Many of the cool things I think up—and there are many, even if they’re only cool in my own head—seemingly come too late. Still, I believe that the following must be addressed. Besides, I don’t want to wait until next year. So here we go.
It’s something I must address because it surfaces every year around the holidays like an annual case of explosive diarrhea. What I am referring to is in no way festive, as it ought to be. Rather, it is scary. It does not recall holiday goodwill or thanks or abounding love or wise men. It recalls a scrap iron processing plant: sheet metal grinding upon itself, sparks, carbon-stained machinery, hydraulics. It does not produce anything close to a feeling of warmth. It, instead, gives me the scary kind of goosebumps. Of course I am talking about the robotic stylings of Mannheim Steamroller and other “holiday” music of its ilk. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra makes me mad too, but I’m going after you in this blog, Steamroller.
Unfortunately, I remember this garbage from my childhood. The blare of synthesized trumpets echoed between the ceiling and our hexagonal orange kitchen tiles before tunneling into my skull like a Martian truth ray. Steamroller’s screeches contradicted the smell of cinnamon and sugar cookies and pine needles. Such forceful music produced by a computer, lacking the hominess and nostalgia of an actual Christmas carol in favor of an ethereal orchestral entity that, I imagine, was conducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger circa The Terminator. “I’ll Be Back” was one of their most popular songs.
And I use the word “their” here, but I can’t say for sure if there’s an actual band involved or even a group of people or even a single person. As far as I can tell, Mannheim Steamroller’s songs are the result of a drunken lab rat bumping into maze walls that have been outfitted with a series of pressure plates. The rat bumps the plate and completes a circuit, which produces a sound. Put a year’s worth of these chirps together and you have The Steamroller’s version of Deck the Halls.
I pose this question to The Steamroller: Huh? Yes, remakes are okay. In a sense, we remake a Christmas carol every time we sing it. But while I don’t mind Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” The Steamroller’s remakes border on butchery. Sure, you can keep cutting a New York Strip, but cut too much and it turns into hamburger. Furthermore, if an already existing work is complete in the truest sense then I wish people would leave it alone, or at least be respectful. Take Gus Van Sant’s version of Psycho as an example of remake hell. The film is perfect already, what is one to do that might make it better? Granted, Hitchcock movies and Christmas carols are vastly different. The point is, why screw around with songs that have been decades in the making, have been sung and have been the same for a long, long time? If you want to invent some new carols, be my guest (see Mele Kalikimaka). But I don’t see the point of remaking time-tested carols so drastically. You can’t sing along to this stuff. You can’t enjoy a cup of cocoa or give gifts with The Steamroller blaring the background. You can’t look your children in the eye while it’s playing and say, “Sweetie, this what Christmas is all about,” because you’d be lying.
In fact, the best part about The Steamroller is the name, because nothing describes such irreverent, aggressive music better than a piece of paving equipment. Actually, if you listen to a Mannheim CD for long enough the odor of freshly-melted tar will permeate every room in your house. But don’t worry, nothing’s on fire; it’s just the smell of your eardrums frying like thinly-sliced pancetta. And if you close your eyes, you’ll see it. You’ll see the steamroller mowing down everything, flattening the Christmas tree, blowing out the Menorah (because it’s so bad that Hannakah is affected too), and chasing all eight reindeer into the night. That red sparkle you see on the carriage? That’s the remnants of Rudolph’s nose. Say goodbye to Jimmy Stewart and St. Nick’s jolly hue and candy canes. Not even fruitcakes will persevere. And I know what you’re saying, “At least angels will survive.” That’s true… But they’ll never get wings because no one can hear the bell ringing because The Steamroller is too damn loud.
This said, The Steamroller isn’t a total loss. I propose a couple of alternate uses. 1) Rave music for senior citizens. The Steamroller has that industrial sound, without being offensive (in subject at least). So get some glow sticks and an abandoned warehouse and let’s party until 8 pm. 2) The aforementioned Angela and I prefer this option—use the term “Mannheim Steamroller” as an expletive. It’s fun to say, but no one will get offended. Suggested uses: a) Surprise. “Mannheim Steamroller, that deer came out of nowhere.” b) Exaltation. “This bratwurst is Mannheim Steamrollin’ delicious.” c) Frustration. “I can’t believe you cheated on me with the limo driver. You’re a real Mannheim Steamroller.” d) Ridicule. “You play Dungeons and Dragons? What are you? A Mannheim Steamroller?” e) Open-Mouthed Awe While Viewing The Aurora Borealis. “Ooh, Mannheim Steamroller.” f) Expressing Pain After Hitting Your Thumb With A Hammer. “Mannheim Steamroller!” g) Excited Fear When Going Down The First Drop On A Roller Coaster. “Maaaannnnheeeiiimm Steeeeaaammmrolleeeeer.” h) Crying (So Hard You Can’t Breathe) On Account Of The Simultaneous Pain And Rapture Of A Justin Bieber Concert. “Man…Mann…nnnn…hei…heim…mmm St…st…ste….steam…mmm…mmm…rolllllll…er…er…er. Justin, I love you.”
Boycott The Steamroller. Save Christmas.