In 2010, Michael Pecks wife heard “The Little Drummer Boy.” At Burrito House. In November. For Peck, this meant war. Some friends of Pecks 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 Onions 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 Its fairly simple: Just dont hear any version of the song from Black Friday to the midnight before Christmas Eve. If you doin a restaurant or store, on your iPod, whereveryoure out, and you post where, when, and which version did it to you on the Facebook wall. It doesnt get any more technical than that, but its 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 doesnt count. You have to be exposed unknowingly, without malice.
OT What sort of responses has it gotten?
MP Its a range. Some people think its some sort of anti-holiday or anti-shopping statement, which it isnt. Again, its 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 Its not the obvious choice, Ill 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 its a curiously reverent song about a kid whos asked to come and bang on his drum for a newborn. According to him, anywaytheres 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, theres nothing a baby whos just been brought into the world enjoys more than hearing a nice, loud drum. Still, its a pretty song, I think, which makes it kind of funny to make it an object of dread.
OT Whats your earliest memory involving the song?
MP Thats 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 havent come to terms with the donkey being run over. Also, Im 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 Ive 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. Ive had more than one person panic and abandon a cart full of merchandise in Target, for example.
OT Youve developed some analytics from last years. 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, its the killer Bs (Bing, Bowie, Bob Seger and Bieber) who have the greatest amount of blood on their hands. But some obscure versions I hadnt 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 dont think its where, but what. All media and humanity. Its the only way to be sure.
OT Any final tips/directions?
MP In all seriousness, Id say dont let it ruin the holiday for you. Ive already had a couple of people say theyre not doing it again this year because its too stressful, or that they cant 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, its a goof. Unless, of course, you open your heart to the notion that its the most meaningful accomplishment of our time. Which it is. As Ive 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, theyre 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 Shes Missing,” was called poetic and heartrending by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicagos StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.