Seven Druids Dance In Seven Time
Another week with nowt out from me, and I have deadlines, and I still haven't read the comics I was meaning to read. And I'm crossing a payment threshold so while I'm writing on Sunday evening, I may not be able to publish until Monday.
SO WHAT'S OUT THIS WEEK?
As mentioned above, nothing I had a hand in. But here are a random couple of items of note:
First off, fellow X-writer GERRY DUGGAN is about to take over IRON MAN, and he's got some big plans. One of the many advantages of the X-Slack is that I get to hear a few tidbits concerning other offices, so I'm in the loop a little bit on some of the twists and turns - no spoilers, but it's going to be a fun time. Plus my old pal JUAN FRIGERI is handling art duties - if you remember him from our work together on GUARDIANS, you know he comes heartily recommended by me.
Also out on Wednesday:
This one I haven't had a chance to read yet, but it's one of my very favorite characters, MONICA RAMBEAU, in the hands of one of the best comic writers to hit the scene in recent years, EVE EWING - so it's going to be good. I'm going to pick up a copy, I suggest you do too.
SO NOW WHAT?
I think one of my New Years resolutions is going to be finding ways to fill this space on a weekly basis with actual content - have I got nothing to say on these quiet weeks about comics history or video games? Could I not pontificate about Secret Wars II, or Metal Gear Solid V, or the relationship between the Hulk and the FF, or how Hitman relates to the Witness? I probably could - but not tonight.
Instead, as it's getting close to Xmas, let's count down my top 5 Xmas songs! If you have to go to Youtube for any of these videos, I can only apologise.
AT NUMBER FIVE...
It's SLADE with MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY!
As a child of the late Seventies, this was the sound of the holiday season growing up - or at least the sound of an idealised Christmas Day, the kind your average not-religious-at-all UK family would be happy with - mince pies, a big dinner, flopping into a chair, cracking open various kinds of booze to watch a Bond movie or whatever else they've got. (It wasn't Doctor Who, not in them days.) Increasingly, in the age of streaming when all the good Xmas movies are available all year round, the TV channels have started throwing some real bottom-of-the-barrel crapola up on screen - including such standard-issue time-fillers as The 100 Greatest Xmas Songs As Voted By You, leading to a strange meta-Christmas feeling as you watch Noddy Holder sing about the exact kind of Xmas slobbing-out you're currently pleasantly engaged in.
The other thing that's on every year is the Snowman, featuring the original intro with David Bowie in the attic - as good a segue as any into our NUMBER FOUR...
It's DAVE AND BING with PEACE ON EARTH/LITTLE DRUMMER BOY!
First rule - it's not Bing & Bowie unless you include the interminably awkward staged conversation at the beginning. I believe I'd be at risk of violating libel laws if I used the phrase "coked up past the gills" in earnest, or even made a joke about "lots of snow at Christmas" - but there's a palpable something about this little skit that's wormed its way into the global psyche through the years, something about the incredibly forced way these two bounce off each other. When they get to singing, the tension eases - or maybe ratchets up. Either way, there's some kind of crackling liminal power in the thing as Bowie opens up the throttle to sing about the Day Of Glory - probably the most religious piece in this top five. Unless you count all the druids. (We'll get to the druids.)
In terms of getting at something to do with the true meaning of the season, however, our NUMBER THREE takes us closer...
It's MICHAEL CAINE AND THE MUPPETS with THANKFUL HEART!
Here's your proper Merry Xmas - Ebeneezer Scrooge bouncing around Muppet London distributing charity and cheer. Dickens had a few notions about the true meaning of Christmas, and I doubt they'd fly very far with the sort of human muppet who gets huffy at a "Happy Holidays". I do tear up at Caine's whispered "A gift? For me?" but the message of this sequence is that Scrooge isn't suffering a punishment here, but a form of release. Giving out the wealth he's hoarded his whole life and embracing his community makes him vastly happier. You kind of wish a couple of real billionaires would try it - but then, the Ebeneezer Scrooge of today wouldn't be a lonely man in a vast empty house yakking to ghosts, he'd be surrounded at all times by a coterie of sycophants laughing uproariously at every crack about workhouses he made, and telling him he was a genius for his ideas of decreasing the surplus population. Maybe he'd get a cameo in Rick And Morty.
Speaking of depressing thoughts - at NUMBER TWO:
It's GREG LAKE with I BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS!
Here's another Christmas hit that occupies a crackling liminal zone. Lake's intention, apparently, was to do something with some religiosity to it - according to a "citation needed" quote, he's one of those "gets mad about 'Happy Holidays'" types and felt that Christmas was getting too commercialized - but the lyrics, by Peter Sinfield, are extremely secular and all about childhood disillusionment with Santa and, by extension, religion as a whole. Torn between these two impulses, it occupies a strange space full of weird mystery and meaning - the whole song is summed up in the winter's light and the distant choir, a host of Xmas symbols culminating in "eyes full of tinsel and fire" - what being has those eyes? Where is it looking from? What strange creature of mischief and merriment is at our chimney on this magic night?
The rest of the song is an attempt to regain that childhood sense of mystery, until we're left - after a detour into an orchestral swell of hope and courage - on the bum note of "the Christmas we get, we deserve", which is just a horrible sentiment for everyone who's ever had a crappy Xmas through no fault of their own.
I'm probably undergoing some disillusionment myself - the reason this is at Number Two is that for decades it was my very favorite Christmas song, for the arrangement, which is truly magical, for all the wonder and tinsel and fire in it, for that hopeful Christmas and brave New Year - but as the years go on, it's no longer really giving me what I need from an Xmas song. (I'm not even touching the video, that feels like a whole mess of its own.)
Surely there must be a Christmas song with magic and bells and tinsel and fire, but ALSO with the merriment of the season? Doesn't have to mention Jesus - it could be full of druids if you want. Wait, what's that sound? It's the sound of our NUMBER ONE...
How could it be otherwise? It's JETHRO TULL with RING OUT, SOLSTICE BELLS!
Here's the stuff! Why, it makes me want to quaff something just to see it. As it should be! When was the last time we saw the Spirit Of Christmas Present so embodied as it is here in Ian Anderson? Come in and know me better, man!
While I'm only as pagan as the next British comic writer, I do find the spirit of the season not just in the general idea of good will but also in the more idolatrous practices - the tree, the gifts, the feast, the fellowship, everything Tull are wassailing about here - so since I came across this mistletoe masterpiece a few years ago, it's gone right to the top of my Xmas charts. It never fails to cheer me up and get me right in the spirit of the solstice season, no matter how much work remains in the year - and I hope it does the same for you.
But on that note, it's time to sign off - we've made it through another Sunday, so the place to find me is still right here. Love and strength to you all.
Playing us out with... MORE TULL!