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Offbeat Christmas 

The Jingle Dogs' 'Christmas Unleashed." The Christmas Chickens' 'Frosty the Chicken." Dr. Demento's Holiday in Dementia album. WWOZ DJ Missy Bowen's Christmas playlist didn't start out like this. If anything, her early yuletide soundtrack was of the highly elevated sort. 'I was raised in a classical music household, and my brothers both played jazz," says Bowen, whose living room coffeetable is piled with red-and-green CDs she's sifting through in preparation for her eighth annual Bad Christmas Song Special, a holiday event that's become dear to the hearts of WWOZ's more twisted listeners. 'My stepfather was a conductor, and my mother sang in the Bach Society's chorus." Before they opened presents, she said, they'd put on recordings of classic choral arrangements of traditional carols. So how did she get from there to " looking at the CD on top of her stack " 'Santa's Going To Kick Your Ass"?

The tradition started when Bowen began coming in early for her 10 p.m. to midnight slot on the Friday night before Christmas to spin holiday-themed music at the end of the preceding show, the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot hosted by the DJ known as the Doctor.

'We spent an hour playing the tackiest Christmas music we could find, and the phones were ringing off the hook," she says. The show grew to fill the entire three-hour time slot, with Missy's friends joining her on the air for commentary and in-studio revelry. Over the years, she's amassed " through gifting, Googling and luck " quite a collection of alternative Christmas songs.

'I try not to spend a lot of money," she says. 'Like, I'll be at a truck stop in Illinois in the summer, and will leaf through the $4.99 CD specials, and there'll be something really horrific and I'll buy it."

The wealth of Christmas parody music available is, she suspects, due to frustration with the tiny canon of 'real" Christmas music out there.

'I think people must write it out of desperation," she says. 'Because how many times can we hear the same stuff? I hear "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' in the drugstore for the 10 millionth time and I want to crawl through the speakers and kill someone."

When it comes to unusual Christmas songs, there are multiple schools. There's the bizarre renditions of classics " as with the Jingle Dogs (songs by barking dogs) or an album titled Toolbox Christmas ('Good King Wenceslas" is played on a bandsaw, she says).

'Certain themes emerge," Bowen adds. 'There's the Elvis theme. Or Christmas in a place: Christmas in heaven, Christmas in Vietnam, Christmas in jail." Those last two exist on a compilation. 'It's a perennial best-seller," she says — Bummed Out Christmas, which features over a dozen tear-in-the-eggnog tracks. 'Then there's the f**ked up, inebriated theme: "I'll Be Stoned For Christmas,' or "Santa Got a D.W.I.'" Bowen often divides the show into themed segments, some of which are startling when you realize enough songs of the type exist to create a whole set. There are saucy songs that play on the idea of a man sneaking into a house late at night ('Back Door Santa") or paranoid ones (like Arlo Guthrie's 'The Pause of Mr. Claus," with the line, 'Santa Claus wears a red suit / He's a communist.") Last year's show featured an on-air plea for listeners to suggest Christmas songs about nutria, to add Louisiana favor to her Christmas rodent set.

Then there are Christmas albums from artists you wouldn't expect them from, or genuinely inventive new holiday tunes along the lines of 'Santa Baby": Phil Spector and James Brown's holiday albums, Louis Armstrong's ''Zat You, Santa Claus?" or one of her favorites, Kay Starr's swing number 'Everybody's Waitin' For The Man With The Bag."

'38 Special has a Christmas album," Bowen swears. Out of such a surfeit of bizarre Christmas music, is it possible for her to have a favorite?

'I think, Bob Rivers' "Chipmunks Roasting On An Open Fire,'" she says, after some deliberation. (The song refers to Alvin, et al.) 'Because since 1962, that's what you really want to do " just skewer the little rodents."

click to enlarge Missy Bowen plans her annual Christmas roast. - ALISON FENSTERSTOCK


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