Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Miracle

I've been listening to holiday music for the last week or so, mostly the Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection. My favorite tunes are "Christmas Here With You" by the Four Tops, and "Children's Christmas Song" by the Supremes. In that second one, Diana Ross nags a passle of kids to sing along with her and you can seriously hear in her voice that she's trying hard not to wallop them whenever they go off-key.

The Temptations' version of "Little Drummer Boy" isn't bad, but I'm a little shaken by the words:

Little baby
pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King
pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Shall I play for you
pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum?

Mary nodded
pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time

Now, I don't often mention this, but I grew up on a farm just forty miles outside of New York City. My parents actually own oxen and lamb, and before I moved away I used to take care of them. And in all the years I fed them, bathed them, sheared them, and shoveled their poop, never once did I see either species get particularly funky.

When I listen to this song, then, I start wondering. I hop in my pickup and drive right back to the old homestead to check it out for myself.

I get out this enormous kettle that Ma uses to make chicken and dumplings for the ranch hands on Sunday nights, remembering that it always hit the stove with a funky-fresh sound, and I grab a couple wooden spoons to use as drumsticks. I head out to the barn and set it up right next to the oxen and sheep. I start off slow to let the livestock warm up, because, you know, you don't go from squat to droppin' it like it's hot. I crack a single stroke roll with alternating sticking, then slide to a single stroke four.

Nothing. They all stare at me like I got Barry Manilow's ass.

I figure maybe it's the pot that isn't cutting it, so I bring in the gas can that Pa fills the tractor with. Pretty soon I'm shifting back and forth between that and the kettle. I'm shooting the can with a single stroke seven, slapping the kettle with a double stroke roll, then sliding up to a multiple bounce roll. Still nothing. One of the sheep eyes me like it's thinking about busting a move, but instead it just poops and eats hay.

They're still not feeling it. Maybe you've really got to throw the beat down to get Bos taurus in the groove, I think, so I crank the speed up to twelve. I'm slamming the pads like Funkadelic's in the house, swinging my sleeves like a ho with weaves. I throw down a seven stroke roll followed by a flam paradiddle-diddle, and bookend that patch with a string of triple ratamacues and pataflaflas. A chicken shoots me the eye and I think sister's gonna shake her meat to a funky beat, but instead she just clucks and waddles off. I'm pushing it in the bush, grinding it like a skateboard, shaking it like a Polaroid picture. The sweat's pouring down my face and my shirt's soaking through and I'm thinking, man, I ain't getting shit out of these mopes.

I keep thrashing for probably another ten minutes. My ears are ringing, the tractor's bouncing, the hay looks like it's about to catch fire from sheer funkitude. But the animals aren't feeling it. They aren't bumping briskets. They aren't wagging withers. They aren't joining loins, yanking flanks or spanking shanks.

If they aren't hitting it by now, I'm thinking, they aren't gonna hit it at all. I mean, at no point do any of those critters display anything that could be considered funkiness.

So, I drive back to NYC, cursing the whole way, thinking that song is bullshit. I mean, if some punk-ass kid can get sheep to keep time, an accomplished musician like me could fuckin' get a pig to breakdance. I got mad drumming skills, and unless that kid is John Bonham Jr. he ain't beating Yours Truly on the skins.

That night, though, I think long and hard about it, and suddenly it hits me. I bet it was a Christmas miracle. That's just like Our Lord, getting down with the sounds and making our animal friends feel truly poppin' fresh. And man, I'd have loved to have been there. Because I swear to you, brother: you just ain't gonna see lamb move like that unless God's involved, or it's in a pan braising over high heat.


Yet Another Steve said...

I've always hated that more than any other Christmas song, or maybe any song period. Not only is it maudlin and stupid, but can't you just see an exhausted young first-time mother, who finally got the baby to sleep, having to say something nice to some nitwit who comes over and whales away on a drum?

Celia Fate said...

You can't help but feel sorry for Jesus hearing this song. Was there a line of untalented people waiting to perform for him? I'm picturing a juggler, a mime or two and maybe somebody who did an impression of DeNiro.