14 December 2012

NewSong: The Christmas Shoes

So this makes two weeks in a row for Lyrics, Weakly, thus making it the first time we’ve lived up to the pun in our name in a long, long time.

Let the throwing of confetti commence!

And what song is so remarkably bad that it got me to actually post something so soon? None other than the 2000 hit (#1 on the US adult contemporary chart!) “The Christmas Shoes”, by the Christian rock (ahem, sorry, make that “rock”) band NewSong, in which we learn that the way they perform music is by standing around, emotionless and impassive, while one of them sings the lyrics. (For some reason, incidentally the “the” in the song’s title annoys me. Well, actually, the entire song annoys me, so maybe that isn’t unexpected.)

(I would have done “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” this week, but let’s face it, that anthem to getting your date drunk for sexual purposes has already been taken down by lots of people, even in the line by line format that I use, so much that i wasn’t going to be able to add anything new. This one, though, is widely criticized for being schmaltzy, but i haven’t seen much talking about how utterly dumb the story is.)

And yes, i realize that a lot of people hate this song, but a lot of people love it—remember, this song was a #1 hit. Ponder, o ye mighty, and despair!

Because, as the ice piano plays, we learn that…

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line

And, to be honest, it’s not a bad start. The song runs just short of five minutes long, so it makes sense that Eddie Carswell and Leonard Ahlstrom, the writers of the song, would give us the setting right at the outset: It’s nearly Christmas time (so mid- to late December, i’m thinking, especially given the next line), and the narrator of the song is standing in a line at a store somewhere.

Incidentally, it’s just too weird to talk about Messrs. Carswell and Ahlstrom when talking about the narrator of this song (since he refers to himself in the singular), and so since Mr. Ahlstrom had the good sense to bail on the band right about the time this song came out, for the rest of this entry i’m going to blame Mr. Carswell for it. (Besides, according to NewSong’s Wikipedia page Mr. Carswell was one of the founding members of the band, so without him the whole thing could never have taken place at all.)

So anyway—Mr. Carswell is standing in line. Why is he standing in line?

Trying to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood

Yeah, i know how it goes—there’s always that one person on your list who’s just impossible to shop for, and then you have to wait in line to purchase whatever you end up choosing…It can be very non-fun.

Or you could just shop on Amazon. Not only would you not have to stand in line, you would have never experienced the events of this song, leading you to never have written it—a win for you, and a win for us!

Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing ’round like little boys do


I mean, yeah, some folks pace, sure. But pacing ’round like little boys do implies that little boys pacing is something that all or nearly all little boys do.

Mr. Carswell, i don’t know about you, but i was once a little boy, and i didn’t pace. I fidgeted plenty, sure, but pacing? Nope—and i haven’t seen many little boys pace, especially not when standing in line at a store to buy something.

Basically, i’m suspecting you haven’t, you know, actually observed little boys in stores. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, it just leads to a bit of mental whiplash—and that doesn’t bode well when it comes in the fourth line of a five-minute song.

And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

This, at least, makes sense. Most places, you want to buy a pair of shoes, you carry ’em to the counter. So maybe Mr. Carswell does know something about normal people and the ways they shop.

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe

If you had the stomach to make it through the video for this song, you will perhaps have noticed how utterly clean and all-American wholesome the boy is (along with his whole family). Guess being dirty didn’t play well in Peoria.

And when it came his time to pay
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say

I’d be pretty thunderstruck, myself, since what the kid says is the chorus to a #1 song, and yet the rhyme scheme is totally messed up—and just so that you can get the whole horror of it, i’m going to show you the whole thing before i talk about it.

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

Okay, let’s take this piece by piece.

First of all: Kid wants to buy shoes for his mother. Not the usual sort of gift a kid gets for a parent, but he apparently did enough research to know what her shoe size is, so it all works.

We also find out that it’s Christmas Eve, which means that Mr. Carswell was stretching things a little when he said at the beginning of the song that it was almost Christmas time—sorry, dude, you procrastinated. Fortunately, you’re not alone in that.

The kid’s in a hurry, though—apparently his father told him there’s not much time. And not much time for what? wonders the naïve bystander, blissfully unaccustomed to such glurge…Well, i’ll tell you:

It’s DEATH!!1!1!!1!11!!

Yep, that’s right, this kid has gone to the store, away from his dying mama, so that he can buy her a pair of shoes that she can die in.

And not just a pair of shoes she can die in, but a pair of shoes that’ll make her look pretty for Jesus.

Okay, see, this is wrong on too many levels to list—but here’s my initial thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Wasn’t one of Jesus’s big things that we shouldn’t cling too much to the things of this world, but that we should give to others? I mean, i guess that’s what the kid’s doing in some odd way, but someone with that philosophy probably isn’t going to be impressed by a pair of shoes, you know?
  • At least, though, this vignette lets us know something about Mr. Carswell’s theology, which is that you can take it with you. (Or at least that you can take your shoes with you.)
  • I know, it’s probably just me, but every time i hear this i get this image of people hanging out in heaven, wearing nothing but the shoes they died in and being really catty about them. “You mean you let yourself die while wearing those old things? How gauche!”

I mean, i’ve never died, and i’ve never even gone through a long sickness where it looked like i was going to die, but my suspicion is that if i ever am that sick, caring about shoes isn’t going to be at the top of my list, and i really hope it isn’t at the top of my kids’ lists.

But apparently that just makes me an evil heartless bastard who just doesn’t get The True Meaning of Christmas℠, as we’ll discover by the end of this song.

But that’s okay, ’cause even with his misplaced priorities, at least the kid has a plan, and maybe it’s done him good coming up with this, you know, to keep his mind off of impending death and all that.

He counted pennies for what seemed like years

Wait—he’s paying in pennies?!?

Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here”
He searched his pockets frantically

And so the kid didn’t have a plan? You mean he just left his dying mother to go shopping at the mall? You mean the whole buying shoes thing was an accident? What kind of psychopath-to-be is this child, anyway?

Then he turned and he looked at me

Because looking at the person behind you in line is what you does when you don’t have enough money to buy something, thought nobody ever.

He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without

Once again, the disjunction between the content of this song and the visuals of the video would amuse, if they weren’t quite so lame.

And really, what little kid actually speaks like this? I mean, really, read it as prose: Mama made Christmas good at our house, though most years she just did without. Now imagine it coming from the lips of a ragamuffin ten-year-old boy. Can’t do it, can you? That’s because actual real human kids don’t speak this way!

True story: This song was inspired by a chain email from back in the 90s called “Golden Slippers”. Yes, this song was based on an urban legend email hoax, so you know it must be quality!

Next week, NewSong releases a song about getting drunk with strangers and waking up with a missing kidney.

(At least in the original the kids wanted to buy their mother gold-colored shoes so they’d match the gold-paved streets of heaven. In this song, it’s all about being pretty for Jesus. I don’t like either sentiment, but if forced, i’ll admit to being more impressed behind the thought of the first one.)

Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,
Somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes

See, if i’m the guy in the song, i’m thinking scam here. This kid just told an immensely improbable story about a dying mother who he’s abandoned to die on Christmas Eve so he can buy shoes for her, and i’m supposed to believe this? I know a setup when i hear it kid, get outta here before i call for security.

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out

But Mr. Carswell is a more trusting sort than i am, so he pays for the shoes.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama’s gonna look so great

Especially since she just got her New Year’s Eve dancing shoes for free, just like mama told me it’d work!

And then we get the chorus again. Instead of making you read through it here, i’ll just note that this song (which, remember, was “inspired” by a chain email) itself led to both a book and a movie. Yes, that’s right, a full-length (made-for-TV) movie.

The current version of the movie’s Wikipedia page includes a plot synopsis, which gives names to the characters: the narrator of the song is named Robert, the little kid is named Nathan, and Nathan’s mother is Maggie. So various things happen and then Robert’s mother dies, after which Robert helps Nathan buy the shoes for Maggie, and then finally Maggie dies.

The end of the synopsis reads: The scene then cuts to the cemetery where Robert is visiting his mother’s grave, 17 years later. He runs into a young man wearing the same baseball cap Nathan had been wearing. After he leaves, Robert sees that the man had been visiting Maggie’s grave, and recognizes the shoes the man had left at the grave. Robert then realizes that the young man was Nathan.

This is even more disturbing than the song, ’cause it turns out that the kid never even gave the shoes to his mother—he just bought them to buy them!

(And “wearing the same baseball cap Nathan had been wearing” seventeen years earlier? I mean, i don’t even remember what my wife was wearing as we drove off from our wedding reception a bit less than seventeen years ago, and this guy recognizes a baseball cap?? I mean, i guess that makes sense, since no two baseball caps are alike, but it still rings a bit off to me.)

And now we’re at the bridge…

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out

See, it’s lines like this that have contributed to the world’s oversupply of treacle, and until the situation is rectified there won’t be enough demand to bring back the treacle mines that produce the stuff us gourmands know to be the best, no matter how much cheaper the artificial mass-produced stuff is.

I’m just thinking the boy was glad he wasn’t going to have to end up giving his mother the hat he’d knitted for her.

I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

That’s right. God made the kid’s mom sick, and made sure the boy was poor and dirty (for the video, read: upper-middle-class—though out of money—and freshly scrubbed) enough to tug at your heartstrings, just so that you could learn The True Meaning of Christmas℠. Sorry, Mr. Carswell, but i’m thinking you’re not really that important, you know?

And then a children’s chorus kicks in to end the song with a repeat of the chorus. Seriously, by this point it doesn’t sound cute, it sounds like the kids’ voices in The Haunting.

(And i was going to repeat the chorus here just like it's done in the song, but i can’t bring myself to do it. Instead, enjoy a Christmas song with an uplifting message the way it should be done. See you next week.)

1 comment:

  1. Oh, so *this* is the song that my friend keeps saying he hates so much. I've never heard it until clicking the link above.


    Forget about the terrible lyrics (they are, though!), how about those awful modulations and key changes??