By C. Liegh McInnis
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
Editor’s note: Printing only C. Liegh McInnis’ “How Christmas songs can be used to reflect aesthetic and sociopolitical differences” Christmas playlist in the 12-21-23 edition without explanation doesn’t give full weight to the construction of the list. Therefore, please read his commentary printed below to appreciate his passionate thoughts on the subject.
My love of Christmas songs is ironic, if not hypocritical. One, I don’t celebrate birthdays or holidays, including Christmas. Next, as stated before, generally, I don’t like cover songs. But, I’ve always been intrigued in the manner that various artists have used Christmas songs as a way to make a cultural and aesthetic statement.
When The Temptations sing, “If I had one wish, it would be that men are free,” in their version of “Silent Night,” one realizes that they are not making music that just sounds good. And, when Stevie Wonder sings “Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys playing with bombs like children play with toys,” in “Someday at Christmas,” one realizes that Wonder is asserting that the artist has a responsibility to create art that moves the audience to be better, regardless of the topic or occasion. Then, leave it to The Kinks to create a Christmas song, “Father Christmas,” that rivals Dostoyevsky’s “Heavenly Christmas Tree” in exposing human hypocrisy in the gap between humanity’s ideology of “peace on Earth and goodwill toward all” while some revel in abundance as others remain homeless. One realizes that The Kinks are creating from the same vibe as James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” when they sing “Father Christmas, give us some money/ Don’t mess around with those silly toys/ But give my daddy a job ‘cause he needs one/ He’s got lots of mouths to feed/ But if you’ve got one, I’ll have a machine gun/ So I can scare all the kids down the street…” Wonder, The Temptations, Brown, and The Kinks, as conscience artists, are exemplifying W. E. B. Dubois’ notion that “all art is propaganda,” and using their work as both a call and a challenge for humanity to live by the ideas and sensibilities it claims to follow.
For this reason, I’m always interested in various versions of Christmas songs. Of course, most are not as political as The Temptations and Wonder, but all tend to display that the creation of art is an act of following T. S. Eliot’s notion, presented in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” that all artists must find a way to bridge the novel to the historical or combine the individual with the communal in a way that expands and evolves the tradition in an innovative and constructive manner. With that notion, I present my Christmas Music List.
In truth, listening to “Christmas songs” is the only extra thing I do for Christmas. I don’t erect a Christmas Tree because I’m not a worshipper of Nimrod, and I exchange as few gifts as possible because I’m “thrifty,” and I’d rather be reading and writing during my break from work than stuck in some store trying to find a gift that someone is just going to return anyway. My list includes two versions of four songs because I like the manner in which the artists are able to provide something about the song that the other artist didn’t. I also have eight songs on my list by Pentatonix, an a cappella group. I love their vocal range and the manner in which they maintain the traditional essence of a song while evolving it into something new.
The songs on my list range from the very serious to the very silly, which, my wife often states, reflect me quite appropriately. Please feel free to share your favorite Christmas songs with me. That will be a much better gift than to give me something I’ll never wear or use.