Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jingle Bell Rocks!/Interview with Al Aitchison

"Jingle Bell Rocks!, What the Hell is this doing on the blog?" 

 Well this year the Grinches at Theater of Guts' hearts have grown three sizes today! Jingle Bell Rocks! is a documentary about Christmas music junkies and collectors of rare holiday music. It also features the always entertaining John Waters! Two of our favorite docs in the last decade have been The King of Kong and The Rock-afire Explosion, and from the looks of the trailer this film could be just as fun! We had the pleasure of chatting with one of these Christmas Music Collectors featured in the film, Al Aitchison. So pour some eggnog, watch the trailer, and get schooled by Al.  But before you click off the page be sure and listen to the EXCLUSIVE Guts Xmas mix the Al has put together at the bottom of the page! Check it out, because it will only be streaming til January 1st!

TOG) Is there an official name used to label people who collect and make
compilations of Xmas music?
AL) Some of us refer to ourselves as "Christmas Compilers", others use the term "Christmas CD Traders". At this point I've been doing it so long and know my trading buddies well.  I simply use their given name or perhaps "dude"...

TOG) Are you satisfied with that name because we can change that here and
now and coin a new one?
Wreath Rockers perhaps?  
AL) I am now a "Wreath Rocker"!  That's sexy!!!

TOG) When did you start collecting and how did you get into it?  
AL) I started back in the late 1990's.  It was a perfect storm of three factors.  First was the advent of digital technology.  I'm a huge music fan and burning CDs in a matter of minutes instead of dubbing cassettes in real time was a glorious development.  Second was an article in the (sadly) long defunct indie music magazine Cool And Strange Music (CSM).  It was called "Christmas Compilation Craziness".  Basically it talked about this cool underground subculture of people who sought out rare, unusual, and largely forgotten Christmas music, and made cassettes and (new fangled CD) compilations for friends.  Back then it was less of a "scene".  Far fewer people were doing it so casual listeners were easily wowed by the music.  Lastly, was a collection of oddball Christmas comps my friend had collected.  One day I was telling him about the CSM article and he offhandedly mentioned that a friend had given him a pile of home made cassettes.  "Why don't you give them the digital treatment?".  By nature I am a rather obsessive fellow and that impromptu suggestion proved no less than an explosion of inspiration!   My disease was born that fateful day.  Fifteen years later I'm still making annual compilations and show precious little signs of stopping.

TOG) Are classic songs such as Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms and Paul
McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime frowned upon if found on an Xmas comp?
AL) Us Wreath Rockers were weaned on the classics.  Somewhat surprisingly we're not a snobbish or an elitist lot.  I have fond childhood memories of Nat King Cole's Christmas record.  The same goes for Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis' yuletide fare.  In my view those songs are far too common for one of my mixes.  I suspect my trading buddies would agree to that assessment.  If people like the classics they should listen to the classics.  No judgements from me.  Although "Wonderful Christmastime" should've earned McCartney a kick in the nuts!

TOG) How did you meet Jingle Bell Rocks! director Mitchell Kezin?
AL) Uhhh... well... I kinda cheated his sister out of an online auction.  Many years ago I had my eye on this Christmas LP available on eBay.  As the auction was ending I could see there was a lone bidder.  Even in those early days my sniping skills were quite keen.  I placed a bid in the very last seconds and won... by one dollar!  Almost immediately afterward I was contacted by the second place bidder.  She was from Canada and sent me a kindly worded email asking if it were possible to buy the LP from me.  She explained that she was intending to give it to her brother as a gift and that the LP had strong attachments to childhood memories.  So, in keeping with the holiday spirit and being someone who, in truth, enjoys bestowing the occasional act of kindness, I wrote back and said her brother was welcome to the record free of charge. She was thrilled!  She put me in touch with him and I discovered that he too made yearly Xmas comps. When packing the LP I threw in a couple of my collections and, as an afterthought, a copy of the above mentioned CSM article.  As I found out quite a few years later, he read the article and thought to himself "This would make a great film".  Well, this brother was Mitchell Kezin, director of Jingle Bell Rocks!

TOG) In the film, what angle of collecting Xmas music do you discuss?
AL) Fairly traditional fare.  Name, hometown, collectors I admire, favorite record (and why?).  As of this writing I've yet to see the film.  I'm in the trailer for about two-thirds of a second (at the :28 second mark).  To date it's the only footage I've seen.  It'll be interesting to see what made the cut.  I'm so gearing up for the trappings of fame...

TOG) When will we see Jingle Bell Rocks!?
AL) It's being released in across Canada this year.  It'll be on Canadian television as well.  Unfortunately it won't be seen in the US until the Fall of 2014.  Not sure about a European release.  Anyone wanting to keep tabs on the film should bookmark www.jinglebellrocks.com.

TOG) How many Xmas records do you have? Estimate?
AL) I've pared down my collection in recent years.  I would say, roughly, perhaps, 700 CDs, hundreds upon hundreds of digital files, 50 or so LPs, and 30-40 78s.  I just plunked all my Christmas 45s on the bathroom scale... they weigh 35 lbs.

TOG) John Waters is featured in the documentary, do you have a favorite JW film?
AL) There's several I dig.  A Dirty Shame and Cry Baby immediately come to mind.  I always love the music he uses in his films.  The assortment of b-list actors and pop culture figures always fascinates. Although I've never seen it "Multiple Maniacs" must be considered a favorite. That's the one where uber drag queen/gay icon Divine was raped by lobster.  Subsequently, my relationship with shellfish is, at best, one of caution and distrust.  Wasn't there an early Waters' flick where Divine ate real human feces?  That one's gotta go on the list.  Officially I'm appalled at the idea.  Behind closed doors I'm fist pumping like the those jackasses on "Jersey Shore"...

TOG) Where is a good place to start for people who love mainstream Xmas music looking to crossover into collecting rare vinyl and off beat Xmas music in general,  Any recommended fan or forum websites?
AL) Oh yeah!  People are very giving.  There is tons of stuff posted online.  Some of it is great,  some is mind numbingly awful.  The best place to start is Falalalala.com (FLLLL).  I've discovered some great music and made a few good pals trolling around that site.  There is a links section which will keep a person busy for hours.  FLLLL is a great place to meet other collectors/compilers/nut jobs.  They're usually quite helpful with info.  Other favorites are Stubby's House Of Christmas (http://www.stubbyschristmas.com/index.html), Ernie (Not Bert)(http://ernienotbert.blogspot.com/),Mistletunes (http://www.mistletunes.com/), and Christmas A Go Go! (http://www.christmasagogo.blogspot.com/).
Al's Christmas Ale 2011 & 2012

TOG) What are some of the absolute best and most miserable Christmas songs
you've encountered?
AL) Eels' "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas", Punchy's "Maybe That's What Christmas Means", The Marshall Brothers' "Mr. Santa's Boogie" are all top flight tunes.  If I had to choose an all time favorite it would be The Hepsters' "Rockin' N' Rollin' With Santa Claus".  It's a superb 1950's era R&B dancer. Another all time favorite is Phil Phillips and the Rebels "I Want The South To Win The War For Christmas".  One of the most delightfully oddball songs anyone's likely to encounter.
There are so, so many awful Xmas songs.  And not in an interesting way.  That's the beauty of the hunt.  You have to dig through tons of insufferable bilge to find the gems.  When you hit
pay dirt... it's glorious!

TOG)  Any cool collecting stories?
AL) My favorite collecting stories usually involve finding great records for very little money.  Buying records at inflated prices erodes the fun of collecting.  One year at the WFMU Record Fair here in NYC I asked a 78rpm dealer if he had any Christmas records.  Instead of some common, over priced disc he handed me "Jack The Snowshoe Rabbit" by The Velva-Tones, an early 50's vocal group.  It was a song I was relatively sure most collectors didn't know, it was great, and it was two dollars!  One blistering August day I was making the rounds through the local flea markets.  My thoughts were a million miles away from Christmas music.  One dealer had three or four 45s laying in a box, just baking in the sun.  One was calypso king Lord Nelson's "Merry Christmas One And All".  It's a sweet, sentimental ballad that to this day is one of my favorite tracks.... three bucks!

TOG) The Trashmen and other surf bands have a lot of Christmas tunes, do
you have a favorite?
AL) Sure do!  Los Straitjackets kick ass!  They have a couple of CDs teeming with yuletide gold.  Plus they used to do a Christmas show with El Vez (The Mexican Elvis) and the World Famous Pontani Sisters (burlesque performers par excellence!).   All kinds of reasons to love that spectacle!

TOG) What are some of the best or worst Christmas songs you've heard that
combine Christmas and Halloween?
AL) Zombina and the Skeletones have a super nifty track entitled "Transylvania Christmas".  The singer is a woman who delivers the line " I wanna bite on a cute girl's neck beneath the mistletoe".  It capably serves all my lesbian vampire needs.  If I've heard bad ones they've long since been dismissed from my memory bank...

TOG) Who listens to your compilations?
AL) Family, friends, colleagues, and other Wreath Rockers...

TOG)  How do you choose the songs?  Where do you find them?
AL) While at Winter's end and all of Spring and Summer I largely return to my normal life, I'm hunting for songs all year 'round.  Usually in late October or early November I gather the potential tracks in one place and start the selection process.  If the music is good it's good!  The genre is irrelevant.  I guess the criteria for inclusion can be summed up in one question, "Would I listen to this at a party?"  Where do I find them?  Everywhere!  Thrift stores, flea markets, record shops, and online.  I often employ what can be termed "creative Google searches".  Some interesting things can pop up...

TOG) Feedback on comps?
AL) Universally positive!  My collections have become a tradition with an assortment of folks.  My buddy Steve always borrows my tracks for his own CDs.  Another friend told me of a time when she was playing one of my CDs at work.  When she finished helping a customer the customer stuck around the store.  When asked why they replied "I want to hear what's next"... awesome!  Two dear friends host an annual holiday party.  It has long been understood that I am to bring a box of my CDs for the guests (who've long since become friends). It's touching when they react so warmly to my discs.  Very recently another buddy told me that upon hearing one of my CDs his father stole it and to this date refuses to give it back.  Additionally, many people listen to my comps whilst setting up their trees. I'm always moved to receive such terrific feedback!

The Latest & Greatest

                                            "Guts For Christmas"
Over the years I've encountered an incredibly diverse range of Christmas music.  Quite honestly there are songs I wouldn't dare play for colleagues, certain family members, and my lesser enlightened friends.  Many are my dirty little secrets... until now.  When the auteurs manning Theater Of Guts approached me about this interview I offered to create a mix catering to their fan base's specific tastes.  So... do Christmas songs with themes such as vampires, zombies, serial killers, boners, moonshine, dead reindeer, venereal disease, and assorted deviant behaviors strike your fancy?  Then give a listen to "Guts For Christmas".

                                            1. Rudy Casoni - Beware, Beware
2. Nerf Herder - I've Got A Boner For Christmas
3. Zombina And The Skeletones - Transylvanian Xmas
4. Nülydedz-Zombie Christmas Party
5. Thorazine - Merry Stupid Fucking Christmas (Unclean)
6. Angry Snowmans - Drinkin' Rum & Egg Nog
7. Drive-By Truckers - Hope Santa's Out Of Rehab For Xmas
8. Lila Lou - We're Gettin' Paw A Brand New Still For Christmas
9. Greenbrier Lane - Christmas In Neverland
10. Size 14 - Mrs. Claus
11. The Pork Guys - Rudolph Burger...Hold The Nose
12. The Vandals - Grandpa's Last Xmas
13. The Western Caravan - Psycho Santa
14. Jason And The Straptones - I Found The Brains Of Santa Claus
15. Steve Sleaze - I Got Syphilis For Christmas

Mix Available only til January 1st! 

The Complete Collection

1 comment:

  1. Al I'd be interested in obtaining your complete computations for my collection I am new at this, I'd really like to get the 2005 Edition, as seen on Christmas Yuleblog. contact me at bbcfloridabound@yahoo.com Yhanks


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