Steven Recommends: “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits

Peppermint bark is the worst part of Christmas. I hate the stuff. Put any noun modifier next to “bark” and it sounds disgusting. “Potato bark.” “Beef bark.” “Yogurt bark.” Peppermint bark grows on trees in the candy forest of an evil witch, and its sole purpose is to render its consumer senseless so that the witch can stuff the unsuspecting victim into a 220-degree oven for a slow roast. And it would serve the person right for thinking peppermint bark is an acceptable treat.

But some people love peppermint bark. This divisiveness is probably how people feel about Tom Waits. His voice is unlistenable to most, and his phrasings are exaggerated. The people who love Tom Waits really love him. If somebody tells me that Tom Waits is the best living songwriter, then I will think a certain way about him (because the person is always a dude); not bad, but I become a little suspect about what he is trying to signal to me about his tastes in music.

That said, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Most holiday songs fall into three categories: praise songs for the birth of Christ (“Joy to the World”), songs that are really winter songs but are played only at Christmas (“Winter Wonderland), and bland love songs with a thin veneer of candy cane painted on top (“All I Want for Christmas is You”). “Christmas Card” is only nominally a love song. It fits into a very small category of Christmas songs (along with “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison”) that deal with painful loneliness during the holidays. I don’t think I have ever heard it played over the speakers at the mall or Old Navy. But it is a song that ends with hope, which is the main theme of Christmas, once all the tinsel is stripped away. This performance includes the bonus of him singing “Silent Night” as an intro and outro:

(Song recommendation by Steven W. McCarty)

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