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Most holiday tunes fall into one of two categories. There are religious Christmas songs, which celebrate the birth of Jesus (which totally couldn’t have happened on December 25th and is just a remnant of an ancient pagan Roman bacchanal, but that’s a whole other story). And there are secular Christmas songs, which celebrate snow and presents and togetherness.
And then there’s “The Little Drummer Boy”, which tries to be a mutant hybrid of both. It’s definitely not secular, because it tells the story of a young percussionist who celebrates the Messiah’s birth with some killer skin work. But this story can’t be found in any Gospel account. So it’s actually less a Biblical tale and more like Jesus Fanfic.
I believe people like this song for its pseudo-crypto-spirituality. It has religious elements to it, but it doesn’t make people nervous by getting too serious. The Angel Craze of the last 15-20 years or so comes from a similar place. It has traces of Christianity, but not enough to, you know, help others or be more forgiving or change you life in any meaningful way.
In other words, “The Little Drummer Boy” is a huge cop out. I’m not religious, but I will take traditional, overtly religious Christmas carols like “Silent Night” over this hunk of garbage. At least religious songs come from a sincere, genuine place. There’s something manipulative about “The Little Drummer Boy”, as if its composer yanked in the Jesus angle to make it criticism-proof. “Oh, you don’t like my song, huh? Guess you don’t like OUR LORD AND SAVIOR.”
Also, what kind of gift is playing the drums for a newborn child, or his parents? If someone wanted to celebrate the birth of my child with a Gene Krupa imitation, that person would find his ass on the curb in three seconds. “What the hell is wrong with you?! I got an infant child trying to sleep and you wanna Neil Peart it up in my house?!”
Maybe I’m being a little unfair to “The Little Drummer Boy”. Because I find it impossible to think about it without seeing Neil Diamond perform it during his Christmas special. That scene consistently ranks in my Top 50 Worst Things I’ve Ever Seen. Do you think “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” is the worst holiday-related thing Mr. Diamond has done? Oh, you have no idea.
Sadly, I could find not video of this horror online. But here’s audio of the version from Neil’s Christmas album. Imagine this accompanied by Neil doing the same kinda moves he did in the “Coming to America” video, while dressed in a similar outfit, and you may understand my hatred.