God Rest You Merry

Front cover of the 45 rpm single originally issued in 1987.

In 1983, after Bachelors Anonymous’s Rob Berg left a Hindu monastery in Hollywood, he placed an ad in Music Connection, a mainstay biweekly periodical that’s still going strong, for a keyboardist to collaborate with. “I’d made music while in the monastery,” Rob recalls today, “but I wanted to broaden my scope.” Dan Slavin answered the ad. Two of the numbers they worked on were arrangements of Christmas carols. With “Mr. Wenceslas” Rob had reimagined “Good King Wenceslas” as a modern-day “corporate king.” They also did a pop version of “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.”

Buy a high quality digital download of the single at Bandcamp.

Fast forward to 1987, and the aftermath of the Iran-Contra affair in which the U.S. sold munitions covertly—and in violation of the law—to the government of Iran, using the proceeds to fund anti-government so-called contras in Nicaragua. Some contras were based in Honduras.

Memory is a little hazy, a sort of chicken-or-egg question, but somehow B.A. hatched the idea of doing a Christmas with the Contras club lampoon of the bizarre revelations about the affair being revealed day by day. Who could make up things like the back-channel wheel-and-deal-greasing of a bible inscribed by Ronald Reagan that was gifted to the Islamic Republic along with a cake baked in the shape of a key? The Bachelors don’t recall using such props in their show, but they were irked that Congress could prohibit the sale of such arms while people like Oliver North became national heroes for flouting the embargo. (We’re writing this just days after the current occupant of the White House pardoned Lt. General Mike Flynn for his own secret negotiations for a new generation.)

Back cover of the 45 rpm single originally issued in 1987.

While Rob’s “Mr. Wenceslas” is a tender allegory lyrically, B.A.’s David Hughes crafted new words to “God Rest You Merry” in the manner of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” meets Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier.” Neither B.A. song speaks to the Iran-Contra affair directly, but can be seen as critiques of business-as-usual generally.

The stage show, however, was another thing. It appears the two songs were premiered on August 27, 1987. Appropriately, that day’s L.A. Times front page showed Reagan meeting with contra leaders at the Century Plaza Hotel, attracting about 2,000 protesters. A group of counterdemonstrators, about a quarter that size, sported buttons reading, “Ollie North for President.”

The B.A. gig venue, although in close proximity to the hotel, was less tony: a drag bar known as the Four Star Saloon on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, around the corner from the iconic Revolver video bar. David recalls:

Two months before, we’d played a benefit for the West Hollywood gallery X=Art with, among others, Craig Lee and Celebrity Skin, whose drummer Don Bolles loved our act. I’m sure it was he who asked us to join the bill for the Four Star’s weekly Limbo Lounge. The L.A. Weekly billed Celebrity Skin as ‘those transvestites from hell.’ The show garnered a Recommended mention in the Weekly‘s Scoring the Clubs.

BA at Limbo Lounge Listing

For the show Rob and David dressed as U.S. mercenary advisors to the contras, as depicted in the postcard below.

BA at Limbo Lounge Postcard
Postcard for the Holiday in Honduras: Christmas with the Contras! gig by Bachelors Anonymous.

The Recording

David:

We were so fortunate that Rob knew Clive Wright, a fine guitarist. I remember Clive doing dry runs through the spots we had set aside for him. Unfortunately we hadn’t bothered to record those. Clive adds so much to “God Rest You Merry,” so I’m not complaining, but his first instincts on those practice runs demonstrated additional artistry.

I hated the drum bit I did at the end of “Mr. Wenceslas.” It was an improvisation and at the time I thought, It is what it is. But I wasn’t Clive. He was brilliant on his first pass; I was not. On the other hand, in retrospect, the effect we used on the percussion nicely echoes, what the B-52’s and David Byrne had done five years before on their EP Mesopotamia.

As I told Scott in our mastering session this month, I’m impressed that my sentiment for “God Rest You Merry” hasn’t changed in nearly thirty-five years. What I didn’t explain is that I already had a consciousness of workers as fodder, not only on the battlefield, but on the assembly line as well.

We bankrolled the single ourselves, and were so poor by the time Christmas rolled around, all we could afford to give friends and family was a cassette tape that included the two songs, “The Price of Love,” “Grand Illusion,” “A Stranger’s Bed,” “Land of Nod,” and “Play Safely.”

The Cover

David:

Rob had the idea of creating a pietà for “Mr. Wenceslas.” He covered his face in what I think were cigarette ashes to make his depiction of Bertha more authentic, but it didn’t read in the photo. I somehow slithered into Rob’s gray corporate suit to impersonate Mr. W. While we appear to have dispensed with the glass of favorite gin and tarnished rings, the tumbler of cider at Bertha’s feet was from a pattern my parents received as a wedding gift. For the shoot, we scouted downtown L.A. for corporate columns. We posed, and quickly skedaddled. L.A. regulates commercial photography and so we didn’t want to be fined.

For “God Rest You Merry” we rented a slot machine and Rolex, likely a fake, and enlisted my now wife Andrea Carney’s father Ed to pull the lever. Our photographer and graphic designer Anthony Lee had access to typography technology with which we altered the rollers’ symbols. The seamster who sewed Santa’s sleeve remains… Anonymous.

The Lyrics

Mr. Wenceslas

Down in the city. Down in the city.
Down in the city. Down in the big city.

Mr. Wenceslas looked down, on the eve of Christmas
50 stories from the ground, planning corporate business
He called his secretary in, said “Cancel my appointments.
Pour me out my favorite gin to down my disappointments.”

Down in the city. Down in the city.
Down in the city. Down in the big city.

Bertha pushed her shopping cart through the intersection.
When the green light said to start, it spilled in all directions.
Though all she owned was lying there, no one felt like stopping.
So she sat down in despair to watch the Christmas shopping.

Down in the city. Down in the city.
Down in the city. Down in the big city.

She slowly gathered up her things and found an empty doorway.
Clutching two old tarnished rings her son had sent from Norway.
Just then Mr. Wenceslas stumbled down beside her.
Bertha thought the poor man lost and offered him some cider.

When the corporate king looked up, he recognized his mother.
He drank the cider from her cup, it tasted like no other.
A memory of Christmas past enveloped them together.
The gift of love was theirs at last, a promise of forever.

Down in the city. Down in the city.
Down in the city. Down in the big city.

The Corporate King and the Slum Queen
The gift of love. The gift of love.

Lyrics Reprinted by Permission

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you delay
In arming seven samurai
For seven days in May
Invest them with your strange love
As a fail-safe bid them pray
For tidings of missiles to deploy, missiles deploy
Pray for tidings of missiles to deploy

God rest you merry, gentlemen
Take comfort from the war
We’ll foot the bill for this one
Just like all the ones before
Since freedom has no price tag
You can always ask for more
O tidings of workers to employ, workers employ
O tidings of workers to employ

Chorus           God rest you merry, merry, gentlemen

From the back seats of your limos
To the suites of NYC
You sack our nation’s coffers
With a phone and CRT
The game played in the boardrooms
Is still “craps” to you and me
O tidings of spend and enjoy, spend and enjoy
O tidings of spend and enjoy

Please show us, holy gentlemen
The narrow and the straight
Our bedroom doors are open
And our payment’s never late
Man doesn’t live by bread alone
That’s why you pass the plate
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Chorus           God rest you merry, merry, gentlemen

Lyrics Reprinted by Permission

Credits

BACHELORS ANONYMOUS is
Rob Berg: Synth, Vocals
David Hughes: Drum Box, Vocals

Words by Berg & Hughes
Celibataire Music (ASCAP)

Arranged by Berg & Hughes with Dan Slavin

Guitar by Clive Wright

Produced by
Bachelors Anonymous

Recorded at
SouthWest Sound
Sierra Madre, CA, 1987

Engineered by
Devin Thomas
Assisted by
Matt Levonian

Single Mastered and Pressed by
Rainbo Records
Santa Monica, CA

Digital Masters by
Scott A. Jennings
Artistry in Sound, 2020

Cover Design and Photography by
Anthony Lee
from original ideas by
Berg & Hughes
Santa Stand-in
Ed Gardner

© ℗ 1987, 2020 Berg, Hughes and Slavin

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