David M. prepares for the Good King Wenceslas Show. All photos by Allan MacInnis, taken at the Princeton on Dec. 16, 2019
Note: portions of this email are borrowed from an email I wrote to Pete Campbell of Coach StrobCam, who are playing a set at the Fairview on Friday (as part of a Reggae Christmas, apparently; please don't ask me to explain that). I didn't want to write out my impressions of David M's Christmas show twice!
I was telling Pete that I did end up going to the Christmas Alone in NO FUN City, which has now been re-re-branded, I guess, as NO FUN at Christmas, this past Monday at the Princeton. I somewhat wrongfully cajoled my wife into joining me: she has Christmas baking, Christmas wrapping, and other things Christmas on her mind, but not so much a David M. Christmas show. She's also been having the odd migraine (and indeed had one during the show, though not a disabling one; I kept checking in and letting her know that we could leave, or she could leave, but she stuck it out, even past our agreed-upon "we are leaving at 10:45" time, because, I was, at that point, onstage myself, and then there was only one or two more songs left). It just made sense for her to be there: we'd eaten dinner out (so we were out anyhow); I was definitely going; and since M. has several other Christmas shows happening this season, I could use the old "come-to-this-one-to-get-off-the-hook-for -going-to-another" ploy on her; and, I mean, it's not like she doesn't ENJOY David M's stuff (he WAS our best man, and all). Anyhow, I talked her into it, and I felt a bit guilty about that, especially as I could see that her head was hurting (one side of her face tends to droop a bit during an attack). On the other hand, I also felt sheepish about having missed so many of David's shows this year; he's put on a good dozen, but I have only made one for sure that I remember (the Princeton chapter of the We Came Here for Lester Interest shows, after the untimely and sudden passing of Lester - aka Glen Livingstone - earlier this year. There might have been another, but I can't firmly recall).
It was maybe not the best circumstances, anyhow, for seeing a David M. show, and indeed, he didn't seem to be in the best mood himself when he began, at the pushed-back start-time of 9pm, That maybe has something to do with the fact that only David Dedrick, Erika and myself had come for the clear, express purpose of seeing David M. Besides us, there was a loud table of possibly Trinidadian South Asians (mostly) who kept up a loud, drunken conversation right near the front of the stage; an unhappy-seeming couple staring blankly out the window from a rear corner, like they were waiting for (or recovering from) bad news, and paying David no mind at all; a couple of drunks (one of whom actually smiled in response to David at one point, but otherwise seemed lost in his beer and sorrows); and some people playing pool. I felt very bad for Erika, but worse for David (who had put out all his Christmas decorations and, despite ample if odd talent and a long resume of performances, was preparing to play a set for pretty much two people, since Mr. Dedrick is actually part of the show) and uncomfortable about the loud Trinidadian/ South Asian table, considering asking them to keep it down, but being stopped by the fact that there were more of them in their group than any other group in the bar. I mean - the party that buys the most beers should get to determine the tone of the room, I guess, right? I was nursing one beer, and Erika was having mere tea: surely the T/SA folks, a bit tipsy and still drinking, had to have more rights than us.
Dave Dedrick at work, by Allan MacInnis
David began gamely enough, mind you. It surely took an effort on his part, as well, to overlook and ignore the rather loud table immediately in front of him (they seemed much more suited to ignoring him, though occasionally seemed to take notice, chuckle, or pause in their conversation to take a photo). It was NOT the best version of "Elf Toymaker" David has done, all things considered. I thought he looked a bit weary, like maybe the thought, "why am I still doing this?" could have been flickering through his mind. I mean, seriously, how could it not?
Knowing David a bit, though, I am sure he felt excited about the prospect of performing The Good King Wenceslas show again - the literal centerpiece of the night. I have not, at M's request, put up footage I shot of a previous Good King Wenceslas Show, last year at the Heritage Grill, in which David performed a ridiculous number of variants on the theme of "Good King Wenceslas," some directly riffing on the carol, others bending other songs to suit lyrics about said King, but I was very glad that Erika would get to see the set. And it seemed to have a certain transformative force, for M., as, about halfway through the 38 Wenceslas variations we were treated to, things turned around. David delivered a singularly shouty version of the "limp-dick, ass-munch, cunt-lappers" Wenceslas, where the lyrics describe Wenceslas' propensity for swearing "like a trucker." (I may get these slightly wrong, but the opening lyric is something like, "Good King Wenceslas looked out: "What's up, motherfucker? Though he was of royal birth/ He swore just like a trucker." I think it channeled and released some of M's (hypothesized) frustration, being able to cuss out the room a bit, around which time four or five other people arrived who had Actually Come to See David, including scenester Tanya Van, her boyfriend-I-guess (whose shoe David at one point stole and used as a prop) and a few people whom I didn't know, who laughed loudly at some of David's more ridiculous variants on the Wenceslas show, like his Richard Butler Wenceslas, or his "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" Wenceslas, or his "Batman" Wenceslas, or the "If I Was a Bat"-themed Wenceslas...
He has, you understand, a CD of some of this stuff (The Five Wenceslases), which contains many other, non-Wenceslas-related songs as well (including "Elf Toymaker," which reframes Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" into a song about workshop elves grumbling about unionizing). But he figured "why stop at five," and there may be even more the next time it is performed. You might be able to buy this CD off him, in fact, if you find him on Facebook and ask nicely. (There is no other way to get it, as far as I know). It's actually pretty great, and I listen to it more often than I do any other NO FUN recordings, to be honest.
Anyhow, after David turned one Wenceslas into a cathartic, profanity-strewn rampage, something odd happened as a result: maybe it was because more people came to the show, maybe it was because the beer hit me (I'm a cheap drunk), but suddenly David's performance "achieved madness," as they say, and took on a crazily inspired edge. With renewed vigour, it began to tie the whole room together, so that even the grumpiest, most self-absorbed drunks in the room became part of this weird gestalt, spinning around David as a hub, whether they wanted him as their hub or not. He somehow ended up in charge of the room. At one point, during an unexpected lull, someone was heard to remark, in a conversation that had nothing to do with David whatsoever, that "he told me he doesn't even jerk off anymore," and it became part of the show, somehow. The loudest and most obnoxious drunk Trinidadian started to take note of some of the Wenceslases, and David ended up sitting on his lap for awhile. Suddenly M. was king of the Princeton.
I wonder if anyone ducked in specifically because they heard someone's shouted profanities, to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas," echoing out onto the street? It seems at least possible, and pleasing to contemplate. It is always interesting to speculate, when I see people at David M's shows whom I don't recognize, how they came to be there.
David Dedrick, of course, was on hand to flip cards and keep track of the Wenceslases, holding up a board with fast, thematically-appropriate doodles and a number, from one to 38. He was the only member of the "NO FUN gang" that actually was there besides M. himself. Lester had the best excuse. Pete Campbell was engaged in Christmas stuff, or work stuff, or such. Even usual audience members for his shows were absent, besides me (only an occasional audience member, really). Though I am not a part of the show proper, and never have been, M. did briefly recruit me, after Mr. Dedrick was seen to fumble the hand gestures for a Christmas-themed "Work, Drink, Fuck, Die," M. called me to the stage to take over. They're harder to get right than they look!
A photo from the stage, by Allan MacInnis
After the Wenceslases, the show continued for another hour, fully energized, at times hilarious, with several people laughing aloud and a few of us singing along, some more drunkenly than others. There was David's Xmas variant on "Slave to My Dick," called "Slave to My Gifts," sung from the perspective of a Santa Claus with contempt for his, uh, customers ("What are you, six?" is one rhyme). There was a cover "What Can You Get a Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)." While "XTUVVV" was conspicuously absent, there was a delightfully morbid and debauched "Christmas is a Sad and Lonely Time." There was a Paul Leahy composition called "Robert Johnson Box Set," and a Fezziwig singalong, and... a lot more. As is the way with the Princeton and Heritage Grill shows, the entire night was free to attend, save (for us) the cost of one beer and one tea: M. asks no cover, doesn't rattle a box, and in fact pays money to print out souvenir gig posters for the show, which he hands out to anyone who has come to see him. I gave him a couple of blu-rays as a Christmas gift - The Happytime Murders and Crawl - but it's not like that was required of me. It certainly isn't required of you.
No one else does anything remotely like this, ever. And the thing is: it's really, really entertaining! Weird, singular, excessive, and funny as hell - a Vancouver Christmas tradition that extends back over three decades.
Y'all should go see one, especially considering that, for the rest of these pre-Christmas shows, neither Pete nor Dave nor myself will likely be able to be there. No one will be on hand to hold the Gorgo, flip the cards, serve as a foil, or, say, rock out on guitar to "Claus Will Tear Us Apart," as Pete sometimes does at these shows. It truly will be Christmas Alone in No Fun City, and in fact is a challenge that I don't think M. has had to face in recent memory. It's almost like a Christmas story about celebrity as written by Samuel Beckett.
It even seems possible that M. will be forced to leave off the Good King Wenceslas show, since some of the Wenceslases seem to require a foil, but then again, he may find a way. He usually does.
Of course, if you feel weird about not paying to see such a worthy package of entertainment, or would rather see this show on a Thursday night than a Monday, this year, at Bix Bistro, there IS a version of this show you can pay to see! (If you're curious about this show but don't want to run into me, you can still safely see the show at the Princeton on Monday the 23rd: I guarantee my non-attendance). More information about the Bix Bistro here.
By the way, if you find yourself puzzled by any of the above, I've interviewed David about his Christmas set here, and put some video evidence up on Youtube, if you want to go looking. It does take awhile to catch up - say, if you're wondering what a Gorgo is, or what "XTUVVV" means. It is not all in good taste, and it is not family-friendly, for sure - unless you want to explain to your kids what a cunt-lapper is - but it sure is good fun. Highly recommended.