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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, December 25th, 2002


 

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song

by

This Book is a Gift

A review by Adrienne Miller

It is so ubiquitous, such a part of the culture, that it seems impossible to conceive of it as a created thing. Was snow created? Was air? "White Christmas" seems that elemental. When Irving Berlin wrote it, in 1938, he imagined it a breezy little show tune. His original idea for the song: The narrator is a New Yorker who's unhappily stuck in L.A. for Christmas. In the years since 1938, Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas" became the most popular recording of all time, eclipsed only recently by (gak!) Sir Elton's "Candle in the Wind '97." Jody Rosen's bright and engaging history of the song explores how a thing takes hold of a culture and won't let go. The book is also a biography of Irving Berlin, who was born in Siberia in 1888, immigrated to New York in 1893 (and soon after acquired the snazzy American nickname "Izzy"), and who later became one of the great popular songwriters of the century. Sure, Berlin's work seemed, and seems, a bit hokey and glib when compared to the work of some of the other great songwriters of the era — it lacks the sophistication of Porter's, the genius of Gershwin's, the dark grandeur of Kurt Weill's. But the endurance of its mass appeal is unrivaled. Rosen has written a valuable book about the history of American music. White Christmas is a gift.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.


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