In November of last year, my friends and I in Miller-Kelton were asked by Mingo Town Music to contribute a song for their annual holiday EP. Wrangling all six members of MK into doing anything these days is an impossibility, but four of us (which we view as a quorum) accepted. This was both in accord with the Second Commandment of Amateur Musicianship, “thou shalt not turn down free studio time,” and a perverse desire to abuse an Amy Grant standard. Post-acceptance, we realized that a standard would be tedious, and decided to instead do this weird stream of consciousness rant about labor strife at the North Pole. Some of us got together and worked up a chorus, with the idea that it would allow what was really just a puddle of overly-caffeinated gibberish to pass itself off as a song. The day before we were scheduled to record, Brian was kind enough to point out that no one had bothered to put together an arrangement. No worries, I said, let’s just meet up at my house an hour before the session and put something together. Brian was also kind enough to bring along a case of PBR to this meeting, resulting in nothing actually being arranged. We did, however, put together a milk crate full of maracas, jingle bells and other assorted bullshit. A good start! The base tracks, I think, were credible, but the beer kept flowing. The vocals degenerated – harmonies were of the 2:30 AM “Piano Man” singalong variety, and the spoken portions were beset by periodic instances of mangled syntax and poor noun-verb agreement. After we started in on the sound effects and background yelling, it became a total shit-show, crowned by an unnecessary and terrible kazoo version of “Greensleeves.” Mingo Town named the mess “Santa Claus Incorporated” (we were too ashamed to name it ourselves), and made it the last track on the EP. In late December I downloaded the EP off the Mingo Town Website, with the idea of reviewing the other three songs. Lazy, yes, and an obvious conflict of interest. As far as I know, I don’t make any money off of sales. And I paid for my copy. Don’t judge. Al Smyth’s Free Beer and Chicken Coalition leads off the EP with “Sandy Claus,” a tale reimagining Santa Claus as a female. I had originally expected something from my mother’s trashy gender-swap novels, along the lines of “What if Sir Lancelot and Beowulf were Really Woman and lived in Topeka?” It turned out to be a positively filthy rockabilly send up – the lyric “she puts the X in X-mas” might be a good starting point for explanation, but that’s probably the tamest line in the song. The Heartbreak Orchestra is up next with “E.L.F.C.I.O. Toy Makers Union,” which also explored the same labor strife territory we attempted to. The similarities end there – Heartbreak’s song is perhaps unconsciously wistful – this union seems entirely aspirational - with a nice lead vocal. Also people talking in elf voices, if you’re into that sort of thing (and I am). Lydia Brownfield plays it straight with an arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” A haunting pedal-guitar riff (same riff plays through the whole chord progression -- think Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”) underlies a duet between Lydia and an unknown male. It’s very pretty, and my aforementioned mother loves it (high praise from a Christmas music connoisseur). That said, I’ve never been able to get past the last verse of that song: “[s]aid the King to the people everywhere, listen to what I say.” The last thing I need is for some fuckwit monarch in his “palace warm” soliciting religious charity to help children he won’t help himself. Seriously, who is this clown – I’m not interested in your fairy tales and grand metaphysical concepts, I want a job at a living wage with health insurance and a retirement package. Unless you dial up something constructive, I’m not going to listen to a goddamn thing you say. After several listens to the EP as a whole, I realized that it contains a hidden theme about the current state of labor unions. At the North Pole, elves stuck in dead-end jobs are rendered numb by television and pornography (“Sandy Claus”). Whispers of unionization, however, circulate. (“E.L.F.C.I.O. Toy Makers Union”). Enough cards are signed, but the union is voted down when Santa appeals to religion and patriotism (“Do You Hear What I Hear?”) In a fit of hubris, however, Santa overplays his hand by reclassifying the elves as independent contractors with no benefits. In desperation, the elves finally come together and strike, achieving the same lousy jobs they had in the first place with slightly shittier dental plans. (“Santa Claus Incorporated”). Nothing was revealed. Happy New Year!

Appears in Issue: