The Christmas Song Octagon now invites Bobby Big Wheel into combat. He will attempt a victory by submission on anyone who does not recognize the messed-up grandeur of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" the holiday anthem for everyone who might be somewhat excluded from holiday cheer, or perhaps spending it in prison.
I grew up Jewish, so my Christmas was different than yours. I didn't get to decorate a tree, sit in Santa's lap, eat gingerbread men or put up Christmas lights. Instead, I got to celebrate Hanukkah, a store brand Christmas that doesn't even try to replicate the original. And I had to do my best to remain detached from the fun that everyone else was having.
But if you live in America there's no way avoid Christmas; you can't turn on the TV or the radio or even talk to your friends without it coming up. So for me Decembers were always melancholy because any time I left the house there would be buildup to a day that, to me, consisted of watching a movie and eating Chinese food. In America there's no way to avoid celebrating Christmas unless you're a hermit (this is why I LOL at the War on Christmas). This meant I had to develop my own Christmas tradition to help cope with December.
Enter David Letterman. As a young wiseass I recognized a kindred spirit instantly (he later supplied my yearbook quote) and would stay up late to watch his show starting in the sixth grade, when my parents decided they'd rather get to bed on time themselves instead of make sure that I did. And I soon found out that the last Late Show episode before Christmas, concludes with Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
If you have any Taylor Swift fans in your household, play Baby Please Come Home for them so they know what a real breakup song sounds like. (Yes: this is directed at the parents of 11-year-old girls, and also Andrew Sharp.) The Spector wall of sound mixed with those holiday jingling bells makes the song a total punch to the gut. When you stagger back up to your feet the saxophone solo knocks you back down. There's a reason Martin Scorsese only needed 15 seconds of the song to show you what a paranoid freak Jimmy Conway was.
You can see how the song appeals to unsentimental types like Letterman and me. It can be more than just a breakup song, it is for anyone who wants to celebrate but you can't feel anything. It's a song for everyone who's left out on Christmas: Jews, malcontents, drunks, loners. Finally, a Christmas song about what it's like to feel lost on Christmas. In the movies and on TV everything gets wrapped up by December 25. But life doesn't work that way. For some people, it's just another day.
So fuck your "Little Drummer Boy" and "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls." Even if you do have a Rockwell Christmas my guess is that you haven't batted 1.000 over your entire lifetime on December 25. There has to be at least one Christmas when grandma was sick or your parents were fighting or you'd just been dumped. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is the song for those Christmases. And when you do have a good Christmas, it can be a reminder of just how lucky you are.
So I invite you to watch the Letterman Christmas show with me this year on December 21. Dave's guest is Jay Thomas, who will come on and tell his Lone Ranger story (it's hilarious) then he and Dave will try to knock a meatball off the Ed Sullivan Theatre Studio Christmas tree with a football. Finally, Darlene Love will come on and belt out "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" like she's still 23. It's the perfect Christmas. I don't get a tree, I don't get presents and I don't get a ham. But I do get Darlene.