December 13, 2009: Despite the exquisite joy that Christmas music brings me, I still get very uncomfortable whenever a black person sings "White Christmas." They'll sing, "May all your Christmases be white," and the disturbing racist implications for someone like me -- someone who is, if not necessarily overly sensitive out of kindness, certainly suffering under the shame-based yoke of dysfunctional hyper-awareness -- can be alarming.
But I didn't want to take that tangent today. Instead, I hoped to devote a gentle column of celebration to the remarkable Christmas work of Johnny Mathis, who is neither black nor white, but a kind of seasonal caramel cafe' au lait -- a toasted chestnut, best tasted at the holidays.
Our family prides four of Johnny Mathis's Christmas albums, and each is better than the last. For me, Johnny's vaguely nasal heartfelt melodic enthusiasm perfectly captures all that I love about this glorious season. (And let's be clear -- it has evolved into a season -- a positive celebratory season of good vibrations and comradeship, assuming one chooses to look at it that way. The lingering religiosity is, to me, a quaint, vaguely amusing archaic vestige of mankind's nervous past, but the spirit that it's based in is an ideal one, one which I welcome and celebrate.)
(How odd it was to even see in the story "A Christmas Carol" a subtle challenge to that religiosity, when Scrooge frankly (and not unkindly) questions the Ghost of Christmas Present as to why his "kind" insists on quelling the Christmas-like joy of community by making shops and restaurants and everything close every seventh day. No one ever leaves those lines in in any of the movie versions, but they're certainly striking ones!)
But we were talking about Johnny Mathis, and I did want to point out how silly he sounds pronouncing "Baby Yay-soo" in The Little Drummer Boy song, and isn't that wording itself just ridiculous! Yay-soo indeed! But better still, how much more flamingly flambuoyant could Johnny get than in Sleigh Ride, when he notes that friends are calling "Yoo Hoo!" Gads, you've got to love his unfettered fagginess! ("Gone away is a new bird. Here to stay is a (gay) bird.") The freedom that comes with his heartfelt spirited songs of voices, openly proclaiming words of love and joy and fun. It just makes me want to get up and prance, and not care who sees me. (Woe that more of us don't invest time prancing, especially at the holidays ... But I'll analyze the fatuous ninniness of homophobia another time ...)
So that's my Johnny Mathis -- the great gay (and I mean here in the happy sense) glorious voice of the holidays. What better light to shine upon our blessed heads this joyful season, and what better man than this to pronounce in Voices the Word of wonder and hope and peace that is our lovely Christmas time!
Next Week: A detailed essay on why I hate Ashton Kutcher so much.