In 2010, Michael Peck’s wife heard "The Little Drummer Boy." At Burrito House. In November. For Peck, this meant war. Some friends of Peck’s had already made a game of avoiding the song, and Peck was inspired to dub the pastime “The Little Drummer Boy Challenge” and create a Facebook page for it. From there, things snowballed. First The Village Voice gave the challenge a mention, then The Onion’s Av Club caught wind. This year more than 650 ‘fans’ are playing along. Peck spoke with Our Town about the whole goofy endeavor.
Our Town How does the challenge work?
Micheal Peck It’s fairly simple: Just don’t hear any version of the song from Black Friday to the midnight before Christmas Eve. If you do—in a restaurant or store, on your iPod, wherever—you’re out, and you post where, when, and which version did it to you on the Facebook wall. It doesn’t get any more technical than that, but it’s important to remember that no one can take you out on purpose. So if your brother plays it intentionally or sings it to you, it doesn’t count. You have to be exposed unknowingly, without malice.
OT What sort of responses has it gotten?
MP It’s a range. Some people think it’s some sort of anti-holiday or anti-shopping statement, which it isn’t. Again, it’s merely a goof that requires absolutely no talent or practice. I tend to do best at such activities, and so do a lot of other people, apparently.
OT In terms of annoying Christmas songs, there are so many apt contenders. Why "The Little Drummer Boy?"
MP It’s not the obvious choice, I’ll admit. In fact, I kind of like it. (The honor of most hated holiday song would go to “Jingle Bell Rock,” particularly the Hall & Oates version; “Wonderful Christmastime;” or “Up on Santa Claus Mountain.”) But it’s a curiously reverent song about a kid who’s asked to come and bang on his drum for a newborn. According to him, anyway—there’s never been any proof that anyone asked him to do any such thing. I mean, as any new parent will tell you, up until about eight weeks or so, there’s nothing a baby who’s just been brought into the world enjoys more than hearing a nice, loud drum. Still, it’s a pretty song, I think, which makes it kind of funny to make it an object of dread.
OT What’s your earliest memory involving the song?
MP That’s probably a toss-up between the father of a friend playing the Johnny Cash version and the Rankin-Bass special, which still freaks me out because of how dark it was. After years of talk therapy, I still haven’t come to terms with the donkey being run over. Also, I’m pretty sure I caught the Bing Crosby Christmas special the first time it was on, when he did the duet with David Bowie. That remains one of the strangest holiday moments I’ve ever seen, trying to square Aladdin Sane/Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie with Der Bingle, but I actually like that version.
Peck. Possibly in a Little Drummer Boy induced depression.
OT What have been your favorite/the funniest ways people lost the challenge?
MP One woman sent her daughters into a pizza joint to pick up dinner while she waited in the car, and they got taken out while her laziness kept her alive. More than one person has suffered a holiday hoist-on-their-own-petard mishap when they forgot the song was on their iPod, and they did themselves in via shuffle. I love the lengths people are willing to go to in order to avoid hearing the song. I’ve had more than one person panic and abandon a cart full of merchandise in Target, for example.
OT You’ve developed some analytics from last year’s. Can you talk a little about that?
MP I was curious about which venues and artists are the deadliest, so I started visualizing the data. (I work in SEO for a large company. We talk like this.) Not surprisingly, retail establishments are the most perilous, followed by homes and restaurants. Artist-wise, it’s the killer Bs (Bing, Bowie, Bob Seger and Bieber) who have the greatest amount of blood on their hands. But some obscure versions I hadn’t previously heard of did some damage, too, including renditions by Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones.
OT If someone wants to win the challenge where should they avoid?
MP I don’t think it’s where, but what. All media and humanity. It’s the only way to be sure.
OT Any final tips/directions?
MP In all seriousness, I’d say don’t let it ruin the holiday for you. I’ve already had a couple of people say they’re not doing it again this year because it’s too stressful, or that they can’t get their shopping done. The whole point is to see if you can go about your normal business and manage to make it through without hearing it. Again, it’s a goof. Unless, of course, you open your heart to the notion that it’s the most meaningful accomplishment of our time. Which it is. As I’ve said on the blog and in comments: Much like a Morrissey song, a Robby Benson movie, or a Cubs post-season, the LDBC is born of tears and heartbreak. The list of the fallen may be just names to you. But to me, when I look at that Facebook page, they’re names with little square icons next to them.
To learn more visit littledrummerboychallenge.com
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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