If you know the first verse to the parody of “We Three Kings” referenced in the title of this post, you win an internet high five from me. And while I’m mentally slapping your hand with mine, here’s this month’s progress report, and the last one of the year.
It’s the longest progress report video yet — a few have approached the thirty-minute mark, but this is the first one to crack it — and it functions as three things in one.
Before anything else, it’s just another progress report. But it’s showing up on Christmas day, so there had to be at least some tie-in (most of it has to do with my dirty Christmas album). And the year will soon be gone, so there’s a brief look back at a handful of notable music-related events in JohnnyLand from this year.
Could it be the best one yet? I think it’s possible.
A few things to mention:
If you’re expecting saccharine Christmas cheer and/or are offended by sexual subject matter, you might want to skip it altogether. While I like Christmas just fine, I’m not one of those people who walks around with mistletoe fastened above my head so I can kiss every person I meet, nor am I interested in sugarcoating what I have to say or curbing the profanity just because it’s Christmas. And when it comes time to talk about the Christmas album I made back in 1999, well…let’s just say it’s not an album anyone younger than sixteen should ever be exposed to.
It’s absolutely filthy, and it was designed to be as offensive as possible. I wanted to slaughter every Christmas song in sight after being scarred by hearing the same generic takes on Christmas standards on the radio for years on end. As a general thing, I seem to say more dirty words as I get more comfortable and confident with these videos. It’s pretty funny when Elliott ends up with a milder case of potty mouth than me.
I was going to use one of those dirty Christmas songs for the extended introduction sequence, but it didn’t feel right. For some bizarre reason I thought of pulling out an old Guys with Dicks out-take recorded in early 2002 when we were stoned out of our heads.
Most of the time I was pretty rigid about never making music under the influence of anything at all. I felt it was important to be firing on all cylinders when the bulk of my music, with or without the band, was improvised on the spot while recording. But this was the first time I ever tried shrooms, and we all entered a giddy state that had us thinking we might capture brilliance if we hit the record button.
Some of the results ended up on the CASTRATED EP. Outside of “Beautiful High” (recorded after eating the shrooms but before they kicked in), nothing we produced that night was ever considered album material. If anything, our music was stranger and more interesting when we were stone cold sober. But it made — and still makes — for some amusing listening. Highlights include botching a take of a miserable song about a girl because of how happy we are and how hilarious everything seems, and Tyson zoning out while staring through the skin of my snare drum, to the point that for a while he isn’t even aware he’s playing the drums or that we’re making music.
At the time pretty much everything I was doing was driven by anger and depression. The shrooms made me melt into a laughing blob of bliss, which didn’t exactly make for convincing performances of unhappy songs. But at least we all had fun.
The closest thing to a proper song we recorded that night after getting happy, and just about the only thing that didn’t break down halfway through, was something I later called “Walking with Speed” when it needed a title. It’s mostly instrumental, kind of aimless, the guitar-playing is very far from my best work even when you take into account that I wasn’t anywhere near as adept at playing the guitar eight years ago as I am now, and it isn’t the most interesting example of our three-way improvisational interplay. But there are moments and skewed dynamic shifts in it I’ve always had a real fondness for.
I have no idea why I thought to try using this of all songs as the soundtrack to an old Christmas cartoon. I think it lends the whole thing a bit of a creepy atmosphere, and I kind of like that. It tells you something about how high we were at the time that I thought the music sounded jazzy while we were recording it (my actual description, as you hear at the end: “That‘s like free-form jazz Guys with Dicks from hell”).
The public domain film content is an interesting mix this time around.
There are two animated christmas shorts. Christmas Comes but Once a Year is present almost in its entirety as the opening “music video”, though I edited it a bit to shave the overall length of the video down. Dig the part where saintly Professor Grampy teleports a good twenty feet in an instant while walking to get to a window so he can sneak into the orphanage and save Christmas. I could have fixed that editing snafu, but it made me laugh. So I had to leave it in.
Where that short has what I think is a pretty admirable message — and that’s part of the reason I couldn’t bring myself to pervert it by throwing a dirty Christmas song on top — Santa’s Surprise is a little messed up. I guess in the 1940s it might have seemed like a valid attempt at “cultural diversity”, but man…some of the racial caricatures present are pretty abrasive. Still, I couldn’t resist chopping up a few bits and using them for my own purposes.
And then we’ve got two hilarious propaganda films.
Duck and Cover is a gem from 1950 that taught children all they had to do in the event of a nuclear holocaust was hide under their desks and they would be safe from harm. It’s so grotesque and offensive in its stupidity, it achieves a kind of absurd brilliance. I thought Lewis Black was joking when he talked about seeing films like this as a kid. Turns out he wasn’t.
Perversion for Profit is all about the supposed evils of pornography. It’s as terrible and amusing as you’d expect.
This is the most ambitious I’ve ever let myself get with the re-contextualized film thing, drawing from several different sources instead of just sticking with one and really chopping things up to create some intentionally absurd transitions. Lucky for me, there’s a long list of films that have fallen into the public domain, from cartoons, to horror movies, to an all-little-person western (you read that right). So it doesn’t look like I’ll be running out of material anytime soon.
I have to say, the bit where the turtle hides in his shell from an atomic bomb blast while a bit of my cover of the clash’s “Bankrobber” plays just about makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I don’t know why. There’s something about the combination of the music and imagery that has a weird gravity to it even if they make no literal sense together. It was more or less an accident. I was throwing random bits of footage from Duck and Cover on top of a fragment of the song to see what would happen.
The more I listen to that overhaul of “Bankrobber”, the more I like it. I’m almost tempted to look into paying whatever fee is necessary to secure the rights so I can put it on an album. But I’m not about to hold back the album I’m working on in order to make that happen.
The original Fuzzy Duck (from a family of three) returns, and I think he and Elliott work well together. Their little tag-team moment could be a harbinger of things to come. Elliott, for his part, has another tender moment that’s strangely devoid of bitterness — minus his contempt for bland, generic renderings of Christmas songs.
I was halfway tempted to record a new intro bit for him with a Christmas theme,complete with a Yuletide-infused re-recorded version of his theme song, but he talked me out of it. I believe his words were, “Nobody’s gonna buy the idea of me doing sappy wholesome shit, and no way am I wearing a Santa hat, unless it’s while I’m eating hard boiled eggs and hitting on chicks. You know what I’m fuckin’ sayin’?”
I can’t argue with that.
The little instrumental bit that plays when I’m talking about the 1951 Gibson LG-2 was recorded on the Flip video camera. So you can imagine how good that guitar sounds with a real microphone or two in front of it. As mentioned in the video, it should show up in a pretty prominent role on the next album. The little banjo bit was recorded just to get the idea down (something I use the video camera for quite a bit now), without any thought given to what it looked like or whether or not any part of my body was even in the frame. So you get a nice look at my bedroom ceiling there. And I forgot to mention in the video that I just passed seventy thousand blog views. That’s demented. At this rate, by the spring we’ll end up hitting the one hundred thousand mark.
But yeah. Merry Christmas, and all that jazz. May all your terrorist-driven situations be diffused by Bruce Willis, and may all the censored-for-television versions of your movie be similarly ridiculous and amusing.