It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this old flexidisc record and played it—12 months, to be exact.
In December, an annual tradition of mine is to listen to “Dinosaur Christmas Song,” credited only to “Coddingtown Center.” For those who grew up in Santa Rosa, it’s truly one of the strangest Christmas songs in existence, telling the story of how the very first Christmas ever took place on the land now known as the Coddingtown shopping mall. It does a horrendous job at connecting Christmas and commerce, but I look at it through the eyes of one like, say, Stan Freberg, who railed against the commercialization of Christmas. Would not even Stan be charmed by the surreal absurdity of the British narrator, the female chorus, and the incessant groaning of dinosaurs in the background?
Many years ago, right when I started at the Bohemian, I decided to try and track down the origins of this record, which I discovered in 1994 at Goodwill for 35 cents. The article took me to Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Hugh Codding’s main office in Rohnert Park, local commercial recording studios, radio stations, Montgomery Village and more. Read all about it here.
Or, if you’re so inclined, click the player below and be transported to a very strange moment in local history. At this point, after becoming an annual tradition, it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Enjoy.
She was a bad-ass who didn’t complain very often but also didn’t take any shit. Fled the States. Demanded equal treatment for women in the industry. Got stuck with some industry-branded Cruella DeVille-type nympho image. An incomparable cabaret singer.
“There’s no cabaret around the world that I know of,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s all gone the way of business, too much business, therefore the soul of the business has gotten really very lost. Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.”
She taught James Dean dance lessons. Stood up to Lyndon B. Johnson over Vietnam at the White House. Was spied on by the FBI. Orson Welles called her the most exciting woman in the world. When asked which records she’d want on a desert island, she always said her own.
Eartha Kitt died today, joining an esteemed list of other entertainers who shuffled off on Christmas Day: W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Dean Martin and James Brown. So long, sweetheart. We’ll spin “I Wanna Be Evil” over Tofurky and pumpkin pie tonight.
Woke up yesterday and groaned at Pitchfork’s top albums, unsurprising since they lost all credibility with The Knife in 2006. Read about the recording industry’s strange new stance on downloading, which is to rely on Internet providers to do their dirty work for them. Was amused at the Phoenix Theater announcing the banning of hyphy shows, which is a brilliant maneuver, on par with announcing the banning of raves.
Flipped on the radio for Face the Music with Scott Mitchell and Frank Hayhurst, on KRSH. Laughed at the end of the show, when Frank presented Scott with a golden kazoo, since, alas, Scott is headed over to BOB-FM and will soon be replaced by Brian Griffith as the morning guy on the KRSH. Brian’ll be good and Scott’s been good, but man. I still miss Doug Smith.
Went to the downtown Post Office, where the holiday season has brought radio privileges for the counter staff. Was glad that instead of “Wonderful Christmastime” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the clerks were stamping packages to “A Simple Twist of Fate,” by Bob Dylan. Dodged a car driving by playing the Youngbloodz-Procol Harum portion of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals.
Got to work and read this wonderful piece of writing, regarding Leon Russell, by my friend John Beck. Felt the best kind of jealousy—I suspect that John is much more bound to editorial direction than myself, occasionally forced to write about music that he can’t personally get that excited about, and I love examining how he navigates total cowshit and turns it time and again into flowers. He’s good at it.
Read about the heavy metal singer who stabbed her guitarist for messing up a solo. Downloaded DJ Malarkey’s new Holiday mix to listen to while scouring club listings for New Years’ Eve information. Came across this lovely Christmas video of a drunk family partying their asses off around the tree, circa 1962, set to June Christy’s “The Merriest”:
(If you’re looking for a fantastic jazzy album of non-religious Christmas originals, call your local record store and pick up June Christy’s This Time of Year, just reissued a couple years ago.)
Had lunch at Hang Ah Dim Sum with the Love Level crew. Thought about Chinese opera and talked about Darker than Blue: Soul From Jamdown. Was reminded, by Mark and Gary, about KOME-FM and their street-sign stickers. Chatted about Backdoor Records. Thought about the late KPLS-FM and their even later cowboy-hat VW Bug.
Came back to work and gawked at the amazing Kate Wolf Festival 2009 lineup, with Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, Patty Griffin, Mavis Staples, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Wrote a little bit about Adam Theis and his upcoming SFJAZZ show, whose excellent Spring season was also announced this week: McCoy Tyner, Allen Toussaint, Bill Frisell, Kenny Barron, James Carter, Tinariwen, Roy Hargrove, Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau, Mariza, Kenny Burrell, Michael Feinstein and Branford Marsalis, among others.
Went to dinner at Fitch Mountain Eddie’s with my dad, where Richelle Hart and John Youngblood performed songs like “Summertime” and “Women Be Wise.” Talked a lot of shit about Ticketmaster, only to have the guy at the next table introduce himself as a guy who works for Ticketmaster. Wished him luck with that whole massive-debt-and-getting-dumped-by-Live-Nation thing.
Then: headed to the Raven Theater for the Bobs, who were as entertaining and awe-inspiring as they were when I last saw them at the Raven Theater in 1989. Was billed as the “Sleigh Bobs Ring” holiday show, containing plenty of Christmas numbers—”Christmas in L.A.,” “Christmas in Jail,” and an insane new song sung from the point of view of the Virgin Mary, “What Is This Thing Inside Me?”
Old chestnuts were dusted off, like “My, I’m Large” and “Boy Around the Corner,” and all the new ones like “Get Your Monkey off My Dog,” “Title of the Song,” “Imaginary Tuba” sounded great. Closed with “Christmastime is Here,” which I’m glad is becoming a holiday classic. Haven’t paid much attention to the Bobs in the last 20 years, but I was simultaneously buckled over with laugher, googly-eyed with amazement, and heartened that they still hang out in the lobby afterwards, chatting with all their weird fans. Thanks for keeping it up, guys.
Came home and listened to Booker Ervin, Madlib, No Age and Lucy Ann Polk. (Not Van Morrison, like grouchy Joel Selvin.) Wondered if real life was more important than music, or if the two are actually the same thing. Opted for the latter. Did the dishes and hummed Frank Sinatra. Went to bed.
As many of my friends can attest, I am not a “make plans” person. I call people at the last minute and see if they want to leave for the city in a half hour. I stop by people’s houses unannounced, usually at dinnertime. I tend to brush off suggestions until I flip a coin to decide what I am going to do on the occasion that I have free time.
I’ll admit, this makes it annoying, sometimes, to be my friend. But when I’m cruising it alone—on nights like last night, when I left the house on foot not knowing where to go but just needing to walk around—the sensation of not having any plan or destination is a dream. Especially walking through downtown Santa Rosa at night in December; I should by rights be dulled to the feeling by now, but the lights through the mist and the buildings look lovelier to me every time.
I was hungry as hell and didn’t know where to eat when I passed Super Buffet, across from the Press Democrat building on Mendocino Avenue. Perfect. I soon found myself in an even more peaceful state: at a bustling restaurant, alone, gazing into my plate of microwave pizza and sweet & sour chicken and decompressing. I don’t meditate, but eating at a cheap place alone has been my mind-clearer for years now.
I remembered that Joni Davis’ thing was going on at the Orchard Spotlight, so after some more fried rice and Jello, I strolled over to the familiar house at 515 Orchard—obviously once an old church, with its vestibule and stained-glass windows—and walked in just as Deborah Frank was finishing her set, beating on a hand drum and leading the room in a call-and-response. The room was full of good people. There was a table full of cookies. I knew that my last-minute decision was a good one.
These three gals from Berkeley called Loretta Lynch played some good tunes—“Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby,” an original called “Drinkin’ for Two” written while pregnant. A poet recited some pretty great poetry, and “pretty great poetry” is not a phrase I use very often. Joni played songs from time to time, and Chris projected videos of elves drinking beer while Lila sang a “Twelve Days of Christmas” full of suicide bombers, unemployment, a failing global economy and six more weeks before Bush leaves office, which got a huge cheer each time it came around.
Josh from the Crux, above, reminded me why I like “Tears of Rage” so much, and Doug Jayne and Ron Stinnett reminded me about the great Stephen Foster song, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” which complimented perfectly the mood of the night (and the cause, benefiting the Redwood Empire Food Bank during the cold winter months). “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,” the song begins, going on to sympathize with the frail forms and drooping maidens who faint and sigh all the day with worn hearts and poor troubles. Right on, Stephen Foster—and here I’d thought it was all about “Oh Susanna” and “Camptown Races”!
At the end of the show, Joni Davis sang an acapella hymn from the 14th Century, and then thanked the overflow room profusely for helping a worthy cause and creating community. Afterwards, all along my warm-hearted walk home in the cold air through beautiful downtown Santa Rosa, I dwelled on her closing words: “Just remember,” she said, “while people are shooting each other at Toys ‘R Us and trampling each other at Wal-Mart… this is Christmas.”
“After you’ve had a few hit records,” explained Johnny Mathis at the Wells Fargo Center last night, “you can just about do anything you want. And I wanted to record some of my mother’s favorite songs.”
His mother’s favorite songs, it turns out, were Christmas songs, and the rest is history—Johnny Mathis has put out nine Christmas albums since. Though for a concert billed as “A Johnny Mathis Christmas,” the set was actually a welcome 50/50 blend of seasonal classics and standards, touching on Mathis’ biggest hits and even snaking down very interesting territory—an electric-guitar version of the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” for example, or a raucous street-party “Brazil,” favela whistles and all.
Most noticeably, Johnny Mathis is a living miracle of preservation. At 73, he looks and sounds almost exactly like he did fifty years ago, with the same high-toned boyish singing and a surprisingly fit face and figure. He’s also not just going through the motions. That he’s still willing to take chances and go out of his comfort zone is one of the reasons he’s persevered as one of the last in a literally dying breed. (Oh, 960 KABL, how missed you are.)
Mathis opened with “Winter Wonderland,” the lead-off tune from his first and most famous Christmas album, and then went pretty quickly into “It’s Not For Me To Say,” sparking one of many sighs of recognition. The audience thrilled at the immediately recognizable piano intro to “Chances Are,” and during “Misty,” when he nailed the final octave-high falsetto in the third verse, you could hear an entire theater of 1,400 audibly gasp.
Sure, they laughed at “Gina,” but for the most part, Mathis—in a blue sweater and pants and white sneakers—held everyone rapt in his role as interpreter. “Stranger in Paradise,” “Secret Love” and “A Felicidade” are all songs associated with other singers, but Mathis did them right, just as he delivered a touching “Christmastime is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas after giving an introductory nod to Charles Schulz.
Yes, he did “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “Silver Bells,” and a bunch of other Christmas songs. He also did “The Twelfth of Never” with a solo guitar backing, and “99 Miles From L.A.,” and somewhere near the end of it all—after an intermission during which a know-your-audience comedian came out and told Viagra jokes—Mathis sang eight bars completely acapella, a 73-year-old man alone and unaccompanied in the spotlight, just totally ruling it. Miracles never cease.