The American holiday of Christmas is, among many other things, a season of excess, extravagance, and indulgence. Those things do not always go hand in hand with refined good taste.
John Waters is one of the great American curators, conveyors, and creators of that which is in bad taste. He is a man with exquisitely refined bad taste. That makes him the perfect person to compile a Christmas album which, thank all that is Divine, he did back in 2004.
A John Waters Christmas is exactly what it says on the label. You would not want this to be the only Christmas album that you own, but it will certainly be very much more what it is than any of the others. It might be just the thing if you’re hosting a Christmas party and it’s getting late and you need to either prompt your guests to collect their coats and leave or else to transition the whole affair into the sort of gathering that ought to be taking place at that hour.
John Waters is not Dr. Demento. A Dr. Demento Christmas collection is a fine thing, but a different thing. This is not quite that. While some of these tracks are novelty songs or novelty acts, but most seem to have been recorded in earnest. Where they are awful, they mostly weren’t intending to be awful.
Some of this is ugly and some of it is wonderful, and as with most things John Waters, these parts overlap.
1. “Fat Daddy” by Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson
2. “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” by Tiny Tim
3. “Christmas Time Is Coming” by Stormy Weather
4. “Happy Birthday Jesus” by Little Cindy
5. “Here Comes Fatty Claus” by Rudolph & Gang
6. “Little Mary Christmas” by Roger Christian*
7. “I Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Big Dee Irwin & Little Eva
8. “Santa Don’t Pass Me By” by Jimmy Donley**
9. “Sleigh Ride” by Alvin & the Chipmunks
10. “Sleigh Bells, Reindeer, and Snow” by Rita Faye Wilson
11. “First Snowfall” by The Cocktails
12. “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” by Akim and the Teddy Vann Production Company
* Roger Christian wrote “Don’t Worry Baby.” He also wrote and performed this. I’m struggling to figure out what to make of that.
** Jimmy Donley was a violent, troubled man and a terrific songwriter, though we can’t be sure how many songs he wrote because he sold away the rights to most of what he wrote. Many of his most successful songs earned royalties for the pirate radio preacher and faith healer J. Charles Jessup, who swindled Donley in one of his many cons.
Here’s the entry on Jessup from Randall Balmer’s Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism:
Jessup, J. Charles (1916-1993) A pentecostal faith healer who ran afoul of federal authorities, J. Charles Jessup was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, to a pentecostal preacher and his wife. Jessup began preaching on street corners at the age of 12, and he conducted a revival in Dyersburg, Tennessee, at 14. Jessup prayed for — and received — the gift of healing, and soon he purchased a large tent from the Ringling Brothers, which he used for his itinerant preaching.
Jessup struck a deal in 1942 with a tiny radio station in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, just across the border from Del Rio, Texas. The signal was five times more powerful than the FCC allowed in the United States, so Jessup’s program could be heard from Canada to Latin America. Billing himself as “the most preachable preacher that ever preached preachable preaching,” Jessup parlayed the broadcast into a powerful engine for fund-raising, expanding his network to other stations in the United States and Mexico.
Although he claimed to take only $75 a week in salary from his Fellowship Revival Association, Jessup lived the high life, with an expensive house, several Cadillacs, and a seaplane. He also indulged his hobby of cockfighting and he married at least four times. The Internal Revenue Service investigated him several times, but he was finally caught by the United States Postal Inspection Service, which led to his indictment on 11 counts of mail fraud in 1964. Jessup pleaded no contest to two charges and was sentenced to a year in prison on December 18, 1968. He served the sentence, but he never preached again.
In my hoped-for epic Paul Thomas Anderson movie based on Jessup’s life, I think the Jimmy Donley part should go to Joaquin Phoenix with, maybe, Josh Brolin as Jessup.