No one was more surprised than I that I actually liked Christmas. Perhaps it's my typical lobster-like contrariness—now that Christmas is the holiday that dare not speak its name—to finally cuddle up to the "season of light." I certainly remember actively disliking the Yule traditions a lifetime ago when they were forced on me by ill-fitting in-laws.
My grinchly attitude changed about the time I decided, 5 shows along, to do a Xmas special for "The vonHummer Hour."
Looking back, it's strange to remember that I had a VERY limited premise for "The vonHummer Hour." The whole show, every week—week after week–was to consist of Helvetica Bold and I sitting outside our tent by a campfire having silly conversations. Ostensibly, based on the titles displayed at the opening of every show, we'd be camping someplace different and exotic every week, although the scenario would never change. (Nor would the recorded crickets playing in the background.)
So that's where my head was at, when, in November 2001, I sat down to write up a Christmas episode. It had to have a kid in it—a Xmas story without a kid is like a vampire movie without a girl—so I bribed my son, LIttle vonHummer, Jr. II., into appearing in the episode, with no idea whether or not he could act. (I figured, "Well, hell, I can't act, so why wonder? That's why it's subtitled...")
To add to my holiday ambition, I also decided to record some Xmas songs as well. Which meant, I'd have to write a few. Which I'd never done before.
I did have some lyric ideas in my bag of post-it note song ideas:
• One line of a song, "The First White Christmas was white indeed/Three Wise Kings rode forth/yea, on lumpy steed..."
• An idea for a song using a Christmas countdown of annoying Xmas things, similar to the "12 Days of Christmas."
• And the prhase "Open Fire on a Roasting Chestnut," twisted from "The Christmas Song."
And that was about it. In a couple of weeks , however, in the tiny dining room at 4020 10th Avenue, with my trusty Fostex cassette 4-track, I banged out "The First White Christmas," "Have a Haphazard Christmas," and "Open Fire on a Roasting Chestnut." I might have also done "Jesus H. Christ" at that time, but I'm not sure about it. I intended to use all four songs in the Xmas episode, but it turned out there wasn't room, so "Open Fire" and "Jesus H. Christ" got bumped in the original version. (Later I re-edited and added them both back in.)
Musically, these first three were along the lines of what I consider the "classic" vonHummer Sound: a high drone accoustic, a bass drone accoustic and my drum guitar. The drum guitar was still working somewhat at that time. Also, Ann Hammer happened to have some sleigh bells and a small tribal drum of some kind which I put to good use.
The following year, 2002, I boldly continued the tradition and did a second Christmas episode, "I Saw Daddy Cursing Santa Claus." Not nearly as boldly, however, I only wrote one new song for that special, "Xmas'd Up Again."
At that time, I had teamed up with a drummer named Eric Olsen. He was a great, great drummer. Really meshed well with me. Personally, however, he turned out to be a bit of basket case: no job, no car, no phone. He did have a girlfriend, though. And a dog. And weed. Which is all puzzling, given the first three givens.
He just kind of faded away in about a month and a half. Luckily, that was plenty of time to record "Xmas'd Up Again," and six other new songs, which became my (as yet) unreleased album "Six Noons."
And then, the following year, mightily burned out after three years of the series, I got enough grit together to do one last Christmas episode, "Seasons Greedy,"—my favorite of the three—and added one last new song, "Knee-Deep in the Yuletide."
So, here I am, in late 2010, pleased as spiked punch to finally be releasing my album of Christmas tunes. Slip them into your own Christmas mix of tunes and watch the party come to a screeching halt. Humbug!
released December 16, 2010
vonHummer: everything, excepting...
drums on "Xmas'd Up Again" by Eric Olsen