Despite accusations to the contrary leveled by friends (and especially family), I don’t hate Christmas music so much as I’m allergic to cliché and kitsch — and as such this covers about 90% of pop culture, particularly rom-coms and, yes, holiday jingles. But I do have a soul, and I’m not immune to happy memories and nostalgia; one of my all-time favorite memories is being out in the car, Christmas shopping with my mom, as a rare December snowstorm made the sky dance all around the Ford Grenada, circa early 1980-something. On the 8-Track? The Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis masterpiece, my number one pick for best Christmas album ever, only John Fahey’s Guitar Soli and of course A Charlie Brown Christmas even close to second place.
It’s not (necessarily) my favorite track on a collection crammed with impossible-to-improve upon takes of beloved chestnuts (roasting on an open fire), but this is the one I associate with that day with moms, and, clichés be damned, it fills my heart with joy every time I hear it.
Question: has anyone ever sounded happier than Mathis does on “Sleigh Ride”?
This stuff is cynicism-proof. Whether or not Mathis actually means it is as irrelevant as whether Laurence Olivier was actually insane when he played King Lear. Mathis is invested in the artifice: he’s selling these songs— and he’s doing it with the conviction (and confidence) of a man who could persuade a guy in Miami he needed a down jacket in July.