Last week I suggested that an album by the Living Strings, purveyors of lushly orchestrated versions of pop songs, might in fact be one of the greatest Christmas albums ever made. Permit me now to attempt to make the case.
Holidays are backward-looking occasions. When you watch TV tonight, take note of the ads. How many, overtly or by implication, refer to “an old-fashioned Christmas”? Look closely at the pictures on the Christmas cards you get, or send. How many have a nostalgic Currier-and-Ives look, show carolers in Victorian garb, or Christmas trees decorated with candles or strings of popcorn? How about the Christmas cookie recipe at your house? Has it been handed down in the family? How many family traditions do you repeat each year? (Do you bake cookies only at Christmastime?)
Venerating the past isn’t all we’re doing when we observe these old-time rituals—to a certain extent, aren’t we actively trying to become the sort of people we used to be? Why wouldn’t we find such a thing attractive? In days of yore, we were younger. People we love and have lost were still with us. Life was less complicated, we think. Simpler things made us happy, we think. And at Christmastime, we were the happiest of all, we think. Life in the present can’t measure up to that kind of ideal.
So we acknowledge, consciously or not, that today’s celebrations, whatever form they take, aren’t just like the ones we used to know, and we grasp at whatever we can to make them feel more like they used to. Thus the pull of cookies and Victoriana and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Especially the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and its ilk, because the perfect soundtrack for an old-fashioned celebration would epitomize our idealized past. It would be best if it had no referent in the modern world at all. It would have to be music without the post-modern sense of irony that infuses so many popular works of art today. It would have to be music that is exactly what it sounds like.
And so I give you The Spirit of Christmas by the Living Strings, artifact of a bygone time, but one with a powerful time-traveling mojo in a season that is all about bygone times, and one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time. You can grab either a single track, the lovely “Silver Bells,” on which an anonymous British clarinet player lays down a lovely, lyrical solo rich with all the beauty Christmas can bring, or get the entire album, zipped in two files. Play it in the family room by the light of the Christmas tree. You won’t be sorry.
(Link to part 2 was FUBAR’d previously, but it’s fixed now.)
(The Spirit of Christmas is out of print; thanks to the folks at PCL Linkdump, who aggregated dozens of Christmas blog posts last year, for pointing me to the rip, and to the blog I can’t remember for actually doing the rip.)