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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dylan's holiday CD seems a tad offbeat

By David Shapiro

My first instinct was to gag when I heard that Bob Dylan had released a Christmas CD, "Christmas From the Heart."

First Neil Diamond and now Dylan; I don't know what it is with my fellow Jewish boys and their need to get all holly jolly.

(Yeah, I know Dylan converted years ago, but Jews are a people as much as a faith and you don't really stop being one because you're nonobservant.)

In a way, I suppose Dylan was following the reverse path of his early hero Woody Guthrie, who wasn't Jewish but nevertheless felt moved to write a collection of Hanukkah songs that displayed a curious understanding of the holiday ("'Round and 'round the Hanukkah tree ...").

But my initial negative reaction to Christmas with Bob had more to do with culture and society than religion.

Dylan was a generational icon whose anthems in the cause of peace and social justice — "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They are a-Changing," "Chimes of Freedom" — became the theme songs for our best intentions.

While the rest of us morphed into the "Me Generation," Dylan turned to a more personal kind of music that explored deep and sometimes dark waters with poetic brilliance.

Now he's ready to put a log on the fire, roast some chestnuts and hark the herald angels? It's like seeing the last drop of fight drain out of our underachieving generation that never lived up to its promise to change the world for the better.

This was one Dylan album I wouldn't be adding to my collection even though he's generously donating all of his royalties to Feeding America and various international charities that feed the hungry.

Then I received an e-mail pointing to the YouTube video of one of the songs, "Must Be Santa," and I couldn't resist sneaking a peek.

It was the most un-Dylan scene you could imagine — a Christmas house party that was part Gatsby and part Mad Hatter, all played to the polka beat of an accordion with Dylan in a Santa cap shaking his booty with his raucous guests and hamming it up with the jolly old elf.

There was abundant alcohol and cigar smoking, comely ladies in short-shorts, a fight, broken windows and swinging from the chandeliers of the stately mansion.

Actually, it looked like fun.

I thought of a weekly column one of my editors used to write that ran only a couple of hundred words in the Saturday paper. One week he did something light and got a reader complaint that he was being frivolous when there were so many serious issues to write about.

"The paper filled all week with column after column of of war, disaster and misery," he wailed. "Can't I have just a few inches to lighten up?"

I started to see it the same way about Dylan's Christmas album. The guy looked happy in the video. He was having a good time and spreading cheer. He cleaned up pretty nice for a grubby old guy.

Who could begrudge him a bit of gaiety after 47 previous albums mostly filled with heavy thinking?

Which still doesn't mean I'll be tuning in anytime soon to Dylan's gravelly renditions of the "The First Noel," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" or "O' Little Town Of Bethlehem."

My holiday playlist is topped by Yo-Yo Ma's "Songs of Joy & Peace" with his friends Diana Krall, Dave Brubeck, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Paquito D'Rivera, Renée Fleming, Chris Botti and our own Jake Shimabukuro.

You can see Dylan's "Must Be Santa" for yourself at www.youtube.com/watch?v=plVjC15jhtw.