item 1 >>> December 26th is the Feast of Stephen, aka Boxing Day. It is a public holiday in England and most Commonwealth Nations, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, the Scandinavian countries, and Switzerland. A niggling detail: tradition was that Sunday was too solemn a day for festivities of Boxing Day, so that if Christmas was on a Saturday, Boxing Day would be celebrated on a Monday. This practice has for the most part gone by the boards…while a weekend Boxing Day will be shifted to a Monday for the official “day off,” the Holiday itself is observed on Dec. 26, regardless of the day of the week.
item 2 >>> As with so many things, the origin of the name is not certain. The 2 main theories are that “boxing” refers either to gifts given to servants, or the alms box used to collect for the poor the day after Christmas. I do know of at least one boxer born on Boxing Day: light heavyweight Shawn Terry Cox, born in Barbados, 1974.
item 3 >>> Others born on Boxing Day include: Carlton Fisk, Al Gore Sr., Kitty Dukakis, Steve Allen, Elisha Cook Jr., Alan King, Henry Miller, Ozzie Smith, Caroll “Big Bird” Spinney, John Walsh, Richard Widmark, Rose Mary Woods, and Mao. Also 2 mathematicians: Charles Babbage, inventor of the 1st computer, the “difference engine,” and John Conway, who devised the cellular automata Game of Life.
item 4 >>> You might have noticed, especially if your birthday is Dec. 25, that Phil Spector was not in the list of Christmas Babies I gave on Dec. 24. This is because, oddly for such a public figure, there is some dispute about not only the day of his birth, but even the year. His website says Dec. 25, altho other sources, lead by the Encyclopedia Britannica, say it’s Dec. 26. The year? 1939 or 1940, pick ’em.
item 5 >>> Speaking of Spector, his rarest recording is now on YouTube, “(Let’s Dance) The Screw” by the Crystals. Was this ever actually released? Was it to fulfill a contractual obligation, or simply as a parting shot at his ex-Philles Records partner Les Sill? The whole sordid story is sorted out at the Snopes urban legend site. For the record, the record company was not Phillies, but Philles without an “i” before the “e,” a combination of their first names, Phil + Les. I found this for sale online…they were asking $5,000. BTW, this tune is in no way dirty or offensive, altho it was certainly out of bounds for 1963.
item 6 >>> The biggest losers…in the Congressional reapportionment, in the wake of the 2010 Census, 12 seats will be changing states. Ohio and NY are each down 2…losing 1 are Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Louisiana. The big winner is Texas, picking up 4 new seats…2 for Florida…1 each for Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah. I’m surprised Arizona only picked up 1, and that California just held even instead of gaining, but I guess the bloom is off that rose. In New England, Vermont was safe of course, being one of 7 states that have just one member in the House of Representatives.
item 7 >>> Face it: there are lots of people who dearly love their Grandmothers, yet at the same time enjoy “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” It’s 2 different things, life’s like that. I was going to tell you how to distinguish the original recording, self-released by Elmo and Patsy in 1979, from the more common “hit” version on Epic Records from 1984. Unfortunately, a little research revealed there are at least 6 recorded versions…and that’s studio versions, not counting live performances, so I gave up on that. I can tell you that Elmo is Dr. Elmo Shropshire, a veterinarian originally from Kentucky, who retired from his practice in 1995. Patsy, maiden name Trigg, did perform with his bluegrass group, but does not appear in any capacity on the record. They were divorced n 1985. Here’s a snapshot from better days…
item 8 >>> But for all the leering mayhem of that song, Dr. Elmo is really a jolly, sweet guy. Just listen to his recording of “Percy the Puny Poinsettia” or “Uncle Johnny’s Glass Eye,” which despite the title, is as touching and delightful a Yuletide record as you’re ever likely to hear. There were also 2 “Grandma” sequels…”Grandpa’s Gonna Sue the Pants off of Santa”…Santa’s goin’ for a ride!…and “Don’t Make Me Play That Grandma Song Again,” a very clever take on the whole phenomena. He still records, with a new LP out this year, “Bluegrass Christmas.” And a comedian named Donny Aldridge has one out this year called “Grandma got Molested at the Airport”…had to happen, nez pah?
item 9 >>> So is it Cousin Mel or Cousin Nel? Well, I always heard it as “Mel,” and assumed it was a guy. In a video Dr. Elmo filmed in his living room in the early 80s, it’s a woman, as it is in the TV special. Mel for Melissa? Some people swear they hear Nel, not Mel. And at least one cover version, by the Irish Rovers, says Cousin Belle. BTW, Uncle Wiki says the very first artist to record the song, written by Randy Brooks, was the Rovers, but I can tell you categorically that’s flat out wrong.
item 10 >>> And for a fascinating look at “who recorded the first version of —” I highly recommend http://www.originalsproject.us. This guy has done a tremendous amount of work, and I’ve yet to find a disagreement with my own research. I guarantee you’ll find some shockers…for example, look up Kenny Rogers & the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In.” You won’t believe it, but it’s true…
Was I the only kid who knew what a Nihil Obstat was? I don’t think so…
…on the feast of shameless plugs…
Resume and audio samples at http://home.rr.com/mastolfi