There are very few things I set my DVR for anymore, let alone actually attempt to watch on TV live. And it’s been like that for a few years now save for one notable annual exception: The Late Show with David Letterman Christmas episode. It is the only hour of television that can reliably bring tears to my eyes and a smile on my face, and it’s all thanks to Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” And tonight marks Love’s final appearance on the show, because it’s Letterman’s last season of hosting.
There is an excellent essay about the power of this song, and the power of Love singing it, on Grantland, in which Chris Ryan pays perfect tribute to the beauty and power inherent to this piece of music—”This thing is wild horses. This song is the tree lighting ceremony of the heart. It invents Springsteen.” All of which is true, and all of which can be understood by listening to it on repeat (which I’ve done! am doing now!). But nothing compares to seeing Love sing the song on Letterman, to watch her smile through even the most pathos-filled parts of the song and to see her shimmy back and forth throughout the entire three minutes performance.
There’s little doubt that tonight’s show will be something special and that Love’s appearance will be extraordinary. But the thing is, in the last 28 years that Love’s been singing this song for Letterman, every year was extraordinary. Love made the extraordinary something that the viewers could rely on, something that we could take for granted in the same way that we do a hug from our father or the laughter of the ones we love, something that we know is special but don’t think about it too much because we can’t imagine a world without it. It’s rare in life to get a proper goodbye when you’re losing something you love, but tonight we will undoubtedly get one. Don’t miss it.
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