24 Days of Blogging Day 12: Elf Lives Matter

I was working on a Christmas playlist for a party (more on that tomorrow), and I came across a song I hadn’t heard before.  Though I didn’t include it in the playlist, I must have listened to it a dozen times as I was going around today.  The song is called “Elf’s Lament” by the group Barenaked Ladies. It was recorded in 2004 and features vocals by Michael Buble (no stranger to Christmas music) Here is the song

and here are the lyrics

I’m a man of reason, and they say
“‘Tis the season to be jolly but it’s folly when you volley for position”
Never in existence has there been such a resistance
To ideas meant to free us
If you could see us, then you’d listen
Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages
There’s no union
We’re only through when we outdo the competition
I make toys, but I’ve got aspirations
Make some noise, use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There’s a list for who’s been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf
A full indentured servitude can reflect on one’s attitude
But that silly red hat just makes the fat man look outrageous
Absurd though it may seem, you know, I’ve heard there’s even been illegal doping
And though we’re coping, I just hope it’s not contagious
You try to start a movement, and you think you see improvement
But when thrown into the moment, we just don’t seem so courageous
I make toys, but I’ve got aspirations
Make some noise, use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There’s a list for who’s been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf
You look at yourself, you’re an elf
And the shelf is just filled with disappointing memories
Trends come and go, and your friends wanna know
Why you aren’t just happy making crappy little gizmos
Every kid knows they’ll just throw this stuff away
We’re used to repetition, so we drew up a petition
We, the undersigned, feel undermined
Let’s redefine “employment”
We know that we’ve got leverage, so we’ll hand the fat man a beverage
And sit back while we attack the utter lack of our enjoyment
It may be tough to swallow, but our threats are far from hollow
He may thunder, but if he blunders, he may wonder where the toys went
I make toys, but I’ve got aspirations
Make some noise, use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There’s a list for who’s been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price
Naughty or nice, but consider the price
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

The song appeals to me musically, thematically, and linguistically.  First, the music has a decidedly un-Christmasy pop beat, characteristic of other songs by the group (someone will tell me what this style is, but I can’t think of it)  The song follows a standard verse-chorus-verse format, but there is a complexity to the interwoven melodies that does not allow the listener to fall into complacency.  Despite the “less than merry” message, the musical feel is happy but slightly plaintive, musically capturing the dichotomy of the tortured symbol of the joviality often season.

in terms of message, “Elf’s Lament” takes the by now somewhat tired trope of Santa as a harsh taskmaster and fleshes it out in a quasi-Marxist commentary on the dehumanizing effect of Capitalism on the workers.  Our speaker multiple times refers to his aspirations.  He has dreams beyond the merciless, rewardless, drug-assisted, grind of production, not the least are his ideas for improving the situation for himself and his co-workers.  In the third verse our hero laments not only his existence as part of the proletariat machine, but also the banality of what is produced, “And the shelf is just filled with disappointing memories,” (a poignant reference the the further humiliation of the whole “Elf on a Shelf” triviality).  In the final verse, the unnamed cog in the Santa machine plans (or are these plans only a fantasy brought on by the delirious of overwork?) a coup d’elf, bringing the master to his knees with a threatened work stoppage.  It is a victory, but at what cost? “Consider the price to an Elf.”

However, it was the wordplay, ahead of anything else, that first drew me to the song.  The verses are tied together by a complex interlacing of rhyme, alliteration and assonance.  The pairings, though not always a perfect rhyme, are ingenious: “Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages,” “Absurd though it may seem, you know, I’ve heard there’s even been illegal doping, And though we’re coping, I just hope it’s not contagious,” “We know that we’ve got leverage, so we’ll hand the fat man a beverage.”  Through these sound techniques, the listener is handed off from image to image, from idea to idea in a whirl of frosty Christmas snow.

Whether it is as Christmas classic or not, it is ingenious and made me happier than any other song I heard today.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

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Date: Tuesday, 12. December 2017 23:29
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