In our house, Christmas is mostly about music. Of course, we’re also game for focusing positive energy, a la “goodwill toward men (and women),” celebrating the post-solstice return of the light (we’re pretty secular/pagan, so not much birth-of-Jesus stuff), and we like giving and, let’s be honest, getting can be nice. But for my family, holiday pleasure primarily revolves around transcendent music. And I’m not talking about the predictable, hackneyed versions of old chestnuts (or, God held us, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”) pumped into public spaces by algorithm or unseen “authorities.” No. Most of the holiday music we adore comes from vintage Eddie G Christmas mixtapes.
Who is Eddie G, aka Eddie Gorodetsky? Currently, he’s an Emmy-winning producer and writer, creator of the new hit sitcom Mom, and co-producer and writer of primetime perennials The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Long before all of that, however, he came into my life as a name on a cassette entitled Eddie G’s Merry Sixmas. The year was 1988, and I was twenty-three. In time, I would learn he’d been a radio producer/DJ in Boston and had written for SCTV and SNL. But all I knew when I heard the 90-minute, second-generation dub of Merry Sixmas was what anyone knows when they hear a masterful mixtape: the person who made this mix loves music, particularly obscure-but-amazing Christmas records.
As its name suggests, Merry Sixmas was the sixth annual mix Eddie G made for friends and associates. He’d started making them in lieu of Christmas cards during his DJ years in the early 80s, culling carefully selected cuts from his legendarily expansive record collection. (He would continue making Christmas mixes into the mid ‘aughts.) Our Merry Sixmas dub came from Ted Gottfried, owner of the ‘zine store See/Hear. See/Hear occupied a basement in the East Village, a block from my wife Holly’s and my St. Mark’s Place apartment. In addition to ‘zines, See/Hear sold adult comics, R. Crumb “Heroes of the Blues” trading cards, and entertaining outsider ephemera. Ted was our friend and was on Eddie G’s mailing list. He pressed the Merry Sixmas dub into Holly’s hands with “you gotta hear this” urgency, which, of course, was the same spirit in which Eddie G originally made the mix: You gotta hear this. The humble cassette radiated enthusiasm.
Merry Sixmas was a revelation. We were adults, Holly and I, but Eddie G-as-curator made us feel like kids stumbling on a treasure chest. I’d been listening mostly to late 80s indie stuff, Cheap Trick, Gram Parsons, Big Star, and a collection of K-tel records from the 70s, but Eddie G’s Merry Sixmas introduced me to 50s R & B/doo wop greats The Voices, rockabilly pop sensation Johnny Preston, country star “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson, gospel vocal group the Swan Silvertones, rappers Cold Chillin’ Juice Crew, and the wonders of the Dragnet Christmas LP (I say that with no archness). Please enjoy and download at will:
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Merry Sixmas was a welcome lesson in unsung heroes of music history, but it was also something more: Eddie G’s hoodoo made these disparate tracklist companions all sound of a piece, all connected, all part of one exuberant family, yet not homogenized. And beyond the revelation of obscure, wonderful music, there’s a sense of joy in the sharing. Eddie G transmuted this joy to Ted, who transmuted it to us. The little rectangle of thin plastic and the even thinner magnetic tape guts within made a perfect receptacle for both the encoded music and the emotional punch of sharing that music, of connecting through joy. The fragility of the medium made it all the more precious.
In addition to delight, I felt kinship when I heard Merry Sixmas. Having made a couple mixtapes, I could tell Eddie G had spent significant time selecting just the right songs and finding just the right running order, and I could tell he’d labored over the interstitial bits, which are hilarious and create a story arc. I could tell because there is no other way to make a good cassette mix than to sweat over it. Mix CDs and playlists, while excellent in many ways (I have a couple that make me weep), do not possess the same power as cassette mixes, largely because you can click and drag MP3’s onto a playlist in a matter of minutes; i.e. you can sort of half-ass it. Love can go into a digital mix, yes, and a mix CD cover can be a work of art, but the assemblage process is relatively quick and easy, and thus, carries no whiff of toil. A digital mix, I daresay, does not automatically bespeak passion like a cassette. And yes, a cassette degrades, blah blah blah. But that’s part of what makes it special. It’s much more like an aging person than a CD.
We asked Ted if he had more and, hot diggity, he did. He dubbed us What’s Christmas Four? and A Fifth of Christmas Cheer. Along with Merry Sixmas, we listened to them nonstop in our apartment and on long drives to visit relatives in North Carolina and Georgia. They made us happy, of good cheer. To this day, we take out the old cassettes every December and play them on our cobwebbed cassette deck, along with the many other mixes Eddie G made, which he himself sent us after we met him in L.A. in the early 90s, of which more in a moment.
For this essay, I tracked down Eddie G to converse about the mixtapes, which are legend among a select and lucky group of recipients. First question: Why the mixes, of which there are over two dozen?: “It’s a good way to get people out of their comfort zone and listen to music they otherwise wouldn’t,” Eddie G says via email. “I was able to introduce people to Dinah Washington, George Jones, various mambo and African records they otherwise never would have ventured near.”
Peter Wolf, of the J. Geils Band, has known Eddie G for more than three decades. In 2010, he talked to the Wall Street Journal about Eddie G’s passion: “For people who are beyond obsessed about music, the need to share it is almost like an emergency medical assist – it’s your duty to turn the other person on. If you don’t, they’ll die.”
In the early 90s Holly and I were hanging out in L.A. with the Rhino Records guys, who’d been licensing and re-releasing music from bygone eras, first on LPs, then CDs. (They were, far and away, the best reissue label.) Through them, we met the illustrious Eddie G, who was, at that time, new to the West Coast. (He would go on to write episodes for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, among many other shows). A couple years before, Columbia had released Christmas Party with Eddie G, an “official” Christmas mix for the masses, now a collector’s item you should, by all means, purchase online.
We bubbled over with gratitude at the mixes we’d been listening to, and he was gracious but modest, deferring to the tunes, dismissing his music evangelist work. He offhandedly said, “I’ll put you on the list,” and lo, we were anointed. But he didn’t want to go into it; he was more interested in showing us the fresh tattoo on his arm. It was an ointment-covered, particularly eye-catching design he’d seen on some vintage linoleum. I ended up in a hotel room he was staying in, which was strewn with cassettes and a huge boombox. True to form, he held up a cassette and said, “You gotta hear this.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“An amazing unreleased song by Van Morrison called ‘When I Deliver.’ You heard it?”
I had not, and this made Eddie G smile, for now he was going to share the magic in real time. He had just met me, but we were about to occupy sacred space together. I was touched by his immediate trust, his apparent recognition of a fellow disciple. It was like meeting another musician: no need for lots of chitchat, which is an overrated form of communication anyway.
The cassette wheels spun on the rotors, the distinctive sound of tape hiss eked into the room, and “When I Deliver,” a live bit of raw Celtic gospel, circa early 70s, filled the air. Of course it was stellar, relentlessly so. Eddie G was so overcome, he couldn’t bear to let the six-and-a-half minute song play out. About five minutes in, he ejected the cassette and inserted another obscurity that sadly, I do not recall, as it paled next to Van Morrison’s lightning-in-a-bottle performance. “When I Deliver” remains unreleased, at least officially, but you can find it on YouTube.
That word YouTube brings us to the end of our story. In 2007, Eddie G sent a blank CD to his mailing list. That list reportedly included Bob Dylan (for whom he created Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan for satellite radio), Penn Jillette, and Tom Waits. With the blank CD were liner notes that basically said, “Happy trails. It’s been fun. But now, thanks to the internet, the music is out there, so make your own mix and give it to someone you love.” Holly and I almost cried.
To me, he wrote: “I stopped ‘cause it kinda ran its course — too many xmas mixes available. But I still share music with friends, which is especially important now, when music is presented like an overblown buffet without curation. A 24-hour blues channel is for the already interested. One great blues record can convert someone for life.”
A great Christmas mixtape can convert someone for life, too. That someone would be me. I will never match Eddie G’s unparalleled collection of music nor his curatorial zeal and flair, but he did introduce me to the life-enriching potential of a mixtape. I upped my game at the cassette deck, and I’m happy to say I became somewhat renowned among family and friends – and patrons when I was a bartender – as a great mix-maker. (I converted to CDs in the early ‘aughts.) Our son Jack now creates renowned mixes, too, which he presses into the hands of his friends, exuberantly saying, “You gotta hear this.”
Thanks, Eddie G, and Merry Christmas.