Tapestry choir leader Kim Kirkman usually introduces our version of Carol of the Bells by mentioning that it featured in the soundtrack of the 1990 movie, Home Alone. This brought back memories of the parlous times in 1990 when media baron Rupert Murdoch nearly went broke. Yes, he nearly did, back when News Ltd’s total debt was a scary $7.9 billion (this was 1990, remember). What saved Murdoch was an agreement between 146 banks that refinancing was a better solution than the collateral damage from a collapsing global media empire.
The other thing that saved Murdoch was the box office success of the Christmas movie, Home Alone, starring Macaulay Culkin. Home Alone became the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) taking $US477 million in box office sales world-wide, against a film budget of $18 million. Murdoch’s Twentieth Century Fox was the beneficiary of the film’s success. As a recently-employed journalist, I wrote a piece stating just that (News Ltd saved by Home Alone).
The movie spawned four sequels, none of which achieved the heights of the original.
As we all now know, Rupert Murdoch’s foray into film, television and satellite TV paid off. The timely acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 1986 helped Murdoch achieve more fame and fortune via a then unknown animated show, The Simpsons. Launched modestly in December 1989, The Simpsons is still going strong, 649+ episodes later.
As one of the most popular TV shows on Fox Broadcasting, the creators of The Simpsons repeatedly got away with satirising the Fox Network. Animator David Silverman is said to have based the appearance of Homer’s boss Montgomery Burns on Fox chief Barry Dillon, using the body of a praying mantis as a model. Monty Burns is the fictional owner of Springfield’s nuclear power plant, a greedy tycoon who exploits his workers and can rarely remember their names. Hmmm, as Marge Simpson would say.
The crew of Sunshine Coast radio station Hot91 were asked to rate favourite Christmas movies for a feature in the Sunshine Coast Daily’s Weekend Magazine (also owned by Rupert Murdoch). All three DJs rated Home Alone, along with other candidates including The Grinch, Bad Santa (execrable-Ed.), National Lampoon’s Xmas Vacation, Elf, Santa Clause and Love Actually. The latter is cerebral and worth watching but I remember Home Alone as being deeply silly with some dangerous-looking stunts.
Christmas songs often get written about at this time of year, which is hardly surprising as you rarely hear them between January and November. Last year I ranked my top 12 Christmas songs (only three of which are carols).
As a member of a choir, you are expected to sing Christmas carols, which almost always lend themselves to harmonies. Our choir Tapestry racked up five performances this month, which is some kind of a record. As a serious chamber choir, we mixed it up a bit, from the ancient (Veni Veni, a Gregorian chant in Latin) to an irreverent piece about Christmas excess (The Banquet Fugue), and a short protest song (‘The Wrong Present’ aka ‘Don’t sing me Christmas Carols anymore’). We did a good job of the Little Drummer Boy and worked an uplifting key change into the last verse of Handel’s Joy to the World.
Thankfully, Kim elected to stay away from the tedious (12 Days of Christmas) and the seasonally irrelevant (White Christmas and Frosty the Snowman), although we did perform Rudolph and We Wish You a Merry Christmas for those who might have been thinking we were being a bit too precious.
This month She Who Sings O Holy Night (that was in Home Alone too), with me in tow attended quite a few Christmas parties where carol books were handed out. I got chatting to a chap who was hovering out in the kitchen (my usual retreat at parties). We discussed why people are so attached to these songs, so many of which are deeply pious, with their references to the Virgin birth, three wise men, the holy infant and home birthing in a stable.
Statistics on religiosity are unreliable; even though the 2016 Census tells us that only 52.1% of Australians identify as Christian, it is an optional question, which 9.1% chose not to answer. Otherwise, 30.1% answered ‘no religion’ and 8.2% nominated a faith other than Christian (including 2.6% or about 630,000 people, who follow Islam).
You will find other surveys which suggest that Christianity is in decline and that Australia is becoming more secular. Which begs the question why people who probably last entered a church for a wedding or funeral will happily sing along with Good King Wenceslas and Oh Come all Ye Faithful. Ah well, it is all about peace, love and goodwill so what’s not to like.
As you might suspect, however, I prefer Christmas songs that take the piss. This year’s award goes to Keir Nuttall’s classic Christmas Landfill, performed here by Keir and his partner Kate Miller-Heidke. The combination of a sweet Christmas melody and Keir’s satirical lyrics (‘fleeting joy will never decompose’) is just perfect, moreso with the help of superimposed lyrics. This video also includes KMH’s cover of Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun.
I should follow this with a reassurance that I’m not dissing Christmas or the joy it clearly brings so many people. You can tell how serious I am by the inclusion of this video of Tapestry performing The Little Drummer Boy, The women had the melody, so the job for the basses and tenors was to imitate drums (hence heads buried in scores).
I should also clarify my remarks about Christmas carols and religious music in general by observing that the charismatic church Hillsong has produced Australia’s best-selling CD on a fairly regular basis. Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Bernard Zuel harshly but probably accurately described Hillsong’s 2015 Aria winning album Empires as a ‘churchy songbook sung by mostly anonymous faces scrubbed clean of any travails’. Nonetheless, the album sold 7,000 copies in its first week of release, 2,000 more than the debut solo album of former Silverchair songwriter Daniel Johns. Go figure.
Since we exposed you to Tapestry’s version of the Little Drummer Boy, let me leave you with this version by Johnny Cash and Neil Young.)
Merry Christmas from FOMM. Take care on the roads (said he who got a ticket in the mail from NZ).
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