Sarah meets Naughty Santas, nice Spin Doctor
I enjoy the sleep aid commercial where the insomniac is visited in his kitchen by his dreams who miss him. Abraham Lincoln is playing chess with a beaver while a guy in a deep sea diver suit prepares a meal in the background.
We all have these dreams, where unrelated people and things converge in one unlikely scenario. It sounded as if I were relating such a dream when I told people about my experience on Dec. 1.
“We were in a garage listening to a band when suddenly we were surrounded by a group of drunken Santas and scantily-clad elf girls. And Chris Barron from the group Spin Doctors was sitting next to me talking about his friend Elmo from Sesame Street…”
I hadn’t planned to work that Saturday night. I just meant to go with my daughter to a Winston-Salem nightspot, The Garage, to hear the band Bombadil.
But when I looked at The Garage’s Web site for show times, I saw a last-minute addition ó a midnight show by Chris Barron of Spin Doctor fame. I threw a steno pad in my bag in case an interview opportunity were to arise.
About halfway through Bombadil’s show, four Santa Clauses entered and sat at the table next to us. That was unusual, and kind of cool. But then, a few at a time, more Santas arrived, and also women wearing what I would describe as a cross between lingerie and elf costume. They were exhibiting behaviors that I’m sure the real Santa would find appalling. The group was a little too jolly for my taste, and they were interfering with the show.
Since I am an inquisitive journalist, I interviewed an elf and discovered that I was trapped in the middle of a SantaCon gathering. This movement, started in San Francisco a few years back, is noted for bawdy improvisation and naughty Christmas carols. It is also known as Naughty Santas, Cheapsuit Santas, the Red Menace and Santapalooza.
I just call it annoying.
The elf said they had been escorted out of Hanes Mall earlier in the day. Then they crashed a corporate Christmas party and were evicted from that as well.
I kept watching the door, looking for Chris Barron. Bombadil finished, and the rest of Barron’s current band, The Time Bandits, were already setting up the stage, but I didn’t see the famous face I only half-remembered from the early ’90s when my three daughters were small children and I was listening to more Raffi than radio and watching Sesame Street, not MTV.
When Spin Doctors’ album “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” was released by Epic/Associated in summer of 1991, it was eclipsed by one of the label’s other bands ó Pearl Jam. But when program directors championed the Spin Doctors, the album got a new life. The songs, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes” stayed on Billboard charts for two years.
In 1992, “Little Miss” was in MTV’s top five requested videos and “Two Princes” had the distinction of being named the year’s most requested song by radio stations in 1993. I know all this now.
In 1992, I knew about Spin Doctors because I was working part-time in a music store, and people would come in looking for Spin Doctors sheet music. Also, “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” was one of the CDs a co-worker would play during long stretches when we had no customers.
Another of my part-time jobs was teaching music appreciation at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. I borrowed the Spin Doctors CD and took it to class. I played “Two Princes” for my students while I diagrammed it on the board, and explained ostinato and the chord structure.
I would like to think my students never listened to that song in quite the same way after that.
Back to The Garage. When Chris Barron finally arrived through the stage door, the years melted away as I suddenly did remember seeing him on TV and posters. I tentatively positioned myself where I couldn’t be ignored and introduced myself, saying I was from a newspaper and “could I ask a few questions.”
And even though he was busy setting up for the show, he greeted me warmly and talked as if he had all night, not like someone getting ready to perform.
He explained that the reason for the late notice and lack of publicity was because he was supposed to do a show in Nashville at a club that suddenly closed down. They “cast about” for another place to play, and The Garage took them in.
I asked how he felt about the wild Santas, and he said he didn’t mind them at all.
“Ten years from now we’ll be saying, ‘Hey, remember that show with all those drunk Santas? That was crazy.'”
Barron politely said he needed to get ready, but that we’d talk more after the show.
The crowd seemed too small considering the Spin Doctors’ place in rock music history. I wondered if this was because the show was last-minute and not publicized much, or if the Santas were driving people away.
When Barron sang his first few notes, the guy next to me said, “Hey, that sounds just like him!” His voice is unmistakable, even when singing his new songs instead of those famous from Spin Doctor days.
Many of the songs were from his latest CD, “Pancho and the Kid,” which Barron co-produced with Jeff Cohen. The record is only available at his live performances right now. Laid-back Barron, who keeps his gold and platinum records in his bathroom, seems in no hurry to market the latest recording more widely.
Barron good-naturedly poked fun at himself with a blues ballad about when he was a 19-year-old doing manual labor for a landscaping company. This was like being on a “chain gang” for this upper middle class New Jersey boy.
But when Barron launched into “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” that was when the club-goers’ cellphones came out to photograph and record the moment. And during the “Two Princes” grand finale, the audience joyfully sang along.
Barron kept his promise and joined me, and my newspaper intern-daughter, Abigail, after the show for a talk.
I usually do research about a person before I interview him, but I didn’t have time in this case. So I was frantically searching my mind for Spin Doctor memories.
I asked him if he did much touring, and he said he doesn’t travel much because he is very involved in his 9-year-old daughter’s life. He talked about what a great kid she is. He said she’s so much fun, he’d want to hang out with her even if she wasn’t his daughter.
I told him how I used “Two Princes” in the music class I taught, but he showed less interest in his platinum-selling song than he showed in his daughter.
Then I brought up my memory of seeing him on Sesame Street, and he really lit up. He said he considers that “the pinnacle of his career.”
This from a man who has opened for the Rolling Stones and been on Saturday Night Live.
“Those Muppets are seriously talented,” Barron said.
He gave us the behind-the-scenes story on the show and puppeteers, and how up close Elmo and Telly looked like pieces of cloth with ping pong ball eyes until the handlers brought them to life. He laughed about how the people behind the puppets seemed determined to make him talk directly to Elmo and Telly instead of them, even off camera.
Right before a take, Barron said to Telly, “I’ve never talked to a puppet before.” He said Telly answered, “You know, neither have I!”
Then the cameras rolled. Barron says that’s the reason he looks so amused.
I asked if his daughter had seen his Sesame Street appearance and he said, “Oh, definitely.” When she was younger, she was not impressed that he was a Spin Doctor. But he was a celebrity in her eyes because he was friends with Elmo and Telly.
And he’ll always remain famous to me for his graciousness, humbleness and friendliness to my daughter. To help my daughter remember this evening, I ordered a copy of the Jan. 7, 1993 “Rolling Stone” magazine to give her as a Christmas present, the one with Spin Doctors on the cover.
Oh, and Chris ó”If you want to call me ‘baby,’ just go ahead now.”
In next week’s TimeOut!: Chris Barron is singing better than ever after overcoming his vocal paralysis that caused the Spin Doctors demise.
He has more N.C. performances coming up. Go to www.myspace.com/thechris barron to view his schedule.nnnContact Sarah Hall at email@example.com or 704-797-4271.
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