Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?

Every year, a few conversations begin to occur simultaneously before, on, and after Thanksgiving and continue through the new year. There are things you can expect to talk about with friends, family, coworkers, and passing acquaintances. Most are safe but, like all things holiday-related, are accompanied by a certain level of mild controversy and the potential to boil over until genuine disagreement.

Here are a few of the American holiday conversations one can be sure to experience annually:

  • “Can you believe _____ put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving?”
  • “Guess which radio station already started playing Christmas music?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas movie?”
  • “We don’t say Happy Holidays in this house! It’s Christmas, damn it!’

It’s two of those that demand further inspection in this moment. Before answering the question of favorite Christmas song or favorite Christmas movie, we have to give further consideration of what constitutes a Christmas song or movie?

The Rise of the Unconventional Favorite Christmas Movie

Over the last few years, society has realized and embraced that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This began, by most accounts, with a Cracked dot com article and now stretches across conversations, advertisements, and the internet. (My mother texted me this week that even an Xfinity ad recently highlighted Die Hard as a holiday favorite).

In response to this, it has become a meme to identify other unconventional Christmas movies, with examples including:

  • Batman Returns
  • Die Hard 2
  • Gremlins 
  • The Thing
  • The Thing (1982 remake)
  • Lethal Weapon 
  • The Shining 
  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • LA Confidential 

This conversation has been tackled by various blogs and writers, some of whom have tried to put the conversation entirely to bed by writing pieces like 538’s “The Best Movies That Are Kind Of About Christmas” or Vulture’s “10 Great Christmas-Adjacent Movies That Aren’t Die Hard”.

Music, meanwhile, works differently. It seems there is a clear line about whether something is or is not a Christmas song. It appears to be more straightforward: Christmas music is music for and about Christmas. (However, there are a few occasional comedic takes on what it is to be Christmas music, including popular comedian Brock Wilbur claiming every Ben Folds song is a Christmas song.)

Which brings me to the question I’ve asked here today…

Let’s Talk About “Happy Xmas (War is Over”) by John Lennon

This post is prologue so far. Here’s what I really want to talk about, what the top of the page exclaims, what I’ve been thinking about for years: is the song that begins with John Lennon whispering Merry Christmas to children really a Christmas song?

This song.

Originally I intended this to be a parody of such reads as “is gremlins a Christmas movie” and my own “why die hard 2 is a better christmas movie than die hard” or the recent, delightful “Is Holiday Classic It’s A Wonderful Life Secretly (or Actually) a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie?”

However, as I set out to write this, I realized that wasn’t the article I was writing. Continue reading “Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?”


Ed Sheeran Didn’t Ruin Anything. Game of Thrones is Rooted in Popular Music

Game of Thrones is Not Sacred. It’s Grateful Dead Fan Fiction

The first episode of the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones sparked a multitude of reactions, but perhaps none more virulent and hysterical than how certain GOT fans responded when Ed Sheeran appeared onscreen. The response was so rabid that some speculated Sheeran had deleted his Twitter account in response to the hatred (Sheeran has since denied it, stating “Why the hell would I worry what people thought about that. It’s clearly fuckin’ awesome.”)

This was Sheeran, if you (like me) didn’t recognize him at first.

I made my opinion very clear, via a tweet declaring:

Worth noting that this has been my most popular tweet, aside from one about Burger King one time.

Now, regardless of why Sheeran temporarily deleted his account, it does not change the fact that some Game of Thrones fans really, really hated seeing him on the screen. A top post in the /r/GameofThrones subreddit declared that his cameo had “ruined the Realism (sic).” Others mocked him with YouTube videos, angry tweets, and scornful recaps. Among the responses I received – in response to my “Ed Sheeran isn’t the problem” tweet were people telling me that they “hate him” and that cameos by Beyonce and John Legend would be next.

There are a few good points about why the Ed Sheeran cameo is nothing to be upset about, but I’ve already seen all but one of them already effectively made. These arguments include:

  • Sheeran is recognizable, yes, but aren’t many of the other actors in the show also recognizable? 
  • Sheeran was cast as a singer with a beautiful voice. Doesn’t it make sense to have a singer with a beautiful voice play a singer with a beautiful voice?
  • Why are all of you putting so much energy into hating a complete stranger?

But none of these are the articles I’ve come to write.

Instead, what I’d like you to consider is this: sure, Ed Sheeran is a pop musician playing a bit part in your favorite show. But doesn’t this make perfect sense, when one considers that the entirety of Game of Thrones – and the series of books upon which it is based, A Song of Ice and Fire – is an extended homage to a very popular band? Continue reading “Ed Sheeran Didn’t Ruin Anything. Game of Thrones is Rooted in Popular Music”

Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.

Consider the misquote. It lies in that same realm as citing fake news or reading only the headline. Misquoting is certainly nothing new, but the internet allows a fake quote to be retweeted a thousand times before the truth has even clicked send.

I’ve written about this before, of course. In the summer of 2015, I wrote a blog post called Six Things Hemingway Never Said, in which I listed a series of fake, inaccurate, misappropriated, or apocryphal Hemingway quotes and their origins.

“Live. Laugh. Love”

Since then, of course, it has only gotten worse. Consider the following list of quotes, provided by Google when one searches for ernest hemingway quotes:

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-12-21-40-pmI won’t catalogue all of these, but let’s say that they range from context-free to paraphrased to nonsense. The seventh is a misquote of a line he said during a famous article by Dorothy Parker in The New Yorker, while the last one on the list sounds like the social media status update of a moody teen.

Why do we misquote?

What is it about the internet and misquoting? What drives one to repeat something that someone else said without bothering to make sure that person said it?  Why would you put something on your Facebook wall, why tweet it, why make it into a cute photo for Instagram without confirming that, yes, it’s a real quote? Continue reading “Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.”

The Kanye with a Thousand Faces: Exploring the Inevitable Kanye West Musical, Part One

Some things are inevitable: death, taxes, reboots, and musical adaptations. This blog has thoroughly discussed the “dark and gritty reboot,” but what about the inevitable musical adaptation?

Every person, place, or thing ends up on the stage, accompanied by tunes. This includes films, myths, classic novels (Les Miserables; The Phantom of the Opera) and contemporary novels (American Psycho; Wicked). Then, of course, there is the ever-present “jukebox musical,”including Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and A Night with Janis Joplin and Motown: The Musical and the Tupac musical Holler if Ya Hear Me and so on.

Some, like The Lion King, make sense. Others, like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Rocky the Musical, do not.


The question is not whether a wildly popular Kanye West musical will happen, but what it will be. I assume it will begin on Broadway and then go national, touring ceaselessly. Everyone will discuss it. Everyone will see it. It will saturate the media and pop culture, like Rent and Hamilton and Book of Mormon before it. Continue reading “The Kanye with a Thousand Faces: Exploring the Inevitable Kanye West Musical, Part One”

Did a Grateful Dead Song Inspire Arya Stark and Her Story?

Exploring the connections between the Grateful Dead and A Song of Ice and Fire

It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead’s music has influenced George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. He first acknowledged it during a 2014 interview with 927 Plus, including indirectly admitting that the spiritual Weirwoods in the world of Westeros are named after Bobby Weir. (update: it’s worth noting that he didn’t confirm it quite as much as the conversation goes – there will be more about this in the future.)

A number of listicles, various reddit threads, and blog posts have been written about connections between Martin’s books and the Dead’s songs, including the Weirwoods, The Mountains of the Moon, and Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne.

It’s not hard to believe this guy is a Grateful Dead fan.

And of course, the wolf. Yes, the Grateful Dead has a song called “Dire Wolf,” the same beast that serves as the Stark sigil. We know that connection. But is this where the connection ends? Or is there something more linking the Grateful Dead song and the Starks of Winterfell?

“Please Don’t Murder Me”

Listening to the song “Dire Wolf” while contemplating the Stark family, the lyrics initially don’t seem very relevant to Ned Stark and his offspring. While the setting seems Winterfell-esque—the winter was so hard and cold, froze ten feet neath the ground—it’s hard to view the Starks as resembling the wolves of the song, as the song consists of the narrator repeatedly pleading “don’t murder me” to the dire wolf.

“Dire Wolf” is the third song on this album.

Murder is not a crime committed by the honorable Starks. They execute. They kill in war. But they do not murder. Ned, Robb, and Jon Snow each execute criminals and kill enemies in battle.  Rickon, Bran, and Sansa never kill at all (at least, not yet).

And then there is Arya.

Arya Stark, as portrayed by Maisie Williams in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Continue reading “Did a Grateful Dead Song Inspire Arya Stark and Her Story?”

How to Finally Become a David Bowie Fan

It’s a strange thing when a celebrity dies. Some people mourn for days or weeks or months. Others feel ostracized when it’s someone whose work they didn’t know, outside the world of grief. I recall the deaths of Kurt Cobain (I was 8) and Princess Diana (I was 11) with confusion, a sense of not knowing who exactly had died and why it mattered.

With David Bowie’s recent death—the first widely-mourned death of 2016—many of us are feeling sad and disappointed. Others are feeling left out or confused or excluded.


“Who is David Bowie?” some people ask. “Why didn’t I ever listen to his music? Why is it such a big deal that he died? Which songs did he sing?”

I’ve talked to a few people in this boat. This is one of the places where I feel somewhere in the middle. I would never claim to be a David Bowie expert, but I’m not annoyed by the mass of grief. The public mourning, the internet sadness, the elegies on Twitter and eulogies on Facebook. It seems justified, in his case. His death surprised us. It didn’t seem like his career—no, his life—should be over. Continue reading “How to Finally Become a David Bowie Fan”

“Please stop calling here, Adele.”

A dialogue with Adele, from the perspective of the person she should not be calling. All of Adele’s lyrics are from the song “Hello.” The Audience’s lyrics are invented for this dialogue.


Audience: Hello?

Adele: Hello, it’s me.

Audience: Adele?

Adele: I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.

Audience: Why would I want to do that?

Adele: To go over everything.

Audience: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Adele: They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but I ain’t done much healing.

Audience: ….

Adele: Hello, can you hear me?

Audience: Yes. But I, um, I think I’m gonna hang up. Continue reading ““Please stop calling here, Adele.””

Are Kubrick and Spielberg Renegades? (And Other Odd Film References in Pop Music)

There’s a new song on the radio by a band I hadn’t heard of. It’s called “Renegades” and they’re called X-Ambassadors.

In this song, they celebrate “running wild and running free” and “living like we’re renegades.” I like the song a lot more than I would expect to. But hey, I never claimed to have great taste in music.

But what gets me is this verse:

All hail the underdogs. All hail the new kids. All hail the outlaws. Spielbergs and Kubricks

And it’s strange, for two reasons. The first is that it comes in the midst of a lot of very odd film references in pop music (which I’ll get to in a moment.) The second? Well. Would you actually say that Spielberg and Kubrick are a) underdogs b) new kids c) outlaws d) renegades.

Hmm. Maybe? There’s another part of the song in which we are told “long live the pioneers.” And sure, maybe, yeah, that’s what Kubrick was and Spielberg is.

It’s been a very long since either Kubrick or Spielberg was anything resembling an underdog or a new kid. Kubrick made films from the ’50s to the ’90s. Spielberg has been cranking them out for equally as long, into the present but with a different start date.

As for outlaws? I’ll take that one. Maybe. Kubrick was, at least, with Lolita and Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. He had decades of being an outlaw, even if he was also an establishment, backed-by-the-man, wealthy outlaw. (And yes, it’s preferable to be the kind of Kubrick outlaw than the Polanski sort).


But Spielberg? Spielberg was barely any kind of outlaw. He might pioneer and push things forward but the guy isn’t a renegade. He is Empire.

It makes you wonder where these lyrics come from.

And that’s not the only strange film reference being thrown around on the radio these days. Fall-Out Boy is invoking Pulp Fiction with a song about a woman who wants to dance like Uma Thurman. Vance Joy and Mark Ronson are both singing about Michelle Pfeiffer.

What does it all mean? Every one of these songs has teenagers as their target audience. Michelle Pfeiffer’s peek and Uma Thurman’s dance with Travolta both predate the memory of any of the teenagers that these musicians are singing for. So why are we getting these allusions on the radio?

This happened over 20 years ago. But have no fear: it is available on Netflix Instant.
This happened over 20 years ago. But have no fear: it is available on Netflix Instant.

The answer is: I don’t know. It’s some kind of cultural appropriation, taking actors or filmmakers and changing their meaning to fit that of the song. Whether or not it actually means something, actually matters, is what I do not know.

The better answer is probably that these are just meaningless lyrics to silly songs. Maybe I should go back to dissecting Jason Derulo songs.

Interested in reading some fiction by the author of this article? Buy the short story Wildcat by D. F. Lovett for only 99 cents. 

Not Stopping, White Walls, and Double Standards: Miley Cyrus vs. Macklemore.

Note: this blog post is actually something I wrote last summer, but never posted on here.  I figured I would share it here now.

A few days ago, I heard “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus and “White Walls” by Macklemore on the radio. And I noticed something.

Both songs have been around for a while, so this is not exactly topical, but it struck me that in “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is censored when she sings about “…trying to get a line in the bathroom…” Oddly, Macklemore is not censored when he refers to a female passenger in his vehicle “doing line after line like she’s writing rhymes.”

Not even going to address the racial dynamics here.
Not even going to address the racial dynamics here.

Seriously, Cyrus says “line” once and it’s edited out, but Macklemore says “line” twice and both are allowed. Why? Continue reading “Not Stopping, White Walls, and Double Standards: Miley Cyrus vs. Macklemore.”