The Singing Saws at Christmastime
I am not a direct advocate of Christmas proper, but have
come to fully embrace "Christmas." Like many, I found myself bummed to my
rotten core at this most festive season, that people in cheery green and red
sweater combinations with matching scarves, mirthfully sipping hot chocolate in
your face would inspire seething rage in me.
My mood would tunnel into the metaphoric snow -I live in the South and
are thus robbed of Christmas' postcard veneer - until spring would arouse it
with the sensual fragrance of new life. Christmas was a miserable time.
So at some point, I pushed Christmas aside, acknowledging my
incompatibilities with it and the unstoppable inertia of its approach and
embraced "Christmas," a less-formal appreciation of humankinds' best and worst behaviors
compressed into a season. I think not of poor baby Jesus freezing in the barn
as sheepherders bring him, what... incense? No amount of Nag Champa is going to
hide the circumstances there. I think of Saturnalia, the bloody, sensuous feast
of Saturn, a badass among the Roman gods who attained power by castrating his
father Ouranos with his trademark sickle.
His feast is marked with a week of gambling and orgies, sweaty times where slave and
master often changed places and greeted one another with "Io Saturnalia"; io being pronounced as a jaunty yo! Who needs Burl Ives and Bing Crosby of Christmas
when you have the bloody sickle of Saturn and the exploits of Caligula to celebrate?
But my days of wine and blood rituals are long past me, so I
keep a tinge of it as I celebrate "Christmas." I even acquiesced to my boss'
desire to decorate the office for the season; the festooning of the clock in
the above photo is my handiwork. And, I
can think of no better music to accompany this perversion-yet-adherence to
holiday dicta than that of Julian Koster and his Singing Saw Orchestra. The
former saw-man of Neutral Milk Hotel and member of The Music Tapes has done a
simple thing on The Singing Saw at
Christmastime - arranged the old standbys to his lonely instrument. On this album, "O' Holy Night" becomes the
plaintive supplication of a wolf, whimpering in the cold to the moon. "Jingle Bells" is the winds, joining in on a
melodious and celestial mew of quiet joy.
Singing saw - an actual handsaw bent and played with a bow -
is not what you'd call a versatile instrument, but its haunting voice, more
ghostly than even a Theremin is unmistakably effective at drawing you in. Koster
does manage to shake things up on "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" - literally;
it sounds like chains and wind chimes are clattering in the breeze, but the
wonderful hum of the saw still holds center stage. This fits my "Christmas" to
a tee, combining detachment and engagement with the same fervor. I am tempted, when my festooned clock in the
hall proclaims it time to pack up for the winter break, to set The Singing Saw at Christmastime on
repeat, just loud enough to seep under my locked door so that it may fill the
abandoned halls with "Christmas" cheer. Io
Saturnalia! Happy "Christmas"! And to
all a good night.
Listen to it on lala.