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Monday, December 12, 2011

Breakin' It Down: Do They Know It's Christmas

"Do They Know It's Christmas," the greatest of all Christmas carols, was written in 1984, just as George Orwell predicted it would be. That dude was dope.



But what makes it so amazing, aside from the Bananarama backing vocals, are the transcendent lyrics. They are the greatest of all Bob Geldof's many accomplishments, which, to give non-Boomtownratophiles an idea, include naming a child "Fifi Trixabelle," inspiring a certain Graves Disease-eyed cat to hate Mondays, and goading Phil Collins into making a huge ass of himself by helicoptering/Concordeing/jetting/rocket roller-skating to all 100 Live Aid concerts around the world, thus spending approximately 20 times the amount raised by The Concert for Bangladesh, Band Aid, Live Aid, U.S.A. For Africa and that "Sun City" song combined.*

While no one blog post can be expected to fully cover a subject as rich and deep as "Do They Know It's Christmas" were gonna give it the ol' Phil Collins around-the-world try, taking an in-depth look at the lyrical (and vocal) genius and of this holiday heartwarmer.

It's Christmastime. There's no need to be afraid. At Christmastime, we let in light, and we banish shade.

Right off the bat, Geldof (and co-writer Midge Ure, I suppose, tho I think he stuck mainly to the music bits) distinguish DTKIC from all other Christmas carols by dispensing with the normal admonishments to watch your ass/be afraid/man the fuck up and stop crying and, in fact, suggest the opposite. Contrast that with "Jingle Bells," widely accepted to be a coded warning about the bands of rapists known to travel by sleigh to terrorize the snowbound countryside in the 19th century, or "Deck the Halls," which is literally about the horrors of architecture abuse.

As a grace note, these words were sung in the final version by Paul Young, who agreed that Xmas was a time when no playhouses would be torn down.

Incidentally, I always thought it was "...and we banish hate" which doesn't make sense but "shade" isn't exactly making a ton of sense either. I can't remember ever feeling like "damn, y'all, it's too shady 'round here for Christmas." Also, I'm guessing they wouldn't mind a little shade in Ethiopia, shade is always welcome, even at Christmas.

And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.

I think they actually meant we have a lot, and because of that, we can spread joy, via hugs and those weird, giant bags of rice. Not in this world of plenty we should spread joy. I mean go ahead and spread joy, but be sure you're spreading those weird, giant bags of rice where they're needed.

Oh, shit. Did you guys know that Bob Geldof shamed Boy George into hopping on the Concorde from New York to get to the recording session to do this part? Which was correct. Who better to say, essentially, "hug the world," than Boy George? He's a glamorous cartoon of love, hats and braided hair, and can tell us to hug the world with authority.

The Wikipedia page has some fun info on the recording of the song, particularly if you're into Boy George being bitchy to George Michael. I like to imagine it as a super catty, British Pop Spy Vs. Spy comic, although it was surely absolutely nothing like that.

A Boy George/George Michael slapfight would be an amazing Christmas gift for me, if you can swing it.

But say a prayer, pray for the other ones. At Christmastime it's hard, but, when you're having fun...there's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear.

I just started geography classes in night school but I'm still pretty sure right outside of England's window is like, water and Ireland. And then dread and fear, just beyond that. These lyrics are kind of awkward but I guess it is hard to transition from banishing shade to fear and famine.
 
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.

This is a bit of hyperbole--there was definitely a horrible drought but I am relatively sure if there was absolutely no water, they'd all just have died in a few weeks? I dunno, I don't start my "Dread, Fear, Famine and Drought" night school class until next quarter. I do know the political sitch in the area made the famine worse than it needed to be. So there's that.


But, more importantly, everyone in the world loves that Sting sang the word "sting."

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom. Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you!

Daaaaaaaaamn. Surely two of the most hardcore lyrics in not just charity song history but also regular song history. The "thank God it's them instead of you" bit really does make you think, will confirm any existing atheism in your heart and can still, to this day, make you feel guilty as fuck. I feel guilty for not being part of a horrible famine RIGHT NOW. I'm throwing all the rice in the house into a package to send back in time to do my part. I hope they like Rice-a-Roni in the past! Oh, wait, if I send 2011's quick-cook, flavored rice back in time to famine-stricken Ethiopia, will I create some type of temporal anomaly? Too late, I sent it.

Oh, and also. Sting/Bono. These are the dudes you want dropping guilt bombs. Bono sings the night-silencing shit out of "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you!"

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime.

I dunno, there might be, yo. If anything, they gots mountains there. Kind of beside the point. Stay on track, guys.

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Ohhhhhh)

I guess the point is to preserve life, always, but isn't death kind of a gift when you're in a war-torn, drought- and famine-stricken, soon-to-be-visited-by-locusts type of situation? No? O.K. then. Carry on.

Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow.

Hyperbole. We covered this. They kind of make Ethiopia sound a lot like the moon.

Paul Young basically sings half of this song. Was he that big a star in England? You can't give Jody Watley a line? Phil Collins? Way to be stingy with the verses. If we followed your example, we'd be stingy with our rice.

Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Yes, probably. They also probably didn't really give two shits, given the situation.

Here's to you--raise a glass for everyone. Here's to them--underneath that burning sun.

Now they're making things sound happy and Christmassy again...and then BAM! They're all like, "There's still a famine, y'all. And it's HOT." Back then we couldn't do a couple quick internet searches and learn that Ethiopia's climate is actually pretty similar to Southern California, very generally speaking. Burning sun, not so much. Well. Maybe to British blokes, that is burning.

Do they know it's Christmastime at all?


Yeah I said they probably do know already, but they really probably do--there are totally Christians in Ethiopia. They have a lot of the same religions we do, you guys! Just no food. In the 80s. Kind of.

Feed the world!
(x4 or so tho it seems like they say it a million times)

Just a terrible chorus. Is this a chorus? Oh, man. Try harder! Make it better! Make it better!

Let them know it's Christmastime again.

Yeah that didn't help. If anything, made it worse.** I was hoping that my rice time anomaly would fix this. Guess not. And now I'm hungry for broccoli au gratin rice and the pantry is empty. Good news tho, you can send Rice-a-Roni back in time with impunity.*** I hope the dinosaurs like Rice-a-Roni, because I'm breaking down "Walk the Dinosaur" next.




*Truly, all musicians are in the same gang.

**Like this article, the song starts off strong, then kind of goes down the ol' Xmas shitter. 

***Yes, I have a time travel machine but the only thing it can do is send rice, particularly Rice-a-Roni, back to the past. Something to do with string theory, and having to brown the rice/pasta mixture before you add the water. Science is so weird. Weird and amazing, a total San Francisco treat!

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