Remember how John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John released that Christmas album? Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, etc. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right? I mean, these two have a lot of money to devote to their passion vanity projects! And they’re a pair of terrific singers and actors, so there’s no way the songs would be bad or, God forbid, there be a shitty video for one of the songs, right? Well, sweet Baby Jesus is rolling over in his manger. Christmas is cancelled as far as I’m concerned.
Will no one think of Kelly Preston this Christmas?
The holidays are fast approaching, and most stores and even a few radio stations have been playing festive jams since late October or so. If you drive a lot or work in retail, you have probably already heard so much Christmas music that you fall asleep to the phantom sound of sleigh bells. But some people are really, really into Christmas music, and there comes a special time in every musical artist’s career where a holiday compilation album is made because of reasons / money / Christmas cheer? There are a host of new ones that have dropped this year. But, if you must have seasonal music, which is right for your holiday gathering?
Cee-Lo Green – Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment
When more people know you as a judge on a popular reality singing competition than for being half of Goodie Mob, it’s about that time in your career to release a Christmas album. And as far as Christmas albums go, you could do worse than Cee-Lo’s—a catchy original here, a faithful and exuberant cover of Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me” there. There are no real surprises but some nice gems, as well as some not-so-nice ones. A cover of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” with college a cappella group Straight, No Chaser is well-intentioned and probably seemed like a cute idea in planning stages, but ultimately feels out of place.
This is one of the more versatile options, appropriate for both the family-friendly affair and the loud, boozy party involving ugly holiday sweaters you purchased ironically knowing full well someone’s grandma probably lovingly made them and spent hours on them and is a little bit hurt by your mockery. Plus one of the album’s few original Christmas songs—“All I Need Is Love”—has a video involving the Muppets and The Office’s Craig Robinson, and it’s quite enjoyable.
Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold
No one does holiday-music overkill quite like Sufjan Stevens, who has released five more seasonal EPs that will likely be the staple of every sorta-trendy holiday party, independent coffee shop throughout the month of December or religious service led by @HipsterPastor.
The arrangements are lovely, there’s a psyched-out song about a unicorn, a bizarre, synthy take on “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and at last, Chanukah is thrown a bone with a simple, lovely cover of “Rock of Ages.” It’s a lot of music to get through, but more of it seems fit for lulling you further into a food-and-mulled-wine coma than for a more social affair.
Various Artists – Holidays Rule
Sometime around the mid-‘00s, a whole slew of “A Very Indie Christmas”-type holiday albums began popping up all over the place. We blame this phenomenon on The O.C., and the convergence of Seth Cohen’s indie-middlebrow musical tastes and love of “Chrismukkah” spawning a holiday album that’s probably still in your old bedroom somewhere. This tradition continues with Holidays Rule, a compilation featuring Fruit Bats, AgesandAges, Punch Brothers and The Shins, who do a pretty-okay “Wonderful Christmastime,” but its faults are not really their fault, it’s just that “Wonderful Christmastime” is one of the worst Christmas songs ever. Eleanor Friedberger’s “Santa, Bring My Baby Back (To Me)” and Calexico’s “Green Grows the Holly” are among the highlights. And it’s hard to love the unsettling, creepy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” but when Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten assume the roles, we’ll allow it.
It’s an easily digestible and pretty likable set, so it will work in most situations, but seems most fitting for an office party (at a "cool" office), an intimate Secret Santa exchange or a smaller gathering of Your Friends From Home, especially if the host has been playing the O.C. Chrismukkah album for the past eight years and needs a change of sound.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas
This is Christmas at Your Parents’ House in musical form. Basically, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John got together, made an album of accessible, pretty holiday standards and invited all the people your parents like to join them—Tony Bennett, Babs, Kenny G, James Taylor—the latter with a rendition of “Deck the Halls” that leaves something to be desired and contains a bit too much jolly Renaissance-faire flute. New original “I Think You Might Like It” is bouncy and enthusiastic—it sounds like Travolta and Newton-John are genuinely enjoying singing together again, which is always nice. The holidays are about bringing old friends together, after all. If you need a last-minute contribution to the family holiday party, or something relatively inoffensive for an office party (at an "uncool" office) this should suffice.
Richard Marx – Christmas Spirit
You remember Richard Marx, right? The man probably responsible for the song to which you had your first slow-dance, or perhaps even your first awkward, clumsy hook-up. Well, he’s still doing the thing and has made a Christmas album. There’s just something that sort of makes you cringe when people try to croon earnestly through the “pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” part of “The Little Drummer Boy” and make it sound oh so smooth. It just doesn’t work. Own the “pa-rum-pa-pum-pum,” folks.
Only play this at your holiday party under very specific circumstances. Or whoever made the playlist has food poisoning and can’t make it and the Internet is down so you can’t get to the holiday Pandora station. Or you really, really enjoy reliving repressed memories from Christmas in the ‘80s.
It’s October 2nd, which means you have approximately 83 shopping days until Christmas, 83 days to determine what to procure for that impossible-to-shop-for relative you only see once a year. Well, today’s your lucky day, especially if said relative is in his or her fifties and/or still unironically performs "Summer Nights" at karaoke. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, the very same John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John who shimmied in the Shake Shack at the Rydell High Graduation Carnival many, many years ago, are reuniting to record a Christmas album.
"From the moment we decided to do this, magic happened," Travolta is quoted as saying in the album’s press release. "Everyone we contacted agreed to do it."
The album, This Christmas, will sadly not include any yuletide reimaginings of songs from Grease (although Twitter offered suggestions like "Hopelessly Devoted to Yule" and "Reindeer School Dropout"), but will include the two taking on "intimate" versions of holiday classics, including "Silent Night" and the eternally creepy "Baby, It’s Cold Outside," as well as an original track called "I Think You Might Like It." Oh, and the collaborators! Let’s not forget the collaborators! A veritable network TV holiday parade’s worth of Special Guest Stars are on hand for the occasion, including James Taylor contributing to what should be a pretty classy "Deck The Halls," ubiquitous seasonal songsters like Tony Bennett and Kenny G, Barbra Streisand because of course and Cliff Richard, who is thankfully not contributing a rockin’ version of "The Millennium Prayer."
The album drops November 13th, leaving you plenty of time to purchase it last minute on the way to that holiday party you’ve been dreading. But hey, part of the proceeds are going to good causes and, hell, at least it’ll be better than "The Christmas Shoes."
There were a thousand people reporting a thousand stories on Gay Pride 2011. Even the mainstream media hit hard, as the right for gays to marry and have the same legal rights as everyone else in our society has finally become the law of the land. Someday, many years from now, we will look back, and it will be like looking at Columbus’ time, when people thought the world was flat. People will wonder what took us so long to get this right. Anyway, this weekend, I set my sights on interviewing Olivia Newton-John.
She was playing a Josh Woods and FornabaioVoss Events blowout on Governors Island saturday night. Some very helpful people over at Big Machine Media (shout out to Jessica Berek) came to my assistance, hooking me up with Olivia’s person, Michael Caprio. I didn’t even have to grovel much or say things like “Please Mr. Please,” or “You’re The One That I Want,” or “I’m Hopelessly Devoted To You,” or go so far as to invoke “I Honestly Love You.” They worked really hard to get me this interview, and Michael Caprio, I got to believe that you are “Magic.” It had to be over the phone, but I was going to talk to Olivia Newton-John and I, who never gets flabbergasted, was star struck and awe struck at the opportunity.
I went in decidedly punch drunk as my week was a little rough. I opened Hotel Chantelle’s rooftop, my Chihuahua and a piece of my heart, Arturo, passed away after 17 years, and my mother-in-law flew in to inspect me. My phoner with Ms. Newton-John kept being pushed back. I thought it was done with as I walked through Thompson Square Park on my way to a little slice of heaven, er, Xanadu. But the phone screamed and it was Michael Caprio: “Could you do Olivia in 8 minutes?” As a thousand OMGs bounced around inside my head, I ran to a deli, got a pen and pad, and called back. I exchanged “hey’s” ‘hello’s” and “where are you’s” with the legendary singer/actress/activist. She knew I was blushing and bumbling and was as sweet, helpful, and fun as can be. She was on a ferry having just finished sound check. A police helicopter hovering directly over my head wouldn’t allow me to get it right. The copter moved as I did and I felt a little like Henry Hill from Goodfellas. Everyone knows I have “Never Been Mellow,” and I must have been a sight yelling at the sky on one of these “Summer Nights.” In the end, we decided to do this via e-mail.
I wasn’t happy with New York’s finest in general this weekend, as it became known that even while the historic legislation’s ink was still drying on Friday night, a squadron of cops raided the leather and Levi’s bar The Eagle. They reportedly shined flashlights in people’s faces, searched them, and were all around bad sports. The timing of the raid was questioned and Manhattan Borough President Scott Springer has stepped up, demanding an investigation. I’d like him to also find out why that chopper was overhead while I was trying to interview Olivia Newton-John—okay, okay, investigate the Eagle thing first.
I headed to Williamsburg and straight to Graceland tattoo and salon for some advice on what questions to ask. They know Olivia over at Graceland and “Let’s Get Physical” was playing as I entered. They were all busy inking and cutting and I knew I had come to the right place. “What should I ask her?” I implored. Everyone knows the history…Grease, a zillion big records, Xanadu. Everyone chimed in, including the customers. After a couple dozen “I can’t ask her that’s,” a question I could actually dare to ask came forth. Here’s my e-interview: Hey, it’s Steve Lewis from BlackBook. I’m sitting in Graceland tattoo and hair salon in Williamsburg where they all love you. We’re listening to “I Honestly Love You,” and we want to know who you were singing to. Every time I sing the song it has a new meaning. I can’t remember who it was then!
This year’s Gay Pride is special because of the historic marriage legislation. Your performance is such a great part of this great celebration. Tell me about your feelings and what you have to say to a community that has always embraced you. I have many gay friends that I love and care about, and I’m so happy that they can now share their lives with their chosen loved ones and be afforded the same rights as other married couples.
Why do you think that you’re so iconic in this community and loved by so many people in general? I don’t know but I’m very grateful for it! I guess I’ve been around long enough, was lucky enough to be in two iconic movies and had great songs that have endured.
You have a world class smile, do you have a dark side as well and how does it manifest itself? You will never know! Ask my husband!
Today is part of Gay Pride weekend and with that comes a question about celebrities who are in the closet. Many feel their “coming out” would help the general acceptance of gay people in society, while many embrace their right to privacy. How do you feel? I feel, as with everything, that it is everyone’s right to privacy. We have to respect people’s choices.
What are you working on these days? I just filmed a movie with Stephan Elliot and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, called A Few Best Men. I played mother of the bride, which is art imitating life as my beautiful daughter Chloe is engaged to be married! I also have a dance mix of “Magic” available on iTunes now and the money goes to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Australia. The centre has two floors dedicated to research with the Ludwig Institute, plus a state of the art cancer treatment center. But best of all, there is a wellness centre to support the patient and their family going through cancer. For more information, go here.
Not too long ago, Sara Barron e-mailed me and proclaimed, “I am the twat waffle victim.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hover over the “spam” button for a few moments, thinking it some stray profession of love from a stalker (ugh, aren’t they always?). But then I chanced upon People Are Unappealing, a slim volume of nonfiction by Barron, about ugly mean people. Suddenly, her outburst made a world of sense. In many ways, People is very much the portrait of New York City, and it paints Barron to be a pleasant people person who has withstood many an unpleasant encounter.
In lieu of an exegesis about how Madonna reminds me of that giant worm from Star Wars, I asked Barron to parlay her invaluable insight into the state of modern culture’s most unappealing mothers, in order to most properly celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday.
About her own, she says, “My mother is a wonderful woman in many respects — she refers to men who wrong me as ‘Twat Packages’ and, more to the point, pays for my health insurance plan. But who wants to get sentimental? The point here is that my mom, like most, has flaws. She has rushed me to the emergency room after I gave myself carpal tunnel syndrome from having masturbated too aggressively.” But Barron adds, “My mother [is] not alone in her transgressions.”
Sarah Palin – “She’s earned her spot as the nation’s foremost G.I.L.F. Of course, this presumes you actually want to fuck someone who tows the line of ‘Do as I say, not as my daughter does,’ in the first place. The double standard inherent in that sort of approach follows a person everywhere, and that means to the bedroom. And that means a certain someone is way worse at giving than she is at receiving. And that means I don’t know why anyone would want to fuck her in the first place.”
Bristol Palin – Ditto.
Tori Spelling – “In Tori Spelling’s most recent attempt to horde the limelight, she’s starring alongside her husband Dean and their two small children in the Oxygen reality show Home Sweet Hollywood. In this particular manifestation of self-promotion, Tori filmed her children’s every move for public consumption. A brilliant lesson on how best to provide for your family while simultaneously ensuring that they grow to hate you.”
Olivia Newton-John – “Despite the squeaky-clean, abnormally normal image Olivia’s maintained since her star turn as Sandy in Grease, the woman’s parenting style is deranged enough to warrant this and also this.
Kate Gosselin – “This name isn’t familiar to many of you, and that’s because Kate Gosselin is not important. She scored a TLC reality show called John and Kate Plus 8 as, clearly, the mother of eight. A choice she brought upon herself, it’s resulted in a woman so blatantly angry, the general public’s response to her husband’s recently discovered infidelities has been a resounding chorus of, ‘Well, duh.’ Honestly, if you ever want to feel better about the way you, as a human, conduct yourself, you ought to watch her on this show.”