Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's comin' on Christmas. They're cuttin' down trees...

You know, it's sad when you wake up alone on Christmas morning wishing you'd joined your friends for an early-a.m. Waffle House breakfast ambush, despite how your random upper respiratory tract infection-snacking has been impacting your body image, simply because you need to hear the half-toothed waitresses (waitressi?) call you "honey" and feign affection.

Truth be told it's not like I can spend the money-I can't. Seriously, three dollars for hash browns? You must be mistaking me for a pre-recession Russ. A Russ unconcerned with where his next paycheck's coming from (if from anywhere indeed). But I guess in a fashion akin to that used-up literary throwback of Holden Caulfield paying the hooker to talk to him (or not paying, really), I'd be willing to throw down for something warm, tasty, filling and greasy as hell if it's accompanied by a side-helping of someone pretending to care that, this Christmas, the only friend I really have is Joni Fucking Mitchell.

It's not like I listen to that much folk music in general, or much Joni Mitchell in particular, but Blue is an album that is intricately, almost synaesthetically, linked, for me, to winter. I had long conversations with that album cover yesterday, the first day of this year that I've actually listened to it straight through. Blue is the epitome of the sad, mournful holiday album, despite the fact that it affects a certain sort of almost-embarrassingly humble folky groove a little way through (see: "Carey"). Even the more upbeat moments, like "All I Want", mask a serious longing.

"I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling
Its the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be"

This album is, I guess, this year, the Christmas present to myself to cap off a year where everything has changed. But then, it's the same present I give myself every year about this time. I always talk about Blue as a use-once-and-destroy album, and maybe what I mean is that, as opposed to being a throw-away album, it's the sort of record that I can only listen to during this time of the year. When there's no family to reach out to, no tree no lights nothing really? There's this record. This is the record that starts playing inside my head when the box of useless junk my mother sent to my work address because it's the only way she knows how to get in touch with me anymore arrives, and I have to bite my nails to the quick (which, these days, given how withered and brittle I've left my cuticles, doesn't take much) before finally deciding to open the package-boxed, of course, in a left-over industrial-sized box of napkins no doubt acquired from her job as a waitress or hostess at a cafeteria-style restaurant somewhere...I wouldn't know. I can't tell you the last time we've spoken.

Blue is too much red wine and a headache, it's cinnamon-scented coffee and waking up in the throws of a fever and peppermint tea and it's really the only way I know to spend the winter: me and this record. I don't actually own a copy of it for more than two or three months out of the year-there's no point for me, honestly. It's like wearing a wool sweater in the summer, or baking gingerbread cookies at Easter, or vacuuming to celebrate a birthday. Blue, for me, any time other than the long stretch of gray lonely that is the winter months , is completely anachronistic.

I understand why "River" gets cherry-picked for everyone's holiday compilations (though I don't understand how it ends up on, like, the Starbuxxx Super Merry Mega Happy Save Now Sale-A-Thon-For-Christ Compilation 8!!!!!, it's such a suicide song), but really the entirety of Blue is about a year ending, making resolutions, and longing for that which can't be had-which, frankly, is my schema for Christmas. Even the songs that should be totally dismissible, like "This Flight Tonight", come with forlorn gems in the middle:

"Sometimes I think love is just mythical
Up there's a heaven
Down there's a town
Blackness everywhere and little lights shine
Oh, blackness, blackness dragging me down
Come on light the candle in this poor heart of mine"

Anyway. I shouldn't still be sitting here, in my pajamas, with the Disney Parade or whatever the hell the network stations are showing on Christmas for families to have on in the background while they squeal with glee and smile over tea as presents are unwrapped and good will and joy and cheer and all that crap is spread around, on mute, choosing instead to have Joni sing to me about how she's so hard to handle because she's selfish and she's sad. There's a lukewarm Southern Christmas Wonderland outside, of closed shops and damp puddles and temperatures akin to early fall.

This is what I know of Christmas.

"Just before our love got lost you said
'I am as constant as a northern star'
And I said, 'Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar'"

Joni Mitchell never lies.

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