The Refreshing Awfulness of Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album

It’s that time of year again: time to poke fun at Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart.” The album came out of left field in 2009 and has since become the butt of many jokes, including some of my own. There are several good reasons for the cool reception, such as track no. 10, “Must Be Santa.”

The biggest gripe, though, has to be Dylan’s singing. Simply put, his voice is shot. Now it’s true he was never exactly known for perfect pitch and rich timbre; David Bowie sang back in 1971 that Dylan had a “voice like sand and glue.” But now that voice is more like strep throat and cigarette smoke.

The grit and gravel often seems to get in the way of the melody, Dylan’s singing becoming almost atonal at points. It is the opposite of polished — it’s jagged, rough, even unmusical. Paired with simple arrangements of familiar carols and hymns, that voice can’t help but sound terribly out of place.

And I think that’s why people reacted so strongly to this album. We like our Christmas songs merry and bright, with flawless harmonies and nary a note out of tune:

Essentially, we like songs that fit the type of Christmas we want: clean, perfect, and easy. “Christmas in the Heart” gives us the opposite — but therein lies its strength. If Dylan’s awful singing seems unfit for Christmas tunes, it is only because we’ve forgotten how awful that first noel really was.

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Casablanca and the Ascent to Agape

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Casablanca is one of my favorite films. I’m certainly not alone in my affinity; the 1942 classic consistently ranks among the greatest movies of all time and is considered one of the best love stories in cinema.

Upon re-watching it recently, however, I realized how imprecise the term “love story” is. In English we use the word “love” rather indiscriminately. I love my mother, for example, but I also “love” a good ribeye. For me, at least, these are two very different kinds of love.

The ancient Greeks were on to something. They had four words for love: Eros, Agape, Philia, and Storge.

Eros may have given us the term “erotic,” but it is not reducible to lust. C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves that lust is not love at all, but “mere sexuality.” While Eros includes sexual desire, it is desire for a specific person, not a body – a subject, not an object. Lewis more accurately defines Eros as the state of “being in love.”

In Casablanca we are introduced to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a forlorn casualty of Eros. Following a brief but intense romance with the stunning Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), Rick left Paris to escape the invading Germans. He sought to take Ilsa with him, only to be stood up at the train station. A year and a half later, a bitter and cynical Rick has his heart broken again when he sees Ilsa walk into his nightclub in Casablanca with another man. Continue reading “Casablanca and the Ascent to Agape”

Time Traveling with the Saints

Last week I had the privilege of venerating the major relics of St. Maria Goretti at my local parish. It was a powerful experience, and I was struck by the reverence shown by my fellow parishioners. The Knights of Columbus stood guard as children knelt before the reliquary, pressing prayer cards to the glass. All was silent save for the rattling of rosary beads. Several nuns were crying.

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Our Father

At some point, every child comes to the realization that her father isn’t Superman after all. As it turns out, Dad is not all-powerful; he has weaknesses, fears, demons. Dad is a father among fathers, not the father.

In one sense the young child’s belief in paternal omnipotence is a delusion, and overcoming this delusion is surely a sign of maturity. But we should not be too hasty to dismiss the child’s perspective. In many ways, her image of fatherhood is much truer than ours.

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