Sunday, December 20, 2020

NO FUN at Christmas: David M on Christmas and the new No Fun bandcamp page

Here's big news! NO FUN (or No Fun, if you prefer) has a bandcamp site now, put up with the help of gentleman & scholar Richard Chapman; it features, at present, three of the band's most esteemed No Fun at Christmas releases, including The Five Wenceslases and 27 other Contemporary NO FUN Christmas Classics - a recent, highly entertaining M. solo album that I spoke with him at some length about a few years ago for BC Musician. The article is no longer online, it seems, so I'm putting it up here, but in an expanded version!

If you do not know your Five Wenceslases - a number that has increased tenfold since that album came out, by the way - I would amply suggest you start your M. experience by checking out "Elf Toymaker," a rather spirited reworking of "Moonage Daydream."

Also, in the spirit of my Sonny Dean/ Elf event tomorrow, I'm tryin' to pin M. down to doing a Zoom chat with fans on Tuesday, after we all watch the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. The idea is that you install a free Zoom app (at, write me a PM on Facebook (or comment here - I won't publish it - with your email address) and I will give you a link to a Zoom chat with M.). We all have to find our own way to see A Christmas Carol, but it shouldn't be hard. The Zoom call begins at 9pm. Meet M.! Test his Dickens scholarship! Ask him questions inspired by the following interview! 

The following article appeared in shortened form in BC Musician magazine in 2016. RIP, BC Musician! Photos by Allan MacInnis, mostly from a 2019 Christmas show at the Princeton Pub. 

A David M. Christmas, Part One: Of Poop, Prostitutes, and Dead Celebrities

By Allan MacInnis

My life is a stern rebuke to all those movies and TV shows in which a deserving mortal is chosen as the new Santa. If there were any truth to them, I'd have disappeared years ago. - David M.

The conversation begins with an enema. Or at least a story about one.

When we set up an appointment for me to drop by and interview him about his Christmas collection - David M. - prolific songwriter and frontman of “the Beatles of Surrey,” NO FUN - doesn’t let me know he plans to cook a turkey for us. By the time I find out, I’ve already made dinner plans, so when I arrive at his home off Commercial Drive - with no intention of saying no to turkey - I’ve already got a full meal in me.

This puts David M. in mind of a time when, visiting two different clusters of relatives at Christmas, he himself had two huge turkey dinners, and succeeded in blocking up his plumbing, requiring a trip to the hospital to get an enema. He tells me this while serving, then periodically checks in with me as we eat to see if I need an enema - or if, on the other hand, I’m ready for seconds.

You begin to get a sense of David M’s humour. M. - it stands for Matychuk - tends to the sardonic, with occasional plunges into the flat-out adolescent. His yearly Christmas concerts, which have been happening in some form or another for over thirty years, most frequently at the much-missed Railway Club, not only boast songs with ample fecal references (“A Calico Gingerbread Christmas” juxtaposes poinsettias and choirs with “piles of steaming poo”), but also dine-and-dash transactions with prostitutes (“Christmas is a Sad and Lonely Time”) and - in the case of “The New Reindeer” - celebrity deaths. He regularly updates that song to place some recently deceased notable into an afterlife leading Santa’s sleigh, after Rudolph gets bagged by hunters. Over the years, Marlon Brando, Lou Reed, and locals Dal Richards and Elizabeth Fischer have all featured as Rudolph’s replacement.

Matychuk remains undecided whether to recruit David Bowie or Prince for the 2016 show. “Am I racist if I pick David Bowie instead of Prince? Because when Prince died, there was definitely a thing where people were sadder about David Bowie. Prince is great. I yield to no one in my appreciation of Prince. But David Bowie was something else.”  

One of Matychuk’s most delightful recent compositions, recorded shortly before Bowie died, is “Elf Toymaker,” to the tune of “Moonage Daydream.” In it, elves dissatisfied with working conditions at the North Pole gripe about Santa’s constant demands. “Make electric trains for me, babe/ Put toy rayguns on my sled…” They contemplate unionizing, fantasize about sled malfunctions, and generally bitch and whine, all out of the earshot of company stooge Comet. How does a song like that come to exist?

“Well, it’s because I have the vinyl reissue of Ziggy Stardust that comes with a DVD that has stereo and surround sound mixes of all the songs, as bonuses,” David M. replies. “One of the bonus tracks is an instrumental version of ‘Moonage Daydream.’ When I used to do the magazines at Chapters on Robson, a lot of the guitar or keyboard magazines would come with a CD that would have, like, ‘teach yourself this song’ instrumentals. So I would collect them, in case I wanted to do them as a Gorgo ad, for instance.” (If you don’t know about David and his Gorgo ads, it’s too much to explain here). “So I’d had that for a couple of years before I thought of ‘Elf Toymaker.’”  

M. has a keen ear for the absurd, which he shamelessly exploits in his spoofs. “Like, Bowie sings, ‘I’m an alligator,’ and people love it, but it’s ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous thing to sing. You’re an alligator, okay. What did you mean by that exactly? So I was in the park with Ozzy, where I do a lot of thinking about these things, and it literally just popped into my head: ‘I’m an elf toymaker.’ The David Bowie song is not called ‘I’m an alligator,’ but if the version I do was called ‘Union Daydream,’ it wouldn’t sound like a Christmas thing. But ‘Elf Toymaker’ does. And in a thing like that, there’s no rules for it, except that  the words should sound similar or sing the exact same way as in the original. You have to be able to sing it the same way. He sings, ‘I’m a mama-papa comin’ for you’ so I do, ‘I wear tiny pointy curly toe shoes,” and you realize you’re hearing different words, but because they sound like the original words, you go with it.”

As we talk, M.-for-Matychuk plays a Bing Crosby Christmas special on DVD, one of many Christmas-themed movies in his expansive collection. There are at least two hundred Christmas movies on DVD alone, from the Finnish “demonic Santa” horror-comedy Rare Exports to neglected contemporary releases like Love the Coopers and forgotten classics like Remember the Night, which teams Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck from Double Indemnity in a tale of seasonal redemption. He counts Die Hard and The French Connection as Christmas movies as well, but doesn’t have them in the Christmas section, which is devoted to more overtly holiday-themed favourites - such as his multiple copies of the Alistair Sim Christmas Carol, his favourite take on the story (though the George C. Scott one has merit, too, he notes).

“When I was ten in elementary school, our class did a little play of A Christmas Carol, and I got the part of Scrooge, because I could do an English accent, from having seen the Alistair Sim movie a bunch of times.” To this day, he normally closes his Christmas concerts in “Scrooge Drag” - a lengthy striped nightshirt and floppy cap, and leads an often politically-incorrect call-and-response song devoted to Dickens’ Fezziwig.

There’s lots else beside DVDs in his collection, too. There’s a Santa figurine in the center of his dining table, though it isn’t even Hallowe’en yet, and a metre-tall plush tin soldier from the Nutcracker standing in the corner all year.  Matychuk also has Christmas movies on Laserdisc, VHS tape, and his PVR (though his sampling of SelectaVision titles includes no Christmas fare, he notes sadly). There are four rows of CDs of Christmas music, and two shelves of Christmas books, from Dickens facsimiles to historical accounts of the song “White Christmas” - which M. has actually read, explaining the historical importance of that song (“for GI’s fighting in the war, it represented home to them in a way that no one had anticipated’).  

There’s even a Dead Celebrity Christmas cookbook, subtitled Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes and Hollywood Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe.

As the Bing Crosby special plays, he points out between mouthfuls that Bing was dead when the special was released, circa 1977.  Suddenly he calls my attention to a scene in which Bing hears a knock, opens the door, and finds David Bowie waiting outside.

Wait a second: David Bowie in a Bing Crosby Christmas special? I gathered from seeing David M’s Small Salute to David Bowie - which he has performed in public a few times, including a busked set in front of the Rickshaw’s first David Bowie tribute night - that Bowie and Bing had collaborated together, but I have never seen this footage. Bowie and Bing are standing in Bing’s faux-kitchen, and begin a duet, opening with “The Little Drummer Boy.” Bowie’s troublingly expressive lips seem to quiver in disdain as he sings the words, before trading up to a different song, “Peace on Earth.” Bing continues with the pa-rump-a-pum-pums, looking a bit misty.

What the hell am I seeing, exactly?

“Bowie didn’t want to be doing this, didn’t want to do the ‘Little Drummer Boy,’” the other David explains, “but when Bing Crosby’s people want you to be in the show…” He trails off, shrugging. “So he agreed to do it, but he didn’t want to do ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ so Bing’s music director and the music director for the show, and one of the writers for the show, went off to cobble together something. They just threw this together, and it turned out to be one of Bowie’s most popular things. Even people who don’t really like Christmas that much like it.”

I have never heard or seen it before, I confess. Matychuk looks at me askance, shaking his head. He also considers it unforgivable that I haven’t seen A Christmas Story yet: “What’s wrong with you?” he asks. No, no, David M: I ask the questions here. What’s wrong with you? Why are you so goddamn obsessed with Christmas?   

End Part One, Begin Part Two: Photos are now from Richard Chaptman's Heritage Grill, also by Allan MacInnis

When part one of this conversation ended, David M. - leader of the Beatles of Surrey, NO FUN - was posed to explain his fondness for Christmas, which has manifested itself in over 30 years of Vancouver Christmas shows, often at the Railway Club. We were sitting in his living room, feasting on a turkey dinner that David had prepared, surrounded by M’s collection of Christmas paraphernalia: DVDs, Laserdiscs, CDs, what-have-you. David Bowie was singing “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby on DVD. We had just finished discussing Matychuk’s cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” “Elf Toymaker,” and I was poised to make one last push, to try to get M to explain his lifelong, yearlong obsession with the holiday season.

But David M. is a bit of a contrarian, and he wasn’t about to make my understanding him easy.  

“Do I even celebrate Christmas?” he asks, by way of an answer. “This dinner that you’ve just had, the last three Christmases, Ozzy” - David’s cheerful little dog - “and I had that dinner by ourselves, and I had some gifts for him, because his birthday is also December 25th, and I was watching some Christmas shows, as I had been through most of November and December. That’s all it was! Twice in the last couple of years I’ve gone into the common room in the co-op and played Christmas songs, but - what is a Christmas celebration? Is it the whole family around the tree, and everybody opens gifts, you have a big dinner, and everybody enjoying the family thing - because the last couple of years there’s been none of that. And even when my Mom was alive - I’m making the same Christmas dinner, and it’s her, me, and Ozzy, watching the same Christmas shows.  Am I celebrating Christmas? I don’t know. What is Christmas? It’s not just one day of the year, like Dickens figured out.”  

On the 25th of each month, in fact, David M. has something he calls ‘Little Christmas’ - no connection to Ukrainian Christmas - where he will watch some Christmas stuff, play some Christmas music, read some stuff out of my Christmas book collection. Part of it is that all year I’m thinking about stuff: ‘What am I going to do for this year’s Christmas show?’”

I still don’t really understand. Why? Why this deep, rich attraction to the seasons? He is more personally engaged in celebrating Christmas than anyone who does celebrate Christmas!

“Oh yeah, I’m Mr. Christmas,” he admits. “It’s not that my Christmases in the past were so great, or that I remember them fondly or nostalgically. I didn’t like the house full of people. My Christmas gifts were nothing special, usually. It’s not that I have fond memories of everything. But there’s still something that was interesting to me, even as a kid, that was exciting. It was exciting that Christmas was coming, even though it came last year and there’ll be one next year. There’s something about it. Really, it’s nothing but anticipation. What actually happens doesn’t matter.”  

It certainly has nothing to do with religion. Matychuk acknowledges the need to have moral guidelines to keep you from falling too far in life, but they don’t have to be religious ones, necessarily. “I do know about Christianity,” though, he adds. “The little church next door to the house in Surrey, when we moved in, it was a Seventh Day Adventist Church, so when I was about five, my Mom started going there, and she became a Seventh Day Adventist. But they would have had to get their hooks into me sooner - I was too old. They want you younger than that, so you don’t know what’s going on. And then they can have you feel guilty for not being that religion for the rest of your life. I know lots about the Bible - but I also know lots about Shakespeare, and I don’t want to be him.”

And if forced to choose? “If I was going to pick one, I would definitely go with Shakespeare.” 

Matychuk - languishing in relative obscurity since NO FUN’s 1980’s heyday - refers to himself as a “high-functioning failure,” but surely part of his obscurity these days is his insistence of doing things on his own terms. He self-released a box set of his Christmas-themed recordings last year, including a delightful solo project - recorded just feet away from where I’m eating - called The Five Wenceslases, which features five different spoofs of the tune “Good King Wenceslas,” some quite profane. (He has added two more Wenceslases since the box came out). But only about fifteen copies of the set were made, to be sold or given to friends. He is always approachable, and willing to make new sets for people who are interested, or to play for anyone who asks. But he has little intention of convincing anyone else to listen to his music; he won’t abide interference - having lasting enmity for Lanalou’s for their refusal to allow him to walk on the tables and/or bar during his performance; and his idea of self-promotion includes occasionally holding private concerts, announced on Facebook, with no venue address given and the tagline, “you needn’t attend.”   

And why exactly would anyone want to record seven different spoofs of “Good King Wenceslas,” anyhow?

 “It’s a good tune, but it makes no sense,” he observes, as Ozzy leaps up behind him on the couch and lies down behind his master’s head. “It’s one of the catchier tunes that a Christmas song has, so it’s easy to teach to kids,” he says. “If I go somewhere, and no one knows who I am, if I do a version of ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ they’re going to know who I am - because ‘I know that song, and he’s doing it this way, so I guess that’s what that is.’”

It is ripe for satire, however, because, he continues, “it doesn’t make any sense - it’s just a bunch of nonsense syllables, like Lewis Carroll wrote it, so you can do what you want with it.” One version on M’s CD pokes fun at Wenceslas’ name, having him wish his name was Stephen. Another has him swearing “like a trucker,” calling his friends “motherfuckers” and other things too ripe to print. “There’s one that takes into dispute that he was good at all. It’s like Donald Trump - you know his name because he’s famous, not because he’s good!”  

So if I’m understanding, for David M., Christmas is the spoonful of sugar that helps  the medicine go down? A Trojan horse he can smuggle his own eccentric view of the world in on?

“Well, kinda,” he says politely. “Christmas is very big, as a topic. When people say they hate Christmas, I never understand it, I think they must just have never tried to come to terms with it.”

In fact, it’s not that different from the American presidential campaign, he observes.  “Trump is going to get slaughtered in the election, clearly - he’s just this piece of shit person who doesn’t give a shit about anybody but himself - but it isn’t that people don’t know that. One of the things feeding people’s insistence that he’s great and he’s going to win, is that people are reacting to all the people going ‘Hilary Clinton is great,’ or ‘We’d rather have Bernie Sanders, but we’ll vote for Hilary, because Trump’s a monster.’ And there’s a superior moral tone in general on social media, people pontificating about the way things should be, why I am better than you, why you have to accept my point of view as being true… it just generates the opposite, because people resent being hectored that way.”

David gestures with his fork as he concludes. “And that’s what happens with Christmas as well. When people go ‘I hate Christmas,’ if they really did hate Christmas - which I think very few of those people really do - they should probably stop complaining about it, because what they don’t think about is that they’re just participating in Christmas - they’re just contributing to that part of Christmas that’s about how some people hate it.”

It all begins to make a slight degree of sense.

At press time, David M. had no confirmed venue for his 2016 Christmas shows, or for his proposed autumn-themed Fall, In Love, in NO FUN City, involving regular collaborators Dave Dedrick, Pete Campbell, and Lester Interest. There was also no confirmed release date for his upcoming, all-new NO FUN project, Now Is Not the Time. Interested parties are recommended to track him down on Facebook, or to join the NO FUN: The Beatles of Surrey Facebook page.

RIP No Fun/ David M. collaborators Paul Leahy, Ozzy, and Lester Interest. 

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