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IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “It’s a Pretty Thing, Isn’t It?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 29, 2007

Can it be?

“Bowie’s appearance has been described as a ‘surreal’ event, undertaken at a time that he was ‘actively trying to normalise his career.’ He has since recalled that he only appeared on the show because ‘I just knew my mother liked him.'” -Wikipedia

Really, it is sort of hard to imagine what turn of events could have led to David Bowie turning up on Bing Crosby’s 1977 TV special. It’s amazing that Bowie could take the time to stop doing coke with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti and fly in from Berlin to show up looking so prim and proper for his duet with the Bing. Still, whatever the circumstances that brought it about, their duet medley of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth” has gone on to be a Christmas classic, both as a bizarre historical anomaly and well, a surprisingly nice medley.

But when you’re talking about “Little Drummer Boy” / “Peace on Earth,” you’re not just talking about the song–you’re talking about the mind-expandingly ridiculous video that accompanied it, originally appearing on the Bing’s special. The video has become a fixture for holiday-era music video programming , and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch it complete with the two-minute dialogue between Bing and Bowie preceding it. The general plot involves Bowie showing up the home of Sir Percival, a friend whose piano he claims to occasionally use, and finding Bing there instead, who admits to being, as David puts it, “the poor relation from America”. In their discussion, the two naturally come to the subject of music, and David speaks a certain fondness for the old school Christmas songs, the sheet music for which just happens to be right on Sir Percival’s piano. Hence, the two launch into a perfectly harmonized version of “Little Drummer Boy,” with Bowie eventually mixing a little “Peace on Earth” in there as well.

Never mind that the pretext for the two meeting there has the plausability of a porno set-up, the whole dialogue serves as something of a cementing of the mid-70s generation gap, a battle between the new and the old, a game of subtle one-upsmanship in which the two eventually emerge as equals under the banner of quality holiday tuneage. Bowie serves as the represnetative of modern youth culture in the clip, saying he sings “mostly the contemporary stuff.” Interestingly, Bowie plays stupid for the whole clip, as if audiences perceived him as just today’s latest teenybopper craze, responding to Bing’s questions about his appreciation for “the older fellas” by saying that he listens to John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. He emerges from the video seeming insolent, arrogant and ignorant.

Crosby, of course, is the representative of the old guard, a symbol for everything safe and boring that Bowie and his cronies tried to break down with their glam rock shock tactics and scorching proto-punk musical energy. He responds to Bowie’s question about if he likes modern music by saying that he finds it “marvelous, some of it really fine,” a sure sign that he hasn’t even touched his victrola in 20 years (it’s like when Steve Buscemi asks the record exec in Airheads who would win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God–any answer is the wrong one). And throughout the clip, he actas as a patronizing asshole to Bowie, archly asking “oh, you go back that far, do you?” after Bowie’s response about old fellas John Lennon and Harry Nilsson (Bowie, dumb blonde that he is, fails to pick up on the Bing’s sarcasm).

Despite the dichotomy at work, the unstated match of wits and egos, all is put aside for the singing of the medley, which is actually fairly heavenly. Despite the ideological divides between the two, their voices aren’t really all that dissimilar, their trembly baritones intertwining as perfectly as a strand of DNA, with the medley aspect of the song providing a mildly interesting new spin on a couple of Christmas standards. The clip would be a cult classic for the weirdness of the dialogue’s power struggle regardless, but with the song itself, it’s just a Christmas classic, period.

I do wish I could find a full clip of the Bing/Bowie encounter, though–the one in which Bowie takes the Bing back to his house to listen to the original masters of side two of Heroes. Bowie asks the Bing what he thinks halfway through “Neukoln,” and a clearly distracted Bing responds “Oh, yeah, sure, David, this is grand stuff, just really grand.”

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Posted in Seven Days of Xmas | 1 Comment »

IITS’s Seven Days of XMas: “And Who Would Have Thought Leg Warmers Would Come Back?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 28, 2007

“Hmmmmmmmmmm…..”

Do you ever wonder if Old Navy ad execs just experience the world differently than we do? Do they all live in 60s astro-lounge pads that only get glossier and retroier with each passing year? Do they all speak in jarring syntax, confusing tangents and unnervingly over-enthusiastic enunciation? If they were to watch a movie like Schindler’s List, would it appear to them to be in black-and-white, or would it shimmer with vibrant, nearly ostentatious technicolor? Do they even know that things like war, poverty, and tomato sauce stains exist?

With each year, and each bizarro Old Navy ad campaign, these questions plague me more. In the years since those early Performance Fleece ads with Carrie Donovan (“Performance fleece–ooh, it’s fine! Performance fleece–I’ll be there at nine!“–don’t act like you don’t know the words), they’ve only got stranger, shinier, more disconcerting. But the apex for me has got to be their Christmas ads from a few years ago. You know the ones, where a group of carolers interrupts someone performing everyday tasks to sing to them about the wonderful things Old Navy products can do for them this Holiday season. For a normal company, these commercials would probably seem boring and cliched, but in the hands of Old Navy, they make for some of the most…well, unnatural commercials I’ve ever seen on TV.

First and foremost, there’s the look. It’s that unmistakable Old Navy look, with the monochromatic backgrounds, garishly bright clothes, and sets that look ordinary on the surface, but with some inexplicably unsettling undercurrent of falseness to them (seriously, look at the supermarket aisles in this one and tell me it doesn’t send chills down your spine). And then there’s the expressions on the actors’ faces–the horrifically wide smiles of the carolers, and the perplexed, slightly terrified look of their unexpecting victims.

And then there’s the songs. Dear lord, where to start with the songs. Sung to the tune of standard Christmas carols, sort of–“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “O Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bells”–they seem like they should sound like your average carol-changed-to-ad-campaign jingles, like those awful Garmin.com commercials that’ve been unavoidable the last few months. But the lyrics just feel so very, very wrong–the meter is off, there’s little if any attempt to make logical rhymes, and the subject matter occasionally gets a little too personal (doesn’t “and by the way, your mom says hi” sound distinctly like an implied kidnapping?)

The scariest thing about these commercials, though, must be the involvement of the kids. The actors that have appeared in Old Navy commercials throughout the years have all had a Stepfordian air about them, but at least you felt like they were making a conscious, clearly informed choice in selling their souls for televised advertisment glory. To brainwash kids into their cult, even giving them some of the weirdest lines in the whole ads, is like seeing that woman’s zombified daughter attack her with gardening tools in Night of the Living Dead, a personafication of all that is truly unholy.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’d still rather watch a thousand of these ads than to have to see one more of those Zales commercials.

Posted in Seven Days of Xmas | 2 Comments »

IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “Now I Have a Machine Gun, Ho Ho Ho”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 27, 2007

“Come out to the coast, get together, we’ll have a few laughs…”

A recent discussion on the topic of Holiday movies with my family quickly came to the question: What are the best Christmas movies of recent years? I mean, everyone knows It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Silent Night, Deadly Night, but what movies from recent years deserve to be placed among those classics in the canon? Since both my brother and I were involved in the conversation, inevitably one film came up in the discussion:

Die Hard.”

I don’t remember who suggested it, me or him, but it led to a fairly lengthy debate: Should Die Hard count as a Christmas movie? Going by the most obvious criteria–that Die Hard does, in fact, take place on Christmas–of course it does. But does it really deserve to be tallied among the ranks of the movies that people most commonly and thoughtlessly associate with Christmas? Is it a Christmas Movie, or just a movie that happens to take place on Christmas?

To me, there are three obvious tests to put it through to determine whether or not it deserves to be counted as an official, ballot-worthy Christmas Movie:

  1. Could the events of the plot not take place at any time besides Christmas?
  2. Would the movie be significantly worse if it didn’t take place at Christmas?
  3. Is the fact that the movie takes place at Christmas reflected in the general themes of the movie?

The answer to question #1–could it not take place another time–is probably no. Really, the actual fact of it being Christmas has little bearing on the major plot events of the movie. Sure, John supposedly comes out to visit Holly because it’s Christmas and he has work off to visit her, but that could just have easily been explained by any number of other plot contrivances that it being Christmas, and could likely be discounted as incidental. When you think about movies like Miracle on 34th Street, or, of course, A Chrismas Story, it’d be literally impossible to replay those events at non-Christmas times of year, and you can’t really say that about Die Hard.

The answer to question #2–would it be much worse if not at Christmas–I believe to be yes. There are any number of classic parts of the movie directly related to it being Christmas–ones you might not even usually recognize as film highlights, but ones the movie would be far poorer without. The use of “Let it Snow,” for instance–first as Al’s Christmas song of choice while buying twinkies, and then as the end credits. Or the sound of jingle bells when John McClane first sees the roll of tape that plays an integral role in his final victory over the baddies. Or, of course, the titular phrase of this article, written in lipstick on that terrorist who looks like Police-era Sting’s corpse, and hilariously vocalized by Hans–possibly the film’s single most memorable line. Maybe not essential to the story, but definitely essential to the film’s humor and identity.

And the answer to question #3–is Christmas reflected in its themes–I also think is yes. One of the things that so separates the movie from other action movies of its time is how the film’s larger story–John’s attempt to reconcile with Holly, and his search for personal redemption–actually enriches the film instead of just distracting from it, and the Christmas setting definitely adds to that. What is Christmas, if not the time for personal redemption, for telling people how you really feel, for once taking a stand for what is really important to you? It might not be quite as gooey and sentimental as most other classic Christmas movies, but that doesn’t make it any less moving or important to the movie’s thematic success.

So yeah, 2-1, I’d have to say it’s a Christmas movie. Just don’t ask about Die Hard 2–I don’t think that’d rank as classic in the “Die Hard movies that take place on Christmas” pantheon.

Posted in Seven Days of Xmas | 1 Comment »

IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas / Livebloggin’ / Tradition: 15 and a Half Hours of Christmas Day TV

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas, you old internet

So as any British streetrat worth his salt no doubt knows by now, today is Christmas Day. And I for one, plan on celebrating, the only way a goyim left alone at his parents’ house loaded with the full arsenal of digital cable–watching TV. Watching a lot of TV. In fact, in what I plan on making a tradition, I plan on doing absolutely nothing but watching TV today–with perhaps minor deviations from schedule to pick up one of my transportation-less friends, and at least one WaWa run, of course. But besides that, I plan on taking advantage of the best But besides that, I have some 600 channels and a barrage of On Demand movies at my disposal, and I plan on using them. Why should today be any different from any other day, I supose?

11:42 AM: Watching the end of The Illusionist after either leaving or falling asleep in the middle two days in a row. Now I understand why whenever I try to talk to someone about The Prestige, they go “Oh, is that the one where…, or is that the one where…?” This movie is such a blatant poor man’s Prestige it makes it somewhat difficult to actually pay attention to what’s going on in the movie–Jessica Biel even looks exactly like Scarlett Johansson does in Prestige, except significantly less attractive. And Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti’s accents are both terrible. What’s the deal? I heard reports of a good twist ending, though, so I guess I’ll have to ride this one out.

12:30 PM: Meh.

12:35 PM: Ah, 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS, right in time for the leg lamp scene. I’m always left a bit colder than I should be by A Christmas Story, considering its somewhat unassailable status as a kiddie Christmas classic–most easily explained by the fact that I somehow managed to avoid seeing it all the way through until I was at least in middle school. And even then I never actually watched the movie from start to finish–I just finally caught enough pieces of it over the course of Christmas that it actually added up to the whole thing. Frankly, I prefer TNT’s unofficial 24 Hours of The Ref marathon–more alcohol and sarcasm, if nothing else (although apparently The Ref isn’t on at all today–what the fuck???)

12:50 PM: Flipping between ACS and a 1987 Christmas game between the Knicks and the Pistons on NBA TV. Always fun hearing announcers say retrospective LOLers like “It looks like Thomas could really be a star one day” and “Pitino’s not sure if this Ewing guy is gonna make it as the Knicks’ center,” although not as much fun as seeing super-freak Dennis Rodman as, y’know, just an above average defensive player. Info says that the Pistons go on to win the game 91-87 (honestly, do you have to put the final score in the info for the game?), but I guess Billy Donovan is sleeping much easier at night these days than Isiah, so it evens out.

1:09 PM: Anyone ever hear of a CBS Afterschool Special called The Writing on the Wall? Apparently Peter Billingsley was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as an anti-semitic teenager taught the importance of tolerance by rabbi Hal Linden (Barney Miller). And now he’s an exec producer on the upcoming Iron Man movie? I had no idea Ralphie went on to be so prolific. He probably watches Scott Schwartz’s pornos every Christmas and cackles to himself.

1:40 PM: Not like those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials have ever been any sort of standard for excellence, but the animated ones with the two singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” plumbs new depths of mind-numbingness. Not even so bad is PC’s ad-lib of “So you’d better buy a mec and not a PC this holiday season or any other time, for goodness sake,” or is his oh-so-clever-lyric-tweaking of “he knows when you’re in sleep mode.” Mostly I’m just annoyed by the choice to have it be an animated ad, even though otherwise it’s basically no different from any of their other commercials. Like John Hodgman and Justin Long had anything better to do?

1:46 PM: You know, I think the Pink Rabbit Suit Ralphie gets in this movie gets sort of a bad rap. I’m not saying I’d wear mine outside of the house or anything, but when it comes to clothing, I’m all about economy, and why bother owning a bathrobe, pajama pants and slippers when you can just take care of all three in one warm, comfortable-looking suit? I suppose there’s no way to wear something like that around others in this day and age and avoid furry connotations, but I think I’d enjoy watching TV in it by myself. Maybe I’ll order one for Christmas next year.

1:53 PM: I always kind of wish that Ralphie actually does shoot his eye out at the end. I think I just don’t like 10-year-olds being retrospectively narrated by old dudes–kids are know-it-alls enough as is without having to add aged wisdom bullshit to everything. I have similar problems with Kevin Arnold. Oh, and while we’re at it, if my family ever cooked a Christmas Turkey, I’d be praying some neighborhood animal got to it so we’d be forced to go out for Chinese instead. Turkey’s like the most boring meat there is.

2:00 PM: Family Feud marathon all day on GSN. I had flipped to it a few hours ago and Richard Dawson was hosting, but unfortunately it looks like we’ve moved on to the Ray Combs era. Oh well, at least I caught it before they got up to Louie Anderson. “Well, I brought my voluptuous sister Annie,” one of the team leaders explains to Ray. Who the hell refers to their sibling as “voluptuous”?

2:08 PM: For my money, Ray Combs belongs in the Short People Hall of Fame. Every day on his game show, he has to stand next to at least ten people that are almost undoubtedly taller than he is, most of which are even standing on higher ground than he is. Yet he hosts with the confidence and charisma of a Dick Clark or Bob Eubanks, and uses no trick sets or photography to try to hide his height disadvantages. Kudos to you, Ray, you suicidal paraplegic.

2:42 PM: Why is MTV Hits showing an entire MTV Live Hellogoodbye concert? They had a top 20 hit earlier this year, and I’ve already practically forgotten who the hell they are. And the lead singer looks too much like Ben Folds.

2:45 PM: “Walk Hard: Now the winner of two Golden Globe nominations!” YOU CAN NOT WIN A FUCKING GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATION THAT IS WHY IT IS CALLED A NOMINATION

2:52 PM: Heat vs. Cavs, in part one of an ABC doubleheader. And in part one of our “Sports Dudes who Sort of Look Like Pop Culture Dudes” segment today, I present to you:


Heat Coach Pat Riley


Special Agent Lundy from Dexter

3:41 PM: Shaq nearly single-handedly brings down the backboard with a dunk. So maybe this guy is as washed up as everyone says, but he still looks like he could beat up the entire defensive line of the Chicago Bears were he called on to do so.

3:44 PM: So, singing along to “Hang on Sloopy” is like, a thing in Ohio sporting events? Since when are the McCoys such a midwestern institution? Someone really needs to do a definitive article documenting all these bizarre musical appropriations in pro sports.

4:09 PM: An animated So So Def remix video of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” on MTV Jams? Jermaine Dupri, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Not that a Betty Boop’d out animated Mariah is a bad look or anything, but some perfection you just don’t mess with.

4:13 PM: Cinemax is really coming out swinging today: Night at the Museum, The Matrix Revolutions, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, V for Vendetta, The Last King of Scotland, Brokeback Mountain and King Kong all on at the same time? I’m only but one pop culture fiend, thou vile temptress! Not that I would flip to most of these even in the most dire of TV droughts, but still…

4:21 PM: Archival 2006 Phils game against the Mets. It’s nice watching these games in Philly for once–usually I’m in New York, where I know that no matter what game I’m watching, no matter what the score or situation is, the much-hated Yanks will inevitably come back to win. This time, though, I know that even though the Mets are up 10-9 in the bottom of the 8th and Ryan Howard just went down swinging, the team I actually like is gonna battle back to win it. Unless, of course, Philly’s loser streak runs even deeper than I thought.

4:25 PM: To think, it was only two years ago that “Oh boy! A Monk marathon on USA!” would’ve been my likely reaction to an all-Shalhoub weekend schedule on America’s channel.

4:48 PM: YEAAAHHH CHASE UTLEY

4:57 PM: Sports Dudes Who Sort of Look Like Pop Culture Dudes, Pt. 2:


Cavs Forward Anderson Vaerjao


Puerto Rican Pro Wrestler Carly “Carlito” Colon


High School Musical Star Corbin Bleu

5:07 PM: The “White Light / White Heat” Art Rock segment of the much-ballyhooed Seven Days of Rock miniseries is on VH1. So far so good, but I had no idea that Dennis Hopper was the narrator for this thing. Always great to hear his voice, but he sounds so barely restrained in his anger and bitterness discussing Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground, like any minute he’s gonna burst out “FUCK THIS SHIT!!! I DON’T FUCKING CARE!! I WANNA DO MORE SHITTY COMMERCIALS ABOUT THE 60S!!

5:26 PM: Suns vs. Lakers. Does anyone remember the Grant Hill Drinks Sprite commercial from the late 90s? Ahead of its time, I say.

5:28 PM: Nice bowtie, Phil Jackson!

6:00 PM: Of all the people to have nabbed as the franchise cast member for all the American Pie straight-to-video releases, why the hell did it have to be Eugene Levy? Doesn’t he have Christopher Guest movies and Samuel L. Jackson buddy comedies to be doing somewhere? Meanwhile, what the hell are Thomas Ian Nicholas and Eddie Kaye Thomas doing with their time that’s any better than this?

6:18 PM: Despite how much I enjoy watching Steve Nash play for the Suns, I’d like to see the NBA create a law that requires Nash to play a minimum amount of games in his career for every team in the league. It only seems fair that every pro basketball player should get to play with him as a teammate for at least a little while.

6:57 PM: This is one of the best NBA games I’ve watched all year, easily. The amount of one-upmanship is just getting nuts.

7:08 PM: Who is this bald, old, British dude that VH1 always gets to talk about metal? I demand to see his qualifications before I hear what he has to say about the visceral thrill of British Steel one more time.

7:14 PM: Gotta love the organized version of “Bennie & the Jets” that’s playing throughout the game.

8:06 PM: Goddamn Lakers. They seriously looked like one of the elite teams tonight, though–and Kobe wanted to be traded why, exactly? Like he’d have been better off with the fucking Bulls?

8:18 PM: Watching the first couple episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with friends. It’s weird how a couple of them actually pretend to care about seeming like good people in the show’s early days. And it’s weird that that’s weird.

8:51 PM: Autumn Reeser makes a seriously great super-Christian nymphomaniac. Wonder what she’s up to these days.

9:06 PM: The “Hundred Dollar Baby” episode of this show is really starting to seem like an all-time classic. Top 20 of the decade for me, maybe. Non-stop hilarity, though it’s a shame that it’s so obvious this is as good as the show is getting.

9:50 PM: Trailblazers and Sonics. How the hell did this team win 10 (soon to be 11) in a row? Don’t get me wrong, I like mediocre Northwestern teams pretty well actually, but 11 in a row?? I just hope it turns out to not be a total fluke–how awesomely unexpected would a Trailblazers playoff drive be in this day and age? Almost as awesome as being named Travis Outlaw, I’m guessing.

10:01 PM: Rocky IV on Spike. Spike TV seems to need less of an excuse to show one of the Rocky movies than Bravo needs to show one of the Godfathers (which, of course, there’s a marathon of right now). What percentage of this movie isn’t montage, exactly? 30% And does anyone remmeber what actually happens in that 30%?

10:21 PM: Fargo on FLIX. “Unguent! I need unguent!” Gotta love a movie that uses words that have probably never been in any movie ever before.

11:10 PM: Most underrated scene in Fargo–Steve Buscemi’s having sex with a prostitute, when Shep Prowlfoot (the pissed off Native American dude who hired him) picks her up off of him and tosses her off. “Shep, what the fuck are you doin’?” Buscemi pleads with him. “I’m bangin’ that girl!” As if Shep either didn’t realize that Buscemi was having sex with the naked prostitute who was riding his body, and/or his expression of annoyance at Shep’s disruption would cause him to go away.

1:00 AM: “Jesus, kid, when I was your age, I didn’t need no fucking gorilla. And I wasn’t as big as one of your legs. Four kids beat me up one time and I went crying home to my daddy. You know what he did?”
“He made it all better?”
“No, he kicked my ass. You know why?”
“Because you went to the bathroom on Mommy’s dishes?”
What?? Fuck no!”

Bad Santa = Best Christmas movie of the last ten years, so easy

1:55: Skinemax’s new series Co-Ed Confidential almost seems close to being the first working example of my intersection between Primetime Soap Operas and Cinemax wish. From what I’ve seen so far, though, the acting isn’t quite as good as I’d like, the tone isn’t nearly serious enough, and the sex itself is only OK. Plus, no chance for character development in a half-hour show where half of it is devoted to sex anyway. Still, a couple of the girls are pretty hot, so I’ll rate it above Sex Games: Cancun but below Sin City Diaries.

2:15: Sportscenter says that the Giants might rest their starters against the Patriots next week. I really like the Giants, actually, and even Eli Manning, depsite his continual drive to prove himself the least competent QB in the league (much less one already in the playoffs), but if they do this, and not even try to make the Pats earn their immortality, I’ll have no choice but to root for another 18-52 performance from Manning and a bad case of the measles for Brendon Jacobs and Osi Umenyiora come January.

2:45: Based on their interviews in The Wire: Odyssey, the HBO doc about the first four seasons of the series, the five actors that seem the most different from the characters they play:

Deirdre Lovejoy (Rhonda Perlman–actually Irish, surprise surprise)
Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty–actually British, which I actually do find as kind of a surprise)
Robert F. Chew (Prop Joe–hard to explain the difference, but he’s not nearly as aloof as I’d expect)
Larry Gilliard, Jr. (D’Angelo Barksdale–kinda sounds like a geek)
Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow–sounds like a not-entirely-evil human being)

No Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) or Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), though, which bums me the fuck out. God I can’t wait for season five, though–might need a week’s worth of IITS for commemoration.

Posted in Livebloggin', Seven Days of Xmas, Tradition | 6 Comments »

IITS’s Seven Days of XMas: Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 25, 2007

“Christmas still sucked…in a big way.”

It should say something about the show that possibly the definitive Christmas episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force doesn’t even take place on Christmas. In fact, it has very little to actually do with Christmas, minus a ridiculous and entirely extraneous plot tie-in that is more or less dropped entirely by the end of the episodes. Still, it’s rare that I go a Christmas without catching at least one of ’em, and in a perverse sort of way, it’s actually the perfect Xmas episode for ATHF–surreal, free-associative, hilarious and ultimately inconsequential.

“Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” is an obvious reference to the three ghosts of A Christmas Carol (or, as readers of this blog probably better know it, Scrooged), but his ramblings are uncalled for, inaccurate, self-contradcitory, boring, and totally pointless. He shows up in Carl’s apartment to tell him about his past (Carl’s repsonse: “…all right”), but parts of the story are blatant fabrications, and as Carl points out, it’s actually February, two months too late (The Ghost’s reponse: (“I will see you in December…tomorrow.”)

From there, Carl’s pool is filled with blood, and we get to the CGOCPFTF explaining the situation by teaching about the history of Chirstmas (“This is gonna take a while, so you might want to get some snacks”), which we find out started with an evil, dictatoiral ape forcing ape workers to make shitty toys, which were then crapped upon by the apes and thrown at predators, the relevance and accuracy of which is repeatedly questioned by Frylock (“I WAS NOT FINISHED!! You should have gotten a snack!“). CGOCPFTF tells Carl that the blood will run through his house until he “gives himself up…sexually” to the great martian ape or something, so instead he sells his house to Glenn Danzig. Yeah, it’s that kind of episode.

“Cybernetic Ghost” is fairly representative of the style that made early Aqua Teen episodes so brilliant–starting with a concept that could be sold as a typical sitcom setup, and then devolving into utter televisual anarchy. At the beginning, it looks like it could just be another one of those Christmas parable episodes (like the classic It’s a Wonderful Life episode of Beavis & Butthead), but the plot pretext is quickly dropped,and by the end of the episode Danzig is threatening to eat his cereal out of the back of Shake’s skull. You kind of have to be impressed by the show’s utter lack of concern for any kind of continuity, or at least you would have had to be before subsequent Adult Swim shows like 12 Oz. Mouse ruined the idea for everyone.

Plus, it gets back to the idea of what I think makes ATHF so underrated–the show’s satirical drive. No one would ever really classify Aqua Teen Hunger Force as satire, but I think their parodies are far more hilarious than any of the more straight-up renderings on a show like Robot Chicken. Those parodies just take pop culture and merely repackage it in more sardonic and ironic fashions, which are generally boring and extremely predictable, whereas Aqua Teen essentially blows obliterates them at their very core, until any sense of humor, poingancy or morality have vanished completely, and they are shown for being as pompous and unimportant as they are. Watching the original A Christmas Carol the same way after seeing this episode would be utterly impossible, which should be the ultimate goal of all works parodic in nature.

And if you don’t buy that (annoyingly, no one else really does), just observe this exchange from the 1968 Christmas flashback sequence between Carl and his (even Carl-ier) father:

“What is this daddy, is this carpet?”
“Carpet? No, no…it’s burbar. That’s an industry term.”
“Hey, it’s like a flying magic carpet here! Look at this, I’m flying around in Egyptland!”
“Yeah, well, don’t get too attached to it, there, Aladdin, because it’s about to become magic flying dinner.”
“You can’t eat carpet! Silly Daddy!
“No, of course you can’t. Not like that. You gotta boil it…’til the glue gets soft, y’know? Oh jeez, look at the time!
BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS, DADDY!!!
“YOU’RE NOT GETTING OUT OF THIS! Put on your work boots and your respirator! I HAD TO PULL A LOT OF STRINGS TO GET THEM TO HIRE AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD!

Now that’s how you do a Christmas episode. Danzig, motherfucker!

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IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 24, 2007

“They’re singing deck the halls / but it’s not like Christmas at alll…”

While we here at Intensities in Ten Suburbs are more inclined towards Hanukkah, what with the latkes, extended gift-giving, and at least a dozen years of Hebrew School training (not to mention the respectable reputation as the underdog of the holiday season), we also can be objective to acknowledge its relative unimportance to the pop culture sphere. Christmas, on the other hand, has been the inspiration for an undeniable amount of our greatest popular art–something to do with the combination of snow, sentimentality and shiny things, I think. So while religious affiliations do not necessarily stack up, we would nonetheless be fairly remiss to not give it its propers at this time of the year.

With that in mind, we present to you the seven days of Christmas (yeah, yeah, I’ll think of a more original name next year)–a week’s worth of write-ups on some of the best, worst, and most representative examples of Christmas-influenced pop culture. The music, the movies, the TV, maybe even a commercial or sports event or two. And hey, if I can think of something non-Adam Sandler-related in time, maybe I’ll even through a H-Kah entry in there–for the proper tokenist effect, if nothing else.

We kick off the week with what is probably my favorite Christmas song of all-time, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It almost seems like an unfair choice, really–a combination of songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich producer Phil Spector and singer Darlene Love (the voice, if not the name, behind The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”) was just about the most lethal pop wrecking crew possible in the early 60s, and given a subject as emotionally loaded as Christmas for a subject matter…frankly, it’d be shocking if this thing wasn’t a classic. Considering how great the Ronnettes’ Spector-produced cover of “Frosty the Snowman” was, working with an original, Greenwich/Barry composition and with pipes like Darlene Love’s is almost like stacking the deck.

Even considering the braintrust behind it, though, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a stunner. It’s one of the first Christmas songs to really feel like the holidays, or at least as I happen to perceive them–not just a joyous, serene period of love, happiness and warmth, but a time as well for regrets, yearnings, and decidedly mixed emotions. “Christmas” is not an overly miserable song–at the very least, Darlene has someone to be missing, which is more than can be said for many at holiday time–but it’s also pretty fucking far from the domestic bliss described by a song like “Let it Snow,” a song of distraught and frustrated melancholy (with my favorite line being the one used in the teaser above–who couldn’t, come holiday time, relate to occasionally feeling like “it’s not like Christmas at all”?)

The bittersweetness of the lyrics would be meaningless if the music didn’t back it up so perfectly, though. Even in catalogue as singular as Spector’s, it emerges as a highlight–he really breaks out the big guns for this one, an assault of bells, chimes, xylophone, tambourine, piano, strings and baritone sax that combines to sound like the loneliest orchestra in the world. The one-word backing chant of “Christmas!” echoes throughout the song like Darlene Love’s subconscious, a constant and heartbreaking reminder of the fact that this is the time when everyone is supposed to be together and happy and wonderful. And Darlene sings the lead as if this song would turn out to constitute her entire legacy (which, uh, was probably a good move on her part), conveying an amount of desperation that would border on the pathetic were it not so horrifically relatable.

It should be no surprise, then, that the song would go on to inspire a series of similarly lonely and distance-focused Christmas songs in its wake. There’s the equally great “2000 Miles,” the Pretenders song bemoaning Chrissie’s lover being the titular distance away (which, as she somewhat hilariously states in the song, is “very far”). There’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” the Eagles song better known (by me) as the Bon Jovi video where Jon grinds with Cindy Crawford for two and a half minutes. And then there’s the spate of covers, most notably the U2 one from A Very Special Christmas, which deservedly became a alt-rock Christmas staple (and which, I’m semi-ashamed to admit, I knew for years before I ever heard the original).

In any event, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a non-Xmas-celebrator’s Christmas.

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