I may have come relatively late to the musical genius of Jay Brannan, but by now he’s been something close to everything all the time for me for months. I guess being more ignorant than hostile to his music probably disqualifies me from being a convert, the types of people best known for embracing their opposites most fervently, but nonetheless, a new Jay Brannan single has now become one of those things that makes my heart beat faster. I noticed it for the first time when Jay released In Living Cover last summer, and now, thankfully, it’s happening again. Stubbornly in-character, the perennial misanthrope has released Christmas Really Sucks. Enjoy Thanksgiving, guys, apparently it’ll be all downhill from here.
For the cynics out there – who, for the simple reason that they are cynics, should in fact be unconditional Jay Brannan fans – I’ll just say right away that I don’t think it’s a problem that all Brannan songs are grounded in the same musical universe. What one cynic may write off as tired musical tropes, another man may identify as an indispensable signature, and in this case I happen to be that other man. There is nothing convenient or predictable about his sparse arrangements, because he has honed the balance between his soft vocals and rough-edged lyrics in such a way that the music only heightens that inherent nerve. I generally hate it when critics talk about the potential for authenticity in the kind of ‘therapeutic’ singer/songwriter tradition that Jay Brannan is part of, but it could be useful in one way: To smack people over the head with it if their songwriting is too transparent, introverted or unoriginal to hold up under the stripped down arrangements. Luckily, Jay Brannan is much too good a songwriter to fall into that trap. Authenticity may be a useless term, but he should wear his lack of phoniness like a badge of honor.
I think it’s in the lyrics. He has a way of twisting known cliches (feeling lonely at Christmas, walking on empty streets, calling someone to discover that they’re with someone else, etc.), so that the images don’t sound as worn-out as they would have with a lesser songwriter. “It’s cold, but light outside/another sleepless night/and Santa never made it” is a refreshing way to channel the sadness that runs through the entire song. It sort of frames the whole thing, and keeps it interesting whether you read Santa’s absence as a bad omen, or as a snarky comment on a symbol of infantilism in what’s essentially a very lonely holiday for many people. That said, personally I wouldn’t underestimate the sheer value of its quoteability, either.
I had a similar reaction to the verse about calling someone for the first time in a long time (‘You’re on the telephone sounds like you’re not alone/it’s been so long since we’ve spoken’). There’s something undefinably sad about the next couple of lines: ‘Has your day been merry?/cuz mine’s been blue/hey, can i stay in love with you?’ Try that again: Hey, can I stay in love with you? No matter if this is read as someone hopelessly clinging to a lost love for their own reasons, or if he thinks there’s a chance they might get back together; if it’s said half-jokingly, or even if if the point of view has suddenly shifted (‘you’re on the the telephone’ could, potentially but not likely, mean that the narrative voice is now with the other guy); whichever it is, making something fresh and interesting out of such a common scene says something about how good Jay Brannan is.
Having Christmas Really Sucks as my December soundtrack (alongside Hanson’s Snowed In, for sentimental reasons) probably won’t derail my Christmas mentally, which is itself a testament to another one of those qualities I consider quintessentially Brannan: Even his saddest and/or angriest songs are so delicately arranged and delivered that they become not only pleasurable to listen to, but also have a certain humorous tone to them, ensuring that he doesn’t boxing himself in totally with sadness. Stay sad, bring joy, Jay.
I owe you at least a thousand comments. I’m sorry for my absence! I’ve been mostly revising my manuscript (STILL!!!) and writing prose for a class I’m taking. But enough with the excuses. Let me get started… one down, 999 to go.
Jay is one depressed boy. Do you follow him on Twitter? Poor guy. He finds cockroaches in his microwave (mama cockroaches, with babies, no less!). The airlines lose his luggage. He hasn’t had a real relationship in almost a decade.
His misery is our joy. A happy artist doest not good art make! And you’re right, his lack of phoniness is endearing.
I’m woefully behind the times (See paragraph 1). I’ve haven’t heard Christmas Really Sucks yet, but I have a feeling I know what it sounds like. And you know what? I’m okay with that!
PS and completely unrelated – add the movie “Wrecked” to your watch list. Would love to hear your thoughts on it!
You don’t owe me anything, Bryan. That said, if you felt like following up on that amount of comments, nothing would make me happier. Your feedback is always deeply appreciated. I’ve never believed it when people say they write mostly for their own enjoyment. While that may be partially true, and it’s certainly necessary in order to write something that other people would want to read, I need to have a reader in mind I write. So I write for you. And Franz. And Smilie. And Jay. Love you all.
Yeah, poor Jay. I hope he’d come to my city once. In addition to the chance to hear him play, I’d quite possibly pay to see him tweet the premises.
We’re in complete agreement on all things Jay.
I hope I get a chance to see ‘Wrecked’. It looks really, but judging from its IMDb page, it seems quite new? At the moment I only do basically three things: The first half of the day I read and write for my master’s thesis, due in May of next year. The second half I rewatch movie classics of the 2000s. If the Best of the Decade list I plan to unveil in late December is to be any good, I have lots of catching up (and re-catching) to do.
Your constant revisions of what I consider your already quite masterful manuscript, had me thinking about how two of my favorite movies of this season of rewatching – ‘Almost Famous’ and ‘Wonder Boys’ – are both the sometimes grueling process of writing, and the relationship between a writer and his editor.
Keep my posted on your progress, and congrats again on the Pushcart nomination!
It’s been so long since I’ve been to your site that I feel like I’m here again for the first time!
I apologize for my absence, I’ve been working too much (they’re busy trying to suck the life outta me).
I’d have to agree with Jay. I just listened to the track and Jay is one depressed boy. Too many people dread the coming of Christmas.
I can remember the days when I used to look forward to Christmas. That ended about five years ago. Now I’m mostly indifferent about it. I guess that’s one bonus to having children around. Their excitement is infectious.
Great to have you back, Smilie. I’m glad if I can somehow help through get through you’re workday.
I get your point about Christmas. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point it just lost its glow. Maybe I’m slowly gravitating toward Jay’s position?