- The Little Drummer Boy (TLDB in future references) is homeless. Alternatively, he is the champion of a tribe of desert-dwelling LDB’s (which is why he is TLDB as opposed to ALDB), but this analysis is highly problematic for reasons I will elucidate later in this work.
- TLDB is not only the first Christian busker, but an unsuccessful one at that. As the carol says, he has no gifts to bring. Are we to believe he has never played for anyone before the Christ Child (from now on abbreviated tCC)? If he is so poor, how did he happen to get the drum in the first place? It would seem only logical that someone gifted him the drum as a means of survival, and with no discernible talent, he wandered hither and yon playing the very best he could, with no resulting material gain to show for it.
- Another argument for drum as gift can be found in the lyrics themselves. The sound made by the drum is PA-Rum-Pum-Pum-Pum. Any drummer knows that that sound pattern is only possible with a metal-framed drum. Arguably, TLDB could have found a cowhide and some wood and created a janky conga-like drum, as we don’t know his exact age but rather his size. Such an accomplishment would not be unheard of for a 12-year-old, for example. However, metal-smithery (the only way to create the sound the drum is famed for making) takes years to master and would be made even more difficult by the remoteness of the location and the historical period in which the event takes place. This incongruity can only be resolved through a historical conflation which troubles the entire foundation of the song.
- In addition, the song begins by stating that TLDB has been convinced to join a shadowy cabal of the financially-well to do. Their positioning as the economic elite is demonstrated by the quality and quantity of gifts they lay before the King. Why would a group of elitists recruit TLDB? Is he their misguided attempt to show their solidarity with the poor? Does his age and generally humble mien allow him to serve them as a “Trojan Drummer” thereby securing them access to tCC? The fact that TLDB would so easily fall in with a group of total strangers again points again to the high probability that he is homeless and seeking the approval of adults.
- Immediately after the group’s arrival, TLDB assumes primacy in the lyrics, (which switch immediately to first-person.) To my ears, his first statement is quite troubling. “I am a poor boy too.” Picture a manger (or stable, if that is more familiar to you) with a child in a crib, his mother, a group of rich people, tons of gifts, and oddly enough an ox and mule. What about that situation suggests economic struggle? Furthermore, they were not outside because they could not afford a room, but rather because the inn was full. TLDB’s supposition was wrong — but was it wrong on purpose? His seeming concern for the economic well-being of tCC allows him to perform the task for which he has been recruited — the playing of his drum.
- TLDB’s seeming calm is belied by the fact that he asks tCC (who, after all, is a baby, developmentally incapable of forming words) if he may play for him. Mary, whether it is due to the exhaustion at having a baby, the overwhelming weight of patriarchy, or the shock of unexpected visitors, is rendered mute, able only to nod. The shadowy cabal is silent as well. What happens next is highly problematic.
- ‘The ox and lamb keep time.” My assumption is that their timekeeping is achieved through a simple stamping of hooves, rather than a sudden blossoming of innate musical talent, but that is not the issue here. Timekeeping, in music, serves as a ground, a base upon which other instruments can play freely. For example, Ringo Starr was famous for his propulsive drumming which allowed John’s virtuosic guitar and Paul’s nuanced bass lines to take center stage. The point here, though, is that the drummer is the one who keeps time. While in a band there could be additional percussion, for the ox and mule to have to keep time during TLDB’s drum solo shows his lack of talent and/or experience.
- At the end of the song, TLDB makes oblique reference to his lack of musical proficiency by stating, “I played my best for him.” This statement cleverly reframes his performance as being based in heartfelt emotion rather than superior musicianship. The work ends with TLDB asserting ownership of the instrument (thereby clarifying his class standing w/r/t commodity capitalism): “Me and my drum.”
In conclusion, I believe that the only possible explanation for this particular series of events is that TLDB was a Roman spy. His short stature made him less threatening and helped to hide his true age, which was most likely mid-20's. While the historical record states that Augustus was simply conducting a census, the High Roman Empire did not survive for almost 350 years by being unaware of threats in its midst. If, as I surmise, TLDB was a Roman citizen-spy, the mystery of the metal frame drum is also resolved. TLDB’s contacts were the members of the upper-class shadowy cabal mentioned earlier, (which explains why they did not speak after making contact — their job was done) and his orders were simple: To set eyes on tCC in case he became a problem in the future. Mission accomplished.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!