less need for it):

(This marks the first, and quite possibly the last, appearance by Adam Sandler at Saturday Morning Tunes.)

And speaking of music of the sort Mr. Keillor laments (although this has even less to do with Christmas than most songs now associated with the holiday), here's one of my favorite scenes from that bête noir of the "Christmas for Christians" set, Irving Berlin:

I'm not sure which is more weirdly memorable in this number: The beautiful Vera-Ellen, who resembles nothing so much as Barbie with the physical conditioning of an Olympic track medalist, or Danny Kaye's suit with matching socks and suede shoes.

(And, for the record, Danny Kaye--né David Daniel Kaminsky--is entitled to his own verse in Sandler's song.)

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