Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Havoc

A couple of weeks ago, at the bookstore, while looking for a birthday present for Dan, I realized that the store was playing Christmas music. Thanksgiving, which seems to be the unofficial earliest date possible that has been deemed safe to play Christmas music without customer rioting, was still six days in the future, but that wasn't what really surprised me.

What surprised me was the song.

They were playing one of my favorites, Fairytale of New York, originally by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl. It was surprising because it's a bawdy song about spending Christmas in the drunk tank in NYC. Part of the song is sung between two characters who, while fighting each other, use some pretty nasty language. I waited, listening while I shopped, and when they got to the verse with the naughty words, I waited for them to be sung out over the bookstore...

I waited for it... and... they'd been replaced with non-naughty words that sort of rhymed with the originals.


They'd trashed the song.

When I caught up with Dan and the Supercat, I mentioned it to him, and he's heard it, too, noticing the clean version they'd played. I think we were both a bit miffed: someone had taken a perfectly indecent Pogues song and completely ruined it by tidying it up, ridding it of part of what made it good to start with. They aren't words I use in everyday conversation; they aren't nice or polite words at all - rather nasty, in fact. But they convey the mood of the besotted characters, so they belong in the song.

Worst of all, it was a bookstore. Grrrrrr. They deal in ideas, but for whatever reason, someone decided that we couldn't handle ideas, and scrubbed the song clean for us.


A teeny tiny itsy bitsy part of me thinks I should be happy that they played the song at all, but the bigger part of me thinks it should be played as written, as the composer intended, or not at all.

If it doesn't belong in a retail atmosphere (and it may not - I'm not sure it's something I want my small child to hear), don't play it at all. I can see plenty of good reasons not to play it - it's a song about drinking and has foul language; and that might have a deleterious effect on holiday shoppers. That makes perfect sense.

What doesn't make sense is playing a song known to have naughty words and an adult theme, then editing it to remove the parts that make the song unique.

Oddly, this has come up before, almost a year ago, when BBC Radio 1 played a censored version last Christmas(^), after years of playing the "regular" version. They said they were censoring it to "avoid offence". The scrubbed version lasted less than a day, Kirsty MacColl's mother (KM died as the result of a terrible accident a few years ago), and zillions of fans complained.

Anyway, here it is in all its uncensored glory:

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

At around the same time the BBC was censoring the Pogues last year, the fine folks who bring us The Venture Brothers(^) (probably my favorite TV show) released their annual holiday song to the world.

The Venture Brothers, is a definitely-not-for-children (mostly due to cartoon violence and adult situations) animated series on Adult Swim(^), what the Cartoon Network turns into late at night. It follows the adventures of a scientist (Dr. Thaddeus S. "Rusty" Venture), his bodyguard (Brock Sampson) and the doctor's two sons (Hank and Dean Venture) as they fight villainy, mostly found in the form of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, sort of a union for bad guys (with health/dental insurance and everything).

If it looks and sounds a lot like Jonny Quest, it's almost certainly no coincidence, The Venture Brothers seems to try to balance on the thin line between parody and an earnest homage to Jonny Quest.

Here's a clip from The Venture Brothers, with their arch enemies, The Monarch, and his wife, Dr. Girlfriend. Dr. Girlfriend is the one with the really low voice. And yeah, she's a she.

So, as I said, every year around the holidays (since 2004, anyway), The Venture Brothers creators have released a Christmas song on their website. They haven't released one for this year yet, but I went looking yesterday, and found the songs from the previous four years(^).

The songs thus far have been:

The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing the Bing Crosby-David Bowie classic Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy (2004)

The Monarch and Henchmen 21 & 24 singing Dolly Parton’s Hard Candy Christmas (2005)

Venture Aid (2006)

And, from 2007:

The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing (you guessed it) Fairytale of New York. Since it was released around the time of the BBC controversy, I wonder if it was released in response to the censorship?

Regardless of why, it makes me happy to know that someone else gets it - in fact, that a lot of people get it. Not everything is for everyone at all times - some people may be offended, or the material may be inappropriate. But destroying original work is not the answer.


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