The world doesn’t need any more Christmas music. But with the complex emotions of the season so unavoidable, songwriters like David George can be forgiven for succumbing to them – especially when it results in more risqué holiday tunes, which the world might be able to use.
George didn’t start out to add to the glut of Christmas music by writing a whole record. Christmas Ain’t a Drag, out on iTunes as of last week, started with just one song a few years ago. And one can’t fault George’s initial inspiration: He wrote the lullabyish “Tonight’s Child” for his niece and nephew.
“I always loved this time of year as a kid,” he says. “It just always felt exciting. Even though it was cold and depressing, all of a sudden everything was brought to life with the lights, the colors, the activity. I wanted to write a sentimental song in vein of ‘Silent Night.’”
That was 10 years ago. He wrote more Christmas songs when he and his band The Crooked Mile were in Los Angeles from 2004-2010. George was working as a stage manager for the Royal Crown Revue, which had a gig opening for the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas show; the Royal Crown Revue was thinking about putting out a Christmas album, so George offered three of his original songs. But the Royal Crown Revue went a more traditional route instead.
Back in Kansas City, George played his Christmas songs live during a 2013 show at the recordBar – a night stoked with even more sentimentality when George proposed to his wife.
“It was extremely loaded-ego thinking I could do it all,” he admits. “I didn’t have a full show of Christmas music, so it started with me and a string quartet, and then the Christmas show” – a big-band sound, with horns, bass, guitar, drums, girls and guys singing – “and then Crooked Mile got up and closed up the night. I played for about four hours. It was a little much.”
Well, the season has been known to inspire grand gestures.
The response was overwhelming, George says. So he kept doing it, and each year it got bigger as George invited friends to the shows and wrote more songs.
Last year he added what he calls “the dramatic portion,” which resulted in the musical, Christmas Ain’t a Drag, the story of a guy who gets dumped on Christmas Eve, goes to a nightclub and falls in love with a girl who turns out to be a guy.
“Honestly, I was inspired by Liza Minnelli,” George says.
He’s seen Minnelli at the Hollywood Bowl, and she reminisced about being a teenage guest vocalist on the Williams Brothers Show back in the ‘60s. George was too young to have seen the Williams Brothers (Bob, Don, Dick and Andy, as opposed to the gospel Williams Brothers), but he remembered Andy Williams.
“The Williams Brothers would do all these harmonies, so she brought out these strapping young men to back her up at the Hollywood Bowl to do similar, jazzy renditions of songs from the ‘60s,” George says.
So, on "Ho Ho Mistletoe," in which singer Shanna Jones (currently in the Kansas City Rep’s The Santaland Diaries), channeling a characters who isn't exactly lonely, considers criteria including best kissers, worst kissers, and size, for guys to include on her Christmas list.
Having made high-end demos of his songs, George put out a CD he sold at shows last year. This year he’s written three more songs and released the whole package on iTunes, where, separated from the narrative of the live musical, it’s a collection of swingy and sultry jazz, rockabilly and pop songs with lyrics that just happen to be about the season.
“I know people might be like, eh, Christmas music. I wanted something that was fun and light,” he says. “I was raised Catholic and Christmas always had a big meaning, but for those who are not of faith, Christmas is just a time of love and cheer and spirits: Things are dying and now we’re moving into a time of rebirth. I wanted to write stuff that’s more in line with the universal.”
Hence, “What’s a Naughty Girl to Do?”
"It’s not that she’s a bad girl/the boys all know she’s good," George begins, before Shanna Jones comes in with a four-in-the-morning voice that suggests, among other things, alternate meanings for "candy canes."
“It’s not ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are,’” George admits. “I was going for that ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ era of music.”
George knows some of his lyrics are definitely not universal. “Christmas Time Is Here” may succeed at capturing the childhood excitement he felt, but the refrain of its chorus – “Everybody loves this time of year, when everybody’s heart is filled with cheer” – demands a fact check. Not everybody loves this time of year; some of us require extra alcohol, for example, to make it through.
“I just make light of the situation,” George says. “Christmas is what it is. I’m a melody and music guy more than lyrics or content. I’ve got friends who are all about content, like, ‘Oh, man that song is so deep.’ For me, if it feels good and makes my butt wiggle, I’m all about it.”
In other words, the truest meaning of Christmas.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.