Holidays

Nathaniel Rateliff and Elle King Drop COVID Carol, "Xmas to Forget"

Nathaniel Rateliff at Red Rocks on September 15, 2020.
Nathaniel Rateliff at Red Rocks on September 15, 2020. Aaron Thackeray
You can't blame Nathaniel Rateliff and Elle King for wanting to forget this burning-mountain-of-festering-biowaste Christmas we're headed into. December 25 will be the lonely cherry on top of the dung-cream sundae that is 2020 — what they rightly call "this goddamn year." It's yet another heart-scraping holiday when many people are avoiding their families in order to say "I love you," and the rest are heading over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house with a sleighful of packages, praying they aren't carrying the worst stocking stuffer of all: a coronavirus-sized gift card for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the Grim Reaper.

Though there aren't enough apocalyptic mixed metaphors to sum up this holiday season gone viral, Rateliff and King's new song, "Xmas to Forget," does as good a job as any at expressing how bleak it is trying to find something to laugh about in this humorless moment.

This is pure booze-drenched, despairing, country gold.

The title, "Xmas to Forget," sums it up: Rateliff and King wanted to forget this Christmas so much they didn't even bother to write the whole word out. Xmas. Can we just X out this horror show already? Christ.
Rateliff has been releasing the Marigold Singles to raise funds to distribute through the Marigold Project, his nonprofit, for social justice nonprofits. He's dropped seven-inch vinyl with artists like John Prine (fuck you, 2020, for taking him), Willie Nelson (thank you, 2020, for keeping him around) and Kevin Morby (we're glad he's still here, too).

The song is the rare imperfect recording backed by the Night Sweats. It devolves into a seasonally appropriate cacophony at the end that is surely what we will be feeling by midnight Christmas, when we're stumbling drunk into December 26 or stone sober and wishing we weren't.

When it comes to remembering 2020, amnesia's the best we can hope for — and it's gonna take a hell of a lot of time, speed, wine and liquor to make that happen, as Rateliff says in the song. We're grateful that King and Rateliff took it upon themselves to acknowledge that and tried to give us something to smile about, even if the corner of our lips don't quite curl up anymore.

Sure, they could have veered more nostalgic or tender; maybe a Christmas Dolly Parton (thank you, 2020, for keeping her around) and Kenny Rogers (fuck you, 2020, for taking him). But this just isn't that time, so they scratched the cover idea, because what old-time carol could sum up this jab-to-the-world jingle hell?

The idea for the song came from Night Sweats bassist Joseph Pope III, who rightfully noted that if they were going to do a Christmas tune, it should be about how hard this year has been, and they ran with the idea, says Rateliff. Crooning about "togetherness," that theme of so many holiday songs, just wouldn't cut the mustard.

"If we're all ending out the year in flames, let's do it laughing," says King."Here's to a Christmas to forget."

You can buy a copy of the new song at Bandcamp or Rateliff's website, and proceeds will go to the Food Research & Action Center, a national nonprofit whose work eradicating poverty, hunger and undernutrition will be even more critical in the new year.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris