Sunday, January 4, 2015

Holiday Blues: Let Me Sleep

Pearl Jam, "Let Me Sleep"
Purchase sorry, you gotta join the 10 Club

Christmas is over--so are the 'holidays'--which is too bad. I dig this time of year, mostly because it gives me a no-questions-asked excuse to drink it up and eat like DeNiro getting ready for "Raging Bull". What I won't miss is the music...I swear, if I have to hear David Bowie and Bing Crosby doing the "rum-pump'a pum-pum" thing one more time, I'm gonna kick an innocent bystander right in his jingle bells...

I don't hate the season, really, I promise. I just get a little weary of they way we cart out the same albums year after year, and expect that somehow,  the one millionth playing of a Christmas tune is going to somehow sprinkle us all with magic happy dust and turn in holiday seasons into a perfect, Gap-commercial-style celebration.

Uggg...I take it back: I'm glad Christmas is over. I can once again eliminate the "Christmas Tunes" playlist from my iPod that my wife insists I revive every late November, and get around to a much better tradition: making my way through all those "Best Albums of the Year" lists and hear all the stuff I ignored during the year...

Without going too deeply into my personal history of obsession, I want to present an anti-Christmas song by the greatest band ever--Pearl Jam.

Why are they great? Well...

Wait, wait: I said I wouldn't go into it...New Year's Resolution number 46: "Stop Obsessing"...

But, out of the million or so reasons why Pearl Jam is my favorite band, one of the coolest things they do is their "Christmas Singles" tradition. Like the Beatles, who made an annual Christmas single available to their fan club members, Pearl Jam has been releasing their own fan-club-only 45s since 1991, exclusively for 10 Club members.

Strange sleeve art work accompanies an often eclectic selection of two songs, and though it's deemed a Christmas single, fan club members often have to wait until spring to hear the strange little treasure the band has offered up for the faithful.  Past highlights are many, but include 2005's "Little Sister", with Robert Plant, 2010's bluesd out "No Jeremy", and 1999's cult fave "Strangest Tribe", an apt descriptor of those of us who like to say we're part of the "Jam-ily" rather than just saying we're fans.

But, perhaps the best single they released was their first, "Let Me Sleep", from 1991. It was the height of the grunge era, when Vedder made a name for the band for amongst many other reasons, penning blistering screeds told from the point of view of the abused and the outcast (Why Go, Jeremy...etc) and probably explains why so many found his voice, along with another miserable flannel-clad Seattle boy name Kurt Cobain, as the one speaking for them. Tell a sad story with some angst and a take it no more attitude, and launch a revolution.

"Let Me Sleep" is in the same lyrical tradition of much of the album "Ten", featuring a speaker lamenting a miserable station in life. "Let Me Sleep" is told from the point of view of a tortured adult looking back to his childhood and begging just to be able to sleep, because it's Christmas time, and go back to what it was like " when I was a kid" and remember  "how magic it seemed".  It was a nice departure from the sonic boom of "Ten" and, if I recall, the first acoustic song the band released, showing a side they would expand on and ultimately make an even greater reputation for themselves on "MTV Unplugged" a year later.

What else to say about the song? It's spare and sad, darkly poetic and it ranks up there with The Pogues "Fairytale of New York" as not really a Christmas song, but somehow always manages to make it into the playlist every year, just to put a little damper on all that forced Christmas cheer...Which, for those of us who don't really hate Christmas but like to pretend we do, is just the right kind of song to put the spirit in perspective. Bah humbug! Can't wait for next Christmas!

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