Tuesday, December 22, 2015

David M Puts the M back in Christmas: NO FUN singer-songwriter marks 40 years of Christmas irreverence

Casual listeners might get the impression that David M. hates Christmas. Many of the songs in his annual Christmas show take the piss out of the holiday, such as the Hitler-heiling "Let's Put the '-ist' Back into Christmas" or his recent composition, "Christmas is for Children," which, he explains, is sung from the point of view of a Rat Pack wannabee "bragging about how many illegitimate children he has, but in a ring-a-ding way."

Even his Christmas covers, like his mewled take on the Jingle Cats' "Silent Night" or his straight-up rendition of the Star Wars-themed Christmas song, "What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb"), from 1980's Christmas in the Stars, are brimming over with ridiculousness, seeming more to poke fun at the holiday than pay loving homage to it. He's also known to whip out live versions of the Residents' creepy "Santa Dog" or Fear's straightforward  "Fuck Christmas," neither of which are exactly brimming with holiday cheer.
Then there are the posters for his show - which is titled NO FUN at Christmas when guitarist Paul Leahy is with him, and Christmas Alone in NO FUN City when he performs with other guests. He updates said posters every year on Facebook, but key motifs are repeated. For example, there's the one of a child sitting on Santa's lap, saying, "Thank you for teaching me to hate."

Or there's the Victorian illustration that shows Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol doing a merry jig under the banner, "Christmas is Killing You," with various descriptors around the illustration showing precisely how and why. 

Probably the darkest poster of all is one from 2013, when David held a private concert, for reasons I'm still not clear on, to an audience of none. "You'll See David M. in Auschwitz Before You See Him in David M.'s Christmas Alone in No Fun City 2013." Cue images of David M. in Auschwitz:
The truth is, however, David M. loves Christmas, in fact is kind of "obsessed" with the holiday. "I listen to Christmas music all year round, for my own purposes," he says, when Alienated in Vancouver visits him at his co-op, girlfriend in tow. "People who know me know I'm Mr. Christmas." After all, you don't do a two and a half-hour show every year for decades about a holiday you disdain.

The physical signifiers back him up. His condo - Mr. M (short for Matychuk) lives off the Drive in the very space where DOA's former manager Ken Lester once lived - has ample Christmas decorations, from Santa ornaments to a giant stuffed tin soldier to items much odder, like a dancing poinsettia toy complete with tiny electric guitar. He puts on a Chris Isaak Christmas DVD he recently picked up, then follows it with some favourites from the Robot Chicken Christmas special. Finally, he happily tours myself and Erika through his collection of Christmas movies. They range from the obvious (A Christmas Story, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, even a special-edition Blu Ray of the Jim Carrey Grinch) to the tastefully classic, like the Alistair Sim A Christmas Carol, or Remember The Night, which re-teams Double Indemnity's Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray for a tale of Christmas crime and redemption.

He's even got the Christmas special for Girls on Trampolines, which he proudly holds up; the cover shows a girl bouncing in a festive brassiere. As he proffers it, his little dog Ozzy embraces and takes a few humps at first his calf, then my girls', then mine.

And David knows his stuff: when I mention that I'd recently heard of an obscure Finnish horror comedy where a group of archaeologists discover that the original Santa was a demon who punished bad children - what the hell was the name of that, again? - he pops the Blu-Ray off the shelf and displays it with a flourish: it's called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, and, M. assures us, "it's good."

On top of all that, there's The Fezziwig Files, his new limited-edition CD box set, which boasts NO FUN Christmas recordings from 1975 to earlier this December, documenting 40 years of irreverent Christmas enthusiasm.

"A lot of people aren't interested in Christmas music in general," he acknowledges - and those who are may not be fond of M's at times sardonic take on the holiday - "but I think it's a better history of NO FUN than the other box set was, because it goes back forty years. It's got me and Jim Hamelin, who started the group." That album is called NO FUN at Christmas: the 40th Anniversary Edition, "and it's so much like everything that followed. Like, things are usually their most interesting at the start? If they're ever going to be interesting, they'll be interesting at the start..."

Where the packaging for his briefly-released NO FUN box set was minimal at best - plastic baggies, plain CD envelopes, and exactly one sheet of art, with print-them-yourself individual covers on his Wordpress page if you want more - he's gone a bit overboard with the packaging on the Christmas box. It comes in a seasonal green, red, and white tin, for one thing, with a printed cover showing a host of different Fezziwigs. There are some randomly inserted posters from past Christmas shows (either by design or accident, I scored a copy of the Auschwitz one: yes, folks, he actually printed a poster for a show that no one was admitted to). Then there are the eight CDs, each with hand-lettered titles, computer-printed track listings, and a full-colour insert. His biggest expense was for ink, he tells us, unless you count the hours he spent hand-assembling the packages, which recalls his days making Snivel box sets, back in the 1980's.

"It brings it all roaring back to me," David M reminisces. "There's pictures of me working on Snivel in the 1984 holiday season, and there's piles of them, all those cassettes. I was making the cassettes in real time, and, y'know, cutting and folding and going and doing photocopying and assembling and pasting. And Snivel ultimately, I think we sold about 350 sets, something like that. Like, it sold good, so I had to keep making them."

By contrast, he expects - such is the relative obscurity of "the Beatles of Surrey" with the current generation of music fans - that he will be assembling fewer than twenty editions of The Fezziwig Files, which he plans to sell for $80 each. He made sixteen copies of the previous NO FUN box set, earlier in 2015, before declaring a moratorium on their production.
He doesn't seem that concerned that NO FUN is at a relative low ebb in demand. When you get him talking about it, mostly Matychuk seems bemused by Vancouver punk rock nostalgia, which has more or less bypassed his band. "You've got these ancient teenagers onstage and in the audience, this undead youth culture that refuses to lie down. Like, they have these gigs" - he has elsewhere likened them to high school reunions - "at the WISE Hall frequently enough, and I'll be walking Ozzy by there, and we'll see people out front smoking. Everybody gets dressed up and 'we're punk rockers' and stuff. I don't think anyone's paying to get in, because there's so many people playing that the place is packed with just the bands. And there is something I really like about it, it's kind of great, you know? It's funny. This getting old and not being dead yet, it's just fucking great."
Other discs on the set include, in order, NO FUN at Christmas: the 1988 CBC Session, recorded live in studio. "It's a little bit loose," he says, "like I'm doing some talking and there's some back and forth with David Wisdom and stuff, but mostly it's just us steaming through one song after another, in this order, with a play in the middle, and it has this ending to the show - very resolute - where we get killed." That show was previously released on cassette, as was a later 1994 radio performance, which has been considerably augmented for the box set, where it is called NO FUN at Christmas Again. CD four is called The 25th of December 2004, but it was recorded on the 23rd of December, 2004 at the Railway Club - a fitting date, since exactly "eleven years later," next week, "we'll be doing the show again in exactly the same place, probably for the last time, because, let's face it, come on - it's over." (It's unclear if he's referring to the career of NO FUN, the best-buy date for Vancouver punk, or to the dubious survival of the Railway Club as a music venue; perhaps a bit of each?).

The final four discs in the tin are Christmas on NO FUN Street, highlighting the trio incarnation of the band, with Paul Leahy and chanteuse Pico; NO FUN After NO FUN After Christmas ("a replication of a Christmas show at Chapters on Robson, very specifically"); and Black New Christmas Killer Starman Star. AKA, The Next Christmas Day, which is apparently a collection of uncomfortably intimate solo performances from the last few years.
Finally, there's is a brand new CD, The Five Wenceslases, and 27 Other Contemporary NO FUN Christmas Classics, a solo disc, recorded earlier this month, which is punctuated by several playful re-imaginings of the story of Good King Wenceslas, including some cheerfully vulgar ones. Other songs on it include a Christmas-y reworking of the Subhumans' "Slave to My Dick" ("Slave to My Gifts," with Gerry Hannah receiving a writing credit); and two new versions of "The New Reindeer," which places dead rockstars of note at the front of Santa's sleigh, replacing Rudolph, who has been shot dead by hunters. In the first, Matychuk sings, "pulling Santa's lead is the great Lou Reed," before he commences riffing on "Sister Ray." In the second, "The New Reindeer 2015," he offers a far more local reference; the lyric goes, "Her suicide was painless/ but I'm still gonna mish-er/ helping Santa whiz/ on his sleigh/ Eliz/ -abeth Fischer" ...Which actually ends up being surprisingly touching, given M's general crankiness on the topic of assisted suicide.

Fischer was known to occasionally give Ozzy dog treats in the neighbourhood, so here's betting Ozzy misses her too.
According to Matychuk, it "remains a possiblity" that Paul Leahy will join the show at the Railway Club this year, for the thirtieth anniversary of NO FUN at Christmas live shows. It is unlikely that Pico will be there, though she's been invited. There will, however, be various regular guests of Mr. Matychuk, including Pete Campbell, Dave Dedrick, Ed Hurrell, and Lester Interest (Jim Cummins was briefly on the bill but will not be able to be there, note; he will have his own event on Boxing Day at LanaLou's). Come celebrate "forty goddamn NO FUN Christmas years," as M. puts it in one of his new songs: "That's four decades, ain't that great/ Even if we go for eight/ We won't get the cover of the Georgia Straight/ Forty goddamn NO FUN Christmas years!"

Five copies of the complete Fezziwig Files will be available at the Railway Club on Dec. 23rd.

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