Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

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Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

At some point this Holiday you’ll find yourself in line to pay for your cousin’s gift or driving to that side of the family you only see once a year and that poppy, fun song will come on and you’ll ask questions.

Is this Chrissie Hynde? Does she ever take a breath? Why do they call it Christmas Wrapping, they never mention that in the song? Is she saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, I think I want mittens this year?

The answers are; no it’s The Waitresses’ lead singer Patty Donahue, yes, because songwriter Chris Butler let the record label name it, and it’s “I think I’ll miss this one this year”.

But how did a throwaway song on an alternative Christmas album become a classic, so much so, that it’s been covered by artists as diverse as The Spice Girls, The Donnas and the cast of Glee? The true story’s so improbable it makes the song even more endearing.

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Avant-garde musician Chris Butler (the guy in the bottom left corner of the above picture) grew up in Akron, Ohio. He attended Kent State University in the early 1970s and was on campus, in the crowd, when National Guardsmen fired on student protesters, killing four and wounding nine. He would come up through the Ohio musical ranks with Chrissie Hynde and Devo. He almost became famous with bands The Numbers and Tin Huey, but they both disbanded by the late 1970s.

By 1981, Butler had moved to New York on the strength of a regional hit song, I Know What Boys Like, which caught the attention of upstart new wave/alternative record label ZE Records. Blondie had gone from New York punk clubs to mainstream success with the disco record Heart of Glass and the rap pioneer song Rapture. New Wave music had replaced punk as the likely way for more artistic groups to break through. Butler knew his final shot at success was in front of him when his bosses came to him in August 1981 and said.

“Write a Christmas song. We’ll release it in 3 months.”

Years later, after his contribution became popular, he remarked.

“A Christmas album? On a hipster label? With a bunch of junkies on it? Eurotrash? Come on. Never happen…..OK, they were not all junkies and Eurotrash. But they were extreme individuals.”

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The artists on ZE Records included Material with Nona Hendrix (who was infamous for performing nude), Was Not Was (many years before Walk With A Dinosaur), Suicide (known for songs so dark and depressing they were banned from many venues in the late 1970s), and Butler’s struggling new band, The Waitresses. ZE Records eventual LP, A Christmas Record, is so “out there” that it went out of print several times and the only way The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping could be found was through their own Greatest Hits. This made Christmas Wrapping’s climb to the top of people’s Holiday playlists even more improbable

Butler, singer Patty Donahue and the rest of the Waitresses culled guitar riffs, sax solos, piano parts, and melodies involving bells and drums from unrecorded songs, made Christmas Wrapping in less than two days, then went back out on the road in the Fall of 1981 trying to make I Know What Boys Like the tune that made them famous. But when Butler called his girlfriend from a Rochester, New York tour stop in late November her news shocked him.

“Chris, you’re all over the radio! Your song made it!”

Butler swelled with pride and said.

“Great, I knew “Boys” would do it.”

Then the girlfriend responded.

“No, the Christmas one.”

Five minutes and twenty two seconds about a girl living in the big city, wanting nothing to do with Christmas because she’s alone, puts the world’s smallest turkey in the oven but forgets the cranberries and runs to the store where she finds that guy she’s been chasing all year and they both end up spending the Holiday alone, together and wa la – happy ending. It sounds like a Lifetime Network movie my wife watches. But instead, it’s the most relatable Christmas song ever written.

After the initial success of Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses got the attention of former Saturday Night Live writers then producers of the 1982 television show, Square Pegs, writing and performing the theme song. I Know What Boys Like hit MTV in 1982 becoming popular enough to be put on many “Best of The 1980s” compilations. But the group broke up in 1984. Butler and Donahue found success as studio musicians and singers but times got lean until the mid 1990s. That’s when The Spice Girls covered Christmas Wrapping and the royalties started kicking in for Butler.

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The real star of Christmas Wrapping was and still is, Donahue. Her “devil may care but I sure as hell don’t” vocals are so perfect, they’ve been impossible to mimic. None of the covers have captured her emotional detachment that allows for the listener to attach themselves to the tune. She died of lung cancer at the age of 40 in 1996, never knowing the vast cultural impact of Christmas Wrapping.

It’s my favorite Christmas song. The real life, gritty lyrics about being too busy for the Holiday came from an intellectual honest place. Butler is a self-described “Scrooge” who just did what his boss wanted but created a world truer than Paul McCartney’s “we’re all having a wonderful Christmas time.” If early 1980s New Wave music and ZE Records’ intentions were about irony, then Christmas Wrapping is their finest achievement.

I’ll take my hot chocolate, socks and underwear presents, and post-Holiday debt just fine as long as Christmas Wrapping is playing.

(an edited version of this piece originally ran on Raisedontheradio.com on December 5, 2013.

The Dad Zone

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As my three daughters grow there are stages you adjust to, but the one that you never quite get over is when you don’t become the most important person in their lives. It started a few months ago,I ignored it at first, then sulked privately, before finally going the stages of grief, my middle daughter, age 11, an official pre-teen, has stopped calling me daddy, now, I’m just dad.

I have a blended family. My oldest daughter is 18, a college freshman at a local university in downtown Atlanta. I met her when she was twelve. We were buddies at first, she sold me to her mom one night while on the way home from my house when she scooted up in her seat and asked, “so, mom, when are y’all getting married?” The day after I made her mother an honest woman and we became a family, everything changed. I went from that funny guy her mom was dating to dad. I was never daddy with her.

My youngest daughter is 10. She’s the most different personality of the three. She was 3 1/2 when I met her and the most guarded of everyone when her mother and I got married. Now, she calls and treats me as a father, even calling me “daddy” in the sweetest, not ready to grow up yet, tinny voice you can imagine.

My middle daughter, I don’t know, I guess I just thought our run was going to be something else. I changed her first diaper, did her first bath, performed 2am feedings while ESPN Sportscenter played, and was a single father with her in between marriages. She was “little” with me. I can quote her first 100 or so words. Yet, there she was, walking off her afterschool program bus, not returning my smile or wave and giving me the “whatever” treatment as I checked her out to go home. One of her school friends said, “Hey, look, it’s your d….” before the little girl could finish my pre-teen shot back, “yeah, I know, okay, it’s my dad, big deal, I can see him.”

Attitude and that word, just dad.

It used to me daddy. ” Daddy, can you put me on your shoulders?”, “Daddy, show me how to draw a dog”, “Daddy, why did you call that person in that other car a dummy?”

I’ve researched articles on pre-teens, begged my oldest daughter for answers as to why her sister doesn’t love me like she used to, and broken down all of my parenting interactions to see where I went wrong. The answers are all the same.

She’s growing up and I’m not her whole world anymore. In fact, I’m Pluto, not even a planet in her solar system.

My wife tells me I should focus on our youngest since she drops daddy like I like it, and still lays with me on the couch. To say  my heart isn’t a little broken would be a lie. According to a deal my daughter and I made when she was a baby, she’s supposed to love me forever the way I want her too. I should consult an attorney, I’ve been wronged.

I’m not ready for two girls in my house to have me in the dad zone. Watching them grow up is a honor, but watching it happen so quickly is a horror. Maybe one day both of those daughtersthat now call me dad will throw me a daddy just one more time. Until then, they’re getting more love than they think they want and need.

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Looking for Christmas gifts under $10 for the readers on your list?

 I wrote two books. They got good reviews. The third one, a sequel to the first, Woman Of Troy, is on the way, very soon.

The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com

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For What It’s Worth

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I’d been staring at my phone for so long I didn’t notice the tear until it had settled at the bottom of the black. Watching a live feed of a split screen, the President spoke to the nation urging calm in the wake of another young unarmed black life gone at the hands of a policeman and the local legal authorities announcing there wasn’t enough evidence to indict, while the town, Ferguson, Missouri, was being pelted with tear gas on one split. It looked like a video from fifty years ago, during the turbulent 1960s, when the Man and the oppressed Man clashed over civil rights. I expected the next video to be The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and for me to watch it while I took up chain-smoking. Then I realized it was now, today, 2014 and at some point, I cried.

No one really talks to each other anymore, hence the phone, this blog, and the media that are sort of social, but not really. It’s a dumping ground for opinion, misguided anger, and a lot of wrong.

Missing from the night, and now the day, is care for each other. It’s called empathy by some, I prefer to call it compassion.

The guy, Darren Wilson, who pulled the trigger, on the unarmed dead teenager, Michael Brown, in the Ferguson case, never mentioned his victim by name, calling him “a demon” and “it” then later releasing a statement never even acknowledging Brown or his family. This is the way the sides have been drawn in debating what happened. Names are replaced by labels and no one even considers what the other is thinking, especially if their skin color is different.

“Do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt” and “It’s about the choices you make” are the lectures given to people hurting as their community burns and they mourn a body left in the street for hours while being referred to as “it”.

I don’t even care about the politics anymore. I just want to know where is the compassion? Do you hit send through a sociopathic hadron collider that breaks down your humanity?

I’m afraid to die. I’m convinced my wife and kids will be trolled by my Facebook friends list like a Westboro Baptist Church picnic celebrating my decaying flesh.

All lives matter. For what it’s worth, nobody’s right, when everybody’s wrong.

Tomorrow, The Green Grass

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As an aspiring curmudgeon, I’ve drawn the conclusion that almost none of what people are paying attention to pop culturally I relate to anymore, especially the drumbeat of “baseball is dead”. With no rooting interest at all (I’m an Atlanta Braves fan), I’ve been enthralled with this year’s World Series between the mid-market, absent from the big-time for 29-years Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, a large market club vying for their 3rd championship in 5 years. According to television ratings, the media that are social and the college and professional football foaming at the mouth rabid dogs of the Deep South of which I reside, I’m in the minority in my passion for baseball.

I have a ridiculous need to be the most punk rock person in a room, real and virtual, so, the notion that not only are my lefty politics, music snob record collection, and now affinity for the game thought to be dead from greed and steroids over the past 20 years, I’m giddy with hipster pride.

I’m not a generally “happy” person, you know, by want or nature. Yet the some of the finest moments of my sarcastically tortured life surround the sport once played by men named Babe, Yogi, and Rube. Days fishing on Lake Chatuge in Towns County, Georgia near the North Carolina line with my late grandfather were punctuated by the wearing of Atlanta Braves caps, eating ham sandwiches and peanut butter crackers, and pumping my fists to homeruns hit by Dale Murphy and Bob Horner while Skip Carey, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson described their heroics over our transistor radio. This may explain why we didn’t catch a lot of brim, perch or crappe.

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I’m not a big fan of sports talk radio. A few years ago it turned into an ugly vaudeville act performed by mostly men who were raised on too much Howard Stern and not a lot of Vin Scully. The way radio is specialized, the only way you can find sports news while you’re in the car is to dial up those stations. I wanted to find out about the upcoming game six between the Royals and Giants. The Giants are up 3 games to 2 after a masterful performance from a good ole boy pitcher from North Carolina named Madison Bumgarner who has wild hair but a precise left arm. Instead of hearing anything about baseball championship, I endured over a half hour of college and pro football talk. This is the section of the country in which I choose to live, enamored with a sport that has huge problems but dominates the pop culture conscience.

To make my frustration grander, I just finished 22 hours over about 8 days, of Ken Burns’ Baseball Documentary covering over 170 years and numerous topics including the last 20 turbulent years of baseball where it tried to kill itself with a labor strike and steroid cheating. I first saw the series twenty years ago, but hadn’t seen the last two-part episode “The Tenth Inning: covering baseball from 1994-2009″. All of it was excellent. Even if you only kind of care about baseball, or maybe your weird uncle was the baseball nut in your family, you’ll find something to love about the documentary because Ken Burns is an artist at storytelling and presentation. Ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee in a CCCP cap is a must watch, so is historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talking about breaking up with an uppity boyfriend who didn’t “get” her family’s love of  baseball. Still, there’s few people to talk about this with because all anyone wants to chat up is football.

After dosing on baseball for the past 2 weeks, with the documentary and the World Series, I’ve decided that most of baseball problems are easily solved. Unlike football, which faces generations of players damaged by head trauma, players who get arrested at a higher rate than any other, and pay disparities that extend from pro players who deserve more to college players who deserve something, baseball problems are more surface related.

Everyone has a plan to fix baseball. The games need to be shortened, the marketing is terrible, and the lack of interest from the minority community are all troublesome. I just think baseball needs to show themselves to people, more. They’ve gotten most of the drugs out of the game. The “small ball” play of the Royals and Giants is very exciting to watch and looks like the game I grew up on in the 1970s and 1980s. The biggest thing going for baseball is their very old man for a commissioner just retired a much younger man took over.

The biggest thing is there are memories like those I have fishing on the lake with grandfather. You don’t get those with other sports. Baseball is just like life. It’s everyday, it always endures, and the sense of history is unique and feels right. Tomorrow, the green grass will begin its turn to brown and the World Series will conclude in a couple of days. I’ll miss it. That means something.

Here’s The Jayhawks, they’re Minnesota Twins’ fans.

Superunknown, A Rant In The Key Of Grunge

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It’s a horrible, morbid, and superunknown thought that I know so many people my age think; maybe Kurt Cobain saw the future and that’s why he took the easy way out. That’s an explanation for the awful situation and unfathomable set of circumstances that make up this dark, cold, and unforgiving world we’re supposed to be running, and by we, I mean middle-aged people born between 1965 and 1980, aka, ridiculously, Generation X.

We were supposed to be better, smarter, more enlightened than our parents and grandparents. Sure, they lived through a Depression, won a World War, navigated the turbulent 1960s and survived the Watergate, energy crisis 1970s. In doing so, they turned their backs to racism, allowed Jim Crow laws, treating women as an underclass and ignoring gay people. They also gave us skyrocketing divorce rates, drug abuse, and exceptional narcissism that turned their kids and grandkids into pill popping misery-filled jerks on which they could blame everything. The problem is, we’re just as bad as they are, maybe worse, because we became like them.

Police and minorities are still in trouble with each other, women are losing rights to their bodies, and while we’re kicking all kinds of righteous civil-rights ass in getting same-sex marriage in 30 states and counting, homophobia is so out of control, it’s infected both houses of Congress and turned our social media accounts into spit-ball contests that treat friendship like those key parties some of our parents attended in 1973 while snorting their coke at discos a few years later.

Screw them, let’s talk about us. Why can’t we get our act together? For those of us who can’t make it through a day without a cocktail of meds and a trip to a CrossFit box just so we don’t go off on some buffoon in line at the big box store we vote for in every election that kills our economy and makes poor people even poorer, then the other lot is acting out against anything that isn’t white, red, white again, and blue.

We were supposed to question authority. Michael Stipe, Henry Rollins, Morrissey, Eddie Vedder and Kurt all told us we could. Yet, too many of us are watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh and posting right-wing blogs on Facebook with posts filled with so many lies and chockfull of so much racist, bigoted, misogynist and homophobic rhetoric it churns the stomachs of, well, anyone reasonable.

I sat at a table at some Bar-B-Q place in the middle of the Deep South, today, at 44-years-old, the youngest person of 8 diners, and heard 7 others rip the millennial generation or whatever we’re calling my 3 daughters’ age group, as lazy, shiftless and stupid. Have they looked in the mirror lately? Have they seen who they keep voting for? Have they read their Facebook walls? They’re the problem, too.

If I hear one more person bitch about rock and roll being dead, I’m going to make a citizen’s arrest, impound their CD collection, and expose their country music contraband. Florida-Georgia Line, the Nickelback of contemporary not really country music has the number one album this week. Have you heard them? They’re what you get when your high school friends’ media that are social accounts learn how to play guitar and crap out worthless things that are sort of not really songs.

It’s all our fault.

Are you reading this “friends?” Of course you’re not. It’s not on InforWars or Obamasucks.com or downloaded from Sean Hannity or Paul Finebaum’s radio shows.

How bad are things? I walked through my living room last night and two “stars” of the 1990s music era, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and Gavin Rossdale of Bush were on a reality show for singers giving career advice. Yeah, Kurt knew. It wasn’t just the drugs and depression, it was the future.

It’s how we react to injustice and then refuse to get along with those who disagree with us that makes us so terrible. A cop maybe, possibly, kills a black man and we run to our grandparents and find out what Fox News said is wrong with America then vomit the word “liberals” like my golden retriever rejecting that week old cereal bar he found under the couch. Then you don’t care that one of your best friend’s is a black, I mean liberal guy.

Kurt, forgive us, whereever you are. We failed you. Nothing we do Smells Like Teen Spirit, it’s all just Superunknown, like that other Seattle band whose singer ended up doing a James Bond theme.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, I’m A SMITH

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If you hang around blogging long enough you become one of “those people”, that don’t write. It’s been a while and I have plenty of excuses but lack the energy to list them. I used to make fun of people who didn’t blog every day or every other day, then I turned into one. What happened to me? Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, I lost a fight to someone bigger and tougher than me, real life.

I miss it, I promise. The prompts, like my own creation, 100 Word Song, the tight-knit community of like-minds and same publish button-pushers. Then my oldest daughter went to college, I started traveling for work, the other website I started ten months ago needed attention I couldn’t give, and my own mental illness started running my game by its rules.

Wait, those are excuses. It must have been the burrito I had for lunch that gave me the strength.

I’m struggling, with a lot of things. For now, I’m still working on the sequel of The Ballad Of Helene Troy, called Woman Of Troy. I hope to release it by the end of the year. Silas and Olive will be made into a novella, too, to be released soon.

I wrote two pieces, one serious, one humorous, about my life with mental illness, bi-polar disorder, and the things that surround it for my a new book coming out around March 2015 called SMITH – Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor.

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Since I was a teenager I wanted to be a Smith, and now I am, maybe not Johnny Marr or Morrissey but a new kind of SMITH. I’ll keep you updated on when the book comes out in the spring. Here is our the website

My focus for this space needs to return on what I love to do, fiction writing and posts about myself and the four women of whom I live. I need to say thank you to the dozen or so people who have inquired as to what the heck I’m doing with my writing life. Things are still busy at Lefty http://www.leftypop.com, please go there.

The notebooks are full, my mind is active, and characters are being developed. I just need to start hitting publish more often.

One of the changes I’ve made in my life that’s affected my writing is we cut our cable television off. Now, I’m watching my handful of favorite shows through HULU, NETFLIX, and whatever streaming services there are over my phone. This has allowed for more time to scribe.

I’m here, and I’ll be more, here, soon. Maybe, even tomorrow. I apologize for turning into one of “those people” that you view their blog and it says the last post was a date requiring an “s” to be added to the word “week”.

Since I’m a SMITH, I should play The Smiths. They just got nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Bittersweet Symphony

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Sipping a Diet Coke, eating lukewarm Chinese take out in a two and a half star hotel room in the middle of Massachusetts is how I unceremoniously reached middle-age, 44-years-old, a little over two weeks ago, while taking an inventory of the first half of my life.

Like so much of my time as a “grown-up”, I laughed at the lack of pomp or circumstance of my birthday and searched for the nugget of gratefulness at being alive, at least for another day, month, and hopefully, year.

When my dad was 44, he had a 23-year-old recent college graduate son, to whom he seemed like a very old man, clad in country club golfer attire and perpetually preaching about insurance, getting a good job, and settling down.

As I embrace the dub 4s, I’m just hoping this CrossFit knee injury heals soon, I can find time to write, rock and roll makes a comeback before I think it’s too loud to listen to and my wife and three daughters allow my key to work when I get home at the end of each day.

I’ve been traveling for work, thus why I recognized mid-life a thousand miles from home earlier this month, and not writing as much I usually do.

I like to say I’m on year 8 of my mid-life crisis, but the truth is closer to the fact that my 44 is completely different from my dad’s and I’m slowly getting use to it and will one day be okay with it all.

I’m not the man I thought I’d be. I work only part-time in journalism, writing is more of glorified hobby, and my day job pays the bills and equates to the analogy as an overthinking busybody lighthouse keeper guiding ships along their way through my home, my writing commitments, and whatever friends have decided to stick around, even after knowing the mess that is me.

Over the past year, I’ve been hanging around old high school friends. This is something I never thought would happen. After re-establishing contact with fellow forty-somethings through the media that are social, we reunited, and found how much we viewed our lives differently, but through a common scope.

There are days I feel ancient like after a workout because body maintenance is important but harder than ever, or hanging with my college freshman daughter, or being in line at the grocery store with twenty-somethings who prattle on about staying out all night.

Recently, I was in one of those places and the 1997 alternative music anthem, Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve came on the sound system. I found myself grooving in the aisle with an impromptu five-minute therapy session. It felt amazing and assumed my dad or his friends never did that at my age.

There are things I’m fine with and wish my fellow forties would be as well.

It’s okay I’m not as conservative as my parents and grandparents. My open-mindedness has made me friends and acquaintances that have made my life more interesting.

I don’t think my eight tattoos, all received between the ages of 35 and 42, will make me look stupid later in life. Each one has a story.

I’m glad I sold my golf clubs a few years ago and started blogging. You can do it in your underwear and it costs a lot less than a round of eighteen.

I still hate most country music as much as I did when I was a teenager and this means I’m not giving in. Nothing says you’re getting old than listening to the same music as your parents and grandparents.

The Verve’s Urban Hymns album contains Bittersweet Symphony is a wiser person’s guide. It predicts the future, puts the past in perspective, and soothes the savage that is aging.

“‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down you know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet yeah”.

I have to end this post because it’s time to get my youngest daughter on the bus and go to work. But do me and many others my age a favor. The next time you see one of us lost in the grooves of Bittersweet Symphony in a store or at a kids’ ballgame, don’t bug us. We’re in a cathartic, profound moment that qualifies as intense psychoanalysis.

That’s forty-four, these days.

 

I wrote two books. They got good reviews. The third one, a sequel to the first, Woman Of Troy, is on the way, very soon.

The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com

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