OK, so far here on the bad list we’ve covered a lot of territory: Good songs ruined by singers who shouldn’t be singing them, songs with bad lyrics, songs about holiday date rape, and songs by annoying rodents, but so far we have yet to tap into a rich vein of Christmas coal: The depressing Christmas song.
Somehow, over the years the celebration of new life and hope coming to the world in the form of a baby boy has morphed into a time when many people get the holiday blues. It’s natural for some folks who thrive on sunlight to get seasonal affective disorder, then you add all of the other stressors that come with the holidays and voilà, you have a tasty little dish that we call Holiday Depression.
As if all that wasn’t enough, songwriters throughout the years have decided to kick it up a notch by writing songs that make you want to hang a noose by the chimney with care.
Some prime examples of this genre: John Denver’s classic Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas,a heartwarming tune that has also been recorded by Alan Jackson and The Decemberists (appropriately). Then there’s Eddy Arnold’s Will Santy Come to Shanty Town? from his Christmas album that I grew up listening to. And it’s hard to beat Pretty Paper written by Willie Nelson and sung by Roy Orbison.
I could go on and on, but one thing separates the songs listed above from my #2 bad song choice, they seem sincere and authentic. Yes they’re depressing as hell but they seem to come from genuine emotions and possibly real experiences. Not manufactured out of thick schmaltzy goo like so many Christmas McNuggets with the sole purpose of wringing emotions out of the listener, like….
The Christmas Shoes – NewSong
Words and Music: Bob Carlisle
Bob Carlisle was in a couple of Christian Rock bands in the 80s but apparently he became aware of two very important things: That there wasn’t enough a.) schmaltz in the world, and b.) money in his pocket. He set out to rectify those problems with his first solo album Bob Carlisle Lays It On Thick, followed by Bob Carlisle Lays It On Even Thicker. Finally in 1997 he had a big hit with Butterfly Kisses, a very sentimental song that he wrote for his daughter. The song appeared on his album Bob Carlisle Lays It On So Thick You Could Tar Your Roof With It.
Because it’s no longer enough to have a hit song, Butterfly Kisses: The Song was followed by Butterfly Kisses: The Journal and Butterfly Kisses: The Golden Book. Butterfly Kisses: The Breakfast Cereal was in the works but Mr. Carlisle wisely decided that he had pumped all he could out of the Butterfly Kisses Well and that the marketing would stop with Butterfly Kisses: The Microwave Popcorn.
Singer, please. We can’t all be Thomas Kinkade.
Then one night a few years later, Bob Carlisle was visited by three spirits: The Ghost of Money Past, The Ghost of Money Present, and Ernest Borgnine. Mr. Borgnine was successful at convincing Bob that he wouldn’t be able to continue upkeep of his mansion on Butterfly Island unless he wrote a new song. A Christmas song.
Years ago when I was still trying to become a big time Hollywood screenwriter, an actor friend told me that I should write a Christmas movie. “Christmas movies are always successful,” he said, “Even if they suck.” My friend obviously had great faith in my ability as a writer, but he was right, and the same thing is true about Christmas songs. Hell, every year for the entire month of December about nine radio stations in every market go all Christmas songs all the time. That gaping maw has to be filled.
Bob Carlisle did write a new song, he would eventually release the new song on his album Bob Carlisle Is Going To Make You Cry If He Has To Squeeze Onion Juice In Your Eyes, but first he sold his new song to a group called NewSong. And the rest is mediocrity history:
The song is about a self absorbed yuppie (do we still call them that?) who is waiting in line to buy “that last gift or two” when he uncharacteristically notices something other than himself:
Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes
And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say
Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there’s not much time
You see, she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.
Well, it turns out the young man does not have enough money to buy the shoes so that his Momma will look beautiful when she meets Jesus. And we know what that means; Jesus will say “Come into my Kingdom my good and faithful…wait, not in those shoes!” He will then snap his fingers in a circle and it will be straight to Hell with Momma and her butt ugly shoes.
He searched his pockets franticly
And he turned and he looked at me
He said Momma made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir
What am I gonna do?
Some how I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes
Now, just picture this. It’s Christmas Eve at WalMart. The line to the cashier stretches all the way to sporting goods, and this dirty kid is digging through his pockets for change? I’m sorry, but not only is nobody going to help him out with his shoes, he’s going to be lucky if he survives. He’s at WalMart, WalMart customers don’t play, they kill people.
But in the fantasy world of this song, the narrator has a pang of conscience and buys the shoes. And he knows…he *sob* knows that God sent this little poor boy to teach Yuppie McSelfishpants a lesson.
I knew I caught a glimpse of heavens love as he thanked me and ran out.
I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about
That’s right, Bob. God created that family, made them poor, had their Daddy lose his job because the factory moved to China, made the Mommy have to get two jobs, and then gave her freaking cancer so YOU could learn what Christmas is all about. Because, after all, it is all about you. That woman is going to die tonight but it’s all good, because you learned a valuable lesson.
If you were made out of Brawny towels you couldn’t be more self absorbed.
And what the holy hand grenades is this kid doing out by himself on Christmas Eve?
And why doesn’t somebody tell him that his Mother doesn’t want shoes when she’s dying, she wants to hold her little boy and look in his eyes and tell him how much she loves him so he’ll never forget.
This song makes no damn sense. This song only works in a fantasy world and in the cynical money grubbing minds of people who write and release this shit so gullible people with tears in their eyes will part with their money.
And, of course, The Christmas Shoes: The Song was followed by The Christmas Shoes: The Movie Starring Rob Lowe, then not only The Christmas Shoes: The Book, but four books. It’s The Christmas Shoes: The Saga.
But I need to calm down. It’s all OK because all of the royalties for this song and its by-products have been donated to build schools, homeless shelters, food pantries, and start a shoe manufacturing company in the US that pays its employees a living wage and offers generous health benefits.
Oh…now I guess I’m living in a fantasy world.
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And, just in case the original version isn’t bad enough for you…ladies and gentlemen, The Chipmunks:
Finally, if you think my take on this song is cynical/horrid/I deserve to be turning on a spit for all of eternity with demons roasting chestnuts over me, then you might want to avoid this video from comic Patton Oswalt. He makes some of the same points but Scout’s Honor I didn’t see it until I wrote this (NSFW due to language):