A Christmas Alternative: 12 Songs Of Christmas : Day One : Purple Hills

Last year, I wrote an impassioned piece in defence of Christmas music. This year, prior to my yearly Festive podcast (now in its 13th year), I intend to post 12 songs of Christmas! People complain about hearing the same old songs on loop everywhere. So, over 12 (working) days, I’m suggesting 12 songs that probably don’t get the airplay they deserve this time of year and should be regarded as Christmas/Seasonal Classics.

So, without further ado, I present A Christmas Alternative: 12 Songs Of Christmas. 

12 Songs Of Christmas – Day One

Purple Mountains: “Snow is Falling in Manhattan”

I have to admit, the first time I heard this incredibly beautiful track was when Chilly Gonzales, with the help of Jarvis Cocker and Feist, covered it for his 2020 album, A Very Chilly Christmas. This, of course, led me to seek the original version, which completely blew me away. “Snow is Falling in Manhattan” is from David Berman’s (Silver Jews) project “Purple Mountains,” with both the album and the project sharing the same name. His performance brings a bruised sense of nobility to a song that ostensibly appears to be an evocative seasonal ode to the snow-covered streets of the island of Manhattan. However, darker emotions are at play as Berman captures a profound sense of isolation, loneliness, and the challenges of navigating life in a big city. The song’s narrator is clearly an outsider, someone who has suffered and who appears to find solace, hope and “So much joy in merely looking” as he wanders the backstreets in the darkness.

The song, like much of Berman’s work, reflects his unique perspective on the human experience and becomes even more devastating when you discover that Berman committed suicide just as he was about to go on tour to promote “Purple Mountains.” It’s impossible not to be moved and ponder on Berman’s state of mind, questioning whether the lyrics serve as a presage to another storm, the one raging within. It’s a poignant and darkly glittering antidote to those relentlessly upbeat Christmas party songs and one that hopefully might find new ears, much like Joni Mitchell’s “River,” which was discovered by a new generation and is now rightly regarded as a bona fide seasonal classic.

Berman may no longer be with us, but his words and music live on, and by way of tribute we should all “Stoke the fire and sing his lines.”

“Coming down in smithereens

On Staten Island, Bronx and Queens

It’s blanketing the city streets

And the streets beneath are fast asleep

Songs build little rooms in time

And housed within the song’s design

Is the ghost the host has left behind

To greet and sweep the guest inside

Stoke the fire and sing his lines

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