I have no good explanation for why Marlene Dietrich’s rendition of The Little Drummer Boy is my favorite Christmas song ever. I mean I suppose I have the story of how it was the first song on a reel-to-reel tape of Christmas music my mother taped off the WFMT Midnight Special a really fucking long time ago, and how we played that tape every year while we got out the decorations and set up the tree (and put blocks under the stand to balance out the way it had gone crooked from lying on its side all year in the attic), and I’m sure all this had an effect on my auditory consciousness. Still, none of the other, friendlier songs on the reel had this effect on me, so I wonder what it is about me that made me susceptible to this song.
For years I had no idea who sang it; I wasn’t even sure if the singer was male or female, just that the voice was a slurring, bittersweet confection of Bavarian darkness. The song is otherworldly and bizarre and it sounds for all the world like Charlie Brown’s Christmas pageant gone freakishly wrong and suddenly transported to a smoky German cabaret. It’s the best song ever, I tell you.