20 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: Brave Combo It's Christmas, Man

It was probably in the mid eighties that I first heard of anyone trying to have a bit of fun with polka.

Polka to me, was a totally foreign concept, it was tacky in the way that Lawrence Welk was, and it spoke to me of the whitest of white men with their strange sausages, warm beer and lederhosen. Oh it sounds like fun when they're rolling out the barrel, but any moment they'll stop singing adelweiss and start a chorus of tomorrow belongs to me. Okay it is originally from a Czech word referring to Poles, but the Warsaw Ghetto and Theresienstadt were a sop to some of the natives that took part of the sting out of German occupation. I'm not suggesting that polka brought up any deep seated feelings of Semitic persecution for me (all my feelings of Semitic persecution are very shallow), but it was just alien, like foods you already have a vague premonition will be distasteful, like Keilbasa or pierogies. It's the kind of situation that may lead you to be pleasantly surprised, or with a confirmation of disgust accompanied with self loathing for disobeying your own instincts.

In the mid eighties I was more directly aware of punk as an aesthetic, mostly in the way it crashed landed into pop culture in artefacts like Liquid Sky and Repo Man. I helped organize a Repo Man themed party for my house at Uni (we got into a bit of trouble, the campus police had to ask us to stop playing the soundtrack of the movie out into the street with our very large speakers). A friend of a friend was seriously into punk and hardcore and provided me with records which helped make some of the best obscure mixtapes I'd ever done. This introduced me to a range of acts beyond those on the Repo Man soundtrack. I particularly warmed to the groups that fused punk and hillbilly bluesrock into psychobilly including Gun Club and The Cramps. It was probably about then that I heard of Polkacide, whose music I've still not yet heard, but the idea of fusing the exuberance of punk and polka was tantalizing.

Though not from punk roots, Brave Combo are more squarely from the Texas music scene, their use of polka seemed similarly invigorated. I became gradually aware of them as they issued polka flavored covers of Purple Haze (Hendrix) and People Are Strange (Doors). So when I saw their 1992 album It's Christmas, Man, I pre-empted Santa and gifted myself on the spot. Here they put a variety of dance rhythms, including cumbia, cha-cha, samba and the much maligned polka that they champion, against holiday standards. They're kind of like David Byrne, without the po faced artiness, and a bigger sense of fun (self editor's note: after penning that remark research pointed up that they played Byrne's wedding, and some made cameos in Byrne's film True Stories, I had no idea).

It's Christmas, Man - Brave Combo
1 Must Be Santa POLKA
2 0, Christmas Tree SAMBA
3 It's Christmas CHA CHA
4 Corrido NavideƱo RANCHERA
5 The Christmas Song (Chestnuts) SKA
6 Christmas In July
7 Please Come Home For Christmas
8 Hanukkah, Hanukkah HORA
9 Frosty the Snowman
10 The Little Drummer Boy GUAGUANCO
11 Santa's Polka POLKA
12 Feliz Navidad CUMBIA
13 Ave Maria
14 Buon Natale WALTZ
15 Jingle Bells

Must Be Santa

When Bob Dylan covered Must Be Santa for his 2009 Christmas In The Heart album, he took his arrangement straight off of Brave Combo. Another famous fan, Matt Groening invited them to guest in a Simpson's episode. So hat's off to Brave Combo, one of the bands that have dared to make polka, well, almost cool. Look at the video, not a lederhosen in sight.

O Christmas Tree

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