I love Christmas. I love the lights and the Christmas trees and even the shopping. I love bundling up against the cold weather and how everyone seems a little cheerier, just a little lighter and happier, even with the stress of the holidays. And I especially love Christmas music.
But there’s a dark underbelly to Christmas music, a twisted, sadistic aspect that takes great glee in the fact that are you forced to listen to whatever horrors can be released under the guise of holiday cheer. Whether it’s at the office or the bank or stuck in line at Macy’s to argue about this stupid 15% off coupon you got that doesn’t seem to apply to anything other than a shitty Donald Trump plaid tie, we’re often trapped listening to Christmas music. If it’s Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald or the Rat Pack, that’s great. Even Mariah Carey can get in on the act.
But then there are those other Christmas songs, those nails-on-a-chalkboard ditties that serve as a giant lump of coal in the stocking that is our ears. Here, then, are the Top 5 Most Annoying Christmas Songs.
5. DOMINIC THE DONKEY by Lou Monte
You say you’ve never heard of Dominic the Donkey? Then you have remained on the Nice list and Santa loves you.
I had never heard of this auditory equivalent of a wet bowel movement either. That all changed this Christmas. “Dominic the Donkey” is the kind of Christmas song that makes you question your decision to have children. I’d wager Gary Busey plays it on loop during the holidays and dances and claps his hands while his family tries to pretend that they’re not shitting their pants.
Don’t believe me? Judge for yourself.
4. GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER by Elmo & Patsy
This song is so universally despised that it seems like a cliche to include it on this list but, like cigarettes on a “Top 5 Causes of Cancer” list, it must be mentioned (incidentally, this song also appears on that cancer list).
Mildly amusing the first time you hear it, the novelty is already gone on a second listen. The only people who continue to enjoy this song are people who suffer from severe brain damage or are clinically deaf. This song is one of the reasons the Taliban gives for hating us.
3. CHRISTMAS CANON by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
I love “Canon in D.” It’s an elegant, masterfully realized piece of music. We used it in our wedding, as many couples do. It’s beautiful and romantic and hard to improve upon.
Which is why “Christmas Canon” annoys the piss out of me.
“Christmas Canon” is like some drunk guard at the Louvre painted a Santa hat on the Mona Lisa and called it “Christmas Lisa.” First off, it’s not a damned Christmas song. Secondly, by trying to shoehorn it into one, you end up sounding like a car full of children making up lyrics on a long road trip. It’s nonsensical and repetitive and makes you want to pull the car over at the nearest McDonald’s Playland so you can get drunk in the bathroom.
And why in Hell are the kids wearing karate uniforms?
2. SANTA BABY by Madonna
Madonna ruins any song she covers. Madonna covering a song is the equivalent of God abandoning the songwriter. Virgil even warned Dante that her “American Pie” cover was blasted from eighteen foot speakers throughout the final circle of Hell. Why would her “Santa Baby” be any less horrifying?
Eartha Kitt’s version was sexy, sultry, and fun. Madonna, however, tries to adopt some kind of Betty Boop voice and ends up making your ears bleed the blood of innocent orphan children with every syllable she screeches out. I would rather be forced to urinate glass shards than listen to this song more than once.
1. THE CHRISTMAS SHOES by Newsong
The existence of this song has ruined my faith in humanity. The first time I heard it was also the first time I keenly felt the absence of God. All I could do was suck sharp breaths and mutter “Nietzsche was right.”
The plot of the song (because songs have plots now) is that the singer is in line at the store when a little boy runs up and starts counting pennies for shoes. Why? Well, as the chorus says:
“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.”
Okay. First off, if I’m on my deathbed on Christmas Eve, I’d like my children to spend some time with me before I take the 10:15 skyward. Don’t rush out and buy me a pair of shoes that I will only be buried in. I know you think you’re being a good son, kid, but your mother is at home right now clutching one of your teddy bears close and wishing that she knew where you were.
And where in the Hell is the father during all of this? Is he at home with Mom and doesn’t know where his kids are while their mother is DYING? Is he at the store as well, in which case what a dick? Is he drunk at the local bar? No longer in the picture?
We don’t know. But what we do know is that this song isn’t about the kid or the dying Mom. It’s about how the singer is patting himself on the back for buying the shoes for the kid.
“So I layed the money down
I just had to help him out
And I’ll never forget
The look on his face
When he said Mamma’s gonna look so great.”
That wouldn’t be so bad. It’d be a great act of kindness, actually. Except he follow it up with:
“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.”
Okay, Captain Narcissist. Let me follow this train of thought.
1. God exists.
2. God sends us signs.
3. God gave this little boy’s mother cancer and then sent the little boy out away from her WHILE SHE’S DYING all so that you would be reminded of the meaning of Christmas.
All I can take from this is that the meaning of Christmas is that God is fickle and cruel and plagues mankind with suffering all so that a chosen few can pat themselves on the back for shelling out a couple of twenties at Pay Less.
This song is saccharine and emotionally manipulative on a level that even the cruelest politico can only dream of achieving. It is the single worst and most annoying Christmas song.
It also spawned a Hallmark movie with Rob Lowe:
What about you? What do you think of the above? Got any Christmas songs that you think I missed?
Brad C. Hodson is an author and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. His new novel DARLING is currently available.
The incomparable Lisa Morton recently invited me to be a part of a round robin interview series.
While I figure out which writers to send this on to, here are my answers.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
The Mud Angel.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
From reading about the flood of the River Arno in 1966. The city of Florence was submerged in mud and freezing water and all of her priceless art and history were in danger of vanishing forever. The world owed Florence a huge debt and sent their best and brightest to save our history. The Italians called them angeli del fango – Mud Angels – because they waded fearlessly into the mud and esured that the genius of our past remained for future generations.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Ryan Gosling, Allison Brie, and Raoul Bova.
When Henry Dandridge goes in search of his missing wife, he’s drawn into a world of intrigue and centuries old feuds in the mud packed streets of a flooded Florence.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully the latter…
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Oddly enough, I wrote the first draft of a story about Florence while in India for three weeks. The first draft was a novella that’s being expanded.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Constant Gardner.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
A murder mystery, family feuds that date back to the Renaissance, art history, a lost work of Dante’s, and necromancy. How’s that? 🙂
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. Check out his novel DARLING here.
To the Autumn People:
`Tis All Hallow’s Eve. The skies are grey and a chill wind blows.
I’ve come across a few Halloween treats to offer today and so I thought I’d combine them all into one post. Enjoy!
Hurricane Sandy blew an ancient oak tree over and workers found a skeleton intertwined within its roots.
In 1992, the BBC had over 30,000 phone calls thanks to an ultra-realistic fake news broadcast about a haunted house. Before BLAIR WITCH or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, GHOST WATCH pioneered the faux-documentary horror movie. To add to its realism, it utilized actual BBC news anchors. If you’re looking for a nice creepy movie tonight, you’d do much worse…
The Horror Writers Association has been running a series of articles all month long on all things Halloween. Head on over and read Lisa Morton’s piece on the true history of Halloween, my own piece on the ghost stories of M.R. James, or one of dozens of other short yet brilliant articles.
“Jack Lichtner is the genius behind Hell Manor, America’s most successful Halloween haunted house. Mazes, scare zones, live actors, special effects, crazy gore…Hell Manor’s got it all. But Jack gets in over his head when he hires Maeve, a mysterious woman with a penchant for bloody magic and murderous kin who want her back. This Halloween, Jack must use all his powers of illusion to fight off the real magic of the ancient tricksters who have invaded Hell Manor.”
Lisa Morton is a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and one of the world’s leading Halloween experts. Her last book for Bad Moon Books, MONSTERS OF L.A., earned her a seventh Bram Stoker Award nomination, and the American Library Association’s READERS ADVISORY GUIDE TO HORROR recently named her one of the top five female horror writers. She lives in North Hollywood, California, and can be found online at http://www.lisamorton.com.
Do you fall victim to one of the common misconceptions the public has about the horror genre?
Google’s home page is a fun little haunted house. Try clicking on everything…
Our friends at Cracked.com have compiled a list of the creepiest places in the world. Mass suicides, churches made of bone, and entire abandoned cities. And you thought Aunt Irma’s house was creepy.
I recently got together with friends and fellow authors Lisa Morton, John Palisano, and Jodi Lester to discuss what frightens us, the horror genre, the writing biz, and all sorts of other interesting goodies. Here’s Part 1 of the discussion:
Q: What do you feel is the biggest misconception the public has in regards to the horror genre?
Lisa Morton is a multiple award winning author and renowned Halloween expert. She’s worked on dozens of films, has more short stories out than I could shake the proverbial stick at, and has recently released two books, TRICK OR TREAT? A HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN and the Halloween themed novella HELL MANOR. Check out Lisa’s site at www. lisamorton.com. You can also read an interview I did with Lisa earlier in the year here.
Lisa Morton: That horror and gore are synonymous. I always think about a conversation I had once while in line at a bank; I had on a t-shirt that featured an enigmatic graphic of a book cover, and the chatty lady in front of me asked me what the art meant. I told her it was a horror book cover, and she asked, “Is it your book cover?” I told her it wasn’t, although I did admit to writing horror. “So you like all that blood and guts?” she asked. I assured her I didn’t, and told her I was more interested in psychology. “But,” she said, sputtering in confusion, “that’s not horror.”
I think that horror=blood equation has come about largely as a result of horror cinema, starting with the slashers in the ’80s and extending through to the torture porn of the 21st century, but horror fiction has certainly fed into it as well, with the “extreme fiction” sub-genre. It’s unfortunate that non-horror lovers miss a lot of the best work in the genre because they just automatically assume it’s going to be all blood and guts. Someday I hope to have a conversation with another customer in another line where, when they find out I write horror, they ask simply, “Oh, so you like to scare people?” Because then I will nod and smile and say, “Yes, I do.”
John Palisano is prolific up and comer, the kind of writer than the old guard are both happy to have amongst their ranks and secretly afraid of. His novel NERVES is currently available. Read more about him here.
John Palisano: To me, the biggest misconception in horror has to do with sexuality. In particular, the way women are objectified. Last night I attended a horror film festival in Hollywood. Lots of good stuff, but…
In an otherwise amazing film, the lead actress falls dead on a trail. And it’s a cleavage shot. Lots of traveling shots behind the group, with this girl’s ass prominently bouncing for several seconds.
In another film, a man’s voluptuous wife is on their bed, wearing revealing lingere. He places a memory device on her head, and of course, the very first thing she’s interested in is reliving an orgasm he gave her. Like that’s true. The entire time the husband wears his suit jacket and a button up white shirt. Go figure. I’ve got no idea what they were talking about because her massive breasts took up 2/3rds of the screen and could not be avoided.
In another film, I laughed out loud as a woman, supposedly an ass kicker, comes around the corner. Guess what beats her around the corner? Her grey, missile shaped breasts. It was ridiculously telling.
Almost every filmmaker was a white guy, mid 30s-40s. So? Are these guys so repressed that all they can think about are boobs and butts? Or is it something worse. For so long, I’ve heard one needs T&A in horror films to ‘sell’ them to the audience. I find that patronizing, and immediately recognize it when it’s happening. Don’t like it. Pisses me off.
On the flip side, the films by the women I saw had almost no hint of sexuality at all. They either concerned little girls in white dresses confronting monsters with their personalities alone, or, well, that was the extent of it.
So where’s the balance?
Personally, a goal of mine is to accurately rep sex in my stories. Of course, I’m a guy, and that’s not always easy. Heck: I’m not a prude, and I love women and sexuality. However, when it’s pandering to me, and thrown in just because some wanna be filmmaker read online that’s what ‘horror fans’ want, then I get bored or I get pissed. If you’re being insincere, I’m done.
So, in the end, I just want to say there’s a ton of horror fans and horror artists who do not agree with this dull, uncreative thought of sticking cameras two inches from girl’s butts, or writing about it. It’s not scary: it’s distracting and annoying, unless it genuinely has to do with the story.
And let’s not talk about the two clowns who began texting during the second film. “Put those away,” I said. “Now.”
“Sorry, sir,” one of them said. “I was just checking the time.”
Time for horror to step up and speak out. Let’s evolve past this nonsense and frighten people. Leave the nudie shit to the blue industry. They do it better, anyway.
Jodi Renée Lester is a writer, editor, and transcriptionist. Her short story “Casting Lots” will be appearing soon in the anthology Songs of the Satyrs and “The Guixi Sisters” can be found in Midnight Walk: 14 Tales of Terror and Suspense. She is currently working on a novel as well as several editing projects, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She grew up in Southern California and now lives in South Carolina with her husband Mike. Check out her tale in the magnificent anthology MIDNIGHT WALK or visit her on Goodreads.
Jodi Lester: That it’s superficial, that there’s no art to it. I think what immediately comes to mind when most people think of horror are monsters, gore, and nowadays torture porn. Certainly that stuff exists and obviously there’s a market for it or it wouldn’t dominate the genre as it so often does. In movies, I enjoy a lot of that when done well—heck, even when it’s cheesy—but to me, that’s usually more fun than scary. Scary to me is exploring the unknown and the unexpected. What can’t always be explained or seen with the human eye—whether it’s natural, supernatural, or psychological—is fascinating, and that’s what I find horrifying. It truly is an art form to tap into a person’s psyche, the dark places we are afraid to look and are so rarely confronted with, and really get under one’s skin. The kind of horror that creeps up on you.
Off the top of my head, just about anything by Ramsey Campbell, and though not really genre authors, Joyce Carol Oates and Patrick McGrath, will definitely haunt you. But a great example of where art can be found in horror is in the work of a lesser known author, Stephen Gregory, who is masterful in his ability to take readers down these very dark paths. It is not usually the destination where Gregory delivers the most horrific moment; rather it is an increasingly dark and grotesque walk we take with the protagonist, often an excruciating one as we witness his decisions we know will not turn out well, trying urgently to send him telepathic messages, “Don’t do it. No, just don’t. Please don’t.” The trepidation is palpable, as we know the character will ignore us, and that is probably the only thing obvious about Gregory’s work. There are often several of these crucial moments, yet it is where these choices lead us that are unexpected and grotesque, often involving the protagonist and his interactions with nature in ways that I find not only original, but fascinating as well. The ability to make me feel so viscerally engaged in a story is rare, but to me, this is where the art in horror comes from.
Horror is not just about creating the most unique way of killing, the ultimate shock, or the goriest slaughter. There is a place for that in the genre because that’s what a lot of people like—the easy scare or gross-out. But it’s an art to plant a seed of horror, and let it take root and grow in the minds and hearts of readers. It is this type of unyielding horror that truly frightens me as a reader and I believe that’s where the true gems lie.
Brad C. Hodson: The fact that the entire genre is a slave (as far as the public’s perception goes) to the dictates of the film industry is a huge shame. I love a good, cheesy gorefest as much as the next guy, just the same as I love the occasional Van Damme movie. But, when it comes to literature, graphic novels, and other mediums, this represents such a small portion of the genre. I talk to people all the time who love Chuck Palahniuk, or books like “The Lovely Bones,” or even films like “Silence of the Lambs” or Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining,” never realizing that these are all horror. They don’t understand how they can be horror without some creature torturing nubile women in gory fashion in a dank, sepia tinged basement somewhere.
John mentioned the overt sexuality in a lot of horror as another misconception. Sex can be (and often is) so deeply intertwined with what scares or disturbs us, largely because of its primal nature and its ability to stir taboos. Sex is instinctual and can be dark and frightening and seductive all at once. So can fear. The two are very close to one another on the emotional spectrum and it’s natural, methinks, that they overlap some. Much of Clive Barker’s work is very sexual, for instance. If the sex were removed, would the work be as powerful?
However, the objectification and misogyny in the genre are all too rampant.
I struggled with this in DARLING. At its core, DARLING is about vice and sin and how our base impulses can fester and destroy us in horrifying ways. To leave out sex, one of the most powerful urges, wouldn’t have driven the message home as well. Given the nature of the book, it led to some places that weren’t very comfortable. When I came back to rewrite it, I had to re-examine what I was going for in those scenes. There were plenty of passages that I felt were gratuitous without adding to the work, and others that I wanted to handle better.
Rape, for instance, is a common symptom of the misogyny in horror. I tried to twist that a bit and have an attempted rape against a female character who shows strength and fights back. She gets pulled out of the situation by her boyfriend, not because she’s weak, but because she needed to turn and save him as well as they’re relationship is the only thing that gets them out of the building alive. I tried to show some of the actual psychological impact such an event would have on her while simultaneously trying not to play the scene for titillation. Those are my two big gripes about rape in fiction: the psychological impact is rarely realistic and the scenes are often written as borderline-erotic fantasies.
But that’s an extreme example, due again to the themes the book deals with. There’s so much horror that is bereft of gore, overt sexuality, or much of what the public considers important to horror. Take Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” for instance. That novel always crops up on lists of the best books of the twentieth century and for good reason: it’s a brilliant look into one woman’s fragile psyche. It’s also frightening as hell.
Then there are the “classic” authors that most people who turn their nose up at the genre are shocked to learn not only loved horror but actually wrote it. Henry James, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison, Truman Capote, Victor Hugo, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge… the list goes on and on.
It’s only been since around the mid-twentieth century that the genre became very distinct and that “serious” writers were heaped with scorn for daring to tell a ghost story. This is, of course, thanks to cheap B schlock cinema. Why no one watches a piece of trash like “The Life of David Gale” and thinks that all contemporary literature is shit is beyond me, but they’ll watch “SAW 18” and then piss on the grave of Edgar Allen Poe as the credits roll. It’s elitism, sure, but it’s a special kind of elitism born from ignorance. To me, breaking this misconception is something that needs to happen, not simply for the enjoyment of readers, but for the health of the genre. While we all write savage fiction from time to time, the misconception that all horror is “extreme” narrows the genre and weakens the opportunities those working within it have to make a living.
I think it was Harlan Ellison who once said that horror is a genre that allows readers to “explore a subject that they can only explore in dreams and through fiction.” The usual visceral reasons for experiencing fear aside, this is why I was drawn to horror. Due to personal tragedies, I’ve been pondering why people die, what happens to them after they’re gone, and what effect it has on those they’ve left behind since I was a child. While I write in almost every conceivable genre, I have found no other genre that allows me to explore those questions as well as horror.
Stay tuned for Part 2…
Every Halloween, the Horror Writers Association runs their “Halloween Haunts” series. Every day, there are a couple of new articles from writers in the field. Head on over and check out my piece on the ghost stories of M.R. James titled “Peculiar Genius.”
While there, stick around and check out articles by folk like Lisa Morton, Benjamin Kane Ethridge, and interviews with other folk like John Skipp.