A blog devoted to the works of Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies, et al. This blog will feature news related to his work, as well as occasional fanboy gushes from the author. Thank you for stopping by, and may all your dreams come true.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Like A Snowman

"My idol, Irving Berlin, wrote “White Christmas,” which is the best-selling song of all time—likely to remain so. So, when I think, “What shall I do today?” I inevitably think, “What would Irving do?” And sometimes, it’s “Write a Christmas song.”"

Stephin Merritt is consistently labeled, no-doubt to his consistent chagrin, as a singer/songwriter, but it's important to remember that the emphasis of his modus operandi is on the latter part of that label.  On recording Odetta, Stephin said that he felt as if she had taken his song ("Waltzing Me All the Way Home" from The 6ths' Hyacinths & Thistles) and "catapulted it into the stratosphere" like he had never seen before.  And, while we all no-doubt love Mr. Merritt's voice, this comment paired with the above quote makes for a rather poignant collection of thoughts.

Amongst the most stratosphere-catapulted songs in Mr. Merritt's songbook is "Like a Snowman," written for the fabulous Kiki and Herb's Broadway show.  Much like the first half of The Wayward Bus is about Phil Spector songs, I've always felt like "Like a Snowman" was written more about "White Christmas" than Christmas itself.  But, that performance?  It feels almost detached from Mr. Merritt's sensibilities in some ways, and is wholly a Kiki and Herb song.  It takes place in their world, and they blow it out of the water in their own ways.  Though the songwriting is wholly that of Mr. Merritt's (and feels as such throughout), the song is funneled through and ultimately made whole by Kiki and Herb.

Absolutely one of the greatest aspects of Mr. Merritt's work is its eccentricity, and this comment is not made solely in regards to genre experimentation.  Mr. Merritt's songs are at once artistic statements and catchy pop songs, and can be viewed from as many angles as there are listeners.  "Like a Snowman," of course, is no exception in that it is an absolutely lovely Christmas song, but it's also a heartbreaking story of love once had.  Kenny Mellman singing "I'll give you everything, my love" never fails to send a shiver down my spine.  Justin Bond inhabits entirely the character of the song and one can feel years of unreal forlorn, bittersweet, aching love oozing from that croon, particularly on that extended "snooooowman" at the tail end of the song.

Mr. Merritt did write another Christmas song for Kiki and Herb, which was discussed briefly in the comments of the previous post.  It is entitled "You Should See It in the Snow."  To sum up, I know little about the song, other than that it was written about 9/11 and performed at their Broadway show.  I expressed interest in e-mailing Kenny Mellman about the song, but then I realized that in order to do such a thing, one would need Mr. Mellman's e-mail address.  So, instead, if any of you all know anything about the song, I'd love to hear it.

Anyhow, I've uploaded "Like a Snowman."  I'm only leaving this up for a couple of days because, really, I encourage everyone to buy the CD upon which it was released.  It benefits AIDS research and I doubt there are many greater causes to benefit in the world today; not to mention you're remunerated with at least one absolutely beautiful song.


  1. "It feels almost detached from Mr. Merritt's sensibilities in some ways, and is wholly a Kiki and Herb song."

    I absolutely agree. My knowledge of musical theatre is fairly limited, and my familiarity with Justin Bond stops at "Shortbus", but my first impression of this song was "This is REALLY Broadway". I can hear some Stephin in there, but even now when I listen I don't think "This is a great Stephin Merritt tune". I think of it as a great Kiki & Herb number.

    It's not like I'm not used to hearing Stephin's songs sung by other people. It's funny to me that you mention "Waltzing me all the way home", because I feel like much of "Hyacinths and Thistles" shares sensibilities with "Like a Snowman". Very simple arrangements, flamboyant singers, and a general camp attitude. But with "H&T" and most of Stephin's catalogue, I'm always reminded that it's an interpretation of a Stephin Merritt song.

    I've wondered if that's creditable to intention, since after all, The 6ths are meant as a showcase of Stephin Merritt's songwriting. The singer is secondary by design. I'm curious if "Like a Snowman" was written specifically with Kiki & Herb in mind. Honestly I wouldn't be surprised. And if not, if it's just some old gem that Stephin dusted off for their use, more credit to Kiki & Herb for really making it their own.

  2. I think I feel Mr. Merritt's presence a little bit more than you are, but it is true that I will likely never not think of this song as a K&H song.

    H&T is, to me, probably Mr. Merritt's masterpiece album, and I think it's largely due to its constantly shifting mood. But, what's always struck me is how little that has to do with the different singers. After all, Wasps' Nests is one of the most thematically cohesive records in Mr. Merritt's oeuvre and features as many different singers. But, SM's presence on H&T is so subtly refined all throughout that one definitely feels it is his record, no matter what. "Like a Snowman" is on a whole other level, different even than his other theatre work, which all feels very much like his own as well.

    It's also interesting to note that "Volcana!" was written specifically for Marc Almond many years before Mr. Merritt ever knew he'd meet Mr. Almond. Just a thought to add that I'm too tired to expound upon right now. Maybe tomorrow.

  3. I had to listen to this a few times to form an opinion. As a Stephin Merritt song it is strange in that I really can't hear him singing it all. It does sound as if it was written for them specifically.

    As far as Kiki & Herb go, I can definitely see the live set in my head as I hear this. It sounds as if it is towards the middle of the set, just as she's getting drunk, but not yet drunk with rage.

  4. PS - thanks for posting about specific songs (very thought provoking)and for posting that song. I didn't really know it was available.

    PS Kenny M has a twitter account, and he seems very open to chatting people up. Wink, wink.

  5. Oh, thank you so for your kind comments, sir, and you're heartily welcome.

    I did find Kenny Mellman on Facebook, and some headway has been made, but that'll remain top secret.

  6. Tracey Thorn covers "Like a Snowman" on her new Christmas album. Totally different from the K/H version, but still gorgeous.

  7. Yeah, I posed about the cover when it was first announced. It's really good! It's on Youtube, for those who haven't been able to buy the record yet: