Yowling at Jul

T’is the season to be grumpy. It´s raining again and through the frighteningly porous walls of my office are seeping the gluey, clunking sounds of murdered music. Beautiful, pure, traditional carols rendered into a kind of muzak soup. Silent Night made noisy with crooning and drumkit. O little town of Bethlehem turned urban High Street with snogging noises, keyboards and chorus. Then, perversely, Jingle Bells sung as though it were a revivalist chorale.

I´ve nothing against tradition leaving home. We´ve listened with moist eyes for years to the Bulgarian Ladies´ Choir singing en masse old and touching Eastern European music passed down from grandparent to child, never sullied by transcription onto paper. We watch, fascinated as Takemitsu shows us ancient Eastern ritual morphed into contemporary symphony. Even we Scots nod sagely listening to Beethoven´s slightly self-conscious settings of Robert Burns’ songs. If we are English, our upper lips stiffen listening to Benjamin Britten´s settings of pretty ditties whose words suggest chaste mid-summer gamboling (but belie naughtier pursuits – a snigger is permitted at the point when they trip down to low F# and into the deep grass).

But what grates right now is our seasonable lapse of taste. Perfectly straightforward tunes, songs, refrains which normally we mumble or utter or bellow become as though drunks in swivelling bow ties and boxer shorts embellished with look-what-I´ve-got-in-my-pocket in LED lights. Nothing walks in a straight line. The tunes swerve and twinkle, the text leers and burbles. Take a word like ’Heavenly’. Attach it to a synthesiser and bass guitar. It becomes ’ hay-ev-an-lee’. It turns pink and offers you a Baileys.

Now, in today´s UK where the fight against American “happy holidays” glitter has long been surrendered to Yule Barbie and inflatable snowmen, all this is to be expected. But in Norway – land of lovingly knitted jumpers, minimalist cool colour and Christmas coasters by George Jensen, of white-only fairy lights and home made ginger biscuits – this wallowing in festive musical mush is distressing. Where are the pure Lutheran hymns sung with frosty schnapps-tinted breath to the light of flickering candles? Where is the ruddy-cheeked child carolling Deilig er Jorden?

I´ll tell you, without even leaving the pristine moral high ground of my office. They are having the time of their lives downstairs in Grieghallen, swaying to any one of a hundred aging bands fronted by a blonde in bodycon, singing along with their grandparents (who left their better selves along with their parkas at the coat check). There is cola surfing down the aisles, and Aunt Solveig, overwhelmed by the office Julebord (Christmas lunch) is crying gently to The Snowman. Uncle Matti may be snoring burpily, but he´ll wake up in time for Sleigh Ride and the moment when the bodycon blonde gives the hint of a twerk.

Bah humbug. I´m off home to make newspaper chains from Bergens Tidende and to watch some vulgar TV. Good taste is SO November.

Mary Miller


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