Colbert And Costello: A Heartfelt Holiday Song?

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Monday's Pick

  • Song: "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In"
  • Artist: Stephen Colbert & Elvis Costello
  • CD: A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All
  • Genre: Pop
300 Stephen Colbert (left) and Elvis Costello

Stephen Colbert (left) and Elvis Costello perform a hopeful and surprisingly sincere duet. Kristopher Long/Comedy Central hide caption

toggle caption Kristopher Long/Comedy Central

Stephen Colbert packed his recent television special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All — which parodies the long-outdated variety-show holiday specials of yore with its fake-homey atmosphere, cheap laugh track and musical numbers by random guest stars — with many bits of monumental silliness. But then, he and Elvis Costello pulled the rug out from under his audience, tucking in an unexpected moment of deep sincerity right at the very end.

In a way, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In" comes across as the negative image of a Randy Newman song: It starts out bitterly sarcastic and then slowly weaves its way to a heartfelt ending. Costello and Colbert don't deny that the reasons for choosing cynicism are seductive, and they pepper their own point with lyrics like "You're clearly none too bright, so we'll be gentle," which would be biting laugh lines in another context.

But they're not interested in making jokes here. Instead, they grapple with the nature of faith, wisdom and openhearted optimism in an attempt to discern the location where the three intersect. It's small — almost infinitesimally so — and hard to spot, but Colbert and Costello find it and burrow in before somebody else wanders by and makes them lose it once again. "You doubt, but you're sad / I don't, but I'm glad / I guess we're even," they sing in the song's final moments, grabbing onto hope with all they've got and refusing to let go.

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