Christmas In Malibu - The True Story Of A Holiday Music MiracleA Story by Joe Klein
How a pop holiday novelty tune became a national radio and music-video hit, without a record label, in the late 1980's
This is the story of CHRISTMAS IN MALIBU, a holiday-novelty tune that was born in 1988. It was the first song I ever wrote. I was 35 years old at the time, and enjoying a successful career as a music and commercial producer in Los Angeles. The song came to me late in June, as I sat on the beach below my apartment in Malibu, where I often spent my weekends.
To this day, I don’t know exactly how it happened. The song suddenly “popped into my brain” as I sat on the sand, looking at the surf. I didn’t have a clue where this Christmas song came from, or why it came to me on this early summer day at the beach. It was one of those instances you hear about where information is “channeled” from some higher power. When it happened to me, I was truly “freaked out.” With the song playing in my mind, I ran up to my apartment, grabbed the keys to my car and raced back to my Hollywood home, where I sat down at the piano and started playing the chords and singing the words scribbled on the crumpled paper littered with grains of Malibu sand.
I “wrote”’ the song at the piano in about half an hour. I had a small, state-of-the-art audio production recording studio in the rear of my home (where I produced an endless string of commercials and promos in the 80's) so I grabbed a couple of microphones, mic stands and long cables, set up the mics at the piano and recorded a piano and voice demo of Christmas In Malibu. It was a very catchy tune and, frankly, I didn’t think that I had the musical ability, or “chops” needed to write a pop song of the caliber of the one I had just recorded.
Immediately after the demo was recorded, things started
getting very weird. I couldn't get Christmas In Malibu out of my head. I found
myself hopefully obsessed, much like Richard Dreyfuss’ character Roy Neary was in CLOSE
ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. As the summer wore on, I had endless dreams about the song and producing
a record of it. Like Roy kept seeing images of the mother-ship's landing site in Spielberg's classic film, I kept hearing the finished record of Christmas In Malibu in my mind. And, just like Roy, my professional
and social life began to suffer, as I displayed an endless preoccupation with
Christmas In Malibu. Friends and family began suggesting I seek counseling or enter some kind of "music-rehab" program!
Early in July, my mother threw a surprise party for my 35th birthday. Dozens of my friends were there, and I surprised them by sitting down at the piano and playing the Christmas song I had written less than two weeks earlier. Everyone liked the song, but a few friends asked what had inspired me to write a Christmas song at the beginning of the summer. I said that I didn’t really know and that the song just came to me on the beach. Another friend then reminded all of us that IRVING BERLIN had written one the biggest Christmas songs of all time, WHITE CHRISTMAS, in LaQuinta, California (near Palm Springs), in the summer as well, nearly fifty years earlier.
One of my good friends at the party was RUSS TERRANA, who was the chief engineer at Motown Records at the time. He came up to me and told me he thought Christmas In Malibu was a great song. I asked him if we could record it at Motown one day and he said he’d try and “sneak me in” one night if he could.
The summer dragged on, with constant thoughts of the song haunting me day and night. A few of my friends and colleagues started seriously suggesting I get professional help!
One day in October, Russ called me up and asked if I wanted to cut the song at Motown's studio. He had just got the word that the record company was in the final process of being sold and the studio, where so many of Motown’s Hollywood hits were made during the preceding fifteen years, would be closing forever. My obsession was about to get a full tank of high-octane fuel!
Russ introduced me to MITCH DEMATOFF and DALE ECHNOZ, a couple of very talented guys who worked for Motown as arrangers and producers of demos for Berry Gordy’s music publishing company, Jobete Music. I told the guys I wanted a classic “1967” California pop sound with a little British invasion mixed in. “Think Happy Together, Penny Lane, and The Beach Boys,” I said at that first meeting. They then retreated down to the basement of the studio, where they arranged and programmed all the instrumental tracks (except the acoustic and electric guitar) for Christmas In Malibu on a SYNCLAVIER, a $150,000.00 digital music computer that Motown had recently purchased.
I returned to the studio a couple days later and was blown away in that basement when I heard the tracks Mitch and Dale had created on that wondrous, new music machine. They were just as I had “heard” them in my mind for the last few months! In a process opposite to how music is recorded now in the digital age, Russ transferred the digital tracks to a 24-track analog tape to be completed. I hired a guitarist, and the guitar parts were added a couple days later. All I needed now was a group. I headed back to Malibu to search the beach for any “singing surfer dudes” that may be hanging around.
When I arrived at my Malibu apartment, I ran into a friend who lived in the same complex, actress STEPHANIE BEACHEM. She had been at my birthday party back in July. I told her that I finally got Christmas In Malibu recorded. We went to my apartment and I played a cassette with a rough mix of the instrumental tracks, singing along with them as they played. Stephanie was very impressed, commenting that it sounded like there may be a hit record in the making.
I told Stephanie I needed a group to record and perform the song. She said she knew a young local surfer guy and drummer named KARMA AUGER (son of the English rock keyboardist BRIAN AUGER) and said that he would be “simply perfect.” I met Karma the next day at my apartment and had him sing the song along with the track. Stephanie was right. He had the perfect, innocent voice for the pop novelty tune.
I told Karma we’d record his vocal in Hollywood the next day. He was blown away by it all, much like wide-eyed contestants on shows like American Idol are when the judges tell them, “See you in Hollywood!” While I was talking to Karma, the phone rang and I stepped out on the balcony to take the call. I don’t remember who it was that called, but what I do remember was that, while on the call, I spotted another surfer dude on the beach below, surrounded by a few very attractive young women. I hung up the phone, and told Karma I’d be right back.
I’d seen this guy on the beach a few times before, also surrounded by cute girls. I introduced myself. He told me his name was MATT SANTANGELO and that he was a student at Malibu's Pepperdine University.
"Wat's your major?" I asked sarcastically.
"Automotive doughnuts,” he said, and the girls laughed.
I instantly liked this young smart-alack, and asked him if he wanted to be a rock star.
He said, "Really? Okay, I guess."
I was sure that Matt thought it was a gag, and that he was being "punked" (although it was then about ten years before that term started being used). After a bit of coaxing and convincing him I was for real, and offering him a couple hundred dollars a week, I succeeded in recruiting Matt to assume the role of Karma's pal, and THE RAD DUDES were born.
Karma's lead vocal was recorded in just a couple of hours the following day. The next day I brought in former Phil Spector artist BOBBY SHEEN, rocker DWIGHT TWILLEY, his girlfriend SUSAN COWSILL and studio background singer TATA VEGA to sing backup vocals along with Karma. Then we recorded my own dulcet tones (as the "Surfin' Santa") and the track was mixed immediately afterward. We did an additional pass of the mix with the lead vocal track turned off for an instrumental version of the track
It was less than two weeks after I got the call from Russ that the record was complete. It turned out fantastic, and I thought it sounded like a holiday smash. But it was now near the end of October and far too late (in those prehistoric, pre-internet days) to secure a deal with a label to release the song for the holidays. But I was now even more obsessed than ever, and desperately wanted to get Christmas In Malibu out there. So, I did the unthinkable. I decided to release the song, to radio only, without a record label.
I had spent years as a radio commercial producer and had a bunch of long-time industry friends in the radio biz and the industry trade magazines. So I had a bunch of reference discs cut at Motown and sent them out to about a dozen of the most influential people I knew at the time. They all got back to me and told me they loved the record, but the radio programmers were hesitant to commit to playing it since it wasn’t on a label.
One of my trade magazine contacts, Ken Barnes, a senior editor at the venerable RADIO AND RECORDS newspaper, did me a solid. He called his friend KEVIN WEATHERLY, who was the music director at L.A.’s hottest CHR station, KIIS-FM, and told him about the song. Ken then called me, saying that Kevin was waiting to meet me.
I grabbed a disc and drove to the radio station, running several stop signs on the side streets of Hollywood on the way. When I got into Kevin’ office he looked at me and said, “You now I never do this. But Ken says you’ve got a pretty good Christmas record there. So let’s check it out.
“I’m Joe Klein. Nice to meet you,” is all I can recall saying. I handed the disc to Kevin. He put it on the turntable, dropped the needle down and the music started. Kevin listened with no visible expression on his face for about a minute or so, through the first chorus of the song. Then he picked up the needle and parked it in the rest. My heart sank. He didn’t like it, I thought.
Kevin then started typing on his computer. He finished, looked up and asked, “Who else has this?” Before I could answer, he continued, “I want to world-premiere this record. If we have a deal, it’ll be the first holiday song we play this year.”
“Works for me,” I managed to say, almost choking on my words. I told Kevin that I had only passed out a handful of reference discs and no one had committed to playing the record yet. I promised Kevin that I wouldn’t send out any more copies until the day of the premiere.
“Cool,” he said. “It’ll be the first song on Hollywood Hamilton’s show the Monday night after Thanksgiving.”
"That really works for me," I said, still pretty much in a state of shock.
As I was leaving his office, Kevin smiled and said, “Nice job, Joe. It's a great record.”
“Thanks, Kevin, you made my year!” I told him, and walked out....on Cloud Nine.
I was giddy with excitement for the next couple of weeks, knowing that Christmas In Malibu would debut on one of the biggest radio stations in the country. I passed along the news to a few of the other radio and trade magazine guys I had sent reference discs to and, of course, called Ken at R&R to thank him for making the call to Kevin Weatherly.
I was sure that once the song premiered on KIIS-FM, other stations would want to play the record as well. Maybe I really could pull off a major holiday music-biz-miracle here. But to do this, I needed real records that I could get to radio stations.
In anticipation of having records pressed one day, I had made 45 RPM "master discs” of the vocal and instrumental mixes at Motown’s mastering room. All I needed now was a label design for the record. I called a cool graphics/art-director I had known for a few years, who went by the name ZOX. I told him I needed a label design for a single record....fast! Then I got in touch with a friend who was the manager of a local record manufacturing plant and said I had a real “rush” job to get done. I brought the label design to the plant and a few days later picked up 500 7-inch promo singles of the track. Holey Holiday Moley! I had boxes of actual records of Christmas In Malibu.
I spent the next weeks leading up to Thanksgiving in a kind of frenzied haze, figuring out what my next moves would be after the song premiered on KIIS-FM. I called the dozen or so influential radio friends I had previously contacted about the song, told them about the KIIS-FM premiere and that I now had actual records that I would send to them. I mentioned the exclusivity deal I had made with Weatherly and said that they could add the record as well, but not until the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.
MTV had been around for over five years by that time, and was still playing music videos, even though they had already started mixing in a bit of reality programming. Videos had become the single most important marketing tool for pop music releases in the years since MTV launched, and, being deeply involved in music marketing myself, I knew that, if the song took off, a video was a must. But there weren’t any records to be sold no matter what, so I wasn’t ready to commit to the making of the video yet. Still, I made a bunch of calls to video producers I had come to know over the years to get budgets for and advice about making a music video, as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Thanksgiving was a hoot that year. My parent’s had the usual big, holiday gathering. I remember very little about about it, as I had Christmas, and Malibu, on my mind. But one thing I DO remember is playing the record after dinner for everyone there, most of which were Jewish. At the end of the song, everyone burst into applause. I was pretty damned proud.
I spent Thanksgiving weekend at my apartment in Malibu hanging with friends....and The Rad Dudes. We pretty much partied all weekend, in advance of whatever madness might happen once the record got played on the radio.
Monday arrived without a whole lot of fanfare. Everyone had gone home Sunday night. I woke up and decided to just spend a quiet day in Malibu before heading into Hollywood to hear the song premiere on the radio. I had a late lunch with a Malibu pal and made the drive east on PCH as the sun was setting.
When I got home, there were several messages waiting on my business and personal answering machines from friends, colleagues and clients, mostly wishing me good luck with the “release” of the record on the radio. I returned a few of the calls, went through the mail, then made myself a martini, settled into my recliner to watch TV until the big moment arrived. I thought about inviting a few friends, or the Rad Dudes themselves, over, but decided not to. I chose, rather, to savor the moment by myself.
I had KIIS-FM tuned in and a cassette loaded into the tape deck of my “fancy-shmancy” Bang & Olufsen stereo system. Just before 9PM, I cranked up the volume and started the cassette rolling. The top-of-the-hour station I.D. played and, then, I heard the opening chords of Christmas In Malibu as Hollywood Hamilton opened his show. He wished everyone Happy Holidays and then introduced The Rad Dudes as a couple of guys hanging out on the beach in Malibu who decided to make a record for Christmas.
The record sounded awesome on the radio. It was cool that I was alone, because I shed a few tears of joy as the music played. As the song ended, the phone began to ring. It was my mother, calling to tell me she heard the song on the radio and she and my dad were very proud. I admit that I was pretty proud of myself at that moment as well. I hung up the phone at it rang again. I let the machine answer the call, and, as I had only had a single drink over an hour earlier, decided to drive back out to Malibu. On the way, I played back the cassette recording of the record’s premiere, and pondered what I needed to do next.
I poured myself another martini as soon as I arrived at the beach apartment. This time it was a double. I settled into the sofa, turned on the TV and watched the 11:00 news, which was filled with stories about “Black Friday,” holiday shopping and the just-passed Thanksgiving weekend. I watched the news and the first half-hour of The Tonight Show before going to bed. I drifted off to sleep with visions of Surfin’ Santa dancing through my mind.
Shortly after 7:00 AM the next morning I was jarred to consciousness by the electronic ring of the cordless phone next to my bed. I grabbed the phone and it flew from my hand, halfway across the room. I got up and retrieved the phone, fumbling for the button to answer the call. The voice on the other end of the line was a woman. “Is this Joe Klein, the producer of Christmas In Malibu?” she asked.
I replied in the affirmative and asked who she was and how she got my private Malibu number. She apologized for calling so early, told me her name was Liz Kiley and that she was the music director of KOST-FM. She said she got my number from Kevin Weatherly. Before I had a chance to ask her why she was calling, she went on. “I was driving home last night and practically drove off the 101 Freeway when I heard your song on Hollywood Hamilton’s show. I must have the record for my station today!”
Still shaking the cobwebs from my head, I got Liz to calm down, telling her I’d deliver a copy to her personally in a few hours.
“Great,” she said, and told me where the station was. “See you before lunch!” KOST-FM was the top-rated “adult-contemporary” radio station in the L.A. A second major station in the second-largest market of the country would now be playing Christmas In Malibu. This was a pretty big deal!
I drove the 25 miles from Malibu into L.A. and arrived at KOST around 11:00 AM. When I got to Liz’s office she was genuinely excited to see me. “Joe, thanks so much for coming in. The record is great! You know this could be a major hit!”
I thanked her and briefly told her the story of how Christmas In Malibu got made and then world-premiered on KIIS-FM. She responded enthusiastically, saying it would make a great story for the trades, and the TV news, especially if this “record without label” went on to become a major hit on radio. With no commercial release, the song had not even been published yet. I had learned that one way to get a song published and registered with a major royalty collection agency (ASCAP or BMI) was to get it played on a commercial radio station. I asked Liz if she could write a letter to ASCAP on the station’s letterhead stating that KOST was playing the song.
“Well, this is a first for me, but, why not? Now you have an even better story,” she said with a laugh. Liz dictated a correspondence to her assistant and, while it was being typed up, we chatted a bit more. She told me he would call several colleagues at other stations around the country and encourage them to play the record as well. I left her office, but this time I was trotting, rather than walking, on Cloud 9....and a half.
The week that followed was, in a word, insane! I called all the other major radio stations in L.A., Orange County, Ventura County and San Diego. When I told them that KIIS-FM and KOST were already playing Christmas In Malibu, that was all they needed to hear before agreeing to play it on their stations as well. I had a little trouble convincing the other big top-40 station in L.A., KPWR (“Power 106”) to play the song. The station’s program director, JEFF WYATT, was hesitant. He’s never added a record to hi station’s playlist that hadn’t been released commercially. I told him that it was published and that several other local stations, including his big competitor, KIIS-FM were paying the song. I asked him to listen to the record a couple more times and I was sure that Power 106 and the “power of rad” was a great combination.
Jeff called me back in about an hour and said, “You know, it really is a great record, Joe. I’m adding it today.” Christmas In Malibu would go on to became the most requested song on Power 106 the week leading up to Christmas.
During that same week, I called a couple of good friends and asked (actually begged) them to help me mail out Christmas In Malibu singles to the a couple hundred of the biggest CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) and A/C (Adult Contemporary Soft Rock) stations in the country.
I was so convinced that the record would be played by stations if only they knew about it that I decided to make a bold, if not costly move, and place a full-page ad in Billboard magazine. I called the magazine and booked the space for the next issue. There was only one full page still available and it was in a “less-than-prime” location near the back. Even worse, it was not on a page that was printed in color, so the ad had to be in black and white. A Christmas ad in black and white? How lame would that be?
I called ZOX and told him I needed to put together an ad, fast! We met over the weekend. ZOX thought that, with the right photo, a black and white ad for Christmas In Malibu could be pretty cool. (This was the same time that “black weddings” had become a token fad.) I had Karma and Matt meet us for a photo shoot. We shot a couple of rolls of black and white film and ZOX rushed them straight over to a Hollywood photo lab which was open that Saturday to be processed. I told him to choose the best shots, have them enlarged and we’d decide on the photo to use the next day. Meanwhile, I called two of my most well-known long-time radio pals, disc-jockey SCOTT SHANNON and national radio consultant GUY ZAPOLEON, to get quotes from them to use in the Billboard ad Luckily I was able to reach both of them, and they agreed to be quoted. We came up with statements to attach to their influential names.
We met again on Sunday to put the ad together. The magazine had to have the negatives for the ad no later than Tuesday afternoon, as the magazine was put to bed on Wednesday, printed and mailed out on Thursday. We had to have those negatives to Federal Express by 5:00 PM on Monday! Fortunately, one of the photos ZOX had printed was perfect for the ad. We worked together for hours writing the copy, picking fonts. scanning the photo, then putting the whole layout together on ZOX’s Macintosh computer. It was very late Sunday night when we finally finished. ZOX was right. The black and white ad looked great and, in its stark simplicity, was a surprisingly hip and unique trade magazine ad. i had never seen anything quite like it in the magazine before.
ZOX agreed to take the floppy disc of the ad to the photo lab Monday morning, have the publication negative made and then drop it off at Fedex to have it shipped to Billboard’s offices in New York. I made one more decision that night. I was going to shoot a music video of Christmas In Malibu.
I dragged my raggedy self home, set the alarm for early Monday morning, and collapsed. After about six hours of badly needed sleep, the alarm went off. I made it out of bed and to the kitchen, where I brewed up a large pot of coffee. After drinking a few large cups of Joe, I checked my phone messages from the previous day. One of them was from a video director I had spoken with about a week earlier. He said that another job had canceled and that he was available to shoot a music video over the next few days. I called him and asked how quick he could throw together a location shoot in Malibu. He said he could hire up a minimum crew, get the needed lights, cameras and crane within the next two or three days. I told him to stand by, and I’d call him back before lunch time.
MTV had been around for over five years, and music videos had become the single most important component for marketing pop music. By the end of 1988, MTV had begun mixing in reality programming with music videos, and there were a handful of other major outlets on national television picking up the slack with weekly and weekend video shows playing music videos as well. Still, MTV and its newer sister channel, VH-1, were the king and queen of the hill, and I had a pretty good connection to both. It was time to play my trump card.
I had known Les Garland, one of the founders and first head
of programming for MTV and VH-1, since the 70’s, when he was the program
director of top-40 radio station KFRC in San Francisco. We lost touch for
several years, but I reconnected with him shortly after he launched MTV and saw
him from time to time during the 80’s when he was the top-dog at the
music-video channels. In late 1988, Les was no longer at MTV
Networks. He had launched another company, Quantum Media. But I still had
contact information for him and gave him a call. I told him about Christmas In
Malibu and he loved the story. I said I would have a music video of the song
finished in a few days and asked if he could be of any help.
Les gave me the names of people to contact at MTV/VH-1, TBS, USA Network and NBC that programmed the music-video shows on those networks. He said I could use his name and suggested that I call these people immediately, because they were programming that year’s holiday videos as we spoke.
Call it dumb luck, or good timing, or both, but I actually managed to reach all four of the contacts Les had referred me to. I used his name to start each pitch, then followed with a quick story about the record and the fact that it was already being played on every major radio station in Southern California and spreading fast. I admit that the dialogue about the radio airplay was a bit of an exaggeration at that instant, but a “record promo man” (which was the role I was playing at the time) has gotta’ do what he’s gotta’ do to get his product played on the air.
Les’ revered name, and my gift of gab, worked! In the space of one hour, I got commitments from all four programmers to air the video, providing it lived up to their programming standards, which they candidly admitted were not particularly stringent for holiday videos, since they only aired for the ten days leading up to Christmas. There was one other caveat. The finished video needed to be in three of the offices by the following Tuesday, December 13 and the fourth by the next day to have a chance to get added into the holiday mix on the networks.
It was Monday, December 5. The videos had to be on their way to offices in New York and Atlanta by the end of the day the following Monday. I had exactly one week to shoot, edit and make copies of a music video for which there was no script yet, or a production crew to shoot it. How this whole movie would ultimately play out was unknown, but one thing was for sure at that moment in time. I had my work cut out for me.
I called the video director, Jody Eldred, back. I told him I had just got commitments to get the video of Christmas In Malibu played on the biggest national channels and shows if we could put together an acceptable video, and get it done in time. Jody asked me about a script. I told him there wasn’t one. We’d just come up with something, using the lyrics of the song as a guide. Hell, it shouldn’t be all that hard, I said. “It’s about a surfer on Christmas day who’s bummed out because he’s broken his board and can’t surf. Santa swoops down from the sky, gives the kid a big red surfboard, disappears and all Is well. We’ll shoot the whole thing on the beach in Malibu. The song is less than four minutes long. How hard could it be?”
There was a pause. I could hear Jody sigh and take a deep breath. “Oh, what the hell,” he said. “Let’s make a video!”
We had to shoot no later than Thursday. We’d try to get everything shot in that one day if we could and, I not, we still had Friday to shoot if needed. We’d do the editing and pot production over the weekend and still have part of the day the following Monday, if necessary. It was going to be a tight squeeze to be sure, with little room for errors.
Jody said he’d get right on with booking the small crew and equipment needed for the shoot. I told him about my trusty and talented art director ZOX and said that he’d be able to handle the costuming, makeup and props needed for the shoot and that I’d come up with some kind of script, or at least a decent outline, by Wednesday.
I called ZOX. He said the negatives for the Billboard ad would be ready in a couple of hours and he would make sure that the lab packed them for shipping and would have Fedex pick them up that afternoon. I told him we had another rush job to get done, and it was a tad more involved. We had to get a music video of Christmas In Malibu shot by the end of the week.
ZOX and I agreed to meet the next morning, which was Tuesday, to figure out what props and clothes were needed for Thursday’s shoot. ZOX agreed to come up with some style ideas for the look of The Rad Dudes, and the video as a whole. I then spent the rest of the day making phone calls to get Karma and Matt on board, arrange with the owners of the beach house next to the beach where we would be shooting and get the finances needed in place. Jody said he’d try and handle everything else (hiring the models for the video, getting us the needed liability insurance binder, food for the shoot, etc.
Meanwhile the phone was ringing all day with calls from friends, colleagues and clients wanting to know what was going on. Radio stations from other parts of the country who had heard about the song were calling as well, asking for copies. I was between paid assistants at the time, but called a former one and asked her to come back to work for a week or two to help out during all the Malibu madness. There were records to send out and a bunch of additional routine chores to attend to, and it all had to get done between endless phone calls, many of which were from the video director, telling me who to make checks out to.
The next morning, ZOX and I met. We talked about the concept, style points and the overall look for the music video. ZOX had a very cool idea to apply graphic designs to the faces of The Rad Dudes, a sort of modern, pop “war paint,” that would be color-coordinated with their outfits and other visual elements. We then came up with the idea of setting up a “fireplace at the beach,” an artificial hearth with a surfboard on top, complete with stockings and other holiday goodies. We’d fashion a “Malibu Christmas Tree” on the sand as well, and have lots of cool toys and other holiday goodies for the “dudes” to play with during the video’s final scenes.
I told ZOX that I was genuinely worried about getting all the shots we needed in a single day, and he came up with another great idea. Since the video was going to be “avant-garde” and care-free in nature, why not shoot all the “generic” Malibu footage (landmarks, beaches, surfing scenes, etc.) and, even some of the group’s shots as well, with a home video camera? We could mix this footage in with the high-quality video shot on the “primary set” on the beach (next to the hearth and Christmas tree) and the blend of contrasting video textures could result in a very cool “video-noir.”
Realizing that this was not just a cool style concept, but also a solution to the nearly-impossible shooting schedule for the scenes on the primary set, I immediately “green-lighted” the home video camera idea. Fortunately, ZOX owned a high-quality “S-VHS” camera we could use to shoot the all the alternate and “B-Roll” footage. We’d head out to Malibu the next morning. Most of the best-known Malibu landmarks and locations were on the way to my apartment, so we’d shoot as much generic stuff as we could on the way there.
We spent another couple of hours listening to the song and coming up with an outline and shot list for the video, knowing that, as organized as we could hope to be, we’d be flying through thick fog by the seats of our pants over the coming few days. I checked my phone messages and there was an urgent call from Billboard magazine. I gulped, fearing that the negatives for the ad didn’t get there that morning and we had missed the deadline for the ad to make it into the next issue.
I called the account rep at Billboard (whose name I have long since forgotten) immediately. She picked up the phone and I told her who it was. I think that she clearly heard the concern in my voice from the first word. “Joe, don’t worry. We got the negatives,” she said, then added, “I have some good news, and some bad news. Which do you want first?”
I took a deep breath and then responded. “Let’s get it over with. Give me the bad stuff.”
“Okay," she started. "First, there’s a problem with the ad. There’s a pretty bad typo in one of the quotes. It’s the one from Scott Shannon. There’s an extra letter in one of the words.” She went on with the exact details.
I was shocked and, understandably, angry with ZOX, who put together the layout. He was sitting just across the room as I got the news. I covered the mouthpiece of the phone and snapped, “You srewed up the Billboard ad!”
I returned to the call. “Can you fix it?” I asked, practically begging. The rep told me because the negatives were received early enough in the day, their art department could correct the typo and make up a new negative. But it was going to cost me an extra $200.00. “Thank god, and thank you,” I said, seriously relieved. “So, what’s the good news?” I asked.
“Roy Orbison died a few hours ago,” she answered.
“And, this is good news?” I asked, with half of a laugh.
“For you it is," she replied. "We just had to pull his ad. It was positioned next to the Hot 100 chart. That’s the best spot in the whole magazine, you know." She continued, "All the other full page layouts are in place and yours was the last to come in. So we’re giving the spot to you, at no extra charge.”
I was overjoyed. The Hot 100 singles chart was the one page everyone who opened up the magazine looked at. It was the most expensive piece of real estate in the entire magazine and always featured an ad for a major label who regularly advertised in the publication. Even crazier, Roy Orbison had an apartment in the same Malibu complex as mine, and I had met him up at the pool once a couple years earlier. He didn't pass on at the apartment (and may not even have still been a tenant there), but this was just TOO weird, and one wild example of the old adage, “Timing is everything.”
I thanked the Billboard rep profusely and told her to expect a nice Christmas present. I hung up the phone, lost my smile, and gave ZOX a long stare. “You know, I should be seriously pissed off at you. Your screw up just cost me two hundred bucks. But, it’s hard to stay mad at you, because Roy Orbison just died.”
ZOX went pale, I knew he was a big fan of the notoriously cool crooner of the original 1965 version of OH PRETTY WOMAN. “It’s very sad, but bittersweet for us, my hip friend.” ZOX looked at me with a face of total confusion. “Roy’s label just pulled a full page ad for his new album from the next issue of Billboard and they moved our ad to his spot, right next to the HOT 100!” We gave each other huge high-fives and then I returned a very stern look to my face. But I’m still fully pissed off at you. You can thank the late, great Roy Orbison. His passing saved your a*s, dude!”
I made a few more calls, then ZOX and I set off with my thinning credit cards to purchase props and wardrobe. I had called the guys to meet us in Hollywood at a Toys ‘R Us store. When we arrived, Karma and Matt were already there loading up shopping carts with remote-controlled race cars, planes, boats, bangles and beads. I had to put the brakes on the manic shopping spree after about half an hour. ZOX and I picked through the piles of pricey toys, putting almost half of them back on the shelves, while keeping the ones that we felt had the most visual appeal for the shots around the Malibu Christmas tree. What was left still cost nearly a thousand bucks!
Next, we moved on to a sports-gear store to pick up a variety of surfer garb, colorful shorts, tee shirts, flip-flops, shades and a wet suit. We also grabbed a few colorful watches and Hawaiian-style necklaces and shirts for others in the video to wear. I sent the “dudes” off and told them to meet us at my apartment early Thursday morning for the video shoot. ZOX and I then proceeded to pick up the rest of the supplies needed for the video, with the last stop being at Western Costume Rental in Hollywood for a Santa suit for me to wear.
With my car loaded down like Santa’s sleigh, we made it back to my house in Hollywood at the end of a long day. ZOX headed home and I spent a couple of hours returning phone calls, talking with the video director to see how things were going and getting everything else I needed from the house loaded into my “sleigh” for the drive to Malibu. I fixed myself a drink (knowing it would probably be my last for several days, watched TV for about an hour and hit the sack.
I woke up early the next morning, feeling energized, and eager, to dive right in to the massive project that awaited. It was time to make the video of Christmas In Malibu.
ZOX met me at around 8:00, and we hit the road to Malibu. Fortunately, it was a bright and sunny day. We stopped at several Malibu landmarks and shot an hour or more of great “B-roll” footage for the video with ZOX’s video camera. The Malibu pier, Malibu Colony, Country Mart, Adamson House/Museum, Serra Retreat and Pepperdine University were amongst the locations we got on tape. Across PCH from the Malibu pier was (and still is) a well-known bar and restaurant called the Malibu Inn. Looking at the building after we hot footage of the pier, I had an idea. I told ZOX to shoot the large letters across the front of the building, panning from right to left. We could use that hot during one of the choruses of the song. When the words “Christmas In Malibu” were sung, we could synchronize the music with the restaurant’s name, backwards (Inn-Malibu). ZOX laughed, and liked the idea. The shot ended up in the video, where it worked very well.
We spent several hours shooting the generic Malibu stuff and made it to my apartment in Latigo Cove at sundown. I called the video producer to make sure everything was all set for the shoot on the beach the next day. There was a little problem hiring the models at the last minute, but he had worked it out. Since this was to be a relatively simple shoot that required pretty basic equipment, everything else, including a small crew, was in place. I then called the two Rad Dudes and told them to h1ve their butts at the apartment by 7:00 AM the next morning.
ZOX and I ate some take-out we had picked up about an hour earlier, then plugged the video camera into the TV and viewed all the Malibu footage we had shot. Much to our delight, most of the footage was usable, and some of it was very, very good. The video quality was excellent as well. We had more than enough generic shots to fill in any holes between the primary beach shots we’d be shooting the next day. We made notes of which shots we thought would work best with different segments of the song, and this process helped to fine tune the initial shooting script I had already drafted. By the time we were done, we were fried. So it was off to bed for a few hours. We had a huge day of work ahead.
The alarm went off at 6:00 AM, jolting me to consciousness. I woke up ZOX and got a big pot of coffee going. I took a quick shower, as did ZOX. I turned on the TV, so as to have some media streaming into the pace as we were getting ready to shoot. A short time later there was a knock on the door. It was Jody, the director. As we rank a couple cups of java, we reviewed the shooting scripts and other notes about the shots we needed. I showed Jody some of the better B-roll footage, and he was impressed. He liked the look of the various locations we shot, thought the video quality was acceptable and agreed that the generic material would blend in well with the higher quality video we were about to shoot. He also thought the whole video-noir concept was a good one that could justify the most eclectic end result.
The crew and equipment started to arrive. There was a big truck loaded with lights, reflectors, stands, a big camera boom, and tons of cables. Another truck arrived, towing a portable “silent” generator to power the lights. Fortunately, we didn’t need to record any sound. The recorded track of the song would be the audio of the entire video, and, in the scenes where Karma would be singing on camera, it would, of course, be lip-synced. For those scenes, we had a tape machine with a copy of the track that would play over a loudspeaker for Karma to hear while simultaneously feeding into the video camera for the lip-synced scenes, so that audio could be used as a guide when we edited the video. All the remaining footage would just be inserted at the appropriate places in relation to the music during the editing process.
Jody, his assistants and a friend of mine, a musician named Michel Malisos who believed strongly in the project and had been helping me with various tasks for a couple of weeks, began feverishly constructing the “set” down on the beach. It basically consisted of the artificial fireplace, a tropical Christmas tree and a make-shift track for the guys to race their remote controlled cars around on. Fill lights were set into pace, the camera boom was set up and all the various cables were dragged into place
Karma and Matt had arrived, and, while they gulped caffeine-laced glasses of Coke, I reviewed with them the list of shots we needed and the sequence in which we would be shooting them. Then, as they were getting into their “costumes” of brightly-colored surfer shorts and tees, the models arrived. They were quite attractive, to say the least, and I was quite pleased. ZOX then went to work painting the “rad” designs on the faces of The Rad Dudes and, in a few more minutes, we were ready to shoot.
The guys, the girls, ZOX and I made our way down to the beach. We waited for about fifteen more minutes for the set-up to be completed, and started shooting.
The next eight hours were nothing short of insane! It was a crazed, and relentless, string of shoots, re-hoots, paybacks, resets, more shoots, quick breaks, meetings, decisions and revisions. We were flying at full throttle, with no clue when we would come in for a landing for most of the day. At one point, a photographer from the local newspaper, the MALIBU SURFSIDE NEWS, showed up and started taking pictures. Apparently the folks who owned the home adjacent to the beach where we were shooting (who I had paid several hundred dollars to use), or perhaps someone they knew, had called the paper and told them about the video shoot. The photographer wanted the story and names of those connected, so I took about five minutes and gave him the scoop, before apologizing and excusing myself to get back to work.
Another neighbor pulled up to watch what was going on. He was driving an awesome and beautiful antique convertible in pristine condition. I asked him if we could use the car for a quick scene in the video and offered him a hundred dollars. He turned down the money but still let use the car for the scene, which was set up and shot in about fifteen minutes.
Then, when we were about to shoot the scene with me as Santa Claus, a crisis arose. We couldn’t find the fake white Santa beard we had bought. We looked everywhere. It was just gone! We had no time to get a replacement, so we had no choice but to make do with a piece of white felt taped to my face, hoping it would just be accepted as a deliberate prank in our little video-noir.
At about 4:30 we were running out of light and still had a few key daytime shots left to do. At this point we had to very quickly figure out how to finish and regroup.. We determined which segments could work as low-light, dusk or even nighttime sequences and started juggling around the schedule, moving those scenes back to later.
We then came to the realization that we simply didn’t have enough light left to shoot one last key segment on the beach set, so had to make the decision to shoot it the next day with ZOX’s camera at a different location. A couple other scenes scheduled to shoot at the beach were also scrapped, to be replaced by “fill scenes” with Karma or Matt that we would shoot up in my apartment later. We’d then just have to make it all work in the post-production and editing phase. In record production, we’d say, “We’ll fix it in the mix,” when we ran into insurmountable hurdles in the studio. So I kept my cool. What we had already shot looked good, and I was confident that we could end up with a very decent video if we could just finish covering a few more segments of the song.
We got one last shot done as the sun set where Karma spots Santa lying out of the northern sky and landing on the surf. It was supposed to be in full daylight, as scenes to follow in the video were in daylight as well, but no dice. It was shot as the sun set. Jody didn’t want to shoot it, because he thought it wouldn’t work. ZOX agreed. But, I chimed in. “It could work,” I insisted. “When Santa arrives, his presence is so huge that he blocks out the sun. It’s kind of like a parting of the clouds, but in reverse!” They shrugged. What the hell. It was Video-Noir! We shot the scene, and it worked, by god. Even crazier, a big round reflector was accidentally left in the sand and it appears in the shot. But, to this day, no one who has seen the video has ever noticed, or, at least, mentioned it to me!
The scenes with the guys playing with their Christmas toys and the big sing-along of the final choruses of the song still had to be shot. The models were supposed to be in those shots but had other commitments and refused to stay. (Big surprise!) I called Dwight Twilley and Susan Cowsill and begged them to drive out to Malibu to fill in. I was happy when they graciously agreed and told them I owed them big time. While they were on the way, we shot the toy scenes and a few other needed close up shots of Karma. A cool, fluffy white husky, who Matt had played with on the beach often before, ran up as we shot those scenes and, as fate would have it, the dog, named Winter, was a welcome, and refreshing addition, and wound up as part of the cast of the video, as did a few other local residents who dropped by to watch the shoot!
Dwight and Susan arrived shortly after we finished the close-ups with Karma. We just needed these last sing-along scenes and we’d be one on the beach. ZOX and Michael agreed to be in the choir as well. As we were about to shoot those last beach scenes, the lady who owned the house next to the beach came out to see if we had finished shooting. “Almost,” I told her. We just need to shoot all of us singing at the end of the song.” I had given her a cassette of Christmas In Malibu a week earlier and she really loved the song.
“Do you need anyone else to sing at the end?” she asked.
“The more, the merrier,” I replied.
“I suppose I’m way too old to be in a music video,” she said. (She was in her sixties at the time.)
“Don’t be silly. Go up to the house, put on a dress and grab a scarf. You’re about to become a star on MTV!” While she was changing, we finished setting up. The closing shots with all of us, and the dog, took about twenty minutes to shoot.
Just after we got the last sing-along shot, a set of Christmas lights spelling “MALIBU” that had been put up on a nearby beach house popped on. The display caught everyone’s eye. I looked at Jody and ZOX, and they both smiled. The closing shot of the video had just been written with the appearance of those lights.
We now had one last scene to shoot. I told Karma and Matt to change into sweats, jeans and UGG boots. Jody and the crew repositioned the crane. The guys came back down and we rolled tape as The Rad Dudes and Winter The Dog walked across the darkened beach towards the holiday lights, playfully kicking sand on each other as they walked. It was a wrap on the beach in Latigo Cove.
As the crew was packing up the gear on the beach, we moved up to the apartment. The last scene we had shot on the sand was so cool, and inspiring, that it gave us a second wind. With renewed vigor, we shot the few extra scenes we needed in the kitchen and on the balcony of my apartment. Even without any additional lighting, they turned out okay.
Now, all we needed were those scenes that we were forced to delete that day. We’d shoot them tomorrow. One of them was a key scene during an instrumental break in the record where Karma gets a phone call from a buddy. Since this scene was now going to be one of the “noir” style segments, I made a last minute decision to include the guitar player from the instrumental break in the series of shots. I called him and he said he could meet us in Malibu the next day to shoot the scene. Since it was an instrumental break and would also feature the musician, I now thought that it was cool that the segment would be shot with the alternate video camera. In fact, one of the lines Karma speaks in the break reads, “No, I don’t have a video camera!”
It was now well passed 10:00 PM. We had been working our butts off, non-stop, for over fourteen hours. But our veins were still filled with adrenaline. There was a bunch of pizza and other food left over from the shoot, so we put my single microwave into overdrive, chowed down and guzzled down a few beers each before calling it a night.
The next morning we got up early again and spent a couple of hours viewing all the raw video shot the day before. It wasn’t perfect and there were some flawed scenes. At that time, none of us even noticed that big silver reflector laying in the sand of the scene that was shot as the sun set! After reviewing what we had, we knew what we still needed. Jody had gone home the night before. His job was done, as he had been hired as the director (and director of photography) of all the beach sequences. It was now up to ZOX, and me, to shoot the rest, and we had just this one day to do it. The video editing suite was booked for the weekend, starting at 10:00 AM Saturday morning.
Compared to the day before, Friday was a cake walk. We met the guitar player at Malibu pier around 11:00 AM and got the instrumental break scenes done in a little over an hour. Then we shot a few more goofy scenes, one of which was one where we sneaked Karma and Matt into a boat hanging from the pier. We shot another scene of Matt in his “spoiled-rich-boy” black Corvette (the car that he mastered the “art of doughnuts” in) near the pier. We stopped at the "Nativity Scene" which is set up every year in Malibu just off PCH near the Malibu Colony and got some shots of the guys sitting within the display. We got a few more “beauty-shots” of The Rad Dudes down on the beach near the apartment. ZOX had brought an expensive, high-end 35mm camera with him as well, so we used this opportunity to shoot a couple rolls of color transparencies of the guys to use as PR shots. Finally, with a big sigh of relief, the video shoot was a wrap.
Back up in the apartment, we reviewed all the new video footage, then went out for a nice dinner of of sushi and sake. I sent Karma, Matt and ZOX home. Their work, for now, was done. As for me, I had a few more hours of work to get done that night, and then a four-minute long music video to edit over the weekend.
I spent close to three hours that night reviewing all the video footage again and making as many notes as my tired brain was able to write. It was nearly midnight, and I was totally exhausted. I needed to get some sleep, big time. There were dozens of messages on my answering machine at the beach apartment and back at the Hollywood house, but I was far too fried to deal with them. I powered down the apartment, set the alarm for 7:00 AM and hit the sack. I think I was out cold a minute, or two at most, after my head hit the pillow.
I woke up to the alarm and, thankfully, felt pretty rested and refreshed. I knew that I had a mountain of work to traverse over the next couple of days, but was actually looking forward to it. Damn. I finally had my own record on the radio and was about to edit the music video for it. Even though this was where I had dreamed of being five, or more, years earlier, I thought that, finally, my moment may have just arrived. This was what I was born to do.
I listened to all the phone messages on the beach machine and checked the Hollywood machine as well. There were the expected calls from colleagues wanting to know how the video was going, a few radio stations wanting the record and, of course, my mother, who was worrying I wasn’t getting enough sleep and warning me that if I pushed myself too hard, I’d end up sick all winter. There was also a message from Phil Lobel, a Hollywood press agent I had put on a retainer at the beginning of December to help me publicize the project in the industry trades and mainstream media once the project got some legs and took off. He had just placed a couple of trade magazine stories and already had interest from a couple of major teen-idol magazines to print stories. He needed pictures fast. I made a note to call Phil on a break from editing later that day to let him now we just shot a couple rolls and he’d have pictures by the middle of the week.
I also remembered that this was the day that Billboard Magazine got delivered to most of the major radio stations, and made a mental note to expect an onslaught of phone calls first thing Monday morning when everyone got to their offices and checked out the magazine.
Even though I was looking forward to it, I was prepared for the video editing session to be a laborious and exhausting, if not hellish task to complete, with the added pressure of such a tight deadline. But much to my surprise and delight, it didn’t turn out that way. My hours of reviewing and notating all the shots had paid off, and the fact that, because of the tight shooting schedule, there were a limited number of shots and takes, there was far less video to deal with than would have otherwise been the case.
Editing a music video like this one was made easier due to the fact that there was no dialogue or sound to deal with. The record itself was the entire soundtrack and the video was assembled to match over the music. Once the video worked with the sound, there was no further mixing or tweaking needed.
Editing the video wasn’t a total breeze. There were problems with some of the shots. Karma’s lip-sync was less than perfect on some of the best takes, and some of the alternate S-VHS video footage presented technical issues when intercut with the higher-quality Betacam video from the beach scenes. Much of the time spent in the post production was in employing a variety of video “tricks” to mask certain problems. We used colorization, distortion, skip-frames, wipes, cropping and god-knows what else to make it all work. It was still pretty early-on in terms of digital-video technology. Most laptop computers today have more capabilities than the entire video editing suite of 25 years ago, so the post-production process we were forced to endure in 1988 was far more cumbersome than it would be to accomplish the same results today.
There really isn’t much more of a story to tell about editing the video. Fortunately, the editor I worked with was a total wiz-kid, and a musician as well. Plus, he was a very cool and patient guy. His great attitude, and understanding of music and rhythm, really helped us get the editing one with a minimum amount of grief and stress.
It took the whole day Saturday and half of Sunday to get the editing done. Jody and ZOX met me at the editing suite mid-afternoon Sunday to watch the finished product. I was expecting some form of criticism about something, but they both gave the video a thumbs up and admitted that they were quite impressed with how it turned out, especially considering the extreme limitations of time and money we had to work with. We chatted for an hour or so while I had half a dozen broadcast-quality copies of the video and a few VHS copies made and labeled by the video editor.
I went home to my Hollywood house late Sunday afternoon, fully exhausted. I called Karma and Matt to tell them the video was done, and it turned out really good. I called Phil, the PR guy to give him an update and make sure he was prepared for a very busy week. I even called my mom to tell her the video was done and to say hello to my dad. I promised to get a good night’s sleep that night. I can’t remember much else about that Sunday night. Must have passed out early.
Monday, December 12, was insane. It started out early with the ringing of phones. The Billboard magazine with the full page ad had been delivered to most of the country’s radio stations. The ad right next to the singles chart touted a Christmas record that had world-premiered on one of the biggest radio stations in the country and praises for it from two of the most powerful names in radio appeared on the same page. And, wouldn’t you know it, that black and white Christmas ad really did stand out and look very cool in the context of the magazine.
Program directors and music directors from all over the country were calling. Scott Shannon, one of the guys I quoted, called and asked what the hell I was doing. I’m sure the last thing he expected was to see his quote, in large type, in a full page ad next to the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. That day I must have talked to at least 50 radio stations, many of which were in major markets. Every other day that week I spoke to a couple dozen more radio people, and, by week’s end had mailed out a couple hundred promo 45’s of Christmas In Malibu.
The record was playing often on several radio stations in the L.A. area by that week. Phil had gotten a commitment from the L.A. Times to run a feature story about the song and Steve Harvey, a columnist with a very popular weekly column called ONLY IN L.A. called Phil to tell him he had heard the song and loved it, so he would be quoting lyrics in his next column.
I talked to Ken Barnes early in the week and filled him in on what had happened since the song had world-premiered on KIIS-FM, thanks to him. He told me that his paper had a service where the paper could be sent out to prime radio stations along with the record, and that he would offer it to me for half off, and throw in a free quarter-page ad in the venerable trade publication. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. He needed about 150 records for the mailing by the end of the week and, fortunately, I had bout 200 copies left, so I had ZOX whip out a shrunk down version of the Billboard ad and delivered it, along with the records, to the offices of Radio and Records on Friday.
Things were snow-balling for Christmas In Malibu. The record was playing in L.A. and the rest of Southern California heavily. All the video channels and shows called to tell me they liked the video and would include it in their holiday mix. That weekend the video premiered on MTV, VH-1, Night Tracks and Night Flight. It played on NBC’s Friday Night Videos the following week, just before Christmas.
Phil Lobel succeeded in his efforts to get the L.A. Times to run the feature story. They called and interviewed me and included several quotes in a great story that appeared in the paper’s VIEW section. Steve Harvey quoted the song’s most poignant lyrics in his weekend column. The Rad Dudes were even asked to attend few local holiday charity events and Jeff Wyatt, who was reluctant at first to pay the record on POWER 106, called to tell me that Christmas In Malibu was the most requested song on the station and asked me if The Rad Dudes would appear at the station’s annual Christmas concert, an offer I had to refuse because we weren’t prepared in any way, yet, for live shows. I wanted the image of the group to be fully molded and the whole concept fully developed (into a cohesive, and spectacular, multi-media product) before taking it live and on the road.
Early in the week following the video premieres, which was the last week before Christmas, the inquiries were rolling in. Most of them were from more radio stations wanting copies of the record, of which there were only a few dozen left. Phil was getting calls from a scattering of magazines and newspapers seeking interviews. Then, he got the call he was waiting for from DAVID SHEEHAN, the popular entertainment reporter from the Los Angeles NBC Television station KNBC. Sheehan had heard the song on the radio and seen the video on MTV, so he now thought there was a story worthy of reporting on.
I was asked to bring Karma and Matt to the NBC studios in Burbank on Tuesday. David had already sent a camera crew out to POWER 106 and shot a couple of sound bites of Mucho Morales, the afternoon drive-time disc jockey, talking about the record and then introducing it on the air as the station's most requested song. I'm sure this pleased Jeff Wyatt very much.
At the Burbank NBC studio, Sheehan interviewed the guys on camera. Karma did all the talking while Matt just sat there playing with a toy car. It was very cool, in a “Penn and Teller” sort of way. Sheehan interviewed me as well. The five-minute piece, he told us, would include multiple sound bites from Karma, a couple from me, clips from the video and a rave review of sorts from him, where he would praise me as a “maverick” producer who had the guts, and faith to get the song on the radio and television without a record company.
The piece was scheduled to run the next day, Wednesday, December 21. But just hours before the piece was to air, the unexpected nightmare unfolded.
Tragedy struck. Pan Am Flight 103, en route from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s JFK, was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland by a terrorist bomb, barely an hour into its flight. All of the 259 souls on board were killed, as were no less than eleven people on the ground. It happened at about noon Pacific time and, within an hour, the horrific story dominated the news. It was, and still is, the single worst act of terrorism worst act of terrorism in the history of the United Kingdom. The Christmas In Malibu story was bumped from the newscast, of course. I watched television the whole afternoon and evening after first hearing the news in a phone call from Phil Lobel. I was numb as I watched the tragic details unfold, and didn’t know what to think, or feel.
When a campaign of any kind that relies on media exposure is in progress and a major negative news event occurs at a critical stage, it can have devastating effects on the campaign as well, and the damage is often irreparable.
Of course, I was saddened and angered by the terrible act of terrorism. At the same time, I was devastated and distressed by how this senseless tragedy might now destroy what I had worked so hard for myself. It all happened so suddenly and without any warning. Death had once again presented as a major factor in the saga of Christmas In Malibu. Once again, timing was everything.
I was seriously deflated by the tragedy occurring when it did. The holiday spirit had been sucked out of me. I dragged through the rest of the week as the news of Pan Am Flight 103 dominated the airwaves. I still heard the song on the radio, but the calls for records and interviews dropped off to zero immediately following the tragedy. Sheehan’s story did finally air, twice, on the Friday before Christmas, and was even introduced by the news anchors as a bit of holiday magic in the midst of the current tragic times, which I thought was kind of cool, but wasn't all that thrilled with the idea of Christmas In Malibu being linked with the tragedy at Lockerbie.
The music video aired several more times in the days before Christmas on all the channels ans shows. Still, things had irreversibly changed for me. My holiday spirit was gone.
By Christmas day, the lingering negativity in the wake of the bombing was beginning to dissipate on TV. The NBC Nightly News was still dominated by coverage of the tragedy, speculation about the perpetrators and what the response from the United States would, or should be. But about three minutes before the newscast ended, a surprise was in store.
The news anchor read a very similar lead-in to a story to the one that I had seen on the local news in L.A. a couple days earlier. He mentioned a story about the spirit of the holidays that was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary Christmas Day. My jaw dropped when I heard the anchor utter the words “NBC’s Los Angeles entertainment reporter David Sheehan has the story….”
Then the segment ran. There it was. The sound bites, the video clips and the closing comments from David Sheehan about the joy of Christmas and the power of music during the holidays. The segment had been edited down from five minutes to three, but it was still a great piece and I was overcome with emotion hearing my lyrics sung on the national evening news at the end of the segment….
Perfect waves I could ride on my own
The true Christmas spirit that I’d never known
Then from the clouds came a jolly, deep voice
That said, Surf’s up. Dudes, HO! HO! HO!
The newscast returned to the anchor for the close. “A little musical miracle for the Christmas of 1988. From all of us at NBC News, Happy Holidays.”
As the closing music played, I sat there, alone, as I had been when the song premiered on the radio, and a few tears made their way into my eyes once again.
The phone rang. I picked it up without saying anything. The voice on the other end said, “Joe, it’s your mother. Are you there?” I couldn’t speak. My mother called out my name from the phone again. “Yes, mom. I’m here,” I muttered into the phone.
“Did you just see the news on Channel 4? They played your song again, from New York this time! Your father and I are so proud!”
“So am I, mom. So am I. You and dad have a Merry Christmas.”
Click here to watch the music video of Christmas In Malibu on YouTube
Click here to listen to high quality audio of Christmas In Malibu at SoundCloud
EPILOGUE TO THE STORY
Christmas In Malibu got enough airplay in 1988 to earn the reputation as that year’s biggest hit “not available in any stores.” But the song did earn over five thousand dollars in radio and television performance royalties that year, and about half as much in the following year, 1989.
Early in 1989, I recorded more material with the Rad Dudes, including
cover versions of the classic 60’s surf hits SURFER GIRL and NEW YORK’S A
LONELY TOWN (WHEN YOU’RE THE ONLY SURFER BOY AROUND), as the first step in putting together a full album of The Rad Dudes.
I developed a comprehensive and complete entertainment package around the group that included an album of diverse original and cover material, a unique, holiday-themed dramatic motion picture, and a fully-costumed and choreographed multi-media road show that would be staged more like a musical pay than a rock concert.
I pitched the package to several record labels, some of which were run by long-time colleagues. They all passed on the project, despite my successful promotion of The Rad Dudes to radio and television just a couple months earler.
I had 10,000 cassette singles of Christmas In Malibu manufactured in the fall of 1989 and affiliated with an east-coast record distributor who placed the cassettes in stores. Half were returned, and I didn’t get paid a single dime for the thousands of pieces that were supposedly “lost or damaged.”
I gave up on the project early in 1990.
In 1998, on the tenth anniversary of Christmas In Malibu, I made about 100 CD singles of the vocal and “Karaoke” version of the song, along with the cover version of the SURFER GIRL/A SUMMER SONG medley and sent them to friends for the holidays.
In 2006, I uploaded the video to YouTube and other viral video networks. I subsequently signed a digital distribution deal with a San Francisco based company named IODA who placed the track on iTunes, Amazon and other online retailers, where it remains as a download available for purchase.
In 2006 and 2007, I promoted the song to the new medium of podcasts, and got the song added to Adam Curry’s PODCAST MUSIC NETWORK. The song got played on hundreds of podcasts those two years.
On the song’s twentieth anniversary, I promoted Christmas In Malibu extensively on the internet, using online press releases and blogs. Hundreds of podcasts continued to play the song that year, and do so to this day.
In 2013, the song’s 25th anniversary, the YouTube video of Christmas In Malibu remained the #1 search result (out of over 13,000,000) for the title. The buy link to the track in iTunes was the #2 search result. #3 was the 1999 TV movie of the same name, which stars CARMEN ELECTRA.
More than $35,000.00 in cash, and countless hundreds of man-hours, have been invested in the project over the years, most of which was for the production of the record, the video and the promotion and marketing of the project in 1988 and 1989.
In the first three years following its release, Christmas In Malibu earned over $8,000, all of which was from ASCAP performance royalties.
Since uploading the video to YouTube, Christmas In Malibu has earned less than $500.00 from all sources, including sales on iTunes and Amazon.
Every year, I hear from hundreds of people who remember the song, or have heard it for the first time over the last few years.
My mother heard Christmas In Malibu for the last time in
her hospital bed at the City Of Hope outside of Los Angeles on Christmas day in
1989, one year after its initial release. It was played during the closing
credits of Scott Shannon’s new syndicated music video television show SMASH HITS.
I knew about the show, but wasn't aware that it had recently premiered. The TV on the wall in my mom's hospital room just happened to be tuned to the L.A. channel that aired the show. Both of us were very surprised, and she was, once again, very proud.
My mother passed away five days later.
Christmas In Malibu and the additional songs for The Rad Dudes project were the last original music tracks I ever produced, and I am still very proud of that project. It’s the best material I ever created.
Pop music miracles really do happen.
© 2015 Joe Klein