Inspired By John Waters

Today’s playlist is inspired by John Waters – director, screenwriter, author, actor, journalist, hero. As today is his 69th birthday, I compiled this collection of songs that have been in his movies, songs he’s written about, and songs by folks who have been in his movies.

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In Which I Ask Boy George The Meaning Of One Of His Songs

Down the street from my first full-time job at CBS Records was a bookstore. Two blocks down from that bookstore was another bookstore. Around the corner from my office was a Sam Goody music store. Often these stores hosted book/record/CD signings. During my lunch hour I’d wait on line to buy the new release from someone I admire and get them to autograph it at the same time. I met former Supreme Mary Wilson, David Johansen (as Buster Poindexter), and Liberace. I guess it wasn’t always someone I admire. While she was signing her latest CD for me, I told Sandra Bernhard that we had met once before. She responded, sarcastically, “Who could forget?”

When I got to the front of the line to meet Joan Rivers and was face to face with her, I said “Oh, it’s you. I thought I was here to meet Joan Collins.” She responded something to the effect of “Sorry. You got me.”

I met Tipper Gore at a signing of her then-new book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, or something like that. There was literally nobody there to meet her. Nobody except me. Perhaps it was obnoxious of me to say “Nice turnout, Tipper,” but this was back when she was campaigning to have warning labels put on records, an idea I found silly. She was a good sport, though. We ended up chatting for about ten minutes, each explaining his/her viewpoint. After our chat she asked “Are you going to buy my book now?” I told her no, and she said “Take it out from the library. It’s cheaper,” to which I replied “You’re a great salesperson, Tipper.” She laughed.

I don’t remember what I said to Prince when I met him, but I do recall him looking at me as if of the two of us, I was the weirder one.

I couldn’t speak when I met Tina Turner. Her skin was so smooth and flawless it left me dumbfounded.

Years later I met Kathy Griffin a a DVD signing that was immortalized on her reality show My Life on the D-List. The show did not exaggerate the situation – only eight or so people showed up.

I was excited to meet Boy George when he published his autobiography in 1995. I’ve been a fan of his since the first time I heard Culture Club’s first US single, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” The group’s fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache, included a song called “Gusto Blusto.” A DJ played it on the radio and then said “I can’t tell you what Gusto Blusto means on the air.” Finally I had the opportunity to ask the song’s writer what that expression means. I asked George. He laughed and said “I don’t remember.” Thanks, George!

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Yesterday Boy George turned 53 years old. Here are ten tracks of his you should know.

An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 1

Raised Jewish, I celebrated Hanukkah. For several years, my family also celebrated Christmas. We didn’t go to midnight mass, we didn’t drink egg nog, we didn’t throw a special type of log in the fireplace. (By the way, I have no idea what makes a Yule log yuley). We put tinsel and candy canes on a large potted plant my mother had in the den and bought each other small but practical gifts. For example, when I was 11 for Christmas my parents got me a salt shaker. The Christmas celebrations stopped after I innocently told Grandpa Mordechai about them. My parents were so angry with me they took away my salt shaker.

Though I no longer celebrate Christmas, I still have a major jones for Christmas music. I own many more Christmas records than any atheist Jew probably should. We’re talking in the hundreds.

I eschew Christmas classics performed by well-known middle-of-the-road acts such as Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Kenny G (sell-out Jew), Neil Diamond (sell-out Jew) or Barbra Streisand (sell-out Jew). Frank Sinatra shows up only in a duet with Cyndi Lauper and Bing Crosby shows up only in his duet with David Bowie.

Including the Crosby/Bowie version, I have 15 renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy” in my iPod, by a diverse list of artists including Johnny Cash, The Temptations, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and RuPaul.

I have ten versions of “Winter Wonderland,” and that’s not counting the cross-dressing parody “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear,” not performed by RuPaul.

I have “Christmas in Hollis,” “Christmas in Harlem,” “Christmas in Washington,” “Christmastime in the LBC,” “Christmas in the City,” “Christmas in Heaven,” “Christmastime in Hell” and “Christmas at the Zoo.”

I have Christmas songs by most of my favorite artists of all-time, including The Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M., Elvis Presley, The White Stripes, Kanye West, Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Radiohead.

Some Christmas songs aren’t Christmas songs at all. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow Let it Snow Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” don’t mention the baby Jesus or Santa Claus or presents or a bullied reindeer with a skin ailment.

Some of the Christmas songs I have are a bit odd. “I Found the Brains of Santa Claus,” a smooth jazz version of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” C3PO and R2D2 singing “Sleigh Ride.” I have Liberace reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” though his version doesn’t hold a candle to Aretha Franklin’s version, in which the Queen of Soul took a few liberties with the words: “A bundle of gifts he had and what did I get? / As I squealed, opening the package, the same old shit!” Her lyrics are downright Disneyesque compared to Snoop Dogg’s reading of the famous poem. If you’re interested, Google the lyrics because I’m not going to print them here.

I have John Denver singing “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” Verse one opens with a couplet for the arithmetically-challenged: “Just last year when I was only seven / Now I’m almost eight you can see.” Santa needs to bring John some flashcards. The next two lines create a holiday image that is less Norman Rockwell and more John Waters: “You came home at quarter past eleven / And fell down underneath the Christmas tree.” Someone needs to get him to a 12-step group. He can attend a meeting with the title character of Fishbone’s “Slick Nick, You Devil You,” who came down the chimney with a keg of brew and spilled Jack Daniels all over the drapes.

I have Sarah Silverman singing “Give the Jew Girl Toys,” in which she taunts Santa by singing “You have a list / Well, Schindler did to / Liam Neeson played him / Tim Allen played you.”

Then there’s the classic “Fairtytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which evokes the holiday spirit with the line “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot,” something yelled at me every year by those Salvation Army Santas.

Better still is “Macarena Christmas.” I LOVE “Macarena” and I’m betting you do to though you probably won’t admit it. “Macarena Christmas” celebrates the birth of our lord and savior Baby Macarena by taking the chorus from the hit single and uncleverly inserting it repeatedly into a medley of Christmas songs, so it goes “Joy to the world, the Lord has come / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena, Que tu cuerpo es pa darle alegria y cosa Buena / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena / Eeeeeh, Macarena – ay / Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way.” Sound effects of what sounds like an infant with the hiccups are thrown in. It makes no sense, y me gusta mucho.

My favorite holiday album and one of the greatest all-time albums period is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You, featuring tracks he produced for The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans. Every cut on it is classic and can be enjoyed by the whole family, except Grandpa Mordechai.