Illustration by Bob AulAs the rare time of year that has a built-in soundtrack—too bad Halloween tanked at "Monster Mash" and 80 percent of everything that ever came out of Danzig's mouth—the holidays are a nice time for a little reflection, for a Jungian sleigh ride over the hills and through the collective unconscious toward songs and sentiments that—thanks largely to elementary school sing-alongs and three or four TV specials—a lot of people sort of share. Or a time for those few recalcitrant misanthropes—the same people who like to explain in detail just how and why they don't even have a TV set and why the homemade soap carvings they give as presents are much more meaningful than the iPod cozy you were so excited about—to demonstrate just how out of it they really are. Either way, we asked our own favorite out-of-it misanthropes—and our favorite closet holiday softies—just what songs they get to thinking about once daylight-saving time disappears (and actually, it was pretty much always the Charlie Brown Christmas album).
Andrew W.K. George Winston, "Thanksgiving," December (Windham Hill, 1980). "Around the holidays, I like to be cold and blue. I like to think of birch trees and gray-stone moons in the clear daytime sky. I like to imagine my breath in the air against a wet window and the light being too white and thin to be warm. The song that makes me feel the most this way is 'Thanksgiving' by George Winston. It's from his December album, which is definitely weighted toward traditional Christmas tunes. However, 'Thanksgiving' is different because it is both proceeding Christmas and anticipating its arrival. As a young child, my world was built around anticipation. Christmas morning was the mother of all moments for a young boy. It's something you look forward to perpetually, even as it happens. You look up from one gift and on to the next; you enjoy the inscription on a new book, only to put it down for breakfast, and then dinner is prepared as the sun sets—a few awkward silences—and then it's dark out. You go outside for the first time that day, and it feels colder than expected—you feel older, even though you know you're young—and it's all over. Each experience of the day rolling into the next and knocking it down—like bowling pins—until the day is done. And you instantly snap back into anticipating next Christmas." (Dave Clifford)
Kerry King, Slayer Elmo and Patsy, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer(Epic, 1984). "It's a little morbid, so I take that one. It's kind of Slayer-esque." (Rex Reason)
Slayer has just finished an international tour and will be releasing a new album in the summer of 2005.
Jesse Wilder, Littlest Man Band Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmassoundtrack (Fantasy, 1965). "At the time [this was recorded], I'm sure those tiny tots had no idea what an impact they'd make on so many of us. I imagine a slightly balding version of Schroeder playing in a giant church or school along with about 20 kids recorded on one microphone, and you know what? That's how it should be fuckin' done. If you're like me, you LIKE the way the vocals can be slightly out of tune, you LIKE the fact they didn't mic every string on the piano. This song injects the feeling of a warm cup of cocoa, the smell of cinnamon and pine needles, and the feel of those new Christmas slippers you got from Mom into one happy syringe. That, my friend, is a drug you should never kick." (Michael Coyle)
The Littlest Man Band will perform with Reel Big Fish and the Matches at the House of Blues in LA on Wednesday. See the Out of County listings in Calendar for more info.
Matt Pond, Matt Pond PA Lindsey Buckingham, "Holiday Road," National Lampoon's Christmas Vacationsoundtrack (Warner, 1983). "A couple of years ago, I rented a bunch of vacation movies on Christmas and got TV dinners and avoided my family and friends, just to put myself in a total state of despair—I was waiting for the girl most of our last record is about to call me on midnight on Christmas Eve, and I knew it wouldn't lead to anything, and it didn't. It was miserably cold, and it was a 3,000-square-foot loft that wasn't really heatable, so I was in a sleeping bag, sitting up, with a TV dinner in my lap and a hat on, and I got drunk and watched these horrible—well, they're good in a certain sense, but . . . Well, it was a five-minute call. She just didn't understand. It was hard to explain, you know: 'We should be in love!' And it was a pretty brutal Christmas. But this year's gonna be good. Nothing could be worse." (Chris Ziegler)
Matt Pond PA will release theWinter Songs EP in January.
Damian Edwards, Geisha Girls Prince, "Another Lonely Christmas," The Hits/The B-Sides (Paisley Park, 1993). "My girlfriend said to pick it. I won't be lonely this year!" (RR)
The Geisha Girls released their latest single in November.
Blag Dahlia, The Dwarves Maurice Chevalier, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," Gigi soundtrack (Sony, 1958). "Nothing says 'the holidays' like squealing girls opening boxes. In fact, it's the only tolerable thing about the holidays except for A Charlie Brown Christmas, a true classic of Yuletide misery. Anyway, my favorite song for the season is 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls' from the musical Gigi. Not really about the holidays at all, but it's sung by French lecher Maurice Chevalier, who apparently never met a prepubescent he didn't like. The intro is the best part: 'Every time I see a girl of five or six or seven, I can't resist the joyous urge to smile and say, "Thank Heaven for little girls."' You get the idea. Be safe and have a legal Christmas." (RR)
The Dwarves releasedThe Dwarves Must Die in September.
Travis Morrison, Dismemberment PlanVince Guaraldi Trio, "Christmas Time Is Here," A Charlie Brown Christmassoundtrack (Fantasy, 1965). "I never fail to tear up when Linus reads from the Gospel of St. Luke during A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think that, in general, Linus has a lot of soul. The way he's drawn with that slightly worried look always kills me. He looks like he can't believe the complicated and heartless games the people around him play—most of all, his sister Lucy. He seems passive. But when the time comes, he delivers the goods on the big stage at school. He tells everyone what it's all about. 'Christmas Time Is Here' reminds me of that, and it always sends shivers down my spine." (DC)
Travis Morrison's solo debut,Travistan, was released in September on Barsuk Records.
Jon Brion Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song," The Magic of Christmas(Capital, 1960). "It's super-obvious, but Nat King Cole's song needs no explanation. This is an odd thing for me to say, but I don't care about fidelity much when I'm listening to music. Nat King Cole's song is an example—Nat King Cole singing through a telephone would still rock your fucking world. The song is so simplistic and heartfelt. It really is beautiful any time of the year." (Antero Garcia)
Jon Brion was nominated for a Grammy for scoring the filmEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Brandon Werts, the Orphans Little Richard, "Lucille," Little Richard (Specialty, 1958). "Each year, I listen to Little Richard's 'Lucille' single over and over because it reminds me of playing the DJ at our family Christmas party in 1993. I watched all the grown-ups in the family get wasted on spiked eggnog and dance around the tree. I thought my grandmother could barely walk. Turns out she could do the monkey like no other. Uncle Paul, it turns out, had two left feet and a low tolerance for alcohol. He drenched both left feet—and a handful of presents—with his creamy bile. Ah, memories." (RR)
The Orphans releasedEverybody Loves You When You're Dead in March on Unity Squad Records.
Sam Velde, Bluebird Jose Feliciano, "Feliz Navidad," Feliz Navidad (BMG, 1989). Growing up in Costa Mesa, my friends and I would congregate every year during break from high school and go down to Balboa Island to the local liquor store and buy a bottle (and this is no joke) of 'Tom and Jerry's Christmas In a Bottle,' along with a gangload of beers. Armed with acoustic guitars, we'd sing Christmas carols along the harbor. The only two songs we could muster up would be 'Jingle Bells' and 'Feliz Navidad' by Jose Feliciano. By the middle of the night, people were afraid to open their doors to us. By the end of the night, the gutter was our mattress. Because of those memorable times, 'Feliz Navidad' has always been close to my heart." (DC)
Bluebird is currently recording soundtrack material and working on a new album. Sam Velde started the Cold Sweat label this year, releasing albums by WIVES, Starlite Desperation and Battles.
Caleb Followill, Kings of Leon Ray Charles, "That Spirit of Christmas," The Spirit of Christmas (Rhino, 1985). "We love, love, love Christmas music! Our mom was big on Christmas, but we never had a lot of presents. One year when I was 10 and Nathan was 12, we were in Arkansas living in a Sunday school in a church. Our parents made no money, so it ended up that we had no tree—we had nothing. And me and Nathan borrowed a saw from our neighbor—there was snow up to our knees—and we cut down a tree, got a paint bucket and filled it with rocks, and all the people from the church brought us their extra decorations. Even though we didn't get any presents that year, that's still my favorite Christmas." (Kim Bennett)
The Kings of Leon will release a new album in March.
Ikey Owens, Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents Kanye West, "Family Business," College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella, 2004). I have to first preface this statement by letting y'all know my family doesn't celebrate Christmas on account of it not being Christ's real birthday and this little get-together the Romans had in the second century called the Council of Nicea, but anyway, I digress. This song reminds me of my family, whom I see mainly around the holidays. It makes me remember when my mom's family all got along, and me and my cousins would do dance routines to the Jackson 5 and the Fat Boys. It also reminds me of all the friends I have who are like my family, whether it be the Mars Volta or my brothers in the Skunk Records family, or all the amazing DJs and beat makers and artists in Long Beach that I'm lucky enough to know. Or my best friend Colin, who is also my brother. This song reminds me that family is important and I'm lucky to have so many people who care about me." (MC)
Ikey Owens and the Mars Volta will release a new album next year.
Adam Green, ex-Moldy Peaches, now solo Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You," Merry Christmas (Sony, 1994): "When I was 10 years old, I sang 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' in a local talent show, and in the middle of my performance, Mariah—who was there to see her niece—stood up in the audience and sang along with me! After the concert was over, I asked her out on a date. She said she would [go] when I was older." (DC)
Adam Green's third solo album,Gemstones, comes out March 1 on Rough Trade.
Joe Knapp, Son, Ambulance REO Speedwagon, "Keep On Loving You," Hi-Infidelity, (Sony, 1980): "I don't know the title of this song, but it comes to mind. It has the lyrics 'And I'm gonna keep on loving you/'Cause it's the only thing I want to do/I don't want to sleep/I just want to keep on loving you.' People around Christmastime start to get really lonely or horny, and they look for someone to cuddle with. This is a very emotional song stuck in my head right now. I think I am having winter emotions, so I thought of this tune." (DC)
Son, Ambulance released its sophomore album,Key, on Saddle Creek Records in October.
Sara Quin, Tegan And Sara Cypress Hill, "I Wanna Get High," Black Sunday (Ruffhouse, 1993): "I was going through my rebellion stage in grade nine: dressing in baggy Army clothes, dying my hair, and listening to L7 and Bikini Kill. My friend Chris made us hold onto his pot so his grandparents wouldn't find it when they searched his room, and he lent me his copy of Black Sundayover the holidays. I'd blast it while I wrapped Christmas presents in my bedroom with the door wide open, my mother shaking her head downstairs. Then she found a bag of Chris' pot and threatened to make me smoke it with her. I almost died of embarrassment. She flushed it down the toilet as I tried not to burn out and pass out to prove I'd just been holding it for him." (EG)
Tegan and Sara releasedSo Jealous in September.
Melissa Auf der Maur "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" (traditional): "Essentially, it's a sweet song about an underdog—or underdeer, if you will—plagued with a bright-red nose. Some would call him special, others would call him freaky! So it's a heart-warming humanitarian song about a being that has to learn how to embrace the thing that makes him cool and silly at the same time—and doesn't he eventually get rewarded for it? Great! He is cute as hell, and I'd like to hug him. Throw in a little 'Silent Night' outro to pull the heartstrings with the ultimate soaring melody and chord progression. A choir at your front door would be the best way to experience it. Although I have never had that, I did sing it in my children's choir and loved it!" (DC)
Melissa Auf der Maur's self-titled solo debut was released on Capitol Records in June.
Donita Sparks "Oh Holy Night" (traditional): "When I was in junior high, I sang in the school chorus. We had a Christmas concert every year in which we sang Christmas songs, both secular and religious. Being the rebellious atheist I am, I would roll my eyes at the Jesus songs. When we did the song 'Oh Holy Night,' I got all my friends in the choir to sing the words 'shining' and 'pining' in a diving, stretched-out descending note—kind of like a barbershop quartet would—and in the middle bridge, we would fall on our knees during the line 'fall on your knees' and drop out of sight. But when we actually performed the concert, we didn't want to humiliate the music teacher, so we did it the correct way. It reminds me that I've always been an instigator and ringleader. And even though I was the little atheist, I still love that song and the melody." (DC)
Donita Sparks, formerly of L7, makes her solo debut in early 2005.
Matt Adams, The Blank Tapesand Part The Clouds The Beatles, "I Am the Walrus," Magical Mystery Tour (Capitol, 1967): "When I was 14, I got the Beatles' red and blue albums on tape as a present. It seems that most people have been absorbing the Beatles since they were children, so discovering them as a young musician was very exciting. It felt like opening an old treasure chest, and 'I Am the Walrus' was the gnarliest jewel inside. Lyrics about eggmen, sitting on a cornflake, yellow-matter custard and even a few made up words like 'snied.' I asked for Beatles CDs every Christmas after that." (RR)
The Blank Tapes' next album,Landfair, is due out in early 2005; Part the Clouds has nothing to say about Christmas. Check www.enupicrop.com for more info.
Mike Watt Fear, "Fuck Christmas" (Slash, 1982): "I like the contrast—the tenderness and then the realistic view of the whole fucking thing about it. The modern Christmas comes from a Hallmark card 100 years ago, and it was kind of designed to sell stuff. I got the seven-inch when it came out. It's funny: one side is for the radio, so it's all beeps. First, it's really soft. It's sort of like when I'm on tour and I see cars with all these bumper stickers, 'United We Stand.' They're cutting you off and cussing at you. If that's what patriotism was—just being nice to one another on the freeway—I'd be way into it. Maybe the same thing with Christmas: if people were actually nice to one another, I'd be way into it. But the crass commercial stuff about it . . . the Fear song really makes that profound in my mind. All those sentiments that build up inside me Lee Ving visualized in a one-minute song." (RR)
Mike Watt releasedThe Secondman's Middle Stand in August. Visit hootpage.com for information on his many projects.
Stephen Perkins, Jane's Addictionand Banyan James Brown, "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," A Soulful Christmas (King, 1968): "It's this great funky tune, great lyrics, and it always puts me in a good mood." (RR)
Banyan releasedLive From Perkins' Palace in October on Sanctuary.
Clifford Meyer, Isis Tiny Tim performing the Beatles' "Nowhere Man," Live at Royal Albert Hall (Rhino, 1968): "When I was a kid, my parents were in the Beatles' fan club and received Beatles singles on a regular basis. One of them featured Tiny Tim doing 'Nowhere Man,' and George Harrison introduced him. I always liked that song with Tiny Tim on ukulele. That's my sentimental favorite for the holidays because I can't stand most Christmas music." (DC)
Isis releasedPanopticon on Ipecac Recordings in October.
Nels Cline, Wilco The music from Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory(unknown label,1966): "I don't know what the piece of music is, but there was a TV special that aired every Christmas called A Christmas Memory. It's based on a Truman Capote short story, and it stars Geraldine Page and is narrated by Truman Capote, and it's totally mind-blowingly good. And the music is great. It took me years to find a videotape of it. I watched it last year. I could barely watch it without crying the entire time because it evokes so many pleasant childhood memories."
Nels Cline releasedThe Giant Pin with the Nels Cline Singers in September and joined Wilco last year. Visit nelscline.com for information on his many projects.
David Pajo, Slint and Papa-M Washington Phillips, "Train Your Child," I Am Born to Preach the Gospel (Yazoo, recorded 1927, released 1991): "No other song captures the family vibes and innocence of snowfall of Christmas for me as [sometime preacher] Washington Phillip's sermon and Dolceola." (DC)
Slint embarks on a one-time reunion tour in spring 2005.
Evan Cohen, Comets On Fire Tom Petty, "Runnin' Down a Dream," "Won't Back Down," Full Moon Fever(MCA, 1989): "'Runnin' Down a Dream' or 'You Don't Know How it Feels' or 'Won't Back Down'. . . any Petty, really. It's jamming shit that'll just get you up above the traffic and the shopping and shit and work like coffee in a cold, dark, winter traffic jam." (DC)
Comets on Fire released its third album,Blue Cathedral, on Sub Pop earlier this year.
David Lowery, Camper Van Beethoven Alvin and the Chipmunks, "Here Comes Christmas," A Very Merry Chipmunk (Sony, 1995): "Ever since Patton Oswalt mentioned listening to the vinyl of Alvin and the Chipmunks' 'Christmas Time Is Here' at half-speed and stoned, I've been listening to it nonstop. I had to slow it down to half-time using a ProTools plug-in. The chipmunks are transformed into a rather banal Kingston Trio, but the father is a demon from hell: 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvviiiiiiiiiiiin.' GWAR could not do any better." (DC)
Camper Van Beethoven releasedNew Roman Times on Vanguard Records in October.
Michael Davis, MC5 The Beach Boys, "Little Saint Nick," Christmas With the Beach Boys (Capitol, 1964): "I pretty much hate all holiday songs, but this one is okay for me. The lyrics are totally inoffensive. No lame religious or maudlin emoting. No missing this or that or wanting something that's gone and best forgotten. Just hippy-hoppy good-natured California Christmas fun. Incredibly lighthearted and nice chord changes, just like the Beach Boys can do 'em. The drum fill on the intro is also a classic. Every time I hear the words 'Christmas comes this time each year,' I can't believe that someone brought Zen reality to the subject." (DC)
The MC5 box setPurity Accuracy was released this week.
Tyondai Braxton, Battles "Joy to the World" (traditional): "I don't know why, really. There's not any particular version I prefer—the song in general is great. I just like the harmony of it and the sound of the repeating 'Joy' line really seems to resonate with me. I love all Christmas songs actually; they're so good. They're fun to hear and a good seasonal change of pace." (AG)
Battles released theB EP in September.
Vicki Peterson, The Bangles John Lennon, "Happy Christmas/War Is Over" (EMI, reissued 2003): "A perfect this-is-supposed-to-be-a-time-for-love-and-peace-so-what-the-@#!!-are-we-doing Christmas song." (Kat Jetson)
Visit www.thebangles.com for more info on Vicki Peterson.
Alice Bag, the Bagsand Stay At Home Bomb "Jingle Bells" (traditional): "I can't hear 'Jingle Bells' without thinking of a Christmas-in-July party my friend Fertile Latoya Jackson and I threw one year. We decorated the apartment for Christmas, even though it was the middle of a summer heat wave. We even had a real tree. The party was already out of control when our friend Father Larry showed up. A rather hefty man, he was naked except for a pair of boys' Garfield briefs, which were struggling to cover his private parts. Later, someone lit an old couch on fire in the street and roasted marshmallows over it. The next day, we awoke with massive hangovers to spy Father Larry's Garfield briefs perched delicately atop the Christmas tree. Guests later reported seeing Father Larry singing 'Jingle Balls' as he trotted home, buck-naked." (KJ)
Alice Bag, formerly of the Bags, is currently playing/singing in Las Tres and Stay At Home Bomb.
Peanut Butter Wolf Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmassoundtrack (Fantasy, 1965): "I remember watching the special on TV—when I was superyoung, that music was supercool. It was my first exposure to jazz. I tried to find that record for years. Then I found it in Japan and paid $60 or $70 for it, only to find out when I got home it had been rereleased. I just did a gig in San Francisco, and these guys were onstage giving out free stuff and talking over the music when somebody threw water on them, and it got real ugly. It was almost like the Detroit Pistons thing between the players and the fans. But I got on the mic and played a track off A Charlie Brown Christmas, and everybody stopped fighting and started dancing." (CR)
Peanut Butter Wolf released theStones Throw 101 compilation CD/DVD in November.
Daedalus The Pixies, Trompe le Monde (4AD, 1991): "There's nothing very Christmas-y that I listen to regularly, but I find myself listening to the Pixies every winter. Specifically, I pull out Trompe le Monde. For them, it is a weird record; it was their last one and much more dark. And for me, it's a very high school album that sums up my high school years. The album and holiday time suggest the end of the semester for school and one of the few times there is actually a seasonal change in Southern California and we have brief wintry blusterings." (AG)
Daedalus releasedOf Snowdonia on Plug in February.
Corin Tucker, Sleater-Kinney "Good King Wenceslas" (traditional): "I learned it in first grade, little choirgirl that I was, and I thought the lyrics were cool. I thought it was just about a big party. But it's actually about feeding a starving man. So it's kind of a party with a purpose." (Ellen Griley)
Sleater-Kinney are working on a new album for Sub Pop.
Hutch Harris, the Thermals "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (traditional): "Every other Christmas song I can think of is overly peppy and happy in a really annoying way. That song is real and sad and has this creepy, dark feel to it. My dad is a piano player, so growing up, he would play and we would all sing songs. I learned that song from him playing and singing it when I was a little kid." (Alison Rosen)
The Thermals releasedFuckin A on Sub Pop in May.
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Saul Williams The Jackson 5 Christmas Album (Motown, 1970): "My father was a preacher, so Chrismas was always a big thing. While I was growing up, we always listened to the Jackson 5 Christmas album. I've got two kids now, so of course I have to celebrate Christmas. [In the background a young child squeals, "I have two kids now! I have two kids now!"] They listen to the Jackson 5, too. But I've also really been enjoying Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Drummer Boy'/'Silent Night' medley." (AG)
Saul Williams released a self-titled album on Fader in September.
DJ Cocoe Alvin and the Chipmunks, A Very Merry Chipmunk (Sony, 1995): "For some reason, I used to be a Chipmunks fan. They used to take every hip song and cover it in their chipmunk voices, pumping through my one-speaker boom box. It reminds me of good times at Christmas: my uncle on the keyboard, people belly-dancing at the family Christmas party—I'm in a Greek family. We were crazy. One year, I just wanted a knife. You know, a kid just wants a knife."
DJ Cocoe is the resident DJ at Memphis in Costa Mesa every Friday night.