My mother said ‘I’m a survivor, I pull together Christmas every year.
Something has to last’ she said ‘Once a year let’s have the past’
And then one year to reach up high to hang an angel from the tree
became a painful thing ‘Besides she’s lost her wing’ my mother said
Thing’s Fall Apart by Cristina Monet-Palaci first appeared pale-faced and defiant upon the world, well New York anyway, same thing they say, well New Yorkers say anyway, back in 1981. Going by her first name Cristina her pop-life burned briefly incandescent before evaporating in a puff of neon-dust several years later.
This post is about Things Fall Apart only, though it itself may tell you very much about Cristina. It was her Christmas song, or rather her concession to Christmas song, which as you should gather already is hinting that for her the spirit of Christmas is the sort that Shane MacGowan may raise a glass to. Except that he is very much likely to be doing so in a downtown bar whereas she in an uptown one.
For many Christmas is to be celebrated, for the rest it is to be, if not endured, then at least carefully negotiated.
There are many Christmas songs that celebrate it – whether it is Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or even some confusion of them both – it would be a long pointless list to make of them as such songs cannot be escaped from – whether in your home, whether out shopping, at a bar, at a party, even for some poor souls in their workplace.
Songs that take a more begrudging approach to Christmas are lesser in number but often find themselves as loved as those more unabashed celebratory ones. Certainly in early December anyway when the Christmas spirit has not yet enfolded us all and we are still resistant and perhaps even resentful of its looming presence so that we can take the likes of the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairytale of New York or Blink 182’s Won’t Be Home for Christmas to our still humbug-bosoms before like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life come Christmas Eve we are finally broken down and such cynical sentiments are cast aside where then even the most syrupy Christmas song is suddenly in heart-step with our own.
There are those though whom Christmas is neither anticipated or resisted, neither cherished or feared rather it is collided with like an uncomfortable fleeting drunken encounter before stumbling on their way into the dead of night. Things fall apart is one such song.
My boyfriend said it’s really sweet the way you go for Christmas cheer
I said we can’t afford the tree
He said ‘Love is free’ so we trimmed the cactus with my ear-rings that we’d meant to pawn
There wasn’t any snow but there was rain
He licked me like a candy cane
Then one day he said I can’t stand in your way. Way of what I asked. But he was gone.
The lyrics do not exactly need anything adding though if you have not heard it you have also to consider it delivered in a spirit of existential nonchalance with a New York drawl. I am not going to spend too much time on the music because this song’s spirit resides in its words but the music starts with a wonky sounding Music Box refrain of Silent Night before proceeding into choppy guitars – it was called No Wave (by a music journalist no doubt) which was like New Wave but with the melody more of an occasional guest. The guitars dutifully duel along with an electronic underlay that gets vaguely excited upon each passing chorus. It offsets Cristina’s deadpan delivery without distracting from it too much.
Why might you be on a collision course with Christmas? After all it does come every year on schedule wanted or not? Perhaps Christmas can only be welcomed and celebrated in unison with family and close friends but if you are on unspeaking terms with your family and a lone wolf ricocheting through life then you may find that Christmas finds you before you find it.
Cristina’s Christmases are a series of afterthoughts and family something located on the outer edges of her existence. The usual human dramas are in full flow and it just happens to be Christmas too. And with each successive verse the family plays a disappearing role – first spent at home with her mother and as likely to be a latter-year coupling of ageing mother and ageing daughter as a cosy childhood Christmas, second verse the family now an unremembered past just a maybe-future with a boyfriend and its impossible possibility and then the third verse finds her lost in a party, strangers for company. Just as well there is no fourth verse.
The party was a huge success but where should we go next they said
They killed a tree of 97 years and smothered it with lights and silver tears
They all got wrecked. They laughed too loud
I started to feel queasy in the crowd
I caught a cab back to my flat and wept a bit and fed the cat.
Then the chorus refrain
Things Fall Apart but they never leave my heart
Desolation never sounded so alluring. Then the following final defining line
Good morning midnight, It’s Christmas
Suggesting that Christmas Eve is only just getting started, and Christmas Day is only going to be recalled Boxing Day.
If you find yourself alone at Christmas by circumstance then perhaps comfort yourself with Prince’s Spectorish swoon Another Lonely Christmas.
If on the other hand you chose Christmas as your only companion then consider Things Fall Apart as Your Song. Drink eat and generally self-indulge. And be as merry or as unmerry as you damn well want.
For myself though, as much as I love this song and play it a lot each December, I will only venture as far as mid-afternoon Christmas Eve with it. Beyond that time it is too dangerous and I do not want to find myself welcoming Christmas at the strike of twelve with Cristina’s nasal if dulcet tones ringing in my ears. I have six young nieces and two young nephews to attend to and save me from myself. For now at least!