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Mark Steyn is the new Bing Crosby

Just in time for Christmas, the famous pundit sings (unironically) ‘It’s a Marshmallow World’


 

Mark Steyn is the new Bing Crosby

“I’m singing Marshmallow World for real,” says Mark Steyn. “I’m not part of the great swamp of irony into which pop culture is sinking.” Making fun of corny, happy Christmas songs is a cottage industry, as Stephen Colbert will prove on Nov. 23 when he does his musical Christmas-special parody A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All. But Steyn, during his recent brush with the Canadian Islamic Congress, took his mind off his troubles by teaming with British musical-comedy actress Jessica Martin (who has starred in such West End hits as Me And My Girl) for a self-produced recording of It’s a Marshmallow World, available in MP3 and CD from his website steynonline.com. Along with a self-published book called A Song For the Season, a survey of holiday-related songs, it’s his attempt to strike a blow for a proudly unironic approach to Christmas pop. If, as Steyn has argued in these pages, the future belongs to Islam, then the past belongs to songs with lyrics like, “it’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts.”

Marshmallow World, a cover of a 1949 song that Steyn calls “a second-tier, second-rank standard,” is accompanied by all the orchestral sounds that signify a merry musical Christmas: glockenspiels, sleigh bells, triangles, and inoffensive brass fanfares. The Anglo-Canadian-American Steyn sounds surprisingly Australian when he sings, but otherwise it’s a good approximation of the spirit of the holiday recordings of such anti-ironists as Bing Crosby. It’s the type of recording that’s still popular with audiences, but not so much with critics. “When I was at the Daily Telegraph in London,” Steyn notes, “they’d round up all the Christmas songs and give them to some miserable misanthropic rock critic to review.” One can imagine what those critics would have said about a single that not only takes Marshmallow World at face value, but even throws in some comedy banter (“Oh, Jessica, the world is our snowball!”) to put us in mind of those Crosby recordings where he and his guest stars would ad lib their way through the last verse.

You didn’t always need to go to a pundit’s self-made CD to find unambiguously jolly, irony-free Christmas music. In the golden age of North American Christmas pop, from the first appearance of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town in 1934 through a pre-murder-trial Phil Spector’s all-star Christmas album in 1963, American Christmas music portrayed a perfect world where snowmen come to life, reindeer are randomly added to Santa’s roster, and you meet some nice old man named Parson Brown or Farmer Grey. Holiday songs with some sense of melancholy or realism were revised to satisfy America’s appetite for Christmas cheer: at the request of Frank Sinatra, songwriter Hugh Martin rewrote the lyrics of his classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to turn it from a sad song to a happy one, while Irving Berlin deleted the introduction to White Christmas because it mentioned how depressing it is to celebrate Christmas in snow-deprived California.

In other parts of the world, it’s been acceptable to create Christmas music that mentions the less upbeat aspects of being caught in a snowstorm. In the Marshmallow recording, Steyn and Martin even tip their hat to British holiday non-cheer: they throw in a brief snippet of the English carol In the Bleak Midwinter, the story of how Christmas livened up some otherwise horrible weather. But in their heyday, American songwriters wouldn’t stand for that kind of talk, and Steyn likes that just fine: “The English Christmas is sort of bleak, grey, dour, whereas in the North American Christmas, the land is just a winter playground.” If you want confirmation that America is different from Europe, don’t look at politics, just compare Hark! The Herald Angels Sing to Jingle Bell Rock.

But even the unnaturally happy yuletide song is a relic of a bygone America; nearly all the most-recorded Christmas songs were written before the late 1960s, when American culture started to break apart. Today, recording this type of song is an act of cultural nostalgia, whether they’re recorded by Céline Dion or a Canadian pundit living in New Hampshire: “I feel like in a sort of fragmented culture,” Steyn explains, “they’re really the last songs we all share.” In a musical world of hip hop, I Kissed a Girl, and various people named Cyrus, maybe a traditional, un-cynical version of Marshmallow World is a blow for traditionalism. Or would be, if that song didn’t rhyme “girl” with “world.”


 

Mark Steyn is the new Bing Crosby

  1. I have a vague warm and cozy memory of my parents watching Bing Crosby when I was a kid – safe, happy days. I think the beauty of the past and bygone days is that we can take what we choose from them and keep it… And why on earth would we not keep something good? Especially when it has such great new packaging…

    I am English. And one of things I like best about living here in North America is that life is a real blend – not all bleak or all bubblegum. To me, life is about feeling good – happy, warm, content, pleasant, comfortable, smiling…

    Thank God this is not 1850 in England with the level of cold, harsh, cruel life that existed then.

    Julie

  2. And here I thought you meant Mark Steyn was going to be doing a buddy movie with the 21st-centurye ex-pat-Canadian version of Bob Hope…

  3. I thought Mark Steyn would do a new version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” as a way of thumbing his nose at Sayyid Qutb.

  4. “a pre-murder-trial Phil Spector’s all-star Christmas album in 1963?”

    Yeah, “pre-” by more than 40 years — not to mention the Righteous Bros, “River Deep mountain High,” etc.

    Weinman’s really reaching here.

  5. Does he do a version of “Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris”? Seems like a natural fit.

  6. Jeffrey John, thanks for your “on topic” comment and just so you know it’s Steyn, not Stein and this article by written by Jaime Weinman about something Mark Steyn did on his website and not by Mr. Steyn himself.

  7. Well Clarance, Thanks you for your comment and the tips on spelling and authorship..
    At least I got a rise out of someone.. You are obviously a very intelligent person

  8. Ahh Jennifer, you know not what you speak. (and your last paragraph really proves it – is there a cohesive thought hidden somewhere?). Mark’s ride has just begun. We have an Obama presidency. We have 5000 Paki butchers being imported to the UK while Sharia law is being embraced. We have Mumbai. I’m looking forward to more of Mark’s insight, humor and devastating sarcasm while I listen to his new CD.

  9. Steyn is remarkable in his knowledge and depth of interest in music. If only people like Jennifer could focus on the topic rather than insert their incredibly warped biases into such a discussion. But then she’d have to be conservative. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Jennifer. Perhaps you’ll receive one of Mark’s books if you’re lucky.

  10. Jaime Weinman’s comment shines with intelligence and sensitivity. This writer, who’s two generations removed from Canada, appreciates the awareness of the cultural change that made the warming bounce of American Christmas music a thing of the past, pre-the late 1960s. While songs were written and sung mostly for the adults who would buy the records or see the films and shows, they also were written so that children could hear them and feel the goodness in the songs and in the season. C’est un temps perdu et je suis désolé.

    Mark Steyn is a treasure of the English-speaking world. Go to his Web site to read his tributes headlined, “Singin’ in It,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. And buy his book, which has to have similar thoughtful, gracefully written treasures about great songs, written by people one wishes one knew as friends, like the late Adolph Green.

  11. “You’ve got to accentuate the positive…don’t mess around with Mr D[?]!”

    Great stuff:

    I’m currently reading Steyn’s Broadway Babies Say Goodnight, on the history of the musical et al. It’s outstanding, nuanced, insightful and hell, fun. I like the critic[?] M. Barrassing! It’s a Left Lib fraud to paint Mark as some kind of biogoted dullard, especially by rather ironically, the dull bigots of the Left. There is zero evidence shown for these absurd Logical Fallacy ad hominems. Steyn is a witty, hard working, very effective, talented, original and entertaining writer. He’s damn smart too. [Send briefcase of money to this address.]

    It’s funny, but quite often you can ask his critics to name an article or two that they’ve actually read in the last year and they harumphh. And to focus where he’s wrong and why? They just babble, ad hominem more, attack you or change the subject. Wacky, but much how Dr Sanity blogspot describes ’em.

    A happier side is try and get ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, with hip 50’s? 60’s? cool jazz sans vocal of Christmas tunes. It’s swingin’ and warm. Just the thing for a non-ironic, non-cynical and free happy Christmas! Colonel Robert Neville blogspot com.

  12. It’s obvious the pinch-faced purse lipped PC police who show up here with their patronizing and illusory moral superiority based on ignorance of Islam (Libs are too lazy to do any research and think their uninformed opinion is a good substitute) would be terrible dinner company unlike Mark Steyn and his readers who are always up for a free-ranging discussion and haven’t had their sense of humor surgically removed.

    The automatic fevered embrace of all things foreign simply because they’re foreign (xenophilia) mean that for Libs, it’s a gooey marshmellow brain rather than world.

  13. I bought the album, and love it!

    You gotta love Mark Steyn who's defying the world by singing cheerful songs in a world that has long since lost its cheer.

    Defiance is no longer gloom, which is too standard and therefore boring. Cheerfulness is the new rebellion!

    D

  14. Love Steyn!! Very eloquent…..needs his own t.v commentator show, prime time!

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