?MERRY CHRISTMAS, PARTY PEOPLE! I know I tend to ramble on about the Beatles, but this time I have an excuse. It’s Christmas, for Kringle’s sake.And there is no more Beatlesy time of year than Christmas. (There’s also no more Phil Spectory time, but that’s another story.)
When I was a little girl, ’round about 1979, Santa Claus gave cassette copies of the Beatles’ White Album to my brother, sister and me. He also gave us these “small” “portable” tape players, roughly the size of overweight guinea pigs.
I doubt Santa knew what he was giving us; I certainly didn’t. Because of its generic title (The Beatles) and totally fucked-up eclecticism (’20s jazz to protometal), I thought the White Album was one of those historical compilations. This was some mighty crazy shit, all right — darker and weirder than Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. It scared me, yet I devoured it as intensely as I did those waxy, hollow, supermarket chocolates jostling around in my stocking.
For years after, the uniquely cloying claustrophobia of the White Album would evoke kinetic sense memories of large-but-cheap chocolate Santas, half-gnawed away, half-dressed in flimsy colored foil. It was probably around this time I began to wonder in earnest about this “Santa” character and his elusive motivations.
So it was a special treat when, a few years later, I found the Sunday-morning radio show Breakfast With the Beatles, hosted by the late Deirdre O’Donoghue, and heard the many gleeful Christmas greetings the Beatles had recorded for their fan club over the years.
These short messages, featuring talking, singing and homemade sound effects, were predictably thoughtful, in a tossed-off way. Like the 1963 one where John says, “Hello, this is John speaking with his voice,” apologizes that he can’t respond to all the fan mail (“I just haven’t enough pens”), and sings a jingle to the tune of “Happy Birthday”: “Garry Crimble to you/Garry Mimble to you/Getty Bable, dear Christmas/Happy Birthday me too.”
Things sound very gear in ’63, the boys are dead chuffed about the success they’ve had, and they beg the fans to stop sending so many jelly babies and instead focus on peppermint creams and chocolate drops.
So sue me if, after all that, I associate the Beatles with Christmas. Interestingly, Paul’s solo single in 1979 (his first solo single since 1971) was the holiday trifle “Wonderful Christmastime.” Hell, Ringo even put out an entire Christmas album a few years ago.
And maybe because of the you-know-what in you-know-where, “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John & Yoko sounds different this year. Dated and tragic in some ways, but also more beautiful and relevant in others.
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I go in and out of believing in the political power of pop music. Mostly, it seems that whatever was once genuinely revolutionary about rock & roll and hip-hop has long since been defanged — assimilated into the commercial machinery, diminished by the cult of celebrity. Yet certain music, and certain messages, do exist outside all that, no matter how they’re abused by marketers. They are perennially real, and useful. And I think that aspect of his music would make John Lennon most proud: not that he wrote clever melodies or made people cry, but that his songs — including “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” — are still useful and real to people, and not merely nostalgic, as they deal with real life in 2006.
And they are still useful. Just a couple weeks back, fans gathered outside Capitol Records as they do every year to mark John’s death. (I do hope, someday, we can celebrate his birth instead.) But this year, the gathering — with the usual candles and singing and talking — was also something more: It was a protest against the war in Iraq.
So I’m happy to announce that Breakfast With the Beatles, the nation’s original and best Beatles radio program — which was recently booted from 97.1 FM — is back on the air. You’ll hear it every Sunday morning, 9 a.m. to noon, on the esteemed 95.5 KLOS — the last station left from L.A.’s FM-rock heyday. As host Chris Carter puts it: “It’s the real old-school-style FM radio that I grew up on. Any station that plays ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ three times on Thanksgiving day is all right by me!”
This Sunday morning, Christmas Eve, will be a special episode devoted entirely to the Beatles’ Christmas catalog: All the fan-club messages (and their outtakes!), holiday singles and jingles and factoids and more. No jelly babies.