December and its inevitable culmination in Christmas has not historically been a particularly happy time for me, ever since I was seven and got Snake Mountain for Christmas. I didn’t really want Snake Mountain for Christmas. Well, I wanted it when I saw it on TV, but I didn’t want it once I had it, which has pretty much been true of every single thing in my life. I was mad at my mom for getting it for me when I didn’t want it, even though I had said that I wanted it—she was my mom, and she was supposed to know that I didn’t really want it. And then I felt bad for being mad at her and feeling ungrateful. And then I just hated myself for being a shitty kid in love with shitty toys.
Much worse has happened in the month of December since then—horrible, life-alteringly bad shit, worse shit than has ever happened to me before or since—and also just some sad shit like getting really high on cough syrup alone by myself in a girlfriend’s bed when she was with her family, or calling my mom crying from a girlfriend’s bathroom because it seemed so unfair that her family had everything when we had nothing, not even each other, or working at Beauty Bar on a dead Christmas Eve when Vic Chesnutt killed himself and then was alive again and then died again for good.
Still, that initial disappointment of Snake Mountain has some primacy. Maybe it was my first glimmer of understanding that disappointment would not just come from the outside world and that disappointment would not just come from inside of me but that it would start both inside and outside and that it would spread everywhere, that it would claim everything it touches.
What I’m trying to say is: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and especially, Happy New Year.
1) “Heaven Heaven” — Love Story in Blood Red
A staple of any Christmas/winter/holiday mix I make is the unimpeachable “Roll Over, It’s Xmas.” It’s possibly the greatest Christmas song of all time and probably the only good thing Jason Frederick will do with his miserable life. Sample lyric: “Your mom was a good-natured idiot/ She didn’t know how bad things could get/ Your dad was a total dick/ Man, that kinda life’s enough to make someone deathly sick.” For those of you out there who aren’t smarty smart close readers, I’ll point out that the ‘dad’ he is calling a dick is God Almighty. Yeah, this will be that kind of holiday mixtape. Since I cribbed the song title for this inferior mixtape and you will SURELY now look it up on your own, here instead is ‘Heaven, Heaven’ by another tombstone in the graveyard of Jason’s dead bands, Love Story In Blood Red. This will also be my token nod to the religious element of this season’s holidays. If there’s a kingdom above, I wanna rule it with you, Jason.
2) “In The New Year” — The Walkmen.
Speaking of total dicks, The Walkmen have been one of my favorite bands for a couple of years now. I got to interview Hamilton Leithauser about Lisbon once and he was a total prince. I tried to introduce myself to him at a show I brought my Mom to about a year later and he, well, let’s be diplomatic and just say he was rude. But who am I to hold a grudge, especially around the holidays? Come home, Hamilton Leithauser, come home. Here, let me take your coat.
3) “Charlie Brown Christmas” (vocal mix) – Vince Guaraldi
Okay, so I hate Christmas. But I am not completely devoid of tenderness or sentimentality. Actually, when you get through my bulletproof vest made of two inches of hippo skin, thirteen alternating layers of Kevlar and adamantium and a soft fluffy dry wicking polarfleece liner, you will find that I am as soft and sweet as banana pudding. Proof: listening to this song all the way through would probably make me cry. You try it if you’re so goddamn hard.
4) “Frosty the Snowman” — The Ventures
I will happily listen to the Ventures’ Christmas album in July.
5) “Christmas in Washington” — Steve Earle
Just about everything I hear about/by Steve Earle these days annoys the shit outta me. I wish he would just go into acting now with the same fervor I wish Ice Cube had stuck to rapping. But when this album came out, well Jesus, Bill Clinton was in office and things were different. My loser buddies and I would start drinking as soon as we woke up and listen to this record until we were flat on our backs, around maybe 4 pm. I still kinda dig this song. Or at least it doesn’t make me wish Steve Earle was back in prison.
6) “Just a Lonely Christmas” — The Moonglows
Before Derek Cianfrance made Blue Valentine, he lived in Colorado and played drums in a band with yours truly. He was a great and patient friend and not a bad drummer, either. When we ate at McDonald’s, he had to put a layer of French fries around the meat in his burger because, although he wanted to eat that gray meat, he couldn’t bear to think about it touching his mouth. Anyway, his first movie, Brother Tied, was written one winter when he was driving around listening to Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” on repeat. That movie features this song and both are devastating.
7) “Christmas in Hollis” — Run DMC
I was looking over my mixtape thus far and realized that it is pretty narrowly centered about my ignorant smalltown whiteboy childhood. So I reached out to my sidekick Ben Lebovitz, a puppeteer/violence enthusiast/misanthrope, who is about as invested in his Jewish heritage as I am invested in my Catholic heritage. Here is our conversation:
me: what the hell do jews listen to for their heathen pagan Xmas?
the beastie boys?
Ben: Run dmc:
Christmas in hollis
me: hava nagila is weddings, right?
Weddings and bar mitzvahs
me: I am fucking ignorant as shit, yo
seriously, what do jews listen to for Xmas?
Ben: you want traditional songs?
me: just something that makes me seem not as ignorant as I am
Ben: That Adam Sandler song is funny
me: yeah, that would also be selling the fuck out
Ben: Jews don’t really care
Hanukkah is a weak holiday
So, out of respect and admiration for the traditions of the sons and daughters of Abraham, I present to you Christmas in Hollis by RUN DMC.
8. “Christmas in Prison” – John Prine
Hands down, the greatest Christmas song of all time. Sorry, Jason. Mom, if we can play this on repeat while we’re opening presents, hell, I won’t just come home for Christmas, I’ll wear a fricking Santa suit and actually participate like you’ve been hounding me to for years. The best opening couplet of any song, ever: “It was Christmas in prison and the food was real good/ We had turkey and pistols carved out of wood.” Talk about instantaneous storytelling.
9) “Assassination on X-mas Eve” — Archers of Loaf
In ’94 or whenever this album came out, I was a depressed teenager*, in love with an indie-rock girl in a college town. I had no idea what this song was about except that it involved a murder on Christmas Eve, a very sad thing indeed, something fun to gloom about when you’re young and hungover and in love. She told me it was about a do-gooder priest in Latin America who was assassinated in his church on Xmas eve by the evil minions of some tyrannical despot. Some Archers of Loaf fanblogger is convinced it’s about the murder of Santa Claus, which strikes me as too comical to be enjoyably depressing. But by trying to divine the inspiration behind this genius song of Eric Bacchmann’s, I did find a few news gems that were truly malted fuckin rocks broken down in its purest form, boy, D-to-the-motherfucking-PRESSING, like this one about the unsolved murder of a disabled woman on Christmas Eve. She was 4’11”, carrying her Bible on her way home from Mass. Now, for once, don’t you wish I had just written more about being a depressed teenager in love?
*I have been a depressed teenager for about 22 years and counting, so it’s safe to say that this album was released sometime in that window. I know I can look it up on the Internet. So can you, you lazy fuck.
10) “Jingle Bells” — Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Starts out with some vaguely churchy notes that quickly go Brian Wilson and then Danny Elfman and then the Muppets and then… wow, suddenly Christmas doesn’t suck at all, does it?
11) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — Ray Charles and Betty Carter
I thought about leaving this one off as, well, it’s kinda NPR. Like when I’m listening to this, this song will come on and my mom will go “Ooh, now THIS is a nice song!” and that’s exactly what I’m trying to not accomplish with this mixtape. But man, Ray Charles… I got turned on to Ray Charles when I was 17 by this junkie I worked in a pizza place with. It was a dark time in my life and early Ray Charles brought me almost as much comfort as Carlo Rossi. Then I worked in a kitchen with this dude who had played drums for Lou Reed in the ’70s. Every time I played the CDs I’d bought, he had a wisecrack: Ray Charles– night 24 hours a day! Ray Charles—lights out! Ray Charles—pitch black! Ray Charles—good morning, midnight!
12) “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – New Bomb Turks
It’s a sad tradition that every established musical artist bankrupt of inspiration churns out a Christmas album in a transparent grab for cash. Chris Isaak, you pathetic lip-curling fake-a-billy, put down the Santa hat, you already have a fucking swimming pool. Equally pathetic, more than one punk band has put out Christmas album, supposedly sending up Christmas, except yeah, those are real dollars they’re getting paid, so now who’s the sucker? But the New Bomb Turks held to their ‘fuck the money’ aesthetic so closely that the last time I saw Eric Davidson, I think he was ready to take a job delivering Chinese food. He’s one of my favorite singers of all time and he kills this one.
13) “Cocaine Blues” — Dave Van Ronk
Cocaine– get it, snow? Oh well. Before he died in 2002, Dave Van Ronk was teaching guitar lessons in the East Village. I was working at The Radio Foundation in ’99 with a sound engineer who knew him and offered to give me his number. I took his number but never called him. I was too broke and too drunk and just too insecure. In a life of mostly regrets, so many regrets that they all kinda blur together, this one has remained distinct with sharp edges.
14) “Silver Bells” — Booker T. & the MG’s
Oh fuck you, Christmas, you just made me love you.
–Mishka Shubaly is the author of four bestselling Kindle Singles for Amazon: Shipwrecked, The Long Run, Are You Lonesome Tonight? and Bachelor Number One. He writes horribly true stories about drink, drugs, disasters, desire, deception, and their aftermath. He is marginally less self-aggrandizing and humorless than he appears in this brief bio.