A Rhinebeck Rocker’s Christmas
Grammy and Golden Globe-nominated singer-songwriter-guitarist Marshall Crenshaw, whose songs have been covered by Bette Midler, Ronnie Spector, and Top 40 hitmakers the Gin Blossoms, is digging through the “Christmas Section” of his massive LP collection. The record aficionado, who shares his wide-ranging assortment of music on New York City’s WFUV radio show, The Bottomless Pit (Saturdays at 10 p.m.), is searching for one of his favorite Yuletide albums.
“Let’s see,” he says. “Phil Spector… Jim Nabors…”
Jim Nabors? Gomer Pyle recorded a Christmas album?
But that’s not the gem. “Ah, here it is!” the Rhinebeck resident says. “ ‘A Toast to Christmas With the Singing Glasses’ by Gloria Parker, as featured in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. She fills crystal glasses with water and plays them with her fingertips, kind of like an organ. The record’s from the 80s, and it’s got a really cheesy drum machine on it. I hate those things, but I love this record. I always play this one. Gets me in the spirit.”
Crenshaw’s got a lot to celebrate this season. After a career that began with portraying John Lennon in a tour of Beatlemania, followed by 13 acclaimed albums on seven different labels through more than thirty years, interspersed with acting (Buddy Holly in La Bamba) and writing a book (Hollywood Rock), Crenshaw decided to pioneer an innovative method of getting his new, self-produced I Don’t See You Laughing Now to fans. First off, it’s a vinyl record, a 45 RPM, three-song EP, available as part of a subscription service funded entirely by fans via a wildly successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign. (He raised $33,000, way above his target.) For $24.25, Crenshaw himself will mail subscribers the handsomely packaged (readable liner notes!) I Don’t See You Laughing Now EP, plus a download code; two more three-song EPs will be delivered over the course of 2013. Crenshaw couldn’t be happier about eliminating the record company middleman. Like Santa and his elves, he and his two kids pack up the merchandise in their Rhinebeck home, not far from where the whole family recently took part in the Sinterklaas Festival. “I love the parade,” says Crenshaw of the homespun, thrillingly spooky celebration. “It’s a worthy thing. Rhinebeck is like Mayberry.”
When the Crenshaws decorated their tree this year, they actually drank eggnog, cracked walnuts and listened to LPs as a family, old school-style. “I got a buzz from that,” he says. But the Crenshaws’ taste is not the usual, overplayed fare. “When I heard the Drifters’ ‘White Christmas’ on Rhythm & Blues Christmas,” Crenshaw says, “it set me on a path to find interesting Christmas music, like Jimmy Smith’s Christmas 64.”
From another ardent record collector, Crenshaw discovered a bawdy classic. “I really like ‘Hang Your Balls On the Christmas Tree’ by Kay Martin and her Body Guards.’” Almost NSFW, but not quite.
“My favorite Christmas song of all time, one of the few that still grabs me emotionally, is the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York.’ Whenever I hear that song, it puts me in a Christmas frame of mind. That’s the one. I can do without most of them, but that’s pretty beautiful.”
What about Yuletide movies?
“A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim — I think that’s really the best one. I can’t believe it’s not on TV every year. And I saw It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time when I was in Beatlemania in 1979. A guy in the show was one of the first people I knew with a VCR, and he’d taped a bad print off a TV station at 3 a.m. It was still obscure, a cult item. There was a time when you had to seek that thing out.”
“I’ve got a dark sense of humor, so I really like the Christmas with the Lettermans, David Letterman’s early 80s satire of those schmaltzy Christmas specials we all remember if we’re Baby Boomers. Those are worth watching.”
And with that, Marshall Crenshaw says, “Be well,” and he’s back to prepping for some shows to promote I Don’t See You Laughing Now, and to pulling more underrated, should-be classics from his “Christmas Records” shelf to share with family, friends, and fans. —Robert Burke Warren