Scott Creney

The Greatest Christmas Album Ever Recorded – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

By Scott Creney

Oh sure, I loved it as a kid. Rudolph was always my favorite of the yearly Christmas holiday specials. We had the soundtrack album at home, and I probably listened to it (along with, bizarrely enough, a Perry Como album) more than any other Christmas album.  But I didn’t really appreciate it, didn’t fully recognize its greatness, its sheer emotional depth, until I rediscovered the album as an adult.

Well, barely an adult.  I was 21.

This is a little hard for me to talk about, in the context of music criticism, but I think it has to be discussed, if I am to make the case that the soundtrack to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is the greatest, most emotionally powerful, Christmas album of all time and explain why it means so much to me.

My life at 21 was a mess. I had recently come back to my hometown of El Cajon, California after spending a year working at a factory in rural Georgia only to find that my mother had (along with her apartment, and along with stuff I left behind) had disappeared from the face of the earth.[1]  My relationship with my Dad was, to put it mildly, strained.

So I found myself with no place to live, and more than a little shocked/frightened/angry/hurt/resentful at being placed in this position. The next four months were a constant struggle to find a steady job, to find a place to sleep, to find a way to feed myself. And that was just the day-to-day survival-type stuff. It probably goes without saying that the long-term questions (Where am I going to live? How long can I live like this? Just what exactly is the payoff for all this struggling?) weren’t any easier to deal with, and in some cases were even scarier.

During that time I slept on friends’ couches, I slept in my car, and I slept — in a weird bit of inspiration — on the enclosed roof above the Dairy Queen where I had just gotten fired.[2]

I don’t remember much about that Christmas. By this time, I was working at Little Caesar’s pizza and sleeping as often as possible. I remember storming out of Christmas Eve dinner at my Dad’s when my stepmom asked if everyone in my family was a loser like my mother. It seemed I was shaking constantly and always on the verge of either tears or violence. Mainly, I remember being grateful that Jack In The Box stayed open on holidays. If Christmas music existed that year, I don’t remember hearing it. Looking back, this was probably intentional on my part.

A couple of weeks later, 7-11 gave me a job working the graveyard shift. The money wasn’t great (barely above minimum wage), but it was full-time. After doing the math, I knew an apartment was out of the question, but I’d definitely be able to afford one of those ‘Rooms For Rent’ listed in the paper — whatever those were. After receiving a couple of paychecks from my new job, I went over to a friend’s house and started calling around.

One of the first places I called was this house over in the Fletcher Hills neighborhood. This guy named Gary had built a room onto his house. It was a 10 ft by 10 ft bedroom with a bathroom attached (three meters by three meters if you live outside the US) for $250 a month. It had an entrance in back, and despite the lack of a kitchen I was able to pick up a hot plate and a microwave for fairly cheap.

I talked a friend of mine into coming with me. When we pulled into the driveway, we were shocked to see the truck belonging to ‘The People’s Painter’. We had seen that truck in the parking lot of the local shopping mall, covered in Bible verses and extreme right-wing bumper stickers.[3] Walking in, he had the largest Bible I had ever seen open to the Book of Romans. Luckily for me, I was pretty familiar with Romans and was able to present myself as a mild-mannered, scripture-quoting young man.

It fit within my price range, barely, and so I took it. Soon, I settled into a pretty hermetic lifestyle, working five nights a week from 10pm-6am and spending most of my free time reading or going for long walks. By the end of the week I usually only had somewhere between five or 10 dollars to spend after my bills were taken care of, so trips to the Amvets thrift store were pretty much all I had to look forward to, consumer-entertainment-wise, for the better part of a year. When I found the soundtrack in the record bin, I picked it up without thinking about it too much.

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[1] Several years later, I got a phone call from her out of the blue. She had been living in a homeless shelter in San Diego.

[2] I insisted that it was easier to make a milkshake if you put the ice cream in first. I also insisted on being paid for the hours I had worked.

[3] Gary deserves a post of his own, but for now let’s just mention that he was in his early 40s, had never been married, and still lived with his mother. This fact, coupled with his vehement hatred of liberalism in all forms, particularly its tolerance of homosexuality, raised all kinds of psychological speculation among my friends and I.

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