Christmas Bullshit


The true spirit of Christmas?

The true spirit of Christmas?

I used to hate Christmas for all the usual reasons. Not believing in God, or that Jesus was anything but a radical rabbi for starters, crass commercialization, gathering with family, people I have nothing in common with except ancestors. The list goes on and it’s boring as hell.
A couple years ago I fell in love and acquired a daughter, which makes it impossible to hate Christmas without being an asshole. As long as she has a good Christmas, I have one, too.
She’s ten this year and has figured out that there is no Santa Claus.
Maintaining belief in the face of all the evidence took it’s toll. Last year we left out a plate of cookies and she realized the note Santa left was in Mommy’s handwriting.
One way I’ve learned to embrace the season is to make mix cd’s of Christmas music and send them out to family and friends as Christmas Cards.

Here are a few of my favorite songs.

First is Joseph Spence. This version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is my favorite Christmas music.

Joseph Spence

Joseph Spence

Joseph Spence (born August, 1910 in Andros, Bahamas – died March 18, 1984 in Nassau, Bahamas) was a Bahamian guitarist and singer. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while performing on guitar. Several modern folk, blues and jazz musicians, including Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Woody Mann, Olu Dara, and John Renbourn were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamian songs.
He has been called the folk guitarist’s Thelonious Monk.

Detroit Junior, center

Detroit Junior, center

Next up is Detroit Junior’s terrific “Christmas In Jail”.

Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams, Jr. (October 26, 1931 – August 9, 2005) was a blues pianist, vocalist, and songwriter. He is know for songs such as “So Unhappy”, “Call My Job”, “If I Hadn’t Been High”, “Ella” and “Money Tree”. His songs have been covered by Koko Taylor, Albert King and countless other blues artist.
Detroit recorded his first single, “Money Tree” with the Bea & Baby label in 1960. His first full album, “Chicago Urban Blues”, was released in the early 1970s on the Blues on Blues label. He also has recordings on Alligator, Blue Suit, The Sirens Records, and Delmark.
Detroit Junior began his career in Detroit, Michigan, backing touring musicians such as Eddie Boyd, John Lee Hooker, and Amos Milburn. Eddie Boyd brought him to Chicago in 1956, where he spent the next 12 years. In the early 1970s, Detroit toured and recorded with Howlin’ Wolf. After the death of Howlin’ Wolf in 1976, Detroit returned to Chicago where he lived and performed until his death in 2005.

Roy Wood (right) and friend

Roy Wood (right) and friend

Roy Wood’s Wizzard is next with their 1973 hit “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. Besides Wizzard, Roy founded The Move, and Electric Light Orchestra. More about Roy another time.

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” is the only thing I’ve ever heard by him. Singer songwriter’s tend to scare me. I’m terrified of boredom. However, as this song is sublime, I’d be willing to explore more of his music.

Next up is “Christmas Time In The Motor City”, by Detroit Funsters Was (Not Was). (See earlier post)

“Merry Christmas” by NRBQ is a lovely tribute to Brian Wilson.

NRBQ is an American rock band founded in 1967. They are known for their live performances, containing a high degree of spontaneity and levity, and blending rock, pop and jazz styles of the 1950s and ’60s. Their best known line-up is the 1974–1994 quartet of pianist Terry Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato, guitarist Al Anderson, and drummer Tom Ardolino.



Merry Christmas Everybody!

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
Christmas In Jail
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!
Christmas Time In The Motor City
Merry Christmas

Out Come The Freaks


Was Not Was
I grew up in the suburbs behind So-Cal’s Orange Curtain, in the most whitebread place, outside of the midwest, to be found just about anywhere. As a result, big cities fascinated me, and anything remotely urban. In the very late ’70’s Rap mutated out of funkin’ disco, along with it’s lesser known cousin, “Mutant Disco”. Was (Not Was), Material, Defunkt, James White, Kid Creole and The Coconuts, were just some of the artists in my urban fantasy sountrack. Throw in Kraftwerk, Africa Bambaata, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sandanista!, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and you get an idea what kind of mix tapes I was making my friends.
On my first adult visit to New York City, in August 1981, WAS (NOT WAS) was on my Walkman knock-off the first time I came over on the Staten Island ferry, having just bought a joint from a black kid as I was getting on the boat, and openly smoked down with the cars on the lower deck.
I got off the ferry and walked into Manhattan. I knew right then I had to live on this part of the planet.

“Out Comes The Freaks” and “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming” are from WAS (NOT WAS) (1981).
They were sued by Eddie Harald, former high school acquaintance, who they name check in the first verse, when they released “(Return To The Valley Of)Out Come the Freaks” on Born To Laugh At Tornadoes (1983).
“Dad I’m In Jail” is from What Up, Dog? (1988), the phone call who hasn’t fantasized making?


Was (Not Was) is an American eclectic pop group founded by David Weiss (a.k.a. David Was) and Don Fagenson (a.k.a. Don Was). They gained popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Weiss and Fagenson were childhood friends who grew up together in suburban Detroit. Partly due to Fagenson’s poverty they decided to form Was (Not Was) in 1979. The name of the band was derived from Fagenson’s son Zane, who enjoyed contradicting words such as “Blue” with “Not Blue”. Their first recording was “Wheel Me Out”, a 12-inch dance record for the avant-garde ZE Records.

Their first album Was (Not Was) (1981) was an amalgam of rock, disco, Weiss’s beat poetry, Reagan-era political-social commentary, and jazz. On vocals they recruited Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, who proved to be distinctive, soulful front men, who frequently found themselves singing absurdist and satirical songs, alongside tender ballads. The MC5’s Wayne Kramer, The Knack’s Doug Fieger and Mingus trumpeter Marcus Belgrave were among the guest players.

In 1982 the group played on a rare solo album for lead singer “Sweet Pea” Atkinson called Don’t Walk Away.

The eclectic Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (1983) had even more guest musicians, including Ozzy Osbourne rapping over electro, Mitch Ryder belting out a techno-rockabilly number, Mel Tormé crooning an odd ballad about asphyxiation, and an abstract funk piece called “Man vs. the Empire Brain Building”. Singer Donald Ray Mitchell joined the group as third lead vocalist.

In 1988 they found their biggest hit with the album What Up, Dog?, which featured the singles “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love”. Special guests included Stevie Salas, John Patitucci, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and a writing credit for Elvis Costello. Artist/animator Christoph Simon created videos to accompany some of their songs, such as “What Up Dog?”, “Dad I’m in Jail”, and the Tom Waits-style “Earth to Doris”. These appeared on MTV’s Liquid Television and in various film festivals, including the Spike & Mike festival. About this time, the Was Brothers developed separate careers as producers, film scorers, and music supervisors.

The group followed up with Are You Okay? in 1990, spearheaded by a cover of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Guest musicians included Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, The Roches, and Syd Straw. After a tour with Dire Straits in 1992 and a UK Top 5 single with “Shake Your Head” (vocals from Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Basinger), Weiss and Fagenson drifted apart and nothing was heard from the band but a compilation album Hello Dad… I’m in Jail. Some members, however, did appear on Don’s Orquestra Was project Forever Is a Long Long Time (1997), which re-interpreted Hank Williams in a jazz/R&B vein.

In 1997, Steve Winwood released a tune which borrowed not just the title of Was (Not Was)’s single “Spy in the House of Love” but also the bass line and other elements. However, no lawsuits ensued (or were settled out of court).

In late 2004, Was (Not Was) reformed and were back on stage for a two-month club tour through the Northeast and East Coast of the US, as well as California, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois (including stops at the House of Blues in Cleveland and Chicago), Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania (in the Trocadero in Philadelphia). In October 2005, they played four gigs at the Jazz Café in London.

In 2008, they released their fifth studio album Boo!, featuring guest appearances from Kris Kristofferson, Wayne Kramer, Marcus Miller and Booker T. Jones, plus a song originally co-written with Bob Dylan nearly 20 years earlier.

Detroit’s Metro Times described the band as “an endearing mess… …a sausage factory of funk, rock, jazz and electronic dance music, all providing a boogie-down backdrop for a radical (and witty) political message of unbridled personal freedom and skepticism of authority.”[1] On April 22, 2008, they performed on the British show Later… with Jools Holland, and on May 2, they were the musical guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

The band kicked off its American tour on April 30, 2008, performing a well-received 2-hour set at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Out Come The Freaks
(Return To The Valley Of)Out Come The Freaks
Tell Me That I’m Dreaming
Dad I’m In Jail