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Albert Ayler: 'Holy Ghost'

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the new box set Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost, celebrating the saxophonist and composer. Through renewed interest — and a string of reissues — Ayler has grown increasingly influential and appreciated in recent years.

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Other segments from the episode on December 14, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 14, 2004: Interview with John Waters; Review of Albert Ayler's box set, "Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost."

Transcript

DATE December 14, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: John Waters discusses his new CD, "A John Waters
Christmas"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")

TINY TIM: (Singing) Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.

GROSS: That's Tiny Tim, and it's one of the least unusual tracks on the new
CD "A John Waters Christmas." It's an anthology of catchy, entertaining and
ridiculous Christmas records selected by filmmaker John Waters. Waters has had
a lifelong fascination with the odd and unusual. His movies include the cult
classic "Pink Flamingos," which established his reputation as the king of bad
taste. His more recent movie "Hairspray" was adapted into the hit Broadway
musical, and now that musical is being adapted into a movie musical. As we'll
hear, the opening track of "A John Waters Christmas" has a special connection
to Waters. Here it is, "Fat Daddy (is Santa Claus)."

(Soundbite of "Fat Daddy (is Santa Claus)")

FAT DADDY: (Singing) I'm Fat Daddy.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la.

FAT DADDY: (Singing) I'm Santa Claus. Woo-woo, yeah. I'm Fat Daddy.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la.

FAT DADDY: (Singing) The reindeer boss.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Ahh.

FAT DADDY: (Singing) I pack my sleigh with goodies and toys.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Ahh.

FAT DADDY: (Singing) You know, I'm on my way to greet all the good little
girlies and boys, oh, yeah. I'm Fat Daddy.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la.

GROSS: That's "Fat Daddy," featuring Fat Daddy from "A John Waters
Christmas."

John Waters, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. JOHN WATERS: Thanks. Good to be here.

GROSS: Who is Fat Daddy?

Mr. WATERS: Fat Daddy was a deejay in Baltimore, one of the very most popular
ones. When I was a teen-ager, he was on WSID. And later, he was on "The
Buddy Deane Show," which I based "Hairspray" on, and he hosted "Negro Day,"
and they actually called it that. And he would wear, like, an Imperial
Margarine crown and a long cloak. And he inspired the character that's in
"Hairspray," the movie and the Broadway musical, of Motormouth Mabel. He
talked like that, fast, like, `Ooh, pa-ray-diddle(ph), I'm Fat Daddy.' And he
had this song called "Fat Daddy" that was a Christmas carol that was certainly
a big hit only in Baltimore, as far as I know, and had been out of print for a
long, long time. So that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the "John
Waters Christmas," was to get the "Fat Daddy" Christmas carol back in print.

In Baltimore, in the early '60s, all cool white kids and all black kids
listened to Fat Daddy. It was really the first way that we heard rhythm and
blues. He then went on "The Buddy Deane Show." He was very, very loved by
the teen community, and all the black community in Baltimore, certainly. We
had great black radio stations in Baltimore, WSID, WEBB, WWIN. And sometimes,
if the weather was good, we could get WANN from Annapolis with Hoppy Adams,
the only station that would play "What I'd Say Part II."

GROSS: What was "Negro Day" like?

Mr. WATERS: "Negro Day" was all black kids dancing, but the difference was,
on "The Buddy Deane Show," they had regulars on white day(ph), which was every
day, and--that was a line in the Broadway musical. But basically, it was they
had a white committee(ph), it was called. And it was regulars on the show
that got fan mail, and they did close-ups. And the committee had to come to
work every day, really, and their job was to ask guests to dance. There was
no black committee. They were just all guests. And it was one day, maybe a
month, or I'm not sure how often it was on, but it was on, and Fat Daddy would
be the host that day. There were no white people on "Negro Day," and there
were no black people on white day. And the show later went off the air
because of when it was integrated by girls that started ironing their hair
instead of having teased hair. And, of course, in the movie, I gave it a
happy ending. I integrated the show. That did not really happen in real
life.

GROSS: So what were the criteria that you used to select the records for "A
John Waters Christmas"?

Mr. WATERS: Well, I wanted to have an album that what it would be like if you
came over to my house at Christmas and I got all my old records out and played
you my favorite Christmas carols. I've always--I work with a guy named Larry
Benicewicz who has this incredible record collection. I have worked with him
since "Cry-Baby" " on all my movies, and he helps me unearth. He has these
insane Christmas classics, my kind of classic.

Certainly I wanted to put songs on here that probably no one did know. Many
of them--there's a few people know, like, The Chipmunks and Tiny Tim,
probably, but many of the other ones are almost unknown to most people. And I
don't think any of these songs are campy. I think a few are awful, but
they're so awful, they're perfect. And I don't think any of them really were
hipster songs. I think that they were serious Christmas songs that somehow
were just too eccentric or went awry for the regular public to ever really,
possibly have success with them.

GROSS: Let's hear another song from "A John Waters Christmas." This is a
doo-wop track. It's called "Christmas Time Is Coming," a street carol,
performed by Stormy Weather. Why did you choose this one?

Mr. WATERS: I chose it, because it reminded me, when I first grew up in
Lutherville, Maryland, and near where I lived was a segregated little black
part of the community. And a lot of the people that lived there walked past
my house at night, singing a cappella, and I'd be, like, an eight-year-old
kid, lying in bed at night and hear it. And I use that in "Hairspray," the
movie, very much, that image. And it just felt liberating to me to hear this
music, and it sounded so beautiful outside my house. So it just seemed to be
a Christmas carol that reminded me of that.

GROSS: All right. Well, let's...

Mr. WATERS: And I had a very white Christmas in all meaning of that word, and
this was a little bit different and a little bit something that seemed more
exciting to me.

GROSS: OK, so this is "Christmas Time Is Coming."

(Soundbite of "Christmas Time Is Coming")

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh, Christmas time is here. Doh,
doh, doh, Christmas time is here.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) Christmas time is coming.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) There's snow falling...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...on the street.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) The holidays...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...are here...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...shoppers buying...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...Christmas trees.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh. We'll...

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) We'll...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) ...have...

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...have...

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) ...a ball...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) We'll have a...

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) ...dancing and
all.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Christmas time
is here.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Christmas time
is here.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) The New Year's Eve...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...is coming.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) We'll all sing...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...the "Auld Lang Syne."

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) I'll whisper...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...in your ear...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...`I'll be yours'...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...`so please, be mine.'

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Doh, doh, doh. We'll...

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) We'll...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) ...have...

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) ...have...

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) ...a ball...

Background Vocalists: (Singing) We'll have a...

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) ...dancing and
all.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Christmas time
is here.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Do, do, do.

STORMY WEATHER and Background Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Christmas time
is here.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Oh, ro-roo.

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) This is the time for love.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) For love!

STORMY WEATHER: (Singing) This is the time for cheer.

Background Vocalists: (Singing) Oh, baby!

GROSS: That's a track from the new CD "A John Waters Christmas," and John
Waters is my guest.

There's a line in that song that sounds like the same line from the
Dreamlovers' song "When We Get Married," `We'll have a ball, dancing and all.'
I wonder who got it from who?

Mr. WATERS: I don't know. You know, sometimes these songs, when I have the
records, they don't even have the dates on them. Some were later than you
thought, and some were much earlier. There's a song on here, "Happy Birthday
Jesus" by Little Cindy, that's one of my favorites, and I have no idea when
that movie came out. Is Little Cindy alive? Does she know she's back out
there, in front of the public? Because you listen to that song, and my
imagination gets carried away. I think of maybe, like, in the South somewhere
in some pitiful little recording studio, and Little Cindy may be the JonBenet
of her community, has been forced to come in there and sing this song in a
torn Rhoda Penmark party dress. And even the mistakes are left in. There's
only one take with Little Cindy. She didn't get a second take. And that's,
to me, the most fascinating piece of the song is trying to picture Little
Cindy singing "Happy Birthday Jesus." And later, Patti Page covered that
song.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is...

Mr. WATERS: OK.

GROSS: This is Little Cindy, "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer)."

(Soundbite of "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer)")

Unidentified Man #1: A house so quiet and humble, a child beside her bed, her
hands clasped tightly, it's time to pray. So she bows her little head.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE CINDY: Happy birthday, Jesus. Mama said that you was near and that
you had a birthday this time every year. She told me how you listened to
every word we say and that you hear us calling in the night or in the day.
She explained how bad they hurt you, those awful naughty men, but said you let
them do it for girls like me with sin. She said about the manger they took
and put you in. I'd let you have my blanket if I was here back then. She
says that you are watching everything we do. Her and daddy and...

GROSS: That's another track from the CD "A John Waters Christmas," and John
Waters is my guest.

What were the records that you loved and hated most on the radio Christmastime
when you were growing up?

Mr. WATERS: I always really hated "The Little Drummer Boy." I wish Ol' Dirty
Bastard...

GROSS: Rum-pum-pum-pum.

Mr. WATERS: I wish Ol' Dirty Bastard had recorded that before he died. I
think it would have been a great Christmas album. I hated the corny ones you
just heard over and over, like the Muzak versions. I liked sometimes when
they did a punk rock version of it or if The Chipmunks did it, or I always
liked to twist on it.

"Santa Claus is a Black Man" to me is the mother lode of all crackpot
Christmas carols, not because I believe "Santa Claus is a Black Man" is such
an odd idea. It was just such an odd, great black Kwanzaa song that came out.
And I remembered it from Baltimore, and I really, really loved it, because it
starts with a kid singing, and then the dad comes in, and then the mother
comes in, and she sounds amazing. And it's almost like you expect The
Chipmunks to come in, which they do on another record. The Chipmunks are a
great presence in my life. We can get to that in a minute.

But so this song, I didn't have. Even Larry Benicewicz did not have this
song. And I was the only one that remembered it. So I finally went on eBay
and found it, and I had to bid and pay a lot of money, too. Somebody else
wanted it, too. But to get the record, I had to get to find the information
on the record of where to have Tracy McKnight, who was an amazing music
supervisor, whose job it was to find all these people and make the two deals
that you have to make to put out a record like this. You have to find the
publisher, and you have to find the writer of each one of these songs. And
they're very obscure. I talked to people in nursing homes. She found one in
a nursing home. And a lot of times, they hate each other, the writer and the
publisher, because the record was not a success. So to find these people is a
great snipe hunt, basically. And Tracy did an amazing job. She found every
single one of them. There wasn't one song that I wanted that she couldn't
find the correct people. So it's a hard road to do to find these people.

GROSS: We should hear "Santa Claus is a Black Man." And so this is something
you grew up with?

Mr. WATERS: Well, I heard it in the '70s on the radio, and I loved it.

GROSS: Well, so yeah, you were already a filmmaker then.

Mr. WATERS: I was already on pot. I probably heard it on marijuana at that
period of my life. And it was such a great song to me. It seemed liberating
so much. And when you hear it today, when he says, `Daddy, he had an Afro
like yours, happy Kwanzaa,' oh, it's just great to me. It's just very, very
touching to me.

GROSS: This is "Santa Claus is a Black Man" from the new CD "A John Waters
Christmas," and it's performed by AKIM & the Teddy Vann Production Company.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, and AKIM is the kid. And I guess Teddy Vann's the dad, I
would imagine.

GROSS: All right. I guess we'll never really know unless somebody calls us
and tells us. OK.

Mr. WATERS: Please, Little Cindy, if you're hearing this, call! What's the
number?

GROSS: Well, here's the record.

(Soundbite of "Santa Claus is a Black Man")

AKIM & THE TEDDY VAN PRODUCTION COMPANY: (Singing) Hey, you want to hear
something that's out of sight? You know what I found out last night, because
Mama turned out the light? I went in the living room to see what the noise
that woke up me, and I saw by the Christmas tree. Santa Claus is a black man.
Santa Claus is a black man, and he's handsome like my daddy, too. Santa Claus
is a black man. Santa Claus is a black man, and I found out. That's why I'm
telling you. Mama must have met Santa Claus before, 'cause they started
dancing all over the floor, and I fell asleep at the door. Santa Claus is a
black man. Santa Claus is a black man, and he's handsome like my daddy, too.
Santa Claus is a black man. Santa Claus is a black man, and I've found out.
That's why I'm telling you.

AKIM: Daddy?

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, Akimie(ph)?

AKIM: Do you know what happened last night?

Unidentified Man #1: What happened AKIM?

AKIM: Well, I saw Santa Claus, and do you know what?

Unidentified Man #1: What, Akimie?

AKIM: He looks a lot like you. He was handsome.

Unidentified Man #1: I can dig it.

AKIM: He was black.

Unidentified Man #1: Right on.

AKIM: He had an Afro. He was really outta sight. Now I'm going to tell
everybody that I saw Santa.

Unidentified Man #1: Well, that's pretty cool.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Santa Claus is a black man. Santa Claus is a
black man.

AKIM and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) He's handsome like my daddy, too.

Unidentified Woman: Yes, he is.

AKIM and Unidentified Woman: (Singing in unison) Santa Claus is a black man.

GROSS: That's "Santa Claus is a Black Man" from the new CD "A John Waters
Christmas." Waters will be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is filmmaker John Waters. He's collected his favorite
Christmas records on the new CD "A John Waters Christmas." His movies include
"Pink Flamingos," "Cry-Baby" and "Hairspray."

Did you ever believe in Santa Claus?

Mr. WATERS: Yes, I did believe in Santa Claus. There's a picture of me. My
parents have a picture of myself sitting on Santa Claus' lap. Yes, I believed
it. Sometimes I'd get confused and wonder if Santa Claus knew my guardian
angel. I always knew the Easter Bunny was a lie. All children do. I think
Santa Claus should have killed the Easter Bunny, because he ruins Christmas,
because the Easter Bunny is why all children grow up to be heroin addicts, you
know, because their parents tell them the Easter Bunny's true, they know it
isn't. And then when they tell them later, `Drugs are bad for you,' they say,
`Yeah, just like the Easter Bunny. Pass the syringe.' I really believe that
the Easter Bunny is responsible for heroin addiction in America.

But Santa Claus, I did believe in. And eventually, you hear things in school,
and it is weird that your parents lie to you about all that early. But I
guess it's there. It's a good belief. I had always--I do like Christmas for
real, without irony, so obviously, I had a happy home at Christmas. There's a
picture in my parents' scrapbook that always sort of sums up what my life was
going to be like. I guess I was about 10 years old, and I'm under the tree,
with my presents, and in one hand, I have a hand puppet, because I had asked
for that, and I was a puppeteer at children's birthday parties at the time.
And in the other hand is "The Genius of Ray Charles," the album that I had
asked for. And it's such a weird picture, because my parents went and bought
me that album. And I guess that showed that even though they knew then I
wasn't fitting in that they were supportive as they knew how to be at the
time.

GROSS: Oh, that's great. Now I'm amazed that you do Christmas without irony
at your house, because, I mean, you seem...

Mr. WATERS: Oh...

GROSS: ...so constantly to be a living irony.

Mr. WATERS: ...now, you mean?

GROSS: Oh, now...

Mr. WATERS: Well, no, I do love Christmas today without irony. I'm not
saying there isn't some irony in my house at Christmas. Certainly my
sister-in-law does a wreath for me out of sticker bushes that rips at your
clothes and scratches you when you come in my door. Someone did make for me a
set of Christmas balls that are serial killers that, actually, it was a funny
gift. You can make them for your friends, too. You could make badly dressed
terrorists. You could do all sorts of themes. You just buy cheap Christmas
balls and cut pictures out and glue them on Christmas balls, and it looks
nice. It's a nice gift you can give other people at Christmas, your family.
If you've run out of ideas, I might suggest that.

GROSS: I guess I'd be disappointed if you did anything without a degree of
bad taste and irony, but what's the non-ironic part of Christmas for you?

Mr. WATERS: Well, you know, I--every year--I have three brothers and sisters,
so every four years, it's my turn to cook the whole Christmas dinner for my
family, my parents, and I do that. I did it last year, so I have three years
off now, and I can go to the other ones. Certainly, we--Christmas morning, my
parents come over. We give each other presents. I don't think there's a lot
of irony involved in that. You know, I don't give my mother Whoopee Cushions
or anything, you know. It certainly is as traditional as it can be without
being, you know, ridiculous. It's not "Leave it to Beaver's" family.

But certainly, I do like Christmas, and I've had the same Christmas party for
40 years. In the early days, it was always at least a hundred people. And in
the early days, every person was expected to buy a present for all hundred
people, so there would be 10,000 presents in the house, and those were the
days when you could find things for a quarter in a thrift shop, but it was
frightening when everybody started opening them. It was an orgy of gift
opening.

GROSS: Well...

Mr. WATERS: I still have to buy about 70 Christmas presents every year.

GROSS: Where do you go shopping for Christmas gifts? Do you do flea markets?
Where do you go?

Mr. WATERS: No, I don't do flea markets actually. I mostly give everybody I
know books. Almost every person gets books. So I go to bookshops, and
there's special ones I go to in each city. I can't wait to go to San
Francisco. My favorite bookshop is there, called KO Books, that specializes
in uncollectibles. It's amazing. They have, like...

GROSS: Uncollectibles? What is that?

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. Well, it means, like, movie tie-ins, movie novelizations,
sex books. They have a whole series about abortion, juvenile delinquency.
It's the most amazing bookshop, and you can find the best gifts there, 'cause
it's very greatly priced. It's fairly priced. And there's books you've just
never seen there that are so hilarious, and it's a great place to find good
Christmas presents. And I don't own it. I'm not giving a plug of something I
own.

GROSS: Filmmaker John Waters will be back with more music from his CD "A John
Waters Christmas" in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2 and Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) I wish you
a merry, merry Christmas. I wish you a merry, merry...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Whoa, I wish you a merry Christmas.

GROSS: Coming up, John Waters' Christmas card. We continue our conversation
with Waters and hear more from his CD of Christmas records. Also jazz critic
Kevin Whitehead reviews the new box set "Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) I want to wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) I want to wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Hey, I want to wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) And a...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2 and Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Whoa!

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Yeah!

Unidentified Man #2 and Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Well, I could wish you a lot of presents
underneath your Christmas tree. Yes, I could wish you a whole lot of
presents, but then you might expect one from me, so I just want to...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) I want to wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) I said I wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Yeah, I want to wish you...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wish you...

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) ...a merry Christmas.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...a merry, merry Christmas.

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) And a...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2 and Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Yeah!

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Yeah!

Unidentified Man #2 and Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

Unidentified Women: (Singing in unison) Well, I could wish you a big juicy
turkey with lots of cranberry sauce on the side, and I could wish you all the
food you could eat, but still you wouldn't be satisfied, so I just want to
wish you...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with filmmaker John Waters.
He's best known for his cult classic "Pink Flamingos," which established him
as the king of bad taste, and "Hairspray," which is adapted into a hit
Broadway musical. He has a new CD called "A John Waters Christmas" collecting
some of his favorite Christmas records.

Let's hear another track, and this is a real strange one. This is one of
those, like, really strange singing voices. It's, I think...

Mr. WATERS: Is it a nasal one?

GROSS: Yes. I think...

Mr. WATERS: I love a nasal voice. Is it "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and
Snow"?

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. WATERS: I love her. I think she sounds--I love a nasal voice. If
you've got a cold, come over to my house and sing to me. And it all started
from Rosie and the Originals. Remember that song "Angel Baby"?

GROSS: Oh, sure.

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) `It's just like heaven.' And also Shirley of Shirley
and Lee, who's maybe one of my favorite female vocalists in the history of
rhythm and blues. So I think they started a school of nasal voices, and this
little moppet either has a cold or she's in the same school of singing. I'm
not sure which.

GROSS: So here's "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and Snow," sung by Rita Faye Wilson,
from "A John Waters Christmas."

(Soundbite of "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and Snow")

Ms. RITA FAYE WILSON: (Singing) The ground is covered with white. Santa's
coming tonight with dolls and toys for girls and boys and a merry ho-ho-ho.
There'll be sleigh bells, reindeer and snow and a merry Christmas. Santa's
bringing his sled, painted yellow and red. Mom and Dad are feeling glad
because tonight they know there'll be sleigh bells, reindeer and snow. He
will ride across the housetops and stop at every one. He'll climb down all
the chimneys, but you've gotta be good or you won't see him. Better jump into
bed, cover over your head and lie there still until you hear that merry
ho-ho-ho with his sleigh bells, reindeer and snow.

GROSS: So, John Waters, what made this track worthy, either good enough or
bad enough, to be included on "A John Waters Christmas"?

Mr. WATERS: Well, I don't think it's bad enough at all to me. I think it's
one of the most un-ironic songs on it. I think it's catchy. I think she has
a lovely voice, a touching voice. It's kind of a lonely Christmas song, but
kind of a beautiful song in maybe a neighborhood I've never been to or maybe a
part of America that is isolated or remote. But at the same time I think it's
joyous. I think she has a lovely voice. And, you know, I'd like to be with
her at Christmas, and that's why I brought her voice, so she could come into
other people's homes, because I mean it for real, she is the best of what
you're supposed to celebrate at Christmas. It is a joyous sound. Now to me,
joyous is always not hackneyed, it's not too sentimental or it's overly
sentimental, but it's something that's new to you. I always like to discover
a new voice, a new sound, and this certainly was a new voice to me.

GROSS: Now let's reminisce some more about John Waters' Christmas past.
What's one of the best and worst gifts you've ever gotten on Christmas?

Mr. WATERS: Well, books are always the best present, you know, always,
especially 'cause I collect books and I have a library. And I actually have a
registry at my office; it's like a bridal registry or something--'cause people
always don't know what to give me, so they call, and I have all prices,
whatever you'd like; here's the different selections. So I get really good
presents at Christmas.

I think my friend Dennis Dermody, who's a film critic for Paper magazine, gave
me my favorite. He found for me something that I had been looking for. After
"Peyton Place" came out--and you and I have talked about "Peyton Place" on
other shows--but after the movie came out, the television show, after it was
totally exploited, there was a series of cheap paperback books based on
"Peyton Place" not written by Grace Metalions, but there was 20 of them, like
"Love at Peyton Place," "Horror at Peyton Place." They were the cheapest
paperbacks. And he found on eBay, buying them one at a time, all of them. I
think that was the best Christmas present I ever got.

GROSS: Wow. So are most of the things on your list, like, books and records
that you want that are hard to find?

Mr. WATERS: Yes. Mostly always books. And also I'm a big fan of Buildings
of Disaster. Do you know what they are? Buildings...

GROSS: No.

Mr. WATERS: Oh, they're amazing. No, it's Building of Destruction(ph), I'm
sorry. They come out and then they're produced by this guy named Bordent(ph)
in New York. They're amazing. It's a limited edition. They're 95 bucks.
And it started with--and they all look the same. They're gray metal. But
they're all buildings where a terrible thing happens. The first one that came
out was the Unabomber's cabin. I bought that. But they have Waco. The new
series that just came out for Christmas, they have Ford's Theatre; they have
the motel where Martin Luther King was shot. And they have the Empire State
Building with the hole in it when the plane hit it. These are amazing pieces,
and I collect them. They have Princess Diana's tunnel. They aren't like
cheap plastic. These are really well-made. They're art pieces. So I'm a big
fan of that. That's on my Christmas list.

GROSS: Now one of the things you do every year is create your own
personalized Christmas cards.

Mr. WATERS: Yes.

GROSS: And one of those cards is on the front of your new CD and another
one...

Mr. WATERS: Oh, that's an old one. Yeah, yeah, an old one. I had more hair;
you can tell it's old.

GROSS: Right. And another one--is it on the liner notes it's on the back of?
Yeah, it's on the back of the liner notes.

Mr. WATERS: Oh, that was the Christmas ball last year with the plastic dead
roach in it. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, why don't you describe these?

Mr. WATERS: Well, that was one of my best ones. It was hard to top that one.
It was a real Christmas ball you hang on the tree that said `Season's
greetings, John Waters.' But inside it was a dead plastic roach, and it
really looked real. And people threw them, people--I mean, it really was a
good one. I think people saved that one. I hope that goes on ironic
Christmas trees everywhere.

This year is different. This year I have--you open up and it's a picture of
myself and a baby. And really people think, `Oh, my God, did he have a baby?
Is this another gay person that had a child?' And I think this was my comment
on it because, you know, as I've said before, gay people have more children
than Catholics now; it's confusing to me. So this is my fake child. His name
is Bill because I had an old Christmas ball in my closet and I thought,
who's--that said `Bill' on it, and I thought, who is Bill? I don't know
anyone named Bill. But I've had it for years.

And I read this article in the paper about these women that make something
called Reborn Babies. And they take dolls and take them completely apart,
and it took eight months to build this. And you give your insight, too, and I
said I wanted an angry baby with bad hair. And they made this whole baby.
They paint on the veins. The lips are moist. It is the scariest thing in my
whole house. When it finally came--and my assistant wrote the adoption
letters for it and everything. You really have to do this kind of thing. And
she says that I can't take it to New York because I'm ripping it from her
womb. But it sits on my couch and it still frightens me every time because it
looks completely real. Now it never cries; it knows no one will come. And it
is not allowed to accept gifts at Christmas, 'cause that's the last thing I
want are people to give me this.

But when I ordered it, I did say to the woman who made it--well, I knew it was
full-body and I said, `Well, is Bill circumcised?' And they said, `No, he is
not.' And I said, `Well, he has to be. I'm Catholic.' And she called back a
week later and said, `The operation was a success.' It was astounding to me.
It still scares me. It's the scariest thing in my whole house and, believe
me, I've got some scary things.

GROSS: Well, you sent one to me.

Mr. WATERS: Yes, I did.

GROSS: And I had a debate with somebody I work with about whether this was a
real baby or a doll. And it looks...

Mr. WATERS: Well, on the back it says.

GROSS: It says--yeah, well, am I going to trust you? (Laughs)

Mr. WATERS: (Laughs) No, it's completely true what I wrote on the back.

GROSS: Yeah, well, 'cause it looks--you know, it's a two-dimensional image,
and it...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: This photograph's only two dimensions, so it looks real.

Mr. WATERS: It's really frightening. When you hold it, it weighs the same as
a baby; its head falls back. And it's really creepy. And it has real eyes in
it. I'm quite fond of it, but it sits on the couch, and people are really--my
parents really, when they came over and I said, `Have you met Bill?' And I
took them--my parents have their 60th wedding anniversary, and I didn't try to
ruin it by bringing Bill. But I did have Bill in the trunk of a car, and I
asked--just to show all my nieces and nephews, I said, `Come out, I want you
to meet your new cousin.' I opened the trunk and there was Bill. And they
all started really laughing except one who said, `That's sick, Uncle John.
You are sick.' But it was--I just thought the kids would like seeing Bill.
And it was hot. It was summer; I was afraid he was flushed, you know, keeping
him in the trunk. And you get a letter saying, `Never keep this in your car,'
'cause the police will break the windows and stuff, 'cause it looks so real.

GROSS: It's fitting that you should have this on your Christmas card because
you were just in "Seed of Chucky"...

Mr. WATERS: I was in "Seed of"...

GROSS: ...and Chucky, of course, is like a demon doll.

Mr. WATERS: Well, I thought Chucky and Bill could have a play date.

GROSS: Oh, really? Yeah.

Mr. WATERS: You know, maybe Chucky could come over and they could hang out
one day.

GROSS: What was your part in "Chucky"? I missed "Seed of Chucky."

Mr. WATERS: I played a paparazzi that--Chucky's transvestite son Glen
accidentally kills me, and then Chucky is proud because he's on the route of
becoming a serial killer and following in his father's footsteps.

GROSS: I could see why you were cast in this. (Laughs)

Mr. WATERS: Oh, yes. And it was fun. We had to shoot--well, it was fun. I
don't know. We had to shoot it in Bucharest so--because all the Chucky movies
have to be built inside because they have to be built high up so the
puppeteers can work all of the puppet's mechanical things underneath the
floors of all the sets.

GROSS: My guest is filmmaker John Waters. He has a new CD called "A John
Waters Christmas." He'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is John Waters, the filmmaker and screenwriter and writer.
And he has a new CD of Christmas songs called "A John Waters Christmas." And
of course, John Waters is probably most famous now for his movie "Hairspray,"
which is adapted into the Broadway musical, which is going to be adapted into
a musical film.

OK, it's time for another track from "A John Waters Christmas," your new CD.
And I'm going to go with something very conventional here...

Mr. WATERS: OK.

GROSS: ...because most of the records we've been hearing we don't really know
the genealogy of the recording 'cause they're, like, found records. But this
is Alvin and The Chipmunks, which you say figured prominently into your
childhood.

Mr. WATERS: Yes.

GROSS: I think everybody who grew up in--I guess it was like the late
'50s--grew up with Alvin and The Chipmunks. Why do you care about them?

Mr. WATERS: Well, I think they're sexy, actually. I mean, I like a bad...

GROSS: You think they're sexy?

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, a bad boy and a band. Actually, in real life, if people
talk fast, I'm turned on. I'm always hoping that someone will be talking so
fast that they go into Chipmunk talk, and then I can ask them to marry me. I
have the hots for The Chipmunks, Terry. It's a hard thing to explain. I like
a bad boy and a band; wasn't that Alvin? There was also fake Chipmunks that
tried to rip off their title called The Squirrels; they were lower-level
Chipmunks. I love the idea sometimes I can make all my records be sung by The
Chipmunks if you just play it at the wrong speed. The difference is The
Chipmunks--the music is at the right speed; the voice is at the wrong speed.
So I've always been fascinated by them. I want them to continue. The
Chipmunks can't die. I don't get why there's not new Chipmunks songs. I've
just always been fascinated by them from the moment I heard them. They even
did a punk rock album that was quite good, too, that came out in the '70s.

GROSS: The Chipmunks did a punk rock album?

Mr. WATERS: Yes, "Chipmunk Punk," it's called. I have it.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. WATERS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: (Laughs) Oh, gosh.

Mr. WATERS: So I want them to do a rap album. Wouldn't The Chipmunks rapping
be great?

GROSS: So this is Alvin and The Chipmunks singing "Sleigh Ride" from the new
CD "A John Waters Christmas."

(Soundbite of "Sleigh Ride")

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Just hear those sleigh bells jingling,
ring-ting-tingling, too. Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride
together with you. Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling
`Yoo-hoo!' Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, let's go, let's look at the show. We're riding
in a wonderland of snow. Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, it's grand just
holding your hand. We're gliding along with a song of a wintry fairy land.
Our cheeks are nice and rosy and comfy cozy are we. We're snuggled up
together like birds of a feather would be. Let's take that road before us and
sing a chorus or two.

GROSS: That's Alvin and The Chipmunks, featured on the new anthology "A John
Waters Christmas," and filmmaker John Waters is my guest.

John Waters, let's talk about some other things going on in your life now.
Now your film "Cry-Baby" is being turned into a Broadway music...

Mr. WATERS: Yes.

GROSS: ...following on the heels of the very successful, still successful
"Hairspray," which is--there's productions, I think, around the world of that
now.

Mr. WATERS: Yes, there is.

GROSS: And...

Mr. WATERS: There's gonna be more. I can't wait to see, you know, the high
school ones. That's when I want to go and watch, you know. Yeah.

GROSS: Oh! I hadn't thought of that.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, eventually.

GROSS: Summer camp productions.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: That would be fun.

Mr. WATERS: Mm-hmm, hospitals, mental institutions.

GROSS: Have you gone...

Mr. WATERS: Reform schools. That's where I want to go.

GROSS: Reform schools. Perfect.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Have you gone to other countries to see it there?

Mr. WATERS: No, it hasn't really opened--except in Toronto; I saw it there.
It is going to come to a lot of other countries, though. But I don't know if
I'm allowed to talk about it, 'cause the deals are still--you know what I
mean?

GROSS: Oh, got it, got it. OK.

Mr. WATERS: But it is coming to about four or five different countries, yeah.

GROSS: OK, OK. And are you working on the film at--it's so confusing, 'cause
your movie "Hairspray"...

Mr. WATERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...was turned into a Broadway musical, and now that musical is going
to get turned into a film.

Mr. WATERS: Yeah. Well, that's just beginning. I'm hoping I get the job of
craft services on this movie. (Laughs) That means giving the food to the
people.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. WATERS: No, that's all in--we're figuring that out right now. Certainly
I very much lobbied for Jack O'Brien to be the director, and it is the
director of the Broadway musical, the writer, the choreographer, Jerry
Mitchell. So I'm very happy that it is going to be the people making the
movie that were involved with the Broadway show, because that does not happen
sometimes.

GROSS: Would you be interested in recommending some good movies for the
holiday?

Mr. WATERS: Yeah, I know a movie I really, really like that's in New York
right now, and it's called "Jesus, You Know." And it's made by this guy named
Ulrich Seidl, a director in Vienna I like very much who made a really
depressing movie called "Dog Days" that I liked very much. It's just people
coming in churches and saying their prayers out loud to the camera, which is
one of the most maddening films I've ever seen. And you realize that if
whatever the supreme being is had to listen to really what everybody's saying
in their prayers, he would lose--he or she would lose their mind from
listening to people's prayers. And it's an amazing movie. I'm amazed that it
has distribution. The only other woman in the theater when I went was the
woman in that documentary "Cinemania" that goes to five movies a day.

GROSS: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Mr. WATERS: And she was there. And I feel so bad because I'm just so amazed
that this movie got out there, so I would recommend seeing that quickly.
That's my favorite holiday movie.

GROSS: Do you have any favorite, like, Christmas movies...

Mr. WATERS: Yes.

GROSS: ...that you'd recommend for renting on the holidays?

Mr. WATERS: Yes. It's called "Christmas Evil," and it's about a guy, a
lonely man...

GROSS: "Christmas Evil"?

Mr. WATERS: Mm-hmm. "Christmas Evil." It's about a lonely man that, one day
while he's shaving with shaving cream on his face, realizes he looks like
Santa Claus, so he starts--he gets a job in a toy factory. He starts spying
on children. He gets a little book and writes down, `good little boy,' `bad
little girl.' He starts cross-dressing as Claus and passes. As Christmas
gets near, he creepy-crawls around people's roofs and finally takes the plunge
on Christmas Eve and goes down a chimney, gets caught, stuck. Irate parents
start screaming. He panics, grabs a razor-sharp ornament off the tree, cuts
the parents' throat and run. And then there's a gang of--a mob of parents
trying to get him, but all the children in the community believe he's real and
they form a protective ring about him, and then he takes off on a sleigh,
getting away with murder. It's an amazing movie.

GROSS: Is it a comedy or a horror film?

Mr. WATERS: To me it's a religious film. It's, I suppose, a horror film.

GROSS: Well, I'd like to close with another record from your anthology, "A
John Waters Christmas," and I'm going to let you choose this last one.

Mr. WATERS: Well, the song I'd like to play is one that--I think it's a
touching, beautiful song. It's called, "Santa, Don't Pass Me By." It's kind
of a lonely song about a man who wants to get home for Christmas and he's
hitchhiking and he's hoping Santa will pick him up. I love to hitchhike. I
still do. It's my midlife crisis. I hitchhike a lot, actually, in the
summer. And I have a sign in Provincetown that says `the beach' where I go,
and I have hitchhiking dates, I ask people, `You want to go on a hitchhiking
trip with me?' And it's great fun for me. It's my midlife crisis. Other men
get sports cars; I hitchhike. So I wanted to--it was important to me to have
a song on there about hitchhiking, and I guess that would be the ultimate
ride, wasn't it, if you're hitchhiking and Santa Claus picks you up?

GROSS: A nice fantasy. (Laughs) Well, John Waters, thank you so much. Merry
Christmas.

Mr. WATERS: Same to you, and happy holidays and Kwanzaa.

GROSS: And thanks for being with us.

Mr. WATERS: Thanks, Terry, for having me.

GROSS: And here's more music from John Waters' new anthology, "A John Waters
Christmas."

(Soundbite of "Santa, Don't Pass Me By")

Unidentified Man #3: I'm going to hitch a ride with old St. Nick, for I'm
sure he'll pass your way. Yes, I'll be home for Christmas if there's room on
Santa's sleigh. He'll have lots of toys for girls and boys. Wish I were
hanging on your tree. Yes, I'll be home for Christmas if Santa makes a place
for me. Please, please, Santa Claus, please don't pass me by. Would be a
shame, so many smiling, if I were left alone to cry. I'm going to hitch a
ride with old St. Nick...

GROSS: John Waters' new CD of his favorite Christmas records is called "A
John Waters Christmas."

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new Albert Ayler box set.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Albert Ayler box set, "Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler was born in Cleveland in 1936. While in
high school, he toured with blues man Little Walter. By the mid '60s, Ayler
was admired and hated as the most radical of jazz horn players. In 1970, his
body was fished from New York's East River. The cause of death was never
established. A new nine-CD Ayler box set is out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead
says Ayler fans shouldn't resist.

Mr. ALBERT AYLER (Saxophonist/Composer): The next tune is called
"Vibrations."

(Soundbite of "Vibrations")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD:

Albert Ayler on tenor saxophone with trumpeter Don Cherry, 1964. From the
eye-popping, mind-boggling and sometimes ear-straining box "Holy Ghost." It's
from Revenant who specialize in exhaustive, labor-of-love retrospectives like
this one. "Holy Ghost" is a Holy Grail for Ayler fans. It's got
long-sought-after items like a glimpse of his brief 1962 stint with pianist
Cecil Taylor. In this free context, Ayler, for some reason, starts quoting
"Cocktails For Two."

(Soundbite of "Cocktails For Two")

WHITEHEAD: Ayler had a knack for that gloriously inappropriate gesture. He
might frame a free-jazz blowout with what sounded like a German beer hall
anthem. Toward the end of his short career, he made some awkward rock
records. When he was coming up, he kept trying to shoehorn his outward bound
solos into straight-ahead jazz bands. It made an uncomfortable fit. But on
an early session, playing the blues with a band from Finland, you can hear his
mature voice coming.

(Soundbite of trumpet music from Albert Ayler)

WHITEHEAD: Albert Ayler's greatest and weirdest group was a trio with bassist
Gary Peacock and drummer Sonny Murray. Their waves of sound upset jazz the
way Jackson Pollock shook painting. The box "Holy Ghost" includes an LP's
worth of new material by the trio and as much, again, by the quartet they
made, adding trumpeter Don Cherry.

(Soundbite of Albert Ayler's trio)

WHITEHEAD: Other rare items include some demos for those ill-fated rock
records, Ayler playing at John Coltrane's funeral and sitting in with
colleagues Burton Greene, Pharoah Sanders and Albert's trumpeter-brother
Donald Ayler. There's even a recording of the gig when Dutch classical
violinist Michel Sampson sat in and Ayler hired him on the spot. Sampson's
droning added an eerie presence to tunes like "Ghosts."

(Soundbite of "Ghost")

WHITEHEAD: Sound quality here is often dicey. But if this stuff was
pristinely recorded, it would have come out ages ago. The last two discs in
the box on school interviews Ayler did while preparing for a French festival
in 1970, shortly before his death. They help bring his eager personality into
focus, and there are surprising revelations.

Mr. AYLER: That's when I was in California. I started playing and I met Redd
Foxx. I don't know if you know Redd Foxx. Redd Foxx, well, we--I was playing
and he said--the guys, all musicians, blacks, ugh, and Redd Foxx say, `Look,
you believe it, play it.' That's what Redd Foxx say, you know?

WHITEHEAD: Telling the same stories in interviews days apart, Ayler weaved
spontaneous variations on set themes like in his music. His self-aggrandizing
and conflicted feelings for mother are two dominant motifs. But one comment
points to a choice he'd make on the bandstand days later.

Mr. AYLER: You know, I'm ready to play solo because I can play a classical
type of...

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. AYLER: ...jazz with a soul feeling...

Unidentified Man: Oh!

Mr. AYLER: ...you know, in a classical type of thing, you know? I even play
a little Bach or, you know, a little something on that order, you know, for
the people here.

(Soundbite of a song from Albert Ayler)

WHITEHEAD: The "Holy Ghost" box treats Ayler with religious devotion. It's a
reliquary, replete with replicas of a childhood photo and a handwritten note,
a real pressed flower and a weighty hardbound book of photos, time lines and
essays by Amiri Baraka and others, a beautiful object, a trove of rare music
and a triumph of jazz scholarship. It's a bargain at under 100 bucks.
Novices should start with a single disc like "Spiritual Unity" or "Love Cry."
But every serious jazz fan needs to know Albert Ayler's music, like it or not.

(Soundbite of music from Albert Ayler)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Down Beat and the Absolute Sound. He
reviewed the new box set "Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost" on Revenant.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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