When Nick Lowe was approached by his label to make a holiday album, he says he was "slightly appalled, really — we think it's all a bit vulgar, you know, cashing in on Christmas." Ultimately, Lowe says he took it as a challenge: Quality Street came out of that effort. It includes some traditional songs, such as "Silent Night," as well as British Christmas favorites and some originals, such as "Christmas At The Airport."
Lowe recently visited the Fresh Air studio to talk with Terry Gross and perform songs from the album.
On how Ry Cooder ended up writing a Christmas song called "A Dollar Short Of Happy"
He's quite an old friend of mine now; we've known each other for quite a long time. And when we started doing this record, we had one of our semi-regular phone calls, and he said, "What are you up to at the moment?" And I said, "I'm just doing this Christmas record." And he sort of rather characteristically snorted a bit derisively and said, "Oh, why are you bothering with that nonsense?" And I said, "Well, as a matter of fact, we are having a ball doing this record. And what'll be really nice, actually, is if you were here to help us do it, because I think you'd really have a good time."
"Ah, I doubt it!" or something like that, he said. And this is quite par for the course, you know. I don't want to say that, "Shock, horror! Ry, a bit grumpy." And then, a couple of days later, this fantastic set of lyrics turned up, and I had no trouble putting a tune to them.
On what Christmas was like for him growing up in England in the '50s
I don't want to get my violin out here — "We were poor, but we were happy." England was a pretty grim old place in the '50s when I was a kid. There were shortages, for sure. I loved Christmas. We had a really great time, but you had to be happy with an orange and a couple of walnuts in your stocking. There were sort of three toys for boys and three toys for girls. And the boys — I can remember [there] was a Dan Dare Ray Gun. Dan Dare was a cartoon character; he was like a Battle Of Britain fighter pilot, only in space. It was the 1950s. He had a ray gun, which was basically a flashlight with a trigger on it, and it buzzed and the red light came on. We all had one. A Davy Crockett hat. Davy Crockett was very big, so we had a Dan Dare Ray Gun, Davy Crockett hat — it was kind of a crazy look when you had both of them. And painting by numbers, I seem to remember. So it was that sort of thing. And the sound of Bing Crosby.
On the role religion plays in his Christmas holiday
I have a rather complicated relation to it. I have all the equipment to make me rather devout, I would almost say. I'm very interested in religion and different religions. I know quite a lot about it. I love gospel music, and I love going to churches, but the one drawback is that I don't actually believe in God. It is quite a handicap. As Craig Brown, he's an English humorist — I heard him talking in a rather similar way on the radio. And he said, "I'm the sort of person that can be reduced to tears in an empty church and feel like I'm the CEO of the devil's organization in a full one." I tend to feel like that, as well. I love empty churches and going into them and looking around, but I'm not a churchgoer at all. I've got something going on, but ... I don't know what it is.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
Timothy Spall Takes On Painter J.M.W. Turner, A 'Master Of The Sublime': The 19th century painter wasn't always "very pleasant" and he was a "man of massive contradictions," Spall says. So Spall says he had to "dig deep" to play the title role in Mr. Turner.
D'Angelo's 'Black Messiah' Collapses Years, Genres: D'Angelo has built a considerable reputation on the basis of three albums: 1995's Brown Sugar, 2000's Voodoo, and now Black Messiah, unexpectedly released early Monday morning. The singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist has been widely praised for connecting many decades of different rhythm & blues styles, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says Black Messiah is as adventurous as any fan could hope for.
Early On, Comedian John Cleese Says, He Had Good Timing But Little Else: The co-founder of the Monty Python troupe admits he wasn't "naturally gifted" at physical comedy, and learned a lot by imitation. His new memoir, So, Anyway..., covers his boyhood and early career.
You can listen to the original interviews here: