December 12, 2013

Christmas music brings out the Scrooge in a DJ

Years of playing holiday season tunes 24/7 will do that to a guy.

By Rick Johnson

I have a confession to make: I hate Christmas music.

As a DJ, Rick Johnson has endured listening to Christmas songs way too many times.

Courtesy photo

It’s not that I have some sort of vendetta against Santa, or an irrational fear of reindeer. I have nothing against jingling bells or a nicely decked hall, and I’m totally cool with any number of ships that want to come sailing in on Christmas Day. No, I hate Christmas music because I was overexposed. For years.

You see, I’m a DJ. For a few years, I was the afternoon drive host on a local radio station. I loved it. I’m not on that particular station anymore, and though I do miss the fun of playing tunes for folks on their way home from work every day, there’s one aspect of that particular gig that I was glad to be rid of: the annual Christmas music flip.

Each year, the day after Thanksgiving, the station would temporarily change its format to an all-Christmas-music playlist. That didn’t mean we just played the songs we usually played and mixed in Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” now and again. Nope, this was nothing but Christmas music, 24/7. And, because 24 hours a day is a lot of time to fill, we would play Christmas songs by artists who didn’t normally appear on our playlist. Like Britney Spears. Or Mariah Carey. Or the Muppets (OK, so I actually liked the Muppets’ Christmas tunes).

To the casual listener, the Christmas flip was terrific. Anytime you were in the mood for a holiday song, you just tuned to our station and bam! One Christmas classic after another! But for guys like me, who actually had to be in the studio and listen to this stuff for hours at a time, for almost a whole month, it became a kind of slow torture. Because I had to hear the same songs over and over, I started to notice little things about these tunes that I never picked up on before, like just how creepy the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is. We used to play the Dean Martin version, and ol’ Dean-o sounded like he just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. If I were the female protagonist in that song, I’d be keeping a close eye on what Dean was putting in those drinks!

Or how about when Andy Williams lists all those fun activities associated with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and he says, “There’ll be scary ghost stories.” Seriously, who tells ghost stories on Christmas? That’s Halloween, Andy! You sure you haven’t been dipping into that “magic dust” that Cheech and Chong are always talking about? You know, the stuff that Santa Claus and his old lady use to fly all the way around the world?

Here’s another question: Why would someone build a snowman and then pretend he’s some sort of clergyman? Does he even have a license to perform marriages? Exactly what kind of weird, cult-like stuff was going on in this so-called “Winter Wonderland”?

Some songs seemed innocent, but I guess it depended on who was listening. One day, our old business manager stopped me in the hallway and complained that we were overplaying a certain song that made him and his wife uncomfortable.

“Which one?” I asked.

“Um, that one about the, ah … prostitute,” he replied.

“The WHAT?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She makes a list of all the stuff she expects in return for sleeping with Santa Claus.”

Then it dawned on me: “Do you mean ‘Santa Baby?’”

“Yes, that’s the one! I can’t believe you guys play that so much! My wife and I always change the station when that one comes on. Has anyone complained?”

“Um, not that I’m aware of,” I said, backing away slowly.

Day after day, the Christmas aural assault continued. When I went home at night, images from the songs haunted my dreams, mixing and blending in bizarre ways. Sugarplum fairies danced to a synthesized waltz played by Mannheim Steamroller. Chestnuts nipped at my nose while Jack Frost was roasted over an open flame. Mariah Carey drove up in a sleigh pulled by Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey, ready to take me on an endless quest to find the perfect pair of Christmas shoes (don’t even get me started on that wretched tune). It all became too much to bear.

These days, I quickly change the station the second I hear that horse start to whinny at the beginning of “Sleigh Ride,” no matter how lovely the weather might be. When I hear Bruce start to tell me how cold it’s getting on the boardwalk, I put in a CD. And I’m sorry, George Michael, but I no longer care what happened to you last Christmas. I’m done.

Unless, of course, I hear “Father Christmas” by the Kinks. That one has always been my favorite rock ’n’ roll Christmas tune, and I turn it up as loud as it can go every time. What can I say? I just can’t resist a good, loud guitar, regardless of the context. And let’s face it, a loud guitar trumps sleigh bells every time. Merry Christmas!

Rick Johnson is a Portland freelance writer.

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