Do They Know It’s Christmas After All?
BY HENRY ALFORD
[Originally published Januaury 4, 2000.]
(The songs “A PUZZLEMENT” and “I WHISTLE A HAPPY TUNE” are sitting in a dimly-lit bar on Tenth Avenue in the 40s.)
“A PUZZLEMENT”: I made Yul Brynner. I made him, and look what I get for my troubles: a remake of the wrong goddamn version of the story.
“I WHISTLE A HAPPY TUNE”: But look on the bright side, Puzz — we’re all in the same boat. You, me, “Shall We Dance,” “Something Wonderful,” “Hello Young Lovers” — none of us is out cashing 20th Century Fox checks.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Yeah, but I don’t even want to know how many of you are working Streisand’s New Year’s Eve show in Vegas. (Takes sip of drink.) Jodie Foster can kiss my ass!
“WHISTLE”: Aww, Puzz… Hey, look on the bright side — Christmas is right around the corner. Sugarplums. Presents. Yuletide festivities.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Yul-tide festivities. That phrase mocks me. (Motions to bartender for refill.)
BARTENDER: I’m gonna have to cut you off, song.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Go ahead. (Produces a vial of pills) I always have my dolls. My beautiful dolls… (Swallows a handful) (Weepy:) Someone called from ASCAP last week to see if I was still alive. My last royalty check was for twelve cents. I can’t even buy my kid a Christmas present.
“WHISTLE”: Thank God we get revived regionally.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Face it, Whistle: I’m considered novelty. Not a standard. But I’m the goddamn father of rap is what I am! But does Puff Dandy know who I am? The Beasting Boys? The Notorious B.I.G.?
“WHISTLE”: The Notorious B.I.G. is dead, Puzz.
“PUZZLEMENT”: And so am I. Dead as vaudeville. (Sobs, falls over on bar)
“WHISTLE”: Oh, Puzz…. (Running her fingers through PUZZLEMENT’s hair) Maybe if you … added a little melody.
“PUZZLEMENT”: I’ll look after my own goddamn melody, thank you very much!
“WHISTLE”: Hey, I was only trying to—
(Suddenly a brawl breaks out at the other end of the bar, instigated by one particularly haggard-looking song.)
“PUZZLEMENT”: Who the hell is that wreck?
“WHISTLE”: Oh, that’s the incidental music from New Faces of 1946. Remember him? Never worked a day in his life again.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Kill me when I’m that far gone.
“WHISTLE”: Well, to tell you the truth, Puzz, you’re not that far off.
“PUZZLEMENT”: (Volcanic) Why, you—! (“PUZZLEMENT” lunges at “WHISTLE” and rips off "WHISTLE’"s 3/4 time signature, revealing that she’s actually written in 2/4 time.)
“WHISTLE”: You… filthy… little… piece of songsprecht!
“PUZZLEMENT”: Happy now?
“WHISTLE”: (Erupts in tears) No, I’m not. I’m a big fake. Oh, the things you don’t know about me… I’ve been addicted to laudanum ever since our Broadway run. Oscar Hammerstein used to beat me. Deborah Kerr tried to flush my sheet music down a toilet in Bangkok. Oh, I’m a mess, an absolute mess. What’s worse, I could have really used some movie money. (“PUZZLEMENT” looks questioningly) I’m carrying “Getting to Know You”’s child.
“PUZZLEMENT”: Oh, jeez, kid, I had no idea. (A beat) So what’s a couple of holiday orphans like us to do?
“WHISTLE”: I was thinking — maybe we oughtta break into the Christmas carol market.
“PUZZLEMENT”: I’m kind of a downer at holidays. As you’ve noted.
“WHISTLE”: So? “Silent Night”? He’s no uptempo jazzfest.
“PUZZLEMENT”: For your information, “Silent Night” has fellated every arranger and musical director from here to Century City.
“WHISTLE”: I hear he hired his own publicist, too.
“PUZZLEMENT”: “Silent Night” sleeps in a pile of dirt.
“WHISTLE”: Right next to “Rudolph the Red Light District”! (They laugh, and clink their empty glasses together) (A beat) But we gotta fight the good fight, Puzz! There’re carolers who need us! Whaddya say?
“PUZZLEMENT”: Well… (Long pause) OK, I’m in.
(They stumble out onto the street and find a group of carolers singing “Deck the Halls.” Among the carolers’ ranks is a Santa. “WHISTLE” joins in the singing enthusiastically, while “PUZZLEMENT” stands on the sidelines, looking on. The song ends; “PUZZLEMENT” sidles over to Santa.)
“PUZZLEMENT”: Hello, Big Boy. (Looks Santa up and down) How would you feel about… getting bald?
SUGGESTED READSList: Misanthropic Jazz Standards for Valentine’s Day
by Phillip Johnston (2/11/2010)
Let Nothing You Dismay
by Mark O'Donnell (12/8/1998)
Let Nothing You Dismay, Part II
by Mark O'Donnell (12/11/1998)
RECENTLYEight Excuses I Have Told My Son to Use for His Failure to Hand in English Homework, Excuses I Have Learned are Acceptable During a Thirty-Year Career in Journalism, Books, and Film
by Nick Hornby (2/5/2016)
Fear, Inc: Part Two: Alarmed and Dangerous
by Susan Schorn (2/5/2016)
Women Who Should Be Pretty Pissed Off: Frankenstein’s Stepsister
by Amy Watkin (2/5/2016)