The fifth song of Christmas: How the workshop was unionized

One of the many things I love about Barenaked Ladies (please note the uppercase letters; in this instance, it’s a proper noun rather than a common one) is their knack for creating humor in banality, without having to write about banal topics. Rather, they write about unusual or even extraordinary things, but treat them as if they were commonplace. I mean, this is a group that wrote a song from the perspective of a guy receiving scads of anonymous postcards with costumed and propped chimpanzees on them. And about a bank robbery gone awry because the bank was full of nuns, and now the would-be robbers are quarreling about who was to blame. They do this constantly, without seeming formulaic, and it’s hilarious. Plus, their funny songs are musically very good.

Such is the case with “Elf’s Lament,” a rollicking free-for-all of a song from the perspective of Santa’s elves, complaining about their working conditions. It’s a realistic look at a fantastical situation, and not since Hermione Granger founded SPEW has anyone seemed so concerned about the plight of elves.

After its jaunty keyboard-drenched opening — I think of this particular tone as that of a Wurlitzer, but I have no idea if that’s correct — the narrative begins. Ed Robertson, Steven Page, and guest vocalist Michael Bublé alternate verses about progressively worse employment conditions until finally the titular elf lays out his plan for extortion — the music stops momentarily to let Bublé growl (in a vocally pleasing manner, of course) the line, “He may wonder where the toys went.”

Although at one point the elf says there’s no union, I’m certain he succeeded in starting one.

The verses follow an internal rhyme scheme that’s so brilliant it’s not always obvious that a rhyme has occurred, further contributing to the frenetic pace. I tried outlining it and got as far as:

A
ABBBC
D
D
EEEC

Frankly, I’m not even sure that much is correct, and I didn’t have the energy to attempt the rest of the song. But I broke up the lines in the printed lyrics, just to have as many rhymes as a possible show up at the ends of lines. I’m sure you care.

Anyway, all of this combines to give the song a tone of near-anarchy, leading up to a staccato ending that never fails to leave me wanting more. It’s non-traditional and not really about Christmas so much as it is about the year-long efforts behind Christmas, but I can’t get through the season without listening to it repeatedly. I dare you not to smile as you listen to “Elf’s Lament.”


Lyrics:

I’m a man of reason
And they say ’tis the season
To be jolly,
But it’s folly
When you volley
For position.

Never in existence
Has there been such a resistance
To ideas
Meant to free us.
If you could see us,
Then you’d listen.

Toiling through the ages,
Making toys on garnished wages.
There’s no union;
We’re only through when
We outdo
The competition.

I make toys,
But I’ve got aspirations.
Make some noise;
Use your imagination.
Girls and boys,
Before you wish for
What you wish for,
There’s a list for
Who’s been naughty or nice,
But consider the price
To an elf!

A full indentured servitude
Can reflect on one’s attitude,
But that silly red hat
Just makes the fat
Man look outrageous.

Absurd though it may seem,
You know, I’ve heard there’s even been
Illegal doping
And though we’re coping,
I just hope it’s not contagious.

You try to start a movement
And you think you see improvement,
But when thrown into
The moment,
We just don’t seem so courageous.

I make toys,
But I’ve got aspirations.
Make some noise;
Use your imagination.
Girls and boys,
Before you wish for
What you wish for,
There’s a list for
Who’s been naughty or nice,
But consider the price
To an elf!

You look at yourself;
You’re an elf
And the shelf
Is just filled with disappointing memories.

Trends come and go
And your friends wanna know
Why you aren’t just happy
Making crappy
Little gizmos.
Every kid knows they’ll just throw this stuff away.

We’re used to repetition
So we drew up a petition:
We, the undersigned,
Feel undermined;
Let’s redefine “employment.”

We know that we’ve got leverage
So we’ll hand the fat man a beverage
And sit back
While we attack
The utter lack
Of our enjoyment.

It may be tough to swallow
But our threats are far from hollow.
He may thunder
But if he blunders,
He may wonder
Where the toys went.

I make toys,
But I’ve got aspirations.
Make some noise;
Use your imagination.
Girls and boys,
Before you wish for
What you wish for,
There’s a list for
Who’s been naughty or nice,
But consider the price,
Naughty or nice,
But consider the price,
Naughty or nice,
But consider the price
To an elf!


Stocking stuffers:

  • None. There is literally no other Christmas song like this one.

Day 6:

Percussive reverence.

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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