Through the Lens: Jingle Bell Rocks!

Dec 16, 2014

Tuesday, it’s a special holiday edition of our Through the Lens series about documentary film. Humbugs may sneer, but filmmaker Mitchell Kezin is obsessed with Christmas music, and he isn’t alone. In his new film JINGLE BELL ROCKS! Kezin hits the road to document the vibrant subculture of holiday music fanatics and the yuletide tunes they love. He’ll join us to talk about his pop-culture pilgrimage and introduce us to the motley crew of merry misfits that’s reinventing the seasonal soundtrack.

On Tuesday, December 23, RadioWest and the Utah Film Center are screening Jingle Bell Rocks! at the downtown City Library in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. It's part of our Through the Lens film series. Doug Fabrizio will host a Q&A with filmmaker Mitchell Kezin and holiday record collector Blair Sterrett following the screening. Afterwards, the Utah Film Center invites guests to join them at Beer Bar (161 E 200 S) for a night of DJs spinning alternative Christmas tunes like those featured in the film. The event is free and open to the public. DETAILS.

Mitchell Kezin directed and produced the film JINGLE BELL ROCKS!

Mitchell Kezin's list of top Christmas songs

1. Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern) by Miles Davis & Bob Dorough

As sincere as it is caustic, this heartfelt ode to holiday hypocrisy by bebop legend and “Schoolhouse Rocks” mastermind, Bob Dorough, who wrote the tune, and is the vocalist behind this 1962 Christmas gem. If I had to pick ONE Xmas song, this would be it. When I first heard this in 1985 (picked it up at a Salvation Army thrift store, It was the original Jingle Bell Jazz LP from Columbia 1962 (bot the re-issue) I was astonished by the fact that Dorough had written a critique of Christmas WITHIN the confines of a Christmas song. That was a revelation to me and it began my Christmas music obsession. I figured, if this exists, there must be more like it out there!

2. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot by Nat King Cole (Also LOVE the cover version by A Girl Called Eddie) Nat's version is from the LP: “The Magic Of Christmas With Children”

One of the least known of Nat's Xmas oeuvre is given a hypnotic & husky homage to those left behind by the big man each year.  This was the FIRST song I recall feeling an emotional, visceral connection to as a piece of art. See DIRECTORS's Notes.

3. Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) and Shepherds & Wisemen by The Free Design

This late 60s New York based baroque pop group, all members of the Dedrick Family, recorded just ONE Side of a Nuclear US Navy recruitment LP [c. 1970]...

Chris Dedrick's music is so deep. And this tune is actually a kind of light-hearted yet still sincere song which asks us to simply tune out all the external nonsense that surrounds us during the holidays and/or commands our attention, and LISTEN closely to those who are there experiencing the holiday season most closely with us. i.e. Husbands, wives, sons & daughters, brothers & sisters, on and on...down the family tree.

4.  I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You by Margo Guryan

Written and recorded as a demo for French chanteuse Claudine Longet, Margo's version surpasses in spades with its swingin' 60s vibe, double-time signature, blues feel, and lover's plea to NOT spend another Christmas alone. We met Margo last week here in Los Angeles. Just the sweetest, most charming, and modest person you'll meet. She left the music business after recording just ONE record, TAKE A PICTURE, and we're the unfortunate ones who won't hear any more from her.

5. There's a Star Above the Manger Tonight by Red Red Meat

A raw & haunting hybrid of hillbilly meets trip-hop meets punk rock...It’s a secular tune but its so sublime it reaches the level of a majestic carol...The FLIP is a beauty as well. A cover of “Welcome Christmas.” I'm a fan of any band who can put such a remarkably original TWIST on a song from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas soundtrack. Next to Thurl Ravenscott, it’s the best version I've ever heard.

6. Down On Christmas by Stompin' Tom Connors

With his trademark twang, our national treasure sings on of the wittiest festive ditties ever written!

7. Gift X-Change by Calexico

A beautiful, plaintive plea to a friend who's lost and alone on Christmas Day.

8. Santa Claus Is A Black Man by AKIM & The Teddy Vann Production Co.

Finally, someone dares acknowledge the truth!  The God father of Soul knew this along time ago, but it never came right out and said it. It took the much under-appreciated Teddy Vann to pronounce what we all knew to be true since Virginia asked her BIG question: Is there really a Santa Claus?

9. Santa Claus Goes Modern by Yo La Tengo & Rodd Rogers aka Rodd Keith (Song Poem Pioneer)

I absolutely had to include a Christmas Song Poem. For those who don't know what a song poem is (and trust me, I didn't know about them until approx 10 years ago) they should check out the great little indie doc: “Off The Charts: The American Song Poem Story” and if you want to search the web, go to Phil Milstein is one of the foremost experts on Song Poems and manages the content of this site.

One of the weirdest, but best examples of the little know genre known as the Song Poem. See Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?

10A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So) by The Flaming Lips

The Oklahoman lead singer Wayne Coyne questions the fleeting nature of the promise which the Christmas season embraces, and in doing so, he's created one of the most romantic Christmas songs ever recorded.

11. Xmas Blues by Big Tyme

Collector Bill Adler (featured in my film) introduced me to this incredibly funny, but oh so heartbreaking track. A spoken word RAP in the form of a plea to his estranged girlfriend, our poor un-employed protoagonist tries EVERYTHING to cinvince his Sweetheart ot be with him again on Christmas Eve, but she's NOT home and her Mother will have none of it! Hysterical & heartwrenching at once!

12. Hurry Home For Christmas  by Robert Goulet

My FINAL song...a guilty pleasure. “Since you've been away Dear / No reindeer have come here...” Enough said! Definitely so bad it’s good!!!