BY JASON GROSS
Canadian Mitchell Kezin isn’t your ordinary music nut who collects Christmas music—he’s so devoted to it that he now collects other Christmas music collectors themselves, crafting this documentary not only to chart his own mania but that of the other people who share the same obsession.
As such, Jingle Bell Rocks! (Oscilloscope), released to coincide with Record Store Day’s Black Friday event and in time for this year’s holiday season, is a labor of love that tracks Kezin’s sad childhood, which led to an early attraction to holiday tunes, as well as a journey across America to find kindred spirits of all kinds. With a mostly absent dad, he turned to Nat King Cole’s tear-jerker “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forget” as a refuge and became a Christmas music fan right away. From there, the film chronicles his recent journeys meeting up with fellow fanatics.
Foremost among them is writer and former Def Jam publicist Bill Adler, who’s collected and compiled Christmas CD’s for his friends for years. Adler takes him to Joseph Simmons of Run-DMC to talk about the most famous holiday rap song “Christmas In Hollis,” which he wrote while smoking weed over his breakfast eggs, and to Brooklyn haunt Charlie’s Calypso City to meet owner Rawlston Charles, who’s recorded and sold plenty of Caribbean holiday music. We also meet Sandra Dedrick of Greenwich Village folk group Free Design who did the underground holiday classic “Close Your Mouth It’s Christmas”; and radio legend Dr. Demento, who talks about Xmas novelties. Kezin takes us on trips to: Chicago for writers Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ Sound Opinions radio show focused on holiday music; Baton Rouge where he meet R&B singer Clarence Carter to talk about his “Back Door Santa” (which formed the music of the Run-DMC song later); Baltimore, talking with director John Waters about his R&B-fueled holiday music obsessions; Oklahoma to meet Flaming Lips honcho Wayne Coyne, whose own childhood holiday obsessions led him to make the Lips’ cult movie Christmas On Mars and the Poconos to meet singer and Schoolhouse Rock songwriter Bob Dorough who talks about a cynical Christmas music session he had with the grumpy Miles Davis.
There’s also onstage and backstage footage of former L.A. punk El Vez, the “Mexican Elvis,” who does annual holiday-themed shows.
As we travel through the collectors’ collections, we also see that what whets their appetite (and that of Kezin) isn’t the standard classics but the fringe, weird stuff like “Santa Came On A Nuclear Missile” and “Christmas In My Pants.” As former A&R guy and present radio holiday music host Andy Cizan observes, because of this strange nature of holiday songs, singles/45s is where the action is at since labels wouldn’t let these bizarre artists make a full length record. Bob George, co-founder of the massive ARChive of Contemporary Music, also observes that many Christmas greats were written by Jewish composers, maybe because they had nothing else to do during that holiday.
Towards the end of the movie, Kezin’s outlook becomes less cynical about the holiday’s over-commercialization as he seems to believe in its transforming power. In addition, Kezin also finds comfort in the fact that there ARE other Christmas music collectors out there, making him feel a little less weird.
Sure, a movie like this is meant for other holiday music obsessives but if you find yourself singing along to any of the old Christmas songs during December, you’ll probably delve in deeper here. As for us other Christmas music fanatics, this is indeed a holiday present.