Pete's Blog

You Just Can't Count Him Out

When the news came earlier this fall that there was to be a Bob Dylan Christmas album (called "Christmas in the Heart") it seemed like some sort of horrible joke. When in the past Dylan has surprised the world with his choice of genres - veering into rock music, then country, then gospel - I snickered at the pious horror coming from both Dylan purists and defenders of the forms themselves. To me the moves seemed perfectly precedented and justifiable at the time. And nobody seems to find them in the least odd nowadays. But a Christmas album, even one whose proceeds are earmarked for charity, just seemed like jumping the shark, an attempt to use the odd juxtaposition of Dylan's feral croak and the sweetness of the Season to create an uneasy novelty and thus stick in the overburdened memories of consumers everywhere. Considering that for my money Dylan hasn't done much worth hearing in 25 years the whole thing sounded like a shuck and I wanted nothing to do with it. It didn't change my mind when Eric Miller told me he had heard the album and thought it the worst thing he had ever heard. I should have listened to what he said next, however: "But I really liked it anyway." Tonight I saw a video for one of the tracks, called "Must be Santa," and I have to say that it's probably the most excited I've been about new Dylan music since the "Infidels" album in 1984. The song is hardly the hushed piece of ersatz reverence so many pop stars produce under record company urging at this time of year. A minor-key tune over a rollicking polka beat, using the same kind of cumulative repetitions found in "Green Grow the Rushes, O!" or "A Partridge in a Pear Tree," it could almost be called Klezmer-rock. And that's its great charm and value - it is a secular song for an increasingly secular holiday, and its overt Jewishness (Dylan is both a devout Christian and a devoted student of his Jewish heritage) is as revolutionary in its way as the rock, country, and gospel trails he blazed in the past. This solves the "Hanukkah problem." It is Christmas music for Jews, Christians, and the great mass who consider themselves neither. And the video itself is hilarious. In the middle of a raucous party, filled with all sorts, races, and ages of people drinking and dancing with each other, Dylan is nearly unrecognizable in a Santa hat and long blond wig - the same wig he wore for his recent return to the Newport Folk Festival? He dances (!) with the women and drinks with the men until suddenly two younger men begin chasing a third up and down the stairs. The reason for this is never explained and finally their quarry escapes by crashing through a plate glass window, leaving Dylan and Santa to exchange an eloquent shrug. None of Dylan's previous videos have been worth a second look but I'm heading back to YouTube right now to see it again. Merry Christmas and L'chaim!

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