Christmas songs can quickly puncture the spirit of the season with deep rancor. NHPR’s Sean Hurley found this out for himself, when he decided to compose a new Christmas carol. Sean's song, “The Christmas La La Song” was picked up by Sirius XM shock jocks Opie and Anthony. We’ll let Sean pick it up from there. And a reminder that these are the kind of radio personalities that love to inflame…
In 2006, I started doing a storytelling podcast called "Atoms, Motion & the Void".
I mixed together stories I'd written with music that I liked. I didn't use my own voice but that of an alter ego who I named "Sherwin Sleeves".
Sherwin: You mean this isn't your voice?
Sean: Well it's a voice that I do, but it's an imaginary voice.
After I'd created a website and posted a few episodes, I couldn't figure out how to get anyone to listen.
Sherwin: No one would listen. No one cared.
At the same time, I was following a daily comedy talk show on XM radio.
Ron Bennington: This is the Ron & Fez show...
The host Ron Bennington had fast become a kind of radio hero to me. He was street smart, brilliant, and no matter how cutting he was, he couldn't hide the fact that he had a huge heart.
Bennington also played songs his listeners sent in. He'd plug their websites, if they had them, as a kind of payment. So I thought I could bring two birds to life with one stone. I could support a show I loved, while grabbing a little attention for my podcast. I started sending in songs.
In November of 2008, Bennington asked me to write a Christmas song. I tried hard but the subject was so done, so burnt to a saccharine crisp that I was literally revolting myself with the songs I was coming up with. But then, while working on another song, I stumbled across a little melody that seemed promising.
I worked it into a song and sent it off. Ron played it and that's where the trouble began. Ron & Fez shared their channel on satellite radio with the infamous shock radio duo Opie & Anthony. Opie heard the song on Ron's show and decided to play it on his.
Opie: They played a song by Sleeves. Have you heard this one yet? Sleeves did a song called Christmas song and I can't get this damn thing out of my head.
Opie played it for Anthony.
Anthony: That sucked so bad! (laughter) Let me be completely honest with you I'm not even doing this for a bit...I hate it!!
Then they went to the phones.
Bonnie in DC liked it: "It actually made me choke up, almost cry in my car. I loved it."
Melissa in Jersey, not so much: "Hey Anthony I gotta agree with you. That song is absolutely horrendous. I've never heard a song as bad as that."
Opie: I gotta tell ya...the phones - every single one is lit. Half of ‘em love it, the other half hate it. It's divided right down the middle.
I didn't know it at the time, but I had created the musical equivalent of Elf on a Shelf. And it didn't end there.
Opie: Maybe we should play some Sleeves?
Anthony: Oh nooooo! I haven't heard that in so long and I hate it!
Opie: Come on let's try it again this year.
Opie still loved it. The callers loved and hated it. And Anthony?
Anthony: That sucks.
Opie: That rules. I like it I really like it.
Anthony: I'm sorry. No. No.
Opie: Why? Too much emotion going on?
Anthony: It has nothing to do with emotion. I was feeling pretty good in the la la la la. What's a la la la la? I was feeling pretty good, sitting in my house...and then he has to rhyme something..
Sean: See that's it, why didn't you rhyme something?
Sherwin: Well I was just the singer. You were the lyricist.
Sean: Oh that's true. Why didn't I rhyme something? Anyway, they played it the next year.
Anthony: What's a la la la la?
And the year after that.
Year after year.
[Song plays as Anthony complains over it:] "Shut up! I can't take it anymore. God. I enjoyed being told my father was dead more than this. This is horrible! It's terrible. It stinks. Look across the bay? It's snowing dummy. Go inside. I hate this guy. Sleeves."
I worried early on that Anthony's contempt would mean that soon no one would like it. Not that he could brainwash anyone into agreeing with him but that maybe that innocent moment where you get to decide things for yourself was being blown to bits.
But that's not what happened. And over the last 5 years, in a very small way, I got to see how people are strong like that. Unshakeable. Like the Who's down in Whoville. Like the people who love Elf on Shelf no matter what. It might not be a good song, it might even be an awful song. But it's just an elf. On a shelf. And it means whatever you want. Just like the la la's.