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Hold the line: the worst non-christmas christmas song ever

My least favorite Christmas song is not a holiday tune at all, but rather a lame pop song from the late 70's that reminds me of what was my Worst. Christmas. Ever.

The year was 1978. It was tumultuous year; the death of Keith Moon (not to mention the Pope), the Jonestown Massacre, the debut of Garlfield, Saturday Night Fever. For a 16 year old, I had an acute awareness of the world outside of my own little high school/town. I knew everything that was going on in the world in regards to culture, politics and news. Too bad I had no inkling what was going on right in front of me, in my own home. I would have put a stop to their evil plans sooner.

I do believe the plan was sprung on me at the last possible minute so as to avoid a protracted, dramatic reaction from me.

"We're going to Florida for Christmas!" Dad says this in a tone of voice that is trying to be both firm and jolly. As in: We are going to Florida and I know you think you'll hate every minute of it but the decision is final and you better make the best of it for the sake of your sisters and your mother or I will kill you. Kill you dead.
"But...but....," I manage to stammer.
"No buts."

I flee to my room, throw myself on the bed and cry in the way that only a 16 year old who thinks the world is supposed to revolve around her can cry. How dare they not consult me? I have a life, too. I have Christmas parties to go to. I have friends to exchange presents with. I have a boyfriend!

I tried explaining all this to my mother, who just answered me with lines that had obviously been practiced. Your cousins really miss the family. It would be nice to spend a holiday with them. Just think, it will be warm on Christmas! We can go to the beach!

The beach? This is supposed to make me feel better? I'm sure people in warm climates don't think twice about going to the beach on Christmas, but I am a New Yorker, damn it, and we don't do sand, surf and sun on a winter holiday! No snow. No wind howling down the chimney. No bulky sweaters. No itchy wool hat pulled down over my eyes as I run through the mall parking lot with my friends, trying to find the right bus home. It just wasn't right.

Of course, there was the whole boyfriend thing to deal with. Bobby was what I called a Cling-on. He followed me around like a wounded puppy that needed constant petting. I attributed this to his youth. He was, after all, just a 14 year old freshman (obviously, my thing for younger guys started early). I had tried several times to break up with him, but I always backed off when he hinted that it would destroy his very existence if I were to leave him. I hadn't yet developed my crusty, hardened shell necessary to not care if he slit his wrists. Which was all just puppy boy talk, anyhow. So I figured this would be a breaking point for him. If I were to take off to Florida for the Christmas break, he would get all mad and petulant and maybe he would be angry enough to break up with me! Finally, a silver lining in the Christmas in Florida dilemma.

I'm sure my parents were confused about my sudden turnaround. I was all sunshine and smiles as I packed my suitcase for the trip. I had found a way to make this trip work for me, self centered teenager that I was.

So, after waiting for my little sister to tearfully compose her postcard to Santa informing him that she would be elsewhere for Christmas (she was terrified that Santa wouldn't forward her presents to Florida), we took off for the great green south.

The first thing I noticed about Pompano Beach, Florida (I had been there previously, but I was too young at the time to take it all in) was that everyone within a five mile radius was either a crackhead or a senior citizen. There was no in between. Even my cousins - former New Yorkers - had taken on that slight glow of Florida craziness. Their neighbors to the right had no teeth. Their neighbors to the left had no furniture. The people around the corner sat on their rickety front porch all day and night, drinking beer and throwing rocks at passing cars. Everyone spoke in a slow, monosyballic drawl. No one knew anything about the world outside of their own block and, even worse, they didn't know who the Ramones were.

Making matters worse were the palm trees decorated for Christmas. It was a holiday twilight zone. Colored lights strung from coconuts. Flowers blooming amidst the cardboard cut out reindeer. Pictures taken with a surfer Santa on the boardwalk. It was wrong.

I was pining for New York, pining for my friends and, worst of all, pining for Bobby who, while annoying and clingy, at least had all his own teeth and listened to good music.

Music. Oh, there was music playing all the time. My cousins had the radio blasting at all hours. No Christmas music, for which I should have been grateful, but some top 40 radio station where the disc jockeys had fallen in love with Toto's Hold the Line.

If you've never heard that song, be thankful. It's pop dreck at its worst. The band consisted of several studio musicians who had played with some of the most popular bands of the 70's (Steely Dan and Cheap Trick to name but two). I think they were using Toto as a pretentious nod to the masses, as if to say "you guys don't appreciate musical perfection, so maybe if we wrap it up in some dumbed-down lyrics and candy chords, you'll buy it." Or maybe they just thought that putting all that talent together in one place meant they would be assured of chart victory. Think of them as the New York Yankees of 70's radio.

It's not in the way that you hold me It's not in the way you say you care
It's not in the way you've been treating my friends
It's not in the way that you'll stay till the end
It's not in the way you look or the things that you say that you do Hold the line
Love isn't always on time

Repeat that to varying degrees for a few minutes and you have Toto's first hit. It really wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't playing on the radio - I swear to you- every half hour. And it certainly wouldn't have stuck in my craw the way it did if it wasn't the background music for my Christmas in Cracktown.

Everyone was singing it. The old, the young, the toothless, the drunk, the surfing Santa. It was almost robotic, in a sense, like these people had been subliminally poisoned into believing that singing Hold the Line was going to make their clothes brighter, their cars faster and their beer stronger. I seemed to be the only one impervious to the horror.

Christmas Day arrived. 80 degrees and sunny was the forecast. I laid in bed that morning dreaming of a White Christmas and not at all anticipating going into the sun room to open presents with the lovely bunch of coconuts on the palm tree peeking in the windows and the warm ocean breeze wafting in.

I took the grin and bear it route for my little sister, who was overjoyed to see that Santa had indeed gotten her postcard and delivered the presents to Florida. Whee. Yay. Merry Christmas, everyone. And the gods of eternal summer bless us all.

Bobby called my aunt's house Christmas afternoon. He missed me. He wanted me to come home. Christmas was depressing without him. And I was just about to give in and start crying and sniffling that I missed him, too, and I wanted to be home with him right then and he blew it. Completely and utterly blew it.

He told me to hold on, that he had a present for me. I waited. What kind of present could he give me over the phone (this was in the days before anyone heard of phone sex and really, phone heavy petting just doesn't have the same ring to it anyhow)? In a few minutes he came back on the line. He was strumming his guitar. Said he had a song to sing for me. Oh, you know what's coming, don't you?

It's not in the way that you hold me. It's not in the way you say you care....wooOoooo.

Something burst inside me. I could not take it anymore. I thanked Bobby for the song and told him we had to talk when I got back to New York. I hung up and made the decision right there and then to break up with him when I got back, death threats to himself be damned. That song was a sign that things were just not going to work between us (and in an historical footnote, this wouldn't be the last time that I would make a break up decision while in Florida).

I spent the rest of Christmas break walking around the streets of Pompano Beach making observances of the strange breed of people that lived there for future novel-writing reference. I was relieved to finally get home to the cold, yellowish gray New York snow. I think I kissed the ground at the airport.

I broke up with Bobby the night I got home. I said nothing of Hold the Line. I just told him honestly, in a 16 year old's version of honest which is, I guess, brutal, that he was too clingy and whiny and he was smothering me. He responded by singing Hold the Line into the phone until I hung up. Oh, and he did try to kill himself, sort of. Rumor had it that he spent five hours under the sunlamp in his bathroom thinking he could burn himself to death. Which would explain why he came back to school looking like he took a bath with a cooking lobster.

I've carefully avoided the Toto song until now. And I have no one but myself to blame that it's careening through my brain at the moment, bringing back all kinds of memories of surfing Santas, lit up palm trees and crackhead Floridians.

*I'm not sure crack was even invented in the 70's, but you can substitute your drug of choice. Crack just reads better than mescaline or speed or Boones Farm wine.

Comments

This post made me laugh. My wife has a similar reaction to the song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". Involves some kind of party when she was a teenager where everybody paired off and made out, and she was the odd-woman out. Whenever that song comes on the radio/mp3 playlist, she VIOLENTLY changes the channel/song.

Don't be so hard on Toto. The rest of that album was pretty darn good. As a young musician, they were like gods to me. An unattainable ideal. Besides, let's keep some context here. This was also the year that Rod Stewart released "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy". THAT was wrong in so many ways, I need a shower after just thinking about it!

What a pivotal moment in your development, and how kind of you to share it. Now, thanks to your generousity, I have the over-produced smarm of "that song" in my brain. Right there along with all the problems I had during that time, all the worries and indignations and insecurities. Every SINGLE dissapointment--ALL OF THEM!

I had them all tucked safely away in dark room where they couldn't cause trouble. Put those years and all that struggle behind me. Yep. A new day dawns and I stride proudly to greet it. With dog turds on my shoe and spinach between my teeth.

All because of YOU and your damned song!!!

Well. I'll be alright. Don't you worry about me, dear. I'll just take one of these little pills here and...sleep for ... a lill bit an thenwecan do som...

Dan Patterson

Because I've never actually heard that song I considered downloading it to give a listen, but you folks have asssured me that that just isn't a wise idea.

Furthermore, Michele, I have spent more than twenty Christmas holidays in Alabama where, a time or two, the temperature would be a fairly balmy 70 degrees with White Christmas playing on the radio.

Winter in the south sucks. It's not really winter. It's summer lite. Same great sunshine, half the temperature.

Just because I'm fairly new here, have you had any novels published?

I still have the post card to Santa and the subsequent thank you note I "sent" for coming through with the goods. I was actually more concerned that they didn't have a chimney...

I actually rather like Toto (partly for muso reasons) but some of their stuff could be rather insipid. I like 'Hold the Line', however I would probably get sick of it pretty quick if I heard it over and over. I do recommend Toto's video collection for a laugh. They had the goofiest hair and wardrobe this side of Hammer.

you can kiss this floridians bootay.

"Hold the Line" wasn't so bad; it was "Roseanna" that made me want to hunt down the members of Toto and perform unspeakable acts of torture on them.

It was on the jukebox at the pizza place in Atlanta where I worked and it was played constantly. If I hadn't change the lyrics in my head to "Roseanne Rosannadanna," I think I might have become a mass-murderer.

"Hurts so Good," "Jack & Diane" and "Ghostbusters" were among the other songs on that box and I hope there are special little corners of Hell reserved for their writers, performers and producers.

I believe everyone's favorite Night Ranger song was also on there, but I might have the timeframe mixed up.

I was heavily self-medicated at that point in my life, which is another reason why I'm not sharing a cell with Wayne Williams.

There was music other than the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever then?

Jesus, my mother wore out two 8-tracks of that tinny disco bilge in one year for crying out loud.

Great. Now it's stuck in my head.

For Lair:

"Burn, baby, burn, Disco Inferno!"

Sadly, I knew exactly what song you were talking about by the first three words in the post's title.

Even worse, it gets played every day on the Musak at my workplace. We're in Christmas Musak mode now, but I'm sure in a few short weeks it will be baaaack.

Great story, Michele. Poor lobster-boy...

Toto's popularity was a complete mystery to me, but then there are a lot of bands who fall in that category.

Gah! Thanks for bringing back the memories of spending Christmas at my grandparents double wide in Lakeland Florida.

BBoorriinngg!! Thank God I could load up from the library before we left. Thank God dad had enough sense to get us out to the beaches for a few days. (Daytona was fun.)

Other than that, the 1970's were a living hell.

That song is on the GTA San Andreas sountrack.

And you know what that means.

That's right - you can listen to it while firebombing a crowd of innocent people. On the beach.

See? There's always a bright side.

No, there was no crack in the Seventies, at least not in Florida. Pretty much there was pot, beer, and bad coke that someone ran through a blender and adulterated with Johnson's Baby Powder. Crack was an Eighties drug.

As for the rest -- what is this "snow for Christmas" you speak of? What's wrong with palm trees with Christmas lights? I do not understand. I am but a simple Floridian; I fear your strange Northern ways and incantations.

"Hold The Line" was a great song.

Wonderful solo.

Notice all the comment spam on the pointed to article there?

Dear God, you have found the buried tape in my brain called "Hold the Line" and fed it to the machine. Hasn't been there in 25 years.

May it rest that long again.

Confirmed, Andrea, no Crack in the Seventies. We had Quualudes!!!! Much, much better. Sorta like Xanax, but more fun for sex. But then again, we had sex back in the Seventies. At least I think I did......(?)

Boones Farm (and Annie Green Springs) were big at the beginning of the 70's when the drinking age dropped to 18.

If you are looking for rot-gut wines you might as well reference Thunderbird, one of the fortified wines like MD20/20, or (heaven forbid) Everclear (200 proof, 100% grain alcohol).