I recorded and just released two versions of my original Christmas song, Christmas & You, with fellow Brooklyn musician Mark Caserta as part of our Quarantine Sessions project. Because today is Christmas Eve, I thought it was the perfect time to share these two recordings with my thoughts here at The New Leaf Journal. Releasing two versions of the same song so close together is unconventional (music executives may call it foolish), but we thought it would be interesting from an artistic perspective to interpret the song in two different ways.

Two Christmas & You Recordings

Christmas & You (Home Recording, Version 1)

  • YouTube video link
  • Music and Lyrics by Victor V. Gurbo
  • Mixed and remastered by Mark Caserta
  • Victor V. Gurbo (Vocals, rhythm acoustic guitar)
  • Mark Caserta (Lead acoustic guitar, bells)

“Christmas & You” Music Video, feat. Johanna Telander, Katie Chambers, and Mark Caserta

  • YouTube video link
  • Song by Victor V. Gurbo
  • Mixed and remastered by Mark Caserta
  • Victor V. Gurbo (Vocals, rhythm acoustic guitar)
  • Mark Caserta (Lead acoustic guitar, bells)
  • Johanna Telander (Harp)
  • Katie Chambers (Cello)
This is an art piece by Robert Gurbo created for a Christmas card. It ios a Polaroid transfer of an angel decoration, mounted on paper. Below the angel is the text "Hope You All Had A Merry Christmas Happy & A  New Year"
Image credit: Robert Gurbo.

Christmas & You Lyrics

It’s sundown on Tinsel Town
There’s no more saviors coming around
No more hidin' from the church bell’s chime
Beneath the garland and mistletoe 
Grandpa’s sleeping down below
He’s waitin' on the judgment time
I wished I was the buttons on your coat
But now I feel like a sinkin' boat
And the calendar, she gives up too

But now all that I want for Christmas
All that I want this Christmas
Is to find my way back to God, and you

The Ghost of Present and Christmas Past
They’ve finally made it to the ball at last
They twist beneath those starlight chandeliers 
Come on baby, step on my feet
And we’ll watch all the pretty little lovers meet
It’s so sweet when the storyline is clear
But me I feel a length of chain
Like a carol inside my brain
I think that’s why you make me blue

But now all that I want for Christmas
All that I want this Christmas
Is to find my way back to God
And you, and you, and you, my love

Music & Lyrics Copyright Victor Voccoli Gurbo 2023
Victor Voccoli Gurbo Publishing

My Inspiration for Christmas & You

I started writing Christmas & You in college when a friend of mine prompted me to write a Christmas song that would have no prospect of commercial success. His idea was not that the song should be anti-commercial, but instead that it should be hilariously off-brand next to upbeat popular Christmas songs such as Jingle Bell Rock and Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer. However, while Christmas & You goes against commercial trends, there is a long tradition of sad Christmas songs. For example, Judy Garland insisted that Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas be re-written because she thought that the lyrics were too dark. I wanted to create something in the original vein of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

I was inspired by Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and other classic Christmas stories. My goal was to create a a narrative about a character’s desire to reconnect with the true idea of Christmas – spiritual healing instead of material gifts. This seemed like an impossible task without some religious undertones – although Christmas & You is not intended to be a religious song. I tried to channel Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which I interpret as a love song surrounded by religious imagery, but not necessarily religious in nature.

Another inspiration for me was, unsurprisingly, Bob Dylan. There is a line that Mr. Dylan sang when he covered Hallelujah live – I do not know whether it was a poignant and powerful mistake or if Mr. Dylan was referencing an earlier draft of his song:

She tied you to her kitchen chair 
and she broke your faith and cut your hair.

The concept of someone you love “breaking your faith” resonated with me and has been a theme I like exploring in my music. I like protagonists that become disillusioned with the divine after losing their loves. Legend has it that after the death of his wife, blues legend Robert Johnson would sit at a bar and curse the name of God so much that people would move away from him, expecting him to be struck by lightening. For Christmas & You, I created a character whose only conventional Christmas wish is to reconnect with both romantic and spiritual love. There is no beginning or conclusion of Christmas & You – it is just desire in and of itself, painted with Christmas vignettes.

Creating the Two Recordings

The first Christmas & You recording features just me and Mark Caserta. I handled vocals and acoustic guitar while Mark added a second guitar and bells. Mark discussed our collaboration process in an interview with PunkHead Magazine:

My philosophy in working with Victor is to always find ways to “serve the song”; only add something that makes the song better. In this case, Victor handed me the solo acoustic recording of the song and I spent hours trying to figure out what I was going to play along with it. Playing acoustic guitar took away from what was already a very strong, powerful guitar sound. Playing electric guitar (plugged in) didn’t sound right, even though that’s what I play when we perform this song live. I tried mandolin and resonator guitar and it just didn’t click. Eventually, I placed a microphone in front of the 9-string electric guitar that Victor made me (unplugged) and played that acoustically and it fit the song perfectly. That’s the second guitar sound you are hearing. It’s a weird choice that I’ve never tried before but in this case it really enhanced the song … I played jingle bells on the song. I have a small set of jingle bells that I recorded but they just didn’t quite sound the way I wanted them to. I realized that I had some more bells attached to my dog’s Christmas collar so I borrowed it from her for a few minutes and shook the dog collar in front of the mic. The mix of those two bell sounds is what you hear on the track. Doing silly things like that is what I enjoy most about making these home recordings.

Mark Caserta

While we were working on the first recording, Mark suggested that we add another musician to participate in our recording. After our show at City Lore, he invited Johanna Telander, a Finnish musician and actress, to play harp. After listening to the playback, Mark had another stroke of genius – he invited Katie Chambers, an accomplished cello player, to add to the track as well. After adding the cello, it became clear that there were two separate and distinct versions of the song, so I ripped out my vocals from the track and did a second recording, this time with a nylon string guitar instead of steel strings so I would not overpower the new accompanying instruments. After musing that the version with the harp and cello sounded like holiday TV show music, we dubbed that version of Christmas & You our “holiday special” version – which is an ironic callback to my original prompt for the song.

If you subscribe to Spotify, you can listen to our Quarantine Sessions recordings on my artist page – which is becoming our updated home for the series. You can also find updates on my professional website.

I hope you enjoy the song, and have a happy holidays.