Not to dwell on Christmas, but I have to confess that the song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” really creeps me out. As the lyrics to this cheerful tune unwittingly reveal, Santa has some issues, and it’s about time we addressed them.
First of all, no song about a nice guy begins with the threat, “You better watch out” because he’s “coming to town”. Things these phrases actually call to mind: Dark alleys. Blood. Whimpering. Slipping something into the milk and cookies. A thugly guy scowling over a prone body, warning the victim to “take it like a man” (or, to be more accurate, “You better not cry! You better not pout! Oh, and don’t call the cops, or you’re toast! Got it?”) Only a few lines in, and I’m already wondering if this is a Christmas tune or a Mob movie.
So clear is the image presented by the first verse that when it switches from visions of muscle-bound goons and impending doom to a dark stalker fantasy, the change requires a pitch shift — and gets it.
Before we go any further, I want you to ask yourself one thing: What kind of old guy is so obsessed with little children that he spends that much time watching them? Not a nice one, okay? Which is why “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” makes me feel less than cozy — and I slipped past his radar twenty years ago.
Of course, his favors only come if you’ve been “good”. Vague much, Santa? Because what, exactly, is “good” — other than a watered-down and subjective word? Honestly, I can only hope my standards for “good” are not the same as Santa, considering what that guy’s been up to. In which case if I am still under his surveillance I’m bound for the naughty list, which means what, precisely? Here again things get a little vague, which, as those horror movie buffs out there know, is often scarier than knowing exactly what misfortune will befall those who don’t follow the rules. According to some, letting the imagination devise possible punishments for the victim is the number one rule of writing suspense.
As if to hide these threats from Christmas-crazed listeners, the entire song — shades of mobsters and stalkers and all — is done with three times the speed and fifteen times the pep, letting the message slip into our subconscious. Seriously, envision it slower, and in a more menacing voice. Now don’t you feel nervous, too?