Holiday Horrors: “Merry Christmas, Elvis”

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009,
Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent
calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time
of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

merryxmaselvis.jpgI’m trying to not be mean with these posts. Really, I’m not! To qualify as a Holiday Horror, I think something can’t merely be bad. It has to have an element of exploitation to it.

Christmas is a time when many people find themselves feeling vulnerable and sentimental, and when many other people try to capitalize on those feelings by rushing out something vaguely Christmas-y to tug at their heartstrings. It’s the holiday equivalent of living near a tourist trap and charging people $20 to park on your lawn.

Christmas is one of the easiest and laziest shortcuts to emotional reaction that a writer can take, right up there with endangering a small child. Want a guaranteed blockbuster? Make a movie where a little girl gets kidnapped right around the holidays.

Today’s Holiday Horror demonstrates this principle in spades. It combines a little girl, the holidays, vague religiosity, and a recently departed celebrity to create a thick, sugary gruel. It’s called “Merry Christmas, Elvis,” a Yuletide ode to the King of Rock and Roll recorded only one year after his passing. It is so craven and crass with its heartstring pulling, I’m surprised the producers didn’t shoehorn a puppy or a grandmother into the mix.

Before even hearing it, you can probably guess that this is a country tune. Country music is an uncomplicated medium, where emotions are raw and simply articulated. Sometimes that leads to sheer awesomeness like Johnny Cash. Sometimes it leads to sentimental drivel like you hear in most modern pop-country. And which you will hear in abundance in this tune.

I ran across this years ago thanks to UbuWeb’s 365 Project. Back in 2003, they posted a bizarre song every day of the year. The tunes were usually outsider stuff, like home recordings or self produced singles. “Merry Christmas, Elvis”, credited to a young lady named Michele Cody, has a bit more polish to it. It was clearly a professional job from the Nashville song factory, with session musicians and everything. (Even if the guitarist chooses to use a completely inappropriate Mu-tron effect.)

The person who posted this to UbuWeb (Dancin’ Dave) described it as “perhaps the awfullest 45 I own”. Even though I know nothing of this man’s record collection, that is almost certainly true.

Why am I so sure of this? Because “Merry Christmas, Elvis” is sung by a young lady who looks forward singing Christmas songs with Elvis in heaven. That essentially means she can’t wait to die. Let that sink in while you sip your egg nog. It’s a sentiment you hear often in Christian-y stuff, but it’s one thing to wish to be reunited with a dead loved one. It’s another thing entirely to ask for death’s icy grip to take you so you can jam with Elvis. Plus, I imagine a heavenly Elvis might have different priorities than singing with little girls. Like boning angels who look like Ann-Margaret, for one thing.

This girl’s vision of eternity and the afterlife is akin to that of John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights (“I like to think of Jesus like, with giant eagle’s wings and singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd…”) She imagines Elvis (or, in her pronunication, “Evvis”) “singing with the angels on a bright shining star”. Though she also “can’t understand why you had to go.” A crisis of faith! What a spiritual crossroads for such a young girl!

But she recovers from this dilemma long enough to tell Elvis to “wish Jesus a happy birthday”. The first time I heard this, I wanted to punch my computer because of how nakedly pandering it is. Someone must have targeted a certain demographic (ie, rednecks), figured out the three things they love most, and constructed a song around that, sung by an adorable, criticism-proof little girl.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

If this doesn’t make your skin crawl, you should probably go to a doctor to make sure you still have fully functioning skin.