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Mark Steyn’s Marshmallow World, and Barack Obama’s misunderstanding of it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008
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HH: As you heard last hour, that’s A Marshmallow World by Jessica Martin and Mark Steyn, brand new CD released at www.steynonline.com. Joining me now to discuss it, the one and only Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Happy Thanksgiving, Mark, and congratulations on your CD release.

MS: (laughing) Thank you very much, Hugh. I believe I’m the only contributor to your show who’s released a Christmas single. But I’m hopeful that where I’ve led, Victor Davis Hanson will follow.

HH: I think that’s almost inevitable. In fact, he and Hitchens and you ought to do a kind of barbershop quartet at some point with Lileks coming in in harmony. Now Mark, I’m so fascinated by this. When…does Mrs. Steyn ever look at you and say you’re out of your mind, Mark? Does that ever happen? And did it happen in connection with A Marshmallow World?

MS: Yeah, she does, actually. But at this point, when I did A Marshmallow World, I think she just thought I was completely out of my head, and that this was a kind of therapy, because it happened, I was in London a few weeks ago, and it was just after all this business, you know, where I was taken to court for all these hate crimes up in Canada and all the rest of it. My head was ready to explode with this stuff, and I saw an old friend of mine, and she said well you know what would really clear things out for you, and I had thought about it for a moment, and I said you know what would do it, making a Christmas single. And so Jessica, as you heard there, she’s an old pal of mine, she does the voice of the Queen on Dr. Who on TV, among other things, and so she and I went into the studio, a couple of days later, the orchestrations were still sort of wet from the copyists, and we just gave it a go.

HH: Now how did you settle on A Marshmallow World? We’re going behind the single. This is sort of like that theatre show that comes on PBS every now and then. How did you settle on A Marshmallow World?

MS: Well you know the thing with this, every Christmas album has the same songs in a different order.

HH: That’s right.

MS: They’re all Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock. The trick, I think, is to pick one that’s like just sort of slightly below that level. And I love Marshmallow World. Carl Sigman, the lyricist of Marshmallow World, has the distinction of being the only songwriter to have written a song with a vice president of the United States. He took a tune by Vice President Charles Gates Dawes, who was vice president under Coolidge, and had a big hit for Nat King Cole and a bunch of people with Many A Tear Has To Fall, But It’s All In The Game.

HH: Yeah.

MS: So I figure if this guy can write with vice presidents, he can certainly work with columnists. And so I thought Marshmallow World was the perfect song.

HH: Okay, now how many takes did it, how long were you in the studio before this, and did Jessica have to throw anything at you in the course of…

MS: (laughing) Well, let’s put it this way. She gets up to speed with things a lot faster than I do. That’s also the other trick I would recommend if Victor or Christopher Hitchens want to make a single. Do it as a duet, so if like Christopher Hitchens should really get together with Miley Cyrus or Whitney Houston or Britney Spears or whoever, because if your duet is doing most of the heavy lifting, you just kind of fit in around her and people think you’re great. And that’s the best way to do it.

HH: Now it is a wonderful promotional idea as well, because you’ve coupled it with A Song For The Season, a new book that you are selling over at www.steynonline.com. Tell us about A Song For The Season.

MS: Well, that’s just basically songs that have a seasonal bent. A lot of them are obvious, White Christmas for Christmas, or Auld Lang Syne for New Year, or My Funny Valentine for Valentine’s Day, and then some of them are a little bit less obvious. But I think one of the things I like as I sort of go through the year is I do, in the words of Jimmy Durante, think you’ve got to start off each day with a song. I’m one of those people who gets a tune in my head at sort of Eight in the Morning, and that’s the one I’m going to be stuck with all day. So I do think there’s something to be said for songs that are tied specifically to moments of the year. And you certainly realize it at this time of year, because you know, if I wanted to make a sort of semi-serious point about this, I think American Christmas songs are the last songs we all share. If you take Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, or Winter Wonderland, or Frosty The Snowman, I mean, you can find pop versions, country versions, rock versions. Hugh Martin, the composer of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which has been done by Sinatra and Judy Garland and all kinds of people, he was thrilled to get a cover version of it by Twisted Sister a couple of years ago. They’re really the last songs that we all share. And in a fragmented culture, there’s something to be said for that.

HH: And I find songwriters to be fascinating. I’m trying to remember Alan, the fellow who wrote Windmills Of Your Mind, Alan Bergman.

MS: Alan Bergman, yeah.

HH: I interviewed him for an hour once. It was one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever done. They’re very interesting people. And are the songwriters covered in each of these essays in A Song For The Season?

MS: Yeah, because you know, a lot of them are fellows I got to know along the way. I mean, I always find it slightly interesting with songwriters, is that no matter what big hits they’ve got, it’s always their latest…I’m sure if you pulled in Alan and Marilyn Bergman right now, and you wanted to talk about Windmills Of Your Mind or The Way We Were, or You Don’t Bring Me Flowers or whatever, they’d be happy with that. But there’d be some new thing they just written that they were eager to push.

HH: Yes.

MS: And that’s always the way with them.

HH: Now I want to switch subjects on you, Mark Steyn, but A Song For The Season is available from www.steynonline.com. I want people to know it’s available…how soon do you ship after you get an order? Will they get it for Christmas if they order now?

MS: Oh, absolutely. As far as I know, I mean, I don’t want to be sued for truth in advertising or anything, but as far as I know, everything is usually in the mail within 24 hours.

HH: Super.

MS: So as long as you’re not Osama bin Laden, and you want to listen to A Marshmallow World in the cave in Waziristan, you should get it well before Ramadan.

HH: (laughing) Now I do want to talk to you about Bombay. Christopher Hitchens has just written a piece on Slate that I read during the break, sort of taking Americans to task for focusing on how many Americans died as opposed to the fragility with which India now confronts itself, and the obvious attack on its sort of cosmopolitan diversity from fanatics. Do you think we’re spending enough time and in the right tone on the Mumbai terror attacks?

MS: Yeah, I think he has a point there. You know, the fact is that it is the civilized world against barbarians. And the best shot that civilization has of winning this thing is if we draw the net of civilization as widely as possible. You know, there’s all kinds of people who were caught up in that thing in Bombay. There were Indians, there were Canadians. All kinds of weird people, Prince’s ex-wife, who happens to be Canadian, happened to be caught up in that business. And I think this sort of rather parochial thing of saying you know, how many Americans were involved or whatever, and if it’s the rest, if it’s just third world people or whatever, that’s of less interest, that’s not a useful way of distinguishing it. What matters here is the forces of civilization against the forces of barbarism. And you want as many people on your team as possible if you’re batting for civilization.

HH: I don’t know if you caught Andrew Breitbart’s amazing column in the Washington Times. He contrasted the attacks in Bombay with the fact that on the night that they occurred, Imran Khan, who’s a Bollywood heartthrob, was at a premiere not far away from there about the movie The President Is Coming. It’s a comedy about who gets to meet George Bush. And he was wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt, you know, Bush is a terrorist T-shirt.

MS: Yeah.

HH: And obviously lost on these people that their enemy is not Bush.

MS: Well, Imran Khan was a brilliant cricketer, a beautiful cricketer, just…and I know, I can feel the audience across America…

HH: (laughing) Snoozing.

MS: (laughing) …falling asleep even as I say that word.

HH: Yes.

MS: But he was a beautiful cricketer. He decided to get mixed up in Pakistani politics, and he turned into the most ghastly opportunist. He was incredibly mischievous all about that toilet flushed down the Koran nonsense from Newsweek. And I think this is more opportunism on his part. He’s a Pakistani global celebrity. He’s probably the most famous Pakistani on the planet. But the fact of the matter is that just like Hollywood celebrities, he doesn’t get it on the big picture, and so I don’t think he represents any more of a credible point of view than, say, Sean Penn does.

HH: I didn’t even realize it’s the same Imran Khan, the cricketer and the Hollywood guy, the Bollywood guy. But now I stand corrected. Let me close by asking your assessment of the Obama national security team unveiled today.

MS: Well you know, I think, which I think is my whole problem really with the Obama administration’s, or I shouldn’t even say that, Obama administration-in-waiting’s attitude to India, that in a sense, it’s sort of learning on the job, the President-elect is learning on the job, he hasn’t got a worldview, he doesn’t seem to understand in anything he said the importance of the relationship with India, which I think is actually one of the great indispensable relationships of the 21st Century for America. And I worry. I worry that he doesn’t see the big picture, and that this business in Bombay is a very good example of how he doesn’t get it.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, and we’ll go out with A Marshmallow World, the brand new CD available from Jessica Martin and Mark Steyn at www.steynonline.com, along with a copy of his book, A Song For The Season.

End of interview.

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