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soundtracking with Jordan Zivitz December 2009: The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Sufjan Stevens and The Jingle Cats

December 11, 2009

This month: Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole are allergic to cats, so
they’re not invited to this Christmas party.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale of New York

What makes a modern-day Christmas classic? “You scumbag, you maggot /
You cheap lousy faggot.” At least, that’s what I thought when my
13-year-old ears were charred by Kirsty MacColl’s holiday cheer. These
days, I think the heart of this song is Shane MacGowan’s “Can’t make
it all alone / I’ve built my dreams around you.” Because a modern-day
Christmas classic isn’t made only of acidic putdowns that prompted my
mother to turn off the CD player while we were unstuffing our
stockings: it’s made of equal parts realism and reverie, with a
rousing Celtic melody that favours elegance over treacle. More than a
rare Christmas song that avoids instant obsolescence on Dec. 26,
Fairytale of New York carries the warmth of the season while cutting
through the smarm of so many other contemporary holiday recordings.
(Including the Fairytale cover by Montreal’s usually worthwhile
romantic hipster squad Stars, which sounds far too precious for a song
that opens in a drunk tank.)

Sufjan Stevens: That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!

Sufjan Stevens’s tendency to blow everything up into billowing epic
form can lead him astray. For instance: his latest album, The BQE, is
a 40-minute romantic orchestral suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens
Expressway. An idea whose time will never come. But since you can
never have too much mulled wine or too many reindeers with candy-cane
antlers, his everything-and-two-kitchen-sinks approach worked wonders on Songs for Christmas, a box set of five mini-albums originally recorded as gifts for family and friends. Not content with bringing his banjo to bear on ye olde carols, he also wrote a number of originals — including this cryptic soundtrack for seasonal affective disorder. If your dad ever incinerated your gifts in a wood stove, listen up.

The Jingle Cats: What Child Is This?/Hava Nagila

What is there to say except … meow. If you have cats (or dogs, after
the ho-ho-Hanukkah segue), please do them a favour and wear headphones
while enjoying/suffering this. My cats’ reactions to these passionate
prr-maow-maows have ranged from attacking my speakers to cowering in
the corner. And apologies regarding the minute-long static ad for the
Jingle Cats DVD at the end. Unfortunately, the only clips I could find
of the kitties’ immortal White Christmas video either had out-of-sync
audio or were fuzzy fifth-generation copies from the Netherlands. Ik
ben een jingle kat!

Jordan Zivitz
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