in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Listmas (this Christmas, say it with a list)

Listmas (this Christmas, say it with a list)

I saw the spirit of Christmas at the supermarket over the weekend. She was standing there in front of the pasta sauces, with her ‘little white earbuds’ in, and a scribbled, uncrumpled list in her hand. The list might have been shaking in her hand too but perhaps I’m just adding that for dramatic effect. But once she turned and looked at me, there was no ‘perhaps’ – the truth was scrawled in those tics that mark the edges of madness. Those headlit rabbit eyes, that lunatic twitch – oh dear, it’s Christmas time, and by the looks of things nothing more than the hard-clutched list in her hand was standing between this girl and a short drop into the surging whirlpool of chaos that is. Ah, Christmas.

List, list, o list. Santa is presently in the process of making a list, after which he’s going to be engaged in ‘checking it twice’, in order to discover ‘who’s naughty’ and ‘who’s nice’. As a child, these lyrics would send me into a yuletide tailspin. How could it be that Santa Claus, a man magically able to ‘know’ who of all the world’s children were naughty or nice, would need to double-check the list he’d made? This could only mean either that A, Santa had an anally retentive streak that bordered on OCD, or that, B, he was never quite sure who was good or bad in the first place. If option A was true, this would mean that Santa might take days, weeks, even months checking the list, getting stuck on the vowels (which he’d have to repeat out loud seven times then cross himself in a figure of eight pattern, or be forced to start again) or get bogged down counting and re-counting the number of ‘little Tobies’ in Hampshire who actually really deserved their imminent firetruck. But if, on the contrary, option B were true and Santa was just a tyrant making it up as he went along, then there would be no way of knowing whether the presents I received every year without fail were indeed any accurate measure of my ‘niceness’ – any one of us could be as naughty as we liked, and we’d be just as likely to end up with the goods as not.

As a way of resolving this intractable dilemma, I resolved to stop believing in Santa Claus, which simplified matters no end. But now, looking back on the problem that had so preoccupied me as a child, I realise that my problem was a false one. Santa was neither an arbitrary tyrant nor an obsessive maniac, but probably just somebody like the strung-out girl in the supermarket, a person who was ‘just coping’ (and only just) with the Silly Season. Maybe what the lyrics in the song were really meant to convey was that Santa, the poor, overworked bastard (paunchy, out of shape, and with dangerously high blood pressure), was doing what any panicked (normal) person does at this time of year: make a list, then checking it, then remembering to breathe deeply. Poor Santa.

But no matter who you are, the Silly Season is list season. From Hipster website’s imfamous ‘100 coolest unlistenable/name-droppable noisecollage/afrobeat record from Brooklyn hipster band featuring annoying Japanese female vocalist’ list to the shaky, scribbled sanity-saving shopping list in the hand of the strung-out peeps in the supermarket, December is a time where we use lists in order to avoid having to crouch under the kitchen table and rock… House is a mess, brain is a mess, life is a mess… guess who’s coming to dinner… guess who has no credit left on the third of their daisy-chained cards… guess who’s got no days off until Christmas… guess who’s boss has shafted them out of the shifts they were relying on to pay for Christmas presents (after promising them heaps of hours when they took the McJob two months ago)…
So you’re bugging out, what do you do? You take that mess and make a list to control it; you bring the world to heel, bullet point by bullet point. Like spiking a bad haircut into a makeshift Mohawk, it might not improve things, but at least there is the feeling that decisive action has been taken. ‘Yes,’ you think, ‘everything’s going to be alright.’

Thing is, as much as I find my own lists help me to cope, the way the internet’s going, Christmas has also become a matter of coping with everyone else’s. I spent ALL yesterday trawling the ‘best of’ lists on the internet, trying to find a guesstimated average of the top 10 ‘most lauded’ albums of the year. Here’s the fruit of my efforts (with my two cents added):

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (very over-rated)
MIA – Kala (good)
Radiohead – In Rainbows (great)
Panda Bear – Person Pitch (great)
The Field – From Here We Go Sublime (extremely over-rated)
Robert Wyatt – Comicopera (more of the same, but okay)
Battles – Mirrored (over-rated)
Feist – The Reminder (haven’t heard it)
Liars – Liars (arguably the most name-droppable)
Burial – Untrue (great, over-rated nonetheless)

But now I had a list made up of everyone else’s list, what about my own? And what about Christmas…?! The panic started to rise again… then I thought back to the girl in the supermarket, to her list, and to her little white earbuds, and I thought, ‘What’s the ultimate 2007 Christmas present, one that won’t cost the earth, be thrown out in a day, or contribute that much to landfill?’ The answer, of course, is a playlist. Here’s an idea for something that could replace the ever-irritating Kris Kringle (although by the time you read this, it’ll probably be too late). Anyway, if you want to help invent a tradition, it’s called Listmas, and it goes a little something like this: each contributor makes a CD-R with a personal playlist of tracks that help them to cope with Christmas. They then bring the disc (which would be left unmarked, or with a symbol that made it identifiable to its owner and no-one else) into work and place it in a box, from which each person would then take another disc. The lead-up to Christmas could then be spent swapping the playlist discs, during which time any of the participants could make copies of the lists and songs they liked the best. Considering how lousy Christmas compilations are, how wasteful and pointless most gifts are, and how many people are on the edge of penning a final, fateful shitlist of their own at this time of the year, I humbly submit my idea to the list of possibilities, and this as my list:

Ravi Shankar – Tala Rasa Ranga
DJ Koze – Cicely
Kassem Mosse – Untitled (Workshop EP)
Dave Aju and The Invisible Art Trio – Be Like The Sun
Ricardo Villalobos –Baila Sin Petit
Al Haca – Banana Split
Eluvium – Intermission
Bruno Pronsato – What We Wish
Pawel – Salta
Cassy – Somelightuntothenight
Eluvim – Hymn #1

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