Against Christmas Music

     I always write a birthday column for Beethoven, to take my mind off the damn Christmas music.
     I have nothing against Christmas – just the music.
     It’s so relentlessly pleasant.
     It’s as if everyone in our entire country has been stuck into an elevator and forced to ride up and down, up and down, hands politely folded in front of our crotch, staring at the silent, sliding doors, from the day after Thanksgiving until Boxing Day.
     Up and down, up and down we go, pa-rum-pum-pum @$#%!ing pum.
     “Only art and science give man intimations and hopes of a higher life,” Beethoven wrote.
     He was not writing about Christmas music.
     But one does not pursue one’s hope for a higher life by force-feeding people things – music, holidays, religion, atheism or Toasty-Os.
     If you like Christmas music, that’s great. More power to you. I am not trying to persuade you to come around to my way of thinking. I’ve got an old Mitch Miller album you can have. Please, take it.
     I would not have this aggressive dislike for Christmas music were it possible to escape from it. But during this month, in this country, it is not possible. Once you step outside your home it’s everywhere you go, in stores, in bus stations and airports. It comes from loudspeakers on the streets, for Pete’s sake.
     December is deer-hunting season in Vermont. I am not a hunter, but if the little bastards leapt through the woods singing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” I would shoot all the deer I could. I would be shooting deer with two hands.
     Let me put it another way. February is Black History Month in our country. That is a fine idea. It would do none of us any harm, and might do a lot of us some good, if we learned about African-American history.
     But if every store I entered, every elevator, every street I walked down thrummed with hip-hop music day in and day out for the entire month of February, my enthusiasm for black history would sensibly diminished.
     I might even take my photo of Charlie Parker down from the wall and consign it, not without misgiving, to the attic. Until the music went away.
     Some of the world’s greatest art is sacred music: Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere,” Mozart’s Masses and “Requiem,” Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.” Music is a wonderful thing. It can provide spiritual solace. It can provide inspiration and intellectual nourishment. It can, as Beethoven said, give one intimations of a higher life.
     But music cannot do this if it is stuffed into our ears as though they were gullets, and we so many fledgling geese, and someone – who is it? – wants to eat our livers.
     This is the situation we face with Christmas music.
     We have just been through the longest U.S. presidential campaign in history. This campaign lasted for roughly 4,000 years. By November – nay, by July – it felt as though all the candidates wanted my love and my vote so much they insisted upon rubbing my knuckles, hard, against a cheese grater, every day, over and over. For weeks.
     Why must we repeat this torture, every year, with Christmas music? For the entire month of December?
     “Art has no limits,” Beethoven wrote. “The true artist … has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal, and laments that he has not yet reached the point where his better genius lights the way for him, like a distant sun.”
     But this, of course, has nothing to do with Christmas music.

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